Diary of a week on the Canal du Midi
by Boating Holidays Managing Director Barry Peters
Boat: Cirrus Route: One-way – Port Cassafieres to Castelnaudary
We set out to investigate the one-way trip from near Agde on the Mediterranean
Coast to inland Castelnaudary. This is suitable for two experienced
boaters but is most suitable for a boat with at least 4 people. It
does require a degree of fitness to cover the 60+ locks. Those requiring
a leisurely week are advised to take an ‘out and back’ trip
from either Port Cassafieres towards the Camarague or from Castelaudary
to Trebes passing through Carcassonne.
arrived by car at the Port Cassafieres base just after lunch, having
stocked up at a large hypermarket at nearby Pezenas. After a leisurely
lunch at the on-site ‘Au Rendezvous des Bateliers’ we loaded
our luggage onto the boat and left our car in the secure parking area.
After being shown the essential facts of running the boat, we were
taken for a short training cruise. After being approved, we left Port
Cassafieres at about 4pm for the short trip to Villeneuve-le-Beziers
for the night. We stayed on the boat, and after food and wine retired
ready for the next exciting day.
got up early, to be one of the first through the Villeneuve lock at
8am so we would not be delayed at the 7-lock staircase at Fonserannes.
Very different from the single boat UK locks we were used to, the Canal
du Midi locks were lemon shaped, taking 4 boats at a time. The gates
and water were controlled by a lock-keeper, so the crew’s job
was to hold the boat with ropes around bollards to stop it bumping
the other boats.
With two people, one person went ashore to hold one end of the boat,
the other person staying on the boat to navigate in and out of the
locks and to hold the other end of the boat in the lock. With 4 people,
two would go ashore, one to hold each end of the boat.
Passing the town of Beziers we headed for the 7-lock staircase, arriving
just in time to see the first group of 4 go up through the locks. With
a session each way in the morning and afternoon, latecomers would not
go up the locks until 4.30pm. Going up the locks was fascinating, with
crowds of onlookers watching the action, as successive locks emptied
to fill the lock below.
the locks we headed for Colombiers for a lunch stop, and a call at
the nearby shops for fresh baguettes.
By late afternoon we had reached the former canal port of Capestang
with its huge church dominating the view. The town centre is just down
the hill from the canal so a walk around town soon uncovered an interesting
eating place for the evening.
The restaurant Table du Vigneron was run by the family of Domaine
Cros-Reboul, and in addition to offering excellent food its wine was
produced by the sisters who also ran the restaurant.
Leaving Capestang we set off on the long lock-free section of canal.
Each side of the canal was lined by plane trees, just like French country
roads, with welcome shade on hot days. Passing canalside restaurants
and wine tasting ‘caves’ we reached the picturesque village
of Le Somail for lunch. Much photographed, the village contains a decorated
circular tower once used for preserving ice, an interesting second-hand
bookshop, and a hat museum.
canal was now getting busy, with boats joining from the Narbonne arm
of the canal. Passing Argens with its 14th century chateau we met a
queue for the staircase at Pechlaurier. We reflected that the French
habit of closing the locks for a 12.30 to 1.30 lunch hour sometimes
Proceeding again, we reached the old port of Homps for the night,
dining at one of the canalside restaurants.
In the morning we took a taxi to the nearby town of Olonzac for the
local market, an amazing number of stalls of all types and with interesting
local food and produce.
the opportunity to fill the tank with fresh water we then headed along
the canal passing through various locks until we reached 6.30pm lock
We moored near several other boats, meeting many of the crews for
discussions on how we were finding things. The cosmopolitan nature
of the canal was very much in evidence as we met boaters from the USA,
Germany, New Zealand and South Africa. A meal on the boat completed
Setting off early, we progressed along the canal to Trebes, just failing
to get through the staircase before the lock-keeper’s lunch break.
An ideal time for setting off on the bikes to get fresh baguettes,
cheese and fruit for lunch from the nearby town.
Trebes the canal became much quieter, and we cruised serenely along
to reach the medieval walled town of Carcassonne by 5pm. Paying the
small fee to moor in the town centre canal basin we collected a town
map, and discovered the free bus up the hill to the historic old town.
There were many interesting sights, and good places to eat. We chose
an old hostelry with a charcoal grill and a changing selection of live
musicians. The restaurant then arranged a taxi to take us back down
to the port and a good night’s sleep.
After a leisurely morning in Carcassonne we set off towards Castelnaudary.
Passing the village of Bram we reached a series of manually operated
locks where the crews helped the lock-keeper to open the gates.
planned, we stopped near the village of Villepinte for the night. It
was a short walk along the lane to Les Deux Acacias, the village restaurant,
where we had probably the best meal of the holiday. Arriving at 7.30pm
to an empty restaurant, by 8pm people were being turned away. An excellent
four course meal with a litre pichet of wine cost much less than the
UK - an excellent evening, and an amazing number of boaters there!
We woke to the first rain of the week, but by 11am this had cleared.
Cruising through more manually operated locks we had interesting discussions
with lock-keepers, who spent much time growing flowers and installing
sculptures and other objects in the areas around the locks.
lunch sitting in the sun on the boat deck, we went through the final
lock of the week, a four-lock staircase into the Grand Basin at Castelnaudary.
Mooring the boat mid-afternoon we could reflect on an exciting, interesting,
but energetic week’s boating.
At every stop along the canal we found restaurants offering Cassoulet,
a bean stew with portions of duck and/or pork. Castelnaudary was famous
for this regional dish. We bought tins of Cassoulet for souvenirs at
a local shop recommended by our Carcassonne taxi driver.
Friday evening saw many boaters at the Castelnaudary restaurants – Le
Tirou and Hotel Le Siecle being well enjoyed.
boat was handed back to Crown Blue Line at 9am, who checked for problems
and calculated how many hours the boat’s engines had run – the
fuel charge being based on this.
We had chosen not to have the car moved from Port Cassafieres to Castelnaudary
(about 100 Euro), preferring a rail trip back to Beziers. It was a
short walk to the station, and after an hour on the train we reached
Beziers to catch a taxi back to the car at Port Cassafieres .
The end of a very enjoyable week.
See also Area Guide to Midi or Return to France Boating Holidays Map
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