Day 3 on the long-distance walk along the Midi Canal from Toulouse to Carcassone brings us to 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!
Detour to Abbaye de Villelongue
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.
Where is Castelnaudary, France? Find it on Google maps
One of only a handful of towns located right on the Midi Canal, Castelnaudary is 63.5 kilometres (39.7 miles) from Toulouse. I recommend spending the night here on the third day of your walk.
Tourist Office in Castelnaudary
You’ll find the Tourist Office at Halle de Verdun on Cours de la République.
Accommodation in Castelnaudary (updated 2017)
Camping les Fontanilles
Personally recommended: Hôtel du Canal
Where to eat in Castelnaudary
There are many cafés, restaurants, bakeries (boulangeries) and supermarkets in Castelnaudary—you’ll find something to suit all budgets and tastes. No matter where you choose, don’t forget to try a hearty bowl of cassoulet!
On Monday morning, fresh food markets are held in Place de Verdun. Fill your picnic basket with local fruits, cheeses, nuts or yoghurt before continuing on your walk.
Which long-distance walk in France visits Castelnaudary? The Midi Canal