The Canal du Midi, the canal de la Robine, the Canal du Rhône à Sète, the Petit Rhône, the canal d'Arles à Bouc.
The canal du Midi, work of Pierre Paul Riquet and his illustrious successor the marécal Vauban, is most famous for the quality of its waterways structures. But as you cruise along the canal, you can go past these wonders without even noticing them. In this new guide, exclusively dedicated to the canal du Midi and the other waterways east of Toulouse, we have photographed the aqueducts, canal bridges, spillways and syphons and you will find, on the map pages, a drawing of each of the most interesting of them. During your cruise, take the time to get off your boat and take a close look at some of these engineering feats of the 17th century.
Listed as a world heritage monument, the canal is also known for its magnificent plane trees. Over the last few years, these trees are victims of a terrible disease, cancer stain and it is known that the disease is spread, among other things by your boat. With the help of the navigation authorities, we have made a list of precations to take in the hope of restricting the disease to the Mediterranean side of the canal.
It is hard to imagine the canal du Midi without its lock-keepers. But everything must evolve and, in 2012, for the first time, some locks on the Atlantic side have been made automatic. Luckily, these measures only concern the single locks and at all lock flights you will greeted as usual by a lock-keeper.
At the end of the canal, you will come to the Étang de Thau, a little inland sea that offers difficult navigation conditions when the Mistral is blowing. We have improved our map of the Etang with a photo of the approaches to each port and the new channel buoyed in 2010 by the buoyage authorities in Sète is clearly shown.
Our voyage comes to an end in the Rhône delta, a region known for the quantity and variety of its bird life. For the ornithologists among you, we have described the most popular species and some of their habits and we indicate the places you will find them.
21 x 29,7 cm - 104 pages
Last updated 2013
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A Little History
The Naurouze Basin.
The feeder system for the Canal du Midi gathers the waters of several streams in the Black Mountains (the Alzau, the Sor, the Lampy and the Laudot) and leads them via a series of small canals towards a huge canal basin at Naurouze. This basin was to be used as a reservoir, a trading port and the canal’s dividing pound. Cut out of the rocky soil of the watershed at an altitude of 190 m, it was 389 m long, 290 m wide and 2 m deep which gave a volume of 150 000 m3 of water. In comparison, the Saint-Ferréol dam contains 6 million cubic metres but in summer its contents are reduced by half.
Riquet was proud of his basin and called it “the most beautiful in the world”. He had even planned to build a town around its banks with “regular houses like those of the Place Royale in Paris”. Covered ways were to shelter people walking along the quays and there would be sheds and dry-docks for boat building and repairs. In the middle there was to be a statue representing the “Sun King” on a chariot drawn by a team of “amphibious” horses. None of these projects ever saw the light of day, victims of lack of finance and the powerful lobby of the Castelnaudary grain merchants.
In the beginning, was part of the canal and all traffic passed through it. Boats coming from Toulouse entered via the old Lock of the Ocean. You can see some remains of this lock, situated near the little bridge on the western side of the basin but the chamber is now buried under tons of earth. To keep going towards Castelnaudary, one came out through the lock of the Mediterranean, still visible today but filled with pipes and in a sorry state. The current Écluse de la Méditerranée, a little further on, was then called the Écluse du Médecin (the doctor’s lock).
When the canal was inspected in July 1681, just prior to its opening, the engineer observed that the quays surrounding the basin were already in a bad state, damage caused by frost in winter and the constant waves brought up by the prevailing east wind. The basin was also completely silted up so, a few years later, Vauban dug a canal on the southern side to go round it. This section of canal is now the dividing pound. It appears that the basin was still in use at the end of the 17 th century but the barge skippers complained about the navigation conditions. When the wind was blowing, their boats were pushed onto the quays by the waves. A waterways dictionary dated 1783 mentions the basin but by the beginning of the 19th century it was no longer in use.
In the 17th century the navigation services used the rich earth of the basin to create a nursery. Trees were planted in a star shape around the centre but, today, all that is left is the magnificent alley of Plane trees.
The obelisk erected at the highest point of the watershed testifies to the enthusiasm for Riquet and his works during the course of the 19th century. It was financed by Riquet’s descendants: the branch Riquet de Caraman and the branch Riquet de Bonrepos. Recognizing the immense services he had brought to his region, Mademoiselle de Lastouzeilles, owner of the grounds around the basin, offered a small block of land for the construction of the monument.
The first stone was laid on 9th October 1825 in the presence of a large crowd. The ceremony was presided by Count Maurice de Caraman, field marshal and member of parliament, with the assistance of the prefect of the Aude and other local dignitaries.
The Canal de Revel
At the point where the feeder canal of the Plaine enters into the basin, one is surprised to see the remains of a lock, miniature version of the Canal du Midi locks. Before the opening of the first section of the canal, the feeder canal had been made navigable for the transport of building stone. Fourteen locks were installed to raise the water level. Most of these locks have now disappeared but some vestiges are visible at Revel, Saint-Paulet, Laudot and Naurouze.
The Naurouze Site Today
In summer, a branch of the Castelnaudary tourist office is permanently set up on the site. During a visit, you will see certain canal constructions such as the Fresquel spillway, the old lock of the Mediterranean and the “new” lock of the Ocean, still in service.
The old Royal Mill situated at the end of the feeder canal was largely modified over the course of the 19th century but the original building is still visible.
This little coastal river has its source in the department of the Gard and flows into the Mediterranean in the port of Agde. It is a short river but with steep banks and a strong flow. After leaving the feet of the Laigoual mountains, it descends rapidly towards the plains in a series of cascades and weirs. In this section, due to the rapid change in level and the strong current, it has never been made navigable. Even an attempt to render it floatable for log rafts in the 18th century was unsuccessful.
Further downstream, it is much more calm and it has been navigable downstream from the town of Besson since the 17th century, perhaps even well before this time. The port of Besson has been revived and the new moorings open the way to a short cruise of about 8 km from Agde.
But beware, you are now on a flowing river and, to avoid problems, you must respect the following rules:
- cruise in the middle of the river where you will find a depth of between 3 m and 12 m;
- put a crew member on the bow to signal flotsam or sunken branches;
- there are a few places where you can tie up to the banks but they are not well maintained and access ashore is difficult. Approach the bank slowly as the change in depth can be very sudden;
- if you throw in the anchor, think of buoying your anchor so that you can recover it if it gets caught in branches;
- check the weather before setting out. If it is going to be stormy, stay on the canal (the lock-keepers at Bagnas and Agde will be able to advise you);
- do not go onto the river after flooding. The muddy waters hide branches and other debris.
Fishing. The Hérault is popular with fishermen and they are not used to seeing boats go by. Stay away from their lines
Fauna. The Hérault has never been equipped with a towpath and the banks are protected by a dense curtain of trees. This favours the presence of a great number of birds. During our cruises, we have seen many species including kingfishers, egrets, night herons, purple herons, squacco herons and golden orioles.
Bessan. The village of Bessan has installed moorings about 800 m from the centre of town. The pontoon, 30 m long, is put into place from 1st June to 30th September. For the rest of the year it is stored on the bank to avoid being carried away by floods. Water and electricity are available (provided your hose and cable are long enough).
A “guinguette” beside the pontoon is open at the same time as the port. Musical entertainment is provided each Wednesday, Friday and Saturday in summer.
The Donkey Festival. On the week-end the closest to Saint-Laurent’s day a very special event called the Donkey’s Festival takes place. There are several explanations of its origins but the older inhabitants of the village prefer the following story: During the annual donkey market, the custom was to decorate the most handsome specimen and lead it through the streets to be admird by the crowd. One year, the winner escaped and hid in the local church much to the distress of the priest and the joy of the local citizens. As a reminder of that incident, each year, the inhabitants of Besson make a wooden donkey which they decorate with paper flowers. During the festival, the strongest men of the town dance the donkey through the streets right up to the church where it is blessed by the priest in the presence of the mayor.
The festivities are enhanced by the local Bessan rosé, a wine which improves each year (and with each glass). Here it is said “Water is for a donkey, man, who is not so silly, drinks the wine of our vineyards”.
Weekly market: Sunday morning.
Restaurant: La Guinguette: 04 67 32 10 63 or 06 62 66 19 07