As one of the few traditional Canal du Midi barges remaining on the storied canal, cruising on the Athos awakens the romance and history of the Canal du Midi and Southern France. The construction of the Canal du Midi started in 1666 during the reign of Louis XIV and is one of the oldest European waterways still in use by boats and barges like the Athos.
Built in 1964 as a commercial grain and wine barge, the Athos is a historic Canal du Midi barge specially designed to navigate the Canal du Midi’s narrow waterway and 17th century bridges. The Athos was converted into a luxury hotel barge in 1982 and was then renovated again in 2007 when it was fully equipped with modern luxuries, like ensuite bathrooms and a state-of-the-art barge kitchen where the best of French cuisine is prepared for our guests. Even Athos’ most recent structural addition, a hydraulic all-weather terrace cover, was painstakingly measured, architected and constructed to respect the uniquely shape of the Canal du Midi’s low bridges.
Athos was originally one in a family of four commercial barges that carried freight on the Canal du Midi, appropriately named after the Musketeers: Athos, Portos, Aramis and d’Artagnan. According to local lore gleaned from canal lock keepers and passers-by who’ve lived and worked on the Canal du Midi for decades, the four barges were fondly known as the “Petit Train”, following one after the other through the Canal du Midi locks carrying wine and grain enroute to many corners of the South of France.
The boat design of Athos and the historical Musketeers was specifically measured to fit through the lowest of the Canal du Midi bridges without having to lower the shade-giving wheelhouse or dismount the wheel itself. It needs seeing to be believed, but when Captain Julian pilots Athos through the smallest of the 17thC Canal du Midi bridges (at Capestang and Colombiers) he comes within 2 inches of touching Athos’ wheelhouse on either side! Julian has been piloting the Athos on the canal for more than 25 seasons, maneuvering the Canal du Midi barge up and down the UNESCO waterway more than 5000 times—he’s got it down to a science, just as the Musketeers’ pilots must have more than 50 years ago.