Globe-trotters Amandine and François, authors of the blog ‘Un sac sur le dos’ (‘a rucksack on your back’), set off with Locaboat on a unique kind of mission along the waterways. For a week they cruised along the Canal du Midi on board a Flying Bridge ‘pénichette’® canal barge, with no knowledge of the stopovers, just our clues to guide them (see our introductory article). Our two guests found this floating mystery trip completely captivating. At their mooring, somewhere out in the wilderness, they told us the whole story.
What did you know about the trip before you set off?
Amandine: It was a mystery. We had the starting-point and we knew that the route would be based on puzzles that we’d have to solve. The only clue we had was the name of the first base. We knew we would have to head for the Malpas Tunnel, but that was all.
Why did you accept this mission?
François: Because we love mysteries and we didn’t know the Canal du Midi. Amandine: Several friends had told us about canal and river cruising and said what a great experience it was. We were keen to try it for ourselves.
How did your takeover of the pénichette® go at the start?
François: We were a bit daunted at first because the boat was bigger than we’d imagined, but when we were on board it turned out to be straightforward. Amandine: We did an initial test drive with Thierry, the base leader, and that really put our minds at rest. You just have to take it slowly through the slightly tricky passages, otherwise you can manage it all easily. At the beginning, Thierry asked us to practise by doing a complete turn on the canal. We thought: “We’ll never get round!” but it’s actually very simple.
How did you get on when you passed through your first lock?
Amandine: The lock-keeper was really fantastic. I went and spoke to him to tell him it was our first time, so he helped us. People were very kind.
We wrote the route for you, but I believe you deviated once or twice?
François: Yes, we stopped at several places when we were hungry and at a few bridge crossings that we liked. Amandine: Yes, there was one bridge we went across three times because François wanted to take more photos. We also really liked Somail. We ate in a fabulous restaurant called L’Ô à la bouche to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We did some cycling too.
What can you do on a boat apart from navigating?
Amandine: You spend half your time saying hello to people, because everyone says hello to everyone else. You read, you write. It’s so relaxing, such a lovely setting for that kind of thing. It’s also really nice to just sit and listen to the birds singing. François: That’s true, there are times when you feel you’re in the middle of nowhere. You get a completely different view from the one you have on land. You’re higher up and you can see what’s going on beyond the embankments; the vineyards and the distant hills. People watch you from the banks. It’s quite funny.
Do you enjoy taking your time travelling?
Amandine: Yes, and for us that’s very important. There’s a real trend towards slow travel at the moment. Lots of people are talking about it on our website. François: We prefer quality to quantity. We’d rather see fewer things and see them properly.
Is it satisfying to travel with your ‘house’?
Amandine: Yes, you have everything you need on board and all the comforts of everyday life. You don’t really feel as if you’re moving – it feels more like the landscapes are passing you by. François: You don’t have to lug your suitcases around or change your accommodation every day. You just put your belongings in the drawers and forget about your luggage. It’s very relaxing.
Which of you was better at steering the boat?
Amandine: François steered nearly all the time. We couldn’t get him away from the helm. Whether he’s got a wheel or a tiller, he can hang on to it for hours and no one else gets a look-in.
How would you sum up your Locaboat experience in a few words?
François: The pénichette® is a really nice kind of boat. You’re outside and you can go at your own pace - and if you want to stop, you just stop. Amandine: Yes, it’s a type of holiday that really suits slow travel and meeting new people.