Are you looking for a relaxing vacation? Then coasting down the Canal Du Midi may be exactly what you need.
It took 14 years to build the canal and it opened in 1681 and for 200 years it served as the main export route before rail came along and made it obsolete. 99 locks and 130 viaducts make it an engineering feat and in 1996 it was declared a World Heritage site.
Where to go? From Capestang you can take your houseboat down three main branches of the Canal du Midi. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Miter Lock may be the 15th century’s greatest invention and is still used on most canals throughout the world. Locks are used to raise and lower your boat in different stretches of the canal, are operated by keepers and are open from 9:00 – 19:00 with the 12:00-13:00 lunch break. They are here to help you through the gate to the next section of the waterway.
First Choice: If you are new to boats, perhaps going towards Carcassonne and the renowned Cathar Castle is your best choice. Winding through the peaceful French countryside, you will find villages nestled along the shore. Rural southern France draws you in with local vendors at open-air markets where farmers sell their products and restaurants serve traditional French cuisine. Many say that this is true France, where the finest wine and olives grow using traditional methods for many generations.
Listed in the order you find them while cruising up towards Carcassonne, here are our top restaurant picks along this stretch of the canal.
Capestang: La Galiniere, located by the local fountain, for an exquisite four-course meal, Caveau de la Place, directly on the square in Capestang, for a gourmet meal on the square or La Table du Vigneron, 3 rue Paul Bert, in the perfect setting in a secret garden.
Cruzy: L’auberge de la Croisade, Port Seriege, Hamlet Crusade, 34310 Cruzy, next to a picturesque bridge, serving up fresh plates of traditional food.
Le Somail: Le Comptoir Nature or Auberge du Somail, on the port where people sit to watch the boats come and go, while enjoying a nice meal. Address 1, chemin de Halage, 11120, Le Somail, France
Ginestas: L’Anais Restaurant, located at 6 av de la Promenade, has good food at a reasonable price. Sometimes they have live music entertaining their guests.
Homps: En Bonne Compagnie, 6 Quai des Negociants, is the perfect small restaurant on the Canal, quaint and pretty.
Trèbes: La Poissonnerie at 8 avenue Pierre Curie is where you go for fresh seafood.
Carcassonne: Restaurant La Marquiere,13 rue St Jean and Chez Fred, 31 Boulevard Omer Sarraut, both have excellent reviews on Trip Advisor for an exquisite French meal.
Second Choice: Next, head down the canal towards Beziers in the Fonserannes area and the famous nine locks. You actually go into six basins with nine gates taking you the twenty-one meters from the bottom to the top. This may be daunting for first time boaters, but after a full day on your boat you will feel comfortable enough to make it through. The experience is worth it. Boats queue along the canal on both ends waiting patiently for their turn while absorbing the picturesque countryside.
Rich with history and an Arab flare, Beziers is a busy town in the middle of Cathar country with a walking strip, an outdoor market, cafes and a variety of restaurants. From here, you can head towards the port in Agde, park your boat, jump on your rental bikes and discover the white sand beaches and the deep blue of the Mediterranean Sea.
Try some of these restaurants along course for a great meal with atmosphere.
Poilhes: La Tour Sarrasine, 27 rue Paul Riquet, on the higher priced of the budget, but spectacular food or Les Platanes,1 Place de la Liberte, a small charming restaurant run by an English speaking couple from New Zealand known for French and English cuisine.
Colombiers: Côté Canal,2640 Traverse de Colombiers inbetween Colombiers and Beziers directly on the Canal du Midi or Le Lavoir Rue du Lavoir, both have excellent reviews from our friends and come highly recommended.
Beziers: La Raffinerie,14 Avenue Joseph Lazare, is a favourite among families with a good selection on their menu.
Agde: La Ribote,9 Rue de l’Amour, is where you go for Crepes.
Third Choice: Drifting down the Canal de la Robine from the Midi going in the direction of Narbonne, you pass architecture specific to the laid back community which gives it a flare all its own. Narbonne boasts a beautiful church and a big covered market. The market is a huge draw, and you will find all the local culinary treats.
Try these restaurants while in Narbonne.
Sallèles-d’Aude: L’O a la Bouche, Hameau le Somail, has a friendly staff, great menu and a good location.
Narbonne: La table St. Crescent, 68 avenue du General Leclerc, is where the local French go for a fabulous meal or La Table du Château,16, rue de Paris, Bizanet, offers a lovely experience as well.
There is much to do on your travels off the canal as well. Check in at your local tourist office for suggestions of things to do in the Languedoc. Tourist offices have Internet connection, pamphlets and staff that speak a variety of languages to point you in the right direction, no matter your interests.
If you only have one week along the Canal, you can save a day on the water travelling towards Carcassonne Castle by stopping in Trèbes and taking the twenty-minute bus to town. Saving two and a half hours each way on the water to get to the caste. It may be the shortcut you are after.
If you get a chance, go on a wine tour. It is a fabulous way to sample the finest vintages of the region. Many include lunch and no need to lug your wine back on your bikes. Contact Wendy a2 Vin en Vacances.
In Bize visit the L’Odyssee de l’Olivier, an olive factory giving tours on how to make and harvest olive oil. This includes sampling their products and access to their gift shop.
The village of Minerve is one of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (“The Most Beautiful Villages Of France”) and perfect for the Cathar history buff. The village clings to the side of a giant gorge created by the River Cesse.
After Poilhes on route to Beziers, near the town of Nissan-lez-Enserune, stop and ascend the hill to see the panoramic view of the Étang de Montady. Once a lake, it was drained in the thirteenth century by a piping system still in working order today. Sold off in pie shaped pieces with different farmers growing on each, it is a patchwork of colour that makes a great photo. Here you will also find the Oppidum, a pre-Roman archaeological site dating back to the 6th century. Inhabited until the 1st century AD, this site preserved a vast amount of historical remains viewable at the onsite museum.
Our suggestion is to take along rental bikes to thoroughly explore the areas. Ride to the local store or market and enjoy the meandering paths. A good tip is to shop where the locals shop by asking where the grocery store is and what days the markets are on. Try to avoid the stores that are open through lunch and Sundays, as they usually cater to tourists and sell their goods at much higher prices.
Lastly please note that shops, banks, post offices are closed between 12:00-14:00 for lunch as well as on Sundays and holidays. Plan your day accordingly. If you roll in at 15:00 looking for lunch, you will most likely not find any in the small towns and villages. They serve lunch from 12:00-14:00. Dinner starts after 19:30 in most restaurants and many require reservations in high season. However, with loads of provisions along the Canal, you will certainly find many places to shop, as long as you keep in mind the hour of operation.
No matter where you go along the Canal du Midi it will be unforgettable. Add canal boats to your bucket list and see why France is still the #1 tourist destination in the world.