Best Places to Visit While Cruising on the Canal du Midi
One of Southern France’s proudest and most impressive UNESCO sites is undoubtedly the Canal du Midi which is considered one of the most ingenious engineering features of the 17th century.
The dream of linking the Mediterranean and the Atlantic had existed for centuries and where the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci failed, the region’s own Pierre-Paul Riquet succeeded. After 7 million cubic meters of earth and rock were displaced, the 240 Km long ‘Royal Canal’ was born.
At last the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea were connected, offering a safe and fast passage for goods (wine!), passengers and the military. Nowadays, it is an integral part for a brilliant holiday in the Languedoc.
Whether you’re looking to chase history and navigate your way from beginning to end, or juts float around for half a day on a canal boat or pedalo; there is nothing more relaxing than floating on its calming waters and watching the scenery pass by.
You will need to do a lot of research as the Canal du Midi is very long - 240 km in total and there are so many different sections, routes you can take and places to start and finish. You also need to consider if you want to travel the Canal du Midi independently, or book a tour.
Check out our list below of 5 must see places (and also 2 relatively unknown gems!) to stop at when cruising the spectacular Canal du Midi...
1. Marseillan and the Etang de Thau
The endpoint of the Canal du Midi, this large lagoon covers around 7500 hectares of seawater. The shores of the lagoon are dotted with saline-hardened villages famous for oyster farming.
Marseillan is without a doubt the most picturesque (and popular!) home to many expats who love to wander the streets and feast their lungs on that beautiful sea breeze. The harbour is lined by a strip of restaurants and bars and there is a multitude of sun-touched sandy beaches to choose from. Of course, this is also the place to be for sailing, fishing trips and other water activities. Marseillan is also home of the Noilly Prat factory.
Must see! The nearby Agde Round Lock is definitely worth a visit. A unique feat of engineering on its own, this lock has 3 valves linking the Canal du Midi with the river Hérault; all with different water levels!
Béziers is where it all started as the birthplace of Pierre-Paul Riquet, affectionately referred to as the father of the Canal-du-Midi.
Wander over the main boulevard, Les Allees Paul Riquet, which are dominated by a statue of the man himself; get lost in the meandering alleyways and find yourself in some of the most extraordinary shops and galleries, or simply visit the Cathédral St Nazaire and awe at the brilliant views, stretching as far as the Pyrenees!
Looking for something more entertaining? The Polygone Béziers Shopping Centre is where you need to go where you will find all your heart’s desires no matter your age, style and agenda. Top brands, culture, shoes, salons, entertainment and restaurants, etc. You name it; you’ll find it. Learn more here.
Must see! Béziers is home to the 9 écluses de Fonsérane, the legendary staircase of 9 locks which were a huge feat of engineering at the time that the Canal-du-Midi was being laboured. This is the place to see how vessels are lifted from one basin to the next before continuing their peaceful voyage.
Make sure to wander a bit further around the bend where you’ll find that the Canal du Midi is carried over the river Orb via an aqueduct. Fascinating!
Carcassonne is one of the most popular stops on the Canal du Midi and here you can visti the “must see” UNESCO world heritage site of the Citadel de Carcassonne - a spectacular fortress! You can immerse yourself in the medieval atmosphere and see jousting events, the torture museum or climb the ramparts.
If you viist during summer be sure to check out the ‘son et lumiere’ show which is held at la Cour de l’Honneur and illustrates the extraordinary history of Carcassonne through sound and light. The show starts at sundown and finishes at midnight and lasts almost the entire summer season.
We highly recommend if possible spending a few days in Carcassonne and if this appeals to you check out South France holiday villas which offer affordable accommodation.
Castelnaudary is where the main port for the Canal du Midi was built, and is one of the most popular stops even to this day. The history of this town will wow you and you can learn more here. The route that is now marked by the A61 motorway has been prominent and hugely used since Roman times.
Did you know? This amazing town that represents Lauragais territory claims to be the world capital for cassoulet! The town even claims that they invented the hearty dish. This is forever disputed with both Toulouse and Carcassonne. Anyhow, Cassoulet is put to feast and celebrated traditionally on every last weekend of August.
In the 17th century, Toulouse was the official endpoint of the Canal du Midi, as from here merchants were able to navigate the river Garonne up to Bordeaux and the Atlantic. This is also where Pierre-Paul Riquet spent the last of his days in 1680, just before the Canal-du-Midi’s construction finished.
And what a city it is! Toulouse is a beautifully energised and lively place to be. It’s a real student city, a place where history and future meet. Shows, concerts, astronomy and engineering all merged into one. The Theatre du Capitole hosts world famous ballets, classical concerts and operas. Toulouse is also famous for Airbus, and a guided tour is simply a must.
Did you know? This is capital of the Haute-Garonne, popularly known as the Pink City due to the rose tint in the bricks that make up a lot of the constructions of the city’s buildings.
Psst, there is more place you can visit... see below two more of our favourite gems on the Canal du Midi you should try to add to your itinerary:
Gem 1. Poilhes
Poilhes’ green trees and calming character will please you. A charming community and a lovely restaurant named Les Platanes will welcome you all year round. Some sweet little holiday homes are renowned in this village for their beauty.
France would not be France without its viticulture, and Poilhes’ surrounding countryside does not disappoint. The Vinauberge is also a great place to taste and choose wine from a large selection of wines. It is also an opportunity to get help from a specialist.
Must see! The nearby Malpas Tunnel was the first navigable canal tunnel in the world.
Gem 2. Le Somail
This picturesque hamlet makes for a wonderful stop with a few brilliant bars and inns where you can enjoy dinner as the boats calmly pass by. Also, make sure to visit the bookshop, which hosts a surprisingly large collection!
Other Places to Consider
Here are some other suggestions for destinations to consider visiting if you have more time: