Antarctica & Arctic
Cycle alongside the picturesque Canal du Midi
Destinations > France > Canal du Midi
7 nights accommodation, meals as indicated, local train transport as specified & services of an Explore Worldwide Tour leader
Selected Saturdays from Apr - Sep '20
Cycling some of the tree-lined path along the Canal du Midi, this trip leads us from ancient Roman cities to the Mediterranean coast. Ride through the natural beauty of the Corbières region and absorb the rich history, from the 12th century cathedral in Narbonne to the medieval fortress town of Carcassonne.
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Cycle alongside one of the greatest works of civil engineering of the 17th century, Canal du Midi
Cycle through dramatic scenery.
Stay in excellent hotels throughout your stay.
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We join our trip at Carcassonne airport where you are met by a local representative then drive to historic Béziers where you are met by your local guide. Situated at the heart of a huge wine growing area, it has a colourful and fascinating history. The Gothic cathedral sits high above the canal on the site of the Romanesque building destroyed by the Crusaders' fires against the Cathars. The old centre is crisscrossed by narrow streets offering some great views over the Orb Valley, whilst in the distance the hills of the Cevennes rise up to form the start of the Massif Central. The town is also famous for its Poutous- a delicious treat made from honey, Bitterois- a cake made from almonds as well as some fine regional wines and chocolate. There will be a short briefing to introduce you to the itinerary for the days ahead.
No cycling today.
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 Sète-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 Béziers for our second night.
Our total cycling distance today is approximately 45 kilometres (Total 166 metres ascent and 164 meters descent) (B)
Leaving Béziers 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 Béziers 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) (B)
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. (B)
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 31 kilometres (Total 197 metrres ascent and 197 metres descent) (B)
After a short train ride this morning to the wine producing town of Lézignan Corbières, 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) (B)
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. (B)
The trip ends in Carcassonne after breakfast. (B)
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