Posted by Alasdair Wyllie – Saint Louis Hotel Barge
To travel slowly means that you have time to observe and absorb, to experience the places you come to, to discover the true values of your host country, and to have these experiences while having a minimum negative impact and a maximum positive impact on the fauna, the flora and the people of the places you are visiting.
We are both lucky and privileged to operate our Hotel Barge in south west France. Imagine, for one moment, the scene. The barge is quietly travelling at walking speed through glorious rural countryside, and our guests are comfortably ensconced on the sun-deck, drinks in hand. They have the chance to see and experience things that they would probably not see by any other means.
The wildlife of this area is remarkable, and our enthusiasm for this aspect of our cruises never wanes.
One bird that is seen on nearly every cruise is the kingfisher, a brilliant flash of unimaginable blue darting just above the water from one bush to another. One way in which I rate the day is to count the kingfishers that I see – a one-kingfisher day is ordinary, a three kingfisher day is special. Imagine what a great day it was the day that I counted seven kingfishers!
Every year during May and June we are treated to the song of the nightingales, singing from their canal-side perches day and night. Definitely one of the most beautiful bird songs in the world. Another bird with a very distinctive song is the golden oriole. It is as well that its song is distinctive, to tell us of its presence, for it is such a secretive bird that it is very rare indeed to catch a sight of it. But when we do see it – what a treat that is! A brilliant golden bird unlike any other. One evening we were treated to a really exceptional experience – this was a nightingale and a golden oriole who were taking turns to come up with their best songs – like two musicians jamming.
Other birds of note are some of the heron family – we see grey herons, purple herons and night herons. Bullfinches are common here, probably a result of all the apple orchards. And particularly in Moissac the swifts are very impressive, swirling in close formation over the roof tops.
Sometimes beside the water, and sometimes in the water, we see the timid water vole, reminding us of Ratty in Wind in the Willows. And on a more exotic note, we have seen terrapins in different places, happily living in the wild. As far as land mammals are concerned, foxes, badgers, hedgehogs, hares, wild boar and three sorts of deer are all among the species that have been seen from the boat – by those who come to us to appreciate our special form of Slow Travel.
Between Agen and Serignac-sur-Garonne the canal is very overgrown, with bushes and undergrowth taking up half the width of the canal. The birdsong in this area can be remarkable, especially in early summer. We call this distinctive stretch of water the “Amazon” – the wildlife to be found here is only limited by your imagination!
Alasdair and Barbara have lived full-time in France for some seven years, and they are now in their sixth season of operation with their Hotel Barge the Saint Louis. They come from the west coast of Scotland, and they each have wide-ranging hospitality experience. The Saint Louis is a 30-metre converted Dutch barge, providing luxurious accommodation for up to six guests. Cruises are by the week, in the Garonne valley between Toulouse and Bordeaux.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.