Anjodi, cruising along the Canal du Midi, painting by Stanley Rose


Hello,

welcome to the August edition of the Lock-keeper.

August and September are mouth watering times in France. The first grape harvest has started in the Corbieres and Minervois regions along the 300 year old canal du Midi. As the harvesting weeks stretch on into September, the grape pickers make their way gradually Northwards, following the well trodden path from Bordeaux, Languedoc-Roussillion and Provence along the Cote du Rhone Valley to Beaujolais and Burgundy, Chablis and Alsace. All barging regions which we have visited for over 30 years.

This harvest is set to match 2005's fine crop, providing the good weather holds and no early frost takes the edge off things. There is almost a unique peacefulness to barge just after the grapes have been picked, a calm seems to fall over the area, all of a sudden there is time to relax in the vineyards and Les Vignerons stop glancing at the sky when they take us through their tastings. Take our Gobarging Wine tour.

This month in the lock-keeper, we travel with Buck Maguire on L'Impressionniste, you can find out what happened to Rick Stein's moped, visit some wildlife in Scotland and climb Ben Nevis, enter August's competition to win a cruise on Anjodi and find out who's won Rick Stein's French Odyssey. We finish with some Golf cruise news and some great feedback from some recent guests.

I look forward to hearing from you, and seeing you at our website, where you can find out all about GoBarging and keep up to date with the latest news as it breaks....


best regards,

Derek Banks, Chairman


Derek Banks - Chairman and Barge skipper

in this issue:

Ancient France

Rick Stein

July winners

August competition

Scottish Wildlife

Ben Nevis

Cruise News

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Ancient France: A Review - By Buck Maguire Luxury barge cruises on Impressionniste in Provence, France

I discover a cheese first made 2000 years ago; people mysteriously vanish; and a nudist colony with 40,001 visitors.

If you are like me and mad about cheese, you may sympathise with the French President Charles de Gaul who once shouted, "How is it possible to govern a country which produces more than 370 different cheeses?"

Take the time I was working in France and my business associate and fellow madman there, Francis du Pont, took me to taste the delicious Auvergne Cantal cheese first made 2000 years ago. Its Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC) certificate ensured its highest prescribed standard and I need hardly tell you, we went over 50kms to Massif Central, a volcanic mountain with a 2000m precipice, to taste this little gem. The word "special" is synonymous with French hospitality and all ingredients must be special. They work a 35 hour week and I suspect the President was questioning millions of Frenchmen (himself included) who take extended time off to taste distinguished cuisine, wine and cheeses.

Impressionniste, photo by Buck MaguireMany boats involved in Europe's holiday industry are still out of the water before the overbooked summer season starts but the sturdy holiday barges begin cruising earlier at good discounts to the public and so I accepted an out of season offer from European Waterways Ltd to barge on their vessel,
L'Impressionniste. After concluding business in Britain I flew to Montpellier, then by bus to Agde, the second oldest town in France, where the voyage of 6 days to Avignon would begin. There were just 6 passengers on board instead of their maximum 11-12 but from the return voyage onwards, they were fully booked into the season, so overseas travellers should reserve early or try for cancellations from the helpful go barging team on www.gobarging.com

The vessel is known for its excellent cuisine, AOC wines, 20 cheeses and fine service and it weighs a sturdy 150 tons and 40 m long by 5.1 m wide. In the 1970's when the canals of Europe were unable to keep up with the speed demanded by modern business, their usefulness came to a tragic end. But entrepreneurs converted many into luxury hotel barges. She now dawdles along the 300 hundred year old Canal du Midi at a slow pace stopping at ancient historical towns and rustic villages where I could jump off and review ancient France and compare it with when I last I worked there years ago. Had a developer bulldozed any of the thousand year old cobble stone streets and century old buildings that I new, into oblivion? I dreaded the reviews outcome.

The barge cabins have comfortable beds, a toilet, private shower, large dining room with an alfresco sundeck bordered with live flowers plus a day/ night bar, 2 sofas, hair dryers, deck chairs, sun umbrellas and candle lit dinners plus a book and music library and binoculars to study the wild bird life. You pack and unpack only once on the trip and after showering, I went ashore for a dawdling walk in the French countryside. On returning, the passengers smelt the divine food fragrances drifting from her galley and we fled up the gang plank like a troop of Gophers.




Ancient France: A Review . - continued Luxury barge cruises on Impressionniste in Provence, France

Impressionniste crew, photo by Buck MaguireThe crew of 5 comprising Captain, Chef and 3 staff, had organised a grand welcoming cocktail party and as we sipped the chilled French Champagne; a cry like from Alice in Wonderland, went up, 'Who made these utterly delicious canapés?' Our charming Chef Rebecca Clair smiled and said barging and the daily changing scenery inspired her cooking the most. But it was clear to yours truly that we would all have to walk or ride the barge's free bicycles hard to keep our weight under control.

First night in Uzes, photo by Buck MaguireOften I went 'walk-about' enjoying 'eclusiers' (lock keepers) who would yell out a friendly, "Bonjour" (hello) or "Au Revoir" (good bye) but my favourite activity aboard, besides writing was, resting and doing just nothing! After lunch, our Captain would take us on an optional walking tour which varied from visiting a 2000 year old village or watching the creation of foie gras. Around every corner something different came into view like tiny villages or grand historical buildings. Many relaxed on deck until the sun plopped into the water and swans headed for their night rests. We were anchored on the Herault River and the region of Languedoc Roussillon provides some of the world's finest wines and in 2005 produced about 3.2 million hectolitres of AOC wines and 15.2 million vin de pays (country wines)

We went by bus to Agde, founded 2600 years ago as a trading post by Phoceans and now famous for its ancient black lava cathedral. A distance from Agde is Cap d' Agde where the world famous statue of Adonis (Ephebe in French) stands. It was only discovered in 1964 in the Herault River! I was chatting over this on the quayside with folk from another barge and turned to answer a question and when I looked back, they had vanished. Strange! Anxious questions produced naught. That night a combi sped up, skidding to a smoking stop and the missing folk poured out looking like red cooked lobsters. They had gone to the Adonis statue in Cap d'Agde and by an apparent fluke had read in a pamphlet (I ask you) that the area was famous for its sealed off Nudist Quarter that accommodates 40,000 people in summer, has its own 2km beach, shops, banks, bars, nightclubs, marina, swimming pools, doctor's surgery and yes, their own police station! The mind boggled. I swore then and there to pay more attention to pamphlets and next year the figure of 40,000 to rise to 40,001...

Noilly Prat at Marseillan, photo by Buck MaguireEarly morning walkers passed my port hole with speed in reserve and after breakfast aboard, the barge set off on the 300 year old Canal du Midi to Marseillan, a tiny village with charming coloured cottages scattered like blobs on an artist's pallet. Marseillan was founded in 600 BC and its harbour opens onto the "Etang de Thau", an inland salt-water lake teaming with fish, oysters and shellfish. Today it produces over half the oysters consumed in France. After lunch the Skipper took us to the amazing winery, Noilly Prat, formed as result of a shipwreck of casked Picpoul and Clairette wines headed for America. The casks, under dispute, sealed by sea salt, lay outdoors in the sun and rain for over a year until Joseph Noilly in 1830 acquired them and added 20 secret herbs to the casked wine. By an amazing twist he had created the now famous Vermouth Noilly Prat that is drunken neat world wide or mixed into dry Martinis. Master Chefs add it to their special dishes for that very special unique flavouring. My first taste of the delightful drink will not be the last but care must be taken to serve it (without ice) at a chilled 10oC.



Ancient France: A Review - continued Luxury barge cruises on Impressionniste in Provence, France

A memorable feature in that night's dinner was a Carrot and Ginger soup and here is the Chef's special recipe:

Take;
    Chef Rebecca Clair
  • 800g carrots,
  • 1 onion,
  • 1 large leek,
  • 1 garlic clove,
  • 1 litre chicken-stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3cm chopped ginger
  • 100ml cream
Sauté the onion and leek in virgin olive oil but do not allow it to brown. Then add the ginger, garlic, stock, and bay-leaf and chopped carrot, simmering it for 30 minutes then puree in a blender. Add cream and serve with fresh garnished chives. Voila, you have a miracle of French cuisine.

Over dinner we shared a bottle of 2002 white Languedoc Picpoul de Pinet with its fine citrus fruit aromas, smooth textures and delightful crispy taste.

In July, Frontignan hosts the World International "Who-Dunnit Festival" for movie, comic, theatre, play, book and magazine writers, authors and editors. A public wine tasting also takes place and with some free booze available, they get stuck in tasting anything available to satisfy ever parched throats. On the far side of the Etang we anchored at the hamlet of Les Aresquiers and I ambled with our passengers to a nearby beautiful seaside beach on the Mediterranean ocean scattered, would you believe, with more nudists. After slugging back a couple of heart tablets from a fellow passenger I returned to the barge and sailed out of the Etang to the Canal du Rhone, past the rustic town of Sete and its famous kilometres of sandy beach with the texture of soft talcum powder that went squeak, squeak between your toes. Next day the chef went to the Sete Monastery for special herbs, farm vegetables and warm bread. She truly cares for us.

White horses in the Camargue, photo by Buck MaguireSuddenly, we were in the Camargue countryside, almost within touching distance of a large herd of the world famous wild white horses that run free there. Above beautiful flocks of elegant giant pink flamingos, sounding like Model T Fords honked out a welcome as they flew overhead with their pink wings flapping in the bluest of skies. The barge glided slowly beneath Natures spectacular air display overhead and we gaped in awe at this unique spectacle above and special creatures, that were free and alive, to do as they wished.

The barge putted onto the town of Aigues Mortes (Dead Sea), developed by Louis 1X in 1240 as a base for departing Crusaders to the Holy Land. However; Louis X1V in 1685 was a different kettle of fish, persecuting all Huguenots refusing to convert to Catholicism by flinging them into the infamous Constance Tower 'to rot.' In 1715 it became a women's prison and Marie du Rant, who was incarcerated here for 38 years, bravely inscribed her window with the famous call to the world: 'RESISTER' (resist).
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Ancient France: A Review - continued Dining in luxury aboard Impressionniste, Provence, France

We had a lot to think about cruising down the Petite Rhone River to Arles. We passed large herds of the regions famous black bulls. What a sight of raw power. Arles is an attractive city and France's largest with a surface area of 758 sq. km. I delighted to hear again that the famous "Ferias" (bull runs) and bullfights are still held in the old Romanian arena around September. Arles is famous for having attracted artists like Van Gogh from 1888 till 1889 where he produced two hundred paintings and the famous 'Yellow Building' canvas. His friend Paul Gaugin stayed with him whilst Picasso, a lover of bull fights, created two paintings and 57 drawings there. Never leave without taking the Van Gogh tour and also visit the famous annual Rencontres International Photographic Expo.

That night on the dinner table was a favourite French cheese of mine, Epoisses, that even Napoleon favoured. Made originally by the early monks in the Abbaye de Coteaux in Burgundy, it is still an un-pressed and uncooked cheese. The milk used in its manufacture comes from cows that must graze for at least three months in the rich meadows of Burgundy. During maturation it is stored in a humid cellar and washed with a mixture of special rainwater and Marc de Bourgogne spirit two or three times. As I opened it, memories flooded back of hitch hiking around France with this cheese packed in its round wooden box and stuffed into my back pack with a large French bread sticking impudently out. I loved the rich, powerful flavour and pungent aromas of the cheese as I spread it on sliced French or raisin bread with a swig of chilled sweet Sauternes wine. I always used the empty wooden box to store spare coinage or some lucky trinket.

The Palais des Papes, AvignonSadly it was the final day of cruising on the mighty Rhone and we eventually tied up in Avignon where recently two graves were found suggesting it was occupied since 3000 BC. In the fourteenth century, Avignon became the capital of World Christianity and the first Avignon Pope there was Clemente V. Seven Popes succeeded each other followed by two Schismatic Popes. The reign in Avignon ended in 1426 with the definitive return of the Papacy to Rome. Today at least 600,000 people visit Avignon annually to see the magnificent Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes).

The last evening started with the hilarious Captain's final dinner. The food, wine and cheeses were 'trebian' and even more extravagant than usual. The passengers dressed in their finest and added fun jaunty hats set at outrageous angles. As we came from the 4 corners of the earth, some shed tears that they may never meet again. But we were a happy bunch, laughed often together or helped each other up the occasional steep ancient steps. We got along just fine. As I began my review I admired the fight put up by my friends the successful and proud Du Pont's family from Marseille against the hungry bulldozers of developers. They wanted to retain Frances' old cobbled streets and ancient buildings as an inheritance for all future off spring. Thankfully France prevailed again and made the ancient streets and buildings protected.. But was it not the South African multi millionaire, Anton Rupert, who said in his book, 'Priorities for Coexistence,' "A nation without a history is like a man without memories"

The French are a class act and I will savour this voyage on L'Impressionniste and the time spent in ancient France that gave me an enormous feeling of permanence again; for life, for ever.

Photos and Article courtesy of:
Bucky Maguire (cee distinctions)
Cape Town
Free Lance Journalist
Gopher International Journalists
Travel-Food-Wine
email: traveljournalist@mweb.co.za




Rick Stein's French Odyssey is back on UK Screens!
The Canal du Midi

Did you know ..?

L'Impressionniste cruises along the same route as that taken by Rick Stein on Anjodi during his French Odyssey trip. Visit the
Rick Stein website to see the route and have fun reading the comments which appeared in the UK broadsheets. The BBC in the UK are currently doing a re-run of the series - if you missed it the first time around, you can catch it on BBC2, Wednesdays at 8.30pm.

Here's a funny tale .

Rick Stein's French Odyssey TV series & bookI was so enthusiastic about our association with Rick Stein and French Odyssey that when I received a phone call from Arezoo, (the assistant producer from Denham productions who made the series) offering me the original 38 cc Velo Solex moped, which Rick used during the series, I jumped at the chance to buy it. I hadn't really thought what I would do with it, but being a collector of all things memorabilia, I just could not resist it. What sadness then, when a week later Arezoo called back and told me their studios had been broken into and the Velo Solex stolen. Still, I expect some west country villain is thoroughly enjoying himself, but blissfully unaware that the machine he is using is a TV star!

July Competition winner

For our July Lockkeeper competition we offered some copies of Rick Stein's French Odyssey book which accompanies his BBC TV series.

Find out who the lucky winners are;
French Odyssey book competition winners.

August CompetitionAnjodi luxury barge cruises on the Canal du Midi, Provence, France

Our August competition features
Anjodi, cruising the Canal du Midi in Provence, France. You can win a cruise for two in Spring 2007.

As usual, visit the Anjodi competition page, answer some easy multiple choice questions and enter the competition.   back to top



Watching wildlife with Scottish Highlander
Scottish Highlander cruising the Caledonian canal

We have spoken a lot about the glories of self-indulgence when barging - the food, the wine, the pampering, the Jacuzzi. well, it's time to look at another facet of the cruise - the wonderful wildlife. What better example to cite than the Great Glen, along and around which lie abundant wildlife watching opportunities - both on and off our Scottish Highlander barge.

The pick-up point for all Scottish Highlander's cruises, Inverness, is located on the Moray Firth, an area offering beautiful coastline and abundant wildlife spotting opportunities. Bottlenose dolphins, seals, minke whales and porpoise inhabit these waters, whilst osprey and red kite soar above.

Between Inverness and Fort William, along the Great Glen fault-line, lies the Great Glen Forest, with waymarked trails from where sightings of pine martens, red deer, black grouse and red squirrel can be enjoyed. As Scottish Highlander makes her dignified passage along the calm waters of Loch Ness, golden eagles, osprey, black-throated divers, buzzards and otters might well be seen soaring, swooping, splashing, or shimmying!

Not far from Spean Bridge lie the magnificent ice-carved crags of Coire Ardair in the Creag Meagaidh reserve, which stretches from loch shore to mountain top. Here graze red, roe and sika deer among native woodland of birch, alder, willow, rowan and oak. Glen Roy's remarkable landforms are a stunning sight, created by glacial action. During the last ice age, advancing glaciers dammed a series of huge lakes in the glen, leaving behind a set of shorelines clearly visible on the hillsides today.

One hour west from Fort William, along the "road to the isles" lies Arisaig, from where the islands of Eigg, Rum and Muck, just south of the Isle of Skye, can be visited. Many trippers have enjoyed regular close sightings of whales, dolphins, seals, eagles and puffins.

Twenty-four miles south east of Inverness lies Aviemore, Scotland's famous winter ski-centre. Peregrine falcons regularly nest on the cliff here and can be spotted between April and July. A little magic sprinkles across the area in the spring time when woodland flowers begin to bloom and scenic trails through the birch woods provide fine views across to the Cairngorms. In the same area sits the Landmark Forest Theme Park, which is especially enjoyable for younger nature-watchers, with the possibility to watch red squirrels, crested tits, siskins, green finches and Scottish crossbills feeding.

This is just a glimpse into the wonderland of "wild Scotland" and Scottish Highlander is the perfect calm retreat from which to view it all.

BEN NEVIS - BRITAIN'S HIGHEST MOUNTAINBen Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain

At 4,406 ft above the town of Fort William, it's no wonder many have asked Scottish Highlander's Captain Dan about going to see the "Ben", the highest mountain on our island. In Gaelic the mountain's name Beinn Nibheis, means "terrible" but, despite this fear-provoking name, people flock from all over the world to take their fill from the glorious summit. How they get to the top is manifold. Some walk, some cycle, some might even paraglide or hang-glide! Others even need a "wee dram" of Ben Nevis Whisky before they have the Dutch Courage to set forth!

If you would rather ascend the heights without needing to don your walking boots, you can also ascend the Nevis range by cable-car which is open all year round and having arrived at the top, the "Snowgoose" restaurant will provide a hearty Scottish welcome.

The river Nevis tumbles down over crag and moss, eroding away the rock and leaving in its wake curious formations, rock pools and rare flora on its way down Ben Nevis. This wonderful place was the backdrop for the film "Braveheart" - no longer is Ben Nevis no place for the faint-hearted - now it's accessible for all.     back to top




News

GOLFING FOR INDIVIDUALS IN SCOTLAND

Golf cruises are generally only available to charter parties, but in May 2007 we are pleased to open a golfing cruise to individuals on Scottish Highlander. The cruise departure date to look out for is 20th to 26th May.

To join the Scottish Highlander golf cruise, the price per person is

  • Stateroom per person: $4,050 / £2,250
  • Suite per person: $4,490 / £2,490
  • Stateroom single supplement: $1,300 / £700
  • Suite single supplement: $1,500 / £800
The price includes the cruise on board Scottish Highlander between Inverness and Fort William, accommodation in serviced en-suite cabins, golfing at 4 beautiful golf Scottish courses, transfers to and from the courses, all meals, wines, excursions, the services of a dedicated crew, an open bar, Champagne welcome and use of bicycles. Cruise joining and leaving point: Inverness.

Book early to avoid disappointment, as this is a very popular cruise!

What they said.....

My husband and I recently had a wonderful barge trip up the Canal De Midi on the Anjodi. We were on the cruise that left Le Chateau de Lignan on July 16th. Since we traveled on a bit after our cruise I am only now finding the time to send this email praising your operation and particularly your staff.

My husband and I wanted to make sure that you were aware of how pleased we were by the capability of our captain, Roger, our cook Kirsty, and our "hostess" Niami. They could not have tried any harder to make our time aboard a pleasant one. We wish to express our very special appreciation for the vitally important role that James played. He is an excellent and very entertaining tour guide with lots of knowledge concerning local wines and products and boundless energy. He really knows how to make things fun and interesting.

Hollie and Jamie Holt

Re: Actief:

Exceeded expectations in every way. Being on the river away from cars, phones, computers and the TV was just heaven. Seeing the lovely countryside at a slow pace, away from roads was almost like a trip into the 19th century. If you've ever read The Wind in the Willows or Three Men in a Boat, you must take this trip.

Ann Schwartz

I am 85 years old - no infirmities and in good health. My daughter arranged everything and selected the barge cruise. I am a former merchant marine officer and observed the handling of the vessel and can report all was done in a seaman-like fashion. The captain and crew were very competent and pleasant. Food was beyond expectation. The onboard atmosphere was informal and other passengers delightful. My daughter and I have only wonderful memories of the cruise.

Sherwood Schwartz



If you have any suggestions, feedback or barging stories to tell us, then please e-mail us.We'll be glad to hear from you and share your inputs in the lock-keeper.

Why not email this edition on to a friend, and let them share the fun. New subscribers can sign-up here, and are very welcome. More people are joining every day, so let's keep building a great Barging community..!

Thats about it for this 38th edition of the Lockkeeper, and hopefully the above articles have whet your appetite for that well-earned luxury cruise..! Please visit barge cruises and have a look around, or follow the individual links above.

The next edition of the lock-keeper will be out in September 2006, so we'll see you then.

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