• Canal du Midi
  • Canal du Midi
  • Canal du Midi
  • Canal du Midi
  • Canal du Midi
  • Canal du Midi
The Canal du Midi

One of the region’s two remarkable UNESCO ‘World Heritage Sites’ the Canal du Midi drifts lazily through the Minervois on it’s spectacular route from the city of Toulouse to the bustling coastal port of Sete.

Inspirational in both concept and construction, the 240 kilometre-long canal connects with the River Garonne to link the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean: thereby avoiding the lengthy and one-time perilous, pirate-plagued sea journey around the hostile Spanish coastline.

Although the advantages of such a route had been contemplated for at least 150 years before its inception (even Leonardo Da Vinci had pondered the possibilities), it was in the mid-seventeenth century that the multitude of technical challenges and obstacles were finally overcome. In 1666 Pierre-Paul Riquet persuaded King Louis XIV to commission the project: and so, work commenced. The costs were projected at 3,360 livres.

The construction of the canal was unquestionably an epic and ingenious achievement, incorporating remarkable feats of civil engineering - including 103 locks - and utilising over 12000 labourers. The canal officially opened in 1681: sadly the event was preceded by the unfortunate demise of Monsieur Riquet, who died in 1680. The entrepreneur was massively in debt to the tune of 2m livres, most of which he had invested in the completion of his wondrous waterway. The final cost now totalled some 15m livres! His family inherited his interests in the project: they must have been delighted - investments were never recovered and debts remained for a further 100 years before they were finally paid off.

The Riquet family apart, we have much to be grateful for in the construction of the Canal du Midi. Today it is a unique and enthralling source of leisure, pleasure and breathless natural beauty. With tow-paths famously lined and shaded by 300-year-old plane trees it meanders gently through the sun-drenched Minervois countryside – epitomising classic, inspirational, picture post-card France at its finest.

All manner of craft cruise leisurely along between the pretty, terracotta-topped, canal-side villages – from simple, unpretentious working barges to magnificently-opulent, custom-built river cruisers bedecked with relaxing, stress-free holidaymakers.

Trausse is an ideal location from which to explore the canal and visit some of its most pleasing and interesting villages: close-by, for example, is picturesque Homps – a favourite stop-over for canal travellers with its restaurants, shop and bicycle hire facilities. La Redorte, Le Somail and Ventenac-Minervois have similar appeal while, towards Carcassonne, Trebes is a popular, busy haven of bank-side activity. And even in Carcassonne itself, the canal introduces the calm, tranquillity, and pastoral pace of the countryside as it drifts peacefully through bustle of the lower city.

With sightseeing trips; boats to hire by the hour, day, week or longer; shady towpaths for cycling and walking; delightful villages and magnificent chateaux along its route the Canal du Midi adds a unique and utopian dimension to this very special region of the south of France.

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