I had always wanted to bike along the Canal du Midi in the Languedoc region of southern France; however, in my initial research, I encountered reports of rough paths with tree roots sticking up and unmanageable paths. Either I was lucky or all those reports were wrong because the bike ride along the Canal du Midi from Carcassonne eastward and westward was perfect: not too long, not too bumpy, and beautifully shaded. Ideal conditions for summer biking.
History Of The Canal du Midi
The Canal du Midi is 240 kilometres long and runs from Toulouse to the Étang de Thau which is near the Mediterranean. It is one of the oldest canals in Europe with 65 locks and it was engineer and salt tax collector Pierre-Paul Riquet who initiated the construction of the canal in 1665.
The King wanted the canal because it enabled the transport of goods between the Atlantic and Mediterranean, within France, without having to go through the Strait of Gibraltar, which the Spanish controlled. That route was costly and dangerous. Having the Canal du Midi made trade easier and more lucrative for exporters.
While the King supported the idea, it was Riquet who paid for it using his own money and in the process, he almost went broke. Sadly, he died in October 1680, months before the project was finished in 1681 and it took his family over 100 years to recoup their investment and pay off the debts.
The canal was originally intended for the transport of goods, however, the Industrial Revolution and the increasing use of trains made this mode of transportation obsolete, at least for commerce. Today, the Canal du Midi is frequented by leisure boats and at times there can be a line up to get through the locks.
Bike Ride Along The Canal du Midi From Carcassonne
The tourist office has an excellent (free) guide called, “Walks Nature and Heritage” (“Balades entre Nature et Patrimoine”). In it you’ll find various bike routes within Carcassonne, along the canal, and to other places outside of the city. I was just interested in biking along the Canal du Midi and in the end I actually did two routes: one going eastward to Trebes and the other going westward for about an hour. Both routes originated from the Carcassonne train station.
You may read about “towpaths”. These were originally used by horses to pull the boats along the canal. Today, the towpaths are used as the bicycle path. They are not paved and 95% of my ride was on a dirt path and the remaining on gravel. The path is just for bicyclists and pedestrians so you don’t have to worry about any cars.
I brought a picnic lunch and had it by one of the locks; however, there are some restaurants at the final destination, Trebes, so it’s up to you. But one thing you should certainly bring is water.
Route #1: Carcassonne To Trebes (26 km return)
I began my journey where the most boats were docked: near the Carcassonne train station. The “official” distance and time to bike from Carcassonne to Trebes is 11 kilometres and 1 hour (1 way); however, you will no doubt be stopping a lot to take pictures and to watch the boats navigate the locks (les écluses), so this 1 hour journey can be much longer. In my case, I decided to go beyond Trebes for a few kilometres just to see what it was like.
Route #2: Carcassonne Westward To Epanchoir de Foucaud (8 km return)
When I got back to the Carcassonne train station, I decided I wanted to see the “other” side of the Canal du Midi and was happy I did even though the beginning of the route was not as direct.
It began with biking along Promenade du Canal, down Avenue Pierre Semard, Impasse des Tramways, and then finally one reaches the towpath. As I have no sense of direction I was amazed I found the route but once I did it was worth it. There were lovely trees providing a canopy over the canal so of course there were more photo ops. Only a few boats went in this direction so the area seemed quieter.
I rode as far as Epanchoir de Foucaud which used to have three locks. There is now just a small place to have a drink or ice cream. It was a perfect spot to stop. I then turned around and headed back to Carcassonne. This perfect day’s outing was 34 kilometres and took about 6 hours.
Bike Rentals In Carcassonne
There are a number of bike rental offices in Carcassonne and most rent a variety of bikes including ebikes, road bikes, and mountain bikes. I got a basic hybrid bike in town (ALTER-ride at 16 Rue Courtejaire) and was provided with a helmet, lock, basket, and tire repair kit. Cost for the full day was 22 Euros.
While in Carcassonne, be sure to check out this amazing deal: lunch at the Michelin-starred restaurant, La Barbacane in La Cité. Well worth a visit.
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