Taking a self drive cruise along the Canal du Midi France is a unique experience and one I highly recommend. It is the longest and oldest canal in France and is one of the most beautiful waterways in the world. This 240 km long channel passes through picturesque vineyards and medieval villages with ancient fortresses and Chateaus.
You can go at your own pace while exploring the historical attractions along the way. Stop at wineries, and try some wine tasting or even indulge in the many local food products on offer. Making it a great way to give back and support the local communities. For the more adventurous you can ride a bike or take a hike along the towpath of the canal too.
The Canal du Midi has no shortage of things to see and do. Here are what to expect and some of the highlights of taking a cruise along the Canal du Midi France.
⇒ You can check what is currently required to enter France before travelling there.
About the Canal du Midi
Canal du Midi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a feat of architectural genius. Perfectly located in the sun-filled South of France, the historical waterway was completed in 1694. Designed by a prominent canal builder, Pierre-Paul Riquet, the channel was built to connect the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea for trade purposes.
The engineer’s biggest challenge was lifting boats over the highest point in the canal, Seuil de Naurouze. Thanks to his experience and the labour of 12,000 workers, they built dams and reservoirs to help boats cross over smoothly.
Canal du Midi is popular amongst tourists, this old canal provides one of the best boating holidays in France.
Self-drive cruise along the Canal du Midi with Le Boat
Le Boat offers the best self-driving holidays from Castelnaudary, Homps, Trebes, and Port Cassafieres along the canal du Midi. The boats vary from affordable to premium models, as well in size.
You don’t need prior experience or a boat licence to rent any of Le Boat’s boats. When you board your boat, one of the staff at the base will give everyone a safety briefing prior to departure. Then they will show you how to drive the boat and what to do when docking and undocking.
Le Boat will also provide you with the relevant maps and information you need for your self-drive cruise. You can also check out their other destination around the world here.
Horizon 5 Boat
Our boat during our time on the Canal du Midi was the spacious Horizon 5. It is the biggest of the Horizon range and is great for either a group or a large family holiday. It has 5 cabins each with its own en-suite that comfortably sleeps 12 people.
The boat is one of Le Boat’s premium canal holiday offerings. Its kitchen is fitted with expansive glass windows serving you views of Southern France. The French canal boat also provides saloon-style seating perfect for eating dinner, a large sunbathing and rear sitting area, and a BBQ hotplate on the sundeck.
My room was comfortable and I had a USB port to charge my phone and other electrics. I had a porthole above which I would open at night and when we were cruising to let some fresh air in. I really enjoyed staying on the Horizon 5 and would definitely stay on it again.
⇒ Make sure to remember to take your USB cable with you.
Appreciating how the canal’s locks work
I must admit that I didn’t fully appreciate the mechanics that go into designing a lock before I saw them in action. A boat will enter the lock chamber and the water will either raise or be lowered by filling or slowly draining the lock allowing boats to move on to the next section. While it seems like a simple process they are an incredible feat of engineering.
There are over 60 locks along the Canal du Midi waterways that assist boats to pass between section levels. Not all the locks are singular, some are double and there is even one that is six locks known as the Fonsérannes staircase.
Cruising from Homps Village
Le Boat has 4 bases along the Canal du Midi where you can hire your boat from. Our base for the trip was Homps, a couple of hours’ drive from Toulouse airport.
Homps base is at the heart of the Midi, meaning you can get either towards Toulouse or towards Port Cassafieres. Facilities located at the base are toilets and showers, plug-in ports for boat electricity and water. You can check out the other extras on their site.
This quaint French village has a handful of cafés and restaurants that are great for eating before or after you arrive. We had dinner at the La Péniche when we arrived, which was a 5mins walk from the Le Boat base. There are also several grocery shops and wine shops where you can get your supplies.
Le Somail Village
The charming French hamlet, Le Somail Village is a must see stopover. It is considered to be one of the prettiest villages along the Canal du Midi. Located in the Aude department of southwestern France, Le Somail boasts historic buildings, lovely bars and restaurants, and even a floating deli.
One of the first things you will notice when you arrive in Le Somail is the beautiful stone-arched bridge crossing the waterway. It is called le Pont de St-Marcel and was built in the 17th century. An 18th century chapel stands at the end of the bridge, which started life as a granary. Opposite the chapel, on the left bank of the canal, sits the old ice-house.
Some fun activities in this town include viewing temporary exhibitions at the Maison Bonnal (Tourism Office). Where you’ll meet Mrs. Cradock’s hologram and be enchanted by the English traveller as she recounts her journey along Canal du Midi.
At night enjoy dinner and drinks at one of the establishments along the canal, while watching the boats calmly pass by. We ate at Le Comptoir Nature, just a stone’s throw away from the stone-arched bridge. If you want to eat on board your boat, you can purchase local produce, water, and wine from the floating deli Tamata.
Good to know: Unless you’re staying right in the village the pathways are not lit very well, so take touch with you at night.
World of books – Le Somail
If you have the time while in Le Somail take a visit to the Le Trouve Tout Du Livre, a very unique bookshop. It is located on the same side as the old ice-house and slightly hidden on the Canal du Midi.
Once you get inside you will be greeted with a treasure trove of over 50,000 books, plus an extensive collection of first-editions. Even if you don’t buy a book, this place is worth seeing, just for the mere size and the collection they have on offer.
Olive Tree Odyssey
If you love olives as much as I do, then head to the Olive Tree Odyssey. It is an Olive oil mill that produces oil products sourced from a group of local farmers. The establishment has been running since 1942 and welcomes visitors to come to discover these timeless olives and taste their products.
Olive Tree Odyssey is located in the Bize-Minervois, a tree-populated and stone-built commune in the Aude department. They offer a range of activities, from museums and interpretation sites to guided olive grove tours. On the tour, you’ll learn about the harvesting seasons, benefits, and preparation process of olive oil.
If you are travelling with kids, don’t worry, they won’t get bored. As Olive Tree Odyssey has special activities including interactive workshops and a treasure hunt organised on the day.
As I said I love olives and these are some of the best that I have eaten. I even took a jar home to my husband and they were gone in a week.
Step into Mediaeval France by docking at the fortified city of Carcassonne. The city boasts plenty of ancient watchtowers and double-walled fortifications.
Carcassonne is home to France’s largest walled city, a Roman fortification built on a hilltop. Here you’ll experience stunning views of brownstone buildings, lush green trees, and vineyards.
This medieval city has many attractions, including the local food market, a Disney-like world in La Cité de Carcassonne, and plenty of museums, citadels, and wineries. The city also boasts an array of Michelin-star restaurants serving tasty Southern French cuisine and even more delicious wine.
Here is a list of other popular activities that you can book in advance for Carcassonne
Wine Tasting along the Canal du Midi
Château de Ventenac-en-Minervoiss Winery
As you may be aware, the one thing you will not escape from on a cruise along the Canal du Midi is wine. For avid wine lovers and collectors of note, I recommend visiting the Chateau de Ventenac-en-Minervois Winery.
Situated right on the canal in Ventenac-en-Minervois, you can’t miss this stunning Chateau. The best bit is that you can easily park your barge near it, before hopping off and walking the short distance to the winery.
The famous winemaker offers tastings and informative tours of the vault and the attic of winegrowers. Not to mention a shop where you can buy a few uniquely-crafted wines to add to your collection. They also sell products from local producers like the Olive Tree Odyssey.
Chateau De Paraza
Grab your sunhats and go on a luxury wine tasting experience and a true escape into French culture at Chateau de Paraza. Located in the Minervois, the estate ideally sits on the Paraza harbour along Canal du Midi up a small hill.
Founded in the 17th century, the estate was initially a cultivation plant for olive groves, cereal, and the breeding of large sheep herds. The estate also hosted Pierre-Paul Riquet when he was overseeing the canal building. Today it is a successful family run winery, vineyard, and bed and breakfast.
At Chateau de Paraza, you can enjoy a range of activities, from a complimentary wine tasting and a vineyard tour to a wine-making course. The estate also provides private event facilities like weddings. You can even have the option of staying in this exceptional accommodation.
⇒ I recommended taking with you an inflatable wine cooler to keep the wine that you purchased at the wineries cool. They are so convenient to use especially if you’re having dinner on the deck when you are docked for the night.
Finish your trip with a stopover in Toulouse
The closest airport to the Canal du Midi, as well as Carcassonne, is Toulouse. I suggest adding on a few days in the city before or after your barge cruise. This stunning 17th century city is worthy of a one or two day visit. Toulouse is known as Pink City due to its pink terracotta bricks and is the capital of the Haute-Garonne.
It is also the official endpoint of the Canal du Midi, the other end being Agde. Here, you can combine the old with the new, like exploring the enriched old town, then visit the Aeroscopia museum where you can step on-board an Airbus A300B and Concorde. Here is a list of other popular activities that you can book in advance for Toulouse
If you still have time, then I suggest taking a trip to Pic du Midi. An astronomical observatory located on top of the highest peak in the French Pyrenees.
Helpful tips for taking a cruise along the Canal du Midi
- Check the opening times of the locks before getting there, as you don’t want to get stuck and not be able to move.
- If you know when you are docking for the night, pre-book your dock space, especially during peak season.
- Take euros with you to use at the farmer’s shops located at the individual locks.
- Make sure to take bottles of water with you on the boat. If you run out, you can get some more at the farmer’s shops on the locks.
- Be sure not to stand on top of the boat when passing under the bridges, as some of them are super low. Some are so low that you can’t even sit on the seats, you need to duck!
Essential items for a cruise along the Canal du Midi
Sailing Shoes (Deck shoes) – Make sure to wear good Sailing or Waterproof shoes that will grip the surface, especially when the boat is wet. I have a pair of Helly Hansen sailing and watersport shoes.
Soft sided luggage or duffel bag that is preferably waterproof for your items that you can fold up. Hard luggage will be hard to fit in your cabinet.
Booking your Canal du Midi cruise
If you’re ready for the wine tasting, and enchanting medieval castles in the south of France, you can visit the Le Boat official site to book your holiday in advance.
You’ll also find additional information about the types of boats you can hire along the Canal du Midi and pricing. As well as about the mooring, the locks, and waterways you will go along.
Sailing in Croatia is another great option if you enjoy taking boating holidays and you want a hands on approach.
Discover these other French Destinations
How about these other interesting articles on other destinations in France.
- Grenoble – How to see the best of the city in 2 days
- Chatel Resort – A guide on what to do during the Summer season
- Chambery Town – The best things to do in the city
Have you taken a cruise along the Canal du Midi before? Where did you go and what did do? Please feel free to let me know in the comments below.
⇒ You can check what is currently required to enter France before travelling there.
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Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Le Boat during my 5-day cruise along the Canal du Midi. All views are my own and based on my own experience.