France Cruises, Day 6: On The Way to Carcassonne

The ancient city of Carcassone is a medieval delight.

Today we sail to our final port, and the one excursion that convinced everyone onboard to take this barge cruise – Carcassonne. The medieval city is listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site, and showcases 1,000 years of military architecture.

During the morning, we sail through five locks, patiently waiting at intervals for the lockmaster to allow other barges through. The Midi Canal is full of families sailing their own private boats and barges, and traffic can get quite backed up at certain areas.

As we sat on the upper deck, watching the intricacies of navigating the locks, the smells of beef stew wafted from the lower deck below. None too soon, it was time to enjoy an eggplant dish and the savory stew as we docked along the banks at lunchtime in a town called Homps.

It’s a tight squeeze as the Esperance glides under bridges.

Selene quickly picked us up and we then drove to Carcassonne, one of the best preserved walled cities in Europe. Inside the walls is an entire medieval city geared towards tourists. Since pre-Roman times, a fortified settlement has existed here. A controversial restoration in the 19th century by Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc is a matter of spirited debate among many history purists, though most people seem to just enjoy the unique privilege of strolling through a medieval city. You can discover the Gothic cathedral dedicated to St. Nazaire and St. Celse, richly decorated by opulent stained glass windows, but most visitors spend their time shopping and dining along the narrow city streets.We had plenty of time to explore the walled city of Carcassonne on our own before heading back to the barge. Tonight was the last night of the cruise, and the dinner was one of much anticipation. We all decided to dress up for our last night, and it was fitting that we did.

Paulette and Tom had taken the cruise to celebrate their 30th anniversary, and to visit Carcassonne, a city which Paulette had always been fascinated with. Mathias surprised the couple with a table setting all in white, to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Champagne was served  and Oliver made a cake for the couple as dessert. After an appetizer of puff pastry and seafood puree, followed by a main entree of prawns and zucchini casserole, the decadent hazelnut cake was a great finale to our run of gourmet feasts.

Midi Canal sails through the Minervois appellation.

Returning to our cabin to pack for our morning departure after breakfast, we found the beds turned down and candies on the pillow, just as Mathias had done every night of our journey. Selene will come and pick us up again, bringing four of us to the Bezier train station, just an hour’s drive away, for our trains. We will go to Paris for a couple more days, while one couple will travel to Avignon and the other will stay in Carcassonne.Knowing that our own personal French chef will not be accompanying us for the next few days, and getting ready to get back to the hustle and bustle of the bigger French cities, it is with a fond farewell that we remember our Midi Canal cruise, an oasis of peace and seclusion in the heart of France that you simply must experience yourself to fully understand how unique it is.

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