ABOARD THE ESPERANCE — At 10 a.m. we’re sailing again (well, give or take a half hour or so, but what’s the rush?!). The scenery starts to look just a bit like Tuscany and we’re suddenly sailing along vineyards and will be for the rest of the cruise. We’re in prime French wine country now. The Minervois appellation is France’s largest, according to Mathias, with the greatest output of grapes for wine.
Some of the wine produced in the region is stocked on the barge and ready for us at any time of the day. There is unlimited alcohol on board. A wine rack is stocked to the gills with local wines. An entire cabinet is stocked with liquors from around the world.
Mathias opens a bottle of rose wine with each lunch, usually produced by Chateau Cabezac, which we will sail by later in the week. Dinner always has a bottle of white wine and red wine ready. Yet Mathias is confused that the six of us can’t even finish one bottle each meal. “Don’t you like the wine?” he asks. Well, yes, it is amazing, perhaps some of the best that I’ve enjoyed. The problem is, two people in our group (1/3 of us, by the way) don’t even drink, while the rest of us aren’t exactly heavy drinkers. Mathias is used to going through up to seven times more alcohol on cruises than we’ve been consuming on this one.
After sailing for several hours, we dock on the banks of the canal, and this is where we’ll be spending the night. Lunch is served (gazpacho and lasagna before we beg off dessert because we’re all just too full) before our tour guide comes to pick us up at 2 p.m. Selene arrives in a plush minivan. She introduces herself as the guide that will be picking us up for excursions every day of our trip, and she speaks English very well, for those of us who aren’t fluent in French. Soon we’re all in the van and driving to Narbonne, a 20-minute drive away.
Narbonne is bustling, and it’s a bit exhilarating in a weird way to be in fast-paced civilization again. The major site is the Narbonne Cathedral, dedicated to Saints Justus and Pastor and the former seat of the Archbishop of Narbonne. Built in the 13th century, the cathedral is stunning, with gorgeous stained glass and gothic architecture on a grand scale.
In addition to a tour of the cathedral, Selene takes us on a walking tour of Narbonne, and then a visit to a cafe for gelato and drinks before boarding a half-hour trolley tour of Narbonne (all costs are included in the cruise fare).
By 6:30 p.m., Selene has driven us back to the barge, where we relax for a while before enjoying dinner. Served indoors tonight at the table right beside the chef’s kitchen, dinner consists of a tomato and feta trifle, curried wheat and fish, and fruit kabobs with chocolate sauce. After dinner, we stay in the lounge area and join Audrey and Brent to play board games. A library and fully stocked selection of DVDs awaits guests in the lounge, but we never used them. A full selection of CDs and a stereo are also available in this common area for everyone’s enjoyment.
Photos by Kimberly Button