Where do we suggest spending a few days before meeting Athos for a glorious week of Canal du Midi cruising? The South of France is rich with possibilities…
As long-time Owner-Operators of hotel barge Athos, we often get asked for recommendations of where to travel in Southern France before cruising the Canal du Midi on Athos. We have a handful of favourites we’re happy to share.
Southern France WEST of the Canal du Midi & Athos’ Cruise Route
Collioure – a quaint fishing-village on the picturesque coastline between this area and Spain. Picasso is known to have created works here.
Geothermal Baths – Both the Pyrenees and the Garonne boast spas with Geothermal baths. This is a great way to ease jet lag and see countryside at Ax les Thermes, Aix les Bains, Bagnères de Luchon. All are accessible by flying into Toulouse, then connecting by rail or by hire car.
Toulouse and the Haute Garonne – Toulouse is the gateway to the Canal du Midi, but not a section of canal or countryside that Athos typically cruises (by request, Yes!) Unless the western/Toulouse section is requested, Athos tends to stay in the more eastern Mediterranean cruise sector. It’s well worth exploring Bagnères de Luchon and parts of the Pyrenées. The historical riches around Toulouse and north of Toulouse, including the famous Toulouse Lautrec Museum and the painted celestial basilica ceiling at Albi are also worth seeing.
Bordeaux and the Dordogne – only a couple of hours by train from the main airport at Toulouse. Bordeaux and the Dordogne boast a rich cultural heritage, not to mention the well-established wine and food reputation.
Southern France EAST of the Canal du Midi & Athos’ Cruise Route:
Provence – cold rosé wines, lavender fields and the glamorous Côte d’Azur including Nice, St Tropez, Antibes. From here, Athos’ Sunday meeting point in Beziers is only a few hours away by train or by hire car. The old Port of Marseille is a fascinating and rich port of call. Worth a night’s discovery. Equally french-provençal in style and enjoyable to discover over a day or two is Aix en Provence.
The Camargue: Avignon, Arles and Nimes. The Camargue is famous for its rustic countryside and a deep history of agriculture. All three of these towns are worth a few days’ exploration if your interest is spurred by Camargue horses, bull-raising and Roman ruins. Trains from this area are no more than an hour and a half from Beziers, Athos’ Sunday meeting point. Equally, car hire is available.
Argeliers – shameless self-promotion…but Athos has been based out of the lovely little village of Argeliers for many years now, where we have a self-catering holiday home with pool & 4 bedrooms. Make the villa your house for the week. It’s a comfortable way to explore Languedoc beaches, small Minervois villages, local wine domaines, and even the local Cave Co-op bag-in-box!
A note! We tend to suggest these Southern France spots as “before” cruising Athos recommendations.
Others have said that it’s hard to top a week on Athos! Following a week of fine onboard meals, well-chosen wines, jovial company and a well-organised programme, it can be a let-down going solo. It’s only our opinion, but exploring alone in Southern France is better done BEFORE cruising onboard Athos because it can be an adjustment traveling on your own steam post-cruise week!