Canal du Midi Barge Cruise: Slow Travel in Southern France

Relaxing indulgence at a slower pace through southern France on Canal du Midi is how some would describe this barge cruise. On this 6-passenger private yacht, you’ll have an experienced pilot, personal chef, tour guide and hostess pamper you for 7 days and 6 luxurious nights.

Built in 1928, Roi Soleil is a white luxury barge, 30 meters in length. Four round port hole windows are on side of barge. Three folding chairs are anchored to top deck, in front of wheel house. Salon and rear deck are covered. The boat is anchored on Canal du Midi, next to grassy, tree-lined bank in Olonzac, France.

History and culture in southern France

History and culture take center stage on this floating 5-star luxury hotel. Built between 1667 and 1694, linking the Mediterranean and the Atlantic through a series of waterways, Canal du Midi is a civil engineering feat. Through a portion of the 328 locks, aqueducts, bridges, tunnels and spillways, our Roi Soleil luxury barge winds its way from Homps to Portiragnes, France. While traveling a relatively small area of the canal, we learn about the culture and history in the Occitania region. History comes to life when our Tour Guide Becky takes us on daily excursions to medieval villages and abbeys.

The southern France scenery changed daily on the luxury barge. On Canal du Midi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you’ll dock at night and cruise leisurely each day. There are 3 guest cabins, an open kitchen, salon, wheel house, sun deck and hot tub on the private yacht.

What to Expect on Canal du Midi Barge Cruise

Built in 1927, Roi Soleil was converted from a working barge to a luxury barge. Originally measuring 30 meters, she was extended to 38 meters in the 1950’s and then shortened to 30 meters, her original lines by D. Boot Alphen /Rijn – considered the premium builder of Dutch barges. Presently, she glides through Canal du Midi and fits through the historic locks, sometimes with only inches to spare.

Captain Seppe, from Belgian, was born to the water and treats Roi Soleil like a leading lady. She sparkles from stem to stern, with her teak table gleaming in the sun. Below the salon and wheel house are three, 200 square foot guest cabins. Staterooms, with skylights, may be configured to 1 queen bed or 2 separate beds. There is ample storage under beds, in addition to a large wood closet. A ceramic tiled bathroom includes a small window and shower stall with ample water pressure.

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Roi Soleil barge interior. Beige leather sofa with glass, rectangular coffee table. A small, black pot belly stove. A rose colored banquet in is in front of rectangular table top with three chairs with rose-colored seat cushions. A hostess is working by the bar and chef Toby is in the open kitchen.

Logo Roi Soleil white cotton robes and towels hang in the bathroom. A hair dryer is available in each bathroom. Rooms are cleaned daily with bedding changed mid-week. Naturally, L’Occitane French bath products are featured in the bathrooms.

A 6-person hot tub is on deck, with a protected cover for inclement weather. Remember to pack slippers or sandals for the hot tub, towels are provided.

Nancy D. Brown sits inside bubbling hot tub, with a glass of champagne in her left hand. She is onboard the Roi Soleil luxury barge, while cruising on Canal du Midi in southern France. A white leather banquette surrounds a teak dining table, bolted to the wooden ship's deck, behind the submerged hot tub. A beige canvas awning covers the back half of the barge.

International crew, attentive service

Every time we turn on the canal, the landscape changes. We squeeze under these small bridges. It’s amazing. “Even for me, after 10 years on the canal, I still really enjoy it,” notes our Pilot Seppe.

Historical landmark of Minerve medieval village in France. This photo, taken at a distance, shows the stone walls and beige clay buildings, surrounded by stone cliffs.

Daily shore excursions

On our trip, 3 couples were whisked away to daily shore excursions in the morning, returning to the barge for a gourmet lunch. Our guide Becky drove the Mercedes van with skill and confidence on narrow country roads. We had a mix of slow and fast walkers, with the pace of the walking tour adjusted accordingly. We explored Carcassonne, an olive oil cooperative and Minerve, one of the most beautiful villages in France. We visited an underground cemetery in Narbonne, as well as a fabulous food hall. We sailed by Beziers and viewed the 13th century cathedral from the barge’s sun deck. We passed through 9 Fonseranes locks, classified as Historical Monuments. We tried Petits Pates de Pezenas in Pezenas and stuck our toes in the sand by the Mediterranean sea. However, my personal favorite excursion was a visit to Abbey Fontfroide cloister and the garden, dripping with wisteria.

Back on the barge you can relax on the sundeck, jog on the foot path, or take a spin on a bicycle beside the canal.

Nancy D. Brown is holding a blue bicycle in a grassy field with Roi Soleil barge anchored behind her on the Canal du Midi in southern France.

Gourmet dining at breakfast, lunch and dinner

The food is a major player on the luxury barge. No expenses are spared on costs. “I can cook anything I like,” smiles Chef Toby Webb. “Guests requests are met with a yes.”

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My husband and I quickly learned the rhythm of dining on Roi Soleil. Breakfast of French pastries, yogurt, fresh fruit, cheese and granola were available on the sideboard daily. Fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee and tea were served daily by the crew. Egg dishes were available, cooked to order, but we all opted for light breakfast, knowing what lay ahead.

Lunch and dinner included a starter, main, cheese course and dessert, paired with French wines. Coffee and tea were always available. The quality of the ingredients and Chef Toby’s attention to detail were outstanding. Our hostess Aiste introduced the cheese course, along with a little background on each cheese before lunch and dinner. After each meal our cheese palette became more sophisticated.

Close up photo of 2 sea scallops, topped with bacon and green pea pod on a strip of white, pureed cauliflower. Bacon dust is scattered on the white plate.

Luxury barge transportation details

My husband and I flew into Barcelona El Pratt Airport and took the 2 hour, 20 minute train ride to Narbonne, France. We stayed overnight at a lovely boutique hotel 10 minutes from the Narbonne train station. A crew member from Roi Soleil met us at the Narbonne train station, and returned passengers to the train station upon departure.

Are you curious how a non-drinker would fair on a luxury barge cruise in France? While I do partake in small amounts of alcohol, I do not drink on a daily basis. It was not a problem at all to abstain from wine tasting. Crew members will provide an advance questionnaire, asking for dietary restrictions. This is the time to mention a non-alcohol preference, vegetarian preference etc.

Tell them Nancy Brown sent you when booking your reservation on this all-inclusive Canal du Midi barge cruise in southern France.

Barge Lady Cruises (800) 880-0071

Chicago, Illinois 60607

Canal du Midi Barge Cruise: Slow Travel in Southern France review, YouTube video and all photography by travel writer Nancy D. Brown. Note: thank you to Roi Soleil crew and Barge Lady Cruises for their hospitality. All views above are, as always, my own.

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