Canal du Midi: the most relaxed and original way to tour the beautiful South of France

The Canal du Midi, also called the Canal du Midi, is considered the oldest canal on the European continent. A navigable canal that connects Toulouse with the Mediterranean through the Garonne River; and that, together with the lateral canal formed by the union of Toulouse and Bordeaux, have formed the Canal of the 2 Seas. In turn, it connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea. 

In 1996 it began to be listed as a World Heritage Site, which is still in operation today, arousing much admiration. It has a length of 242 km, being excavated for 14 years by many workers with picks and shovels; from 1667 to 1681. 

Along the Canal you can see giant plane trees, some 60,000 trees, contributing to the beautiful natural landscape of the area. Today it is a very well prepared place for all types of visitors, where you can visit charming villages such as Toulouse, Carcassone, Castelnaudary or Villefranche-de-Lauragais, among others. 

Also along the route are artisanal cheese dairies, many wineries, chambres d’hôtes (a kind of traditional French-style breakfast) and beautiful relaxing landscapes, for a quiet tourism. 

Let’s talk a little about the history of the Canal du Midi:

The Canal du Midi is considered the most extensive structure of the 17th century. It dates from the time of Charlemagne, but it was after 1660 that Riquet took charge of the project and the economic part, when the works were no longer supported by the king. At the beginning of its construction it was called the Royal Canal of Languedoc; later, in 1789, the name was changed to the current one; this happened during the French Revolution.

It is said that in those 14 years about 12,000 people worked on its construction, which began in 1667, overcoming several difficulties. All that remained was to find a way to supply the canal with water, although Riquet’s father had already tried to do so, but was unsuccessful.

Finally, Riquet found a solution by means of a system known as the rigole, filled with water from the Massif Central to the south, i.e. from the Montagne Noire and Lac de Saint Ferréol. This allowed the Canal to be supplied even in times of drought.

When the work was completed, this canal took on the function of transporting both merchandise and passengers. It was also used for mail by ship, and by the 1970’s its commercial life ended, giving way to tourism.

How is the tour of the Canal du Midi done?

The tour can be done in different ways. For example, on a barge, since tour operators always have cruises from some part of the route. But if you know how to handle this type of boats you can also rent them.

If you like walking or are a hiker this would be the best way to go along the canal. Some recommend the route called La Caunette, at the level of the Montagne Noire; where you also get to the threshold of Naurouze, which is the highest point of the beautiful canal; but if you go by car you can also make the stops that you like.

Likewise, along the entire length of the canal there are trails for mountain bikes, which can be found in any of the different sections of the canal, especially for the more athletic.

But there are also the aquatic bicycles; that is to say, to cross the canal pedaling on the water, a marvel because it combines perfectly the navigation with the sport; an adventure that is not available everywhere when we go sightseeing.

However, we believe that it would be of great interest to know the stretches with different types of transport; ranging from the car, through the boat, others by bicycle in any of its versions and, of course, others on foot. This way you do not miss any of the landscapes of this channel.

The different sections or stretches of the Canal du Midi:

Actually visiting the Canal du Midi completely takes some time; so, if you have enough time, perfect. But if you only have a few days then it is recommended that you visit some sections or parts of the canal. 

So, between the ends of the canal between Toulouse and Marseillan in Occitania, there are 130 different bridges, 63 locks, 55 aqueducts, 7 water bridges and 6 dams. Therefore, there are places that are considered unmissable. Such as, for example: 

  • The port of the mouth at Toulouse, where the canal crosses both the Brienne and Garonne canals, thus connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. 
  • The Fonseranes locks in Béziers, where the largest number of locks are located: there are 9 of which 7 are still in operation. There are 2 gates, which control the water level for the passage of boats.
  • Also the Orb aquifer bridge, located in Béziers, which allows you to cross this river or any other obstacle such as valleys, roads or railways. Likewise, if you pass through the Lauragais region, exactly in the town of Castelnaudary, you can taste the famous cassoulet or visit the museum of this region.
  • The Naurouze threshold, which was mentioned to be the highest point of the Canal. 
  • The Malpas Tunnel, which is 173 m long and located in Nissan-lez-Ensérune, allows the canal to pass under the archaeological site called Oppidum de Ensérune. 
  • Also the Greek lock; called Adge round because, besides being ancient, it is round and has 3 gates. 
  • Finally, in the town of Paraza, the Répudre Aquifer Bridge, allowing the canal to cross this river. 

Other routes to know along the Canal du Midi in France:

Along the Canal are also located cities that have great charm. Among them are Toulouse, St. Ferreol, Revel, Carcassonne, Le Somail, Béziers, Port Lauragais, among others. 

The city of Toulouse, capital of Occitania, is the best place to start one of the routes. It is also the best place to arrive from anywhere in Europe. In this city we find monuments that are known in 1 day, you can start with the Capitol Square, the Town Hall with the signs of the zodiac on the ground.

You can also visit the Convent of the Jacobins, where St. Thomas Aquinas is buried. Likewise, its vault is shaped like a palm tree and on the floor there is a glass window to observe the vault. Also, there is the Church of San Sernin, with an octagonal bell tower and many small windows.

The city of Carcassonne, walled and from the medieval period, listed as a World Heritage Site; where the Condal Castle is located, among other fortresses of Cathar type and some monasteries. The citadel is surrounded by vineyards, a cemetery and the new part of the city, facing the Canal du Midi and next to the train station. 

From here you have access to the port of this city of Carcassonne, where you can observe the operation of the locks that allow the continuation of the boats on the canal.

The city of Beziers is located 181 kilometers from Toulouse, with 70,000 inhabitants. It is recommended, for convenience, to visit the center in the morning and the locks in the afternoon. The engineer who designed the canal was born in this city and the 9 Fonseranes Locks are located here

Among the monuments to visit are the Cathedral of St. Nazaire, with its Romanesque style but rebuilt in the Gothic style. Also, the famous Place de la Revolution, the Old Bridge, the Emile Aín Gardens and also the 14th century Flower Market. 

Posted in Europe, France.