Places of interest and amenities along the way
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. Here we look at the towns, villages and facilities available in them that you pass between Carcassonne and Beziers.
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.
Leaving Carcassonne eastwards towards Trebes the Canal follows the Aude river valley down the aqueduct at Le Fresquel. This construction, dating from the beginning of the 19th century, is formed of three arches and offers the unusual feature of carrying the Canal and the road side by side. The first stop is Trebes, a beautiful medieval village where the Canal is carried over the Orbiel River via the three arched Orbiel Aqueduct. Further on, a striking series of three locks are partly built into the side of the bedrock. At the entrance to the lock pool, there is a water mill dating from the about 1700. Trebes is known as the “Gateway to the Minervois” as it is situated on the main tourist route from Carcassonne into the vineyards of the Minervois wine region and there are numerous local wine domaines within reach by car or bicycle for you to visit. The Canal landing stage at Trebes is equipped with a fresh water point, a supermarket nearby as well as four bakeries, three pharmacies, six restaurants and a couple of bars in the village.
During your journey through the Minervois, you will find yourself surrounded by beautiful vineyards on either side of the tree-lined Canal and going past typical pretty Minervois villages such as Marseillette. The landing stage here is equipped with a fresh water point, and there are two bars-cafes and one restaurant in the village.
The village of Puicheric is about 0.8 km from the right bank of the Canal. The village is notable for its 14th century square towered church, and has a couple of grocery stores and a restaurant. The landing stage is equipped with a fresh water point.
At the lovely village of La Redorte you will dock into the Port La Fabrique, where you will find a useful information point about the village and local services. This is a thriving larger village and has good amenities including a supermarket, a pharmacy, two banks, a bakery, two butcheries, four restaurant-cafes, and an antiques shop. On Thursday evenings from June to October open air cultural events take place, giving the village a festive feel, and particularly so during the Saint-Jean festival around the 24th June where there is a fireworks display. Continuing through La Redorte to the east you will cross the Argent-Double Aqueduct: a quite unique overflow outlet and bridge which simultaneously regulates the run off of excess water from the Canal and carries the Canal over the river. About forty metres upstream from the lock is the Pechlaurier Aqueduct along one side from which visitors get a wonderful view of the construction.
The picturesque village of Homps is set on the Canal du Midi and adjacent to the Lac de Jouarres with beaches for swimming and water sports, which makes it a popular holiday spot. Some boat hire companies operate from the boat base here which is equipped with fresh water and electricity point, slip/ crane services, and there are a two grocery stores – one with bakery and butchery services, a selection of restaurants (including the much recommended En Bonne Compagnie), a wine shop and a café-bar in the village. If you’re up for a 12km bike ride you can cycle from Homps to Minerve, an important site in Cathar heritage and one of France’s most beautiful villages which is perched on an island of cliffs above deep gorges formed on two sides by the Cesse and Brian rivers.
This pretty village, with narrow cobbled streets overlooked by the square towers of its 14th century chateau, has a boat harbour and picnic area. The landing stage is equipped with fresh water and electricity point, slip/ crane and mechanics services. There is a grocery store, a café-bar and a restaurant in the village.
The village of Roubia sits on the left bank of the Canal and has a lovely canal-side picnic area. The landing stage is equipped with fresh water and slip or crane services and there is a grocery store and restaurant in the village.
Near the centre of the village, dominating the brow of the hill is the Chateau de Paraza, once the home of Pierre-Paul Riquet – the man who engineered the Canal du Midi. The landing stage at Paraza is equipped with fresh water and slip or crane services. The village has a café-restaurant, a grocery store and a wine shop selling a local wine. This is also where you will cross the Repudre Aqueduct first canal-bridge ever to be built in France and the second in the world; it is the oldest aqueduct on the Canal.
The approach from the south to Ventenac-en-Minervois by road has got to be one of the prettiest I have encountered in the region, and it is just a pretty via the Canal. The village is noted for its waterside wine cave where local wines can be sampled. The landing stage is equipped with a fresh water point, and there are two restaurants and various food vans visit the village during the week, selling everything from fish to cheese.
Several boat hire companies operate from Le Somail, which has a quay with fresh water point, there are also a few café-restaurants, a bicycle rental company, an antiques shop, a museum, a couple of artists studios, and a fruit and vegetable store in the village. Of note is the Librarie Ancienne, which houses thousands of rare books, prints and posters. Here near the port of Le Somail, the Canal crosses the River Cesse via the Cesse Aqueduct.
Just after Le Somail you will come across a series of connecting canal branches which lead you south via the Canal de Jonction on to the River Aude and then to the Canal de la Robine which takes you through to Narbonne and on to Port La Nouvelle on the Mediterranean coast. The Canal de Jonction also takes you past the beautiful village of Salleles-d’Aude where you can see the Gaillousty outlet, a construction of 16 sluice-gates which on the opposite side correspond to 4 large arches from which connects a long canal linked to the Capestang lake further north. The façade of the edifice is ornamented with the coat of the arms of the old province along with those of the Archbishop of Narbonne.
If you choose to carry on east at Le Somail you will then pass Argeliers, located 0.7 km on the left bank of the Canal through the vineyards. There are two restaurants, a grocery store, a butchers, two bakeries and a café-bar in the village.
Just after Argeliers you officially cross over the border in the Herault department. Capestang is a small market town with a good range of shops, including a supermarket, three bakeries, several café-bars and restaurants and an impressive 14th century church, la Collegiale Saint-Etienne. The landing stage at Capestang has a fresh water point.
A charming canal-side village with a small shop and a restaurant; the quay has a fresh water point. From Poilhes you can access the the ruins of the iron-age hill fort of the Oppidum d’Enserune which are located 1.5 km on the left bank of the Canal and afford you a superbe view of the surrounding countryside. Leaving Poilhes the canal passes through the Malpas tunnel – the world’s first underground canal way measuring 160m.
The small town of Colombiers is the last stop before Beziers and there is a pleasure port here linked to the Canal, with fresh water and electricity point, fuel and slip/ crane services. There is a weekly market on Wednesdays, a tourist office which where you can find out about local attractions, several places to eat, a supermarket and three bakeries.
On the approach to the beautiful historic city centre of Beziers the Canal du Midi crosses two of Riquet’s most ingenious engineering solutions. Firstly there is the Fonserannes Lock – les neuf ecluses de Fontserannes – a staircase lock which consists of eight ovoid lock chambers and nine gates, allowing boats to be raised a height of 21.5 m over a distance of 300 m. Whilst the flight was built as an 8-rise, to allow boats to cross the River Orb on a level, rejoining the Canal a little further downstream, the crossing of the Orb was long ago replaced by the rather graceful Orb Aqueduct – the largest aqueduct on the Canal du Midi with seven main arches measuring a total 240 metres long, 28 metres wide and 12 metres high. This is not to be confused with the equally graceful Pont Vieux, the 12th century arched bridge that once served as the main route across the River Orb into Beziers.
The city of Beziers is certainly worth stopping off at, with its rich and compelling history to explore. The site has been occupied since Neolithic times and rose in prominence when the Romans refounded the city as a new colony for veterans in 36/35 BC. During the 10th through 12th centuries Beziers was the centre of a Viscountship of Beziers. The viscounts ruled most of the coastal plain around the city, including also the city of Agde. They also controlled the major east-west route through Languedoc, roughly following the old Roman Via Domitia. Through marriage the city came under the control of the Carcassonne based Trencavel dynasty, and it is during this time that Beziers was to enter into the most emotionally charged period of the region’s history: Beziers has become a Languedoc stronghold of Catharism, which the Catholic Church condemned as heretical and which Catholic forces besieged during the Albigensian Crusade. Beziers’ Catholics were given the opportunity to leave before the Crusaders besieged the city. However, they refused and fought with the Cathars. On July 22 1209, their combined force was defeated, and pursued back into town. In the bloody massacre that followed, no one was spared, not even those who took refuge in the churches. The invaders set fire to the cathedral of Saint Nazaire, which collapsed on those who had taken refuge inside. The town was pillaged and burnt. None were left alive.
Modern day Beziers is far less traumatic although the historic centre still bears witness to that dreadful time: there is a plaque opposite the now restored cathedral which records the ‘Day of Butchery’ perpetrated by the ‘northern barons’. The tree-lined Allees Paul Riquet provides a focal point for many bars, cafés, bistros and restaurants as well as hosting an acclaimed flower market ever Friday morning. The city is also host to the famous five-day Feria de Beziers bullfighting event every August attended by over a million visitors. Like all large cities Beziers has a good selection of shops, and there are small supermarket branches in the centre with larger stores in the surrounding zones industrielles. The Canal base at Beziers has fresh water and electricity points and mechanics services.