Designed in the 17th century by Pierre-Paul Riquet, the Canal du Midi is an exceptional work of art that has been on UNESCO's World Heritage List since 1996. Linking the Mediterranean to the Atlantic with the Canal Latéral à la Garonne which extends it, it revolutionised river transport and traffic in its early days. Today, it is the delight of travellers, who walk or cycle along its banks and marvel at the green surroundings as well as the stopovers in towns steeped in history. But as its creator had imagined, the ideal way to discover the Canal du Midi is by boat. It's a good thing families and groups of friends can hire comfortable boats without a licence from the beginning of spring until the autumn and let themselves be carried along the water, discovering some of the many treasures revealed by the generously sunny territories of the south of France.
From Toulouse to Marseillan, between architecture, land and natural landscapes
The Canal du Midi, the largest construction site of the 17th century, reveals a multitude of treasures along its 240 km length. One of the curiosities is the lock. These structures, which control the water level and its flow, also offer navigators the possibility of crossing the different levels. Their architecture and operation always attract the attention of boaters. One has the opportunity to see several of them at the unmissable locks of Fonseranes. Opting for a boat rental without a licence on the Canal du Midi also means crossing the superb bridge-canal of the Orb, that of Répudre near the village of Paraza, crossing the impressive tunnel of Malpas over a length of 170 m and taking the time to dock to go and stroll through renowned historical towns.
Once ashore in the Lauragais region, you can reach the beautiful town of Castelnaudary and wander through its medieval streets and alleys. The visit also includes a gourmet moment in one of the restaurants offering the local specialty: the unavoidable cassoulet. Later, how can you miss the beautiful Carcassonne? You can admire it proudly from its Old Bridge before going along its ramparts and visiting its monuments. The Château Comtal and the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire are obligatory stops in the city. A little further north, the Cathar castles of the Montage Noire are worth a visit to take advantage of the viewpoints offering breathtaking panoramas of a hilly landscape that smells of the Mediterranean. At the end of the route, other cities are keen to reveal their heritage. Narbonne, Béziers and Sète contribute to the worldwide fame of the Canal du Midi. Not forgetting of course the hamlet of Le Somail, so peaceful with its inn, its chapel and its ice house. A real journey to the heart of the 17th century!
Contemplation and nature walks are the other assets of a river cruise on the Canal du Midi. The canal is lined with plane trees, cypresses and umbrella pines, all of which are good places to enjoy picnics with a taste for regional products. Along the way, you can walk or cycle around the vineyard-rich hills of the Minervois, through the coastal lagoons and the Narbonnaise en Méditerranée Regional Nature Park, and even around the Etang de Thau and the golden beaches of the Hérault. Renting a boat without a licence for a cruise on the Canal du Midi is an experience to connect with nature.
Recharge your batteries by practicing slow tourism
Going on a river cruise on the Canal du Midi is an excellent way to break away from everyday life and take a breather. On board a boat with all the comforts and which welcomes couples, families and groups of friends, the conditions are ideal for slowing down time and enjoying every moment of the elements that surround us. The contemplation of the canal, the fauna and the flora, comfortably installed at the front of the boat, is one of the main activities of the stay. Between two sailing sessions, you can also go for a walk along the banks of the canal or take a bike ride along the Voie Verte. The programme also includes visits to heritage sites, trips to markets and gourmet breaks in inns and restaurants.
What's more, river tourism is accessible to everyone, no need to hold a river licence. Everyone can abandon the car and opt for a more peaceful, greener way of travelling. On the Canal du Midi, the experience is also in the heart of a preserved heritage, quite simply in the paradise of river holidays in France