The Canal du Midi, a remarkable feat of engineering in the 1600s, today provides a picturesque, tranquil, and richly cultural route for cyclists. This complete route takes you from its start in Toulouse, through the extraordinary fortified town of Carcassone to the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean Sea, passing en route villages that seem stuck in time. As a bonus, you ride in the middle of two great wine regions: the Corbieres to the south, and the Minervois to the north, with opportunity to taste along the way! This trip is a great family biking itinerary - kids will love Carcassonne and the beaches, and parents will love the safe easy cycling!
Day 1 : Arrival in Toulouse
Upon your arrival in Toulouse, settle in to your hotel and freshen up, and then take some time to explore this lovely city. The capital of both the French department, and the larger Midi-Pyrenees Region, Toulouse is also the heart of Europe’s aerospace industry, home of both France’s Airbus Company and also a great attraction park, the Cité de l’Espace. Its world renowned university is one of the oldest in Europe (founded in 1229), and it was already the capital of the Visigoth Kingdom in the 5th century! A city with unique architecture made of pinkish terracotta bricks, earning it the nickname la Ville Rose ("the Pink City"), Toulouse counts two UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Canal Du Midi, and the Basilica of St. Sernin, on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route.
Day 2 : Toulouse to Castelnaudary 60 Km
You have a long, but easygoing ride today, as it is very flat, and almost completely on lovely, paved bike path. Pass your first locks and canal projects on route to the small town of Castelnaudary, built on the foundations of the original Roman town. It is hard to imagine the centuries of warfare incurred here, as you wander the lovely small streets, eventually loved by Catherine de Medicis, when, as King Henri II’s wife, she becomes Countess of the region. The port here is developed as one of the main stops for barges on the Canal du Midi’s route, with a large (7 hectare) water basin. Castenaudary is also the capital of one of the region’s great specialties, the rich stew of beans, duck, and pork called cassoulet!
Day 3 : Arrival in Carcassonne 40 Km
It is hard to believe that Carcassonne is real, when you first approach it from afar. The ancient city, or Cité, (a settlement here from as far back as 3500 BC), sits majestically high, and is ringed completely by its castle-like ramparts. The city and its fortifications were rated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. You'll soak up the view from your hotel, located right by the medieval walls, before wandering in to explore the cobblestoned streets. You can take a walk around the ramparts, taking in the panorama to the vineyards and plains below, and explore the many twisting streets and boutiques, or sit in a café and watch the world go by before your dinner.
Day 4 : Carcassonne to Siran 45 Km
You have a relaxing, easy ride today, as it leaves Carcassonne and follows the roads and bike paths along the Canal (flat!). Your route takes you through a mix of villages with odd names, stemming from the regional language, which for centuries was not French, but the local "Occitan": Marseillette, Puichéric (with its 13th century church and annual pig festival) and La Redorte. You pass another feat of canal engineering as well, the bridge of Orbiel, taking the canal over the Orbiel River! At the end of the day leave the canal bike path to ride through the tiny roads and villages of the picturesque Minervois vineyards – perhaps stop for a wine tasting, as your ride is almost finished... Your goal is the beautiful Chateau de Siran, in the heart of the village of the same name. Dinner at your hotel this evening.
Day 5 : Siran to Cabezac
Your ride today starts in the middle of a beautiful terrain of vineyards and small villages, before returning to the Canal bike path in Homps, an ancient commercial port, where the regional barrels of wine were loaded into boats for the journey to Bordeaux. The small village today is charming and quite tranquil, making it hard to imagine its busy past. You’ll continue along the Canal bike path all the way to Le Somail, with its pretty bridges, at which point you leave the canal again to pedal through the olive groves, vineyards, and flowered fields of the scenic surrounding countryside. You are headed for the hamlet of Cabezac, sitting on the Cesse River, with its natural still pools. By the hotel, using the river for power, is a working olive mill, where you can stop for a taste of the production of the "eternal trees". Night in Cabezac itself, with dinner at the hotel's excellent restaurant.
Day 6 : Cabezac to Villeneuve-les-Beziers
Today’s ride is a little longer, but it is easygoing cycling all the way, along the Canal du Midi to the villages of Colombiers, and Capestang. Be sure to stop and admire the “Tunnel de Malpas" which allowed barges to continue their route passing along its 165 metres of tunneled underground vaulting. No one believed that the canal's engineer, Pierre-Paul Riquet, could complete this feat, and in fact the King even ordered that he stop, and deviate the canal's route. He feigned obedience, but completed the tunnel in secrecy, unveiling it only after his project was done. Enjoy two other feats of canal engineering: the Fonserannes locks, and the Orb Aqueduct (in effect a bridge, carrying the waters - and traffic - of the Canal du Midi over the Orb River). Near the end of the day, you pass by Beziers. Detour in to the town if you like for a visit – we provide a small walking tour, or return tomorrow if you prefer; your charming hotel is in Villeneuve-les-Beziers, just 5 km further along the Canal.
Day 7 : Loop ride to the beach in Valras
Your ride today is pretty, and easy, not following the bike path, but tiny un-trafficked roads, through vineyards and fields. You are heading towards the Mediterranean Coast, passing the lively town of Serignan, and then on to Valras. This former fishing village at the mouth of the River Orb has retained its old charms with its seafront reminiscent of Nice, its beautiful turn of the century villas, and its Casino. The fishermen of the village sell their fresh wares in the traditional covered market every morning. There are 4 km of pristine beach, and a lively marina with over 220 boats moored up the edges of the Orb River. Visit the unusual Palais de la Maquette, a museum/shop in a previous restaurant, with displays of LEGO and K’nex models, some of which have made it into the Guinness Book of World Records! The ride is short so you can enjoy the beach, or take the time to return to Beziers for some explorations at the end of the day.
Day 8 : Villeneuve-les-Beziers to Sete
Before leaving town, be sure to visit the old town centre. You can buy fruit, bread, and cheese at the market for your picnic. You will ride right to the end of the Canal de Midi today, saying good-bye to it, as it empties in to the sea at Agde. Stop to admire the beautiful Renaissance buildings of this town, as well as its St Stephen’s Cathedral. From there, enjoy the luxury of the beautiful new bike path that follows the sandy beach for 12 kilometres before arriving in the lively port town of Sete itself. Be sure to pack your bathing suit today as you will want to jump into the waves! Dinner in Sete this evening is included.
Day 9: Extra day in Sete
Optional ride back to the beach
(up to 24 km)
Sete is a lively and charming port town. After your breakfast, walk the few steps to the covered market hall, the heart of the neighbourhood, and open every morning; you can take the opportunity to buy a few things from the vendors for a picnic, and then head back a few kilometres along the bike path of the Mediterranean, to hang out for the day enjoying the sun and waves!!! If you want, be back in Sete later in the afternoon to join the daily tour of the “Criée”, the return to port of the town’s fishermen, the fluid ballet of them unloading their goods, with the “music” of the seagulls flying around, and then on to watch the daily fish auction. You can also join one of the various boat or fishing tours offered by locals, or take a hike up the 400 steps to Mont Saint Clair, to enjoy the panorama onto the port and town.
Day 10 : Departure - Bon Voyage!
After a final breakfast, you can catch the train from the Sete for your further travels.