France Cruises, Day 4: Off to Le Somail

A great location for docking in La Somail

After a late breakfast and a mid-morning start to sailing, we are journeying off to our next port – Le Somail. Along the way, there are plenty of low bridges that we will be sailing under. As one of the largest barges on the canal, we barely fit underneath the ancient stone bridges. Each passage seems precarious to us, but Matias has clearly mastered the art of tight sailing. As inches separate our barge from the edge of the rockwork, we all bend at the waist and lower our head towards our knees while passing under the arches. It might not be totally necessary, but it is fun to think about how close we come to the archways.Lunch today is from one of Oliver’s grandmother’s recipes. An eggplant casserole starts off the meal, followed by anchor fish and potatoes in a garlic aioli sauce. Dessert is a cream caramel custard.

The quaint town of LaGrasse is filled with charm.

Le Somail is picture perfect – and we don’t even have to leave the barge to enjoy the quaint scenery. We pull along the banks just before the stone bridge that joins both sides of Le Somail. The burgeoning flower baskets, a large palm tree cascading over the water, the sight of visitors walking along a stone bridge – we can just sit on our sun deck and enjoy every minute of all that Le Somail has to offer.The excursion today is also to another lovely village that is filled more with storybook charm than sights to check off of a list. Lagrasse, about 40 minutes away, is an ancient medieval town from the 12th and 13th centuries, rich with Cathar history. A visit to the Abbey Lagrasse is a request stop to appreciate the area’s history, but what truly captures the imagination is just walking the ancient streets, discovering architectural pieces more than 800 years old, and absorbing the feel of a village that is still very much for and by its people.After given plenty of time to walk around Lagrasse on our own, our group is driven back to the barge with a couple hours of downtime before dinner. It is the perfect opportunity to do a little shopping, especially on the barge boat gift shop docked in town that sells local delicacies and souvenir items.

Mathias creates beautiful table settings for each dinner

Prior to every dinner, Mathias makes a great effort in creating a stunning tablescape to serve as a backdrop to the excellent food. Each night’s decor is different, with varied colors, themes and textures. Coordinating tablecloths, placemats, knife rests, napkins, silverware and china all come together to enhance the meals. With a background in art and design, Mathias values how the look of the table enhances his chef’s expertly prepared meals.Dinner tonight is a shrimp spring roll, followed by a stuffed zucchini filled with beef, basmati rice and tomato sauce, along with a dessert of apple tart. As always, the conversation is rousing, as our traveling partners who can speak French try to pry cooking secrets out of Oliver, who speaks a small amount of English. With translations going back and forth from French to English about the intricacies of our meal, as well as talk about work, families, and lives back home, it’s not unusual to spend two hours at the dinner table, talking and laughing, before peacefully retiring to our individual cabins for a great night’s sleep.

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