All Rivers Can Flow Not All Lakes Are Rivers Luxury Barge Cruising on the Canal Du Midi – Go With the Flow in the South of France

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Luxury Barge Cruising on the Canal Du Midi – Go With the Flow in the South of France

A slow and easy luxury barge cruise on the Canal du Midi in southern France is the ultimate in pure fun and relaxation. Delicious wines from local vineyards, gourmet cuisine prepared by the onboard chef and visits to quaint villages along the way transport you to a slower world away from the pressures of modern life.

The Canal du Midi is an impressive and majestic waterway that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was completed in 1681 by Pierre Paul Riquet during the reign of Louis XIV. About 12,000 workers worked on it for about 15 years using only raw manpower. Its purpose was to enable the transport of materials between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean as a shortcut to the long voyage around Spain and Portugal through the Straits of Gibraltar. Today, there is virtually no movement of goods through the canal. Instead, it is used almost exclusively by pleasure boats and luxury barge-hotels.

The canal is an amazing piece of hydraulic engineering and as it meanders lazily through vast swathes of vineyards and olive groves, it is one of the most beautiful and peaceful waterways in France.

A variety of one-week cruises are possible along the canal, but one of the most common itineraries runs on the Bassin de Thau between Carcassonne and Marcellin.

Here are some highlights and first-hand impressions of this delightful journey:

Carcassonne, the largest medieval walled city in Europe, is an impressive sight with its 52 towers and its massive ramparts protecting the entire city. It absolutely dominates the skyline as you approach, and its grandeur does not disappoint when you enter the draw-bridge gate. It’s huge, it’s medieval, and it attracts a lot of tourists. As a World Heritage Site, however, it is a “must see” and well worth the trip.

Trabes And Marcellet Outside of Carcassonne are two quaint little towns. There, you’ll find the “signature look” of the Canal du Midi: tall rows of huge flat trees lining both banks, arching above the water and shading its entire path to the deep blue sea below. Imagine floating miles and miles below a leafy Gothic cathedral! Also notable is the ubiquitous towpath where horses once pulled freight and where you can now leisurely walk, jog or cycle.

Le Sommel (Near Narbonne). It’s another quaint little village with a lovely little stone hump bridge over the canal, next to a centuries-old ivy-covered chapel. This small bridge called the Pont Neuf (New Bridge)–although it was built in 1773—is another “signature” feature that punctuates the entire route of the canal. There are many such bridges along the Mediterranean route. They’re all so small, it makes you wonder how heavy barges get under them–centimeters to spare in some cases. Most of the bridges are made of stone and most bridges have a similar arch style.

Malpass Tunnel (Near Béziers). This small tunnel, located in a rustic and picturesque setting, is the first man-made canal in the world. Pleasure boaters love to hear the echoes of their cries and screeches.

Fonséranes Lock (Near Béziers). The Ecluses de Fonséranes are a series of nine locks built end to end, which change the level of the canal by 82 feet over a distance of only 1,000 feet. (Only seven locks are in use today.) These locks, also known as “stair-step locks”, consist of eight basins designed in the characteristic oval shape of the Canal du Midi. It is a popular destination for local visitors who enjoy watching the boats float up and down the system.

Béziers Canal Bridge. Within walking distance of Fonséranes, the Canal du Midi leads to the River Orb. This 800-foot-long aqueduct/bridge was built in 1857 to avoid problems connecting the wild and unpredictable river below. It’s an extraordinary sight: a man-made canal flowing peacefully in a gigantic aqueduct above a natural river! Don’t miss this spot for a leisurely walk along the tow-path, looking down on the river, watching the boats glide by and admiring Béziers’ imposing St. Nazaire Cathedral on the hilltop overlooking the city.

Basin de Thau (near Sète). There are many more interesting places along the Canal du Midi, of course: the hilltop medieval village of Minerve, the Cistercian Abbey de Fontfroid and the pre-Roman settlement of Oppidum d’Anserun, to name just a few. But the journey must end. The Canal du Midi ends at the Bassin de Thau between Agde and Sete. There, a narrow waterway meanders through the Languedoc countryside into a saltwater lake. Suddenly, everything changes. There are no more flat trees and the beautiful little stone bridges are gone. In Agde you can smell the salt in the air and the Mediterranean breeze gets stronger. At this point, you leave the Canal du Midi essence behind. The Bassin de Thau is the start of a different world: the vast, wild delta of the Rhône River known as the Camargue… another fascinating discovery for future travels!

From March to October, a small armada travels up and down the Canal du Midi. These vessels can be as small as self-propelled pleasure boats on which you can cook your own food and proceed on your own schedule. But the best way to experience the region and enjoy absolute peace and relaxation is a cruise on a large barge-hotel. The word “Pampered” comes to mind. On these luxury cruises, all you have to do is kick back, relax and go with the flow, starting with your welcome cocktail upon boarding on the first day.

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