Note: I’m reposting this because my friends could use more visitors to their Canal du Midi vacation barge, so if anyone you know is looking for a truly unique French vacation experience, GET ON IT!
Mel and I bade our sad goodbyes to Hotel d’Europe in Avignon, and armed with pastries and coffee from our guardian angel Fernando, we set out for our next adventure. But first – a pit stop in my adopted hometown, Montpellier!
Mel met Ladybird, who gave her some much-needed snuggles; and Cal, who proudly showed off the city he’s called home for more than 10 years. We walked through the Place de la Comedie and the Esplanade, and then took her on a tour of one of the oldest toy stores in France. Mel was thoroughly enchanted, and after a tasty lunch we were off again – this time to Colombiers, a small hamlet on the famous Canal du Midi in the Languedoc region.
After some helpful directions from an impossibly filthy mechanic on a forgotten street outside of town, we were greeted by my old friends Domi and Gwennie, and welcomed into – or rather, aboard – their home, Peniche Oz.
I’d first seen Peniche Oz several years ago, when they’d just bought it and it was nothing more than a gutted hull. Domi and Gwennie tried their best to explain to me what their plans were; but never having been on a barge, I simply couldn’t imagine how they were going to turn this enormous black bathtub into something habitable.
So, imagine my surprise when I stepped onto a smartly painted, well-appointed vessel with three full en-suite bedrooms, a spacious living room, an open-plan kitchen and dining room that seats at least eight, a topside deck with comfy chairs – and a hot tub! (See more pix here.)
And this was only my first surprising lesson in barge living. As we had cocktails and treats on the deck under the famous sycamores of the canal, waving occasionally to passing boats, Domi filled me in on life aboard Peniche Oz. Here are some things I learned:
- The barge is outfitted with environmentally friendly features. And there’s Internet. And a kitchen that’s bigger than mine at home, with a normal-sized refrigerator. And a washer and dryer! I was expecting none of these things.
- Nor was I expecting the fantastic breakfast Gwennie prepared for us the next morning – fresh-squeezed OJ, piping hot coffee, and oven-fresh pastries from town served with jams and butter. And the best part was that it was served in the wheelhouse, so we had a 360-degree view of the canal and the fields beyond. Not a bad way to start the day.
- Because the barge moves slowly on the calm waters of the Canal du Midi, things don’t have to be battened down. So it doesn’t feel like a boat as much as a comfortable home, with plants and art and knick-knacks and books. And by comfortable, I also mean that they dragged me kicking and screaming from the enormous sectional sofa in the cushy living room.
- You don’t have to actually travel on the barge to enjoy it. We stayed moored along the side of the canal in Colombiers for two nights, and didn’t feel bored for a second. We walked around the old part of town, had dinner at the small marina, drove to a nearby town for some coffee and a stroll, Mel took a hike with Gwennie, and we still had plenty of time to hang out on the barge itself.
- That being said, Domi told us that you could theoretically take the barge all the way to RUSSIA via the canal system. You can’t say that kind of thing to two travel writers. Mel and I almost fainted.
- And THAT being said, you can rent just one room, or the whole barge for as long as you want, and travel along the Canal du Midi, stopping at night along the banks of whatever adorable village you come upon. It beats the pants off of planes, trains, automobiles and hotel after hotel.
I honestly can’t think of a more unique way to see France. Why wouldn’t you want to do that? Why isn’t everyone talking about and booking barge vacations in France? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? Get cracking!