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Southwest France & A Cruise on the Canal du Midi

Length: 12 Days
Departing: June 2024


On this beautiful tour we will be discovering the delights of the Basque region, staying in beautiful Biarritz and discovering stunning local fishing ports, exquisite mountain villages, colourful riverside towns and heading over the border into Spain to spend a day in the gorgeous Basque capital, San Sebastian.

Biarritz is one of the most picturesque and historic seaside towns in France. In 1854, Emperor Napoleon III chose Biarritz as the place for his new summer home due to its location near the Spanish border and the beautiful views of the mountains and the sea it afforded. After this, a steady stream of Europe’s monarchs and glitterati elevated Biarritz to its status as one of the most elegant places on the continent. Basing ourselves here for 5 nights will allow you plenty of free time to explore and enjoy local restaurants of your choice in evenings.

Our private luxury hotel barge “Athos” cruises on the beautiful Canal du Midi for 6 nights and includes the magical walled city of Carcassonne, the superb village of Pezenas (known for its stunning architecture) the perched Cathar village of Minerve, and the Mediterranean jewel that is the town of Narbonne. Another highlight of the week is the traverse of the 18th century aqueduct over the River Orb and the exciting ascent (or descent) of a 17th century feat of engineering, the Fonserannes Staircase Locks. This really is an exceptionally captivating cruise!

Fully air conditioned to provide comfort in the Mediterranean Summer, the interior is decorated with varnished wood detailing and lovely floral fabrics. A large salon and bar provide an attractive relaxation area, or you can enjoy watching the world float by from the gorgeous deck, with large comfortable chairs and umbrellas and a brand new jacuzzi! Sitting out on deck enjoying your rosé and olives in the sunshine is the quintessential southern French experience!

You will love our fabulous crew who cater to your every need, including our exceptional private chef, who provides cuisine for which the Athos has become renowned, and excellent local wines.

Today we will meet in Biarritz, at our 4 star hotel overlooking the sea. Dinner this evening at a local restaurant. (D)

Today we will discover the beauty of Biarritz with a local guide. Before it became a prestigious resort town in the mid-1800’s, Biarritz was just a sleepy fishing village, albeit in a magnificent setting! The coastal enclave nestles along the Bay of Biscay and looks directly out onto dramatic Atlantic Ocean waves, with the Pyrenees Mountains visible in the distance.

Though the regal influence of Biarritz has faded, the city has retained its prestige. In fact, Biarritz is now considered one of the most desirable beach destinations in France and is certainly among the most glamorous. Another claim to fame: Biarritz is the capital of surfing in Europe. Today we’ll be exploring the old town, the famous Rocher de la Vierge, and enjoying the fabulous views from the lighthouse, the Phare de Biarritz. After our discovery tour we’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. (B, L)

The charming mountain village of St Jean-Pied-de-Port is so named for its location at the foot of the French Pyrenees. With its narrow and steep cobblestone streets, old bridges crossing the Nive river and citadel built out of pink sandstone, this beautifully preserved village is the starting point of the Camino Frances, the pilgrimage route that ends in Santiago de Compostela, 800 kms away. We will enjoy a beautiful drive to the village and have plenty of time to wander and have lunch at a local restaurant. (B, L)

Today we’ll drive down along the coast to the gorgeous Basque fishing port of St Jean-de-Luz, which is holding its colourful market day today – known as the best in the region. After plenty of free time to enjoy the town we will head south to the stunning little riverside town of Bayonne, the capital of French Basque Country.  Bayonne is typical of the region’s cross-cultural charms from both Basque and Gascony. A jumble of narrow townhouses adorned with colourful shutters line the riversides, while the mazelike old town is dotted with terrace cafés, street markets and chocolatiers. The town is known for its excellent restaurants so we will take advantage of that while we are here! (B, L)

San Sebastian is a spectacular, picturesque town that lies just over the border in Spain. For many years the Royal retreat from the summer heat of Madrid, it is set around the bay of “La Concha”, full of majestic 19th century buildings and surrounded by dramatic green hills with lush vegetation. The old part of the town that we will see on our walking tour is crammed with lively cobbled streets that are bursting with shops, café and bars serving the Pintxos (Tapas) that San Sebastian is famous for, and this relatively small town also boasts 8 Michelin star restaurants! As it is known as one of the gastronomic capitals of Europe, we will include some special epicurean highlights in our itinerary today! (B, L)

Today we leave Biarritz and drive east on a very beautiful drive towards the small Languedoc town of Beziers, stopping for lunch at Lourdes, site of the most famous healing shrine in the world but also a very charming Pyrenean town. Once we meet the barge, a champagne welcome with canapés awaits us! Once you are settled into your cabin, you will be invited to your first 4-course dinner on board, prepared by our highly skilled chef. (B, D)

Enjoy breakfast in a comfortable chair on the upper deck of the barge, before we take a guided walk through the quaint fishing village of Marseillan. There is also a fascinating tour of the Noilly Prat vermouth distillery and (if you choose a tasting of Noilly Prat). Return to the barge for a seafood lunch*, before we cruise across the open waters of the Etang de Thau – Europe’s largest mussel and oyster park – and make our way onto the Canal du Midi. This area of conservation land, known as the “Petit Camargue”, is home to bird species such as pink flamingos, African Rollers and Bee Eaters. After mooring in Portiragnes, it is a short bicycle ride to the sandy Mediterranean beach. Dinner on board. *Please note if you do not eat seafood, an alternative will be offered! (B, L, D)

This morning we drive to the old market town of Pezenas, which was the first seat of the Languedoc court. The architecture is particular to the town because of the “Hotels Particuliers” or mansions belonging to the noble families who followed the Court. Pezenas is filled with artisans’ shops, including painters, hat makers, and costume designers. Once again, your guide makes sure that there is time to browse, as well as learning about the history.

After lunch we traverse the 18th century aqueduct over the River Orb to begin our negotiation of a 17th century feat of engineering, the Fonserannes Staircase Locks. We arrive early evening above the staircase where you have a glorious view of the town of Beziers and the Cathedral St.Nazaire. The crew invite you for a quick game of Pétanque and a glass of Pastis before dinner on board. (B, L, D)

After breakfast, we take a trip to the weekly morning market in Narbonne. Even for non-shoppers, Narbonne offers much entertainment. Explore an excavated portion of the original Roman road, the Via Domitia, browse through the Roman Museum, discover the beauty of St. Juste Cathedral, or simply relax at one of the many cafés. After lunch in the atmospheric market, we return to Athos and cruise to Regismont-le-Haut, where we will moor with a beautiful view of the Enserune plains. There is time for a stroll along the towpath before dinner on board. (B, L, D)

This morning, we enjoy a tasting at “L’Oulibo”, the local olive oil press. After tasting those organic and wholesome olives accompanied by a glass of rosé, we take a short drive up the Gorge de la Cesse and into the hilltop village of Minerve. Your guide will regale you with the harrowing tale of the Cathar siege launched at Minerve during the 13th century. Relax after lunch on board whilst we cruise to Capestang, or enjoy a wine tasting at a local château, such as Château Cabezac. Return to Athos for dinner on board. (B, L, D)

Today we drive to the famous medieval double-walled city of Carcassonne. Your knowledgeable guide will provide a full tour of this historical place and ensure that you also have time to browse the shops. Return to the barge for a gourmet lunch on board (perhaps including the famous duck confit stew, cassoulet) and an afternoon’s cruise to our final mooring at Argeliers. Captain’s Farewell Dinner on board. (B, L, D)

After breakfast, we will be driven back to Beziers. From there we can assist you with onward arrangements to other parts of France and Europe. (B)

€8470 euros per person twin/double share


  • Accommodation for five nights in our 4 star hotel in Biarritz, with Ocean View room including breakfast each day
  • Fully inclusive luxury barge cruise for 6 nights on board “Athos”*
  • Meals as per itinerary, including wine (B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner)
  • Transport in private air-conditioned coach
  • All entries and excursions
  • Full time services of tour director Sue Heine and walking tours with expert local guides in Biarritz and San Sebastian
  • Crew and bus driver gratuities

*Please note that the itinerary on board Athos shown above may operate in the reverse direction.

 The deposit for this tour is €1,500 euros per person. Our prices are in euros and payments will be converted to Australian dollars on days of payment, ie deposit and final payment.


Due to the booking conditions when we charter a barge for our private use, the deposit is non-refundable unless we can replace you on the tour. We would of course make every effort to do so!

Once paid, the final payment is non-refundable. We will advise full terms and conditions at time of booking.