5 Of The Best Places To Visit On Your Canal Du Midi Cruise

Could there be a more leisurely, quintessentially French holiday than cruising along a canal at your chosen pace, stopping off to sample the delights and delicacies of the region? We certainly haven’t found it.

What we have found, however, is the perfect iteration of that idyllic holiday vision; the 360km network of waterways known as the Canal du Midi that cut a swathe through Southern France, linking the Atlantic to the west with the Mediterranean to the east. 

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it typically takes around ten days to traverse the canal by barge, all at a pace that allows for plenty of exploring. But what should you see on your trip along the Canal du Midi? We’re here to help with that; here are 5 of the best places to visit on your Canal du Midi cruise.

BORDEAUX 

Whilst we wouldn’t want to confuse you with semantics, the term Canal du Midi is sometimes used to refer to a combination of two canals, the Canal du Midi and the Canal de Garonne, whilst these two canals are always sometimes described collectively as the Canal des Deux Mers. Today, we’re looking at the bigger picture and considering the whole stretch of water and just a handful of its highlights.

The Canal de Garonne, opened in 1856, connects two of France’s truly great gastronomic cities, Toulouse and Bordeaux (the canal actually ends in Castets-en-Dorthe, but you can follow the Garonne River the rest of the way to Bordeaux). So, regardless of what you’d like to call it, we’re starting our tour of this great waterway in Bordeaux, perhaps the most picturesque city in all of France. 

Nicknamed The Pearl of Aquitaine, and with the surrounding wine region considered to be the finest producer of premium plonk on the planet, the city itself is relatively flat and walkable, with the majority of Bordeaux’s main cultural landmarks, including Bordeaux Cathedral, the Basilica of St. Michael and Place Royale, the huge central square, all easily accessible on foot. 

Don’t forget to visit Sainte-Catherine, Europe’s longest pedestrian street for a leisurely shopping experience, and if you’re keen to learn more about the city’s most premium produce, its wine, then you have to visit La Cité du Vin, the world’s best wine museum. Boasting panoramic views of the city, it’s the ultimate place to sample a few drops. And the best bit? You won’t need to worry about allocating a designated driver for when you’re finished, as, instead, your canal boat awaits!

TOULOUSE 

Onwards to Toulouse, one of France’s great culinary capitals, and the start of the Canal du Midi proper. It would be rude not to disembark and dine out, don’t you think?

The city boasts several Michelin-starred restaurants, but if you’re looking for an ultra-modern, refined take on the food of the city and region, then we just love chef Pierre Clément’s cooking at Py-r in Toulouse’s old town. 

Alternatively, for something more traditional, with funky local sausage, nourishing cassoulet, and the gorgeous, almond heavy biscuits known as croquants all native to Toulouse, there are plenty of affordable bistros in the city ready to fill you up and leave you merry. We particularly love Cartouche, on rue Pierre-Paul Riquet. Run by a husband and wife team, expect the warmest welcome and simple, tasty market food that truly nourishes the soul. 

Once you’ve had your fill of Toulouse’s gastronomic heritage, it’s time to explore. Bisected by the Garonne river, it’s known as the ‘pink city’ because of its pastel-hued properties, and is a gorgeous place for a wander before you embark once again on your cruise down the Canal du Midi.

CARCASSONNE & NARBONNE

The ancient citadel of Carcassonne is another must-see place on your tour of the Canal du Midi. A towering fortress overlooking the River Aude, the town is visible for miles as you approach, its winding, hilltop medieval ramparts and numerous watchtowers looking like something from a fairytale. 

If you’re keen to walk the ramparts and enter the medieval castle, Château Comtal, that defines the citadel, then you’ll need to book a guided tour. Alternatively, you can appreciate Carcassonne from a distance, on board your boat as you cruise along the river and onwards to another historic settlement along the Canal du Midi, Narbonne.

One of the last legs of the canal before it pools into the Mediterranean, the town’s medieval quarter is beautifully preserved, with the Cathédral St-Jus, one of the tallest cathedrals in all of southern France, defining the place. Another highlight is the Pont des Marchands, a Roman-built bridge and UNESCO World Heritage Site, that you’ll pass under should you choose to cruise the Canal de la Robine which runs through the old town.

Read: 5 of the best small towns in the south of France for a mini break

SÊTE

Occupying (by some estimations) the final leg of the Canal du Midi, the town of Sête is a defining feature of the waterway, as the town itself was built simultaneously to the canal to serve as its final stop and outlet for it to reach the Mediterranean. 

Geographically, it’s a fascinating place, as it sits on a landmass akin to an island, between the Thau Lagoon and the sea. If you’re arriving hungry, you’ll be pleased to hear that Sête is famous for its seafood, with mussel and oyster farming prevalent in the lagoon.

Perhaps the best place to enjoy the fruits of the sea and this particular type of farming is at La Senne, a restaurant run by a family of tuna fishermen. You’ll know you’re in good hands when you arrive; a huge display of the most sparkling fish and shellfish greets you!

MONTPELLIER

Though it might feel appropriate to finish your canal tour in Sète, if you’re keen to keep on cruising then you’ll be pleased to hear of an extension of sorts from the Canal du Midi, in the form of the Canal du Rhone à Sète between Sète and Montpellier, which stretches for a manageable 30 km northeast.

Known as being one of the sunniest cities in France, Montpellier sits on the Mediterranean coast and is an elegant, sophisticated place to spend some time.

Explore the city by the new modern tram lines which were designed by the luxury designer Christian Lacroix, or simply head to L’Écusson – Montpellier’s Old Quarter – which is a charming tangle of narrow streets, boutique shops, cute cafes and restaurants. 

Some of the city’s key attractions are found here, too, including Montpellier Cathedral, the basilica of Notre-Dame-des-Tables and Musée Fabre, which houses one of the world’s largest collections of European fine art.

While you’re in the old town, why not check out the Jardin des Plantes, France’s oldest botanical gardens, boasting 2500 species and a spectacular mid-19th-century greenhouse. Just south of the garden is the superb restaurant Le Petit Jardin, serving up a seasonal menu of locally sourced ingredients, sensitively cooked with a real lightness of touch. Do book in advance for a seat outside in the garden.

And as we find ourselves whiling away the hours in such a laid-back city, our canal cruise comes to an end. We hope you’ve enjoyed exploring the Canal du Midi as much as we have!

If you’re keen to further extend your holiday, then check out these 4 luxury holiday ideas in Alpes-Maritimes, Southern France.

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