Cruising the Canal du Midi

Canal du Midi
Canal du Midi

Canal du Midi is a navigable artificial river built under the leadership of Pierre Paul de Riquet in the 17th century. It is the oldest navigable channel in Europe.
It links Thau Lake near the city of Setè – itself linked to the Mediterranean Sea – with the Garonne River in Toulouse.
The channel stretches on 240km (149 mi) with an average width of 20 meters at the surface and a depth between 1.5 and 2.5 meters. Its highest point is the Seuil de Naurouze (threshold of Naurouze) some 40km (25mi) south east of Toulouse.
The difference in altitude between Naurouze and Toulouse is almost 70 meters and between Naurouze and Thau Lake 189 meters.
The channel is fitted out with 64 locks.
Replica of the 19th century passenger boat on the Canal du Midi
Replica of the 19th century passenger boat on the Canal du Midi

Nowadays there is no more commercial navigation on the channel but many pleasure boats sail up and down it.
There are many ways to enjoy the Canal du Midi.
The simplest is to book a mini-cruise on a barge/restaurant. They usually sail on a 8km to 10 km mini cruise and more often then not if lunch or dinner is included serve regional food.
There are many companies offering this type of service. We list here just some of them:
From Toulouse:
http://www.toulouse-croisieres.com/
http://www.bateaux-toulousains.com/canaldumidi.htm
From Carcassonne (April 1 to October 31):
http://www.carcassonne-croisiere.com
From Bezièrs:
http://www.lesbateauxdumidi.com
From Castelnaudary (April 1 to October 31):
http://www.saintroch11.com
From Vilefranche de Lauragais (summer months):
http://www.lescroisieresendouce.com/
From Agde:
http://www.bateaux-du-soleil.com/
http://www.agde-croisiere-peche.com
The cheapest way to navigate on “Canal du Midi” is to rent an electric or gas boat by hour. These boats do not require permit and anybody with a driver license can rent one. They cannot however pass the locks and one is stuck to navigating in only one section of the canal between two locks. The longest section without locks is the “Grand Bief” between Fonséranes (Bezièrs) and Argens Minervois that measures 54km (33.5mi).
One company that offers boat renting from Portiragnes (between Agde and Bezièrs) is:
http://www.bateau-canal-midi.com
By far the best way to enjoy the Canal is the renting of a “big” boat. There are numerous companies that offer boat rental. Usually the boat can be rented by week but in some cases by weekend or by even by day (the price for weekend or day is however less attractive then the renting by week). The boats can be rented without permit and usually on the first day there is a short instruction given by the rental agency that briefly explains how to drive the boat and how to pass through the locks (at least two people are involved in the lock passing – always a spectacular event!).
The best season to rent a Canal du Midi boat is between May to September but also April and October that are usually cheaper (and less crowded).
The speed limit of the boats is 8kph (3kph when passing moored boats) and they can be docked anywhere – which allows the sailors the opportunity to visit the neighboring countryside.
There are so many boat renting companies that we are not going to mention any here.
The most deluxe way (and most expensive)  of visiting the Canal du Midi – we are looking at around 2500€-3000€ per cabin per week  – is by booking a cruise on a barge/hotel. These are usually luxury floating hotels for only several people where everything is included leaving the traveler just the “task” of enjoying themselves.
Some companies that offer barge/hotel cruises:
http://www.gobarging.com/
http://www.hotelbargealegria.com
etc.

 

For more information about the Canal du Midi and its builder Pierre Paul Riquet check out: http://southweststory.com/pierre-paul-de-riquet-and-the-canal-du-midi

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