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Boating Holidays Canal Du Midi

Classic canal architecture, wonderful food and drink and the climate is virtually guaranteed.

The Canal du Midi - tranquil water, bordered by miles of plane trees, and enticing countryside beyond. Add to that some wonderful towns and villages in this special part of France and you have a setting without compare for a brilliant boating holiday. The Canal du Midi is one of the world's greatest canal engineering achievements, and all the more so as it was originally conceived and constructed as long ago as the 17th century!

Pierre-Paul Riquet, the creator of the canal, secured funds from Colbert, Louis XIV's finance minister in 1666, and the canal was completed in 1694. The ambition of linking the Mediterranean with the Atlantic, avoiding the month long journey around Spain, was achieved. The canal prospered until the coming of the railways in 1857, and finally ceased to carry commercial traffic in 1989. It is now used solely by pleasure craft. The entire canal was designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1996.

Freewheel Afloat have the entire 240km length of the Canal du Midi from Toulouse to Sète covered, so you can choose from a multitude of cruising itineraries. The western section features key destinations like Carcassonne and Castelnaudary, and in the east you can strike out beyond Sète on the Canal du Rhône à Sète to the fringes of the Camargue delta and up towards Avignon. The offshoot Canal de la Robine takes you down to the vibrant city of Narbonne.

Apart from the pleasure of cruising on these famous waterways you can spend time ashore in delightful small towns like Trèbes and Homps, sampling waterside restaurants, local shops and Caves du Vin. The medieval walled city of Carcassonne is a spectacular sight, and Béziers with its famous summer wine festivals is a lively and attractive city. East of Béziers you can enjoy the historic towns of Marseillan and Frontignan, and have fun on the fine beaches at La Grande Motte and Carnon. Beyond the striking medieval walled city of Aigues-Mortes lies the Camargue delta, whose wetlands and salt plains are a mecca for birdlife and a delight for nature-lovers to explore.

Places of Interest

Aigues-Mortes - If you are travelling through the Camargue then a visit to this medieval city is a must. The walls that surround it date back to the 13th century and are impeccably preserved. The city is famed for its sea salt production and the breeding of Camargue horses.

Béziers - An historic town with a bustling market on every weekday - the flower market on Friday adds a splash of colour to the centre. The Cathédrale St-Nazaire can be seen from the canal banks. The town hosts a famous 5-day event centred around bullfighting which attracts over a million people every August.

Carcassonne - You can moor up right in the centre of the town and immediately the famous walls of the "Cité" of Carcassonne dominate the skyline. In the summer months the Cité is brought alive with regular carnivals and festivals. The lower part of the town below the fortifications has many pretty cafés and restaurants, making Carcassonne a great place to spend the evening.

Castelnaudary - Once an important boat building town, Castelnaudary supplied many of the vessels that transported goods up and down the Canal du Midi. The town is now famed for its local dish "Cassoulet" - a mix of white beans and pieces of pork and duck. Local versions of the dish can be purchased in an earthenware pot ready for cooking inside your vessel.

Etang de Thau - The second largest lake in France may initially appear daunting, but is worth traversing due to its importance in the fishing industry in the local area. The oyster farms within the lake produce 13,000 tonnes of shellfish every year - thats going to take a lot of Champagne to wash them down! The banks of the lake also provide a habitat for heron and flamingos.

Marseillan - This tranquil town sits on the bank of the Etang de Thau and its port is a protected heritage site. It has managed to keep its historical character as no new building is allowed within the centre, with the majority of buildings dating back to the 17th century. Within the centre there are close to 20 cafés and restaurants serving the local community and a large number of visitors.

Narbonne - Travel down the Canal de la Robine and you will reach Narbonne. Once a bustling port town which sent out wine across the Mediterranean, the town is now home to the "Halles" covered market which operates every day. Its cathedral dominates the town square.

Sète - Known as the Venice of Languedoc, Sète is a port and sea-side town with its own very strong cultural identity, traditions, cuisine and dialect. It is also the hometown of artists like Paul Valéry, Georges Brassens and Manitas de Plata.

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