Places of interest and amenities along the way
The Canal du Midi, also known as the Canal des Deux Mers, is a 240 km long canal in the south of France region locally known as le Midi. The canal is a UNESCO World Heritage site and connects the Garonne River to the Thau Lagoon on the Mediterranean. The canal runs from the city of Toulouse in the west down to the Mediterranean port of Sete in the east, passing some of the region’s most beautiful towns, villages and countryside, including the Lauragais, the city of Carcassonne, the Minervois. and the cities of Beziers and Agde.
Here we look at the towns, villages and facilities available in them that you pass between Toulouse and Carcassonne.
Toulouse is the starting point of the Canal du Midi, and where it connects to the Garonne River and then on to the Atlantic coast. Toulouse is the capital of the Midi-Pyrenees region and is a thriving multi-cultural city with plenty to see and do. If you’re starting your Canal du Midi trip here, you might want to give yourself a couple of days to explore the city before heading off. Because the architecture of the historic centre of Toulouse is mainly built in locally sourced red brick, Toulouse is known as the Ville Rose (Pink City). Strolling at sunset through the maze of streets in the old town will allow you to enjoy the beautiful tones of the red brick buildings and the wonderful architecture created during the 18th century, including the Jardin Royal and the Place du Capitole. Modern Toulouse is a major centre for the European aerospace industry and its university is one of the oldest in Europe – this mixture of modern technology and university campus vibe gives Toulouse a dynamic feel reflected in the numerous cultural events that take place, multi-cultural influences in the local gastronomy and the plethora of funky boutiques and stores in the old town. Toulouse was the home of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), and there is a permanent gallery with numerous photos and some of his works located in the Hotel du Grand Balcon. There is also the fantastic space museum – Cite de l’Espace where children and adults alike can explore the universe and sample life on replica space craft such as the Mir space station!
The Canal du Midi in Toulouse is accessed at the Port de L’Ebouchure – a port created in the 17th century allowing the linkage of three canals – the Canal du Midi, the Canal de Brienne and the Canal Lateral. Water from the canals enters the basin of the port via the Ponts-Jumeaux – the twin bridges. There are three supermarkets within 2 km of the Port and the Port is a major boat base with many useful services including: fresh water point, electricity point, mechanic services, slip/crane, nearby restaurants and holiday accommodation.
“Le Capitole in Toulouse”“the Canal du Midi in Toulouse”
Boats visiting Toulouse are requested to moor here. The moorings have a full range of facilities and the city centre, with restaurants and supermarkets, is nearby.
Port Sud at Ramonville-St-Agne
The next stop on the outskirts of Toulouse is Port Sud, This is not such a picturesque spot on the canal, but a useful stop for supplies as there are plenty of restaurants and nearby shopping facilities here, including supermarkets within 2km. The Port itself also has water and electricity points, mechanics and slip/ crane services.
Castanet-Tolosan is a thriving small town in the commuter belt of Toulouse. There are some good facilities, including two supermarkets, several restaurants and café-bars, and a local market in the centre of the town on Tuesday mornings.
Montgiscard is a medium sized village boasting a supermarket, a café-bar, a tearoom, a couple of restaurants and a pizzeria by the lock. The quay is equipped with a fresh water point.
Ayguesvives is a small village whose main feature of note is an attractive watermill. 3km from Ayguesvives is the village of Baziege, home to the Chateau de Lastours with its restaurant and claim to be the birthplace of the famous regional Cassoulet stew.
Montesquieu-Lauragais/ Negra Lock
Montesquieu-Lauragais is a small village not far along on the Canal du Midi after Ayguesvives. Its most notable feature is the Negra lock which was one of the major stopping-off points when the Canal was first built – today the lock is a boat base, with some rental companies operating from here and has a landing stage with fresh water and electricity point. The village has a small restaurant.
Located about 0.6 km from the Canal du Midi, Gardouch is a medium sized village, with a bakery, a local café-bar and two restaurants, one of which – Le Vieux Pressoir – has a pleasant terrace, located in an 18th century farmhouse serving traditional foods and pizzas.
This small town, founded in the 13th century, lies 1.5 km from the Canal du Midi. It has by far the best shopping facilities between Toulouse and Castelnaudary, with a local café-bar, several restaurants, two groceries, a butchery, five bakeries, a local Hotel de France and a market on Friday mornings. There are some good examples of local architecture here including the gothic church and the arcaded market hall, the Barelles watermill and the Bourrel windmill.
“The lock at Montesquieu”“the church at Villefranche-de-Lauragais”
Renneville is a very small village between the Canal du Midi and the Hers River. There are no amenities here, but it is a pretty diversion for a stroll.
The pretty village of Avignonet-Lauragais has a couple of restaurants and a grocery store. This is also a good place to access the Pierre-Paul Riquet Centre (see below) which is a couple of kilometres away by bicycle, and a little further away is the Estrade Reservoir where you can go fishing.
Port Lauragais was envisioned as the ultimate integrated motorway station combining a typical French motorway stop – excellent services including shops, restaurant and picnic spots – with a pleasure boat base and two important cultural centres: the Maison de la Haute-Garonne, which showcases regional produce and artisan crafts and the Pierre-Paul Riquet Centre, which tells the history of the Canal du Midi and the man behind its creation. The Port has a water and electricity point, fuel and slip/ crane services. There is a further restaurant at the nearby Ocean Lock.
The landing stage here has a fresh water point. Here at Le Segala is the Col de Naurouze – at 198km above sea level it is the highest point that the Canal has to traverse and figuring out how to feed water to the Canal at this point presented one of the biggest challenges to Riquet. The problem was solved by constructing a 6 million cubic metre artificial lake – the Bassin de Saint-Ferreol – which feeds into the Canal via a 34 km rigole (a man-made feeder stream) here at Naurouze. Walking the footpaths along the rigole makes for a pleasant morning’s exercise or you can walk up to the Obelisque de Riquet, constructed in memory of Pierre-Paul Riquet who engineered the Canal du Midi, for views of the surrounding countryside.
Located 65km from the western start point of the Canal at Toulouse, the medium sized town of Castelnaudary is a key stopping point along the route. Castelnaudary sits at the heart of the Lauragais region – known for its rolling fields of wheat – and is one of the contested birthplaces of the famous local bean stew Cassoulet. The town itself is very pleasant, with a good selection of shops, several restaurants, cafés, bars and holiday accommodation. There is a very large local market on Monday mornings, and there are three large supermarkets within reasonable walking distance from the boat base. The boat base is a major base for boat rental companies and has all the services you will need, including: fresh water, electricity, fuel, shiphandlers, mechanics, slip/crane services. It is possible to hire cars from Location Occitane de Vehicules in Castelnaudary and enjoy day trips to the surrounding villages and sights including the Cathar chateau at Saissac, the village of Montolieu – a booklover’s paradise, the medieval circular village of Fanjeaux , and the medieval town of Mirepoix with its famous Monday morning market.
“The rigole at Naurouze”“Castelnaudary”“The ruined Chateau de Saissac”“Vineyard in the Cabardes wine-making region”
The village of Villepinte is situated roughly 1 km from the Canal. There is a restaurant here, a grocery and a bakery, an antiques dealer, and a wonderful glass blowing studio with gallery and boutique where you can pick up an extra special gift.
Bram is a large village with good services as it is also a major boat base for boat rentals. There is a fresh water and electricity point at the landing stage, and the village has five restaurants, three café-bars, and two supermarkets – please note that the village is a kilometre or so away from the landing stage.
St. Eulalie, Villesequelande, Pezens and Caux-et-Sauzens
In the approach to Carcassonne the Canal du Midi winds past these picturesque villages surrounded by the vineyards of the Cabardes wine-making region, a unique blend of wine thanks to its location at the crossroads of the Atlantic grape varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, and the Mediterranean varieties of Syrah and Grenache. Any of these villages makes for a good detour by bicycle where you can follow cryptic signposts to private vineyards – many of which are more than happy to offer wine-tasting – degustations – especially if you’re in the mood for buying!
“the four Chateaux de Lastours”“The medieval city of Carcassonne”
At the heart of Carcassonne along the Aude River lies its famous fortified medieval town – called le Cité – restored to its full glory in the 19th century, and awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997. Wandering along its narrow cobbled streets, fairy tale towers and ramparts is truly like stepping back in time – a must see for medieval and Cathar enthusiasts, there are also regular jousting and falconry displays organised here in the summer, as well as a host of events, concerts and theatre. Beyond the medieval city, is the lower part of Carcassonne known as the Bastide, and it is here that the Canal du Midi boat base is situated.
The Bastide part of Carcassonne is built in a grid system of narrow streets which can make it seem a little inhospitable but, if you’re prepared to take your time exploring, you will find the city’s Museum of Fine Arts, the Place Carnot square where there are regular open-air markets and a number of bars and cafés. In both the Cité and the Bastide of Carcassonne you will also find interesting boutiques, gift-shops, restaurants and bistros offering good local cuisine and fine dining. Carcassonne is the capital of the Aude department of the Languedoc-Roussillon, and is where the department’s airport is located. Cars can be hired from the train station which is opposite the boat base or from the airport, giving you the freedom to explore the surrounding villages and sights, including the four castles at Lastours, the caves at Limousis and Cabrepsine, the market town of Limoux – famous for the region’s sparkling-wine Blanquette. Visit the FrenchEntrée Guide to Carcassonne for more information about the city, restaurant recommendations and holiday accommodation options.
The boat base at Carcassonne is equipped with fresh water, electricity points and several boat rental companies operate from here. There are a couple of grocery stores close to the boat base, but the larger supermarkets and hypermarkets are on the outskirts of Carcassonne in the zones industrielles.