Reading material for those who love the camping life

Text and photo: Knut Noer jr.
Motorhome and Caravan magazine, No. 2 April 2014

Canal du Midi: A channel of desire

It took 12 000 workers 14 years to figure out what is today one of the biggest tourist magnets in southwestern France - 240 km long Canal du Midi. Every year, 10 000 425 ships of many kinds travel around 000 42 visitors along the idyllic waterway, impacted by 000 XNUMX maple trees. The trees help to stabilize the channel widths while filtering the light and provide a shadow through the hot summer months.

On his journey from the river Garonne in Toulouse to the Mediterranean port of Sète bays channel through 21 ancient cities and towns, including Castelnaudary, Bram, Carcassonne, Trèbes, Colombiers, Beziers, Agde and Marseillan. It is France's oldest artificial navigable waterway, and then the Canal du Midi in 1996 was added to the list of world cultural heritage, the UNESCO designated as "one of the most extraordinary examples of the modern era engineering, which opened the way for the Industrial Revolution"

Today, the Canal du Midi a fifth of all channel and river tourism in France. Around 80 percent of visitors are foreigners, with Britons, Germans og Swiss as the largest groups. But it was anything but opportunities for tourism was in focus as the Canal du Midi was given its official opening - 24. May 1681.

An old idea

Already emperor Augustus (63 BC - 43 AD) was built on the idea, and later considered both the Emperor Nero, Charlemagne, Charles IX and Henry IV the same. But it would become King Ludwig XIV (1638-1715) who ensured that the old dream of a channel between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean sea was really done.

Specifically, a channel run by the Midi district of Southern France, between the Mediterranean port of Sète and Toulouse. In Toulouse is it linked with Canal Latéral à la Garonne, which via the Garonne River gives compound further west across until the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean. Along with the Garonne canal constitutes the Canal du Midi "canal of the two seas" Canal des Deux Mers, France's longest artificial navigable waterway.

Wheat, denim and wine

The purpose of the Canal du Midi was above all to avoid the long voyage around Spain on the road between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, a journey that in 1600 century took an entire month - to the disadvantage especially for the extensive trade in wheat and demin- or denim fabrics Nimes. Heavy along the primitive wagon roads between the southern and western France were too costly and counterproductive.

Meanwhile, should the Canal du Midi through three centuries of crucial betydnung for the resurgence of Languedoc's wine industry. In an area that has been nicknamed the French Tuscany produced both red, white and roseéviner well as vermouth-favorites like Noilly Prat. A third of France's wine production originates from this area and most were sent to northern France or exported.

Pierre Paul Riquet treading to

Initiator and avid promoter of the entire Canal du Midi project was the engineer Pierre Paul Riquet, which the king and (more importantly) the Finance Minister support got the go-ahead for the extensive construction work 5. October 1666. Riquet had already solved the first problem - finding the watershed between the Mediterranean and Atlandethavet. It is along a ridge at the Montagne Noire (Black Mountain).

But how establish a channel through the watershed from which the water flows in two directions, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean? And how to find a sufficient amount of water to fill the canal?

The solution was an extensive system of dams and water veins, combined with a feed channel from Montagne Noire to Naurouze, just west of Castalnaundary. From here could water sent two roads - east towards the Pacific and westward back towards Toulouse. Thus, the water supply is assured.

major challenges

The technical challenges in the further progress of the project was nonetheless formidable. In Toulouse begin channel in 132 meters above sea level, before rising to 193 meters altitude at the watershed and Seuil de Naorouze. From there it goes all down again to the port city of Sète and the Mediterranean. In all filed 99 locks to make it possible to mount the large height differences in the channel, while the channel crossed by 130 bridges.

A popular place to start an excursion on the Canal de Midi for today's tourists are Fonsérannes, an impressive staircase system with eight locks on the outskirts of Beziers. Over a length of about 300 meters brought the boats 21,5 meters up or down. It all based on a multi-lock system invented in Italy in the first half of 1600 century. Each of the sluice gates leading directly from a sluice chamber to the next, without any intermediate channel stretch. The bottom of the sluice gates give access to the river Orb.

The first channel tunnel

Canal du Midi was simultaneously the first channel in the world with a stretch landscaped tunnel. The 173 meters long, six meters high and 8,5 meter wide Malpas tunnel was of barely eight hectic days in 1679 excavated under a ridge at Ensérune between Narbonne and Beziers - in secrecy.

Pierre Paul Riquet had discovered that the ground under a few meters of hard rock consisted of loose and crumbling sandstone. By order of the French finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the work was therefore halted, pending an inspection to determine whether the canal project at all had no future. But Riquet ordered that work quietly to continue, the risk of tunnel collapse notwithstanding. Some landslides occurred not, and backed up by a betonghvelving throughout the tunnel length has ever since lived up to expectations - even after it around mid 1850-years were dug out an intersecting tunnel ten meters below the Channel Tunnel.

The nearby tourist office Maison du Malpas has today rich background material on both the Channel Tunnel and other atraksjoner in the area, and there is ample space for campers on the large parking lot outside.

Channel Bridge comes

In the city of Beziers was Pierre Paul Riquet greeted by yet another tricky challenge, which first got its final solution 173 years after the Canal du Midi's official opening. How let canal crossing the river Orb? River's water level varies greatly with the seasons, from drought to flooding.

Long before one channel follow the river course. But the solution entailed great risk, especially when the water level was high. In 1854 was therefore decided to lead the Canal du Midi in the viaduct over the river, and four years later was 'canal bridge' finished - 240 meters long, 28 meters wide and 12 meters high. From here, a new section of the channel led to the river Herault and Agde, where it flows out in France's second largest lake, saltwater lagoon Bassin de Thau, as the port city of Sète is connected to the Mediterranean.

The Canal du Midi is dimensioned to serve barges up to 30 meters long, and the success was not long in coming. Traffic increased steadily until 1856, when the canal boats carried 110 tons of goods and one million passengers. But the following year, a Sète-Bordeaux railway line opened and canal traffic was reduced to a minimum. The Canal di Midi languished and fell into disrepair, and in the 000s the freight traffic came to an end.

tourists come

Increasing interest channel tourism came to the rescue, precipitated by Britons who have long had a very different sense of vacation days on rivers and canals than Frenchmen. It is therefore no coincidence that most canal boat companies that offer longer trips on the Canal du Midi are British, as the Blue Line, Connoiseur and Minervois Cruisers.

For those who want to sail on their own, there are rentals of houseboats and barges from most towns and towns along the canal, where you also find parking spaces for cars and motorhomes. For trips on 2-7 days or more there is a choice between boats with 4-12 bunks. Some rent out electric-powered small boats on an hourly basis, and many also rent bicycles. 

With a cruising speed of modest 5-6 km / h there is ample opportunity to enjoy the varied landscape, and a shorter or longer stay in the historic towns along the channel trip will also be an exciting culinary journey.

Bean stew, duck - and shellfish

In cities such as Carcassonne and Castelnaudary you will not pass cassoulet, one bean stew added meat of mutton, pork or duck, while Mivervois region in addition to their wines are particularly known for duck and taste strong goat cheese. And from Beziers and further forward Marseillan, Bassin de Thau and the Mediterranean coast, it is above all shellfish applicable - oysters, clams, crab and shrimp.

Around 80 percent of 650 oyster farms by the Bassin de Thau is smaller businesses. Among the really big ones are La Grande Bleue in Marseillan, which alone has an annual output of around 25 tons oysters and 5 tonnes of mussels.

The coastal part of Languedoc is famous for its many campsites and four Mer et Soleil Camping Spa Village in Cap d'Agde ( is a good example of what can be a suitable base if you want to combine bathing life on the Mediterranean with visits to historic cities such as Carcassonne, Narbonne and Béziers - and a walk on or along the Canal du Midi.


"Canal du Midi is the first channel in the world with a stretch landscaped in the tunnel."

"For those who want to sail on your own is the rental of houseboats and barges from most towns and cities along the canal."

"With short or long stays in the historic towns along the channel trip will also be an exciting culinary journey.»

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