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The Canal du Midi - A World Heritage Site | Cruising in France

Cruising in France

...Travel blog about river and canal cruise vacations on luxury barges and riverboats

 

The Canal du Midi - A World Heritage Site

Written by Pierre on January 15, 2009
Summary:

Imagine floating gently down the nave of a leafy Gothic cathedral for miles on end, all the way to the Mediterranean! …

The Canal du Midi near CarcassonneThe Canal du Midi in Southern FranceBridge on the Canal du Midi

On a recent trip to the Midi region in southern France, I took  the time to explore a special place: the famous Canal du Midi in the area known as Languedoc/Roussillon.  This manmade waterway is a wonder of hydraulic engineering, and its entire length has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Here are a few facts about the Canal du Midi. It was built during the reign of Louis XIV by a wealthy individual called Pierre Paul Riquet. It was dug by some 12,000 workers using only raw manpower. (Backhoes and front loaders didn’t exist in those days.) It was conceived to enable the transportation of goods between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, as a shortcut to a lengthy voyage around Spain and Portugal through the Strait of Gibraltar.

The southeastern part of the waterway, 130 miles between Toulouse and Marseillan (near Sète), used to be called the Canal Royal du Languedoc. The northwestern section, about the same length between Toulouse and Castets (near Bordeaux), was formerly known as the Canal Lateral à la Garonne because it runs parallel to the Garonne River. The full length, once completed, was first named the Canal des Deux Mers (the Canal of the Two Seas), but the entire system is now commonly known as the Canal du Midi.

Today there is virtually no transportation of goods on the canal. Instead, it is used almost exclusively by self-driven pleasure boats and luxury barge-hotels. As I said, it is an amazing piece of engineering, and as it lazily winds its way through vast areas of vineyards and olive groves, it is one of the loveliest and most peaceful waterways in France.

The most striking feature of the canal, in my opinion, is what I would call its “signature look” - tall rows of enormous plane trees lining both banks, arching high above the waterway and shading its entire path all the way down to the deep blue Mediterranean. Imagine floating gently down the nave of a leafy Gothic cathedral for miles on end! Also notable is the ubiquitous tow path where horses once pulled the freight barges and where one can now take leisurely walks, jogs or bicycle rides.

During this one-week trip, I only covered the southeastern section of the canal. I traveled up and down between Carcassonne and Marseillan on the Bassin de Thau. I visited a dozen places, met quite a few people and took a lot of pictures. You can get more details on my visits from the full article I posted on our website.

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