welcome to the June edition of the lock-keeper.
The season is well underway now and all of our barges are busy plying the canals and rivers of Europe.
Lots of good reports and customer feedback from the regions suggest that the old magic is still working on the European Waterways.
In this month's Lock-keeper, we hear from Heidi Fuller-Love travelling along the canal du Midi on Anjodi, we meet chef Louis Dutton and get some interesting recipes from Provence, we discover the romance of Rosa in Bordeaux, go for a Beaujolais run with Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, play some tennis and look forward to a winter cruise.....phew, I'm tired already..!!
We announce the Rick Stein French Odyssey book winners and have some great late availability offers for our loyal Lockkeeper readers...so plenty of good, and hopefully interesting content for you this month.
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....
please read on and welcome
Derek Banks - Chairman and Barge skipper
in this issue:
Chic and Charming
The Romance of Rosa
Anyone for Tennis
French Odyssey winner
(please note that past competitions are now
visit our website
Heidi Fuller-Love enjoys a sumptuous cruise through the sunny South of France
Bubbles fizz to the top of my champagne flute and burst in a ripple of gold as the sun sets ahead of us, burnishing the silken sheet of water to molten copper.|
Either side of us, along the river banks, crickets tucked up in tall reed beds purr peacefully and water hens with white collars play duck-and-dive beneath our bow.
Twelve of us - five Americans, two Brits and a Frenchman, plus the captain and his three-strong crew - are sashaying through the South of France's famed Midi canal aboard the Anjodi, a dapper Dutch-design barge boasting all mod-cons.
Throughout the journey Sonja, our Canadian hostess, plies us with delicious snippets of toasted caviar, chewy strips of salmon dewy with lemon juice and canapés of velvety foie gras.
"This is a truly privileged way to discover the south of France in high season," says Rona, one of the American passengers. We raise our glasses in silent agreement.
Perhaps it cost $200,000 to convert this antique vessel into one of France's first ever luxury hotel barges, but the expense was definitely worth it. Combining the comfort of a larger cruise ship with the manoeuvrability of a river cruiser, it's like having a four-star hotel which moves around with you.
Six days previously we'd transferred from Béziers, a town famed for its rugby team, in overheated holiday season traffic which made us instantly appreciate the calm of our barge's mooring outside the pretty fortified town of Aigues mortes.
Founded by Louis IX in 1240 as a base for Crusaders departing in quest of the Holy Land, we explored this ancient southern bastion and its chic designer stores thoroughly, before hurrying back aboard to compare our cabins like excited kids.
Admiring the varnished teak, precious mahogany and gleaming brass fittings, we concluded that if they were a mite smaller than the bedrooms in most four-star hotels, this lack of space was amply palliated by well-equipped bathrooms and scenic portholes offering views straight out of Wind in the Willows.
Anchor was weighed for the first time the following day and heads turned along the tow paths as our magnificent barge glided past, navigating the Rhone canal via la Petite Camargue, on a level with high grassy banks, fields of glowing sunflowers and carefully tended vines.
Moored a few hours later beneath the massive mediaeval fortifications of Maguelonne abbey, captain Philippe hauled out mountain bikes and sent us racing along the sandy paths to discover shell-strewn beaches, a bath-warm unspoilt strip of Mediterranean and flocks of pretty flamingos which flew up in pink streaks, honking like geese.
Day three was a lazy glide across the 18km long, 5km wide strip of Etang de Thau, past pale fishing villages sandwiched between an azure line of sea and sky and an endless grid of oyster beds, whose wares we sampled at lunch, sprinkled with salty flakes of parmesan and washed down with a syrupy Muscat wine from nearby Frontignan.
Later that day, romance was on the menu as we set off on an evening cruise, heading for the canal commissioned by Louis the Sun King whilst Louis our chef served us a right royal dinner.
As night fell over fields of grazing Camargue bulls and candles flickered on the linen-clad table, a steamingly fragrant homemade fish soup arrived in a copper tureen.
Chic and Charming - continued
Next came a deliciously tender "Noisette d'agneau en croute de sel" bathed in an aromatic rosemary sauce.|
A selection of local cheeses, a homemade chocolate soufflé and several bottles of full-bodied Corbieres wine from the nearby 17th century Chateau LaVoulte Gasparets followed.
Too replete to do more than mutter how good the meal was, we staggered up on deck and took it in turns to cool off in the bubbling jacuzzi.
Next morning we headed inland on the "Canal Royal des Deux Mers".
One of France's most popular cruising regions, the Midi canal connects the Mediterranean Sea with the wild Atlantic Ocean, and provides a wonderful antidote to snarling traffic on the popular South of France motorways.
Classed by UNESCO in 1996, the 240km-long strip of water was the brainchild of an enterprising salt-tax collector, Pierre-Paul Riquet. From 1666 to 1681, 12,000 workers were employed full-time digging trenches.
When the Sun King, who commissioned the project, ran out of money, Riquet used personal funds to finance work, but he died, bankrupt, when the link to the Mediterranean was still five kilometres from completion.
Apart from ubiquitous joggers and inevitable speedboats, little has changed along the canal since Riquet's time, not even the bridges which were often so low our captain had to detach the boat's steering wheel with a deft flick of the wrist and crouch so his head wouldn't hit the brick arch just inches above his head.
"We can't afford to take a wrong turn here because there aren't many places to do a U-turn," he joked.|
Now we were in France's oldest water network and instead of sea vistas, the rest of our voyage was marshalled by the army camouflaged trunks of plane trees and shaggy black cypresses, which parted occasionally to reveal distant views of the Corbières mountains.
On the sixth day our cruise finished in style via the 100 foot ascent of the Fonseranes locks, Riquet's daring solution to connect his canal with the Orb River some 25 metres above.
As fascinated passers-by gaped down at us, huge iron doors creaked open and clanged shut on eight, successive chambers, which emptied like waterfalls, then filled like baths and
carried the boat a height of 21.44 metres over a distance of 304 metres to deposit us once more at Béziers.
"Six days of bliss is not enough. I wish we could stay another month," sighed Rona the next morning as we reluctantly left our floating haven and affronted the packed beaches and busy routes near Cap d'Agde. Seven heads nodded in solemn agreement.
After all, for the same price as a high season séjour in one of the region's top hotels, we'd seen the sights, sampled gastronomic delights and revelled in a leisurely cruise far from the Côte's madding crowds.
Visit Anjodi at www.gobarging.com.
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CHEF PROFILE - Louis Dutton
Louis Dutton has been a chef on our barges for two years and has built up quite a reputation. Brought up in Yorkshire, he spent his childhood under the careful eye of a green fingered father, keen to share his enthusiasm with his children and a mother who was a very good cook and who made wonderful imaginative birthday cakes!
Many summers were spent growing and harvesting all manner of vegetables including delicious Yorkshire rhubarb. Louis became such a keen gardener, that, despite the call of the football pitch, he kept a nursery of courgette plants in his bedroom!
Louis' love of France began with six-week family caravanning tours during which his parents used to take him and his sisters around France, staying at small farms, tasting cheese, wine and local products and going to local markets.
His keenness in the garden didn't stretch to school even though he loved cookery lessons. Not surprisingly, his further education was spent at catering college. During his 3 years there, he worked part time at pubs, hotels and restaurants, at the end of which started his career as a chef on Camp America at a Jewish camp, making kosher meals for 400 children.
Over the next few years, his career took him from small restaurants in England, France and Ireland to a 400 guest hotel in Engleberg, Switzerland and during all this time, he was to gain immeasurable expertise in all types of regional cuisine and kitchen management.
Louis joined the Go Barging team in 2004 when he came to work on L'Impressionniste on which he discovered and reproduced such delights of the Midi as entrecote Bordelaise, snails Languedoc style and Bouillabaisse.
His highlight of the year was when he and the rest of the crew enjoyed over a month filming on Anjodi between Bordeaux and Marseille with Rick Stein and the BBC for Rick's new 10 part culinary series "French Odyssey" which will be shown this autumn. Louis has certainly been a great catch and long may he continue to woo our clients with his charm and expertise.
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The Romance of Rosa
In last month's Lock-keeper, I mentioned that Rick Stein travelled on two of our fleet while creating his forthcoming TV series French Odyssey.|
One vessel was the delightful Rosa, the Dutch clipper barge which sails between Toulouse and Agen on the river Garonne.
Rosa sails through a veritable treasure-trove, an area of beauty, dramatic scenery and gastronomic treats.
Her host, the river Garonne, carries her through one of the great gardens of France - its fertile plain nurtures early fruit and vegetables, especially peaches, strawberries, melons, Chasselas grapes and plums. Pruneaux d'Agen are the best known prunes in France.
Crusaders returning from the Middle East in the 11th century brought the fruit to France and nearby monks were the first to dry them in large quantities. Agen's factories now produce approximately 35,500 tonnes of prunes each year.
These famous prunes are often steeped in brandy - Armagnac brandy is the speciality of this region. Wooden barrels are still used for the storage of Armagnac and wine and it is a real treat to go to a demonstration of barrel making, followed by a refreshing wine-tasting.
Rosa is stocked with a wonderful array of beverages and her master chef produces some real mouth-watering regional specialities.
Besides the valley's edible riches, the area is well known for its crafts.
The fauna and flora of the area were celebrated by Bernard Palissy, a 16th century glassblower and potter and his rustic bowls, decorated with fruit, plants and animals were extremely popular. Beautiful glass creations can be seen on display in Vianne.
The river Garonne flows towards Bordeaux through the old region of Gascony, one-time mediaeval battleground - a territory over which the English and the French struggled for ownership between the 14th and 15th centuries.|
Mediaeval castle ruins and fortified hilltop towns transport you back momentarily to those times. This region has strong associations with the famous "Santiago de Compostelle" pilgrimage.
A visit to the ancient St Pierre Abbey at Moissac dispels the memory of the battlefields with the peace and calm of the wonderfully preserved cloisters and chapel.
When not dreaming of food and drink, battlefields, castles and creative geniuses, you can take bicycle rides, archery practice and even have a go at "boules" - you can get quite hooked on it!
Rosa's itinerary is a real joy to experience and her accommodation, food and service are top rankers amongst the fleet.
Just a reminder: On September 5th, BBC Books will be launching a book to accompany the Rick Stein's forthcoming French Odyssey TV series which features Rosa and Anjodi.
Here are a couple of typical recipes from regions through which Rosa and Anjodi cruise.
Download the recipes for Bourride - a Fish casserole from the South of France, and Flaugnarde aux Pruneaux d'Agen - Flaugnarde with Prunes (Adobe PDF reader required).
Visit Rosa at www.gobarging.com
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THE BEAUJOLAIS RUN
One of our passengers once raised the question "if l'Impressionniste were filled with wine bottles, how many litres would she carry?" This set me thinking. "Probably around 350,000 litres if she were fully stocked up". Still reeling from the thought of all that wine, the following thought hit me - "Wouldn't it be fun if we were to enter l'Impressionniste into the famous Beaujolais Race in November!" We all know she'd not be the fastest to complete the route, but she'd certainly win the prize for the most number of bottles carried!
For readers who haven't heard of it, the race is a long-standing annual charity fundraising event run by Great Ormond Street Hospital, where competitors have to get from Brands Hatch in England down to Macon in France to collect the very first Beaujolais Nouveau wine from the village of Beaujeu.
There are plenty of splendid prizes to be won, donated by supporters of the hospital, but for many of the competitors, just to participate is prize enough.
Getting in touch with Great Ormond Street Hospital we were met by glorious enthusiasm from the race organisers, who thought it was an absolute hoot to have a barge following along in the wake of Maseratis and private jets (!) and immediately went onto our website for more information about our barges.
As l'Impressionniste is starting her Trans Europe cruise from Avignon to Amsterdam around the same time as the Beaujolais Race, I realised I'd not be able to enter her, but as she'll be shadowing the competitors on their return journey, she is still participating in spirit!
If you feel like entering the competition, you need to raise £525 which covers a car and two passengers and as long as you are able to raise at least £1,000 for Great Ormond Street Hospital before the race is over, you are assured of a place.
This is a wonderful fund-raising event for a very deserving cause. It is a great way of making friends and enjoying a scenic drive but "being part of it" gives you a great sense of wellbeing.
You can be on the ferry going over from Dover to Calais surrounded by cars plastered with sponsorship stickers from three-wheeled Robin Reliants to E-Type Jaguars and Corvettes and everyone's happy to join in happy competitive banter.
The conclusion of this jolly tale is that Go Barging is now going to donate the first prize for the race to Great Ormond Street Hospital Beaujolais race and the winners will receive a cabin for two on board Anjodi next year, as she cruises through the wine country in southern France, still basking in her fame from the Rick Stein French Odyssey TV series!
Enter the Great Ormond Street Hospital Beaujolais Driving Challenge here
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Anyone for Tennis
All European tennis enthusiasts will know that May heralds the pilgrimage to the tennis courts at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.|
We have already had the pleasure of seeing Rafael Nadal win the Roland Garros men's title and are now eagerly waiting to see whether Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova keep hold of their titles in Wimbledon between 20th June and 3rd July 2005.
The well known tour operator on the international tennis circuit is Steve Furgal's International Tennis Tours with whom we have been working for the past 9 years. Each year, Steve (an ex tennis professional) and Anne, his charming wife, host two weeks of tennis and barging in Europe.
The uniqueness of their relationship with us has brought about a wonderful package which combines a leisurely week of barging with a further week at Roland Garros or Wimbledon.
For passengers enjoying Roland Garros, the barge holiday is spent in Burgundy on the Canal du Nivernais aboard La Belle Epoque and l'Art de Vivre and for those enjoying Wimbledon, passengers spend a splendid week on the river Thames on board the Magna Carta.
What a great combination! For further information about how you can combine your tennis tour with barging, why not contact Steve Furgal at www.tours4tennis.com
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WINTER IN THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS 2005/2006
Sitting here in our sunny offices by the Thames, in Southern England, it's quite strange to be thinking about the winter, but in today's modern times, we have to keep one step ahead with lots of ideas to help our Go Barging readers make the best of their free time!
When September comes, some of our fleet wind down for the winter, or go off for their beauty treatment, but others are still open for winter cruising. Scottish Highlander has the privilege of cruising in a country which has something to offer at all times of the year.
Scotland's mountains and glens provide a dramatic backdrop for a perfect winter holiday. Golfing, bird-watching, rambling or skiing are all possible, as are total relaxation and pampering. A winter honeymoon on board Scottish Highlander is a real treat. The air is invigorating at 100 feet above sea level and there's plenty to see even without getting off our warm and cosy barge! The mountains are peppered with snow and the eagles, falcons and buzzards soar overhead and there's a good chance of seeing magnificent deer roaming the hillsides.
October to February is a great time to be in Scotland, with all sorts of events and celebrations on the calendar. If you're aiming at spending more than a week up there, you might like to team up a festival break with a week of relaxation on our welcoming Scottish barge.
Sporting events range from golf championships to motor rallies to Aviemore's Dog Sled Rally! For those motivated by the arts, there are music competitions, piping and fiddling championships, folk and comedy festivals, not forgetting Hallowe'en and St Andrew's Day.
Food fanatics can't wait for the Borders Banquet where fine Scottish culinary heritage is celebrated. Don't forget, however, that on board Scottish Highlander you can eat like a king every day; our master chef is an expert at producing lip-smacking regional fare and this, coupled with delicious wines and whiskies is part of the Go Barging experience.
Probably Scotland's biggest annual celebration is Hogmanay (or New Year) - it is emphatically a Scottish institution. No household is overlooked by the "first-footing" dark stranger who knocks at the door at midnight. Give him a lump of coal and a wee dram before he toddles on to the next house and you will be assured of prosperity for the coming year. Another Scottish saying is "lang may yr lum reek and yr spigget drip!" which means "long may your chimney smoke and your tap drip"!
Burns Night celebrations on January 25th honour the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns with "haggis, neeps and tatties" on the menu. Throughout the land, village halls, pubs and hotels echo to the sound of folk music and laughter as lads and lassies whirl around the floor dancing jigs such as "the gay gordons". It is said that the haggis is a difficult "beastie" to catch but it has a weakness - one leg is shorter than the others, so those wishing to catch one can only hope to do so by startling it, making it fall over and roll down the hill!
So if you are looking for something different to do during the winter months, look no further than Go Barging!
Scottish Highlander Winter Breaks:
6-8 person charter - 5 days, 4 nights - from $13,000 or £7,500
6-8 person charter - 4 days, 3 nights -from $ 11,000 or £6,300
Visit Scottish Highlander
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French Odyssey winners
For our May Lockkeeper competition we offered a signed copy of Rick Stein's French Odyssey for first prize and two further copies, to give away to three lucky winners.
Visit our competition
Rick Stein's French Odyssey winners page to see who's won.
Late Availability and special Lockkeeper discount offer
There is very little availability left now for departures in July and August this year.
For those Lock-keeper readers who are still keen to come on board this year, here is a list of barges on which there is still at least one cabin available in July or August and you would now have the added advantage of receiving a one-off last-minute discount of 15-20%.
If you would like to book, please contact us, mentioning "Lock-keeper" when booking.
SCOTTISH HIGHLANDER - SCOTLAND - July
ANJODI - CANAL DU MIDI - FRANCE - August
L'ART DE VIVRE - BURGUNDY - FRANCE - July
LA BELLE EPOQUE - BURGUNDY - FRANCE - July
L'IMPRESSIONNISTE - PROVENCE - FRANCE - July
SHANNON PRINCESS - IRELAND - July & August
It is still possible to charter the following vessels on the following dates at last-minute special prices:
ANJODI - CANAL DU MIDI - FRANCE - 3rd July - 20% reduction
ART DE VIVRE - BURGUNDY - FRANCE - 17th July - 20% reduction
L'IMPRESSIONNISTE - PROVENCE - FRANCE - 31st July - 20% reduction
ACTIEF 10th July - Henley twin, Hurley twin, Marlow single - 20% reduction
ACTIEF 17th July - Hurley twin, Marlow single - 20% reduction
ACTIEF 24th July (Family Week) - Wolsey suite, Henley twin, Marlow single - 20% reduction
Due to popular demand, Anjodi will be leaving her Canal du Midi base on 30th October to spend November in Provence cruising between Avignon and Agde. She will be following Impressionnist's itinerary during that autumn.
We'd like to remind you that you can now easily check availability for your cruise dates online - tell us when you want to travel and we'll reply within 24 hours with options.
We also have a new barging video online which gives you a real flavour of life on the European Waterways.
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..!
That"s about it for this 24th 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 July, 2005, so we'll see you then.
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