The first time I visited the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France, I had one thing on my mind and that was exploring the wine appellations. But an evening wine tasting cruise on the Canal du Midi was the highlight of our trip and I soon became fascinated with the thought of taking a weeklong Canal du Midi cruise.
My opportunity finally came this summer when I was invited on a European Waterways barge cruise on the Canal du Midi. While I was hosted on this trip by European Waterways for purposes of this review, all opinions are my own. It was a perfect follow up to my cruise through Burgundy on the Hotel Barge Elisabeth, as it allowed me to compare the differences between a privately-owned and corporate-owned barge experience (TLDR: both were amazing in their own right!)
European Waterways: Pioneers of Barge Cruising
European Waterways was one of the pioneers of barge cruising back in the early 1980s when decommissioned transport barges were transformed to carry tourists instead. In the intervening years, the company has grown to offer cruise itineraries on 17 barges in nine European countries.
European Waterways offers three hotel barges on the Canal du Midi, from the ultra luxe Enchanté to the first class Athos. While many barges ply the waters of the Canal du Midi, I got to experience the godmother of them all, the Barge Anjodi.
This Dutch barge was built in 1929 and was the first to join European Waterways’ fleet. For a time she was the premiere luxury hotel barge on the Canal du Midi and first achieved fame by appearing on the BBC’s cooking series French Odyssey hosted by celebrity chef Rick Stein. I learned from my Australian fellow passengers that it was this notoriety that attracted them to the Anjodi in particular.
10 Things to Know Before you Book a Canal du Midi Cruise
Barge cruising is a travel category that many people still aren’t aware of or fully understand. I have written a full breakdown about France barge cruising, but if you are considering taking a Canal du Midi cruise, there are a few things you should be aware of first:
- Book Early: The Canal du Midi is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its historical significance and it is also one of the most popular routes for barge cruising in France. Since Canal du Midi barge cruises can be in high demand, especially during peak seasons, consider booking well in advance to secure your desired dates and accommodations. You can book direct through European Waterways or contact the Barge Lady Cruises, a travel agent that can help you best navigate the options for barge holidays.
- Choose the Right Time: Plan your trip according to the best time of year to visit. Summer months in the south of France can be very hot! While the cabins are air conditioned, you want to be able to enjoy time on deck with the sunshade down and not get overheated during excursions. Spring and early autumn are popular for Canal du Midi cruises because of the milder weather and fewer crowds.
- Cabin vs. Charter: There are many options when you are looking at Canal du Midi cruises. You can charter a hotel barge for your friends or family, you can book an individual cabin on a hotel barge with a company like European Waterways, or you can rent and pilot your own boat with a company like Le Boat for a DIY barge cruise. You need to decide on how you prioritize budget, service, privacy, amenities, and control/involvement.
- Cabin Types: Understand the different cabin options available. Some barges offer luxurious suites, while others have more basic accommodations. European Waterways has a range of both, with the Enchanté offering larger staterooms and the Anjodi with quite cosy cabins.
- Consider the Full Package: When you are looking at the cost of a barge cruise, it can be easy to get sticker shock. However, you need to look at the full picture. With a company like European Waterways, the price is inclusive of gourmet meals, unlimited wine and drinks, privately-guided excursions and wine tastings, and transfers from a local city to/from the barge location.
- Review Cruise Itinerary: The Canal du Midi is 150 miles long, starting in the west at Port de l’Embouchure in Toulouse and ending in the east at Marseillan, where the canal opens into the Étang de Thau. Since most barges only sail at about 4-5 miles per hour, you would never travel the entire length of the canal during a weeklong cruise. Take a careful look and see if you would prefer to visit the western or eastern sections of the canal and pick the barge that covers that section.
- Be Aware of your Physical Abilities: Canal du Midi cruises often involve some physical activity, such as walking or biking. Ensure you’re comfortable with the level of physical exertion required, especially along cobblestone streets. You also need to be able to navigate the narrow, ladder-like staircase from the top deck into the main cabin of the barge.
- Be Ready to Eat: There is no shortage of amazing food on hotel barge cruises and it is a large part of the barge cruise experience. If you don’t enjoy gourmet food, prefer to have more input over your food choices, or you like to eat light, you may not fully enjoy the barge cruise experience. Be prepared for leisurely meals over course after course of delicious local cuisine paired with the best wines of the region.
- Get Ready for Downtime: A barge cruise is one of the most relaxing ways to travel and still get to see interesting places. Yes, there are included private excursions each day, but the other half of your day will be spent relaxing (and eating) on board the barge. You can always choose to walk or ride bikes along the towpath instead of sitting on board, but generally you will have plenty of time to sit and watch the workings of the locks, enjoy the scenery, read a book, take a nap, or maybe have a soak in the hot tub.
- Stay Flexible: Just like river cruising, barge cruises are subject to the water levels of the canals. As such, the itinerary or mooring points may change. Just remember that a barge trip is about the relaxing cruise experience more than individual activities and excursions.
Life On Board the Barge Anjodi
The Anjodi is a first-class rated hotel barge with four cabins, holding a maximum of eight passengers for weeklong cruises on the Canal du Midi in southwest France. The Anjodi cruises the eastern section of the Canal du Midi, from the port of Marseillan to Le Somail, and vice versa, from April to October.
The Anjodi is a founding member of the European Waterways fleet and has been sailing on the Canal du Midi for over 40 years. While the Anjodi is known for its beautiful interior that utilizes African hardwoods and shining brass to create a classic yacht feel, what makes a Canal du Midi cruise so special is the exceptional level of service.
On board the Anjodi was a crew of five, the captain, two hostesses who manage the serving and housekeeping, the chef, and a tour guide. Each was friendly, hard-working, and professional. It was their hard work which really made the trip so pleasant.
Cabins on the Anjodi
There are four cabins on board the Anjodi, ranging from 91 to 102 square feet in size. Each cabin has a small en-suite bathroom and can be set up with a double bed or two twin beds. It is recommended that you choose the twin configuration, otherwise one side of the bed will be against the wall and it will be hard for that person to get in and out of bed.
I was joined on the Canal du Midi cruise by my friend Michelle and we were in the Thym cabin. It was definitely quite tight for the two of us, but once we got unpacked and into a rhythm of rooming together, it was fine as we spent most of our time out of the cabin.
The cabin was set up with two twin beds. Each bed has a narrow shelf space at the head and one had a series of cabinets above the bed for storage. The beds had a drawer in the foot of the bed, although one was hard to open given the set up.
In terms of storage, there was also a small closet with hanging space with a shelf above, along with a nightstand with a couple of drawers. Each cabin has an individually-controlled air conditioner, which is helpful in the hot French summers. But do keep in mind that fabrics tend to get a little damp by the end of the trip when you keep the air on. A little bottle of travel Febreze and a change of sheets in the middle of the week helps keep things fresh.
Every cabin also has an en-suite bathroom, which is also quite snug with very little storage. European Waterways does supply the common toiletries including shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. With all barge cruises, you do need to be careful with the maceration toilets as they clog easily and can only accept toilet paper. We had an issue with some of the toilets on board during our cruise but luckily the captain was able to get it working again while we were on an excursion.
Public Spaces on the Barge Anjodi
Each hotel barge has slightly different amenities so it is helpful to look closely at each that you are considering and decide what is important to you. On the Anjodi, the saloon has a dining table for indoor meals and comfortable banquette seating for relaxing, as well as a fully stocked bar.
On the top deck, there is a picnic table and folding chairs, covered by a sunshade except when going under the lowest bridges. When the weather is nice, guests can enjoy meals al fresco at the picnic table. Another amenity that sets the Anjodi apart is the hot tub at the front of the barge.
The pilot house is behind the crew area, but the downside is that it is hard to talk to the Captain to learn more about the region as you are sailing. While sailing, most of the guests sit out on deck (in the shade when they can get it) and watch the landscape, which varies from open fields to vineyards to small villages to lines of plane trees.
If you don’t want to relax and watch the French countryside, guests can also hop off and either walk or ride bikes (available on the barge) along the tow path. Just talk to the crew in advance because some stretches are longer than others, while some offer more shade and an interesting view.
Food & Wine On Board
Barge cruising is known for exceptional gourmet food and the Anjodi is no exception. If anything, my only complaint is that there was too much good food — my clothes protested! The Chef works so hard to please the guests and serve up delicious dishes for each meal.
Breakfast started at 8:00 am and was available until about 9:00 am, which is when we typically left for our morning excursion. The meal consisted of a buffet of pastries, yogurt, fruit, granola and cereals, along with a different hot dish each day, including eggs Benedict, crepes, and scrambled eggs.
Lunch was served either inside or outside, once we returned from our morning excursion at around 12:30 or 1:00 pm. The food was typically served family-style for lunch with a mix of salads and pastas, except for Thursday, which was a full seafood feast featuring fresh oysters, shrimp, and mussels. And, of course, there was plenty of wine and let me tell you, a nice cold rosé from the region was the perfect accompaniment!
Dinner was a multi-course extravaganza featuring entrees like shrimp risotto, Coq au vin, and seared salmon. There was always a typical French cheese course and the meal finished with a tasty homemade dessert. Since each barge cruise usually includes one meal in a town, our cruise included dinner at a fine dining restaurant in Beziers mid-week.
Friday night is the Captain’s dinner, the highlight of the week. Everyone gets a little dressed up and it starts with bubbles and appetizers with the crew, followed by dinner with the Captain and late night drinks with the crew. The dinner itself was masterful, with the addition of one of the Chef’s special dishes, made by special request from the passengers.
Canal du Midi Barge Cruise Itinerary
During my cruise on the Canal du Midi, we started in the touristic port town of Marseillan, which was an area that I hadn’t explored before, and we finished in the town of Le Somail. During our cruise, we passed through some of the most iconic sites sites on the canal.
Sunday, Day 1 – Narbonne to Marseillan
Most barge cruises go from Sunday through Saturday. We were picked up at the Narbonne train station, where I had just taken the train from Bordeaux, and another set of guests were collected from a nearby hotel in Narbonne. From the city of Narbonne, our tour guide drove us an hour to the port town of Marseillan.
This cute town is located at the entrance to the saltwater lake of Étang de Thau, famous for its oyster beds and pink flamingos. Once everyone was on board and settled in, we headed out for an exciting, open water sail on the lake, past the oyster beds, which was a very different view and experience from our time on the canal.
Afterwards, everyone had time to walk around town, which has a nice collection of outdoor cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and gift shops. Before long, it was time for our first delicious meal on board the Anjodi.
Monday, Day 2 – Marseillan to Portiragnes
On our first full day on board, we started off with a short walking tour of Marseillan. This was followed by a private guided tour and tasting of Noilly Prat, one of the leading Vermouth producers with a nearly 200 year history. Even though I’m not a vermouth fan, I enjoyed learning about the production process and getting to taste their four different styles of vermouth, including one only sold locally.
Back on board, it was time to set sail to our mooring near the town of Portiragnes. It was exciting to enter the Canal du Midi and begin our journey, but the landscape on the first day is somewhat uninspiring, so we enjoyed some time sipping rosé while enjoying a soak in the hot tub. In Portiragnes, it is only a 20 minute bike ride to the beach but we decided just to take a walk along the canal instead.
Tuesday, Day 3 – Pezanas to Fonseranes
In the morning, we took a guided walking tour of Pezanas, which I’ve visited previously and I think is one of the prettiest towns in France. Pezenas is the charming 16th Century capital of the Languedoc region and is known for its associations with the French playwright Molière. After the tour, we had about 45-minutes to explore town on our own before meeting back up with the group and heading back to the Anjodi.
The afternoon was an exciting one, as we sailed over an aqueduct and then through the famous flight of oval locks, the Fonseranes, or the Écluses de Fonseranes. This series of locks allow boats to be raised 71 feet over a distance of 980 feet. It is a slow process, especially when the canal is busy, but luckily hotel barges get priority entrance over the smaller boats. It is also a popular tourist attraction so expect to be gawked at a bit as you make the 45 minute journey through the locks.
But don’t worry, once you arrive at the mooring, you can easily hop off the barge and go gawk at the next set of boats going through the locks! This is actually a great area to take a walk.
Wednesday, Day 4 – Narbonne to Capestang
The next day started off with a guided tour of the famous Narbonne Market with Chef Jan, where we got to see a bit behind the scenes of him purchasing the ingredients for our seafood feast and future meals. He even took special requests and sought out ingredients to offer up later in the week.
After checking out the Narbonne Market, we had a guided tour of the Narbonne historical sites with our tour guide Johan. After visiting the Narbonne Cathedral, we got a closer look at Narbonne’s Roman roots with a tour of the underground Horreum subterranean warehouses that date back to the first century B.C.
I’m happy we had some time to explore the city on our own. Even though I’ve visited Narbonne in the past, it was good to have more time in the city for a little shopping!
Back on board, we enjoyed a lovely lunch of fresh pasta and another afternoon sailing. The highlight that day was sailing through the Malpas Tunnel – the world’s oldest canal tunnel. It isn’t long, but it is still a cool sight.
Instead of dinner on board, we headed back to Beziers for dinner out at a gastronomic restaurant. I’ll be honest and kind of wish we had been able to go to someplace more casual for our one meal off of the barge, as that would have been a nice change from long meals and perhaps allowed more personal choice to the menu. I also wish I had more time to walk around Capestang, instead of getting ready for a night out.
Thursday, Day 5 – Capestang to Sallèles d’Aude
The morning started with an outing to the nearby farm of Mas d’Antonin for some truffle hunting. Even though it wasn’t truffle season, we still got to meet the expert truffle dog and get a truffle hunting demonstration. This producer also has an olive oil farm and we learned more about the different olives of the region and tasted the oils that they produce.
After an amazing seafood feast on board, we were treated to a special surprise when local French signers hopped on board halfway through the cruise. We were serenaded with a wonderful performance while sailing along the side Canal de la Robine en route to our mooring at Sallèles d’Aude. It was also of interest to the locals along the tow path and passing barges. But honestly, it was such a luxurious and special experience!
Friday, Day 6 – Sallèles d’Aude to Le Somail
It was almost hard to believe how quickly the week sails by, but we started our last morning with one of the most famous sights in the region, Carcassone. We took a guided tour of tour of Carcassonne, which is a medieval fortified city that dates back to the Gallo Roman era and is the most complete medieval fortified city in existence. With its 52 watchtowers and portcullis, from the outside it is something like a Disney castle and inside, it has the touristic feel of theme park as well, with stores selling swords and other medieval paraphernalia.
Our tour covered the history of the city and its successful rebuffs of enemy attacks and included a short walk through the city center and the church. After that, we had almost an hour to explore on our own, but I’ll be honest and say there isn’t a lot to see as the shops are very touristic and you really need to watch to make sure you are buying goods that are actually made in France. You may want to try the city’s famous cassoulet, just remember that lunch is also served back on board.
Before long, it was time for our last sail of the trip to the adorable small village of Le Somail. I remember sailing past this town and under its stone bridge during my last trip to the region and thinking how charming it looked, enough to want to buy a house there. While small, it really is quite quaint, with a bookshop, boutique, barge cafe, and a handful of restaurants.
We didn’t have a lot of time to explore, because we were whisked off to a final wine tasting at a nearby Chateau. And then it was time to prepare for the Captain’s Dinner, the capstone event of our trip! Just don’t celebrate too hard because the next morning it is time to say goodbye to the Captain and crew of the Anjodi. We were dropped off back at the Narbonne train station, where I headed to Paris for a night before my flight home.
Prices for a 6-night cruise aboard the 8- passenger Anjodi start from $5,690 per person for 2024 sailings and include all gourmet meals, fine wines, an open bar for the duration of the cruise, daily escorted excursions, admissions, and private transfers at either end of the cruise. Full barge charters are also available for families and groups.
I’m now a convert for barge cruising as a relaxed, easy way to explore some of the smaller nooks and crannies of Europe. Ideally, it is great to enjoy a chartered barge cruise experience, since you never know how you will click with strangers in a tight space and lots of time spent together. I found the crew on the Anjodi to be attentive but not obtrusive, friendly and welcoming, and very good at their jobs, making the experience on board even better.
The downside would be the smaller cabins, so if you can afford it, you can always splurge on the Enchanté or another ultra luxury barge, like the new Kir Royale that is launching in the Champagne region in 2024.
See My Instagram Reel about the Anjodi: