Canal du Midi
17th century, UNESCO World Heritiage Site
The Canal du Midi, built in the 17th century and still considered an engineering marvel, is now used for pleasure boating between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean; between Bordeaux and Sète. In 1999, the Canal du Midi was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
The southeastern part of the canal, between Toulouse and Marseillan, close to Sète, 211 km long, was called the Royal Languedoc Canal. The 200-km northwestern part, between Toulouse and Castets-en-Dorthe (near Bordeaux) was called the Garonne Lateral Canal, as it paralleled the Garonne river. [We've seen the length given as 193 km and 211 km.] The full length, once completed, was called the Canal des Deux Mers (the canal of two seas), now known as the Canal du Midi.
The water in the eastern part of the canal is supplied by the Reservoir de St Ferréol, so the water flows in the canal from near Castelnaudary east to the Mediterranean and from Castelnaudary west to Toulouse.
At its most mundane, the Canal du Midi is a lovely, peaceful waterway winding through the southwest of France. Lined with shady trees and greenery, the tow paths now for cycling, jogging and leisurely walking, pleasure boats and narrow canal boats glide through the countryside without seeming to touch it.
You can find the basins and marinas at the towns and villages the canal passes through. We found a pretty little marina in the village of Colombiers,
Parts of the canals are closed for a few weeks every year for maintenance work. These periods of closure, called chomages, are usually during November and December.
From West to East
Sites to see along the 400-km network of canals and waterways are: the canal itself, locks, canal bridges, canal tunnels, basins and marinas. This is a list of some of the sites, in order from the northwest (Bordeaux) to the southeast (Sète). The following part of this page lists the main sites along the canal, from the northwest to the southeast.
Bordeaux to Toulouse
[map] North of Bordeaux the Garonne flows north through a wide estuary about 90 km to the Atlantic, between the town of Royan and the Pointe de Grave. Southeast it's 50 km of the Garonne river, past Langon, to Castets-en-Dorthe and the the end of the Canal du Midi.
The little town of Castets-en-Dorthe is the northwestern end of the Canal du Midi. From here, the canal joins the Garonne river, where travelling further to the northwest is via the river, past Bordeaux to the Atlantic. To the southeast, it's the start of a fabulous canal journey across France to the Mediterranean.
This is a picturesque little town, 40 km northwest of Agen, built on an ancient Roman site. Its 12th-century Collegial St Vincent contains an original Rembrandt.
The town of Agen, in the Lot-et-Garonne is at a juction of the Canal du Midi and the Garonne river. An aqueduct-style canal bridge crosses the river here, and Agen as its bassin ronde (round basin).
"Toulouse : in the charming Pink City, a visit to St Sernin's Basilica, the largest romanesque church in France, as well as the 13th century Dominican monastery, Capitole square and the various 18th century town houses will all bring its rich past to life."
Villefranche/Lauragais to Castelnaudary
(30 km southeast of Toulouse) "In Villefranche de Lauragais, an ancient 12th century walled town, which recommend you discover by bike, you will admire a monumental gothic church build in pink stone, with a belfry dating from the 12th century."
Fifty kms of tow path alongside the canal between Toulouse and Avignonet-Lauragais are paved, making it a popular place for cycling and rollerskating.
This is the highest point on the Canal du Midi, where our map shows the Obelisque de Riquet that commemorates the creator of the canal. Just west of here is Port-Lauragais with a modern marina. The little village of Le Ségala just to the east is a good place for a restaurant meal.
The ancient Cathar town of Castelnaudary has the largest turning basin (Le grand bassin) of the Canal du Midi, and a pretty set of canal locks. Canal boats can be rented here. Castelnaudary is the home of cassoulet. ["In Castelnaudary you will visit the very old pottery workshops which still do business. "]
Carcassonne to Capestang
The Canal du Midi flows through the center of the town of Carcassonne, beside the fortified cité. Canal locks and a basin are located in front of the town's railway station (gare SNCF). Canal boats can be rented for a trip from Agde to Carcassonne or from Carcassonne to Agde.
The little town of Trèbes, 7 km east of Carcassonne, is nestled snugly between the Canal du Midi and the river Aude. There's a small marina here (porte de plaisance) for the boats cruising the canal.
"From Homps, where you will admire the castle of the Maltesse Knights, the Musee traditionnel de la vigne et du vin, the traditional viticulture and wine museum at Lézignan-Corbière is only a bike-ride away and well worth the visit."
(10 km northwest of Narbonne) This is a very pretty little hamlet. It's officially a part of the commune of Saint Nazaire-d'Aude (with a total population of under a 1000).The key interest for the Canal du Midi here is the Pont Canal de la Cesse, built by Vauban (our famous builder of French fortresses) in 1689-1690.
Le Somail has a pretty little stone, hump-back bridge crossing the canal, the Pont Saint Marcel or Pont Neuf du Somail. Built in 1773, the term "pont neuf" is quite relative.
"Towards Argeliers, the canal is lined with parasol pines ans oaks giving it a very mediterranean which may entice you to take a few opportune moments to go sunbathing."
The Canal du Robine is a branch of the Canal du Midi system. Branching off west of Béziers, this canal goes south through the center of Narbonne to the Mediterranean at Port-la-Nouvell.
"wonderful 13th-century abbey which overlooks the whole countryside. On entering the port, you will discover a very lively and friendly town whose life is totally based around the river."
Malpas Tunnel to Beziers
The village of Colombiers, between the canal tunnel of Malpas and Béziers, has a marina, allowing canal travellers to stop for a restaurant meal and other town facilities. Colombiers has a lovely big church renovated in 1869 and an ancient, vaulted wine cellar that's worth seeing.
The Ecluses de Fonséranes are a series of 9 locks set end-to-end, changing the level of the canal 21.5 meters in a length of only 300 m. These locks, at the southwestern edge of Béziers are connected by 8 short basins, in the oval shape unique to Ricquet's canal. As a mark of interest of these locks, they are the third most-visited site in Languedoc-Roussillon, following the Pont du Gard and the fortress city of Carcassonne.
Cutting across the hill just behind the locks is a special channel and a huge engin that controls the relative amount of water between the canal above the locks and the canal below the locks.
Béziers Canal Bridge
At the edge of Béziers (the home of Riquet), the Canal du Midi crosses over the top of the river Orb. This 240-m long "aqueduct" bridge was built in 1858, to avoid the problems of connecting the canal with a river that has extreme and irregular fluctucations.
Béziers to the Mediterranean
About 12 kms of the canal-side path between Béziers and Portiragnes are paved, for good cycling and rollerskating.
Round Basin of Agde
The bassin rond d'Agde, east of Beziers, is the only round lock in the world. Regulating three waterways, the original lock was enlarged for the passage of bigger barges.
Pointe des Onglous
This is the point where the Canal du Midi exits into the Bassin de Thau, between Agde and Sète From here, a series of lagoons and canals becomes the Canal du Rhône à Sète, allowing waterway travel all the way to Tarascon and Arles on the Rhône.
The "modern" Sète was built in the middle of the 17th century by Paul Riquet so that his Canal du Midi would have a port on the Mediterranean. There were Romans here, naming this Mons Setius some 17 centuries earlier, and pirates were ensconsced on Mont Saint-Clair in the 16th century. But it was Riquet's new "Port-Saint-Louis-du-Cap-de-Cette" that became the seaside and canal town of today.