There is something incredibly peaceful about a walk along the Midi Canal. Away from the busy-ness of boats negotiating the locks (écluses en français), and surrounded by ancient plane trees, it’s easy to forget the modern world exists. There is no noise apart from the squawking of ducks, no difficult decisions about which turn to take—the canal leads the way and all you need do is follow.
What’s to see and do along the way?
Spend a day or two in Toulouse
Many people visit Toulouse without ever noticing the canal which skirts along the edge of town, but this is where a walk along the Midi Canal begins—in France’s fourth largest city.
Known as la Ville Rose for the beautiful red brick buildings lining the streets, Toulouse is a popular tourist destination and a favourite city for many visitors to France, boasting many museums, churches and cathedrals.
You’ll find my favourite things to do here 5 unforgettable moments in Toulouse.
If you have a few days to spare before starting your walk, rent a car or take an organised day trip to the nearby towns of Albi, Cordes-sur-Ciel, Lourdes, Moissac or Montauban or the most beautiful villages of Bruniquel, Castelnau-de-Montmiral, Lautrec or Puycelsi.
Thousands of smiling sunflowers
Take a walk along the Midi Canal in summertime—between late June and early August—and you’ll be rewarded with the happy smiling faces of thousands of sunflowers. Enjoy!!
Indulge in some exceptionally fine dining
Cafés along the Midi Canal are surprisingly few and far between. When you do find one, stop for lunch or a coffee or a cold drink—any excuse will do to put your feet up and relax for a while.
For a real treat, bookend your walk with a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant in either Toulouse or Carcassonne. Prices range from affordable to quite pricey depending on whether you visit for lunch or dinner and choose from the degustation or à la carte menus
There are three Michelin-starred restaurants to choose from in Toulouse—Les Jardins de l’Opera, Py-R and Michel Sarran and another three in Carcassonne—Le Domaine d’Auriac, La Barbacane and Le Parc Franck Putelat.
You could, of course, stay a few extra nights and try them all!
Pick up a picnic lunch at the markets
Grocery shopping is never a highlight of my day unless, of course, I’m wandering through a French market. Here you’ll find all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables and locally produced delicacies such as cheeses, yoghurt, wine and cured meats—perfect for a picnic lunch or tonight’s dinner if you are camping.
There are several held each week in towns along the Midi Canal and if you have chosen to stay overnight in any of these places, it is worth timing your walk to coincide with market day.
In Toulouse, there is a market held every day except Monday. Other morning markets you may encounter between Toulouse and Carcassonne are—Baziège on Saturday; Ayguesvives on Wednesday; Villefranche-de-Lauragais on Friday; Castelnaudary on Monday; Bram on Wednesday and Carcassonne on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Explore the medieval city of Carcassonne
Despite being listed as a must-see destination in most travel guides and an overnight stop on many organised tours of France, I must confess that I didn’t warm to the medieval city of Carcassonne.
But was it an unforgettable moment along the canal? Absolutely!
And would I travel along the canal and not visit? Of course not!
Today, the town is divided into two distinct sections. The lower area, or Ville Basse, surrounding the canal is a busy, modern town with all services. A short distance away, and easily accessible from the canal by bus, is the medieval city which dates back to the first century BC. At that time, it served as an important stop on the trade route between Toulouse and Narbonne and the wall that surrounds it was built by the Romans to protect the village from attack.
A small fee will grant you access to the fortified walls and the interior of the château which is now a museum displaying artefacts from the area over the centuries. There is also a constantly running documentary which provides a fascinating insight into the history and evolution of the town, including several restorations that have been carried out.
When you’ve had your fill of history, there are dozens of cafés and gift stores to keep you busy for the rest of the day.
Take a walk around at 5 favourite fotos from Carcassonne.
Although I found Carcassonne a little ‘over restored’, I suspect I am in the minority. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below…