France From The Inside

France From The Inside: The Southern Canal du Midi in France

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Chose the southern end of the Canal du Midi because of its varied scenery. From the tree-lined canal to the open waters of the Etang du Thau.

This southern journey will take you from the more typical Canal du Midi with its soft green water and the shade giving trees planted along its bank's through the lakes, salt marsh and Islands along the Canal du Junction towards the sea at Porte la Nouvelle. You will sail on rivers, descend a staircase of eight locks and spend time on the open waters of the Etang du Thau. Your journey will finish by navigating the narrow river Le Lez from the Canal du Rhone a Sete. If you need variety from your holiday, this is the section of the Canal du Midi to choose.

The Canal du Midi is living history. Started in 1839 and yet 11 years later boats were using the canal and it was fully open in 1856. Today it is almost totally voted to pleasure. Hire-craft of differing shapes and age line the marinas. Old Dutch barges lovingly restored or converted to spacious homes use the locks and aqueducts designed for barges to move wine, coal and general cargo. Converted Rhine barges, their decks filled with lounges and plunge pools pass by looking exactly like a floating hotels should look.

A canal or river journey forces you to look at the countryside you travel through in a different way. You travel slowly feeling its rhythm, sensing why the villages, towns and cities came to be built. Why they are there, what purpose they served and what purpose they fulfil now. You can go into the centre of cities. Become part of a town or village in a way car travellers never can. Travel by boat brings a special mindset: you slow down: Time becomes less important. The pace of your holiday can be chosen to suit your needs. With scenery to suit everyone, this southern section of the canal is within walking or cycling distance of the Mediterranean. So this is one of the few canal holidays in Europe where you can also swim in the sea.

You can feast on sardines, oysters, Fruite du Mere, ice cold beer and jugs of refreshing rosé for less than €20 a head in Palvas le Fotte. You are away from the normal tourist haunts, eat with the locals and try a few guide book phrases. Pointing helps! Eating out in France is invariably a pleasure. Eating outside in the relative cool of a summer evening even more so. Sit in an alleyway, away from the centre leading to the river in Adge, watch the men and boys practice for the weekend water jousting. Enjoy fish soup, thin cut French steaks washed down with good red wine by the carafe and home-made ice cream. And simply watch people.

You will enter Narbonne by passing under a bridge the Romans built. They built it to take the Via Domitia over the River Aude. But in the Middle Ages the Aude changed course and abandoned Narbonne, so the Archbishop of the day's schemed to have a canal built to restore Narbonne's connection to the sea. You can enjoy the result by spending a night, free, berthed in the centre of one of the most beautiful cities in France. Next morning restock your galley with wonderful fresh fruit, fish, cheese and bread from the vast market hall which overlooks the canal. Breakfast on deck that morning as the city comes to life around you will be one of the memories of the holiday.

If holidays are about memories, snapshots of time, then the Canal du Midi has the ability to fill albums. Storks nesting on posts near Montpellier:Beautiful little white Terns fishing off the Isle Ste Lucie: Pelicans flashing pink as they fly in convoys overhead as you cross the Etang du Thau: White horses and black cattle: Villages popping up around bends. City cathedrals seeming to grow out of fields as you slowly approach. Memories which will last you a lifetime.
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