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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

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Barging on the silky waters of the Canal du Midi

Tags: Travel
Cruising along the Canal du Midi aboard the Anjodi. [Barbara Kingstone photo]

Say “France” and I’m  already head over heels in love. From the time I was in my teens, I was smitten with anything French. Perhaps that was why a newly graduated doctor who had studied in Montpellier, France,  the oldest medical school in Europe, was my first love

I hadn’t thought about Montpellier for decades until my husband and I decided to take our second barge trip. The first time  was last year on European Waterway’s, The Renaissance. At that time we opted for the northern part of France where we went through a numerous variety of the  French locks (les ecluses) system. Most interesting was watching Capt. Laurent deftly navigate this barge, an amazing feat in the narrow locks.

This time, Canal du Midi was our choice and the barge, Anjodi, glided through Languedoc, one of the most beautiful areas in France.  (I can feel some French wine growers tossing their Merlot at me).

Again we travelled with the European Waterways Company. As good fortune would have it, at the helm was the most capable Capt. Laurent, who allowed each of us to take a turn at the wheel for about 15 minutes. And since the waters of the canal are usually like a mirror and so calm, there was no danger, but he did stand close by, giving us directions.  It was like  family reunion with Captain Laurent, Chef Ollie and the majordomo, dynamic Emily.

Anjodi is a Dutch-designed barge that was once a freighter and because of its size was perfect for the 330-year-old canal. Of course, all has been refurbished and the African hardwood panelling shines as does the constantly cared-for brass trimmings, and with only seven guests, it was easy to think we were on our own yacht.

However, to get to our “bateau” from Paris where we had landed at Charles De Gaulle Airport, we took the TGV, the fast train to Montpellier (hence the recollection of my youth).  The 3 1/2 hour trip  added to our travelogue as we passed farms, fields of wheat, vast vineyards, and  in general, the lovely French countryside.

Once aboard the Anjodi, I found the cabin a bit smaller than I expected but was amazed at how much drawer space there was under the high twin beds, and a good sized closet.  Besides, we wouldn’t be spending much time in the cabin.  And although far from spacious, the loo was sufficient with a small shower that always had very hot water.

On our way to our first official stop, Carcassonne, we had been told about an unique shop that  created everything from olives and olive wood. Lovely items on all the shelves and less when we left.

Carcassonne is a medieval fortified city with 52 watchtowers that dates back to the Gallo-Roman period. Outside the walls were non-trendy boutiques and, this being France, many great cafes.

A truly remarkable place was the ancient capital of Minervois, Minerve.  The vista to this 12th century Cathars area, (a unique  religious sect,) had deep limestone gorges and a replica of a catapult. Much thought had gone into the itinerary.

That evening we cruised to Pigasse. As usual dinner by Chef Ollie,was exquisite- and no meal ever ended without a platter of marvellous cheeses – Munster and Salers.  The white wine was Rully, and the red was St. Nicolas de Bourgueil.

If I had to choose a favourite stop, it would be Narbonne, a Roman Mediterranean capital. We did the obligatory tour of the Archbishop’s Palace, the cathedral with spectacular stained glass windows and like most cities with history, there’s a small museum worth seeing.

Over a small bridge and a short walk, I was overwhelmed by  the glass-roofed, indoor market with food displayed like various paintings. And then, also, the great smells of cooking from the cafes – yes, great coffee shops here too.

Back on the other side of the river, there were very fashionable boutiques. It seemed like a small rue in trendy Paris.

After a morning of traversing the seven locks of Fonserannes, we moored at a lovely suburb of Béziers. There we visited the 14th-century Chateau de Perdiguier for a most informative wine tour and tasting. It’s famed for their Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines.

Alas, all these historic sites, luxury  service, fine eating and drinking, sadly had to come to an end with the Captain’s dinner.  Chef Ollie, really wanted to give us a truly memorable send off.  Seared scallop salad with crab, fillet of beef with onion puree, oxtail beignet, roasted veggies and of course the cheeses, Roquefort, St. Maure du Tourrain, Epossies. And  our final farewell wine was the white Domaine de Bachellery and the red wine was Les Fiefs D’Aupenac.

So again it was au revoir to European Waterways and the Anjodi, the wonder barge on the Canal du Midi with a flashback to my youth, a fabulous itinerary and great food. I’ll drink to trying out yet another barge.  A great way to travel. Cheers.


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