Cruising Through Spring in Southern France

European Waterways offers spring cruises that sail through the heart of the French countryside By: Marilyn Green
European Waterways’ Enchante travels to Carcassone, Minerve, Lagrasse and Narbonne, France, in the springtime. // © 2011 European Waterways
European Waterways’ Enchante travels to Carcassone, Minerve, Lagrasse and Narbonne, France, in the springtime. // © 2011 European Waterways

The Details

European Waterways
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Springtime in the southern French countryside, which includes the Midi and Gascony, brings temperatures that climb into the 60s, almond blossoms and the distinctive scent of lavender and thyme. To help cruisers experience springtime in the region, European Watwerways offers spring barge cruises in the region onboard its eight-passenger vessels, of which there are three.

The Anjodi, a classic Dutch barge featuring African hardwoods, handcrafted paneling and brass, was specifically rebuilt to navigate the 300-year-old Canal du Midi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the itinerary’s excursions are a tour of Carcassone, the most complete medieval walled city in existence and a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a visit to Pezenas, a village associated with French playwright Moliere. Guests visit the 12th-century hilltop fort in the village of Minerve, considered to be one of the most beautiful villages in France, and enjoy private wine tastings of Corbieres and Minervois wines at the Chateaux Guery and Perdiquier.

The more contemporary-designed Enchante follows a similar route, with excursions to Carcassone and Minerve, as well as to Lagrasse with its 8th-century abbey and Narbonne’s colorful indoor market. Other highlights include a visit to a traditional oulibo or olive press to sample the famous Lucques olive oil and a private wine tasting in Saint Chinian, the first village in the region to receive the French A.O.C. rating, one of the world’s oldest and strictest systems for designation of wines and quality control. Enchante’s features include Internet connection and alfresco dining on the sun deck, which also has an inviting spa pool. Bicycles are available to be used at any point during the cruise.

The renovated eight-passenger Rosa also has a spa pool on the sundeck and offers bicycles to guests as she cruises the Canal Lateral a la Garonne, the continuation of the Canal du Midi through Gascony towards Bordeaux. Highlights of the cruise include visits to medieval Montauban and Auvillar, Mountaban is the second oldest of the bastides (towns built during the 13th and 14th centuries) in Southern France, and Auvillar is famous for its art galleries and wine. Passengers will also experience the crossing of a 1,000-foot aqueduct and enjoy tastings at producers of two of the area’s best-known products — Armagnac brandy and foie gras.
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