Luxury barge cruises on the Canal du Midi are now the mainstay of the famous French canal, centuries after this engineered passage created an inland commercial waterway from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.
Today, cruising on the Canal du Midi is the perfect way to travel. Spend a week of your holidays being treated like a VIP as you glide slowly along one of France’s most well-known canals. On exclusive excursions, you’ll pass by small stone villages and visit larger medieval ones. You’ll waste no time relaxing as the beautiful French landscapes become an omnipresent backdrop, and you’ll be delighted with delicious gourmet meals and fine wines.
Why our review will help you plan your barge cruise
We are no strangers to barge travel. Our week aboard the Enchanté luxury barge was the fifth barge cruise we’ve taken, three with European Waterways. In 2017, we went on our first barge cruise on the Savannah along the Canal du Midi, travelling further up the canal from Homps to Bram. We boarded the ultra-deluxe, eight-passenger barge Renaissance in 2018, and travelled along the Briare and Canal latéral à la Loire, including over the fabulous Briare Aquaduct.
The tartan-clad Spirit of Scotland was our home for a week in 2019. Highlights were cruising up Neptune’s Staircase with its seven consecutive lochs and across Loch Ness. A week aboard the Savoir Vivre in Burgundy followed.
You can read all of our reviews, including dedicated guides on the tours, activities and food on four other luxury barges in Europe here.
We’ve travelled on various barges; double-story, single-story, chef on board, off-site catering, different regions, different-sized cabins, pickup and dropoff locations, crew and activities. Our trips have covered different seasons, travelling in the cool and the heat in April, June, July and September.
We’ve travelled with as few as six guests and as many as 12 and been involved in every activity available. If there was something to do or be part of, we’ve done it.
On board each barge, we’ve been an indirect and discreet source of assistance to guests to help them with any questions they might have had that they didn’t feel comfortable asking the crew or just a general source of information.
We are a true and accurate source of what it’s genuinely like to be on a barge cruise, and our comprehensive online guides support potential barge travellers with honest opinions and information not always found elsewhere on the internet.
This guide covers the entire end-to-end experience aboard the Enchanté to help you plan your barge holiday. If you’ve got any questions, please send them to us in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
- Why our review will help you plan your barge cruise
- Canals in France
- What is a barge cruise?
- A barge cruise aboard the Enchanté
- Crew and service
- Gourmet dining
- A day in the life of a barge cruise guest
- Tours and activities
- What’s included in the price of the barge cruise?
- What to wear on a barge cruise
- Things to think about when planning a barge cruise on the Canal du Midi
- How to get there
- Where to stay
- More barge reviews
Canals in France
The canals of France are often hidden from general view, so the concept of barge cruising is often unknown or misunderstood. The canals were built in the mid-1600s to connect France’s river systems and enable commercial transportation. Canals also exist in Scotland, England, Ireland, Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands. In France alone, some of the more prominent canals include Briare, Bourgougne and, of course, one of the most famous, and the one we travelled on, the Canal du Midi.
Many vessels traverse the canals, including privately owned, chartered or hired barges and boats. In this guide, we focus solely on luxury hotel barging. The Enchanté, a barge accommodating up to eight people, can be privately chartered by groups known to each other (think friends and family). If the barge guest list comprises people unknown to each other, it’s called a hotel barge, as it was on our cruise, where three different couples and two friends travelled together.
What is a barge cruise?
Barge cruises are the ultimate example of slow, boutique, luxurious travel. From the moment you arrive to the moment you sadly farewell the crew, guests have everything they need at their fingertips. Service from a well-trained crew means they are on hand the entire time, without ever being ‘in your face’.
Barge cruises are small, intimate affairs, unlike the huge oceanliners carrying thousands or the large river cruise boats that accommodate a few hundred people. The maximum number of passengers we have ever travelled with is 12, including us.
The week-long cruise won’t have you ticking off a long list of must-see attractions in big cities. You will likely only travel around 60-80 kilometres (37-50 miles), a distance you could drive in an hour. Instead, you’ll be rewarded with incredible scenery, a good dose of serenity, small rural towns and access to locations often impossible for others. A barge cruise allows you to sit back and enjoy the ultimate relaxation.
There is also a daily schedule of onshore activities ranging from wine tasting, chateaux visits, restaurant lunches, visits to historical monuments and so much more, depending on your particular cruise. Guests can also get off the barge and hit the towpaths for cycling and walking. The key ingredient here is you. The crew will do everything possible to help you make the most of the trip.
Keep reading to learn more about our cruise aboard the Enchanté
A barge cruise aboard the Enchanté
Like many barges along the French canals the Enchanté, built in 1958, is a former commercial working vessel. No longer relegated to carrying grain and bulk goods along the canal trade routes, she was renovated in 2009 to begin a new life as a luxury hotel barge on the Canal du Midi. Measuring 30 metres (100 feet) long, just over five metres (16 feet) wide and resplendent in her European Waterways regalia of royal blue, red, gold and white, the Enchanté is a sight to behold.
Made mostly from steel, this double-decker barge will never win any speed records, travelling around four knots through the narrow canals and locks. It makes for a calm, peaceful time on board.
Small numbers mean personal attention and with a strong crew-to-guest ratio, it means that guests are well looked after.
While the Canal du Midi extends from Toulouse to Sète on the Mediterranean, the Enchanté follows a route from Trèbes to Sallèles-d’Aude, going back and forth on alternate weeks; the truth is though that regardless of which end you start at, you’re never far away from Narbonne, the starting location.
By the end of the week however, you’ll have forgotten all about this; such is the power of this luxurious travel to wipe your mind clean for a week at least. Our cruise commenced in Trèbes.
Cabins and accommodation
“Do you sleep in hotels each night?” was the question posed to me when I was standing on a canal bridge, waiting for the Enchanté to pass underneath. When I explained that there were four spacious cabins below deck, a look of amazement spread over her face.
The Enchanté has four guest cabins which can be configured as twin or double suites, according to guests’ preferences. The cabins are spacious, measuring 165 square feet (or about 15 square metres). Only the Renaissance, another magnificent European Waterways barge we’ve travelled on had larger rooms.
The names of the cabins, Pleiades, Andromede, Orion and Cassiope hail from mythological Greek times, but there is nothing ancient about these rooms or the barge.
Two cabins are at each end of the accommodation area, separated by internal stairs linking the lower deck to the upper. Despite the proximity, adequate soundproofing means you hear little noise from the cabin beside you (apart from the occasional plumbing at night). We stayed in the Cassiope cabin towards the front of the barge.
If having a view is something you covet, the two end rooms – Pleiades and Cassiope – have three portholes. Andromede and Orion have two. This was the first barge on which the portholes couldn’t be open, but it’s still great to have an outside view.
All cabins have good-sized ensuites with excellent hot water and pressure which is always important to me. Luxury French skincare and beauty products from L’Occitane are also provided along with a small hairdryer. There is excellent storage in the vanity unit.
Other cabin inclusions include a writing desk, although having now been on five luxury barge cruises in Europe, I am yet to find a minute to sit down at one.
There is a small amount of storage by usual hotel standards, but it’s a strong representation for barges. Some of our fellow passengers were spending only the week on the barge so they arrived with hand luggage, which is perfect for these trips. However, most of us had been travelling for quite some time or were continuing to travel, so we had much more.
But, when we spent most of the time out of our room, having a couple of suitcases in our room wasn’t a problem. There is a cupboard for hanging clothes and a handy hanging shelf for light items. A digital safe is located at the bottom of the cupboard.
In a refreshing change to usual travel conditions, safety and security are something we rarely need to consider on the barge. The crew are always around, the barge is locked at night, and there’s mutual trust among the guests.
If you can travel with soft duffel bags however, this would certainly make life easier and give you more space.
Pro tip: We use packing cubes when we travel. It keeps our clothes together, makes it easier to find certain items of clothing, and in situations like this, utilises space well. I grabbed all of our packing cubes and put them on the hanging shelves in the cupboard. It took a couple of minutes and then makes packing to leave the barge efficient as well.
The cabins have reverse-cycle air conditioning meaning you can cool it down in summer or add some warmth when the weather outside is still a little cool.
Bedside tables, reading lamps, and numerous power points can be easily accessed in the main cabin and bathroom.
Pro tip: Bring a universal adaptor that fits into a European outlet. I always travel with one like this as it allows me to charge my equipment anywhere with a normal cable, plus USBs and USB-C. If your equipment is 110 volts (e.g. like in the US), you will also need a converter similar to this one.
Fluffy bathrobes and slippers are on hand if you want to lounge around your cabin or to use to get in and out of the hot tub. Some guests are even known to lounge around upstairs in their terry-towelling attire. That’s how simple life is on the canal.
Housekeeping is done daily; the towels are always fresh and water is replenished as often as required. Smaller touches like mints beside your bed are thoughtful while gifting reusable water bottles, caps and a canvas bag are both eco-friendly and useful during the cruise and after.
Each night, the scene is set for a peaceful sleep with a turndown service, complete with Valhrona chocolate on your pillow. There is no night time cruising, so the barge is moored at a quiet spot along the canal each evening. With comfortable beds and plenty of pillows, the scene is set for peaceful sleep.
The rest of the barge
The upper deck is a large, open-plan space where you’ll find most guests unless they are off on a daily onshore adventure. The dining room and living area are completely enclosed, but with large panoramic windows on both sides, you can still see everything even if you are sitting inside. It’s like you are part of a floating postcard.
When the weather is good, the rear doors that provide access to the outdoor deck can be left open. Alternatively, if it’s hot, the air-con goes on inside or the heater if it’s cool.
Saloon (Lounge area)
Unless you seek the solitude of your cabin, the lounge area upstairs is perfect for reading a book, checking out your emails, chatting with other guests or just watching the world pass slowly by. It’s also a great place to catch up for a coffee and a chat every morning before breakfast is served.
Or, for early risers like me, it’s a place to sit and tap away on my computer without annoying anyone below deck. That’s one of the great things about barges such as the Enchanté; it might not be the size of an ocean liner, but there are enough spaces around the barge to spread out and have some time on your own.
Dining room and bar
The dining table set the scene for many great conversations. In contrast to the formally decorated table, with perfectly laid cutlery, stemware for sparkling, white and red wines, and beautifully crafted napkins, our conversations were light, congenial and bursting with travel stories from all over the world. When the guests are seated around the table there’s nothing better than a long lunch or dinner.
An open bar is accessible at all hours of the day. Perhaps on a party charter, the bar might have some company in the early hours of the morning. For the most part, the guests ebb and flow from here, enjoying French champagne as lunch approaches, sipping on a cheeky cocktail in the afternoon or enjoying an aperitif as the day blends slowly into the evening.
If cocktails are your thing, you can get creative with the hosts, conjuring up fancy new recipes or revisiting retro ones. As the guests settle back after another wonderful dinner, it’s time for a digestif or two. Whatever your poison, it will surely be ready when you want it.
Nestled behind the dining table is a treat for foodie travellers. The open-plan kitchen is a feature of the Enchanté and provides a delicious backdrop throughout the day. Combine this with a chef who actively engages with the guests at all stages of food preparation, sharing stories, recipes, tips and hints, and this cosy kitchen takes the experience to a new level.
Where possible, the guests spent their time outside, taking in all of the surroundings as the barge moved slowly towards the next destination. An outdoor table saw many a drink served as we all spent time together chatting away the hours, and when the weather was at its brightest, lunch was also served there.
The hot tub was used on many occasions. Can you think of anything more indulgent than to kick back in waters of 38° Celsius, cocktail in hand, while travelling on the canal? As a guest who spent many hours in the hot tub, I can strongly attest to it being one of the best things to do onboard the barge.
Note: This barge is not wheelchair accessible. Several steps connect the inside to the external deck, and a spiral staircase connects the upper and lower decks. There are steps from the bedroom to the bathroom in the Orion cabin and from the hall into Cassiope. The only bathrooms are in the cabins.
Crew and service
The Enchanté has five crew for eight guests. Due to the location of the wheelhouse, it was more difficult to spend time with the pilot, Elie, but he was always there to give us a wave and a hearty smile from the rear of the barge. The Enchanté has a very shallow draft and can be a difficult barge to steer in the shallow, narrow canals. Over the week, Elie guides us through about 30 locks and under countless low bridges with expert precision.
Guests spent the majority of the time onboard with the two hosts, Agathe(France) and Deniz (Germany), and chef Mateo (Venezuela), who looked after all the needs of the guests.
Nicky, the barge’s captain, assisted Elie with the necessary lock work and was the tour guide and driver when guests headed off for their daily activities.
The crew work tirelessly looking after everyone. They are up early, preparing breakfast (with hot water and coffee on the boil at 7.30 am). They must wait until the last guests go to bed before completing their work and heading to bed themselves. It’s a (mostly) seven-day-a-week gig from March to October each year.
The barge is always kept in pristine condition. At any time of the day or any day of the week, it will look exactly the same as the day you boarded.
The service is what you would expect on a luxury barge. The hosts are attentive and very quickly learn the guest’s preferences. Both Agathe and Deniz came to learn that I was partial to French bubbles and always up for a quirky cocktail in the afternoon. With Agathe’s creativity, violet syrup was added to a G&T, and the mocktails were unique and refreshing when we returned from the day’s activities.
We are foodie travellers. We love cooking, understanding where it comes from and how it is made. So, my thoughts on the gourmet dining component of the barge cruise come from this perspective and our experience onboard other hotel barges with live-in chefs.
The food on all barges we have cruised on was exceptional. The Enchanté stepped it up a notch with an open-plan kitchen and a chef ‘fit for purpose’. The chef had the skills, personality, and ability to relate to guests of all ages, from all parts of the world to create a five-star dining and food experience.
The current chef on the Enchanté, Mateo, found his way onto the barge via various other countries and restaurants, including Germany and Spain. “But restaurants aren’t always the nicest places to work, and so I wanted to come to the barge for a different experience,” he explained.
This brings a diverse set of cuisines and recipes to the table and allows him to accommodate the requirements of each set of guests. “Last week we had French guests who didn’t want to eat French food,” Mateo said, “so we did street food instead.”
Our group was happy to eat our fair share of French food, which Mateo provided, emboldened by his unique flair and secret ingredients. In his words, “My way is a little more complicated.”
His eagerness to interact and engage with the guests made Mateo a standout, and it is one of the key value-adds to this particular barge. We were all welcomed by Mateo to join him whenever we liked. For us, it meant watching how he cooked and learning new recipes and ways of cooking. The standout was learning how the traditional dish of cassoulet was made.
On the barge, we dined together three times a day. If the food experience is poor – either type of food, quality of food or chef’s behaviour – then it will greatly impact the day and the guests’ vibe. This kitchen requires something different and it delivered every day, with visually appealing food packed full of flavour.
Nothing would be worse than eating the same food you eat at home or the same food every day on a cruise such as this. Fortunately, it delighted everyone, giving many guests a food adventure, often eating things they had never heard of, let alone eaten.
Breakfast is a leisurely event each morning, usually served between 7.30 am – 8.00 am. Taking centre stage are the French pastries, sourced daily from a local boulangerie. Most of us would have been happy with a cup of coffee or tea and a croissant or pain aux raisin. But, on this luxury barge, you’ll find yourself adding cheese, charcuterie goodies and fresh fruit to your plate.
Then there’s baguette or brioche, with butter – French of course – and jam. Still hungry? The chef can whip you up some eggs. Feeling over-indulged? There’s muesli and yoghurt to lighten your load.
Breakfast provided a great opportunity to review the previous day’s activities and discuss the day ahead.
“It’s a bit more than the salad I usually have,” was an early comment by a fellow passenger as the second of four courses made its way to our table. You can imagine the surprise when it kept on coming. However, the guests didn’t take long to come to terms with the daily four-course lunch with paired wines, as everyone eagerly awaited the day’s menu.
The menu is skilfully designed to give a reprieve to our stomachs when required, mixing up light salads with heavier mains or lighter lunches if dinner is going to be big. Cheese features at every meal, even at breakfast, as mentioned above. The French love cheese and we were there to celebrate what they love.
At each meal where wine is served, the hosts take turns to introduce the French wines to not only tempt our palettes but to give us the background of the wine’s origins, its appellation, and what we are likely to taste and smell. Not a fast drinker, it wasn’t common for me to have three glasses filled with bubbles, white and red sitting in front of me and my lunch.
When lunch wraps up, you feel as though you couldn’t eat another mouthful, and yet each evening, all guests front up at the dining table once more to go head-to-head with another four courses.
By the time the week wrapped up, we’d popped the corks on at least 12 amazing varieties of wine with our meals. While the barge has an open bar – and it’s well utilised – these wines are the special ones brought out to match our sit-down meals. They are French, often local, and always of excellent quality.
- Pernand-Vergelesse, Maison Champy, 2018
- Moulin-a-vent, Maison Louis Jadot, 2017
- White Sancerre, Domaine Les Terres Blanches, 2018
- Château la Voulte-Gasparets, Corbière Boutenac, 2020
- Saint Romain, Côte de Beaune, Domaine Saint Germain Père et Fils, 2017
- Combe aux Louves, Sarrat de Goundy, 2021
- Grand Cru Kanzlerberg, Riesling, Maison Gustave Lorentz
- Alaric La Baronne, Corbière, 2014
- Château Haut-Gleon, Corbière, 2019
- Sancerre, Domaine Les Terres Blanches, 2015
- Chablis Saint Martin, Domaine Laroche, 2018
- Pernand-Vergelesse, Domaine Chanson, 2017
From the richly decadent cassoulet with pork belly, Toulouse sausage, duck and pancetta to plump duck magret, fish cooked whole in rock salt, and a tasty Coq au Vin made with guinea fowl, the French proteins set the scene. There’s always fresh, locally sourced produce complementing it, providing contrast and texture to the overall dish.
This is an example of the first dinner we enjoyed on the Enchanté. If starting as you mean to finish is a slogan to operate by, this cracking first meal meant we were in for an incredible week.
- tomato and mozzarella salad with watermelon and rockmelon. Za’atar is substituted for the usual basil, sprinkled lightly over the top giving it a Middle Eastern twist. The soup made from vegetable stock, basil oil and more za’atar ties it together into delicious mouthfuls.
- Coq au Vin – made with pintade (guinea fowl) instead of chicken and one of the best and most complex jus I have ever eaten. Millefeuille of potato, green beans, garlic, balsamic and pickled beetroot rounded it out.
- strawberry and rhubarb, with a soup of beetroot, red fruits and rhubarb, olive oil dressing, crumble chocolate and pistachio ice cream.
The final word on food
The food journey onboard the Enchanté and indeed any European Waterways barge is an integral part of the cruise. The cruises are luxury items, and the food needs to be generous and satisfying as a starting point.
Food is not a side act to everything else during the week. It is front and centre, and rightly so. Fortunately, as you can see from above, the food experience on the Enchanté gets a 10/10.
Pro tip: Dietary restrictions, allergies and preferences can all be managed, but it’s important to ensure that this is identified in your initial conversations and paperwork with European Waterways. And, if there are things you don’t like, just have a chat with the chef. It’s your holiday and your food.
A day in the life of a barge cruise guest
Life on board the Enchanté is up to you. As a general guide, each day combines cruising, eating, drinking and an onshore activity. What’s not to love? Depending on the schedule, you’ll cruise during the morning or afternoon, and the activities slot into the gap accordingly.
|Sunday||Pickup, transfer to barge, welcome drinks, dinner.|
|Monday||Cruise to Puicheric, visit the city of Carcassonne.|
|Tuesday||Cruise to Homps, visit Domaine La Tasque and the city of Minerve.|
|Wednesday||Visit the city of Lagrasse, lunch at Le Bastion, cruise to Roubia.|
|Thursday||Narbonne market and city visit, cruise to Le Somail, entertainment.|
|Friday||Visit Mas D’Antonin, cruise to Salleles d’Aude.|
|Saturday||Depart the Enchanté after breakfast for drop-off locations.|
The captain briefs guests each evening at dinner, allowing everyone to decide what they’ll be involved in the following day. Eventually, all the days will blend into one, and it’s easy to forget what activity is on. So, the clever folk onboard always have an up-to-date blackboard noting the day’s activities.
So, if sleeping in is your preference or spending more time on the barge suits you more, guests will find nothing is compulsory other than their enjoyment.
Getting involved in every daily activity still won’t take too much of a toll. Every day starts leisurely, with morning activities not commencing until breakfast has concluded, usually at around 9.30 am.
The afternoon events take place after lunch. So, keeping with the general vibe on board, there’s no need for alarms to be set – you won’t find one in your cabin – and no rushing around to be first in line to get the best seat or view.
The same air-conditioned vehicle European Waterways uses to pick guests up from the starting location is used throughout the week as the transfer van and is always parked alongside the Enchanté when guests are ready to go.
Tours and activities
Many of the tours guests have available to them as part of this cruise are often not available to the general public, or at least not as accessible.
Guests get private access to the producers and the owners in a way that adds personalisation and exclusivity to the experience. You know and feel that the events have been specially curated for guests, ensuring they are fun, interactive and physically accessible.
The activities were well-paced, not too long and not delivered in a way that made us feel like we were on a school excursion for history class.
As we started our cruise in Trèbes, our first tour was to the walled city of Carcassonne, the most visited city in the Occitanie region. For reasons that are obvious as soon as you arrive at this towering medieval village, it’s a town where tourists flock to. The immediate downside is that the otherwise beautiful city, with its incredible history and cobblestoned roads winding up, down and around the stone buildings, is full of typical, tacky souvenir shops.
Fortunately, our guide was well across this, and she took us into areas where there is space to walk, admire and listen to stories of the past. Eventually though, you’ll end up back inside the inner layer – which despite what I’ve said above – is gorgeous. Like so many of them in Europe, the cathedral was staggering, both in its size and wealth. They sure knew how to build castles, fortresses and cathedrals all those years ago.
Interspersed among the shops selling plastic knight-wear (masks, armour and jousts) is the odd artisanal arts and crafts, like the man making statues out of local marble for 40-plus years.
Domaine La Tasque
Domaine La Tasque is owned by Juliet Bruce Jones and Simon Ingman, ex-pat Brits who moved to France and bought a vineyard…as you do.
Visiting Domaine la Tasque was an example of a special visit. Juliet is a Master of Wine. I’d never heard of such a title but soon learned there are around 430 masters worldwide. Only 20 of the 430 are women and Juliet is one of those 20! This was wine royalty indeed.
Although Simon, in his easy-going style, brought their roles back down to earth noting that he “drives the tractor and manages the vineyard and Juliet makes the wine.” But, as we listen and learn more about these vineyards, it doesn’t take long to understand there’s a whole lot more involved here to produce 3000 or so bottles of wine each year.
“50-80% of the vineyards in this area are picked by machine,” said Juliet as we stood in a vineyard with Carignan vines dating back some 60 years.
The age of the Carignan vines meant they were planted in a way that (mostly) prohibits mechanisation, so they are maintained and harvested by hand, noting, “it costs three times more to pick by hand.”
As the tasting ended, and we were buying some wine to take with us, I couldn’t help but recall a statement made by Juliet when we were out in the vines. “1 hectare of vines picked by machine costs €300, but by hand, it’s €1200,” she said. And yet, as I paid €9 for bottles of excellent organic red wine, I couldn’t believe how inexpensive a product it was.
“To make a small fortune from wine, start with a big one,” Simon mused. After doing this tour, I completely believed him.
Nestled deep in the picturesque Languedoc region of France, Minerve, one of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France is stunning. Surrounded by limestone hills and deep valleys, this medieval town is just as beautiful looking at it from afar as it is when you are ensconced in the narrow, cobbled streets that wind their way through old stone buildings.
Another of France’s ‘beautiful villages’, Lagrasse is a typical medieval town with a Monk’s Abbey, an old market, narrow winding streets and an arched stone bridge over the river Orbieu.
Places of interest included:
The Heritage House displays typical architecture in the town, some dating back centuries, including the remarkable painted ceilings and murals of Languedoc-Roussillon. Painted timberwork dating back to the Middle Ages, emblazoned with coats of arms, trademarks and proverbs can be seen here.
Historically and visually, the Abbey of St. Mary of Lagrasse is an iconic part of the town. We visited the public part of the abbey’s cloisters and various rooms. A group of canons live next door in the private part of the abbey.
Cyril Codina Vinegar House
We learned about making flavoured vinegar from wine at the Cyril Codina Vinegar House. Twenty years ago, Cyril was a winemaker looking for a complementary product to try his hand at. When a few friends had earlier made jokes about “his wine tasting like vinegar”, a new idea was born.
Now, a small team make flavoured vinegars that are 100% natural with no thickeners or chemicals. With a catalogue of around 22-26 kinds of vinegar, they have many evergreen products such as raspberry, lemon, basil and honey.
Lunch at Le Bastion
Adding to the onboard food experiences was a chance to dine at a Michelin Guide restaurant in Lagrasse. At Le Bastion, we are treated to a long lunch with paired wines in an intimate restaurant environment. The menu is provided in French – which I love – but we have wonderful staff on hand to talk everyone through the menu as well. After all, this isn’t a traditional French bistro, so most of what is on the menu is far more intriguing.
The a la carte ‘Bastion Menu’ commences with Iberian jamon, always a treat wherever you can get it. It’s matched with madeleine-shaped citrus butter, sea salt, olive oil and bread; a definite feeling of the Mediterranean is on show.
The guests have a choice of two dishes for each course, but with an opportunity to try as much of everything as possible, most guests elected to get one of each within their own group to get maximum return.
- lightly smoked chicken egg yolk, coffee sabayon, rosé button mushrooms, candied lemon vinegar
- fresh asparagus braised in Mediterranean seaweed butter, fresh butter whipped with local wine, a light mayonnaise and black garlic.
- line-caught fish with wild herbs, leek green chlorophyll lightened with seawater, black olive extraction, smoked potato mousseline with vine shoots
- braised pork cheek, glazed with juice, Castelnaudary bean emulsion, Le Bastion’s version of stuffed gnocchi.
- intense whipped orange blossom and honey ganache, textured orange heart, candied and poached
- rhubarb poached in liquorice root syrup, crispy fennel seed molasses and meringue.
It’s a perfect addition to the barge activities that many guests might not otherwise seek out. With the expertly matched local wines, the lunch is a great end-stop to a fabulous day of varied activities.
Narbonne is where the barge holiday officially starts and ends, but it’s also the location of an incredible permanent market called Les Halles Narbonne. It’s one of those markets you might see on TV; it’s ever-bustling, always full of incredible food and a great place just to hang out.
It’s heavily frequented by locals, and it’s the place to be on the weekend to catch up with friends and family while enjoying a bite to eat or a cheeky glass of wine, even at 8 o’clock in the morning!
Market day with the chef is one of the best activities for guests to be involved in on the barge, even if you aren’t a big food fan. We are repeat offenders at the Narbonne Market, but heading here with the chef is pure fun. And it’s a learning experience too, with the main purpose of the visit for guests to help the chef source food for the day’s meals.
Once again, Chef Mateo exceeds expectations by really engaging with the guests and encouraging everyone to choose something to take back to the barge for him to prepare. Apart from one pre-ordered fish, the rest was up to the guests, and on our barge, everyone got involved.
Right in the centre of the town, a short stroll from the Narbonne Market is the impressive Narbonne Cathedral, towering above the square. Despite its size, it’s still unfinished, although there is still plenty to look at, especially inside.
We also visited the ancient caves underneath the city, a part of a complex set of tunnels believed to be once connected to a warehouse.
You might also like to read this >> If you are planning on spending a few days before or after the barge cruise on the Canal du Midi, you’ll find plenty of tips and information on things to do in Narbonne in our comprehensive guide 14 of the best things to do in Narbonne.
La mas d’Antonin
Unfortunately, it wasn’t truffle season when we visited, but in another showing of the special attention we got as barge guests, we still went through a live hunting experience; the only difference here was that the truffles were buried for Söike, the truffle dog, to find.
In winter, these underground delicacies sell for anywhere between €1000-€1200 per kilogram.
We walked through centuries-old olive trees, learning how the olives are grown, harvested and processed for olive oil. Table olives are handpicked at five kilograms per hour!
Following the truffle hunt, we returned to the main building for olive oil tasting and some shopping from their onsite shop.
Cycling and walking
Cycling on the towpaths on one of the European Waterways bikes can be done at any stage of the barge cruise. The bikes are kept at the front of the barge and are taken off as required. It’s easy to go riding when the boat is moored, but when the barge moves, bikes can be taken on or off at the locks. There’s no way you can get lost, and you’ll never be left behind. You can out-walk the barge. On bikes, you’ll always be well ahead of it.
A group of guests rode together, leaving the barge at our moored location in Homps. We followed the towpath for a while, eventually diverting onto the country road until we reached the town and local market at Olonzac.
Walking along the towpaths is just as much fun if riding isn’t your thing.
A private performance by local entertainers Dorine Portmann and Eric Payan aboard the Enchanté was another of those moments where guests realised they were part of a special and unique experience.
With most songs sung beautifully in French, and a few favourites from the Police and Elton John sung in English, it was a special way to end a day and slip into the evening.
What’s included in the price of the barge cruise?
There’s no denying that the cost of a luxury barge cruise is not insignificant; however, there’s a lot of bang for your buck when you look at the inclusions closely.
The great thing about booking a holiday aboard the Enchanté is that unless you make personal purchases on the onshore visits, you’ll never have to put your hand in your pocket for anything during the entire week. There are no hidden or unexpected costs.
- six nights aboard the luxury barge Enchanté
- own suite with ensuite
- all meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) – high-end, gourmet dining provided by an on-site chef. Wine pairing is also part of the daily dining experience.
- all accommodation requirements including luxury bedding, towels (including beach towels) and toiletries
- 24/7 open bar
- tea, coffee and snacks when required
- all activities and onshore experiences including any relevant admission fees plus an English-speaking guide
- luxury transfers to and from the nominated pickup/dropoff points and to all onshore activities
- wifi – note that wifi onboard the barge is not very strong and bandwidth is reduced when all guests try to use it simultaneously – which is often as everyone does it when they have a morning coffee or get back on the barge. We suggest getting a sim card for calls and data (or just data)and recommend Maya Mobile eSims. They are easy to buy online and easy to activate. We used the eSim all over France without any issues.
- use of bicycles
- hot tub
- nightly turndown service
- daily housekeeping
- on-call service by attentive crew.
The cost of the barge cruise does not include any gratuities which remain entirely discretionary. We also recommend getting your travel insurance from as soon as you pay for airfares or a barge cruise.
Tip: Have some cash or a credit card on hand for any purchases you make at the activity stops. We didn’t need cash for any of the operators we purchased from. All had credit card machines. The European Waterway calico bag came in handy for everything we bought along the way. We also use and recommend Wise borderless bank accounts. Wise also comes with a debit card which is perfect for travelling. We used our Wise card, loaded with Euros, the entire time we were in France.
Value for money
Talk to anyone for long enough about our barge adventures and we will also get asked whether the trip is value for money. It’s a necessary question as the initial outlay is not insignificant. For those who save up a long time to go on such a cruise or who have other ways to spend their hard-earned cash, you want to know whether the spend will be worth it.
At face value, it can also be hard to quantify in a way that doesn’t sound wishy-washy or misrepresents the true value on offer.
So, to put some real financial facts behind it, I put on my accountant’s hat and delved into some rough costings to provide a sense of monetary value. It didn’t take long to map out a cost structure that comes close to the overall cost (which doesn’t consider any margin for the operator, staff costs, food, alcohol, and the costs of running all other onboard services).
It’s also a good comparison against a more traditional holiday. Staying in luxury hotels, hiring a luxury vehicle and eating at Michelin-style restaurants and bars would equally compete with the cost of a luxury barge cruise.
- six nights accommodation – private suite, private barge, personal service, luxury surroundings. €400+ a night for five-star hotels in Paris.
- open bar – a few drinks every day in Paris would be over €20. There’s no limit on the bar on the barge.
- six breakfasts, six dinners and five lunches. Hotel buffet breakfasts can be upwards of €20. Four-course lunches and dinners and restaurants with comparable quality to what is served onboard would be upwards of €50-60, and that’s without matched wines. Add another €20+ for that.
- 5-8 onshore excursions with private transfers and a private English-speaking guide – this one is hard to quantify as some of the experiences aren’t even possible if you a member of the public. €50-100 minimum per tour.
- private transfers to and from the barge €150
Then there’s the feel-good value that can’t ever be quantitatively measured but in many ways, is worth so much more than the actual dollar outlay. As the famous campaign issued by Mastercard in the late ’90s said, “there are some things money can’t buy; for everything else there’s Mastercard”.
- it’s all about you
- attentive crew supporting your time on the barge in every way
- bucket-list or once-in-a-lifetime experience for many
- no rushing, no timelines, nothing is forced
- because the group is small, there’s no queuing or time wasted waiting to leave the boat or waiting for others
- the tours and cruising allow for an immersive experience that wouldn’t be gained on another type of cruise
- venture into areas that many visitors to France wouldn’t go to.
So is there value for money? Unreservedly, yes there is!
What to wear on a barge cruise
Overall, the weather will dictate the type of clothing to pack, but as this is one of the questions we are asked often, it’s useful to include some general guidelines.
The main point to note is that it’s very casual. There’s absolutely no requirement to get dressed up. Most of the time, guests don’t even change for dinner. It’s a completely relaxed vibe which is exactly what you want on a trip like this. And while you might see in your pre-boarding documentation that there is a Captain’s Dinner, it’s less fancy than what you might anticipate if you were on an ocean liner.
We’d recommend packing some comfortable shoes for walking in when you get off the barge for daily activities. Our activities saw us walking on cobbled stone streets and laneways, on uneven rocky ground at the truffle farm and on dirt tracks at the vineyard. If you plan to walk to ride on the towpaths, then good running/walking shoes are a good idea.
Besides that, it’s all about packing for the current weather conditions. We suggest adding a rainjacket to your packed items along with a warm jacket, even in summer and your swimwear for the hot tub.
Our trip was in mid-April (Spring), but it hadn’t started to warm up too much, and there was a nasty wind on several days, so a jacket is definitely necessary.
Things to think about when planning a barge cruise on the Canal du Midi
The good news is that there isn’t anything too complicated, and if you have questions, the team at European Waterways are always on hand to answer them quickly.
Once you’ve picked some possible times to travel, it’s important to consider the following.
Time of year
Without question, the time of year plays a role. Summertime is a delightful time of year to be on a barge canal on the Canal du Midi. The weather is warm – sometimes hot – making everything easy, including packing. As the season heads towards October, the heat will start to reduce, making it much more amenable for those who can’t handle the scorching hot summer days.
At the start of the season, it’s definitely cooler, and it will be unusual at the start of April to have consistently hot days. It’s also when it’s more likely for the famous Tramontane wind to blow from the Atlantic. Similar to the Mistral winds we experienced in Provence, these winds whipped through us for a few days at the start of the barge cruise.
In the shoulder months, e.g. April fewer people are travelling so less crowds and cheaper to travel and source accommodation elsewhere on your travels.
It’s good to be mindful of any other major events happening in France around your travel, especially concerning transport and pre and post-cruise accommodation.
Significant protests occurred in some of the major cities for several months before our trip, along with public transport strikes and disruptions. Knowing what is going on and the impacts will inform your planning decisions about where you might travel to and when.
Also note annual events such as the Tour de France and in 2023, the Rugby World Cup.
Direction of the barge
Depending on the week, you’ll start at Trebes or Sallele d’Aude. Does the direction make any difference? Not really. The only real difference is whether you spend more time going up or down the locks. As a guest onboard a luxury barge, I can guarantee no one will know the difference or care.
While this isn’t specifically about the Canal du Midi, they are important general considerations to consider when planning a barge cruise.
- Location – there are barge cruises run all over Europe
- Number of passengers on the barge. Hotel barges generally range from 6-12. Barges with higher passenger numbers usually mean they have more space, so you still won’t be crowded. If less is more, look for barges at the lower end of the scale.
- Where to next? If you are not just travelling for a week-long adventure on a hotel barge, then where you plan to go before and/or after the cruise could determine your preferred cruise.
- Lead time – barge cruises can book out well in advance, so if you have your heart set on a particular barge or canal, aim to book as early as possible.
- Which barge? There can be more than one luxury barge operating on a canal. European Waterways for example operates the Enchanté and the Anjodi on the Canal du Midi and four barges in Burgundy.
How to get there
The location of the canal barge cruise will determine the start and finish location, the pickup and dropoff points, and ultimately your travel plans and timing.
Some cruises, like the Loire Valley, start in Paris and in Burgundy, it starts in Dijon. This barge cruise on the Canal du Midi starts and ends in Narbonne. It’s the guest’s responsibility to get to Narbonne, and as it takes longer to get here be sure to allow enough time for your transit.
There are several options available for getting to Narbonne other than Paris. One route not often considered is via Barcelona, which only takes a few hours to get to Narbonne by train.
📍 For more detailed information on how to travel to Narbonne, read this part of our Narbonne guide.
Where to stay
Because of Narbonne’s location to other major city centres, we recommend getting to Narbonne at least the day before your cruise. This will ensure you’ve got time to relax without the pressure of travel before you embark on your barge cruise. Narbonne is a beautiful city, so you’ll find plenty to occupy your time.
Currently, European Waterways recommends the Ile du Gua Suites which is one of the official pickup/dropoff locations, so from a logistics perspective, this makes good sense to stay here. It takes approximately 20 minutes to walk to the centre of town, e.g. Narbonne Cathedral, or you could get a taxi.
Other places to stay in Narbonne:
Hotel La Residence – ideally located in the centre of the city, just around the corner from the Narbonne Cathedral.
Zenitude Apartments – self-catering apartments
Hotel l’Alsace – conveniently located across the road from Gare Narbonne – another pickup/dropoff point – this hotel is good value for money, spacious and quiet despite its location.
There’s no denying that barge vacations are a niche type of travel. But, the unique experiential opportunities it provides, along with gourmet dining, expertly chosen wines, and the ability to unwind with a small group of fellow travellers is becoming more attractive every year.
Luxury barge cruises on the Canal du Midi and further afield attract repeat travellers who tried barging once and got addicted in a heartbeat. It’s little wonder that the world of barge cruises also attracts new travellers keen to try a new adventure. With forward bookings already well advanced into 2024, it’s time to start planning your cruise now.
Prices for a six-night cruise aboard the eight-passenger Enchanté start at €5,890pp (for Australian guests) USD$6,950pp (for USA/Canada guests) and include all gourmet meals, fine wines, an open bar for the duration of the cruise, daily escorted excursions, admissions, and private transfers at either end of the cruise. Full barge charters are also available for families and groups.
European Waterways: Tel: 01753 598555 or Toll-Free from USA 1 800 394 8630 Website: europeanwaterways.com
More barge reviews
You might also like to read our comprehensive reviews on the Spirit of Scotland, Renaissance, Savannah and Savior Vivre barges.
Renaissance luxury barge review: Loire Valley France
Savannah luxury barge reviews: Canal du Midi France
Savoir Vivre barge review: Burgundy France
We thank European Waterways for hosting us. We acknowledge that the crew, including the chef, can change at any time on the individual barges. This was our review at the time of cruising aboard the Enchanté. As always, all opinions, written content, images and video are solely our own.