The Canal du Midi is among the top attractions in southern France, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996 Extending from Toulouse on down to the seaside commune of Sete, the historic waterway helped to solve a major transportation issue when it was completed in 1681. Sailors no longer had to sail around the Strait of Gibraltar in order to get from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean and vice versa. Today, the canal is a great place to take unique tours or even an interesting way to move around the south of France.>
For centuries on end, there was a desire to build a canal in France that connected the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, the Romans had notions of creating such a canal long before France became France. Among the issues that plagued the early planners was the varied topography of the region. France is quite mountainous, and the varied terrain didn't exactly lend itself well to the construction of a canal. In the mid-1600s, a man named Pierre-Paul Riquet proposed that he could solve the various construction problems. In 1681, the Canal du Midi was officially opened under the name of the Canal Royal de Languedoc.
Since it begins in Toulouse, the renowned Midi Canal is often referred to as the Canal du Midi Toulouse. From Toulouse, the manmade waterway extends for some 150 miles to the Etang de Thau (Thau Lake). This lake at Sete offers access to the Mediterranean. For those who are trying to get from Toulouse to the Atlantic Ocean along the Canal du Midi, on the other hand, the waterway connects to another canal that is known as the Canal de Garonne. This other canal was constructed in the 1800s and links Toulouse to the commune of Castets-en-Dorthe. Once in this commune, boaters can switch to the Garonne River in order to complete the trip to the Atlantic Ocean coast.
The best way to appreciate the waterway is to actually get out on the water in some sort of boat. All kinds of crafts are used to ply its waters, including rowboats and luxury hotel barges, and there is certainly no shortage of interesting places to visit along the route from Toulouse to Sete. Among them is the fortified city of Carcassonne. Boats are relatively easy to rent for those who wish to take their own tour along France's Canal du Midi. Hopping on a sightseeing boat is also possible, and a night or more in a barge hotel is an option that is worth considering. No special license is needed to rent a boat, and it should also be noted that there are fees to pass through the various locks.
Boating isn't the only way to enjoy the Canal du Midi. A pathway extends along the canal and can be used for biking and walking. Skaters are known to take advantage of the two tarmac sections of trail that begin in Toulouse and Beziers, and it isn't uncommon to see people taking to portions of the canalside trail on horseback.
The various locks that are found along the Midi Canal are open daily from mid-March to early November. From the beginning of November to mid-December, the canal closes for maintenance. During the mid-December to mid-March period, the locks are open Monday through Friday upon request only. On major holidays such as Christmas and Bastille Day (July 14), the canal closes.