The Canal Du Midi by thomasclaveirole via Flickr Creative Commons
Built in the 17th century as a link between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, the Canal du Midi offers pleasure boaters a chance to visit Southern France at a comfortable pace. See ancient castles, taste the local wine at each canal lock and visit the home of cassoulet.
Start your canal cruise at Port Cassafieres. This historic town is just a short distance from the Mediterranean and was once the principal wine port of the region. It’s easily accessible from Montpelier airport and train station. If you have time before setting off along the canal, don’t miss the chance to visit the black basalt town of Agde just outside the port along the Herault River and its spectacular cliff, Cap d’Agde.
Beziers is the first large town you will come across during your canal du midi boat hire holiday and the second largest in the region after Carcassonne up stream. It holds annual festivals of bullfighting and rugby. A settlement since the 10th century BC and an important trading post for the Greeks and Romans, it was the home town of Paul Riquet who designed the Canal. The town’s population was massacred in the 13th century Cathar Crusade, but only a few discreet plaques around the town mention this.
The Aude River by monstermunch via Flickr Creative Commons
As you cruise beyond Beziers, take a left turn along the picturesque Aude River and the Canal de la Robine to the ancient town of Narbonne and it’s still imposing cathedral and Merchant’s Bridge. Once a Mediterranean port, today it lies 15 kilometres inland. Just outside Beziers and before the turn to the Canal de la Robine you will pass Fonserannes, famous for its staircase of eight locks.
Homps, a small village dating from Greco-Roman times, is the heart of the Minervois wine region. With a population of just over 600, it’s also one of the most beautiful villages along the Canal with narrow cobbled streets and lots of local restaurants. It’s the third largest port on the canal after Castelnaudary and Port Cassafieres. You can stop off here to enjoy the beaches and water sports at the Lac de Jouarres and the local wine. Lock keepers along the length of the canal sell their home made wine and often offer a glass to taste for free.
The Carcassonne by navillot via Flickr Creative Commons
The largest town along the canal, Carcassonne dates from the fifth century. Its grey stone fortified castle and historic city is visible for miles over the fields of vineyards as you cruise towards it along the canal. Today a UNESCO Heritage Site, it is well worth the long climb up the hill from the canal bank to the castle. Cathar castles line the route of the canal towards Castelnaudary. This is the largest port on the Canal and is the home of cassoulet. A peasant dish of beans and sausage in goose fat, it is celebrated here during an annual festival.
The Canal du Midi is one of France’s top tourist attractions but is long and wide enough for a tranquil and relaxing cruise. Enjoy modern sports, ancient history and the local wine along the length of the cruise.
About the Author
Janet Green writes regularly about Canal du Midi boat hire for a range of websites and blogs. She extensively about canal boat holidays in Europe.