Stretching 150 miles from the Garonne Rover to the Étang de Thau on the Mediterranean coast, the Canal du Midi is one of Europe’s greatest engineering marvels.
Both the Romans and Charlemagne had the idea of constructing a waterway connecting the Atlantic to the Med, but, in the 17th century, it was finally realised by the unlikeliest of people. It was a farmer and tax collector, Pierre-Paul Riquet, who proposed the plan that would lead to the Canal’s creation.
Riquet had a detailed knowledge of the region’s rivers, and had the idea of building a dam and artificial reservoir fed by the waters of Black Mountain, from which the Canal could be filled. The first stone was laid in 1667 and in all, 12,000 labourers were employed on the project. Some 15 years later, shortly after Riquet’s death, construction finished in Beziers and the then-named Canal Royal de Languedoc was opened. At this point, however, the waterway was not linked to the Atlantic, and it was two centuries before Riquet’s full dream was realised.
From Canal Royal to Canal du Midi
The initial purpose of the Canal was to transport wheat, wine and textiles, and over the following years Riquet’s work was reinforced by Antoine Niquet, who also built additional aqueducts and bridges. The French Revolution saw the Canal Royal become the Canal du Midi, and in the early 19th century, Carcassonne was connected to the waterway. By the mid 1800s, the Canal du Midi ran all the way from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and Riquet’s vision was complete.
Decline and renaissance
At the height of its use, the Canal du Midi carried over 110,000 metric tonnes of cargo and a million passengers every year. However, when the railway line between Bordeaux and Sète opened, traffic on the waterway declined rapidly, halving between 1856 and 1879. Its use continued to rise and fall as a result of various government initiatives and competition from other modes of transport, until in the 1990s the Canal du Midi experienced something of a revival, thanks in part to the enthusiasm of British barge tourists.
Today, visitors from all over the world have fallen in love with the Canal, enjoying barge trips on its waters and admiring the beautiful countryside through which it meanders. Other sports such as rowing and canoeing are allowed on parts of the Canal and in dry periods, it serves as a reservoir for agriculture.
Canal du Midi holidays
Canal du Midi Cruise
Enjoy your own gastronomic odysseyEmbark on a journey along sections of the Canal du Midi aboard the enchanting hotel barge, Anjodi, famous for taking Rick Stein on his 400 mile French food exploration in the TV series Rick Stein's French Odyssey. As well as indulging in the fabu...
Canal du Midi Prestige
Ancient cities and idyllic waterwaysFrom the extraordinary fortified town of Carcassone to the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean, travel down tree lined towpaths, over beautiful stone bridges and through some of the prettiest scenery in southwest France, ending each day in e...
Canal du Midi to Coast
Ancient cities and idyllic waterwaysExplore enchanting Carcassonne before some gentle cycling along the Canal du Midi; a picturesque, tranquil and richly cultural route. You’ll encounter timeless villages and sun-baked olive groves on your way to the sandy beaches ...