After week one of our cruise on Escargot Bleu, our self-chartered Canal du Midi boat trip we booked with H2olidays to travel with France Afloat on one of their EuroClassic 139 barges we were finally starting to get the hang of things. Taking a Canal du Midi cruise, while challenging, is very rewarding and you really get to see France in a way that can only be done at a leisurely pace.
Day 8 – Marseillette (well that was the original plan!) PK127
There were washing machines and a proper supermarket in La Redorte. It’s funny how when travelling, finding proper supermarkets and somewhere to do laundry can be quite exciting or is that just me? On the way back to our barge, carrying our sweet smelling clean clothes and of course, more cheese, we discovered a great secondhand bookshop with a good selection of English books run by a French lady who had lived in New York for 12 years. If you find yourself in La Redorte, pop in, you’ll find the bookshop just by the post office.
It was almost midday by the time we had completed all our errands, so of course, by the time we reached the first set of locks, they had already closed for lunch. We moored close by and started to prepare a salad, suddenly we heard a voice shout through our door making us jump. ‘Bonjour madams, monsieurs!’ There at the door stood an elderly man with a basket full of fruit and vegetables. Five euros later, we had buckets full of tomatoes, figs and green beans.
We had three sets of locks to pass through today, two doubles and our first triple! The first lock opened promptly at 1 pm, we passed through with ease. The second set of double locks, the Aguille lock was far more interesting. There were lots of weird, wonderful, bit naughty and very bizarre sculptures and artworks.
Strangely Fascinating Artwork and Kinetic Sculptures at the Aguille Lock on the Canal du Midi in France
Video of Navigating the Locks on the Canal du Midi
Just one more set to get through, our first triple then we could moor for the night. We arrived just before 5 pm, the locks in the summer close at 7 pm, so plenty of time we thought, but no! There was a queue. We were the 7th boat in line, the lock only takes three boats at a time and roughly 25 minutes to get all the way through. When we arrived a very large hotel boat was coming down through the locks and took much longer than 25 minutes. How did it even fit inside the lock?
At 7 pm, the red light came on, we weren’t going to Marseillette tonight but we were first in line for tomorrow morning when the lock opens again at 9 am. Six other boats were waiting behind us and at least five on the other side. Marseillette was still four kilometres away, easily walkable but none of us fancied the walk back along an unlit canal path. But luckily we had visited the supermarket that morning, you can never have too much wine, cheese and pate!
Day 9 – Trebes PK118
At 9 am, everyone was up and waiting for the green light to enter the lock. But a posh hotel boat arrived with two passengers on board, and as inexcusably it tends to be the way for those with money, they were allowed to jump the queue, but by 09:30 we were on our way. A short distance further on we passed through another lock before mooring up outside Marseillette. A bit soulless looking from the canal side but as we walked up into the village centre, it improved a bit, but still not one of the prettiest towns we had visited along the Canal du Midi. In fact, our spot last night by the lock was much more beautiful!
We stocked up on bread and stopped for a coffee in an Irish bar which seemed to be the only place open in town. We were going to have lunch there until we saw the prices on the menu, €12.50 for a croque monsieur – oh mon dieu!
We continued onto Trebes. The mooring bays with electricity were full, but we found a free spot to moor very close to the centre. There were some nice looking restaurants by the canal side for drinks, but they were a bit pushy about eating there, so we wandered across the town bridge and found Lou Tres Bes, a very friendly restaurant with reasonably priced menus. Just €18 for a three-course meal. Jon said it was the best duck he had ever eaten.
Day 10 – Carcassone PK108
Awoke early and headed out for a walk around the town and find a boulangerie. These were some of my favourite moments on the trip watching the sun rise over the canal, the promise of another hot day. Plus Trebes is quite a charming town, the Main Street is rather busy with traffic, but once you cross into the old town it’s lovely and peaceful.
Apparently, there was supposed to be a market in Trebes on Wednesday mornings but could we find it? We tried all the obvious spots such as the place du marché but alas, could not find.
Beryl and I walked to the first lock of the day. About four kilometres and as yet, it wasn’t too hot. Since many of the beautiful plane trees that line the Canal du Midi have had to be cut down due to a killer fungus, there isn’t always that much shade. I really enjoyed the walking, just sitting on a canal boat and doing nothing, as lovely as it sounds can get a little monotonous especially if you’re not involved in the actual navigating, but walking or cycling alongside is great.
We must be getting experts at the locks now as we passed through each one today without too much hassle. We pulled into Carcassone at around 3:30 pm. Seeing as Carcassone is one of the main highlights along the canal, we decided to moor here for two nights. In our boat manual there was an email for the harbour master ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) – umm, wonder if we can book a mooring spot in advance. Woohoo, yes we can, the promise of a night or two with electricity was rather exciting. Just as we arrived into Carcassone, we saw the sign, this spot is reserved for Escargot Bleu! Yay, it worked.
In the afternoon, we wandered the old streets of the Bastide Saint-Louis, Carcassone, admiring the old buildings and churches, stopping for coffee and delicious cakes along the way. Later as per the recommendations of the tourist office, we dined at Chez Fred, it was an excellent meal, but I guess we had been spoilt the night before in Trebes, so we left feeling a bit disappointed.
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Day 11 – Carcassone Pk 108
This morning, we decided to have breakfast at a patisserie in the heart of Bastide Saint-Louis, and a wander around the fresh food market that takes places three times a week.
From here, we walked to the medieval city of Carcassone. It’s well signposted so you won’t get lost. The medieval city of Carcassone is simply stunning. The last time we were in this part of the world was in March a year ago, and there were hardly any tourists at all. Today in August, there were quite a few more people but not overrun like many tourist spots. We wandered the backstreets, climbed the castle walls, browsed in the trinket stores, then stopped for a wonderful three-course lunch at Le Plô. There are loads of restaurants in the medieval part so you won’t starve but this one looked good, had excellent reviews and was tucked away from the busy square.
Although we had walked from the canal to the medieval heart which takes about 30 minutes or so and it’s a lovely walk, we jumped on a bus back to the boat. The number 4 bus stop is located just in front of the main entrance to the Cité de Carcassone, and there was a bus waiting, and it stopped only two minutes walk from our boat. How convenient and just €1,00 per person. For up to date bus schedules, you can pick one up at any tourist office in Carcassonne.
Day 12 – Villesèquelande PK 91
After topping off the boat’s tanks with water, we headed further upstream to our next destination. We passed through two locks before arriving at the Hermínis Lock which had just closed for lunch. According to our guidebook, there was supposed to be a nice creperie at the lock, but still stuffed from breakfast, we just wanted a light snack and coffee. The waiter at the La Rive Belle Ecluse d’Herminis said he would serve us crepes and coffee, only if we bought an expensive salad that we didn’t want, even though no other diners were in the restaurant. Shame, it looked nice, had good reviews, maybe he didn’t like travellers, perhaps he wasn’t in a good mood that day, but no matter. Instead, we returned to the boat and snacked on cheese, fruit, pate and fresh French Bread until the lock reopened.
We pulled into Villesèquelande around 4 pm. A cute little place to moor with picnic tables and benches but alas no electricity but it was free to stay for the night. We strolled into the village centre, stopping briefly to admire L’Orme de Sully, one of the oldest elm trees in France, planted during the time of Henry IV, although to be honest, it didn’t look like it would be around for much longer.
Finally, we reached the only restaurant in the village Le Relais Romain, excellent food but having ordered “saumon avec legumes,” I was hoping for more veggies than just fries but the grilled salmon was delicious.
Day 13 – Bram PK 80.5
A leisurely sail today, with only one lock to pass through. Beryl and I walked the first few kilometres to the first lock. A lovely walk alongside the canal on a shady path, passing fields filled with sunflowers, quaint old villages and churches and a large number of cyclists.
We arrived into the pretty port of Bram, mooring for the night right outside the L’ile aux Oiseaux Restaurant. As we struggled in our schoolgirl French to make a reservation for lunch, the waitress laughed and said, ‘It’s ok, I’m English!’ Were we really that bad? Mais Oui! A good lunch, a little bit expensive, no special lunchtime offers on weekends.
To walk off our lunch, we walked into the town of Bram, about 1.5 kilometres away from the canal along a bicycle path. Apparently, it’s the largest, concentric circular town in Europe, so we needed a drone shot. Maybe because it was a Saturday, but the town seemed rather soulless. Some lovely old houses, but definitely not one of those towns where you say ooh I could live here.
Day 14 – Castelnaudary PK 64.5
A total of 18 locks to pass through today to get to Castelnaudary today. We set off fairly early in case we couldn’t get through all the locks on time as we had to leave the boat by 9 am tomorrow or be charged for every hour we are late! Beryl and I walked between some of the locks, as they were so close, it was easier to walk than keep getting on and off the barge. The scenery along this section was gorgeous; sunflowers, overhanging trees, clear reflections in the water.
Our final lock to pass through was a quadruple! And just like at the start of our journey where we watched the boats pass through the Fonserannes staircase lock in Béziers, many onlookers came to observe and take photos, and get in the way! ‘Excusez-moi monsieur, can’t you see I’m trying to tie up our boat, get out of the way!’
After the final locks, we passed under a bridge and entered into a large picturesque basin with a small island, lined with charming old houses. This was Castelnaudary, our final stop, we had made it!
Once we were settled, we went in search of a celebratory drink to celebrate surviving two weeks on our barge but not such an easy task before 7 pm on a Sunday evening. Finally, we struck luck, enjoying a drink or two before heading to La Belle Époque, one of the few restaurants open on a Sunday night that was recommended to try Castlenaudry’s famous dish the cassoulet, a rich slow-cooked casserole containing white beans, duck meat and pork skin.
Stuffed, vowing after our return to the real world, to go on a strict diet, we crawled back to the Escargot Bleu, collapsed on the bed and fell into a deep sleep.
Day 15 – Time to say goodbye to Escargot Bleu
At 9 am, it was time to say goodbye to Escargot Bleu, our home for the last two weeks. For all its quirks, we will miss our boat. The two boys looked particularly depressed at saying goodbye. Would we do it again? Yes, it would be fun to maybe try out the canals of Belgium, Holland and other parts of France. Could we live on a boat? Jon still wants too, but that’s a story for another day.
As we drove away from the port, a car behind us honked. ‘Slow down, Jon!’ Beryl and I shouted. In reality, Jon had just hit 20 km/h, the car behind us was honking impatiently behind us for going to slow, but after two weeks at a maximum of only 8 km/h, it felt more like 200 kph than 20!
Items lost overboard or broken due to overhanging tree branches on our cruise along the Canal du Midi.
- One mug of tea
- One large washing bowl
- One hat lost forever
- One hat blew off in the wind but rescued by a random man with a boat hook
- Jonathan M disappeared twice into the reed bed, I didn’t laugh, I looked concerned honestly I did!
- Another random man who wanted a light for his cigarette disappeared into the reeds, never saw him again!
- Lost a stake while trying to moor the boat
- Fell into the cabin after rain, I was bruised but the butter dish and jam jar I was holding remained intact!
Top Tips for Cruising the Canal du Midi
- Don’t arrive at locks between 12-1, it’s lunchtime. Only the busy locks at Trebes stay open during the summer months at lunch.
- 24-hour laundry facilities available at Intermarche in La Redorte.
- Stop at the second set of locks as you leave La Redorte to see some interesting artwork.
- Allow plenty of time to get through the triple lock just before Marseillette.
- When passing through a lock, try to avoid being the first one in, that way you don’t experience the rush of water as they fill the lock.
- Reserve a mooring spot in advance for Carcassone and stay an extra night or two!
- Spend a night in Homps, we didn’t but kind of wish we had.
- Use biodegradable shampoos etc.; water from the shower and sinks (grey water) goes straight into the canal.