Shropshire Star

Travel review: Living the life of the magnifique

Believe it or not I was once a bit of a sailor – racing dinghys and yachts inshore and offshore. I loved the speed and the thrill.

A Magnifique cruising along the Canal du Midi – the cabins are set fore and aft to enhance privacy

And in fact I am a bit of a water baby all round. I love swimming, pools and in the sea, and love ferry travel – short hops across the channel to longer trips across the North Sea and wending all the way down to northern Spain.

You can probably tell from that my star sign is Pisces, although you couldn’t by any means call me a dreamer...

In more recent years I have also tried a slower pace of water life with a short cruise on the Midlands canals. Narrow boats are fun, no matter what the weather, as I discovered on a trip one Easter when it poured for most of the trip!

I also enoyed a fabulous cruise on a barge along the Canal du Midi, in France, where I had nothing to do except enjoy being waited on hand foot and finger, taste delicious food and wine, and take a few excursions ashore to look at the sights.

That trip really gave me a taste for life along this famous canal and a return visit was a must.

This time, however, it was a self-helmed cruise where we had to do everything for ourselves – except for our delicious meals alongside the water.

Our almost 50 foot cruiser was a Magnifique from Le Boat, a leading provider of boating holidays on Europe’s beautiful inland waterways bringing together 50 years of experience, expertise and memories. One of the operator’s most popular destinations is the Canal du Midi the south of France, with multiple start points and boat types to choose from. Holidaymakers can travel more than 150 miles of scenic waterways along an impressive 17th century network of canals that connect the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Famed for its wine tasting and world-class gastronomy, the Canal du Midi is also rich in history and heritage, boasting impressible cathedrals, grand châteaux, ancient ruins and medieval cities.

The Magnifique is an ideal choice for parties up to 10, although we were just two couples and enjoyed plenty of space. The cabins are set fore and aft to enhance privacy and a huge sundeck features a fixed table and padded seats. Speakers can also pipe music in.

The two forward cabins have double beds and share a toilet and separate shower and two rear cabins are en-suite with convertible twin/double beds. There is also a settee in the roomy salon which can sleep two additional people, although I think eight people would be best.

All linen and towels are provided and the galley is very well-equipped with a gas hob and oven and two fridges. And there is plenty of storage space for food and essentials such as wine. There is plenty of seating in the salon area and up on deck the sundeck is wonderful with an awning for when it gets a little too hot. And we enjoyed some very nice meals under it.

A little wary about setting sail? You needn’t worry as the boats are easy to handle with no licenses required, even for our huge vessel. Before setting off we were taught how to safely drive the boat, moor and how to travel through locks. That all left us feeling happy and confident about controlling our Magnifique.

A trip on the Canal du Midi ensures you slow down, mentally and physically. Speed is limited and you simply have to switch off. You slow down and appreciate the beauty alongside the water and drink in the scenery. On our trip we were treated to wildlife right next to us – simply beautiful birds and birdsong and an ever-changing view. There are amazing towns and villages a hop off the boat – Capestang, Le Somail and Ventenac en Minervois should be stops along with Poihles for a wine tasting at Vinauberge – along with eateries from the local bar right through to some very fine dining.

There is plenty to do off the boat, besides wining and dining, if you so wish. Lovely towns and villages to stroll through, plenty of history and, of course, wineries to sample the local wines.

We picked up our boat from the Le Boat base in Narbonne, a very interesting historic town and well worth a visit, not actually on the Midi but a short distance down another canal and linked to it by a series of locks. There are several bases to pick your boat up from depending on where you actually want to visit on your trip – you can actually get to the Mediterranean if you want! You can pick your boat up from one of the bases and return it, by a certain date and time, to the same base. Or you can do a one-way cruise and return it to a different base further along the canal.

Moorings are free at set spots in towns and villages during the day, but there may be charges for overnight stays, or out in the wild where you have to set up your own stakes. Water and re-charging your power is free at Le Boat bases and a small charge is made at other locations. In all honesty, we didn’t really need to re-charge (the engine does that while you motor along) or top up the water but did so to see just how easy it was – and it was. We were only on board for a week but for longer trips and with more people on board, the service would be needed.

Our cruise was simply fabulous, great boat, great company and good food and wine. Million dollar question: Would we do it all again. Oh, yes.