When I travel through the southwest of France--which is not nearly often enough--I try to stop for a night or two in the tiny hamlet of Camont on the banks of the Canal Latéral à la Garonne, the water road that runs past Toulouse to Bordeaux through the heart of Gascony. Camont, a pleasant but otherwise undistinguished cluster of farm buildings, is a worthy detour simply because it is home port for The Julia Hoyt, a restored Dutch barge, and her captain, Kate Hill, an American who has made the boat, the canal and Camont her home for the last dozen or so years. And she shares it all with guests who take part in her culinary tours.
Picture this: a spare but comfortable farmhouse, its walls a patch-work of burnished river stone and mortared brick, built and rebuilt over several centuries, with a pigeon tower attached. A two-story kitchen lies at one end, with a fireplace that runs the breadth of the room and a refectory worktable almost as long. Outside the kitchen is a garden with a riotous mix of roses and nasturtiums, herbs and greens, that reaches down to the canal. Then there's the canal itself, 60 feet wide, its turbid waters moving languorously northwest to Bordeaux's Atlantic coast, 75 miles away. The century-old cargo boat, tied up at the end of the garden, is a splendid sight with Kate at the helm and DuPont, her black, long-legged Labrador mix, sitting at attention beside the wheel.
Just to lie in bed in the farmhouse at night listening to the frogs and the lapping water should be reason enough for a stop. But Kate also knows that to understand a region's culture and way of life, you have to know the cuisine in ways that go far beyond merely learning recipes.