Today’s Cruise Wrap is brought to you by five cups of tea, an obscene amount of cold and flu tablets, half a box of tissues, and one very sick journalist.
You’ve heard about ship cruises and river cruises, but barge cruises just might be the best way to experience Europe.
As actor Timothy West and his wife Prunella Scales continue their adventures on canals, he reveals his favourite routes both at home and abroad.
Acclaimed actor Timothy West and his wife Prunella Scales have just embarked on their eighth series of Great Canal Journeys on Channel 4, which is accompanied by a book charting their experiences.
“Pru and I have always loved the water – being on it, beside it and sometimes in it, although I’m a terrible swimmer,” he writes in Our Great Canal Journeys. “Yes, we owe a lot of our lives to the water.”
Here, he selects five of his all-time favourite waterways.
1. The Kennet and Avon
“This was our first love and we were very much involved when it was being reclaimed,” he recalls.
Lesley Bellew recently cruised France’s rivers on the European Waterways hotel barge Clair de Lune and today shares one of the finest accounts of river cruising we ever published.
A chorus of nightingales welcomed us to the Canal du Midi, a symphony of rich notes that signalled the start of a glorious holiday in the stillness of the French countryside.
The chirrups and whistles stayed with luxury hotel barge Clair de Lune as she meandered along the ribbon of green waterway, from Carcassone to Narbonne, in south-west France.
We moored at quiet spots on the canal, took walks or bike rides along the towpaths and gentle tours to castles, villages and wineries.
The pace was slow and rightly so, as the UNESCO-listed canal, a major feat of engineering which opened in 1671, should be savoured.
Less stuffy than Bordeaux and trodden with far fewer tourists than Provence, Occitanie offers the best of both of its wine-producing neighbors—and just so happens to be the birthplace of sparkling wine.
On a Friday evening near the tiny French fishing village of Gruissan, a gypsy band roars into song, strumming “Les Champs-Élysées.” The crowd joins in clapping, hopping up on wooden picnic tables to sing along as steaming bowls of mussels and salt-encrusted sea bass emerge from the kitchen. The scene at oyster shack La Cambuse du Saunier, which sits along the Les Sels de Gruissan salt marsh, may seem reminiscent of something you’d see at dive bars in Key West. That is, until you take a sip of the local rosé while admiring a salt pond that’s the very same shade of pink as the wine you’re drinking.
The Strait of Gibraltar between Europe and Africa isn’t the only waterway that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. A thousand kilometer north lies another connecting route. This route connects the French city of Bordeaux, near the Atlantic ocean, to the Mediterranean port of Sète through a series of canals collectively called Canal des Deux Mers, or the “canal of the two seas.” Lying entirely in Southern France this man-made canal is one of the most remarkable feats of civil engineering carried out in the 17th century.
Canal des Deux Mers consist of two canals. From the Mediterranean port of Sète to Toulouse, a distance of 240 km, runs Canal du Midi. From Toulouse to the town of Castets-en-Dorthe, 193 km away, the canal is called Canal de Garonne. The remainder of the route to Bordeaux uses the Garonne River.
A 241 km long canal in Southern France, the Canal du Midi is considered one of the greatest construction works of the 17th century.
Canal du Midi is a waterway system that was built in the 17th century in southwestern France. The canal covers a length of 150 miles with an average depth of 6.5 feet and a width of about 33 feet. The canal begins at Toulouse and runs through Seuil de Naurouze, Castelnaudry, Carcassonne, through the Fonserannes Locks, Trebes, Beziers to Agde and ends at the Etang de Thau. The Seuil de Nauronze section of the canal forms the highest point of the canal with an elevation of 186 feet. The Canal du Midi was previously owned by Pierre-Paul Riquet, but ownership was passed to the French State through the November 27, 1897, Act.
CLOSE your eyes and imagine slipping gently along, skippering your own boat on the Canal du Midi in southern France, exploring the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Pause along the way to taste the local food, savour the wines, visit medieval villages and take in the glorious scenery.
Now open eyes and start to plan, making your dream holiday a reality.
Australian company Cruise Traveller is offering the answer for a perfect boating holiday.
“Locaboat is suitable for all adult ages, and the leisurely pace of the whole product makes it a very relaxing experience,” managing director Craig Bowen said.
“If you have even basic boating experience it will be easy, however even as a first-timer the operational side of the vessel is extremely simple.
“The instructions made available by the departure base are excellent, and the written information provided is comprehensive.
Five knots — by boat and by bike — is the ideal pace to take in the old stone, the sublime landscapes and the terroir delicacies of southern France.
Even if it weren’t for the grapevines of Minervois, Corbières and Limoux descending in rows down from the snow-topped Pyrenees and severe Massif Central mountains into the Aude Valley; even if it weren’t for the thousand-year-old stained glass, great Gothic arches, and layers of local marble and sandstone recalling the Paleolithic, Roman and medieval people who walked the hills and built the walls around us; even if it weren’t for the mild Mediterranean climate, encounters with the easygoing people of the Languedoc region, and the world-class delicacies they serve from their own backyard — even if it weren’t for all these things, I would come to the Midi just for the canal bridges.