Cruise Itinerary – Agen to Meilhan sur Garonne (or vice versa)
Luxury hotel barge Saint Louis follows two different week-long itineraries, cruising along the peaceful Canal de Garonne that flows between the cities of Bordeaux and Toulouse in South-West France. This – the Western (Bordeaux) Itinerary and the alternative Eastern (Toulouse) Itinerary. Each route has its own attractions, its own memorable highpoints and follows in the footsteps of master chef Rick Stein’s French Odyssey.
Generally the rhythm of cruising consists of a half day of gliding along the canal: enjoying the countryside as it drifts by with a cool drink in your hand, walking the tow path, or biking into that picturesque town across the sunflower fields. The second half of the day is usually spent in a guided exploration of all that the region offers in historical sights, wine tasting, artisan crafts, and culture. All of your meals will be prepared from fresh local ingredients and served on board by our resident chef. An occasional meal might be enjoyed at a nearby restaurant serving the finest regional cuisine. Our fully stocked bar, with excellent wines of the region, coffee, tea, and soft drinks is always available. Daily excursions, bicycles, indoor games and a small library are all included.
The following daily arrangements are indicative only. In keeping with our philosophy of “custom cruising“, we will always adapt a cruise to the interests and wishes of the guests on board.
SATURDAY – Bordeaux or Toulouse – Agen – Boë
The Captain of the Saint Louis meets us in Toulouse (or possibly Bordeaux) at 3.00 p.m. at our pre-arranged meeting place, and we are driven to Boë which is just on the outskirts of Agen. On arrival at the boat we settle in to our comfortable cabins, then after a short safety briefing there is a champagne reception followed by the first of many sumptuous dinners.
Our excursions during our cruises between Agen and Meilhan focus on places that provide insight into the history of the area – mediaeval and earlier – on the rural community which is known for the production of fruit and grapes, on the ways in which the population copes with the severe flooding that is experienced from time to time, and on the small industries that have arisen from all this, such as the impressive barrel makers at Buzet.
SUNDAY – Boë – Serignac
After breakfast, we cruise through the centre of the pretty city of Agen. On leaving the city, we pass over the most remarkable aqueduct which takes us over the River Garonne – this is France’s longest masonry aqueduct. We then descend a chain of four locks to arrive at a beautiful overgrown stretch of the canal which is nicknamed the “Amazon”. At the end of our day’s cruise we moor in the pretty port of Serignac-sur-Garonne. In the afternoon we are taken on an excursion to three fabulous mediaeval villages called Sainte Colombe, Bruch, and Clermont Dessous – the last village having a superb view across the Garonne valley. We arrive back at the port in time to have a stroll through the village of Serignac before aperitifs and dinner.
Serignac-sur-Garonne is a delightful Bastide village whose history dates back to Roman times although the extremely attractive centre – with its half-timbered houses, arcaded square and twisted-spire church – is medieval.
MONDAY – Serignac – Buzet – Nerac
In the morning we cruise through beautiful unspoiled countryside before arriving at the delightful port of Buzet-sur-Baïse. After lunch, we are taken on an excursion to the beautiful town of Nérac on the River Baïse, where we visit the Château of King Henry IV and the old mediaeval quarter of the town with its Roman bridge. Later, we are taken on a fabulous visit to an Armagnac producer, based in an old Benedictine monastery; here we see the old chapel, where the Armagnac is aged, and we learn of the rich history of this property and the family that looks after it.
Nerac has had an amazingly rich history over the course of the last millennium. The Lords of Albret, having founded the town in the 11th century, became Kings of Navarre in the 15th. Henry III of Navarre became King of France (as Henry IV). The River Baise runs through the town and the castle of the Lords of Albret and of Henry IV still stands.
TUESDAY – Buzet – Villeton
After breakfast, we are taken on a visit to a barrel-makers, where the owners of the works have set up a viewing platform over the shop floor, and we are treated to an almost ballet-like performance of highly organised craftsmen using very high technology and traditional skills. This private visit is memorable, not least because of the charm and dedication to his craft of the owner who takes us round. On our way back to the boat we call in on the famous Buzet wine producing cooperative.
Buzet’s ‘terroir’ (soil and geography) is particularly suited to cultivating very fine wines. Until very recently Buzet wines were classified as “Bordeaux”, but they have now formed their independent producers’ group. The pretty village also features the castle of the Lords of Buzet, of various dates from the 13th century to the 18th.
We have lunch on the sun-deck as we cruise down the canal, through the port of Damazan and under shady avenues of plane trees, to arrive at our port of Le Mas d’Agenais. We stop at the astounding gem stone and fossil museum at La Falotte, where the owner explains the categories of his 7,000 exhibits in a fascinating way. We then cruise further down the canal and moor for the night in the small country port of Villeton.
At Le Mas d’Agenais the canal squeezes between the village itself and the River Garonne that it overlooks. Dating back to Roman times, parts of the original walls can be seen. Also worth inspecting during our visit is the Romanesque wash-house and the 11th century church. The church contains a surprise – an authentic original Rembrandt painting. Outside, there is a market square with a building that was constructed in 1616 – using recycled timber from the nearby chateau.
WEDNESDAY – Villeton – Caumont-sur-Garonne
In the morning we cruise further down the canal to Le Mas d’Agenais. Here the barge is moored, and the car is waiting for us to take us for a visit up to the town which is of Roman origin, and where we can see significent parts of the original Roman wall. We admire the wooden market hall which was built in 1616, and we visit the church in which there is an original Rembrandt. Later, we cruise further down the canal to arrive at the pretty “halte” of Caumont sur Garonne. From there, we are taken by car to a presentation called “Gens de Garonne (the People of Garonne) which in a remarkable and unique way tells the story of the people living on the side of the Garonne River.
‘Gens de Garonne’ is a fascinating piece of indoor theatre that takes place in the village. Using Scenovision technology, it finds a unique way of demonstrating how the village has adapted to the floods that can occur (normally in early April when snow-melt in the mountains swells the rivers) It is both poignant and impressive. Outside, the flood marks on the side of the church bear witness to the enormity of the winter floods that can occur every 50 years or so.
THURSDAY – Caumont – Meilhan sur Garonne
In the morning we head down the canal, cruising once again through superb countryside and under a canopy of trees. We arrive at our destination, Meilhan sur Garonne. In the afternoon we are taken by car to Castets en Dorthe, where the canal flows back into the River Garonne. We marvel at the flood marks on the specially heightened lock house, and we admire the Chateau that overlooks the village. From there we go to Langon, where we see a phenomenon of an entirely different era. This is the Airbus loading yard where massive parts of the new A380 aircraft are collected at the end of their sea journey, before embarking on their land journey to Toulouse for final assembly. We then take a short car journey to Chateau Roquetaillade, which has been in the same family for the last seven hundred years. The guided tour reveals some astonishing facts about this outstanding historical masterpiece.
FRIDAY – Bordeaux (or Toulouse)
After a leisurely breakfast our bags are loaded into the vehicle, we make our fond goodbyes to the crew, and we are taken back either to Toulouse for the onward journey.
Bordeaux is a beautiful city, not only is it full of classical and renaissance architecture (the historic centre is on the UNESCO list) it is also very smart and modern. It is the world capital of wine and has been famous for wine since the 8th Century. The riverside quays are called the ‘Port de la Lune’ because of the crescent moon shape of the river as it passes through Bordeaux.
Saint Louis’ own itinerary does not include Bordeaux (the river trip is governed by strong tides and is, frankly, not very interesting). Bordeaux is within an hour’s drive of Saint Louis’ westernmost mooring and guests can easily make arrangements to visit this historic and fascinating city before or after their holiday cruise.
A cruise holiday or vacation on the luxury hotel barge Saint Louis is bespoke, tailored to the interests and wishes of our guests. In addition to the ‘usual’ places often visited and noted above, there is the possibility of visiting one or other of the following (dependent of course on the constraints of time and practicality).
- The mediaeval bastide town of Vianne, with its protective fortified wall.
Vianne is a ‘Bastide’ village (founded in 1284 during the period when Aquitaine was English) and features an almost intact fortified wall. Since the 1920s it has been a centre of glass-blowing and our visit (by car) will normally see world-class blowing skills in action.
- The Roman bridge and the Romanesque fortified mill at Barbaste
- The superb Château at Cazeneuve
- The wine centre of Duras, together with Château Duras
- The Musée des Beaux Arts at Agen, home to a number of Goyas.
- The cork museum at Mézin
- The Lot Valley, with pretty towns such as Clairac
- A producer of Armagnac and Floc de Gascogne, who for five generations has been working an estate that was built as a monastery.
- The small town of Clairac, with one of the best examples of half-timbered houses.
- The town of La Reole, with its 10th century Benedictine monastery overlooking the valley.
- Bruch – a delightful Bastide village with many interesting features.
- Chateau de Bonaguil – said to be the finest fortress in the whole of France.