Gite ahoy on a fabulous Canal du Midi boat

Written by on November 26, 2013 in Cruise holidays, Expats in France, Languedoc-Roussillon

canal du midi boat

When Jonathan and Melanie Alport from Cambridge in England decided to move to France they were particular about what they wanted – they had a dream about a perfect Canal du Midi boat. They’d always loved France for holidays and over the years it had become almost a hobby to “trawl the French property sites” looking for the perfect place. They travelled to various areas visiting properties, mostly gite businesses and found themselves looking as far south as they could to “catch the 300 days of annual sunshine!”

After several years of looking, they found their dream home in the picturesque village of Mirepeisset in the Languedoc area. It was a coup de coeur, they feel held over heels in love with the house and the area and decided to give up work in the UK to run a chambres d’hôtes business in France with the beautiful Canal du Midi practically in their back garden.

The proximity of the scenic canal inspired them to take their B&B business a step further – they bought a stunning but rundown boat and restored it. Not just any old wreck this, it was built to order for British racing driver A.F. Rivers-Fletcher in 1960 and it took them 12 years to restore and convert it to a magnificent floating gite.

canal du midi boat

Bella Mia, with owner British Racing driver AF Rivers-Fletcher in 1960

The couple had both worked as designers, Jonathan with Terrence Conran and Melanie was an interior designer for Plain English, so it’s not surprising to discover that their gorgeous chambres d’hôtes and boat reflect their fabulous style.

We wanted to know more…

What was it about Mirepeisset in particular that you fell in love with?

canal du midi boat

Our wonderful house…it is so welcoming! It’s a wonderfully sensitively restored classic French townhouse that sits on the Roman ramparts of Mirepeisset

The Canal du Midi where our boat is moored just a few minutes from us. The river Cesse is beautiful and the village has its very own shingle beach and natural swimming pool created by generations of locals. The restaurant and village shop. The people, warm and caring.

The Languedoc always appealed because of its unspoilt reputation…we didn’t want glitz we wanted wholesome. Mirepeisset is a small but thriving medieval village smack bang in the middle of the wine growing region of Minervois. You don’t need to travel far to do and see so many things. We are situated about half an hour from Carcassonne and Beziers Airports, the same distance from The Med at Grussian and 20 minutes from the foot-hills of the Black Mountains. Oh, and the Pyrenees and Barcelona is less than 2 hours away!

The house had been restored beautifully, with no expense spared and to exactly our taste! The previous owner had created a professional kitchen to run her cookery demonstration courses. The location was second to none.

canal du midi boat

One of the guest rooms at La Soqueto

It’s quite a prominent building and position, we fell in love with the proportions, the rooms are beautiful with wonderful high ceilings. There is a very special curved staircase, period details that have been preserved make this a very special place and we love sharing it with guests. There are so many places of beauty and interest to see here and telling our guests about the off the beaten track places is such a pleasure.

One of the best restaurants in the area is situated 15 paces from our front door and village shop even closer. This means that we are right in the middle of all that’s happening in the village and yet within a few minutes one can be sunbathing or swimming at the river or drinking a glass of wine at the Tapas Bar on the Canal or wine tasting at a vineyard.

Tell us more about the magnificent Canal du Midi Boat

Bella Mia is a Broom Mahogany Broads cruiser built in 1960 for Alec Francis Rivers-Fletcher, appropriately known as “Rivers”!  Rivers worked for the Bentley racing team which had a lot of success at Le Mans in the early 20th Century and later for the British Racing Motors team with the legendary Graham Hill.

We bought the boat and spent 12 years restoring her in the UK. We had always thought that our boat would make the perfect floating-gite, so we bought her over to France. She’s moored at La Porte Minervois on the southern stretch of the Canal du Midi near La Somail. It’s the perfect location! A short walk to a fabulous tapas bar and a few minutes cycling to buy croissants and provisions from our local shop in Mirepeisset. (It’s also a few minutes from our Chambres D’Hôtes).

canal du midi boat

Bella Mia today in her magnificent Canal du Midi mooring

Guests have direct access to the Canals towpath…turning left takes you to Narbonne and The Med at Grussian. Turn right and you pass through beautiful villages like La Somail and Ventanac and eventually Bordeaux!

canal du  midi boatThe interior is made up of warm varnished mahogany. There is a stateroom (lounge) at the rear with two long bench seats that double as really comfortable berths and a fully operational Galley (kitchen. This area leads out through double doors onto a lovely sitting out area that we call the aft well. In the wheelhouse there are comfortable seats to sit and read a book or watch the canal life pass by. The forward cabins sleep 4 and there is a bathroom and loo.

We’re really proud of Bella Mia – she is everything we wished for in the most perfect river based gite in a picture-perfect setting.

Find out more about staying at La Soqueto in Mirepeisset, cookery and art courses chez La Soqueto, and Bella Mia on the Canal du Midi.

Contact Jonathan and Melanie at:


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