Updated: Mar 17
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.
A reasonable level of pre-season tourists already filled the streets along the Cote d'Azur's beach towns, 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 glad to be back in Antibes.
Strolling together along the busy harbor with our friends, we stopped to look at the enormous 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.
Toby, the only one of us who already has his own crew, decided he wanted the yacht with the helicopter on top.
After a couple of fun evenings 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.
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. Living out of our suitcases and finding hotels for the night 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 in your home, including the kitchen sink.
The Capestang Bridge is famous in the barge community for its minimal dimensions. It prohibits many barges, including ours, from cruising on the Canal du Midi, so we wanted to visit some of the towns along this famous 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.
We loved our hotel in Castelnaudary and found it a very relaxing stop. Like many small towns along the canal, the restaurants and tourism-related businesses were not yet open for the season, so we had lunch and dinner in the only restaurant open near the canal. They greeted us like regulars after the second day.
In Carcassonne, 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.
Our pace had slowed enough 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&Bs 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.
At the Auberge du Moulin de Labique, they raise ponies 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.
Dinner and breakfast with the other guests forced to converse in French with our dinner companions; we were happy 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.
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.
We stood on the bluff in the bastide town of Domme and admired the Dordogne River and Valley view.
On the last night of our vacation, we stayed in another beautiful B&B, again offering table d'hôte. At the Relais de La Vergne, dinner was with the owners and the guests, and once again, we were the only non-French. We decided that this would be a delightful way to learn how to speak French.
The following day, 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.