I’ve just returned from a very different kind of vacation–exploring the Canal du Midi in southern France on a rented, liveaboard canal boat. I went with 2 friends from Toronto, and took my 8 year old son Benjamin. We spent 7 nights on the boat, traveling between Argens and Negra (south and west of Toulouse). It was a terrific experience, and I’d recommend it to couples and to families.
The scenery was fantastic, and it was a really fun way to explore the region with friends. You pilot the boat yourselves (after a few minutes of lessons)–it’s not difficult, and the boat doesn’t go very fast, so there’s no need for any heavy experience with boats.
There’s a fair bit of wildlife to see: herons, tons of mallard ducks, beavers, geese, and swans. In some areas, we saw geckos as well, which surprised me–it was warm (in the 80’s Fahrenheit most days), but not really tropical.
We rented bikes from the boat company, Locaboat, and they stowed on the front deck nicely out of the way, and gave us the opportunity to explore and to get groceries in the little towns we passed through. And those baskets on the front? They’ll hold 2 bottles of Minervois red wine, a six-pack of beer, a whole chicken, and more :-).
The company even had kid-sized bikes so my son could ride too.
Some of the little towns are right next to the canal, so you can dock and just walk to restaurants, boulangeries, patisseries, epiceries, and all those other fancy French words that mean Incredible Food Made Here. There are a few towns worth visiting that are a bit of a hike to get to, and having the bikes meant we explored a fair bit further than we might otherwise have done.
The town of Carcassonne was probably the most interesting stop, with a walled city a short taxi ride from the canal, and within the city, a castle, an amphitheater, and a fantastic cathedral that felt like a 1/2 sized Notre Dame.
The walled city is still in use–it’s not just a display. The shops are a mix of food, wine, and souvenir stores, plus a handful of restaurants.
The castle was pretty incredible, and you could tour really the entire thing, including the turrets and various high walkways.
The views in all directions were incredible. With the ubiquitous terracotta tiled roofs, it did remind me a lot of Florence, Italy.
The boat was pretty big, with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms (including showers…of sorts), and a pretty usable kitchen/dining room area. With the bow thrusters, it was actually not too difficult to maneuver, either.
Navigating the locks was really a lot of fun, and a bit of exercise as well. Locks ranged from single locks to sets of as many as four in sequence. Each lock would hold up to 4 boats, although with 4 in the lock you had to be on your game with the bow and stern lines to keep them from bumping as the water was rushing in to fill the lock.
All in all, a really terrific kind of vacation. Fantastic food, brilliant wines from the Minervois, Corbieres, and Languedoc regions we passed through, wonderful friendly locals, and super helpful lockmasters who refrained from giving us amateurs a hard time when we made stupid mistakes in the locks.
Here’s a 360 degree panoramic view from the top deck: