France Cruises, Day 2: A slow journey to Capestang

The Cathedral of Capestang dominates the skyline.

ABOARD THE ESPERANCE — On our first full day onboard the Esperance, we find out that today is a very relaxed day. Every other day of our journey we will be met by a tour guide in the afternoon who will drive us to a destination to explore. Today, though, there will be no tour guide. Just gentle cruising and peaceful scenery.

A breakfast buffet is put out each morning at 8 a.m. for the six passengers. Pastries from a local patisserie bought along our route are loaded onto the table, typically croissants. Baguettes, jam and butter are ready and waiting, along with ham and cheese, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee. Breakfast stays out most of the morning, which is a good thing, because we didn’t get to the table until 10 a.m., but we weren’t the last to arrive, either. Our tiny group has already gotten used to seriously relaxing, and early mornings are not to be expected.

We left the banks of Beziers around 10:30 a.m. Soon the scenery changed to a narrow canal lined by sycamore trees, with sunlight peeking in between the leaves and a gentle breeze rustling the branches. The Esperance is sailing the Midi Canal, just one portion of the long waterway that cuts across southern France through the Languedoc region connecting the Atlantic with the Mediterranean. “I have found that the Midi Canal is the most beautiful part of the entire canal,” Mathias, our captain, said. “Other parts of the canal might have bigger cities or be more well known, but this section is the most beautiful.”

The Esperance docked for a lunch break.

Deck chairs are available on the top deck of the Esperance to just watch the scenery slowly float by. Soon, it’s lunchtime, served around 1 p.m. We’ve docked along the banks of a village named Colombiers for lunch and eat outside under the shade of an umbrella. Quiche Lorraine, salad, deviled eggs and dessert of a poached pear in wine are a culinary marvel, expertly crafted. Oliver is from southern France and excels at using local ingredients for each and every dish.

One couple decides to bike to the next stop along our route, Capestang, while we stay onboard the Esperance for another hour of sailing along the Midi Canal. We tie up to the banks of the canal outside of Capestang and are free to explore or do whatever we choose for the rest of the day.

In Capestang, a beautifully old cathedral dominates the skyline. We all eventually made our way there to peek inside and see the stained glass windows, as we ventured into the village at differing times throughout the afternoon. The barge was just a ten-minute walk from town, so exploring the village was easy. Naps and gentle strolls along the canal banks rounded out the afternoon’s lazy activities.

Green-hued waters shaded by sycamore trees are common throughout the Midi canal.

Dinner was served outside again, against the backdrop of the cathedral lit up against the night sky. An appetizer of goat cheese and prosciutto wrapped in a light and flaky dough was followed by a main course of duck with orange sauce and vegetable ratatouille, with a simple dish of seasonal melon for dessert. A cheese plate always precedes dessert.

Photos by Kimberly Buttons

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