The Canal du Midi

Canal du Midi Medieval City of Carcassonne. Photo by Donna Long

By Donna Long

The Canal du Midi, a silky pale green liquid ribbon that unhurriedly meanders, connecting the Mediterranean port city of Sète to Toulouse is one of the most notable and oldest inland waterways of Europe still in use. The lofty dream of engineer Pierre-Paul Riquet to create a direct passage between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, bypassing the Strait of Gibraltar, enabling farmers and producers of wheat, wine, wools, silks, and salt a way to export their goods for trade.

The 150-mile (240 km) Canal du Midi, completed in 1681, is considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the 17th-century. Canal du Midi is a summit level canal, meaning that it passes over varying heights between valley’s and not in a lateral line. The canal rises on the Western end 206 ft (62.8 m) and falls 620 ft (190 m) on the Eastern side by way of 103 locks, one tunnel, and three aqueducts.

No longer a trade route, today the canal is now a dream destination for boating vacationers from across the world that yearn for the fairytale beauty of stone buildings and medieval walled cities. As you casually float the canal, you will see fields of towering bright yellow sunflowers scattered between rolling hills covered with grape vines, and sprawling stone manor homes with red terracotta shingle roofs displaying gothic, Roman, and Tuscan architectural influences.

There are several options available when cruising the Canal du Midi ranging from luxury hotel barges to self-drive boats for hire. Self-drive or self-captained boats allow you the freedom to create your itinerary and explore the uniqueness of the Canal du Midi at your own pace.   

One company that offers self-captained boats is Le Boat who started cruising the French waterways in 1968. Self-captaining a boat is a safe and easy way for vacationers new to boating to get their feet wet. There are no special licenses or permits required. Before you are released to leave your departure port, there will be a brief introduction and lesson on how to drive the boat, the workings of the boat controls, and how to navigate through the locks.

To read the full story, pick up a copy of the January/February issue of LiveIt magazine.