The canal, an engineering masterpiece, is today classified as a World Heritage Site. Built under Louis XIV, it is the oldest operational canal in Europe, and offers a chance to see the city from a boat tour, or to use its banks for cycling or walking.
The canal runs from the Mediterranean (Étang de Thau), for 240km (150 miles), to Toulouse, where it joins the Canal du Garonne—adding a further 193km (120 miles)—to form the Canal des Deux Mers. Strictly speaking only the section as far as Toulouse is known as the Canal du Midi.
Originally called the Canal Royal en Languedoc, the canal was renamed by French revolutionaries in 1789. It was considered at the time to be one of the greatest construction works of the 17th century.
Today, the canal is primarily
used by tourists, which began to grow in the 1960s, and for recreation and
housing. During the dry season the canal serves as a reservoir for agriculture.
© Atout France/Eric Bascoul
There are some wonderful attractions along the canal that you’ll want to visit as you progress through your journey. The fortified town of Carcassonne has been standing since medieval times. The Pyrenees Mountains frame it beautifully. It’s a location ripe for exploration and you won’t want to miss it.
Since we’re in the South of France, it’d be wrong not to mention the wine capital of Languedoc, which is Béziers. Aside from the wine, the town is a beautiful and the quaint setting dates back centuries. You’ll certainly want to stop here and take a look around before picking up your journey along the canal.
Capestang is another picturesque location that draws attention from people travelling along the canal. It’s where you’ll find one of the lowest bridges on the entire stretch of the canal. Be sure to see the church of Saint-Etienne and Château de Puisserguier while you’re there.
© Atout France/Catherine Bibollet
The first thing you’ll savour as you cruise down the Canal du Midi is the scenic countryside that surrounds you. It’s incredibly beautiful. There are lots of small French towns and villages that’ll pass along the way for you to enjoy as well. But the idyllic landscapes of Southern France are simply unbeatable.
The great thing about the Canal du Midi is that it takes you through such varied rural landscapes. You’ll pass valleys, orchards and groves among many other stunning locations. Even the fields, which are often full of sunflowers in the summer months, provide the ideal backdrop as you enjoy your boating experience.
It’s difficult to overstate just how breathtaking the countryside is here. As you move towards Midi-Pyrenees, you’ll pass through some of the country’s very best landscapes. It’s everything you expect of the South of France and so much more; it’s why people love this stretch of the canal so dearly.
Aside from all the great things to see and do that we’ve already mentioned above, there are plenty of other reasons why you should go boating on the Canal du Midi. The flexibility and freedom that comes with cruising down the canal at your own pace is particularly appealing to many. You’ll be able to relax, take things easy and moor the boat whenever you like.
Boating gives you the chance to enjoy the beautiful surroundings in a leisurely way. When the weather’s great, as it often is in this part of the world, nothing can be more relaxing and enjoyable. Especially when you’re sharing the adventure with family or friends.
If you have your bikes with you on the boat, you’ll be able to take advantage of the many cycle paths along the way too. They often run alongside the canal and allow you to explore before heading back to your boat.
There are multiple companies you can hire a boat from. Each supply a range of vessels most of which are suitable for families. You can choose how many berths you want and of course how long you want the boat for. Fees do of course vary depending on season and availability. But what's included when you rent a boat on the Canal du Midi?
Companies offering Canal du Midi boat hire may offer different vessels but the packages are usually very similar. Your fees will of course include the boat itself. But your package will also include training on handling the craft. If you're an inexperienced boat user a demonstration is essential. Don’t overlook the importance of this. Handling a boat isn’t the hardest thing in the world. But you will need some instruction.
Your Canal du Midi boat hire fees won't include fuel. Neither will it include mooring fees. So, when you plan your journey down the canal be aware of the extra costs involved when you moor up for the day.
One of the things which concern people about boating is the locks. Getting through locks can be tricky and worrying about the process puts many people off from giving boating a try. This is a real shame.
But you don't have to worry about the locks on the Canal du Midi. They’re all manned and are automatic. You don't have to do anything except steer the boat. This is one of the reasons why the canal is perfect for beginners. You don't have to worry about using the locks and the waterway is very easy to navigate.
If you've ever wanted to try boating in France but have been a little weary don't worry. You'll have no worries on the canal and will have a wonderful holiday.
By the way you may also see the waterway spelt as Canal-du-Midi. Rest assured it’s the same wonderful stretch of water. And will probably be the best boating holiday you’ll ever have.