One of the more memorable and interesting travel experiences my wife Anne and I have enjoyed in recent times was traveling with friends on the Canal du Midi in southern France by barge. Completed in 1681, the Canal du Midi was built to serve as a shortcut between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, which prior to the Canal’s completion in 17th century, took a full month. The advantages of avoiding the sea voyage around Spain at that time were considerable, it was a tenth of the distance and therefore faster, there were no storms, no hostile Spain to demand tribute and taxes and best of all, no Barbary pirates.

The canal is roughly 150 miles long with some 91 locks which serve to ascend and descend a total of 620 feet over its course of travel. We began our trip just outside of Toulouse and ending up near Sète just a short train ride to Perpignan. The early fall weather of late September and early October was perfect. The summer crowds and boat congestion on the Canal which can rival the New Jersey shore traffic were long gone. Far, far away from the big cities, our journey took us into what has been described as “profound” France, a decidedly rural and sublimely “through a distant mirror” time-travel into the past.

It did not take us long to become experts operating at our barge and negotiating the locks, of which we encountered a total of 54! Our accommodations included an easily maneuverable four stateroom self-driven barge with a top speed of about 8 knots (9 mph) and enough bicycles to travel into the nearby towns that are found along the Canal. Not unsurprisingly, the food and wine along the way in the small villages and towns never failed to delight us and vistas and sightseeing were nothing short of idyllic. Carcassonne, Castlenaudary (the birthplace of cassoulet) and Homps each had their own special personality and appeal.

Despite its age, the Canal di Midi, to this day, is seen as a marvelous engineering accomplishment and is one of the most popular pleasure waterways in all of Europe. In fact, as Thomas Jefferson noted when he traveled on the Canal du Midi, “Of all the methods of travelling I have ever tried this is the pleasantest.”

See the images here.
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