With its golden light and falling leaves, autumn is a magical season for a canal holiday. YBW's editor Stef Bottinelli hires a Le Boat vessel and cruises along the Canal du Midi
It’s an early autumn as we get up at the crack of dawn to catch a two hour flight from London to Béziers in southern France, where we’ll be spending a few days boating on the Canal du Midi in the Languedoc on a hired Le Boat’s Horizon boat.
Beziers airport is a mere 10 minutes by car from Port Cassafieres where we are picking up our boat at one of the many Le Boat bases.
Le Boat have several types of boats available for hire in many European destinations, such as France, Italy, England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Scotland, Ireland and now also Canada, but it’s the Languedoc and its beauty that’s attracted us to this part of France.
Stretching from Toulouse to the Mediterranean sea, the Canal du Midi is popular with boaters for its natural beauty, wildlife watching, lovely villages, old towns and vineyards that dot its banks.
It’s three of us in our party with only one not having any boating experience, but this is no problem as Le Boat’s vessels are designed to be driven by (almost) anyone. Once arrived at the base we are shown to our boat, the Horizon 1, an original Le Boat’s designed vessel.
Before we set off Le Boat’s instructor Kevin takes us for a spin to teach us how to drive our craft and to show us where everything is. Less than an hour later, eager and confident, we are ready to set off.
Our boat: Horizon 1
All Le Boat’s boats have been originally created by the company and we are very pleased with the size and layout of ours which is perfect for a group of three people.
Measuring 11.5m x 4.25m, the Horizon 1 is spacious. The flybridge allows for stunning views of the canal as you drive, and the area is very sociable with a sunpad, and seats on the foredeck, whilst aft a dining table and seats allow for eating and relaxing alfresco. A barbecue and sink to port mean that meals can be cooked in the open air if the weather allows.
On the main deck there is the cockpit and the saloon, which boasts large windows that allow for panoramic views, a dining area with a roomy galley with all mod cons, which we’ll use extensively in the following days when we encounter a spot of bad weather. The Horizon 1 sleeps up to five with one foredeck master cabin with en-suite and a smaller cabin with twin beds to starboard. The dining seats can also be turned into two beds.
The Canal du Midi
Our first plan to head east towards the ancient town of Agde and the Thau Lake is soon scrapped due to the rainy weather forecast and poor visibility. We decide to head west instead, to another ancient town, Bèziers, famous for its stunning cathedral, Le Pont Vieux (the old bridge) and the luscious Le Plateau des Poètes, a park designed by the Bülher brothers in a typical English style. From there we’ll go through the famous Fonserannes locks, before heading to the town of Trèbes.
First stop is Cères, only 7km from the base, where we stock up on provisions.
As we approach Bèziers we hit our first lock. The good news is that on the Canal du Midi most locks are not only electrical but also manned, so going through them is a doddle: one person at the helm, one at the front and one at the back to throw the lines to the lock keeper, a few minutes wait, pull the lines back in et voila’!
Moorings is also as easy. As long as a safe distance is kept from any bridge, one can pretty much get their poles out and moor anywhere on the banks of the canal. There are also proper moorings with services along the way, but with our petrol and water tanks filled up, we don’t find the need to use them.
As we head towards Béziers we pass through the stunning canal viaduct, which can only be described as a lush tunnel of trees. The view is spectacular and despite the weather forecast the sun is shining so we decide to moor and make the most of the light and warmth and enjoy a BBQ up on the flybridge.
As the bright light starts turning a stunning pink, we realise it’s time to make a move. Night cruising is forbidden on the Canal du Midi and we still need to reach our destination whilst visibility is good.
It doesn’t take long to get to Béziers but we arrive just as a storm breaks out. We moor only a few minutes from Le Pont Vieux, a fine example of Roman architecture on the river Orb.
As it’s raining heavily this is not quite the right time to explore the town, so we retreat into the saloon where the excellent WiFi connection on the boat, a bit of music, a game of cards and a bottle of local wine keep us entertained until we feel peckish again and cook up a storm in the spacious galley using the local produce we bought.
After a restful night’s sleep and a spot of breakfast we are told that there’s a last minute lock keepers’ strike (how very French!) so we put on our waterproofs and set off to explore Béziers.
By the time we arrive in the centre of the town the sun is shining. We take in the local cultural spots, the Saint-Nazare cathedral and the Church of the Madeleine. The rain stops and the sun shines gloriously: the perfect time to grab a light lunch in a piazza just by the church sipping a glass of white wine as we watch the world go by.
On our way back we take a leisurely walk and stop at the beautiful Plateau des Poètes with its grottos, gardens and water features.
It’s another rainy night and with the strike still ongoing, we settle in our lovely boat for a long dinner and a film.
The following day we realise it will take us forever to go through to the famous eight Forsarennes locks, as many other boats are in a similar situation as ours, so there’s a lot of congestion on the waterways. We head over to see the famous locks on foot, before turning the boat around and heading east towards Agde.
Built in 575 BC and a former Greek colony, Agde is a pretty town with plenty of little lanes, piazzas, cute boutiques and outdoor markets. It features some beautiful churches too, including St Stephen’s Cathedral and St Andrew’s church. After a few hours of sightseeing it’s time to stop for a bite to eat in Place de la République, a pretty square with shops and bars dotted around it. Once again, the sun is shining and we enjoy our meal taking it all in.
As the end of our trip approaches and with an early flight back to London in the morning, we stop to buy more fresh produce (and of course more wine) for our last meal on the boat before setting off on a picturesque journey back to Port Cassifières. It’s late afternoon by the time we arrive back at the base. There are no clouds in the sky and the temperature is warm enough for another feast of French food alfresco. We fire up the barbecue, open a bottle of red and break bread, knowing full well that we already can’t wait to come back.
Hiring a Le Boat boat
Le Boat has many bases around Europe including France, Italy, England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Scotland, Ireland. Since the end of 2016 they’ve also added a base in Canada on the Rideau Canal. Le Boat has 44 boat types on their fleet, sleeping up to 12 people on the Horizons vessels and up to 10 on the Vision fleet.
The Horizon 1 costs £1026.00 for seven nights, and comes with a full tank of fuel and water.
For more information visit Le Boat.
Le Boat Ownership Programme
The Ownership Programme is aimed at those who enjoy boating several times a year. A two cabin, one bathroom Horizon 1150 is priced at £170K and can be used three months a year over seven years. The boat will remain as part of Le Boat charter fleet so that they can hire it out when the owner is not using it. Under this scheme the company guarantees the owner a monthly income of 7% per year of the value of the boat (calculated after 20% VAT). Le Boat will also take care of the mooring, insurance and maintenance for free. Holidays can be taken on any boat of Le Boat’s charter fleet in any of their 16 European cruising regions and also Canada.
For more information on Le Boat Ownership Programme click here.
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