It had been an exciting morning of discoveries in the ancient Roman town of Arles: the coliseum still used for bull fights, the theater ruins, the antiquities museum with its model of the Roman city, and explorations of locales where Vincent van Gogh painted his most famous works. An added bonus was our becoming wonderfully lost strolling narrow medieval streets. We finished the morning with a bicycle tour along the Rhone River & into the countryside. |
As we returned to L'Impressionniste, our floating home for the week, we were greeted by our friendly chef Rebecca. She explained with joy and inspiration the cheeses and wines that she had selected to go with the tasty garden salad, pasta salad and quiche that she had prepared for lunch. We had looked forward to the midday repast, but this was above and beyond our expectations. As we settled down for the meal the captain and crew started our afternoon cruise down the Petit Rhone and Canal de Rhone a Sete towards the village of Aigues Morte.
This was only our second day on L'Impressionniste, but we were already fully in tune with the rhythm of barging in Provence... we were being being spoiled to the max! We conversed excitedly with the other passengers about the cuisine, the sites we had seen, and upcoming explorations into southern France's Camargue region.
Originally built in Holland in the early 1900s to haul cargo on the canals of Europe, L'Impressionniste, 126 feet long by 16 feet wide, has been retrofitted exquisitely for her cruise barge role, with six comfortable double guest cabins, a salon/dining room, and spacious outdoor decks. Her light and airy interior features picture windows and selections of prints, fabrics and wall colorings reminiscent of the turn of the century era after which she has been named. Our bilingual crew spared no effort for a first-rate guest experience.
Roger, captain and pilot, informed us of each day’s itinerary and options, ensuring that we could debark or embark independently.
Mieke, the tour hostess and guide, led interesting tours to wineries and other sites at our ports of call. Dean, the first mate and general deck hand was always there to help, including loading or unloading the barge’s mountain bikes. Lucy and Alfie, our capable housekeeping staff, doubled as excellent table servers and commentators on the menus. Rebecca, chef de cuisine, offered incredible interpretations of the best dishes from France's major culinary regions and Belgium where she had studied and practiced her art.
Unbelievable it was! Each meal was uniquely exquisite. An example dinner menu read: Salade de Brie en filo, Chateau Saint-Roch (white wine, a new one for each meal), Domaine de Nalys, Chateauneuf-du-Pape (red wine, a new one for each meal), magret de canard sur un lit d'epinard saute (duck filet on a bed of sauteed spinach), les fromages - St. Paulin, Lou Perac (yes, tasty cheese plate with two new selections at each meal), fraises au mousse de vanille et amandes grilles (strawberries with grilled almonds and vanilla mousse). With such a great week of culinary delights, we were thankful to have the beautiful countryside begging to be explored on foot or bike for burning off the tasty calories.
A Varied & Unique Itinerary
There could not be a better way to experience the variety of southern France than the L'Impressionniste's itinerary. While most visitors to Provence are limited to the roadways, some of the best sites that southern France has to offer are only reachable by waterway, including the vast Camargue region of marshes with huge flocks of pink flamingoes and herds of wild horses. The barge is accompanied by a van for transporting its passengers to worthwhile nearby sites, and mountain bikes are also provided for each passenger. It's the best of both worlds for exploring Provence, the Camargue and the Mediterranean reaches of the Canal du Midi region, also known as Pays d'Oc. Summarized below are some of the highlights of our cruise.
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