Experience the Canal du Midi in all its forms: it's a historical landmark listed as UNESCO world heritage, royal channel for river tourism in Europe AND an iconic holiday destination in Occitanie! This one-of-a-kind feat of engineering runs from Toulouse to Sète with a cocktail of fabulous voyages, pretty towns, bike rides, boat trips, "guinguettes" (open-air cafés), Mediterranean scenery and vibrant events to soak up Occitalité when summer arrives.
“It will be a great work of peace, capable of perpetuating the memory of its creator for centuries to come”: Louis XIV was right on that day in 1666 by predicting that the Canal du Midi would go down in history. He failed to say that he saw it as a good way to deprive the King of Spain of the taxes levied at the Strait of Gibraltar, the only passage then existing between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.
The prestige of the Canal du Midi was to exceed royal hopes since, a few centuries later, UNESCO recognized in it "an exemplary expression of human creative genius". Digging a canal between the two seas was an idea that was already trotting in the minds of the Romans. However, no one had found a way to supply this canal.
This was the riddle that Riquet solved. This was his stroke of genius. He imagined capturing the streams of the Montagne Noire South of the Tarn River in order to bring them to a collecting reservoir: the Saint-Ferréol Basin, today a Great Site of Occitania. The water was then directed across the Lauragais Plain to the threshold of Naurouze, the highest point on the route of the canal: here, Riquet created a summit level, which allowed the water to flow with regularity on the Atlantic side on the one hand, and on the Mediterranean side on the other..
The complex of The Sources of the Canal du Midi has been classified among the Great Sites of Occitania.
From Toulouse to Sète via Carcassonne, the towns and cities the Canal du Midi flows through are all Grands Sites Occitanie. Absolutely unmissable!
Boat hire companies will help you choose your houseboat and show you the ropes.
A wealthy bourgeois born in Béziers in 1604, Pierre-Paul Riquet was not an engineer but a tax collector for the lands of Languedoc. Modest, he did not boast of his rare intelligence or his marvellous practicality. Colbert, however, was not mistaken and convinced Louis XIV to support Riquet's project. The sequel is worthy of an epic novel.
The 14 years of work, the 328 structures built along the Canal, the quarrels with the engineers and financiers of the Sun King, the depletion of the royal funds: nothing prevented Riquet from progressing with the safest shipping routes. He went so far as to invest his personal fortune in it.
Pierre-Paul Riquet passed away in 1680, just a year before the work was inaugurated. It was his son Mathias who completed the Canal du Midi, this serene waterway on which it is so pleasant to sail today.
The Canal du Midi is:
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When the royal treasury ran out of funds, Pierre-Paul Riquet himself paid the workers who worked on the construction of the Canal. There were up to 12,000 of them, often farmers living near the project. In a way, Riquet was a precursor of social protection programmes since he even paid workers when they were sick or when the rain interrupted the work.
Good times guaranteed on boat tours sailing up the Canal du Midi.
Pierre-Paul Riquet is still very much alive in the minds of the inhabitants of Occitania and you will be able to meet him, greet him and get to know this fascinating man better in different places in our region. Statues of the inventor of the Canal du Midi stand in Toulouse at the head of the allées Jean Jaurès, and also on the allées de Béziers. You may also see his tombstone, at the foot of one of the pillars of the Cathedral of Saint Etienne, in Toulouse.
In the countryside of Toulouse, you may also discover his castle, at Bonrepos-Riquet, surrounded by a magnificent park where he designed a life-size model of the hydraulic mechanism of his masterpiece.
Pierre-Paul Riquet also has his own museum, right next to the Saint-Ferréol Lake in Haute-Garonne, the Reservoir. A must-see!
Away from the hustle and bustle, the timeless Canal du Midi is a 241km channel beneath the shade peppered with lock houses, classic Southern French houses, guinguettes and spectacular feats of engineering such as the Malpas tunnel and famous Fonséranes 9 Locks in Béziers.
The Canal du Midi was extended from Toulouse with the Canal de Garonne, built between 1836 and 1856. The two canals cover a total of 360km waterways to form the Canal des Deux Mers: cycle along the towpath on an epic adventure between the Atlantic and Mediterranean (V80 route). Your Occitanie pitstops: Moissac, Montech, Toulouse, Le Seuil de Naurouze, Castelnaudary, Carcassonne, Le Somail, Béziers, Agde, Sète. View the itinerary.
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