Cycle Canal du Midi
|Resort:||Cycle Canal du Midi|
A cycling holiday along France’s historic Canal du Midi and surrounding countryside. Explore medieval walled towns, Cathar Castles, local markets and of course refuel on delicious French cuisine on route.
Canal du Midi – Cycle alongside one of the greatest works of civil engineering of the 17th century
Discover rich histories – Beziers, Narbonne and the walled fortress town of Carcassonne
Carcassonne – Discover this fascinating and impressively preserved walled fortress.
Day 1 Join trip Carcassonne Airport, drive to Bziers
Day 2 Optional ride to Valras Plage, circular route back to Beziers
After becoming acquainted with our bicycles, we cycle out along the Canal du Midi, crossing the River Orb by aqueduct. The Canal’s 99 locks and 130 bridges constitute an engineering marvel and its tree-lined tranquil beauty affords us an ideal opportunity to explore the delightful countryside of this part of south-west France. Connecting old trade routes between Languedoc and Aquitaine, the canal was the brainchild of Pierre-Paul Riquet, a 17th century noble whose persistence and fortitude convinced both Louis XIV and his First Minister, Colbert, of the merits of linking the Atlantic with the Mediterranean. The project was begun in 1667 and took some 14 years to complete, eventually carving a trail some 240km in length, from the River Garonne to Agde on the Mediterranean coast. Unfortunately for Monsieur Riquet he died just six months short of the canal’s completion, so never actually saw what came to be known as ‘Riquet’s Ditch’ finished. River traffic brought immense prosperity to the towns along its course, until the arrival of the Ste-Bordeaux railway in 1857, which all but saw an end to the commercial importance of the canal. Following a route over the nearby hills we ride away from the canal through the undulating landscape and quiet country roads to Valras Plage. Here there is time for a leisurely lunch and the chance to relax on the seaside beach or take a swim before heading inland again to join the canal path back to Bziers for our second night.
As the whole of the Canal du Midi is a World Heritage Site, UNESCO is keen to keep the historical aspects of the area in keeping with it’s origins. Cyclists should be aware that the tow path was originally built for horses to pull cargo barges, hence many sections do not have a modern surface. Ever changing, due to climatic conditions, the sections cycled do include earth and gravel paths with some holes and tree roots, and can be narrow and overgrown in places. These tow path sections show the area in the beautiful way it has always been.
Our total cycling distance today is approximately 45 kilometres (Total 166 metres ascent and 164 meters descent)
Day 3 Cycle south along waterways and country lanes; ride to Narbonne
Leaving Bziers behind this morning we ride south along the course of the waterway, passing the famous nine locks at Fonseranes. The locks comprise of eight water basins that extend 300m up a slope of 21.5m, a spectacular feat of civil engineering. There is an opportunity to visit ancient field structures at Montady, where you can get some stunning views across the Bziers plain and the Malpas tunnel. Measuring 173m in length the tunnel was dug below the Colline de Montady in just six days. This was the first tunnel of its kind to be used for the access of canal traffic. From here we turn away from the canal for a short time, taking a route that passes through a rural landscape of traditional village life, to the city of Narbonne, our final destination for today.
Our total cycling distance today is approximately 35 kilometres (Total 89 metres ascent and 140 meters descent)
Day 4 Free day or optional circular cycle route via Gruissan back to Narbonne
Today has been left free to explore Narbonne and its surroundings with optional rides on the flat or hillier terrain should you wish. There are options to cycle from Narbonne to either Narbonne Plage or Gruissan via the Canal de la Robine, past the sea lagoons and along the coastline. Closer to home, you can explore the city itself. Formerly the capital of Rome’s first settlement in Gaul, Narbonne was once a thriving port and a major centre of commercial enterprise and communication during the middle ages until plague, the English and the silting up of the harbour saw an end to its importance and prosperity during the 14th century. Today its restored medieval quarter and dominating cathedral choir makes it an interesting place to soak up something of the atmosphere of its halcyon days and learn a little of the fascinating history of this region.
Our total cycling distance today is approximately 30 kilometres (Total 7 metres ascent and 8 meters descent) or 46 kilometres (Total 98 metres ascent and 98 meters descent) dependning on which route taken.
Day 5 Visit Narbonne or optional circular cycle route Vines & Olives
Our day begins with a visit to Narbonne’s 100 year old market (Les Halles) where we will have time to browse all the stalls and purchase fresh provisions for our picnic lunch. Following the cycle paths and quiet lanes, we are soon riding along the coastal path around the Bages lagoon. Passing this ancient village, we continue along the causeway through the nature reserve and salt lakes to Peyriac-de-Mer. After a refreshment stop and a look around this beautiful village, we leave the waterside and cycle through the vineyards and up to a view point for our lunch. Some time can then be spent enjoying the views from the quiet village of Bages before returning to Narbonne, where the afternoon is left free to visit the sights.
Our total cycling distance today is approximately 37 kilometres (Total 192 metrres ascent and 192 metres descent)
Day 6 Cycle the vineyards, farms and towpaths; ride to Carcassonne
After a short train ride this morning to the wine producing town of Lzignan Corbires, our route brings us to one of the region’s most visually spectacular settings, the walled fortress of Carcassonne. Once one of the most important and powerful cities in the south, before the all-consuming Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars saw the town fall to the notorious onslaught of the forces of Simon de Montfort. Our ride takes us along the towpath of the Canal du Midi, via a patchwork landscape of vineyards, farms and attractive villages. On the way, we pass the interesting Ecluse de L’Aiguille where the imaginative lock keeper has created some delightfully humorous sculptures from recycled wood and metal. We then finish the day’s ride following the waterway into Carcassonne.
Our total cycling distance today is approximately 55 kilometres (Total 123 metres ascent and 72 meters descent)
Day 7 View the walled fortress of Carcassonne; cycle locally
Our final day’s riding allows the option to do as much or as little as you want. There are a number of optional rides out from Carcassonne, with a chance to cycle along the canal towards Bram and Villepinte and visit the red-roofed streets of these attractive towns, or perhaps take a more energetic option and head into the surrounding hills to visit the old Cathar castle of Chateaux de Lastours, nestling amongst the wild lands of the Orbiel Valley. Actually consisting of four defensive fortresses these are the northernmost citadels of the Cathars, built to protect the route between Carcassonne and Mazamet. Dominating the landscape of scrub, cypress and wildflowers that blanket the river valleys, these ancient keeps present a majestic and poignant reminder of a time when upheaval and religious intolerance blighted this tranquil countryside. Of course you may decide to explore the delights of Carcassonne itself, immersing yourself amongst its medieval remains and enjoying the unique delights of what is surely one of the most perfectly preserved towns of its kind anywhere in France. The city holds a wealth of delights, from the twin towers of the Porte Narbonnaise, to the spectacular Chateau Comtal in the heart of La Cite, whilst at the Basilique St-Nazaire you can find samples of some of the best medieval stained glass in the Midi.
Our total cycling distance today is approximately 35 kilometres (Total 350 metres ascent and 349 meters descent) or 70 kilometres (Total 104 metres ascent and 105 meters descent) depending on which route taken.
Day 8 Trip ends Carcassonne
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Carcassonne.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Carcassonne at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you’ll need to depart from Carcassonne Airport (CCF), which is 12 kilometres and 20 minutes from the city centre. This transfer departs at 3.30pm, and you will need to let your Explore Leader know that you wish to join this departutre transfer at the beginning of the trip.