Saint Louis Wheelhouse Blog

Visiting Lauzerte aboard hotel barge Saint Louis

Hotel du Quercy - Lauzerte

One of our popular day trips for guests travelling with us on our Montauban-Agen route, is a day exploring the fabulous 12th Century Castlenau in Lauzerte. It was here that Pilgrims on the Santiago de Compostela trail stopped to rest before continuing on their journey. The views are amongst the most breathtaking in Southern France and the village is steeped in a long, and often bloody, history. The trip starts with a walk to the village centre (with its quirky public art sculpture) in time for lunch, usually at the Hotel du Quercy which is listed in the Guide Michelin. Here local specialities are prepared…

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The Saint Louis Bordeaux Wine Experience Cruise – NEW FOR 2015

St Emilion wine tasting

We are so excited that from 2015 we will be offering our guests on the Agen-Castets route, an incredibly special day trip guaranteed to whet the appetite of wine lovers everywhere! The St Emilion and Bordeaux Wine Experience Cruise will feature a fascinating day visiting the world famous region of St Emilion. Guests will spend the day with wine expert Patrick Marchal at one of the most respected and influential distributors in St Emilion. Here they will receive a short briefing on Bordeaux wines in their “petit salon” and will learn about terroir and how it affects wine, the classification of Bordeaux wines and the…

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2014 Season Review – A huge thank you from the Saint Louis

On the Tarn at Moissac

It was a fantastic season for us aboard the St Louis, meeting new faces and welcoming back some old ones too. At the end of each cruise we invite our guests to give us a frank and honest appraisal of how their week with us has been. We want to make sure that our guests leave happy, relaxed and full of lovely food and wine! The only way to guarantee that we get it right is to ask our guests! We want to hear about all aspects of the cruise from comfort and hospitality to food, wine and tours and excursions. We are absolutely delighted…

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The Canal du Midi hosts a Barge Show at Capestang

  Readers of my regular entries in these columns will know that we operate a luxury hotel barge in south west France, in the Garonne Valley.   You will perhaps have read tales of the wonders of this area – the food, the wines, the people, some of the visits that we do from the boat – as well as the charm of the canal itself.  The Canal de Garonne stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to Toulouse.  In Toulouse there is a canal basin, and here you can take another canal right down to the Mediterranean Sea.  This second canal is the Canal du Midi.  …

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Saint Louis (King Louis IX) – Who Was He?

Saint Louis statue, Aigues Mortes

If you spend any time at all in France you will encounter many examples of buildings, places – and even luxury hotel barges – named after Saint Louis. There are also other examples throughout the world, including St Louis, Missouri, in the United States. Louis IX, commonly called Saint Louis, was King of France 750 years ago. Born at Poissy, near Paris, he was a member of the House of Capet, the son of Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile. He established the Parliament of Paris. Louis ruled during the so-called “golden century of Saint Louis”, when the kingdom of France was at its height…

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Luxury French Barge Saint Louis and Guided Tours

Special Knowledge – Special Places There was a time when I would never have considered using a guide. I muddled along, wasting loads of time, not seeing key features in the area and not normally being able to obtain answers to all the “Who? Why? When?” type questions that came into my head. In short, not understanding. Now, I see it from the opposite point of view. For the last eight years I have done all the guided tours for our clients on our luxury hotel barge, the Saint Louis. Through the reactions of our guests on the boat, I now understand how the information…

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Armagnac and Floc de Gascogne

The Brandies of South-West France There are two alcoholic drinks produced in South West France which are not wines, but they are produced by the onward processing of wine.  The first is Armagnac.  This is a sort of brandy, but is a very different product from its highly commercial cousin called Cognac.  Armagnac is artisan produced by over 180 small-scale producers in the area around Nérac.  In spite of the producers teaming up into various marketing bodies, they are unable to exercise strong impact on the overseas trade – they are just too diverse and too small-scale.  For this reason only a small proportion of…

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Sparkling Wines and South West France

We could not leave the subject of wine production in South West France without some discussion on sparkling wine, known as Champagne throughout the world.  The region of Champagne has taken steps to ensure that only sparkling wine from producers based within its borders can be called “Champagne”.  The story of the origin of sparkling wine is a story that is full of mystique and intrigue.  One claim is that a Benedictine monk living in the Champagne region of France, Dom Pierre Périgon, was responsible for the discovery and development of sparkling wine around the year 1682. That may not be entirely accurate.  For a…

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The Canal de Garonne – Cruising Conditions

We are unaffected by floods elsewhere in France. As you will probably know, the weather across the whole of France in the last fortnight has been atrocious.  It has become the “talk of the street” – whenever we meet any of our French contacts the first subject is the weather.   The poor farmers are in a dreadful plight. In actual fact it has not been too bad here in south west France, compared with the east and the north.  Even today, for the next two days snow is forecast in northern and eastern France  –  is there no let-up? We have read numerous reports of…

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White and Rosé Wines of South West France

This part of France is not known for its white wines.  That is not to say that quality white wine is not produced in this area – just that in general the production of white wine is a relatively new addition to the area.  The region of Cahors, so well known for its production of deep red wines from the Malbec grape, also produces some stunning whites, for example the Cuvée Cedre Blanc from Chateau du Cedre, which is 100% Viognier.  Many of the white wines that we carry on our luxury hotel barge, the Saint Louis, are in fact produced from just one variety…

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Red Wines of South-West France

We carry nearly forty different wines, most of them award winning, all of them from the area in which we cruise South West France wine area is divided into a number of sub-regions, each with their distinctive characteristics.  Wine production in the area dates back to Roman times and that traditionally the area produced red wines, often called “claret”, that were exported through the port of Bordeaux.  The river system was important to the commercialisation of wines, and how the producers struggled when their only access to the markets of Europe ceased to be available to them. Starting with red wines, one of our favourites…

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Holidays and Vacations in France – Ecotourism

Luxury Hotel Barge Saint Louis is Eco-Friendly Ecotourism is a word that started to be used some twenty years ago, and over the years I have been following the way in which tourism providers and vacation centres around the world have been adopting the word in their promotional material. Sometimes it has seemed to me that the use of the term Ecotourism has been more as a hook to attract clients, rather than as a definitive statement as to the policies, attitudes and competencies of the supplying companies. In the past few weeks I have asked a wide range of people, including successive clients taking…

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The Wines of South West France and the Wines of Bordeaux

As part of the understanding of the wines of South West France, you need first to understand where the wine area of South West France actually lies.  Perversely, the wine area does not at all have the same boundaries as the geographical area of south west France! To start with, Bordeaux is not part of South West France, for historical and commercial reasons that I will touch on later.  The Bordeaux wine region is like a big semi-circle, surrounded on all sides except to the Atlantic west by the wine area of South West France!  The other apparent anomaly is that the land area to…

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Luxury barge Saint Louis – the Pilgrimage in south west France

During our cruising season we very often moor our hotel barge the Saint Louis in the tiny port of Pommevic, between Moissac and Lamagistere.  There is a full canopy of trees, and during the summer it can be quite pleasant to get some shade in the heat of the day.  Generally, no other boats are moored there, and we have for company the occasional boat passing between the locks, some of the local residents whom we have come to know  –  and a steady trickle of Pilgrims passing along the towpath.  A pilgrim at Pommevic – complete with stave and scallop For a distance of some fourteen…

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Moissac Abbey – pearl of south west France – and UNESCO World Heritage Site

  The week-long cruises that we run on our hotel barge the Saint Louis are in south west France, largely between Toulouse and Bordeaux.  We do not normally take the barge into either of those two cities, but rather we travel gently through the unspoiled countryside along the Canal de Garonne, in an area that used to be called both Gascony and Aquitaine.  Gascony is famous for a number of things, including Armagnac, Henri de Batz who became known as d’Artagnon of The Three Musketeers fame  –  and numerous mediaeval towns and villages. Foremost among the mediaeval masterpieces in this area is Moissac Abbey.  The…

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Winter in France – how the owners of a luxury Hotel Barge spend their winter

  Every year, during our season, guests ask what we do during the winter months.  Sometimes the question is entirely open – more often it is loaded, as if to say “you guys must have a wonderful life, only having to work for half the year!”   It is half true.  We do feel that we have a wonderful life, but not because we can put our feet up for six months of the year!  In the first place, the winter months provide us with the time to do things that we cannot do during our cruising season.  This includes all the medical appointments –…

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What our guests wrote about us this year

Saint Louis  –  written about us by our guests – 2011 season Genuine excerpts from the visitors’ book on board the hotel barge the Saint Louis, written during our 2011 season:- You have broadened our horizons while exciting our palates.  Paris is fabulous but it can’t beat barging on the Saint Louis!  Our first barge trip could not have been better.  This was, quite simply, the best holiday we have had in 40 years  …..  food and wine of the highest quality   …   we are enormously sad to leave.  We have marvelled at Alasdair’s expert handling of the boat and Barbara’s inspired cuisine. “Magnifique”.  Everything …

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A magical evening

In south-west France, in the valley of the River Garonne, there is a small market town called Valence d’Agen.  We have reason to know Valence very well, since the Canal Garonne passes through the outskirts of the town, and on the first of our two itineraries our hotel barge the Saint Louis passes this way, between stops at Pommevic and Lamagistere.  Sometimes we stop in the small port, and our guests can explore the town with its two market squares and its three Romanesque lavoirs.  Every year, in early August, Valence d’Agen is known for an entirely different reason.  The port is transformed into a…

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Luxury and Quality Wine in south west France

It is an essential part of “slow travel” to explore the tastes and smells of the area in which you travel. We run our cruises in south west France, and by reputation the people of this area have a highly developed culture of the appreciation of good food and good wine. If you drive around the villages between 12 mid-day and 2.00 in the afternoon, you will pass the occasional restaurant that appears to be besieged by tradesmens’ vans. Every person is a gourmet critic, every individual a wine taster, and these working men will drive big distances to enjoy their daily celebration of the…

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Saint Louis Hotel Barge now accepts credit card payments

Ever since we have been running the barge, we have been able to take payment by international bank transfer.  This method has worked very efficiently, and we can check our account on-line to verify that a transfer has been received;  this usually happens within about 48 hours, and I always notify our client as soon as payment has arrived. For those who prefer to make payment by credit card, we have now registered with PayPal.  Perhaps I can briefly explain how this payment system works, for those who may not be familiar with it.  Once we have agreed a booking with a client we send a “Request for…

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