The Canal du Midi , once a commercial route, is today a natural and architectural treasure that deserves to be discovered as it was experienced, along the water. A license-free boat is the key to such a journey. During this adventure, the relationship to time changes and we move forward, dazzled by superb landscapes with intoxicating scents. A cruise between Castelnaudary and Agde reveals the South-West in all its history, its heritage and its specialties, including some good little wines not to be missed!
Cruise under the Languedoc sun
It is possible to walk for 1 hour or an afternoon on the canal thanks to many companies. The guest barges are also very nice. But cruises aboard boats without a license still offer the best way to discover the Deux-Mers Canal, its structures and its landscapes.
The adventure on the canal, classified as a World Heritage Site, begins in Castelnaudary. We arrive in the morning by train, so as not to miss boarding around 4 p.m. At noon, the sun caresses the stone of the castle and the collegiate church of the former capital of Lauragais. It seems to emerge from the waters of the port, this basin created to supply the canal with water.
In the afternoon, the boat is ready. It is a real floating house. The rental companies offer standard tours, rent bicycles to load on the boat and provide all the necessary practical information.
Piloting your boat is child’s play
In the morning, it is the great departure and Castelnaudary moves away. We greet in passing the artificial island of Cybele, follows the old windmill of Cugarel which projects you at a glance at the time when the barges loaded with goods circulated in all directions on the basin. First passage expected at the locks of Saint-Roch which are bordered, on the right bank, by abandoned windmills, and on the left bank of the old “lying”, first stopover for the post boat. This was the name given to the diligence which linked Toulouse and Agde in three days.
The canal is narrow and wild, bordered by plane trees in cool shade. The many locks regulate the time and the day draws to a close when the silhouette of the magical Carcassonne palace looms in the distance.
Carcassonne! The largest fortress in Europe , also listed as a World Heritage Site! The next morning, the navigators will sail to the triple lock of Trèbes embalmed by the heady scent of jam from the Domaine de l’Écluse, a workshop of exquisite specialties. The owner will tell you “the Trèbes treasure” that we hurry to admire in the chapel of the church which indeed houses 320 wooden panels painted with strange portraits.
The ship sets off again through landscapes of vineyards and cypress trees. Around Marseillette, tiny irrigation canals run under the willows. They feed rice fields. A little further on, the gaze remains on the magnificent Argentdouble spillway, whose 11 arches span the canal. Then here’s Homps. The remains of the Castle of the Knights of Malta keep the memory of an important port where boatmen could change direction without hindrance.
A few more kilometers and we cross the lock of Argens-Minervois which marks the beginning of 54 km without a lock, the Grand Bief. The canal meanders through the vineyards. The boat passes over the Paraza canal bridge. Stopover in the charming hamlet of Somail, an old “coulee” which has not changed for centuries. The stopover is ideal for renting a car and exploring the surroundings. In the morning, it will be Peyrepertuse, the best preserved of the Cathar castles; in the afternoon, the extraordinary Cistercian Abbey of Fontfroide, an admirable testimony to the religious architecture of the 12th and 13th centuries. The return to Somail takes place under the stars, at the heart of a wonderful concert of crickets.
Place at the breakthrough of the Malpas towards Béziers
Around 10 a.m., the journey resumes. Once past the junction towards the Canal de la Robine and its umbrella pines, the road continues peacefully towards Béziers. The Roman ruins of the city of Poilhes appear, a foretaste of those that can be seen here and there in the kilometers that follow. A tunnel rushes directly under the hill. This is the famous breakthrough of the Malpas. Instead of going around the sandy mountain of Ensérune, the canal crosses it right through. The boat enters a cool darkness. A stopover in the semi-circular port of Colombiers allows you to stock up on groceries and have a drink at Amphis, the most popular bar on the canal. A garage sale takes place every first Sunday of the month. A good day ahead!