European Waterways Barge Cruise Along France’s Canal Du Midi

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A barge cruise in France with European Waterways offers a quiet, peaceful retreat. Read on to see why a barge cruise is an ideal way to explore France.

People always ask me about my favorite place to travel. I never hesitate when I respond that it’s the South of France. I adore the rolling hills along the Mediterranean, the vast vineyards stretching for miles, and the olive trees swaying in the breezes. So, I didn’t hesitate when European Waterways invited me on a luxury barge cruise on the Canal du Midi in the South of France. I have taken two barge cruises, both with European Waterways, and this one was simply idyllic as I experienced the region’s slow pace. Come along on this luxury barge cruise in the South of France.

What is a Barge Cruise?

Barges, used initially to shuttle goods along the inner waterways throughout Europe, are now floating hotels. European Waterways operates barges throughout Europe, primarily from April to October, although there are a few options during winter. 

One of three boats to traverse Canal du Midi, Enchanté is an “ultra-deluxe” converted barge with four cabins for up to eight passengers. On our recent cruise, my husband and I were one of three couples on the barge. It was built in 1958 to move freight barge from Belgium. It was converted into a hotel barge in 2008/2009.

Note: The barge runs with two 220-volt generators, equipped with hospital silencers for night running. The electricity is all 220, so bring your adapters. Leave your curling irons, straight irons, and irons at home. You can use the provided hair dryer, but you don’t want to overwhelm that electrical system.

Suites on the Barge

Like each suite on Enchanté, our suite featured a lovely King-sized bed (they can be configured with two twins if you’re traveling with a friend), a desk, a sitting area, and an ensuite bathroom. There is a hair dryer, a shower, bathrobes, and ample room to move around in your suite. Each one is about 165 square feet with 6.5-foot ceilings. We were in the Pleiades suite built into the boat’s stern with three portholes offering ample light.

All suites are on the lower level, while the salon, dining room, open kitchen, and sun deck are above. The rooms are comfortable and quiet, the staff accommodating, and the pace of the barge allows you to slow down and unwind.

The Staff on the Barge

Enchanté has a crew of five, including the captain, tour director, chef, housekeeper, and hostess. The tour director accompanies passengers on each shore excursion while the housekeeper and hostess see to your every need.

Where is the Canal du Midi?

Canal du Midi is a 330-year-old canal running from the Mediterranean coast inland through the famous Languedoc wine region. This is an opportunity for a true escape from everyday life. 

The Canal du Midi runs for 150 miles through Southern France. It runs from Toulouse to the Mediterranean and was built between 1666 and 1681, making it one of Europe’s oldest operating canals. While it once was a major transportation canal for trade, it is mostly for entertainment today. Canal du Midi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and traversing at least part of it is a step back in time.

Getting to Narbonne

The cruise started in Narbonne, so we had to get to this lovely French town to meet the European Waterways crew. My husband, Bill, and I flew into Frankfurt, Germany, and then took a Lufthansa flight to Marseille. After an overnight in Marseille, we boarded the high-speed TGV train for a quick trip to Narbonne.

When we arrived in Narbonne, we could have taken a taxi, but it was a perfect spring day, so we walked the 15 minutes to Île du Gua Suites, the hotel European Waterways suggested. It is the pickup point for passengers, so we thought it would be ideal to stay there.

Our Stay at Île du Gua Suites in Narbonne

Our stay at Île du Gua Suites was a perfect start to a delightful time in Southern France. The all-suite hotel is modern and bright, although it is housed in an 11th-century mill on the Robine Canal. Each room has a private wooden terrace or balcony overlooking the water garden or the canal. We looked out over the canals; it was a peaceful, relaxing spot.

View of canals from our room at Île du Gua. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The room had a large whirlpool bath, ideal after a long international flight and the European plane and train connections. We settled in for the afternoon and booked dinner at the hotel’s adjacent restaurant, Brasserie du Moulin, located in the original mill building.

The original mill at Île du Gua houses the Brasserie. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

We chose to eat outdoors on the patio, where we could watch passersby on the canal and enjoy the early summer air.

Patio at Brasserie. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The food was exceptional, and we settled in for a long dinner, taking our time and savoring the local flavors.

The next morning, we enjoyed the included breakfast at the hotel. I love European breakfasts, and this one was exceptional. After breakfast, we stashed our luggage at the front desk and explored Narbonne before our 1 p.m. pickup for our canal cruise.

About Narbonne

We knew that on one of the days during the barge cruise, we would be exploring the town, so we wanted to wander and check out things we wouldn’t likely see with our fellow bargers.

Walkway leaving Île du Gua toward Narbonne. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Narbonne, founded in 118 BC as a Roman settlement, offers beautiful canal-side walks. Today, it is the sixth largest city in France. Narbonne is known for its art and history. Julius Caesar conquered Gaul from his base in Narbonne. We also heard it rumored that, while in Narbonne, Isaac “the blind,” a companion of Maimonides, wrote the first Kabbalah.

Since we were scheduled to visit the massive Cathedral of St. Just and St. Pasteur with European Waterways, we bypassed it and instead made our way to the canal and wandered its edge through the city. We headed to Les Halles de Narbonne, the massive food market.

Canal in central Narbonne. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Les Halles is home to over 70 food shops, including bakers, pastry cooks, butchers, delicatessens, fishmongers, greengrocers, poulterers, delicatessens, and even wine bars. I love European food markets, and this was one of the best I’ve discovered.

I loved Les Halles Narbonne, one of my favorite European food markets. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

We wound our way back down cobblestone streets, returning to Île du Gua just in time to order a cold drink, and then boarded our 9-seat Mercedes Sprinter van and headed less than one hour to Enchanté.

The Barge Cruise in France Experience 

The barging experience is nothing like other cruises, not even small-ship cruising that I adore. With only eight passengers (although some boats can accommodate 10 or 12 passengers), it provides a quiet escape. We felt like extended family and enjoyed sharing travel stories with our fellow passengers.

Each day, we cruised slowly along the canal, only going a total distance of about 50 miles over the entire week. The highlight of each day was enjoying gourmet meals.

The barge moves slowly along the canal, allowing you to stroll along or ride one of the onboard bicycles. I didn’t choose that option, but my husband did decide to get off and walk one day, and he enjoyed the experience. I was very happy to sit on the deck, sipping champagne and watching the world slowly glide past.

Spaces on the Barge

As I mentioned, the suites are all on the lower deck, where you can also find a computer with internet access in a small office area. I had my laptop with me, so I never used the computer. The internet on board is average for boats, but you’re always near towns, so I could use my cell phone with an international plan as a tether to get online.

Upstairs, you’ll find the social areas on the barge. On Enchanté, the kitchen is open to the dining room and salon. Large, panoramic windows stretch the entire length of the boat, making it easy to sit inside and watch the landscape go past. The dining table seats all eight guests. The six of us on our cruise enjoyed family-style meals gathered around the table. There is a fully stocked bar where you can help yourself or have the staff create your drink of choice, whether it’s coffee, tea, wine, or a cocktail.

Salon and dining room on Enchanté. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The salon has comfortable chairs that can seat all eight guests. That opens to the sundeck, including an al fresco dining table for eight with a sun canopy for shade. There is also a large hot tub for soaking. Each evening, the captain would post a little sign showing us the next day’s itinerary.

The captain posted the daily itinerary in the salon. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Breakfast on the Barge

We began each day’s leisurely routine with a sit-down breakfast and specially prepared dishes from the chef. It became such an anticipation to head upstairs to the welcoming smells and a cup of fresh coffee. Breakfast is usually continental with fresh breads and pastries. The chef would create eggs on request, and I loved his omelets and eggs Benedict. 

On some days, we cruised in the morning and took our short excursion in the afternoon, while on other days, we headed off the barge in the morning for an excursion, returning after lunch to head to the next location. 

Lunch on the Barge

Lunch is a casual, delicious, 3-course meal paired with local wines. It’s not as formal as dinner, but the food was always delicious. There was always a salad or soup, followed by a main course.

Lunch onboard Enchanté. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

We ended each lunch with a scrumptious dessert created by the chef. 

Dessert onboard Enchanté. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

We enjoyed experiencing the wines the chef chose each day. I always ended lunch with an extra glass of wine on the deck.

Dinner on the Barge

Dinner was a beautiful production that I anticipated each day. The open kitchen on Enchanté, with the chef preparing meals throughout the day as we were in and out. The smells would waft through the barge all day, building anticipation as we approached dinner. 

I loved watching the chef preparing dinner each day. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Everyone always changed clothes for dinner. Nothing formal, but we all changed and spruced up after a day of exploring. We gathered in the salon (if the weather was bad) or on the deck for aperitifs before dinner. It was always with great fanfare that the chef welcomed us into the dining room for our meal. 

Sometimes, the chef would serve things we had discovered in the market on an excursion. This was always special, and we loved seeing him take ingredients we had seen in the market and create an exquisite meal at day’s end.

A lunch spread onboard Enchanté was created using our market finds. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Two attendants were with us for each meal, offering exquisite, personalized service. Dinner always included an appetizer, main course, cheese, and dessert. Again, everything is paired with both a white and red wine. Sometimes, we had lively discussions about the pros and cons of each wine. On one occasion, none of us were fans of the red wine served, so the captain opened a different wine for us to sample, which met with great enthusiasm. 

I enjoyed the food onboard Enchanté. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

On the final night, the captain’s farewell dinner meant we all dressed up just a bit and savored an exquisite meal and the best wines of the trip.

Excursions During the Barge Cruise in France

Throughout the cruise, there are small stops along the way. This area of France is filled with gourmet delights and history, and you can explore both during your cruise. The captain, Ms. Nicky Gulland, would head out with us on the comfortable van, handling everything so we could simply enjoy the area. 

Day 1: Salleles d’Aude

We met Enchanté, where the staff greeted us with a champagne toast. We settled into our suites, unpacked, and then returned to the deck as we sailed a short distance to Salleles d’Aude. The chef had started preparing dinner, and the smells were wafting through the salon.

Enchanté anchored at Salleles d’Aude. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Once we anchored for the evening at Salleles d’Aude, Bill and I decided to get off and stroll along the canal. We discovered a tiny little town and sat for a bit at a restaurant perched on the banks of the canal.

Wandering along the canal in Salleles d’Aude. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

After dinner, the six passengers sat around the table, enjoyed nightcaps, and retired early to wake up at 8 the next morning for breakfast before our first full day onboard Enchanté exploring Canal du Midi.

Day 2: Salleles d’Aude to Roubia

We set sail at 9 am on day two, headed for the medieval village of Roubia. Our first stop was for a short walk around the village of Le Somail. This is a charming little spot on the canal where we had time to pop into one of the best bookstores anywhere. Le Trouve Tout Du Livre opened in 1980 in an old cellar along the canal. Today, more than 50,000 books dating back to the 17th century fill every shelf, nook, and cranny. This is the offshoot of a Paris bookstore. 

Le Trouve Tout Du Livre in Le Somail France. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Le Somail is also home to le Tamata, a floating grocery store on a converted barge. It serves up fresh croissants and ice cream.

Enchanté makes a brief stop in Le Somail, giving you time to explore the tiny hamlet. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

After the brief stop in Le Somail, we continued along Canal du Midi to Roubia. After a delightful lunch featuring one of my favorite wines of the trip—2011 Irancy Vin de Bourgogne—we climbed into the Mercedes for our first excursion.

Our first stop was at l’Oulibo, a high-end olive oil producer growing Lucques olives. We enjoyed tasting the oils and the olives and picked up a few to take home. They also have lovely housewares if you have enough room in your luggage to take some home. 

We headed to L’Oulibo Olive Cooperative and tasted the famous Lucques olives. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

After our delicious olive tasting, we headed to Minerve, the ancient capital of the Minervois.

Minerve, France. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The rocky, medieval town is home to a 12th-century Cathar fort surrounded by deep limestone gorges. As you wander the cobbled streets, the Captain will explain the town’s history, including a 1210 siege by Simon de Montfort.

I loved exploring the tiny paths leading through Minerve. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

After Minerve, we returned to Enchanté for an evening filled with more great food and wine.

Day 3: Roubia to Homps

Our third day took us back to Narbonne via the Mercedes. We started with a visit to Les Halles. While we had wandered through on our own the morning before boarding Enchanté, it was much better to wander through with the chef. He pointed out the best cheese and incredibly fresh seafood.

We left the market and visited the Archbishop’s Palace and the Cathédrale Saint-Justus and Saint-Pasteur. The cathedral is splendid, both inside and out.

Construction on the cathedral began in April 1272 and continued until 1345 with the outbreak of the Hundred Years War. It remained unfinished for centuries, with some work starting again in the 17th century.

Cathedral of Saint Justus and Saint Pasteur in Narbonne. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The Gothic-style cathedral was home to the archbishop of Narbonne until the French Revolution when the archbishop was transferred to Carcassonne. Today, it is a parish church.

Be sure to notice the great organ, which is more than 75 feet high on the western wall. The organ was designed by Christophe Moucherel between 1739 and 1741, replacing one destroyed by fire in 1727. Take time to enter the Treasure, containing precious art objects dating to the 13th century.

Inside the Cathedral in Narbonne. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Day 4: Homps to Puicheric

Our fourth day was spent exploring in the morning. We headed to the scenic town of Lagrasse, with our first stop at Vinaigrerie Cyril Codina. The men in the group were skeptical when they heard we were going for a vinegar tasting, but I told them to keep an open mind—and everyone enjoyed it. The balsamic vinegars are exquisite and made on-site in wooden barrels. We toured the facilities and saw the vinegars in various stages of aging.

Vinaigrerie Cyril Codina has a variety of vinegars aging throughout the premises. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

After our tour, we headed to the showroom/tasting room. There are 45 different vinegars, and you’re encouraged to taste each. They also produce high-quality olive oils. I brought home a few bottles, and the captain picked up a couple of bottles to take to the chef so he could use them for dinner.

We sampled balsamic vinegar in the Vinaigrerie Cyril Codina showroom. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Exploring Lagrasse

After our vinegar tasting, we wandered around the medieval town of Lagrasse, often called one of the most beautiful villages in France. I agree. It is an exquisite little town. On Saturdays, you can find an active market, and artisan shops line the old cobbled streets.

The old town of Lagrasse in France. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

After exploring the medieval old town, we made our way to Benedictine Abbey, founded in the 8th century. It was once a prosperous abbey, thanks to Charlemagne. We didn’t get inside the abbey that day, but wandering the grounds was very peaceful.

Lagrasse Abbey is a Benedictine abbey dating to the 8th century. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

After all that exploring, we were hungry and excited to try one of the picturesque eateries that dotted Lagrasse. We stopped into Le Bastion, a lovely restaurant owned by two young chefs, Fabien De Bruyn and Valentin Renaud. The cuisine was quite creative and unexpected in this little town. The chefs blend traditional French cuisine with modern techniques and use the freshest ingredients. They have a lovely wine list—and I thought the beautiful menus were a creative touch.

Menu for La Bastion in Lagrasse, France.

The Next Destination

After a lovely day exploring the French countryside, we returned to Enchanté, with amazing smells greeting us from the kitchen. We enjoyed yet another amazing meal as we sailed a few miles to Puicheric.

Day 5: Puicheric to Marseillette

The next morning, we set sail early, heading to Marseillette. The day was beautiful, and I enjoyed watching us clear the small locks as we made our way along the canal.

Enchanté sailing between Puicheric and Marseillette. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

We stopped at a small, quiet spot outside of town for the night, then enjoyed lunch before heading out on our afternoon excursion.

Enchanté near Marseillette for the evening. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Wine Tasting Near Marseillette

Four of us headed out that afternoon for a wine tasting. We drove to Château Saint Jacques d’Albas in Minervois to learn more about the Languedoc’s wine trade and sample wines in the winemaker’s cellar.

We enjoyed a wine tasting in the cellar at Château Saint Jacques d’Albas. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

We had the chance to stop by another small vineyard and wandered through the picturesque setting where the owner told us about the challenges of growing grapes in the region.

Vineyards near Marseillette. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Following the afternoon spent wine tasting, we returned to Enchanté, where the smells of dinner once again beckoned to us. One of my favorite bites of the trip was that night—a lovely tuna tartare served with fresh avocado and some of the balsamic vinegar from Lagrasse. The chef paired it with a 2017 Domaine de la Perrière Sancerre, and that was about as close to perfection as it gets!

Tuna Tartare was served with local balsamic vinegar and a lovely 2017 Sancerre wine. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Day 6: Marseillette to Trebes

Our final day of sailing was also one of my favorites. Before leaving Marseillette, we loaded into the Mercedes minibus and headed to Carcassonne.

Dating back to the Gallo-Roman era, this fortified medieval town boasts 52 watchtowers and portcullis. Wandering through this walled town was like stepping back in time. Within the city walls are lovely little shops, restaurants, and hotels. One of these days, I would love to return and stay in Carcassonne.

Carcassonne, France. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

We returned to Enchanté, passed beautiful vineyards, and went through little towns to our final stop in Trèbes. Although we were very close to the city center, we docked a couple of blocks away, so our last evening still felt quiet and private.

Our final evening began with a champagne toast. The crew of five gathered on the deck with an assortment of finger foods, and everyone enjoyed a little time to sip bubbles and chat.

The crew of Enchantè wished us au revoir on our last night. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Our final dinner did not disappoint. Chef created memorable dishes to wish us well as we prepared for the next day’s departure.

Our final dessert on Enchantè was yet another work of art by the chef. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

After a restful night and a quick breakfast, our car arrived at about 9 the next morning, whisking us away to the Toulouse-Blagnac International Airport, where we caught a British Airways flight to London to await our next day’s departure for home.

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European Waterways Barge Cruise Along France’s Canal Du Midi