Boarding the Canal Boat
Montpellier was a great introduction to the Languedoc-Roussillon region; I enjoyed my overnight stay and first full day in southern France. Now that I am somewhat adjusted to the time change, I depart for Béziers to board the boat that will be my home for three nights as I cruise the Canal du Midi.
I will be sharing the boat with Kent from New York and John and Lisa from England. We are on one of the larger boats available for the canal. This one comes with four cabins, giving each of us our own room; they are small but comfortable. The kitchen area is nice and the table folds into a fifth bed, thus creating a boat that can accommodate 10 people if you sleep two per bed. Most groups hire the boat for a week or two and while it can sleep 10, I would not want to try to live with nine other people on the boat for that long. I felt a group of four was a good number.
After we were settled-in, I joined my new friends for dinner in Béziers for a traditional French meal at a local restaurant. During dinner, I learned that the canal was the work of Pierre-Paul Riquet, a French baron turned engineer, who started the construction in the 17th century.
The next day, we started up the motor of our floating motel to heat the water for our morning showers. You should idle the motor for 30-45 minutes to get hot water. After a quick breakfast we begin the cruise along the Canal du Midi. Lined with gorgeous, giant trees, the canal offers a relaxing view. Our first encounter is a lock. One person must pilot the boat as two others jump to shore and hold the boat in-place with ropes as the lock fills with water. Once the water level matches the upper part of the canal, we jump back to the boat and continue. There are many locks on the canal; so be prepared and take turns, it is tiring work.
Besides the locks, you will discover other interesting engineering structures. One such marvel is, the Pont Canal, a water bridge for the canal that actually goes over a flowing river. It was strange to see boats sailing under the canal we were floating on. Another engineering feat is the Malpas Tunnel; it’s part of three tunnels in one. While on the boat, you float through a tunnel with cars passing over on the road above, trains going underneath you through another tunnel, and yet a third drainage tunnel below that. You may stop, tie-up your boat, and go to the visitor center to learn all about it. There is also a dried up lake from the 13th century where the villagers of the time turned it into a geometrical pattern of agricultural fields.
Be sure to arrange to have bikes on board; many towns are just a short ride from the canal and offer wine tasting, great dining and wonderful historical sites. Other towns are right off the canal making it convenient for visiting. One such hamlet is Le Somail. This fun stop has a floating market, a hat museum, and a large bookshop with books in many languages.
My favorite stop was the walled, medieval city of Carcassonne. Roam around, explore, get lost, and have lunch. I enjoyed a local dish called Cassoulet: a hot stew-like meal of meats and beans. I was told that I must have wine with the entrée (of course the French say this about every meal), so I did – it was good.
After three nights on the boat, my cruise ended. I savored the taste the Canal du Midi gave me of southern France – so many fantastic cities and sights to see – I loved the food, the wine, the architecture and the people. Whether you decide to visit by boat on the canal, by train or by car, southern France welcomes visitors and offers them a taste of the good life in a beautiful setting.
Canal du Midi is open for cruising between March and October.Canal du Midi Cruise Companies: www.connoisseurafloat.com www.crownblueline.com Carcassonne www.carcassonne-tourisme.com Southern France www.sunfrance.com Air France www.airfrance.com Rail Europe www.raileurope.com
Michael writes about happenings in the Rochester area, travels across Michigan and destinations around the world. Contact him at Michael@RochesterMedia.com