Ditch the flights and travel to France by BOAT – with adjoining cabins and private terrace

HOW MANY women does it take to light the stove?

Five, apparently. It’s our first morning wake-up on a sparkling white boat in the south of France.

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The Horizon 5 is like a luxury motorhome on the water: well-appointed, self-contained en-suite cabins and you can park it almost anywhere
Carcassonne is a medieval fortified city full of character

3

Carcassonne is a medieval fortified city full of character

Our stomachs rumble and operating the small stove proves a little difficult.

Once we finally settle down for breakfast in the morning sun, we realize that there are a few things we will need to master before we can set off on the Canal du Midi.

Le Boat has a fleet of boats for hire on rivers as far away as France, Scotland and Canada.

The company’s largest is the Horizon 5. Seating up to a dozen, it’s roomy for five of us.

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Think of it as a luxury motorhome on the water: well-appointed, self-contained en-suite cabins and you can park it almost anywhere.

The best part is the cozy sundeck, where you can take in the views and soak up the rays while cruising the calm waters of southern France.

I never imagined that I would be entrusted with ropes and knots. But after a quick tutorial from Patrice du Boat, I start.

To my surprise, within a few hours everything is going well, but with a bump here and there under low bridges.

Fast learners? Or maybe it’s not as hard as I thought. We started from our Le Boat base in the village of Homps.

The Canal du Midi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a network of canals running from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, built in the 17th century.

We reach the 18th century Paraza Castle, run by the Danglas family for 16 years.

Between the vines, they welcome holidaymakers with a taste for grandeur.

While enjoying a drink, we learn that some yachtsmen are so thrilled upon arrival that they spend the night making the most of the antique-filled rooms and stunning views of the Pyrenees mountains.

If you can tear yourself away, sail no more than an hour and you reach the small hamlet of Somail.

The village thrives on a handful of open-air restaurants along the canal, open in the summer for tourists.

We devour local dishes on the terrace of Comptoir Nature, while friendly geese cluck on the banks and the sun sets behind the stone arched bridge. A two-course meal with coffee costs just £14.

Breakfast the next morning includes fresh croissants, covered in jam, bought from the charming “bakery on a boat” La Peniche Épicière.

Le Somail is home to one of Europe’s most famous antique bookshops, Le Trouve Tout du Livre, “the place to find all books” – an apt name, with over 50,000 books to browse, including many rarities .

Think of it as a luxury motorhome on the water: well-appointed, self-contained en-suite cabins and you can park it almost anywhere.

Eager to explore at a slower pace than our boat, we hop on electric scooters to cruise the canal path to L’Oulibo, a traditional olive oil cooperative.

Lucques olives from Languedoc are plump, plump and sweet green delicacies. We browse the gift shop, stocking up on fresh olives and oils to enjoy on board.

There was plenty of time between stops at castles and sleepy villages to take in the beautiful greenery while cruising the canal.

Fields dotted with wildflowers, poppies and sunflowers stretch out on either side of the canal, interspersed with vineyards and quaint cottages with painted shutters.

The plane trees lining the towpaths were recently discovered to have canker, but a replanting program is underway to keep this beautiful landscape thriving.

Looking for a change of scenery, we dock in Carcassonne, a fortified medieval city full of character – which gave its name to a famous city building board game.

The citadel, with its 53 turrets and 3 km of walls, is topped by a fairy-tale castle offering stunning views.

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There are over 30 wineries within 20 minutes, our guide tells us.

At this point, we are already looking forward to uncorking the bottle of Château de Paraza red to toast our sensational Canal du Midi cruise.

GO: CHANNEL DU MIDI

GETTING THERE : Return flights from Heathrow to Toulouse with British Airways cost from £82 pp. See ba.com. Ryanair flies direct from Bristol and Edinburgh.

NAVIGATING THERE: The Boat’s seven-night trip is from £789 total or £158 per person. The five-bed Horizon 5 costs £3,139 in total or £262 per person. See leboat.co.uk/boat-sales.

OUTSIDE & SURROUNDINGS: The visit and wine tasting are from £4.25 per person (chateau-de-paraza.com/fr). The olive grove tour is from £5 (loulibo.com). A visit to Carcassonne is from £10 (tourisme-carcassonne.fr).

Fields dotted with wildflowers, poppies and sunflowers stretch out on either side of the canal, interspersed with vineyards and quaint cottages with painted shutters

3

Fields dotted with wildflowers, poppies and sunflowers stretch out on either side of the canal, interspersed with vineyards and quaint cottages with painted shutters

About Michael Brafford

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