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Cruising Through Serenity: Our Seven Day Bareboating Adventure Along the Canal du Midi From Castelnaudary to Homps


Bareboating, Languedoc, Wine Region
Cruisng Boat, Canal du Midi Castelnaudary France

Step aboard a French canal boat and embark on a seven day journey of discovery along the enchanting Canal du Midi, from Castelnaudary to Homps. As you glide through the picturesque countryside of southern France, you'll be transported back in time, immersing yourself in the history and beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage site.


The Canal du Midi, with its lush green banks and charming villages, offers a truly unique way to experience the French countryside. From the moment you set foot on the boat, you'll be enveloped in a sense of tranquility and adventure. Savor the gentle pace of life as you meander along the calm waters, passing by vineyards, ancient aqueducts, and 17th-century locks.


This seven day itinerary takes you through some of the most captivating sights of the region. Explore the medieval town of Carcassonne, marvel at the engineering feat of the canal, and indulge in the delicious local cuisine and wines. Whether you're a history buff, a nature lover, a wine connoisseur or simply seeking a calm and relaxing holiday, the Canal du Midi promises an unforgettable journey filled with magic and charm



Day Zero: Castelnaudary – The Journey Begins

Bareboating, Wine Region
Le Clos d'Andre just off the Canal du Midi, Castelnaudary France

As has been our practice since CaptK retired, we travel to Europe in the Spring or Fall to avoid the crowds and high season prices. We planned this trip for fall, as it is also my favorite time to visit wine regions. We boarded the train south from Paris to start our adventure in Castelnaudary, known as the capital of cassoulet. We arrived later in the afternoon and stayed the first night at a local bed & breakfast, with plans to stay on the boat our second night in Castelnaudary. Le Clos d'Andre is a quaint bed and breakfast that exuded warmth and hospitality, with a cozy room that promised a restful night.



After a walk around town and along the canal to get our bearings, we enjoyed our first meal in the south of France. Located just off the main square, our visit to La Maison du Cassoulet was one of the highlights of the trip. This charming restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating. We chose to enjoy the beautiful September weather and sit outdoors. We feasted on flavorful traditional cassoulet, brimming with tender beans, local sausages and an earthy red wine produced in this region, Minervois. It was a wonderful meal to kick off our time along the Canal du Midi.


Day 1: Castelnaudary - Historic Charm and Cassoulet


Exploring Castelnaudary along the serene Canal du Midi was an absolute pleasure. The day started with a leisurely stroll along the picturesque canal, where I admired the peaceful waters and historic locks. Then off to visit a cemetery that dates back to the towns founding in 1103 CE. We also toured the castle and church which were rebuilt after being destroyed in 1355 CE during the Hundred Year War. The church has both a Gothic and Renaissance entrance and a bell tower that soars 56m above the church. We also checked out the grocery and wine shops evaluating our options for provisioning. Before making our way to the Le Boat Base, we stopped for lunch at Le Compter des Halles. This lively restaurant directly on the main square, served the best foie gras salad! If you are a lover of foie gras, this is not to be missed.


We charter our canal boat through LeBoat. They are the largest canal/river charter company in the world. If this type of travel appeals to you, you can charter with them through Europe and North American. After a brief orientation and canal briefing we were able to board the boat after the staff gave us instructions on traversing the locks. I would highly recommend that you watch several UTube videos on maneuvering the barge boats through these ancient locks. It is also helpful to walk up to the first lock and watch the boats move through the process.


We returned to town to shop for provisions. After storing them, we opened a bottle of wine, enjoyed it on the top deck as we watched the activity in the harbor awaiting the arrival of our friends. After flying from the United States to Barcelona and taking the train to Castelnaudary, they were ready to stretch their legs. We walked into town and

treated ourselves to an unforgettable meal at Chef David's restaurant, where the innovative dishes were a perfect blend of local ingredients and sophisticated techniques and another sampling of cassoulet, of course. The day concluded with a stroll back to the Le Boat Base. Castelnaudary, with its historic charm and delightful cuisine, had truly captivated my heart.



Day 2: Bram – A Timeless Treasure


As we set sail from Castelnaudry, we took in the serene beauty of the surrounding countryside, dotted with lush vineyards and rolling hills. As we passed through the town's impressive double staircase lock, we were fascinated by the engineering feat that allows boats to ascend or descend in a series of chambers. We were ready to enjoy the tranquility of the waterway as we begin our journey towards Homps, soaking in the sights and sounds of this historic canal.


A Day of Locks


We were up early, excited about the adventures that awaited us. The locks open preciously at 8:00am, allowing us time to enjoy a cup of coffee and the sunrise. before starting out. The locks, ingeniously designed to manage the different water levels across the canal, are crucial for boats to traverse this stunning waterway that stretches over 240 kilometers.


With each lock, I felt like I was stepping back into history, imagining the time when Pierre-Paul Riquet masterminded this engineering marvel in the 17th century. Observing the centuries-old mechanisms still in operation, I was in awe of how they facilitated transportation and trade for hundreds of years. We learned quickly that patience is key when navigating these locks. It is a team effort where everyone has a role, whether it’s securing the boat or managing the gates. A top tip is to keep sturdy gloves at hand for handling ropes and remember to communicate clearly with fellow travelers.


The camaraderie among boaters at each lock, sharing stories and tips, made this experience not just a journey through beautiful landscapes but through time and human ingenuity as well. There are 17 lock chambers along the 16km section of the canal between Castelnaudary and Bram. We had lots of of practice with the locks on the first day. It is important to remember the locks close at 7:00pm as well as from 12:30 pm- 1:30pm for lunch, so plan your days accordingly.


Evening in Bram

Bareboating France
The Delight of Slow Travel, Cruising the Canal du Midi

Our first stop was the village of Bram. I could not help but be enchanted by its rich history and charming atmosphere. Founded during Roman times, Bram boasts a distinctive circular layout that hints at its medieval past, with narrow, winding streets encircling the ancient church at its heart. The town is a delightful maze, every turn revealing a new nook or cranny that tells a story of centuries gone by. The village center is about 2km from the canal. We had added bikes to our boat for an small charge. We hopped on the bikes and headed into the village.


For canal boaters, Bram is a haven of convenience and warmth. The marina facilities are top-notch, offering everything from clean showers to well-stocked grocery stores for provisions, ensuring we have everything we need for our journey. If you are there on Wednesday, you have the opportunity to shop in their weekly Farmer's Market. Strolling through the town, I was greeted with friendly smiles and warm "bonjours," making me feel instantly at home. Our time in Bram was not just a stopover but an immersion into the life of this ancient yet dynamic community.



After mooring the boat, and biking into town, we explored the historic town then made our way to Le Petit Bramais for dinner. The atmosphere is contemporary, with an outdoor patio. The delectable French cuisine set the tone for the culinary adventures that lay ahead. Each dish was a masterpiece, and the local wine was the perfect accompaniment. Don't miss the Duck Confit or the Beef with Roquefort Sauce, they are just heavenly.



Day 3: Bram to Carcassonne


Alzonne, Biking and Pasteries


We left our overnight spot early, ready for the next adventure. Our first stop was Alzonne, France. I absolutely adore this charming town. They do not have an organized docking area so we used stakes and ropes to secure the boat to the bank. The Canal du Midi has a bike trail along most of the waterway. Following the GPS on our phone, we used the bike trail, to reach a paved road, then turned onto some tractor trails through agriculture fields to reach the town.


Canal du Midi, Bareboating
The Bakery in the Main Square of Alzone, France

The old world town of Alzonne is steeped in history and surrounded by lush agricultural landscapes. The town itself dates back to the medieval times, with its cobblestone streets and historic buildings transporting you back in time. The surrounding countryside is dotted with vineyards and olive groves, creating a truly idyllic setting. And let's not forget about the delightful bakery in town, where the heavenly aroma of freshly baked bread and pastries fills the air. I fell in love with starting my day with a warm croissant and a cup of coffee from a local bakery, soaking in the peaceful ambiance of life in the South of France. Alzonne truly is a hidden gem in France, and I feel grateful to have discovered its beauty.


Villesequelande


Exploring Villesquelande feels like walking into a beautifully preserved slice of history. The village itself dates back to the medieval era, and wandering its narrow streets, you can almost hear the echoes of centuries old tales. Surrounding Villesquelande is a lush landscape adorned with vineyards, a testament to the region’s rich agricultural heritage. The fertile soil and favorable climate make it a paradise for producing exquisite wines. As you stroll along the tranquil canal, lined with towering plane trees, the gentle hum of cicadas serves as the perfect soundtrack to your journey. This village, with its perfect blend of history, nature, and agriculture, captures the essence of the idyllic French countryside.


There is a shaded picnic area along the canal, where we stopped to enjoy lunch. Afterwards we crossed the ancient stone bridge and meandered into town. There is a grocery store on the far side of the town if you are in need of provisions.


An Evening in Carcassonne

bareboating france
Carcassonne Castle Shot from the Canal du Midi

We reached Carcassonne Marina Basin on the afternoon of the third day and decided to stay for two nights, allowing ourselves ample time to soak in the magic of this medieval fortress city. Visiting Carcassonne is like stepping into a storybook come to life. The imposing Carcassonne Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stands proudly with its double-walled fortifications and 52 watchtowers, bearing witness to centuries of fascinating history from Roman times through the Crusades. Walking through its cobblestone streets lined with shops and restaurants, you feel enveloped by rich cultural heritage and local life.



As the day winds down, a serene dinner at La Marquière in the heart of the medieval castle is the perfect touch of elegance. Savoring each bite of their exquisite local cuisine, paired with a glass of Languedoc wine, while surrounded by an ambiance of timeless charm, truly encapsulates the magic of Carcassonne. Our first dining experience in Carcassone was delightful where the atmosphere was as spectacular as the food. The Foie Gras ravioli is rich, silky and oh so delicious!



Day 4: Carcassonne - A Medieval Gem


Touring Carcassonne


.We spent all day Saturday in Carcassonne, starting our day at the Farmer's Market. Saturday mornings are an absolute treat with the bustling farmers market at Place Carnot, where the air fills with the tantalizing aromas of fresh baguettes, artisan cheeses, and ripe fruits. Chatting with friendly vendors and sampling their produce is an experience in itself.


Next stop was the castle and old town.Touring the castle in Carcassonne was a magical experience. As I walked through the cobblestone streets, I was surrounded by the towering stone walls and turrets of the ancient fortress. The intricate carvings and detail in the architecture were simply breathtaking, and I found myself marveling at the craftsmanship of the stone masons who built this incredible structure centuries ago.


The castle is often refered to as the Cathar Castle. The Cathars, a peaceful, deeply spiritual Christian sect, emerged in the Languedoc region of southern France during the 12th century, drawing many with their devout adherence to a simplified, ascetic lifestyle and unique dualist beliefs. Enthralled by their history, I relished the dramatic tale of their rise and tragic fall. By the early 13th century, the Catholic Church saw these "heretics" as a burgeoning threat, leading to the brutal Albigensian Crusade. Carcassonne, with its majestic fortified walls and rich history, played a pivotal role in this dark chapter. It served both as a refuge and a battleground, with its inhabitants’ fierce resistance and ultimate fall in 1209 embodying the Cathars' plight.


The city's eventual capture marked a significant turning point in the campaign to eradicate the Cathars, forever entwining Carcassonne's legacy with their heartbreaking story of faith and persecution. Exploring the cobbled streets and centuries-old ramparts, I felt a profound connection to this poignant history, a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the relentless tides


From the top of the castle walls, I could see panoramic views of the picturesque French countryside, with rolling hills and lush vineyards stretching out as far as the eye could see. Inside the castle, We explored the grand halls and rooms, imagining what life must have been like in medieval times. The castle was filled with history and charm, and I couldn't help but feel a sense of wonder and awe as I wandered through its ancient corridors. It was a truly unforgettable experience, and one that I will always cherish.


Wine Tasting at O' Vineyards


As the sun was setting, we had the most enlightening experience, wine tasting and dining at O' Vineyards outside Carcassonne, France. ( About 20 minutes by taxi) The property was stunning, with beautiful vineyards stretching as far as the eye could see. The winery itself was charming and inviting, with warm and welcoming owners ready to guide us through a tasting of their incredible wines. The Minervois blended wines were a true standout, with rich and complex flavors that danced on my palate with each sip. The Cremant (a sparkling wine orginally created by the monk Dom Perignon was named after) was equally impressive, with its fine bubbles and crisp finish making it the perfect pairing for our delicious dinner. Ours was a small group tour. We had a couple from Ireland that joined us. We were all instant friends united by a love of wine. The experience at O' Vineyards was a excellent foray into the wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon Region..



Day 5: Trebes – A Riverside Retreat


After enjoying copiousness amounts of the local wines at the O' Vineyard., we were moving a bit slow on our 5th day on the Canal du Midi. Fortunately, we did not have far to go. Although we did have to clear five locks, only one was a step lock with multiple chambers..



Disembarking the boat in Trebes, I was immediately captivated by its blend of history and modern life. This town, with roots tracing back to Roman times, has a way of making visitors feel like they were walking through a living museum. We spent the afternoon wandering through its picturesque streets, enjoying a cocktail along the canal, marveling at the 13th-century Church of Saint-Étienne, and the old stone bridges that provided perfect backdrops for photos. The sun was shining, the air had a hint of fall in it. It was a beautiful afternoon to enjoy Trebes. As a side note, it was Sunday, therefore none of the shops for provisions or supplies were open. This is generally true throughout France, although in larger cities grocery stores may be open until noon on Sunday.



As the day gave way to a crisp evening, CaptK and I headed to La Poissonnerie Moderne for dinner, where the contemporary atmosphere intertwined beautifully with traditional French cuisine. The fresh seafood was a standout, particularly abundant seafood boats, presented with a flourish at your table. Also on the menu was CaptK's favorite dessert, Profiteroles. Of course we could not resist ordering both. The entire experience was like a little slice of heaven, making our stay in Trèbes an unforgettable moment on our Canal du Midi journey.



Day 6: Stuck on the Canal Between Trebes and Homps



As the sun dipped below the horizon, painting the sky with hues of orange and pink, I found myself in an unexpected situation, stuck in a 15 boat traffic jam at a lock on the picturesque Canal du Midi. The Lock Keepers close the locks and head home at 7:00pm whether there are boats waiting or not. We were stranded between Trebes and Homps, an idyllic stretch of the canal, faced with a challenge as the shops and restaurants in Marseillette were closed, when we stopped, forcing me me to cook sausages and frittata for Lunch. This left our provisions woefully insufficient for the night ahead.


However, our resourceful group sprang into action. One adventurous friend took off on a bike to Puicheric and returned triumphantly with bottled water purchased at a gas station, saving the day. All other stores in Puicheric were already closed. This unforeseen adventure underscored the importance of planning for the unexpected and ensuring we stock up on essentials in the larger towns along our route. Despite the hiccup, the camaraderie, laughter, and the beautiful starry night turned our predicament into a memory we would cherish.



Day 7: Homps – Journey's End, But Not Before Some Last Experiences


L'Aiguille Lock


In the morning, we were in the second group of boats that passed through the lock and continued our progress to Homps when the locks opened at 8:00am. As we approached the L'Aiguille lock on our Canal du Midi journey, a wave of excitement washed over me, knowing we were about to encounter one of the most delightful sights on the canal, the whimsical sculptures that dot this enchanting spot and a shop to pick up some provisions.


As we waited in line to pass though the lock, each foot forward revealed another fantastical creature or imaginative creation, meticulously crafted and bursting with personality. There were metal fish leaping joyfully from the water, a quirky dragon perched by the bank, and abstract shapes that made you ponder their inspiration. These sculptures, with their vibrant colors and playful forms, transformed an ordinary lock passage into a magical gallery. It was moments like these that made the journey along the Canal du Midi an endless source of wonder and delight.


La Redorte


Cruising into La Redorte was like walking through a postcard-perfect village, with vineyards stretching as far as the eye could see. The heart of this charming town beats with the rhythm of wine agriculture, and you can almost taste the rich history and dedication in every grapevine neatly lined up along the rolling hills.


Our adventure took a flavorful turn as we decided to pause for lunch at the local bakery. La Mie'nervoise a cozy nook bustling with delightful aromas. The savory pastries we picked up were nothing short of heavenly, golden, flaky crusts cradling rich, flavorful fillings of cheese, herbs, and local meats that burst into a symphony of tastes with each bite. As we sat outside, enjoying our impromptu feast under the warm sun, it was easy to see why La Redorte holds such a special place in the hearts of all who visit. It was a perfect blend of delicious food, captivating scenery, and the unmistakable charm of rural France.


Minerve


Finally, we reached Homps, a serene and charming village that provided the perfect conclusion to our canal adventure. Moored for our last evening, we took a taxi ride to the ancient fortress of Minerve, a scenic journey through the lush vineyards and rolling hills of the Minervois region. As we wound our way through the picturesque countryside, the anticipation built with each turn of the road.


Upon arrival, Minerve stood majestically atop its rocky perch, its medieval walls telling tales of sieges and resilience. Walking through the cobblestone streets, I marveled at the blend of natural beauty and historical grandeur. After our explorations and a refreshment we returned to our taxi, still buzzing with the magic of the fortress, and enjoyed a pleasant ride back, We were able to see Lac de Jouarres with its beautiful beach. There is no swimming allowed in the Canal du Midi, so this lake offers boaters a cooling dip on warm summer days.


Homps Our Final Meal on the Canal du Midi



Homps, with its rich history as a bustling port for trading wines, felt like stepping into a vibrant, living tapestry of the past. The ancient charm of the village, with its quaint stone buildings and the whispers of centuries-old stories, embraced us warmly. After freshening up from our excursion to Minerve, we headed to En Bonne Compagnie, where the delightful aromas of Provencal cuisine greeted us like old friends. This was one of the best meals we had along the canal, savoring each bite of our delicious meal. We celebrated the final leg of our journey with joy and gratitude, feeling deeply connected to both the history and the present moment of this enchanting place.


Throughout the trip, the tranquility of the Canal du Midi was a balm for the soul. The gentle lapping of water against our boat, the rustling leaves overhead, and the occasional heron gliding by became familiar and cherished sounds. Every town and every meal added a unique note to the symphony of our journey.


As I reflect on this incredible adventure, I find myself already yearning to the rivers of France. The combination of serene boating, historical exploration, incredible wines and culinary delights along the Canal du Midi has been nothing short of enchanting. If you’re looking for a relaxing yet enriching travel experience, bareboating on this historic waterway should be on your bucket list.





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