We’ve all dreamed about hiring a canal boat and cruising along the Canal du Midi – after all, it’s undoubtedly the most famous canal in France and one of the most well known in the world!
Classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, the Canal du Midi links the Atlantic with the Mediterranean and takes you through sun-drenched vineyards and to numerous villages and canal side restaurants.
The one thing we can’t guarantee with our holidays is the weather, however we’re always pretty confident that if you choose a boating holiday on the Canal du Midi then you’ll enjoy good weather - after all the region enjoys sunshine almost all year long! Fortunately the engineer Pierre-Paul Riquet who was in charge of the design of the canal had thought of everything and respite from the southern sun is aplenty thanks to the French plane trees, cypresses and umbrella pines that line the waterways. There’s much more to the canal though too...
Between the many vineyards and waters of the montagnes noires (Black Mountains) the landscape is dotted with villages that are steeped in history. The canal provides you with access to fine gastronomy and local wines, small markets selling local products and restaurants – all found at the water’s edge.
Etangs (large ponds) can be found on route and are perfect for swimming, while the nearby beaches are great for cooling off. Or why not add the Nicols splash pool to your boat – it’s heated and with filtered water and can be towed along behind your canal boat without a licence (as long as the total length of canal boat and splash pool is less than 13m).
Whatever cruising route you choose, be it a short break or longer holiday, we’re sure you’ll be wowed by a boating holiday on the Canal du Midi.
Although it was the idea of King Louis XIV to connect Toulouse to the Mediterranean, the Canal du Midi was designed by engineer Pierre-Paul Riquet between 1667 and 1681. It was originally named ‘Canal Royal en Languedoc’ but then renamed the Canal du Midi in 1789 by the revolutionaries.
At 360km and with 328 structures (bridges, locks, aqueducts and tunnels) it is a true work of art and was the largest construction site of the 17th century in France. Since 1996 it has also been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site further increasing its fame worldwide and thus making it a must visit boating holiday destination.
In the past, the winding waterways through the many vineyards were used to transport goods by barge along the Canal du Midi. In the 17th century this helped in the development of the wine trade of the region. There are still traces of this history today – for example the village of Le Somail where the Nicols base is located owes its name to the old French ‘sommeil’ (meaning ‘sleep’) because in the past this hamlet offered barge pilots a safe and relaxing place to stop overnight.
Canal boat crews exploring the Canal du Midi on board our self-drive canal barges will move from one charming place to another. In fact, when we’re describing the Canal du Midi to people, we explain it as the Canal du Midi being the thread that connects a necklace of pearls. Below we share our top 5 ‘pearls’…
The city of Carcassonne is possibly the most beautiful of all the places you’ll find dotted along the Canal du Midi. It is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and is ideally located between the two Nicols bases at Le Somail and Port Lauragais – so the perfect stopover location during your boating holiday. With an abundance of history, fine food and wines, street performers and interesting festivals there are so many reasons why we recommend you and your crew explore this delightful medieval city.
Known as the Gaul southern capital, the city of Narbonne is packed full of historical treasures to be explored. Some of these date back to Roman times – such as the underground ruins of the Horreum and the Via Domitia (the first Roman road built in Gaul) – while others such as the Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur Cathedral and the Palace of the Archbishops are from the medieval period. In addition to feasting on history, visitors to Narbonne will also be able to feast at some great restaurants and try the regional specialities at the excellent local markets.
Redesigned in 2017, the remarkable Fonséranes lock ladder remains unique in France with nothing else like it. An unmissable feat of engineering, the site arouses the curiosity of visitors to the Canal du Midi with many visitors every year – not just people who are arriving by boat but also those who arrive on foot or by bike just for a glimpse of this exceptional structure! The lock ladder is very close to Béziers which is also another great place to enjoy a stroll through.
The village of Le Somail is where you’ll collect your canal boat from and is the starting point of your boating holiday on the Canal du Midi. Our Nicols base has been located in Le Somail for more than 20 years and we’re proud to have a home in what is known as one of the most beautiful villages in the region. It is typical of the type of many villages found along the Canal du Midi so we recommend you discover what makes it so charming.
Constructing the Canal du Midi gave engineer Pierre Paul Riquet many challenges – but thankfully none that he couldn’t overcome with a bit of imagination! Thought had to be given on how to supply the canal with water, how to ensure that it was navigable in all seasons and also how to bypass the natural obstacles that would be in the way. Its completion was a real technological feat for its time – and one that is still admired in the present day.