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

Hello,

welcome to the May edition of the lock-keeper.

We are cruising towards the summer here in Europe. All the trees and flowers are in bloom, the temperatures are rising and the European Waterways GoBarging season is well and truly underway.

We have had some good feedback already, from one of our regulars and a past contributor to the Lockkeeper. Les Furnanz writes;

"The cruise was incredible! I'm planning to send you an article on the experience that you can use in future.

I must say that the Provence/Camargue/Pays d'Oc cruise that L'Impressionniste makes is a total complement to La Belle Epoque's Canal Nivernais cruise. The two cruises are so different, yet each is so perfect. My wife Rita and I felt the major highlights of our L'Impressionniste cruise were Avignon, Arles, Aigues Mortes, the Camargue's flamingos and wild horses, the Canal du Midi, and Agde. Captain Roger and his staff, including the staff-in-training, were first rate."

Thanks Les, and coincidentally in this issue we have a story by another L'Impressionniste traveller extolling the delights of a cruise on this magnificent barge.

We also have some exciting news which we have had to keep secret until now.

Top seafood chef and TV celebrity Rick Stein has a new book out and a TV series to follow later in the Year. Rick embarked on a "French Odyssey", a trip of culinary discovery across France from Bordeaux to Marseille, travelling by barge along the Canal du Midi, with European Waterways of course..!

Read about the trip below, and enter our May competition to win a signed copy of Rick's book.

We announce the winner of our Scottish Highlander cruise and complete this edition with some News items.

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 aboard,

best regards,

Derek Banks, Chairman


Derek Banks - Chairman and Barge skipper



in this issue:

Rick Stein's French Odyssey

Impressions

April cruise winner

May competition

News


back issues:

july 04

august 04

september 04

october 04

november 04

december 04

january 05

february 05

march 05

april 05

(please note that past competitions are now closed)

visit our website

www.gobarging.com


Rick Stein's French Odyssey
aboard Rosa and Anjodi on the Canal du Midi

Back in early 2004 Isabelle, here in the Go Barging office, took a call and I happened to be in the same room at the time.

Quite obviously something had her immediate interest and within a few seconds I was talking with a euphoric TV producer called David Pritchard about a voyage between Bordeaux and Marseille with the renowned TV Chef Rick Stein.

A meeting at the Royal Station hotel in Exeter followed within 24 hours, and within 7 days we had a commitment from the BBC to charter two of our Canal du Midi fleet, Rosa and Anjodi to make an amazing six week journey.

I must admit I did not quite realize at the time just what was involved in making a 10 part cooking series with the BBC.

The idea of the program was to follow in the footsteps of "Food Heroes" and "Rick Stein's Seafood", and several other TV series which had been shown on the BBC during the past decade.

Due to be shown on the BBC sometime this autumn, the series will be called French Odyssey, a barge voyage of over 400 miles on Rosa and Anjodi filmed during six weeks last summer.

The French Odyssey features the mouth watering gastronomic delights of South West France and Rick Stein's adventures filming the series along the way.

In typical BBC style, we were sworn to secrecy until now - something which in itself is virtually impossible given the impact the TV crew had on the barging world.

Anjodi would take the lion's share of the journey and we decided that we should put on board our star players to make sure everything went smoothly - Leigh as link man, chief of logistics and troubleshooter, Phillipe as skipper, Louis as Chef, Sonia as Housekeeper to look after the TV crew and Rick Stein himself.

Rick Stein's French Odyssey on Anjodi and Rosa in France
Over the next few months we will be releasing several behind the scenes accounts of this epic barge cruise.

We are also delighted to report that as well as the TV series there will be a book titled Rick Stein's French Odyssey with a cracking picture of Rick at the helm of Anjodi cruising the enchanting Midi canal. Word has it that over 200,000 copies will be printed!

We are sure that the series and book will be a great success for Rick Stein and for the barge cruise world in general.

We have acquired some copies of this excellent book including a signed copy by Rick Stein which we are offering as a prize in our May Competition below, and plan to run some interesting features about Rosa, Anjodi and the French Odyssey in upcoming Lockkeeper editions.

A lot of planning and research went into the French Odyssey, first the Denham production team spent some two months researching the route.

We helped them find food producers, classic french restaurants and a whole host of characters to help make the series.

We decided that Anjodi's galley needed a spruce up in case Rick wanted to produce the odd meal aboard and accordingly we installed beautiful granite worktops and new hardwood cabinets. As it happened, most of the actual food shots were made ashore in a kitchen location which was typically french but we didn't complain!

French Odyssey was probably the greatest barging challenge we have faced in the last few years and we are proud to be associated with the project and to have worked with such a professional team.

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Impressions
adapted from a story by Betina J. Wittels

A barge. A brazenly, beautiful barge. Not some rusty metal tanker with tiny cabins, no portholes and splintered wooden decks. This ship was gleaming, with thick cushioned deck chairs, a Jacuzzi, Scandinavian style steam room, grand quarters, and gourmet food and wine upon which I merrily sipped every drop and tasted every morsel.

I flew on a 40,000 mile award on American Airlines from Tucson, Arizona to Paris, France. As of March 1, 2005, all international and domestic flights are now limited to 50 pounds baggage weight. This would soon put a serious dent into my over-packing syndrome. But since this ticket was bought prior, I was now on my last hurrah for stuffing bags with books, French tea cups, and my general all season wardrobe weighing 'beaucoup' kilos.

I was a passenger on a luxury barge, 'L'Impressionniste', for six days boating through the Provence region of France. Holding 12 passengers, we were traveling from Montpellier to Avignon through no less than six waterways.

A British company, European Waterways, is the owner and even prior to the trip their attention to detail was noteworthy. The little, vital details initially impressed me: In the mail, months before departure I received a massive Ship's Log which was like a classy book/journal in one.

The book contained detailed maps, information on routes, cheeses, wine, barges, and even recipes and journal pages.

[Click on any picture to visit the photo gallery].
L'Impressionniste cruising in Provence, France The barge was lovely. The sun-splashed deck was strewn with potted flowers, sturdy teak lounge chairs, and a Jacuzzi at the front of the ship. On the same floor was the dining area in which we eagerly anticipated each meal, then crawled away from the table having sipped, nibbled, and gobbled our way through the end of each French gourmet meal.

By the end of the first day I had already lost count of how many croissants, wine, seafood, crepes, and cheese I had welcomed into my physical being. That was only the beginning. The bar was totally open and free and the service went beyond what was imprinted in the brochures.

One cabin steward continually made fresh pitchers of Earl Grey Iced Tea for me, and no less than once a day asked if everything in my room was o.k. Mais Oui! Twenty four hours a day we could nibble fresh fruit, prepare any beverage, play any video, sink into the Jacuzzi or step into the steam room.

It was refreshing to be on a boat that was not regimented by schedules as to what was open and what was not: bar, steam room, etc. were available 24 hours day and night. My cabin, was more the size and merits of a swanky hotel room than a closet cruise cabin. Besides a double bed, large bathroom, down pillows, Evian water, and 'L'Occitane' French bath products, the room had ample closet space and drawers so huge under the bed that I could actually unpack everything from my suitcases. This was comfort heaven.

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Impressions continued

Passengers were American, British, in addition to one couple from St. Croix and one woman from Australia. Ages ranged from 22-83.

At the finale of the very first dinner we passengers were already so eager to start rolling down the river that we whispered a planned mutiny so we could kidnap the chef and soon slide through the canals. Of course, all of us, instead, drank another glass of wine and forgot about that plot. Each then crawled into our cozy, cocoon cabins and slept through the night. Breakfast was typically served at 8:30 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m., and dinner at 8 p.m.

In between feeding frenzy sessions we barged through locks and canals, stopped in towns and just relaxed in languor. Also, there was only about half a dozen stairs down to all cabins, all of which were one floor below the main deck. So the living was quite easy and opulent.

It was such a pleasure to be on a boat in which all prices are included. No plastic beads and no demand/need for cash or imprinted credit cards. Tips for the crew at the trip's end of 5% were suggested but not required.

Excursions were included and requests were even woven into the itinerary. I wanted to visit some 'brocante' antique markets and since none were open the days that we would be near certain towns the Captain arranged for another officer to take me to a town literally drenched in antique stores a half an hour away!

The deciding factors in my choice of this particular company and itinerary of barge trip were twofold. Number one when I first called I happened to talk to the owner, Derek Banks, who non-hurriedly talked to me at least half an hour and though subsequent phone calls elaborating details about the trip. Other passengers later told me they had the same experience of personal interest from the very first company contact. And though the company is in England there is a toll free number.

[Click on any picture to visit the photo gallery].

L'Impressionniste cruising in Provence, France
Where to go was a difficult decision as GoBarging have tours in France, Italy, Czech Republic, England, Ireland, and Scotland, all on barges through different waterways. I had no idea there were so many waterways by which to travel by boat through Europe. On the Provence trip we traveled on six waterways: River Rhone, Petite River Rhone, Sete Canal, Thau Lake, River Herault, and Canal du Midi.

My second determining factor was that this particular trip included: flamingos. I love flamingos. There is something about the delicate stance, the gangly walk, the pink/white feathers, and the flat, salt lagoons that mesmerizes my attention. The second and third day of barging down into La Camargue National Park the flamingos began winging into my peripheral vision and I lunged for my camera as I leaped out of the lounge chair.

The journey went from Montpellier France to Avignon. At each town we went on an excursion by car or foot to various historical buildings and what was great was the barge was usually moored right next to the center of the town visited.

The first day we departed through the 300 year old Canal Du Midi, the oldest canal in France and landed that night at Marseillan, a fishing village. We then sauntered over to tour the 'Vermoutherie' of Noilly Prat for a tasting before dinner on board.

The captain let me steer the ship and I was doing quite well until I began talking, quit watching the rudder device turn, and almost grounded the boat in the mud in which the captain had to steer us out.

This stupid move is actually easy enough for anyone to accomplish as the shallow water is only 3 feet deep and, at times, glides in narrow passageways with only an inch or two lee-way along some canal sides.

The second day we cruised down the length of Thau lake and then toured the Cistercian Abbey of Valmagne where we sipped its famous wines.

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Impressions - continued

For buffet lunch on deck we were offered the fruit of the sea: mussels, clams, and the best oysters on the half shell I have eaten in my gastronomic life. This natural landscape lining both sides of the canal, which appeared so austere, was teeming with bird and sea life!

The third day we barged through the Camargue National Park marshlands in the morning and saw wild white horses, big black bulls and rosy pink flamingos feeding in the salt water along with egrets and herons.

Mooring at the city of Aigues-Mortes, we strolled the high ramparts of the Tower of Constance, dating from the 13th century, for a mile atop the medieval wall of the city in which the first crusades began. Once a major seaport the ocean receded and left the town high and dry. However, now there exists a teeming city in which many feet explore the cobblestone roads.

Thursday we stopped at Arles, the old capital of Camargue, and the one time home of Van Gogh. Some explored on foot the Arena, St. Trophime's Basilica and a Museum of Provencal life whereas others decided to walk to the 9 stops on the 'Trail of Van Gogh', lingering to drink in a bright yellow restaurant painted Café de Nuit, where Vincent once hung out, then strolling to the very spot where Van Gogh painted Starry Night.

Finally, they sauntered to the gardens of the sanatorium in which he rested. During the 18 months Van Gogh stayed in Arles he painted a multitude of masterpieces.

Friday we cruised up the Rhone River, passing the huge citadel of King René at Tarascon before mooring under the walls of Avignon and climbing the many steps to the gardens of the Palais de Papes, the immense palace and monument to the era when the popes lived in France!

[Click on any picture to visit the photo gallery].
L'Impressionniste cruising in Provence, France Back to the food: the last day of the trip I was attempting to compute how I had only finished one book and one magazine the entire 6 days. Where did the hours go? I assessed that at least 5-6 hours each day went to drinking and eating. Or shall I say how many hours we all spent grazing, guzzling, slurping and admiring this continual moveable feast.

We all agreed that not only were the oysters the finest and freshest we had swallowed in our individual food histories, but the crab cakes were also given first place in the list of morsel delights.

One night we were taken ashore to a fine restaurant named 'Les Arcades', in the city of Aigues Mortes, which unbelievably matched the quality of the ship's dinner fare. And, believe it or not, dessert included a marshmallow, yes, a marshmallow that tasted like a sugar white, puffy cloud.

This trip was definitely an experience and education of wines, cheeses and gourmet foods. Passengers were even invited into the kitchen to watch the chef create the magical concoctions!

This was my second barge trip in my life. I am in awe of the attention given to detail and how this country satisfies one's needs of hunger and thirst all with a dash of formal, exquisite manners. This is so rare in this world.

On the last night at the Captain's dinner, each female place setting held a huge white lily and upon each male place setting lay a napkin shaped into a tuxedo shirt complete with lapel flower!

Barging is truly an experience of the senses.

Note: Betina Wittels is also a published author - "Absinthe, A Sip Of Seduction - A Contemporary Guide"

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April cruise competition winner

Scottish Highlander, luxury barge cruises on the Caledonian Canal and Loch Ness, Scotland Last month, we featured the Scottish Highlander with a competition to win a marvellous cruise for two in 2005.

Visit our
Scottish Highlander cruise competition page to find the lucky winner.

May Lockkeeper competition

Anjodi luxury barge cruises on the Canal du Midi, Provence, France For our May Lockkeeper competition we have 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
French Odyssey book competition page.

News

FRENCH WINE LOVER'S CRUISE - 31st July - 6th August 2005

Individual bookings are being taken on the hotel barge L'Impressionniste between Agde and Avignon in southern France for a special Wine Lover's Cruise commencing 31st July 2005. This is a unique opportunity for individual wine enthusiasts to join like-minded travellers to enjoy the glories of Languedoc and Provence and to gain a deeper appreciation of these regions and their wines.

A Champagne welcome followed by a gourmet dinner with fine wines is a fitting start to the cruise, which begins in the Mediterranean fishing town of Agde. Regional wines feature prominently during the itinerary, with daily tastings, explanations and tours including the vineyards of Roch Anglade, Saint Martin de la Garrigue, Aigues-Mortes and legendary Chateauneuf du Pape.

Rates for the Wine Lover's cruise are $3,090 per person for a Junior Suite and $3,290 per person for a Suite. The price includes en suite accommodation, Champagne welcome, three gourmet meals a day with fine wines, open bar, use of all facilities on board including spa pool, sauna and touring bikes, shore excursions, admittance fees and local transfers. For more information contact us here;
L'Impressionniste Wine cruise enquiry.


We have an excellent new addition to the GoBarging website - a presentation slideshow which introduces all the barges in our barge fleet - visit www.gobarging.com and select "Barge fleet" from the menu to view our barges - we are justifiably proud of them.

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 23rd 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 June, 2005, so we'll see you then.

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