Canal Du Midi



More Pictures

Having been picked up by our friends in Lyon, we arrived at Beziers in the late afternoon. We found our hotel “Alma” in a tiny backstreet of the 8th century old settlement with it’s cobblestone streets and old stone houses in dire need of repair. The hotel itself was one of them, but once the 3 floors were climbed, we found 3 very clean rooms with original décor and a big roof terrace overlooking the city. Madame “Alma” was very friendly and helpful, although with little English, so my sketchy French was immediately tested.

We walked through the unexpected lovely old center to the Cathedral de St. Nazaire, easily one of the most beautiful and impressive churches I have ever seen, it’s gardens overlooking the Orb River.

For dinner we sat outside at one of the many little restaurants and ordered 4 different types of salads. Our friend Mario was more than a little amazed when he was presented with a basket containing a piece of cucumber, a capsicum, mushroom, a tomato neatly arranged around a big bowl of oil containing what we assumed was the duck liver pate and a knife to cut up the salad vegetable.

Well the pate turned out to be a very salty anchovy paste. (not our fault, but a wrong English translation on the menu – and the whole dish was exchanged without protest after I explained in perfect French that my friend doesn’t eat fish). A bottle of champagne consumed on the roof terrace of the hotel finished of an interesting and funny evening.



After doing a big shop for the boat we made our way to Port Cassafieres and took possession of our hire boat “Tango 15”.

It didn’t take our captain, Austin, and 1st. Officer, Mario, long to get a hang of the engine and steering, and we made our way towards the first locks. With gazelle like grace, us two shipmates, Eva and I, jumped onto the quay to fasten the ropes and secure the boat while the water was gushing in. Travelling through the beautiful tree lined canal, there were always waving and hellos as other boats passed. We managed 3 locks and then stopped under big chestnut trees and made our dinner.

On our after dinner walk along the canal we spotted a large bison rat(nutria) which didn’t help with falling asleep the first night on the water.



Day 2 on the boat was very exciting as we came up to the infamous steps of Fonserannes. There was really no need for anxiety as our team managed the 6 locks one after another without problems, so we didn’t give the many spectators (it was a Saturday) a lot to laugh at. The lock-keepers were very helpful, and had to organize some of the other hire boats (without as expertly crew as ours). Shortly after the steps we also crossed the river Orb over the aquaduct.

After a perfect lunch on deck under the shade of our sun umbrella to shield us from hot southern European sun, we had to pass through the Malpas Tunnel.

In the evening we fastened our boat at Capestang with it’s old very low stone bridge and it’s 2 street centre and semi ruined romanic church.


We had to re-stock our galley and the Sunday market of Capestang was just the right place for this. From here we continued along a 53 km stretch of lock-less canal. The canal becomes more winding here and the landscape changes with vineyards to the right and left and the Pyrenees in the background.

I took my first driving lesson, but relinquished my post as the canal narrowed and overhanging branches were hitting us and endangering the Australian flag mounted at the rear via a Le Boat broomstick.

We stopped at Le Somail, one of the most picturesque villages, but being a Sunday, the cafes and restaurants near the canal were quite busy with tourists.

We visited the old library where the laptop on the front desk stood in stark contrast to the old calligraphic signage, the whole cave-like interior giving the impression of stepping into a Harry Potter Scene with book editions and illustrations of bygone eras.

Trying to stay clear of the Sunday folks we found a kind of beer garden restaurant and had a substantial dinner of pates ala French and in Eva and my case way too much of the local grape.



Due to our over-indulgence the night before we had a late start. The sun was beating down on us. The only relief was the breeze as we moved along the canal and the prospect of curing our hangover with ‘the hair of the dog’ at the church-like wine cellar in Ventenac. Unfortunately the wine we tasted was not to our liking, and after feeling a little woozy from the heat and the diverse samples imbibed, we left without purchase. The only option was there fore to carry on…

So slightly sun struck we made it to Homps where a “Le Boat” harbour offers water, recharge of batteries and another nice little town with a good stock of wine in the local supermarche.

After an excellent dinner of our own creation, we slept really well until a storm hit in the early morning hours.



The storm was very short-lived and I could proceed with my planned washing day.

Later we set off for a walk and ran into 2 Australian couples from Fairlight and Lake Macquarie, formerly from Harbord. As we got talking, the name “A&J Robinson” and “Robinson Strata” fell, and one of the ladies exclaimed:” You are managing our unit in Kangaroo Street! “Quel petit monde!!!”

In the afternoon we carried on, but had to stop at Marseillette because the lock was closed over lunch-time. Aussie and I walked into the small village with yet another old, Romanesque church, and stopped at the village pub for an Espresso.

After lunch we headed to Trebes. We boated past amazing scenery of vinyards, small villages and met a lot of friendly people in the locks. One lock exhibited moving metal and wood sculptures – very humorous: a lady cycling on a bike, a man turning his head and poking his tongue out etc. We also passed over another aquaduct at La Redorte.


The weather was gradually deteriorating and the temperature dropped from the mid 30 ‘s to the low 20’s. Austin and I practiced to manage some of the locks without Eva and Mario’s help to see if we could manage. We had previously observed a couple who, with some difficulties due to less maneuverability of their Narrow Boat, were making fast and untying by themselves. Of course we excelled in this too!

We arrived in Trebes and moored in the boat harbour which was bordered by little restaurants.

We spent the evening and next morning exploring the new aswell as the old part of Trebes and bought way too much cheese – 3kg by mistake – which goes very well with our wine and olives, but might not be too good for my cholesterol.



Like almost everywhere we went in the old town centre the old houses are very dilapidated, which in a way adds to there charm, and only sparsely inhabited. We walked to an amazing old cemetery with huge family crypts and graves full of flowers, most of them artificial ones, as the climate with the high winds and strong sun doesn’t promote longevity of fresh flowers.

When it started raining we had a hard time finding a café where we just could have a coffee as most places are set up from 11.00- 11.30 for lunch and even though there were hardly any customers around due to the weather, there is no flexibility.

Most of the afternoon and evening we spent reading and playing cards.



High winds again and clouded today with a few showers, but we still mastered many interesting locks and arrived at Carcassone in the afternoon.

Due to the boat harbor being in the middle of the city, we had to see the “Capitain” or Harbour Manager, in this case “Manageress” to obtain a berthing place which for the first time we had to pay for. The $ 21 Euros included water, electricity and access to warm showers. It all came with the additional warning, that “a party” was happening in the harbor park and the noise would go to 2am.

We explored the busy but quaint shopping streets with it’s brasseries and restaurants and walked all the way to the old bridge over the Aude river from where you have a great view of the castle of Carcassone, “La Cite”, and found some fantastic spots to make photos.

The “party” turned out to be a huge Spanish Fiesta with 2 bands and speakers as big as our boat. So we enjoyed Salsa and Spanish dance music until 2am exactly, very little sleep though.



Although we woke to flooding rain, we braved the elements to explore “La Cite” and were rewarded with clearing sky and sunshine from lunch-time onwards.

The castle is quite amazing in size, beauty and it’s 2500 year history. The dynasty of Trencavel who had protected the Cathars from Pope Innozenz III’s crusade eventually had to capitulate and the castle was included into the crown’s domain.

The architect, Viollet –le-Duc later in the 19th century restored much of the castle to its original beauty.  Legend says that someone called out to the princess, Carcas, at the end of the siege: “Carcas sonne!” “ring the bells, Carcas and so the town got it’s name.

At lunch-time we sat down in one of the little restaurants and tried the for this region typical “cassoulet” a stew of duck, chicken and white beans – very tasty.

Coming back down into town Spanish flamenco dancers and musicians from the fiesta had spilled into the town square.

We returned to our boat and met up with Eva and Mario, then moved the boat about 500 metres away from the harbor and had a  good nights sleep.



After long discussions, Mario insisted to leave by train this morning to fetch the car from Port Cassafieres and drive it up to our end-station Castlenaudary.

We were all to catch up later in a place called Bram.

Our team was there fore reduced to just the captain and the 2 ship-mates. But I have to say that Eva and I managed the ropes at each lock like a well oiled machine and we reached Bram way before the anticipated time. On the way right and left of the canal were one sunflower field after another and a month ago it would have been a stunning site. However now the heavy crowns although still pointing all in the same direction towards the sun, were drooping and the leaves wilted. As sad and desolate was the village of Bram, 2 kms away from the canal, where we were to pick up Mario from the station. The station itself consisted of 2 rails and an abandoned brick shag and its surrounding streets seemed largely uninhabited. It reminded me of the first scene of “Once upon the time in the West” with Charles Bronson playing the mouthorgan.

 As we still had some time to the train’s arrival we had a coffee in the local hang-out, which I thought was quite courageous. Our café au lait was forthcoming but ‘sans lait’ , the warm milk arriving from somewhere in the back of the place (maybe the cow shed) 10 minutes later when our coffee had got cold.

Never mind, we had a great lunch in the boat beforehand where Eva copied a local recipe of salade au chevres chaud ( a mixed salad with toasted baguette with slightly melted goats cheese- yum.

Eventually we caught up with Mario who had experienced quite an odyssey himself.



Our last day cruising – so sad, but we could make the most of it having to manage another 11 locks some of them being double to quadruple.

We really were experts by now in jumping gracefully to the shore without wetting our feet, jogging leisurely to the top of the lock where we stared into the abyss until captain Austin had expertly maneuvered the boat to one side leaving room for two or more others, catching the ropes at the edge of the tall canal wall and draping it around the boulders.

The real challenge is to hold onto the ropes for dear life, so the boat neither moves too far forward or back as the water gushes into the lock nor bangs into the boat to our side. Well, as I said, it never presented too much of a problem for this crew, but today we could observe the consequence of lay ship-mates work when the front of the boat next to us flooded with water.

A to and fro friendly banter started between our captains and crew, especially after Eva poised her camera to immortalize the whole mishap.

We were goaded to go in front of them in the next lock, and as soon as we were in position, the French captain of the unlucky boat stood atop the bow with his camera in place. Of course we showed him how it is done!

It’s a really nice camaraderie between the boaties, everyone helping the other out. We met some nice people from Cornwall on a Catamaran, exuberant French people, and also bumped again and again(not virtually) into the same Scottish, English and Aussie people at the locks.

The same applies to the lock-keepers who were helpful and friendly without exception. Some live at the lock houses and sell wine, bread and artifacts or run a small restaurant, others are students on Uni break. They all loved the little cling-on koalas or the boomerang key-rings I gave out.

Well, there is a little piece of Australia now floating in the Canal du Midi. One of my little koalas unfortunately fell into the canal when I tried to toss it to a friendly French lady on another boat. Luckily she didn’t join the koala as I only realized after she missed catching it that she was a little inebriated.

In the late afternoon we reached Castlenaudary pretty exhausted after another quadruple lock and were rewarded with a beautiful old-town silhouette above the harbor.

We celebrated our last night on board with a delicious dinner made from most of the left-overs in our fridge, followed by an apple-cake from the local patisserie.



A little sadly we packed up and scrubbed the deck, then handed back the key and were on the way to Arles.

The closer we came to Beziers, the warmer it got. By the time we arrived there the sun was shining and the sky blue. We stopped at Hotel Alma again to collect our sim card, but it hadn’t arrived, so reluctantly we moved to a café on the town square and had coffees and chocolate croissants, soaking up the sun after the cool winds on the upper canal.

On the way to Arles Austin, Eva and I fell fast asleep, so Mario had to drive a sleeping compartment to Arles. We just woke up in time to add to the confusion of trying to find the hotel among tiny, one way lanes of the old city. Had to abandon the car and found Hotel Regence around the corner at the bank of the Rhone and basically adjoining the town wall. A great spot, with free parking in front, helpful receptionist, clean rooms with aircon and about 5 minutes from the Arena and other sites. After a short rest we explored the arena, town square, many very narrow picturesque lanes and found the Place de Forum with its crammed street cafes and had dinner next to the Café La Nuit of van Gogh’s street café painting. I tried the famous French fish soup (because my brother said I had to) and despite not being a fish lover, it was very tasty.

On the way back we stumbled over the Ancient Amphitheatre, the Hotel de Ville on the Place Rebublique and some other van Gogh’s sites, like the yellow house.

© Austin Robinson 2019