La Baïse and Canal de Garonne
We woke to a brisk mirror still morning on the beautiful Baïse River. From Larvadac we would cruise past Vianne on our way back to the Canal de Garonne. Behind us we left the Baïse with its small towns, deep stone locks, and pretty weirs. The colors of fall now tinged the trees that line the shores. We would miss it all. The Baïse was one of the nicest segments of our barge journey across the south of France.
In Buzet-sur-Baïse we ascended the double lock from the river and returned to the Canal de Garonne. The western extreme of the Canal de Garonne from Buzet to Castets-en-Dorthe skirts the base of the hills that marks the edge of the Garonne River’s meandering flood plain. Heading downstream on the canal, towns cascade from hills to the left. To the right the Garonne River wanders, never far below the level of the canal and at times pinning the manmade waterway up against the bluff. The geography dictates a curvier canal and hill top towns. Combined this makes for an interesting segment of the Canal des Deux Mers.
Four kilometers past Buzet-sur-Baïse is the first notable town in this stretch of the waterway, Damazan. Sitting on a hill, Damazan, like Vianne is a rock wall fortified bastide town. During lunch we climbed up the hill and past the defensive walls into the well-organized old town. Bastide towns were designed and built as single units in the 13th and 14th Centuries. They feel more modern. Well-planned street layouts only seem like a recent innovation.
Briefly we considered staying in Damazan for the night but we decided that we had seen the town well enough. We moved on. Fourteen more kilometers and three locks later we stopped in Le Mas-d’Agenais for the evening. For us this was the right decision. Our mooring spot near the canal bank trees in Le Mas-d’Agenais was particularly pleasant.
At le Mas-d’Agenais the Canal de Garonne sits wedged in tightly between the hill and the Garonne River. At the edge of the canal port crossing both the canal and the Garonne River is perhaps le Mas-d’Agenais’ most striking landmark, a large wire cable suspension bridge. Built in 1838 the bridge crosses over the Garonne in three suspended spans supported by towers constructed from stone. Though old and narrow le Mas-d’Agenais’ bridge functions in modern times allowing lines of cars to barely squeeze by.
In the port we learned a new French word, jeton. A jeton, a token in English, was needed to activate the electricity and water at our mooring spot. These jetons could be purchased nearby inside the public restroom and shower. At least they could be obtained if one has a European-style credit card with an encoded chip, which we did not. We appealed to our neighbor Roger whose beautifully restored turn of the 20th Century Dutch barge was moored nearby. In exchange for Euro coins Roger purchased jetons for us with his credit card. Our neighbor became our jetonnerie, our utility problem was solved, we received a tour of the inside of a classic old sailing barge, and new friends were made.
Time remained to explore le Mas-d’Agenais and perhaps find food. We climbed the hill and found the picturesque old town with its meandering medieval scheme. In the empty central square was an old wooden covered outdoor market hall. Nearby the Romanesque church of St. Vincent houses an authenticated Rembrandt painting. We went in to the church and found the dark painting badly in need of restoration hanging on an equally dark wall of the church. The painting was unguarded, unprotected, and nearly invisible. It seemed forgotten and left.
We enjoyed our walk around le Mas-d’Agenais but we did not fulfill our second goal. We did not find much in the way of food. The town’s main restaurant had closed for the season. Restaurants are expensive in France and in the countryside it seems that locals rarely eat out. When the seasonal visitors are gone the dining options rapidly diminish. We scrounged about the only open convenience store for something fresh and edible but we soon gave up. We’d have to do with what we had in the Herault. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of our journey across France by canal boat was how hard it was at times to find food. Finding good food is difficult in France. Who would have thought that?
Finish: Le Mas-d’Agenais
Travel time*: 8 hours
Cruising time**: 5.9 hours
Distance traveled: 35 kilometers
Lock chambers transited: 7
Weather: Cool and foggy morning, pleasant afternoon
At the end, our trip across France was 84% complete based on cruising time and 78% complete based on distance covered. We had passed through 215 of the 246 locks (87%) of the locks that we would cross.
* The time between the start of the day and the end of the day.
**As measured by the hour meter on our boat. When the motor is running we were either moving or standing by to move (like in a lock).