Wider Occitanie: The Canal du Midi

Serene, sinuous and shaded by plane trees, the Canal du Midi (part of the Canal des Deux Mers) was built under the reign of the ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV, and flows all the way from Sète to Toulouse – extended by the Canal de Garonne, which continues on as far as Bordeaux. If you fancy getting out of the city for a day or two, this is one of the most peaceful ways to do so – whether by boat, bike or a combination of both.

One option is to hop on board a barge-hotel, pleasure boat or cruiser on the Canal du Midi, heading south from Toulouse towards the Mediterranean, and spending anything between an hour and a week exploring the canal’s many delights. Different itineraries are possible but all allow you to make stops in traditional towns and villages along the way: don’t miss Carcassonne, and Castelnaudary with its 17th-century buildings. For foodies and wine buffs, there’s nothing nicer than breaking the journey with a bowl of cassoulet and a tasting at one of the local wine cellars.

You could start at Le Somail with its ivy-clad houses and summer holiday vibes, enjoying drinks on a terrace overlooking the river before you set off. Pick up provisions for the boat from La Péniche Tamata, a floating grocery store, and find a good holiday read in the old bookshop, Le Trouve Tout du Livre. The canal passes through one of France’s finest wine regions, the Pays d'Oc, and smaller, boutique regions such as Hérault, Aude, Minervois and Corbières. Be on the lookout for old chateaux, churches and ruins dotted through the countryside and, if cruising time allows, make stops at Narbonne and Béziers, passing through the impressive Fonserannes locks on the way in.

Another way to explore is to hire a bike in Toulouse and cycle along the Canal de Garonne ‘voie verte’ (greenway), following the old towpaths heading north towards Agen for 100km. Simply moor up at the side of the canal and start pedalling: you’ll pass numerous locks, cafés and restaurants, and charming villages such as Moissac, a stopping point on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route.

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Canal du Midi - Occitanie