Canal du Midi

From Narbonne we headed North, making for the river L’Aude. The Canal du Midi tracks the river Westwards as far as Carcassonne. From there we would stay with the Canal or close to it, all the way to Toulouse.

Along the route of the canal were a string of villages and either side of the canal and nearby lanes were fields of low vines.

Cuxac-d’Aude – in search of a coffee stop.
In search of the Canal du Midi. The low vines that fill the fields in the area.
Riding the lanes between villages was very pleasant, though not all are tree-lined.
Just after Saint-Nazaire-d’Aude we ran alongside the canal for the first time. Canal-side tracks were not well surfaced, if they were there at all, so for much of the day we rode the nearest lane.

By lunchtime we had reached the little village of Ventenac-en-Minervois and needed some lunch. Across the canal we could see umbrellas and what looked like a possibility, so crossed the little bridge and sure enough, there was a very pleasant and pretty busy courtyard restaurant, shaded by spreading branches.

The bridge at Ventenac-en-Minervois.
We were lucky to get a table. The atmosphere was great, the food good and the chickens picking up scraps around our feet were entertaining.
To the south we could see the Pyrenees.
At Argens-Minervois the road, canal and river are crammed between enclosing high ground. It was passing through here we spotted another Pino coming towards us. The curiosity was mutual and we both stopped roadside to have a quick chat about our rides. The couple were Dutch and had set off from Carcassonne to ride to Narbonne – about twice the distance we would be comfortable with in one day.

We left the Canal after passing through the Minervois gap and headed for nearby Olonzac and our B&B for the night. We really struck lucky with this find… a nice town-house that had been owned by a wealthy merchant. It was now run as a B&B by a couple of guys. The gardens were nice, there was a huge outbuilding for the bike and an adjacent barn had been converted into separate rooms, though we were housed in a large room in the main house. After a welcome, we sat on the shaded patio with a glass of wine and chatted to our hosts. We even had time to sketch – it was all very relaxing and it was a shame we were only there for one night! They recommended a nearby restaurant for an evening meal which was very enjoyable. All-in-all, I think this was our favourite overnight stop.

The house at Olonzac.
Karon relaxing on the patio at Olonzac.

Next morning we were sorry to be leaving ‘Eloi Merle’. We thought it a real pearl and would love to go back. We headed back to the canal on quiet roads. We wanted to try and ride alongside the canal, and did manage so for some stretches, but none of the paths were well surfaced and Karon was feeling the bumps along the rough tracks, so where we could, we followed the nearest road.

Rough tracks alongside the canal.
Hills of the Languedoc to the north…
…and hills to the south, and beyond them, the Pyrenees.
A cutting just beyond Marseillette.
Lunch stop at Trèbes. Quite a few people were cycling the canal, though most seemed to be heading the opposite way from us.
Nest stop, Carcassonne.

On the outskirts of Carcassonne we encountered an annual boat race, with crews pushing their long boats on wheeled dollies past the locks. The path was blocked for several minutes as about three teams jostled to get their boats back into the water, while team coaches and (presumably) reserve rowers ran/cycled the tow path.

We had booked another apartment in Carcassonne – for two nights – so we could have a day off the bike. Our apartment was a large lounge kitchenette with a good sized bedroom. The owner helped bring the bike into the room, as there was no secure place to leave it outside.

We spent the following day walking up to the castle in the hope of finding somewhere to sit and sketch, but it was so busy we gave up on that idea.

The castle at Carcassonne is impressive.
Inside the castle walls there’s a small town – mostly tourist shops or restaurants, but it was so busy we didn’t stay long.
The main shopping street in Carcassonne.

Next day was pretty uneventful. we left the town canal-side but then joined the main road West. We could maintain better speed on the roads and we weren’t sure of the quality of the canal tracks. The canal meandered quite a bit, so two thirds of the ride was on road.

Vines were replaced by sunflowers in many fields.
With eight miles to go we headed back across the fields to the canal and followed it the rest of the way into Castelnaudary.

We reached Castelnaudary at lunchtime and found our hotel easily, as it was one of the first buildings that side of the town. Hoping for some lunch, we locked the bike and went into the restaurant, but they were “too busy” even though there were plenty of empty tables. A coach load of Asians had turned up, and it seemed, they were struggling to cope. Despite our pleas, and that we were staying guests, they would not feed us, and our room wasn’t ready either, so we headed into town, which involved a bit of a climb and eventually found a place that would serve us.

Hacksteak avec frittes et salad – not ideal for Karon but fine by me!
At Castelnaudary there’s a huge basin that feeds the canal.

Castelnaudary from the basin.
Now the canal-side tracks were better surfaced for much of the route, so the following day was spent using them.
Coffee stop beside the Canal du Midi.
Our hotel/restaurant was busy but they squeezed us in for lunch. The speciality was cassoulette and tasty (and filling) it was too.

The town of Villafranche de Lauragais was a little strange and mostly deserted it seemed, but after wandering the town for a while, we found an interesting bar and stayed there for an evening meal then wandered back to our hotel later.

Our last day ‘On Tour’ on the bike. The cycle paths improved the closer we got to Toulouse.
It was a pleasant day riding into Toulouse along shaded paths. The closer we got, the busier it was.
Houseboats on the outskirts of Toulouse.
The end of our tour!

Our apartment was right next to the canal and opposite the main station. There was a little shop right next door and then a couple of bar/restaurants. We parked the bike and celebrated with a cold drink before checking in.

We spent six nights in Toulouse, exploring the city and taking a break from touring, though the bike came in handy for getting around.

After a week we cycled out to the airport where we had arranged a hire car. We loaded the bike and trailer into the car and drove to Marciac. Spent a week at Marciac at the International Tandem Rally, riding with friends and socialising in the evenings. Then we drove back to the Channel Coast, stopping at Bordeaux and a nice B&B out in the sticks near La Chapelle-Saint-Laurent along the way. We stayed at Luc Sur Mer, north of Caen and dropped the car off at the airport. Spent a couple of days exploring and riding – to Bayeaux – then caught an overnight ferry back to Portsmouth. We took a couple of days to get back home, stopping overnight halfway in a hotel.

Sketches >