Glimpses of houses through the trees lining the Midi Canal give the first signs that, after three days of walking, you have reached the town of Castelnaudary.
Founded in the early twelfth century, Castelnaudary grew around a château which was built here in 1118. Over the centuries, the town’s fortunes rose and fell—it was decimated in 1355 during the Hundred Years War but was later made the capital of the Lauragais area under the rule of Catherine de Medici. At this time, civil and criminal court buildings were erected here next to the château.
In 1623, the château was dismantled under the orders of Louis VIII and later that century, a prison was built here which remained in use until 1926. Today, the court buildings are a school and the jail houses a museum featuring the Canal du Midi.
The hardships of the Hundred Years War gave birth to cassoulet—a rich bean stew made from a variety of meats and white haricot beans, slow cooked until tender. Castelnaudary has become famous for this dish and, each year plays host to the Fête du Cassoulet during the last weekend of August. Most restaurants have their own version on the menu, so be sure to try it no matter when you visit.
As the canal winds through the town, it widens to form the Grand Bassin, a large reservoir used to regulate the water level of the canal. It is here that many people travelling the canal by boat start or finish their journey, as the port is home to several boat rental companies.
As you leave Castelnaudary and continue walking towards Carcassonne, the canal drops several metres in altitude, passing through the quadruple locks of Saint-Roch. Spare a though for those beginning their boating holiday here and who may now be wondering how much hard work awaits!
If you decide to spend a rest day in Castelnaudary and have the afternoon free, a twenty-minute taxi ride will take you to Abbaye de Villelongue, a Cistercian monastery founded in 1180. Beautifully restored, but remaining in a state of ruin, the buildings evoke a sense of timelessness and provide a wonderful contrast to your walk along the canal.
Which long-distance walk visits Castelnaudary?
The Midi Canal from Toulouse to Carcassonne
Where is it? Link here to the Google map
Distance from the previous village of Labastide d’Anjou: 9.7 kms (6.1 miles)
Market Day: Monday
Accommodation is available at:
Hôtel du Canal
Hôtel de France
Le Clos Fleuri
La Maison du Cassoulet
Hôtel du Centre et du Lauragais
Le Grand Bassin
Le Clos d’André
Villa des Roses
Camping les Fontanilles
Hôtel du Canal