The Canal du Midi is a canal which crosses the whole South West of France from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.
More exactly, it starts in Langon, some 100km after Bordeaux, where the Garonne river is no longer navigable, and ends in Sète. Until Toulouse it is also called "Canal latéral à la Garonne", after it is called "Canal des deux mers" (canal of the 2 seas), making its way thanks to hundreds of waterlocks (is the term exact ? "écluse") between the foothills of the the Pyrenees and the Massif Central, in the winelands of the Occitania.
The Canal du Midi was built in the end of the 19th century by Naopoleon III, who wanted to improve river transports and create an alternative to the unpredictable Garonne, whose navigable deepness was too costy to maintain. Once as I was a teenager, running on the shores of the Canal with my father, we found a 5 cents coin from Napoleon III near a hole where people were doing some pipe works.
One of the major monuments of the Canal is in Agen, the city I come from, where the gigantic "Pont-Canal" was built, an aqueduc allowing the Canal to cross over the Garonne and continue its way on the other shore. 539m of length on 22 piles, some 50m height, 12.5m wide, with 9 m of water width in it.
For many decades the Canal du Midi was a busy axis of transport, but its activity decreased during the second half of the 20th century. In the 90's, almost no industrial barges were using it anymore, concurrenced by rail and road transports. On the other hand it was the rise of touristic use of the canal, and touristic yachts became more and more numerous, partly due to the popularity of the French South West amongst English and Dutch tourists.
The canal shore were in very bad state in the beginning of the 90's, but since then haven't stopped to improve, with many cycling trails created, and touristic infrastructures. Today, the whole canal is cyclable in its whole length, and it makes a fine long distance cycling trail. Not for a city bike in all parts, but always flat, easy and quiet.
Today, the Canal du Midi is classed UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The sport I practised the most in my life is not cycling, neither mountaineering.
I rowed from the age of 10 to 18 in Agen, and some other 8 years in other various places (Toulouse, Glasgow, Boulogne, Wroclaw).
But the 10km of the Canal from Agen to Saint-Jean-de-Thurac (the closest lock which makes the end of the training distance) is an area I know by heart with all smallest details. I also cycled other portions the canal hundreds of other times, and I propose you this gallery of photos.
Fly to Bordeaux, Toulouse, or any major city located on the Canal.
Basically the Canal is never very far from the main road.
Here is a map of the Canal du Midi:
Agrandir le plan