Cruise Itinerary – Montauban to Agen (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 Toulouse and Bordeaux in South-West France. This – the Eastern (Toulouse) Itinerary and the alternative Western – Bordeaux – 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 – Toulouse – Lacourt St. Pierre – Montech
We meet around 3 pm, often in Toulouse, and we travel by car to the Saint Louis. We pass through Granade and Grisolles on the way, and admire the central market square in both villages. On arrival at Saint Louis’ home port, you are greeted with a champagne reception on board. After unpacking, the options include a visit to the local Artisan Distillerie (making renowned aqua vita and liqueurs from local fruits), or a stroll around the charming town of Montech, or maybe a game of pétanque (boules) beside the boat.
SUNDAY – Montauban – Castelsarrasin
After breakfast, we take the car for an excursion around Montauban, “city of art and culture”. We see statues by local artist Bourdelle, we explore cobbled streets leading to the gorgeous central square and we admire the 13th century Pont Vieux (Old Bridge) with its superb garrison building.
Founded by the Count of Toulouse in 1144 as a fortified city on the banks of the River Tarn, Edward the English ‘Black Prince’ built his castle in Montauban in the mid-1300s. His lower Grand Hall still survives and can be visited, part of the Musee d’Ingres that was originally built (over the castle remains) as the seat of the bishops of Montauban. Ingres, the nineteenth century painter, was born in Montauban, and the museum contains the world’s largest collection of his works. From the fourteenth century (photo above) the adjacent Old Bridge is both picturesque and a remarkable survivor from over six hundred years ago.
We return to the boat, and have lunch under way as we head to Montech, passing through one lock before joining the main Canal de Garonne. At Montech, we will see the extraordinary Montech Water Slope, an engineering marvel that is unique in the world. After cruising for the afternoon through gentle and productive rural countryside we moor in the beautiful port of Castelsarrasin.
MONDAY – Moissac
We head off down the canal after breakfast, and after descending four locks we cross over the River Tarn by means of an amazing brick-built aqueduct, 30 metres over the river. A few more locks and we arrive in the port of Moissac. After lunch, we are taken to one of the highlights of the trip – Moissac Abbey with its Cloisters that are said to be the finest in the world, and the 13th century church which contains a 10th century organ. There are numerous art shops, including a glass blower, in this gem of a mediaeval town.
The great abbey at Moissac was founded by Saint Didier in the 7th century; and the 11th and 12th saw a golden age of culture and importance, including the construction of the doorway and the tympanum over; and the wonderful cloister – world famous (and almost perfect) surviving examples of Romanesque art. The town itself is thoroughly authentic, with an excellent weekend market, a spectacular 19th century road bridge over the river and with the canal’s route taking it straight through the middle of the town. Moissac is known for its delicious desert (eating) grapes – of the Chasselas variety.
As an option, Saint Louis can leave the canal at Moissac, for a short cruise on the River Tarn and the River Garonne. This option is unique among hotel barges in France.
Via the double lock at Moissac, we descend onto the River Tarn. If we head upstream we pass under the canal aqueduct – another unique experience. Some kilometres further on, we reach the barrage at Saint-Livrade. There is an impressive old water mill beside the barrage, and on a nearby escarpment the historic Chateau de Saint-Livrade overlooks the river. Heading downstream from Moissac, Saint Louis passes under the Pont Napoleon and later arrives at a wide expanse of water where the Tarn joins the River Garonne at Saint-Nicholas. From here we can cruise some way up the Garonne, past a bird sanctuary (350 species, most of them migrants) where we can also anchor in the quiet, safe, water and observe in perfect tranquillity.
TUESDAY – Pommevic – Auvillar
We have breakfast on deck, while passing through the swing-bridge of Moissac emerging into lovely countryside, with rolling hills to the right and the River Garonne to the left. In time for lunch we moor at the peaceful port of Pommevic – we usually expect to be the only boat in the port. During the morning we could pass numerous pilgrims making their way on Christendom’s third most important pilgrimage route, to the Spanish burial site of Saint James at Santiago di Compostella, which is still 1200 km away at this point.
In the afternoon, we go in the car to nearby Auvillar, listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France. This village has a history in which the manufacture and export of china and quills (for writing) were of major importance – as so often we see the influence that the River Garonne had as a trade artery in the world of commerce of yesteryear.
Auvillar is acknowledged as one of the most beautiful villages of France, perched on a rocky escarpment overlooking the River Garonne. It dates back to pre-Roman times and the fortified village was the property of the Counts of Armagnac and then the King of Navarre. Its rich history tells of its former importance in the grain trade and in the production of pottery and writing quills – all of which were exported from Auvillar down the River Garonne, before the advent of the canal.
WEDNESDAY – Lamagistere – Donzac – Dunes
We head off in the morning, having breakfast on the deck under the plane trees. We pass through Valence, and moor for lunch at Lamagistere, surrounded by nothing but views and peace. In the afternoon, we go by car to nearby Donzac, where there is an amazing museum dedicated to the ancient trades of this corner of France – this is a world class display, put together with professionalism and humour. Later, we visit the ancient Bastide village of Dunes, with lovely half-timbered houses and wall-plaques that detail some astounding events in the history of this little village.
Lamagistere is a village of elegant architecture, like Auvillar once busy and prosperous from trade on the river. Nowadays the river carries no commercial traffic and this once bustling place is quiet and lovely; to wander around and enjoy. Overlooking Lamagistere lies Clermont-Soubiran (photo, page heading), like Auvillar perched on a rocky outcrop with stunning views, a medieval village with an outstanding chateau castle.
Lamagistere is an easy 15-20 minute stroll from our peaceful rural mooring place close-by. We often visit Clermont as a morning excursion by car.
THURSDAY – Clermont Soubiran – Agen
In the morning, we go in the car to nearby Clermont-Soubiran, where we have views over the whole Valley of the Garonne, and where a walk around the outside of the chateau never fails to impress. We then return to the boat and cruise down towards the provincial city of Agen. We moor at Boë on the outskirts of Agen. The possible excursions from Boë include a visit to the Musée des Beaux Arts in Agen, where there is a fine Egyptian and Levant collection as well as number of Goyas, or perhaps a visit to the first water-lily nursery in Europe, where Monet gained his inspiration.
FRIDAY – Toulouse
After a leisurely breakfast on the Saint Louis, you are taken by car back to your connection in Toulouse (or elsewhere), passing through deep rural countryside with fruit orchards, sunflowers and vineyards.
Toulouse is France’s fourth biggest and probably most go-ahead city. A centre of space research, aeronautics and science, but also the seat of one of Europe’s oldest universities (1229). You will normally fly in and out of the city’s smart modern airport, collected or returned by us in our comfortable Mercedes people-carrier. Other arrival/departure locations are equally possible – see Getting to Saint Louis.
Hotel barge Saint Louis does not cruise into Toulouse itself. However, many people choose to spend a day or two, before or after their cruise, visiting the ‘Ville Rose’ of Toulouse and some of the other fascinating places thereabouts. One option is to visit the nearby fortified World Heritage castle of Carcassonne (“Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” and many other films) in addition to your cruise on Saint Louis. While Carcassonne is an excellent option, we would also suggest (as an alternative) visiting the stunning medieval town of Cordes-sur-Ciel (photo left) – less well-known, less crowded, but equally fascinating, equally historic and equally architecturally magnificent.
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).
- A visit to Chateau Saint Louis, where the owner will regale us with details of how he makes his award-winning wines.
- A visit to the astonishing viewpoint of Boudou, from where the whole Garonne valley opens up.
- A visit to the remarkable 11th century church at Lachappelle, which has its origins with the Knights Templar – modified in a baroque style and unique in France.
- A visit to the birthplace of Lamothe Cadillac, where a small museum tells the remarkable story of how this Frenchman had a make of automobile named after him. A museum to Lamothe-Cadillac, in the house of his birth – this is the man who founded Detroit and whose name and coat of arms appears on many cars today!
- A wine tasting at a Fronton vineyard – one of south west France’s hidden secrets.
- The Abbey de Belleperche, just beside the mighty River Garonne.
- A genuine Roman bridge – hidden away and not part of any tourist route.
- The Bastide town of Lauzerte – full of history and surprises
- A working goat farm, where you can see a commercial herd of goats being milked, and the milk made into cheese.
- A visit to an extraordinary winery in Cotes de Brulhois, that has been in the same family for 300 years and where innovative wines from the early 1700’s are once again being produced.