April 2002

old colorful building in a village in the south of france

 

Early one Sunday morning, we put our suitcases into the car and headed south for our spring vacation. The South of France with its promise of warm sunshine was calling to us. Actually it was boating friends, renting a house in Antibes for the winter, who called and invited us to come for a visit.

 

 boats in antibes harbor

 

 

 

A reasonable level of pre-season tourists were already filling the streets along the beach towns of the Cote d'Azur, and we were happy to have arrived early in the afternoon after a pleasant drive.  The warm hospitality of our friends and the spring sunshine made us happy to be back in Antibes.

photo of a beautiful yacht

 

Strolling together along the busy harbor with our friends, we stopped to look at the huge yachts, and we each selected our favorite. Seeing large crews at work on each boat made us all jealous, not for the yachts, but for the workers.

 




a yacht with a helicopter on the top deck

 

 

 

Toby, the only one among us who already has his own crew, picked out the yacht with the helicopter on top.



the French Rivera seen from above

After a couple of nice dinners with our friends, and a great day of sightseeing on the way to and from lunch in San Remo, Italy, we left Antibes for points west.


Bezier step locks

 

 

 

Traveling with no set plans, we headed towards the Canal du Midi. Beziers, with its step locks, was our first stop.  We used our French guide books, Gault Millau and Guide de Charme, to call ahead each day to reserve a room as soon as we decided where we might stop for the night.  This and the fact that we had to live out of our suitcases made this trip a very different experience than traveling on the canals by barge.  Traveling by barge means that you stop for the night when you see a pleasant mooring, and instead of packing a suitcase you bring along everything including the kitchen sink.


An arch bridge with an opening so small that you would never think that a barge could fit through
The Capestang Bridge is famous in the barge community for its minimal dimensions. It keeps many barges from cruising on the Canal du Midi.  Since our barge is too big to squeak under, we wanted to visit some of the towns along this popular canal.  We  knew when we bought our barge that we would never fit under this bridge because of the height and width of our wheelhouse, but looking at the tiny passage we began to doubt that our dinghy would be able to make it through either.

 south of france canal scene

 

 

We loved our hotel on the canal in Castelnaudary, and found it a very relaxing stop. Like many of the small towns along the canal the restaurants and tourist related businesses were not yet open for the season, so we had lunch and dinner in the only restaurant open near the canal.  We were greeted like regulars after the second day.

Carcassone from afar

 

In Carcasonne, while checking into our hotel, we met an American couple who had gladly moved to Paris last year on a work assignment.  Since we kept bumping into them all over town, we decided to have dinner together.  Conversation, of course, revolved around adventures with the language and the culture.

 


Carcasonne up close

By now our paced had slowed so much that we drove right through Toulouse because it was much too big and too busy for our vacation mood. We did stop to check out the barges wintering there, and then we headed north to the peace and quiet of the Aquitaine Region.  Being pre-season and traveling with Toby limited our choices of where to stay for the night in this rural area.  Many of the B&B's did not open until after Easter and some did not take dogs. We called ahead from our Guide de Charme and found a fantastic ranch near the village of Villereal that was open and welcomed dogs.


Country scene
At the Auberge du Moulin de Labique, they raise ponyies in beautiful surroundings deep in the countryside. We were careful not to disturb the new two day old colt and his mom as they watched us stroll past on our afternoon walk.mare and foal

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner and breakfast are served in common with the other guests. Forced to converse in French with our dinner companions, we were happy to be able to put our winter lessons into practice.

 

The next morning, after looking at a local map with the auberge owners, we planned our day. They told us not to miss the market in Villereal and they were right, it was charming.

Hilltop village

 

 

The Chateau Biron was beautiful and although it was closed for the day, we loved reading all of the quotes from the town's people on the living war memorial.

 

Dordogne river and valley

 

 

 

We stood on the bluff in the bastide town of Domme and admired the view of the Dordogne River and Valley.

 

country farmhouse

 

 

 

 

On the last night of our vacation, we stayed in another wonderful B&B, again with a table d'hotes. At the Relais de Lavergne, dinner was with the owners as well as the guests and again we were the only non-French. We decided that this would be a very enjoyable way to learn how to speak French.


2 really cute donkeys

 

 

 

The next morning, we said goodbye and waved to the donkeys in the field as we headed back to our boat.

 

 

 

 It was a great vacation, and now we are ready to finish our spring painting before we begin another season of cruising along with the butterflies.