DejaVu…Reunited with Bella Mia after 50 years!

This is a bit strange! Here I am, nearing 70, and cruising down the Canal du Midi in a lovely wooden motor cruiser built on the Norfolk Broads for my father over 50 years ago and it’s now been operated for Canal du Midi boat tours! The sense of  DejaVu is immense, as this boat was the scene of many holiday moments when I was 19, ‘courting’ my wife who is now sitting beside me, and our home for six months when we both came to live and work in Norwich all those years ago.

Bella Mia is based on a 35ft Captain class cruiser built by C.J.Broom and Sons of Brundall near Norwich.  Brooms, perhaps the most highly regarded of the Broads boat builders, ran a successful hire fleet in the post war years when the Broads were starting to gain holiday status, and well before glass-fibre was ‘invented’.

As a family we had lots of  holidays on the broads in various ‘makes’ of boat, but Brooms became the favourite fleet – with maybe a nod to Windboats and Jack Powles and later Ernest Collins.

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My father was heavily into motor racing both with his job – PR for the BRM team and as a hobby driving single seater racing cars such a Bugatti, HWM and Cooper.

Lots of people in the racing scene were attracted to boats and  in 1961 my father commissioned Brooms to build Bella Mia.  Private ownership of such boats on the Broads was a bit of a new thing then, and  Brooms were leading the field.  In arriving at the exact specification for Bella Mia, one boat  that Brooms had recently built for a private owner stood out as an example to follow,  and that was  Tertia, another Captain class. Thirty years ago I bought Tertia and she is still a big part of our life today.

 

Bella Mia. Available for day trips, 2 day cruises and as a gite on the Canal du midi

Bella Mia. Available for boat trips canal du midi

Bella Mia has oak frames , Iroko bottom and Mahogany topsides and was originally fitted with a BMC six cylinder side-valve engine for smoothness.  The wheelhouse originally had collapsible windows so that the whole top could be taken down for going through really low bridges, but my father had other ideas and had Brooms make a fixed wheelhouse with a small sun deck just aft of this. An outside helm position was considered too difficult and expensive.

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The forward cabin arrangement included a small double bunk and  washbasin ‘en-suite’, and a separate compartment  with sea loo and washbasin..  The generous aft saloon  doubled as the other cabin , and the galley led out onto the aft cockpit  or ‘backyard’ as we called it.   Always berthed at Brooms yard, we spent many a year cruising the Broads and when my wife Margaret and I  moved to work in Norwich we lived on Bella Mia for six months in the summer of 1963 whilst we were looking for a house to buy.

Eventually my parents decided to sell Bella Mia, downsizing to a two berth wooden boat built originally by Jenners of Thorpe, eventually ending up on the river at Stratford on Avon, close to where they lived.

Bella Mia passed through a number of hands through the years and having bought our own boat by then we kept a watchful eye on its progress.  When it appeared on the moorings at our Barton Turf  boatyard we started to get to know Jon and his almost obsession with returning Bella Mia to its former glory. How good to know that he has eventually achieved this.

We first saw Bella Mia in July 1999 but it was nearly a year before Melanie my wife and I finally bought her. Moored at Ferry Marina, she looked tired and unloved but what a fantastic looking vessel.

To us GRP boats have always looked the poor relation and as Bella Mia sat alongside her modern plastic counterpart aptly named ‘BeeJay’ we were initially surprised by the relatively small sum it cost us to be buy this piece of Broads history. Little did we know how much we would be spending on her over the years to bring her back to life!

Our purchase coincided with a very busy part of our lives, bringing up our three children in a village near Saffron Walden. Bella Mia quickly became part of the family and we would find ourselves escaping to another era as often as we could.

The curved ceilings, rich mahogany bulkheads, chrome fittings and bakerlight switches made Bella Mia feel like a cosy Gypsy caravan, but our views were of the stunning Norfolk Broadlands. To us it seemed perfect that Bella Mia and other classic boats were all contributing to maintaing the timeless landscape of the stunning Norfolk Broads.

Many hours were spent playing cards or Ludo or reading books with the children in the aft saloon. And come the evening we would turn off the lights to save the batteries and turn up the oil lamps.

This escape from the day-to-day and early family memories of simple living aboard Bella Mia  fuelled my obsession with our wonderful boat. I would end up doing whatever it took to restore this old lady to her former glory but oh did she push me to my limit.

The straw that nearly broke the camels back was a phone call I received in April 2005 when I was on holiday in Ireland. The boat was sinking…once out of the water and in the marinas wet shed we found that years of neglect and poor maintenance meant that we found rot in many crucial places and our options were clear, make it right or put the chainsaw to it! Many thousands of pounds later we had replaced most of the hull under the waterline.

We enjoyed the next few years cruising the Broads and making great use of our almost water tight boat. In December 2008 I put Bella Mia on the hard-standing area at Cox’s boatyard and there she stayed for nearly five years as I gradually put to use my own rather rusty cabinet making skills to restoring the interior of the boat. (I trained as a Product and Furniture designer) with the help from our family and friends.

I met Peter and Margaret Rivers-Fletcher at Cox’s. I had no idea that their Broom Tertia (sister ship of Bella Mia) was also moored there. Peter introduced himself one day and that was the start of a great friendship.

 

Brooms clearly built their boats to last. Structurally Bella Mia was very sound. We replaced all roofs to make the interior water tight. The decks were replaced too. Cox’s then helped by installing a dedicated wet room with shower and separate heads. Then I set to restoring the Mahogany interior. All the mahogany doors and drawers were removed and taken home to our barn for sanding and re varnishing. At one stage I was sure that most of the boat was in bits in my barn.

In April 2013 Melanie and I decided to buy La Souqueto a B&B South of France .We bought a place very near the Canal du Midi. Bella Mia was far from finished and so a rush was on to complete her and then take her down to France by low-loader. We were lucky enough to book a space in Cox’s shed so I could work on her under the boat builders supervision. It took the Cox’s team a further 3 months to complete her!

By mid july 2013 our beautiful boat was sitting on its mooring at La Porte Minervois just a few minutes from La Somail. Our stretch of the Canal is just so wonderful. We are approximately 50 miles from the nearest lock and so we can cruise all year round. It’s still a novelty to enjoy over 300 days of sunshine!

Bella Mia for hire as a gite moored to the bank or for boat trips on the canal du midi

Bella Mia is available for Canal du Midi boat tours.We offer cruises from March through to the end of October. The boat is also rented as a mini gite moored to the bank. Contact us for further information and availability.

Skiing the Pyrenees…less than 2 hours from La Souqueto B&B

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In less than 2 hours from La Souqueto B&B South of France, you could be skiing the remarkable Pyrenees.

One of the many great things about the Pyrenees is that it’s an easy place to get to. We drive up from the coast from Narbonne but if you’re travelling from the UK you have a significant choice of airports, Carcassonne, Beziers, Toulouse, Perpignan, Biarritz, Pau and Tarbes. From London the flight time is usually less than 2 hours and none of them are more than 2 hours from the resorts. The roads to the Pyrenees resorts can be really steep and this always makes the last part of the journey the most interesting.

It’s worth going just for the drive! Your journey will take you past the swooping foot hills, along huge u-shaped valleys with stunning mountains on either side and through lovely mountain villages. For me, the most exciting part is reaching the snow line. That’s the moment when you know it has been worth it.

The Pyrenees is divided into three areas: the Pyrenees Atlantiques (the section to the West, closest to the Atlantic coast), the Midi-Pyrenees ( in the middle) and the Pyrenees Orientales (the East section, closest to the Mediterranean). There are plenty of resorts to choose from. What you go for depends on what your prefer. Many of the ski stations in the Pyrenees are purpose built – unlike in the Alps – so expect apartment blocks instead of chalets. On the positive side this means it’s all laid on for you: bars, restaurants, ski facilities are all within easy reach. It can make for a really easy, laid back skiing experience. It can also be cheaper than the Alps because it’s less popular. But who minds that?

If you’re looking for something a little more ‘alpine’ you’ll find it here too. For more traditional resorts just head back down the mountain. You’ll have to get a bus to the lifts but it’s worth the extra hassle. The lower you go, the more traditional the resorts will be. So if you want to wake up to a magical winter wonderland among old wooden houses or spend your nights in authentic bars and restaurants with old skis and fading pictures on the walls, this is the way to do it.

So, where to begin? There are 38 resorts in the Pyrenees but here are just a few to get started!

Saint-Lary Soulan: Saint-Lary Soulan covers 700 hectares and has 100km of pistes, including the 3.6km “Mirabelle” run. At 2400m there is a snow park and half pipe. Lots of tree-lined runs, powder bowls, moguls and plenty of off-piste opportunities. There is even a luge piste, as well as a kids’ park with its own toboggan run. The pistes are reached via a winding road or by taking the cable car direct from the village. Here you’ll find shops, bars and restaurants, a modern thermal bath complex and other sports facilities.

Les Angles: This is a huge ski area with loads of piste choice and lots of trees if you decide to venture off-piste. This resort is probably better for more experienced skiersas half of its runs are red flagged.

La Mongie/Bareges: At the foot of the Pic du Midi Mountain, the du Tourmalet area is the largest resort in the French Pyrenees. It comprises of the villages of Barèges and La Mongie and has a total of 69 pistes and 42 lifts at altitudes of between 1400 and 2500m. The resort is extensively equipped with snow cannons and the excellent snow park has a big air, boarder cross, tables and rails.

Peyragudes: This friendly, purpose-built resort rises to 2400m and has 37km of pistes that offer a variety of activities for skiers and snow-boarders plus a children’s activity area.

Piau-Engaly: At nearly 2600 metres this is the highest resort in the French Pyrenees, with snow virtually guaranteed all season. It is just 10km from St Lary and provides 40km of pistes (also the longest blue piste in the Pyrenees at 7km) in a skiable area of 300 hectares. Stunning scenery.

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What about when to go? As with all ski resorts it’s going to cost you less and be much less crowded during term time. And the conditions will always be better in the middle of the season – January, February and March – with a good base of snow and low temperatures. ”

Visit Carcassonne with our canal boats for hire in the Languedoc

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There is certainly no shortage of fascinating attractions to be discovered by those taking advantage of canal boats for hire in the Languedoc. There are many popular stop-off points along the full length of the Canal du Midi. Either enjoy your holiday on our Broom Mahogany Broads cruiser moored to the bank near La Somail or enjoy a three or five day piloted tour towards Carcassonne.

There is one location that will always enter the conversation concerning trips across ‘Cathar country’, and that is Carcassonne. This fortified town in the Aude department is certainly a major draw for history buffs, being home to the remarkable architectural treasure, the Cité de Carcassonne.

 

A medieval fortress that was restored in 1853 and became an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the Cité de Carcassonne is certainly the focal point of any visit to this remarkable settlement. It was founded during the Gallo-Roman period and played an integral role through the ages of the Romans, Visigoths, Saracens and Crusaders.

Since the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees, the town has lost its military significance and the citadel has instead resumed the status of an infinitely fascinating historical monument. However, it is far from the only reason to visit Carcassonne, with other must-see sights including Carcassonne Cathedral, the Basilica of St. Nazaire and St. Celse and the Church of St. Vincent.

While the Cité de Carcassonne dominates the city – indeed, it practically is the city – there is much else to see and do here for those stopping off from one of the many canal boats for hire in the Languedoc. To get a rundown of the history of the city, you may want to take one of the many tours available in various languages, which will also draw attention to other points of interest.

Alternatively, you could simply while away the hours contentedly strolling the medieval cobbled streets, perhaps helping yourself to a traditional cassoulet – a hot dish akin to a stew, consisting of pork, sausage, white beans and occasionally a hunk of duck. The modern city around the Cité de Carcassonne is known as Ville Basse, and is well worth investigation when the tourist crowds within the fortress itself become too much.

For those who are nearby on Bastille Day in July, there’s an extra treat on offer in the form of the Festival de la Cité, which serves up special music and theatre performances as part of a city-wide celebration. Here at La Souqueto B&B, we certainly couldn’t think of many better ways to spend your time away from our  canal boats for hire in the Languedoc.

 

Enjoy the unique experience of our Boat hire on Canal du Midi

We love living and managing our B&B in the Languedoc! The region has many beautiful and fascinating attractions. It is, after all, one of the parts of France with the richest historical and cultural inheritance. Much of that revolves around the region’s centuries-old status as a winemaking centre, although it was another trade – wheat – that motivated the construction of one of the present day area’s most remarkable assets.

The Canal du Midi is one of the oldest European canals still in operation.  Snaking some 241 kilometres (150 miles) through Southern France, this long canal was built between 1666 and 1681 – during the reign of Louis XIV – under the supervision of Pierre-Paul Riquet. It is a spectacular feat of 17th Century Civil Engineering and the result was nothing less than remarkable.

While the Canal is no longer used by commercial barges to transport goods such as wheat and coal, it remains a star attraction for almost anyone exploring the Languedoc and surrounding areas.

Until now, boat trips and tours have been restricted to expensive weekly self-drive hires and low quality hourly trips. La Souqueto B&B have created a variety of boat hire canal du midi services. For Canal du Midi boat tours we offer our restored Classic Mahogany Broads cruiser Bella Mia.

Boat hire Canal du Midi

boat hire canal du midi

glamping on the Canal du Midi

Why not experience canal life first hand by renting Bella Mia as mini gite moored to the bank. You will be a stones-throw from the restaurants of La Somail or our local Tapas bar. Swim in the river Cesse or sun bathe on the decks. Or, simply choose from a selection of day and evening trips.

The locks on the Canal are closed from November through to April, but we are moored on a section that has no locks for over 50 miles. This means that we are free to cruise the Canal at any time throughout the year.

Some of guests who have enjoyed our boat hire on the Canal du Midi.

 

 

Day trip on the Canal du Midi

Day trip on the Canal du Midi

 

 

Boat hire Canal du Midi…exclusive boat trips and piloted cruises.

Boat hire Canal du Midi

Boat hire Languedoc

Our boat hire canal du midi service offers groups of between 2 to 8 people an exclusive three or six hour cruise along the Canal taking in some of the most stunning views of the Pyrenees, vineyards and abundant wild life. Kingfishers, for example, are regularly seen sitting on branches or bridges or even flying alongside the boat! If you want to experience canal life first hand we are offering our boat Bella Mia as an aqua gite, moored to the bank at La Porte Minervois. ‘Glamping’ has become a very popular holiday option over the years and we are delighted to offer this alternative form of self catering holiday for our guests at La Souqueto B&B. For those wanting to experience a cruising holiday afloat but don’t feel confident piloting their own rental boat, we offer bespoke boat hire Canal du Midi packages that include two, three and five day trips where we pilot the boat on behalf of our guests. Each evening the pilot returns to base to allow guests to enjoy the privacy of their own company. For a tailored cruise package please email directly through this website for further details. For those who have formal boat handling certificates we do also offer a charter package. For further information please contact us directly through our website.

 

300 days of sunshine. B&B accommodation canal du midi

B&B accommodation canal du midi

La Souqueto, a stones-throw from the Canal du Midi

At La Souqueto B&B accommodation canal du midi, it may be late October but the Sun is still shining in the Languedoc! And, we are still busy accommodating guests. The majority of our guests during October have been house hunters. It’s always a good thing to wait until the holiday season ends to explore the variety of houses on the market. Properties along or close to the Canal are rare and sort after.

As the boating season comes to an end nature is taking over the Canal du Midi. The water will soon turn opaque and Autumn is gradually turning the leaves of the Plane trees a beautiful red brown. This is the perfect time of the year to take a room at La Souqueto B&B. The temperature is perfect for walking or cycling along the tow path of the Canal or in the foothills of the Black Mountains. As the canal locks are now shut until early April we are still able to offer canal du midi boat tours.

 B&B Accommodation Canal du Midi

In 2015 we shall be organising wine and cheese tours and hosting an Artisan bread making course. It will be good to put our indoor bread oven to good use finally! We shall also be offering our B&B to families or groups of up to 10 people.

 

Stay at La Souqueto B&B in Languedoc and take a day trip to the Salvador Dali museum in Figueres

The small town of Figueres in Catalonia, an hour from La Souqueto B&B in Languedocis remarkable for just one reason – it was the birthplace of Salvador Dali and is now home to the Dali Museum.

Whether you are passionate about your surreal art or just have a passing interest in Dali, this is an essential day trip. Even the children will appreciate the bizarre but highly accessible work of the Spanish artist.

The heart of the museum is the building that housed the town’s theatre when Dalí was a child, where one of the first public exhibitions of young Dalí’s art was shown. The old theatre was burned during the Spanish Civil War and remained in a state of ruin for decades. In 1960, Dalí and the mayor of Figueres decided to rebuild it as a museum dedicated to the town’s most famous son. In 1968, the city council approved the plan, and construction began the following year. The museum opened on September 28, 1974, with continuing expansion through the mid-1980s. The museum now includes buildings and courtyards adjacent to the old theater building.

The museum displays the single largest and most diverse collection of works by Salvador Dalí, the core was from the artist’s personal collection. In addition to Dalí paintings from all decades of his career, there are Dalí sculptures, 3-dimensional collages, mechanical devices, and other curiosities from Dalí’s imagination. A highlight is a 3-dimensional anamorphic living-room installation with custom furtiture that looks like the face of Mae West when viewed from a certain spot.

La souqueto B&B in Languedoc is the perfect place to explore southern France, the Pyrenees and Spanish coast toward Barcelona.

Make sure you find your holiday accommodation south of france near a Market!

We all know that France is famous for it’s Markets. As a family now living here we can see just how important the Market place is for the locals. Apart from a place to buy, it’s a place to meet, swop news and maintain an important link with the older generation. In times of change the Market must feel like a safe haven for many!

Holiday accommodation South of France.

There is a Market on every day in our part of the Languedoc throughout the year. Our local is Olonzac, just 10 minutes from La Souqueto B&B. Every Tuesday we buy the fresh seasonal produce for the week. It’s a wonderful routine and a chance for us to immerse ourselves in another nations culture.

Probably one of the most dynamic Markets is Les Halles de Narbonne. Wandering round this famous indoor food market, your senses are hit with a myriad pleasures: the opulent and heady aromas of freshly ground coffee, the inviting homely waft of croissants straight out of the oven, the buzz of morning banter from the stall holders chatting with the regulars, the jewel bright colours of succulent fruit and vegetables, the wicked reek of maturing cheese, flower stalls brimming with seasonal plants, silver bellied fish lain out on ice, red and pink hued meat hanging from hooks, light glinting off polished bottles of local wine, sacks of exotic spices threatening to spill over, vendors busily preparing pizzas, paellas or chow meins for the lunchtime rush, the visible pride of traders who have one thing in common – a real love of real food!

holiday accommodation south france

There are 72 traders and artisans with permanent stalls at Les Halles – including at least one stall which has been occupied by generations of the same family since the market was opened in 1901! Dedicated to providing the city with the best quality produce, the stall holders convene every day from 6 am to 1 pm to take part in this important daily event which almost seems to define Narbonne. Indeed, local people are quite right to be proud of their famous market, which also represents part of the hard-won modernisation of the city at the turn of the 20th century. The beautiful pavilion was originally conceived of in 1871, as a sensible way to house the ever-expanding and inconvenient outdoor market.

Local Markets:

Sunday: Narbonne, Trebes, Meze, St. Chinian

Monday: Narbonne

Tuesday: Olonzac, Carcassonne, Narbonne

Wednesday: Capestang, Narbonne

Thursday: Carcassonne, Narbonne, Meze

Friday: Montagnac, Narbonne

Saturday: Pezenas, Narbonne, Carcassonne

Perfect match! Buy your house through Pullen France and stay at La Souqueto Bed and Breakfast in Canal du Midi

 

Bed and Breakfast in Canal du Midi

Richard & Chitra Pullen – Pullen France

As you can imagine we at La Souqueto Bed and Breakfast in the Canal du Midi are very keen to promote the Languedoc region of France. It was Richard and Chitra Pullen who initially introduced us to this incredible area. We ultimately went on to buy La Souqueto B&B. Richard and Chitra moved to the South of France in 2003 in search of a more relaxed lifestyle for them and their children, leaving behind careers in the legal and financial sectors.  Since arriving in France, they have been working in the real estate business here in collaboration with an agency in Herault.  However, earlier this year they  obtained the elusive  ‘Carte Professionnelle’ – the brokerage licence required under French law  to set up  and run an estate agency in France -  and have set up  a fully fledged French estate agency, Pullen Real Estate. Six years ago, Richard & Chitra moved from the Herault to a village near Narbonne, in the Aude.  They soon noticed a gap in the local property market. There was not one English speaking agency dedicated primarily to property in the area around the Canal du Midi and Narbonne.

If you wanted to find a property here, you needed to go to several (mostly non Anglophone) agencies to see a good selection of properties.   They therefore started to concentrate on building a portfolio of character properties in this beautiful area which, with its great transport links and proximity to the coast, is extremely attractive to foreign buyers.  After 10 years in the business, they also have a good idea as to what the average foreign client is looking for, so are able to target their search for the right type of properties. Both passionate about property in general, they have bought, renovated, and sold their own properties in France and therefore have intimate personal knowledge and experience of the property market here. DSC_0077-1 Together with their past professional experiences, they are well placed to offer their clients knowledgeable advice and a first class service on the house buying/selling process.

http://pullenfrance.com/

Use our luxury bed and breakfast Languedoc as a base for horse riding

For guests who love horse riding and treks, we have found the most fantastic Ranch just 10 minutes away from La Souqueto a luxury bed and breakfast languedoc. The owner is a breeder of Appaloosas horses and has built a ranch in the foothills of the Black Mountains. She provides livery for clients too but most of her time is taken up organising and leading treks up into the mountains using a variety of tracks through the pine forests. She also provides lunches too out on the hills!

For Groups interested in booking a trek we can both manage the details of the trip and accommodate up to 10 people at La Souqueto luxury bed and breakfast languedoc.

Luxury bed and breakfast Languedoc

For those that prefer walking this area has the most fantastic forestry tracks just outside the village of Bize Minervois. One can literally walk for miles and miles but we would suggest you head for the stunning village of Montouliers.

It sits in the foothills of the black mountains and is surrounded by Olive groves and vineyards and forms part of the wine soil of the ‘Serres’ Its name was taken from Olive groves on the hill where the village was built and was first mentioned in history in 940.  (Monte Olerio, the Mount of Olives).

The caladées (small winding lanes of the village) take you to the beautiful church of Saint Baudile de Monte Olerio XIVe century and the medieval castle of the XIIe and XIIIe centuries.

The village is also well known for its Roman fountain.