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The Canal du Midi

Listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Canal du Midi and the Fonseranes locks are
little gems you really must not miss if you're holidaying in the South of France.

Synonymous today with leisure activities and a gentler way of life, the Canal du Midi offers visitors
the chance to discover Languedoc, a region steeped in colour and flavour, at a slightly slower pace.
From Marseillan, Vias to Capestang, on foot, by bike, or by boat, discover
some of the remarkable feats of water-way engineering in and around Béziers.

A few facts about
the Canal du Midi:

Ecluses de Fonséranes, Canal du Midi - Hérault, le Languedoc © Photothèque Hérault Tourisme - S.Lucchese

- 14 years of construction work
- 241 km long, from Toulouse to the Etang de Thau
- 63 locks and 350 other
technically-engineered elements
- 10,000 boats per year navigate through
the Fonséranes locks
- 90,000,000 m3 of water per year feed the canal

The Canal du Midi is still the longest navigable artificial waterway in France.

 

Compared to Roman constructions in the encyclopaedias of Diderot and Alembert, the Canal du Midi was one of the greatest engineering achievements of the 17th century. Great care was taken to ensure that the canal and its locks, sluices, and bridges etc. blended into the local landscape, and the end result is a work of art. Moreover, the canal had a substantial impact on trade and the development of the South of France.

A very special site

Canal du Midi © Photothèque Hérault Tourisme - Julie-Noclercq

In the South of France, in the 17th century, a project to link the Mediterranean sea to the Atlantic ocean came into being, uniting technical innovation and increased awareness of architecture and landscape
in a way that had rarely been seen elsewhere.

All of this was possible thanks to the determination, of one ingenious man, Pierre Paul Riquet, from Béziers, who figured out how to solve the one major problem, which was to find a permanent water supply for the canal. He pinpointed the watershed between the Atlantic and Mediterranean drainage basins, and then he then diverted the water from surrounding streams and stored it in Saint-Féréol lake, a reservoir specially created for this purpose. The last stage was to carry the water to the Seuil de Naurouze, where the waters divide between the east and the west, thus feeding the two arms of the Canal du Midi, one running towards Toulouse and the other towards the Hérault area and Marseillan.

Exceptional feats of engineering

Ecluses de Fonséranes, Canal du Midi - Hérault, le Languedoc © Photothèque Hérault Tourisme - Julie Noclercq

On the stretch of canal that runs from east to west through the Hérault area, you'll find a succession of unmissable feats of engineering:

- The MalpasTunnel: the first tunnel
in the world dug for a canal, close
to the Oppidum d'Ensérune.

- The 9 Fonséranes locks in Béziers : a veritable water 'staircase', compensating for a difference in level of 21.5 m over slightly more than 300m.

- The Pont-Canal in Béziers, where the canal passes across the Orb coastal river.

-The Ouvrages du Libron in Vias, an unusual series of lock gates and sluices built to divert the path of the river to cross over the canal.

- The Ecluse ronde d'Agde (Agde round lock): built of volcanic rock, this totally unique lock is a navigable crossroads for three waterways (the Canal du Midi, and the Hérault and Canalet rivers).

- The Pointe des Onglous is the journey’s end, and symbolic of the place where the waters
of the canal finally join those
in the Etang de Thau.

A leisure waterway

In 1980, the Canal du Midi stopped being used for goods transport. Classified a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996, today the canal is used purely for pleasure. You can enjoy it from a leisure boat,
or travel the towpaths on foot, on horseback or by bike.

The Canal du Midi is one of the loveliest ways to visit Béziers and its surroundings, with
its Mediterranean character marked by a rich wine-making past, bullfighting and rugby!