The Camargue and the Canal du Midi boat-hire routes present a dazzling show throughout the whole length of your cruise, with famous listed sites dotted along the way, in the heart of an extraordinary ecosystem.
A feat of canal engineering in the sun-drenched, relaxed south of France
This is a magical part of the world to explore by Pénichette® – from the unspoilt landscapes of the Petite Camargue and its unique plants and wildlife, to the amazing works of engineering and medieval citadels of the Canal du Midi, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. When you rent a boat on the southern canals, you’re within easy reach of historic sites such as Carcassonne and its famous medieval citadel, Toulouse with its basilicas, the pride of the ‘Pink City’, and the Minervois vineyards skirting the foothills of the Black Mountain. You can venture into the Camargue to find the white horses with their manes blowing in the wind, migrating herons and other wildlife. Journey through the centuries on your canal boat and discover the timeless treasures of this famous region. Of course, you’ll also enjoy the Mediterranean atmosphere and lifestyle as you pass through lively villages, after sampling some local seafood on the quayside. The Canal du Midi may be world-famous for boating holidays in France, but the impression you’ll take home is the disarming simplicity of life on the waterways, as you gently go with the flow on your self-drive boat, through parades of pines and cypresses, lulled by the sound of cicadas.
By canal boat from the wild Camargue to Mediterranean landscapes along the Canal du Midi
The word-famous Canal du Midi, boat hire hub of the south of France, is a perfect blend of unspoilt natural surroundings, listed heritage sites and amazing food and drink. It should definitely be on your bucket list.
Discover the map of the
destination and its waterways
The Canal du Midi and the Camargue – dazzling gems, with or without the sunshine
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Canal du Midi is also one of the world’s most famous locations for boating holidays. Canal du Midi boat hire customers come back here year after year – they know there’s so much to explore, it’s hard to know which way to steer to take it all in!
The Citadel of Carcassonne, a journey into history
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, this amazing fortress stands guard beside the River Aude, with two thousand years of conquests and crusades echoing inside its walls. The best time to see it is arriving in your Pénichette® or self-drive boat at sunset, when the stones take on a fiery glow – a breathtaking sight!
The Petite Camargue, wild but delicately beautiful
As you cruise along the Rhône canal in your self-drive boat, following the Mediterranean coastline, the lands of the Petite Camargue stretch out in front of you, a countryside where nature has never given way to the modern world.
The Etang de Thau, head for a huge natural spectacle
As you approach the Etang de Thau, your boat gives you access to the largest stretch of water in the region. Especially famous for oyster farming, this unspoiled natural area has an incredible diversity of species, which you can discover as you glide through the water.
The Château de Paraza Estate, winemaking tradition in the South
A family estate that respects ancestral traditions as well as our modern ecological standards. It offers the chance to taste excellent wines and explore a 100-metre-long wine cellar.
Cassoulet in Castelnaudary, a ‘must try’ local delicacy
When cruising between Carcassonne and Toulouse along the Canal du Midi, boat hire customers love stopping off at Castelnaudary. One reason is the town’s famous speciality – cassoulet – a treat you really should try. And take some away with you too!
With Canal du Midi boat hire travel the waterways from Toulouse to the Mediterranean
Canal du Midi boat hire: go with the flow in the south of France, along this jewel of the waterways
Your cruise in this famous waterways region, extended by the Canal Latéral à la Garonne, allows you to cover up to 500 km on your Pénichette® or self-drive boat – with no license needed! Relaxation is what it’s all about as you glide along through fascinating landscapes, shaded by cypress trees and umbrella pines, with vineyards on the port side and Mediterranean villages to starboard. For your waterways cruise on the Canal du Midi, boat hire regulations limit your speed to 8 km an hour, reduced to 3 km an hour when approaching bridges, docks or locks, to avoid disturbing the canal’s natural features or damaging the banks. So you can enjoy your cruise at a gentle pace, taking time to look at historic buildings, treasures of the middle ages and vast, green landscapes, while enjoying local specialities and Mediterranean treats. That’s life in the south of France!
Stop off for a wander around the historic Roman city of Narbonne with your boat hire along the Canal du Midi
Another must-see historical site along the Canal du Midi is the city of Narbonne. Sitting on the last leg of the canal, only a few miles from the Mediterranean coast, the city was historically a bustling port. Yet the city is most renowned for being the first Roman settlement outside of Italy and it is this that makes it an attractive site for any culture or history buff.
What really stands out as one of Narbonne’s shining features is the city’s preserved and well-restored medieval quarter. Taking centre place in the quarter is the Cathédral St-Jus and is also one of the tallest cathedrals in all of southern France. The Pont des Marchands also makes the city of Narbonne famous. This Roman-built bridge is one of only three of this kind in all of France and is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Whether you simply enjoy the town from the comfort of the barge or get out and explore by foot, there is so much to see in the city of Narbonne that you are sure not to be disappointed.
Navigate your Canal du Midi barge through one of the lowest bridges at Capestang
One of the biggest challenges when navigating your Canal du Midi barge hire is the winding waterways and the occasional boat that may pass. This meandering canal has its fair share of obstacles to navigate at the best of times and is what makes the adventure what it is. One of the canal’s most memorable features is the bridge at Capestang. The bridge is known as one of the lowest bridges on the Canal du Midi and is a delight to sail through.
Other sights in Capestang include the 12th-century collegial church of St-Étienne, home to the archbishops of Narbonne. This is another iconic religious and historic landmark, one of many that call the French canal routes home.
On a Canal du Midi cruise discover all the delights of southern France
Where to start your trip with a Canal du Midi boat rental
Located in the south of France, the Canal du Midi has gone from one of the most impressive civil engineering projects of the early modern period to a UNESCO sight of extreme beauty. The best way to see this remarkable feat of construction and navigate the 150 miles of waterways on a Canal du Midi boat holiday.
The canal’s route winds from the city of Toulouse in the country’s Occitanie region down through to the Mediterranean coastal lagoon region of Étang de Thau. Although you can travel from either destination to the other, the most popular and practical route is to start in the city of Toulouse.
Before you hire your own Canal du Midi boat, a tour of the canal’s starting city Toulouse, is not to be missed. Sights such as the Basilica of Saint Sernin, one of the grandest churches in France and the Musée des Augustins, a fine art museum that is up there with some of the best in Europe.
Once you have taken in the city’s many sights, secure your canal boat hire and begin your journey southwards down the Canal du Midi. With the majority of Locaboat holidays starting from Toulouse, the city is a hub for canal boat hire in France.
Planning your route with your boat rental in the south of France
Starting from Toulouse, the Canal du Midi winds down south, taking in the green banks, flora and fauna on either side of the canal. As the first destination approaches ahead on the long journey to the sea, boaters will come to the Négra Lock. One of the more famous spots along the Canal du Midi canal, Négra Lock, is home to a small chapel and red-bricked aqueduct.
Moving on from Négra Lock and taking your barge rental along the Canal du Midi, you will soon arrive at the Castelnaudary commune, famed for its stone windmill known as Moulin de Cugarel and picturesque rolling foothills and fields.
Castelnaudary is also the home of the world-famous French dish known as cassoulet, and stopping off here to sample the local cuisine is a special highlight. The town also has many restaurants and cafes that boast the best version of this Castelnaudary.
From Castelnaudary, the canal takes you to one of the region’s most historical cities, Carcassonne. Many even choose to begin their Canal du Midi boat hire in Carcassonne, and it is easy to see why. The city is a perfectly preserved citadel, complete with ramparts, castle towers and idyllic medieval buildings contained within the citadel. Either starring your journey here or stopping as you make your way down the canal is a must when navigating the Canal du Midi. Canal du midi barge holidays will move from the epic citadel of Carcassonne towards the town of Narbonne, another historic settlement on the Canal du Midi.
Final destinations with your Canal du Midi boat hire
As the Canal du Midi route winds to a close, spirits may be low as your France Canal du Midi cruise holiday is nearly over, yet the jaw-dropping views of the Mediterranean Sea will put a smile back on your face.
The coastal lagoon region of Étang de Thau is the final stop off on the long canal route and what an ending it is. The awe-inspiring coastline of the Mediterranean makes a change from the freshwater of the canal and is the perfect excuse to go for a swim or a little sunbathing on the sun-soaked beaches.
What really makes this area something special is the large stretch of lagoons that straddles the coast and inland of the region. The lagoons are not only a source of incredible natural beauty but are also home to some of France’s most celebrated seafood, including the much-loved Bouzigues Oysters.
Completing the Canal du Midi from Toulouse to Étang de Thau doesn’t mean your French canal holidays have to end right there. There are multiple routes to take, whether it’s branching out onto one of the many other canals in the area or venturing onto other major French attractions such as Montpellier or Nîmes.
Along the Canal du Midi route map take in the historical landmarks and must-see sights
Catch a glimpse of the ancient citadel town of Carcassonne with a boat hire on the Canal du Midi
Boating holidays in France’s Canal du Midi appeal to a wide range of people because they cover all manner of different activities. From the simple pleasures of boating down the canal and picturesque French countryside to enjoying the many cuisines and food explorations as you go. The one thing that stands out for lovers of history and culture is the multiple historic sites scattered along the canal route, and there are a few more awe-inspiring than the town of Carcassonne.
The ancient citadel can be seen for miles around, looming large on the horizon like something out of a fairy tale. On entering the city itself, the winding medieval ramparts and towers transport you to a time gone by, perfectly preserved in stone. With two UNESCO listings to its name, it is no surprise that Carcassonne attracts millions of visitors every year. You can walk freely around the lices, the area between the inner and outer walls, but you will need to book a guided tour to walk along the ramparts and see the Château Comtal.
Apart from the citadel walls, Carcassonne is home to the impressive Basilica of Saint-Nazaire, a 13th-century church constructed in both the Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. With so much to see and on such a large scale, it is important to allow yourself enough time to see it all.
Discover the quintessential Medieval village at Minerve
The medieval sites don’t simply end with Carcassonne; a little further down the Canal du Midi is the medieval village of Minerve. Set atop a rocky outcrop, the village is a vision of extreme natural beauty as well as being a site of historical significance.
This famed settlement has the gruesome title of being the sight of one of the bloodiest sieges of the 13th centuries Albigensian Crusade. The remains of a 13th-century castle and defences still remain in the village, intertwined with many buildings and homes – all of this gives Minerve a unique air of being the quintessential medieval village of southern France.
Those with a little more time in the Minerve area should venture up the rocky outcrop and to the Pont Naturel de Minerve. This natural bridge of rock creates an otherworldly range of caves, caverns and watering holes. This area of natural beauty overlooks the village and provides breathtaking views of the settlement below. Hiking up to the Pont Naturel de Minerve will give boaters a welcome change from the water and provide a chance to stretch their legs with a sun-soaked hike.
Wander around the idyllic village of Le Somail
The village of Le Somail started life as a purposely designed village by the Canal du Midi architect, Pierre Paul Riquet. The aim of the village was to promote commerce and lifestyle around the canal. It is now arguably one of the canal route’s most picturesque villages and is also known for Le Somail boat hire. One of the key features of the village includes a stone bridge built in the 17th century, known as the le Pont de Saint-Marcel.
This idyllic scene of flowing water, green fields and a charming stone bridge are what draws many to the south of France and the Canal du Midi in the first place. Along with the bridge, Le Somail is home to an 18th-century church that started life as a granary and old ice house. All of these add to the overwhelming charm of the Le Somail, and no journey down the canal is complete without a stop off here.
Navigate the locks of Fonserannes, some of the most picturesque you will come across on a canal du midi boat trip
As well as the numerous historic destinations along the Canal du Midi, barge cruises themselves offer their very own historic spots on the canal itself. Nowhere is this more evident than at the locks of Fonserannes. Located near the town of Béziers, the locks of Fonserannes consists of eight oval-shaped locks and nine different gates – a marvel of engineering and beauty.
These staircase locks, as they are known, are one set of over sixty historic locks that make up the many miles of the Canal du Midi. While you don’t exactly need a special license to operate these locks, you may have to rely on the help of friendly locals to help you out and as historic locks, you need to take extra care. The extra care is also needed at this point of the canal because of its much shallower depth, limiting boaters to 3mph. The locks of Fonserannes are also home to traditional buildings such as stables and the former lock keepers house.
Discover the historical town of Béziers
Once you have navigated the famous locks of Fonserannes, a stop off at the hilltop town of Béziers is an easy detour. This historic town looms large over the canal and makes a stunning view as your boat approaches. Stepping out onto the banks here is a must, as the town is both a historical and cultural delight. At the very heart of the town, set on the highest point, is the 14th century Saint-Nazaire Cathedral. This beautiful example of middle Gothic architecture demands a good amount of time to absorb and appreciate.
As well as the cathedral, the town of Béziers has a number of attractions of an artistic nature. One is seamlessly linked with the Canal du Midi itself as it depicts a large bronze statue of the canal’s creator Pierre Paul Riquet. Visiting this statue can be a little homage to the man that made your canal boat holidays possible. Béziers’ Fine Arts Museum continues this artistic theme and is home to a huge range of canvas by top European artist from across the centuries, including Hans Holbein, Vincent Van Gogh and Henri Goetz.
Canal du Midi luxury boat hire or standard boat hire which is the right one for you?
Compact boat hire on France’s Canal du Midi
Finding the right type of boat for sailing down the Canal du Midi is one of the most important things to figure out before you set out on your trip. If you’re planning that romantic canal trip for two or simply wish to navigate the Canal du Midi with an easy-to-drive and manoeuvrable boat, then opting for a smaller, compact boat may be the right choice for you. Whether you choose a luxury boat or a more economically sized one, there are smaller boats in both categories.
Although these smaller boats are great for manoeuvring the occasional narrow routes of the Canal du Midi, boaters must remember that fewer supplies can be taken on board. Smaller vessels will also only hold a few people, so if your party is large, it’s more advisable to choose a bigger boat. This may be unnecessary if you are simply using the boat to travel between destinations.
Medium-sized boat hires for holidays on the Canal du Midi
If you are navigating the Canal du Midi with a large group such as a family or a group of friends, it is much better to hire a medium-sized boat. Although much larger than the compact boats, they’re more than capable of being agile and manoeuvrable when boating down the narrower canals. These medium-sized boats can also carry a far greater amount of supplies, ideal if you are on the canal for weeks at a time.
The larger boats are capable of holding bigger numbers of people, including capacities of five or six births. Although you may need to take a little extra care when driving the boat, the same principles apply to both sizes of the boat. Take a look at the range of boats available before settling on one, as this will be both your transport and home for the duration of your France barge holidays on the Canal du Midi.
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