Canal du Midi
Barwon & beyond

Locaboat, barge hire

France the French Way

Roman Provence

Provence villages

Provence walking

97 days in the Alps

Via ferrata

Classic yachts

Canal du Midi

Books & films

Canal diary, 2011

Canal diary, 2007

Evening on the canal, the ‘long pond’ near Argeliers


Are you looking for some general information about the Canal? If so, read on. For practical tips on choosing a cruise including interesting villages and restaurants, read our 2011 or 2007 trip diaries...

The Canal du Midi has rightly been given World Heritage status, in recognition of the extraordinary beauty of the stone-built structures — the locks, the lock-keepers’ houses, the bridges and aqueducts; the beauty of the landscape through which it meanders; and above all, for its cultural significance as the first substantial canal project of the modern era. The Midi region is as it is today, largely because of benefits brought by the canal.

Together with the Garonne lateral canal, it links the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and runs along a route roughly parallel to the Pyrenees and the border with Spain. Technically, most of the canal is in Languedoc-Roussillon. Only the eastern  part of the canal through the Camargue even gets near to Provence, but çela ne fait rien!

And it was all due to the vision of one individual, Pierre-paul Riquet, who conceived the project in its entirety, and persuaded Colbert, the finance Minister of Lous XIV, to support the project. What made the dream possible was the construction of the first major artificial  water reservoir in France, from which water flowed to the high point of the proposed canal at Naurouze  to flow gently from there towards the sea to the west and the east.

Sadly Riquet died in 1680, just 6 months before the construction was complete. It had taken an incredibly short 18 years to build, and largely, what you experience today, is what was built then. Today lock gates are driven by electric motors, and a few bridges and canal aqueducts have been improved, but the unique and beautiful oval locks are still essentially the same.

The Romans had built short canals, of course, years earlier, but this canal was the first to employ the new technology of Da Vinci’s double-swinging mitred lock gates.  

When it was built, it immediately became a major transport link, and for the next 300 years before motor transport it was vital to the economic growth of the region. It also provided a ‘short cut’ for cargo between Britain and southern France.

Today, most of the travellers are holiday-makers like ourselves, but the canal is nevertheless busier than it ever was in the past. Many kinds of boats pass along the canal. The biggest are the hotel barges, 30 metre converted iron barges which carry small groups of wealthy passengers in pampered comfort.

Most of the boats, like ours, are sturdy fibreglass barges carrying 4-8 people, but there are also many boats on which European grey canal nomads live for months and years at a time. Being autumn, we regularly met these Dutch and German folk in their own magnificent barges and motor cruisers. At the end of the northern summer they travel down the Rhone to enjoy the mild Mediterranean winter and the wonderful food of the Midi and the Camargue, before heading off again in spring.

There are several barge hire companies, and they have it all down to a fine art. Incredibly, after a 20 minute orientation to the boat and its workings, and a 15 minute driving lesson, you will soon be off on your own, tottering tentatively out into the canal from the harbour.

It is easy to research canal trips on the web, and  we
were absolutely delighted with the service from our Locaboat agent, John Reese, of France the French Way, who is based in New Zealand.