Luxury on a Barge in the South of France

Mobile Travel Agents’ Chief Executive, Don Beattie, explains the beauty of life in the slow lane, or the slow canal as it were…

Going slow is definitely ‘a la mode’ and seen by many these days as an unbeatable way to travel. And exploring a country by barge is slow travel in its purest form.

Barge travel enables you to stop whenever you please and immerse yourself in the people, places and events, creating the kind of unforgettable memories that elude those in a haste to get going.

If you have ever considered going slow, barging the Canal du Midi in the South of France is the way to do it. For the ultimate in luxury, consider chartering the beautiful Belmond Alouette in summer as she meanders her way from Carcassonne to Beziers taking in the tranquil countryside.

MTA – Mobile Travel Agents Pty Ltd (MTA) has long been associated with Belmond, the luxe brand behind the famous Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro and the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train.

Belmond has well a truly earned its reputation as a leader in luxury travel experiences. Like MTA, Belmond believes the experience had and memories made are just as important as simply fulfilling a travel request. A Belmond Alouette journey is testament to that ethos, and I am lucky enough to know this first-hand.

One of the larger vessels to operate on Canal du Midi, the Belmond Alouette is beautiful in every respect, standing out from the crowd with her burgundy hull contrasted with subtle whites and creams. The vessel’s two cabins are spacious and have well-appointed en suites, furnishings are plush and comfortable in the below-deck lounge and dining area, and topside presents the perfect venue for dining al fresco while charming scenery slowly slips past.

Then there is the integral crew of four. In our case a French captain, a Scottish chef, an English hostess and a French tour guide, each excellent in his or her role – friendly, professional and as engaging as you wish. There never seemed to be any reason to ask for something – that cup of tea, glass of wine or delicious snack seemed to appear just at the right time and delivered to taste.

With Belmond, such attention to detail is in place long before travel begins. A Belmond representative was even on hand to escort us from our hotel to our train seats for the pre-canal leg to our journey’s starting point in Trebes.

About that journey: the southern French countryside is every bit as picturesque as your imagination might suggest. In fact, you could be excused for conjuring up memories of The Wind in the Willows and almost expect to see French versions of Rat and Mole on one of their adventures. The breeze on your skin, the feeling of peace is broken only by the warning from the Captain as he prepares to lower the upper-deck canopy to clear one of the route’s many stone bridges.

We meandered past picturesque Trebes, historic Carcassonne and Narbonne, each as beautiful as the next. Yet it was the activities en route that made our adventure so memorable: joining our chef in bustling French markets; walking the towers and city walls of medieval Carcassonne; discovering a jousting tournament complete with lance-bearing knights in armour aboard magnificent steeds; walking the ancient Cathar stronghold of Minerve, famously besieged by Simon de Montford in the 13th century; private wine tasting at award-winning Chateau Massamier La Mignarde.

And what would a visit to France be without a visit to a local goat farm to see how the famous local cheeses are made and, more importantly, how good they are to eat? So good, in fact, we purchased several that, along with a very good local wine, were thoroughly enjoyed that evening once back on-board.


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