Getting Muddy on the Canal du Midi - Cycling in the Languedoc region

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Wednesday 15 October 2014

Getting Muddy on the Canal du Midi - Cycling in the Languedoc region

Heading westwards from the Carmargue Nature Reserve last Tuesday lunchtime, we had only a short drive to reach our next destination, Agde, a small town right on the coast where the Canal du Midi meets the Mediterranean sea. Once again we were thankful to Graham and Freya whom we had met in Martigny last June for this suggestion and after the success of our trip to Ventoux and the Carmargue we were looking forward to some more peaceful riding along the canal.

The canal was built in the late 1600s to connect the Garonne River to the sea and so transport wheat and originally called the "Royal Canal of Languedoc" before the revolutionaries renamed it "Canal du Midi" in 1789. Nowadays it is the oldest European canal still in operation, according to the local literature,  and is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is also possible to follow it's course all the way from Toulouse to Agde by bicycle accounting for around half of the 400km of cycle paths maintained in the region to open up the Languedoc countryside.

Having based ourselves at a simple, private aire just outside of Agde on Tuesday afternoon and spending the rest of the day relaxing in the motorhome, we set off around Wednesday lunchtime to enjoy some of the Canal du Midi's cycleways. The weather was warm and the breeze was light, just perfect for a leisurely cycle inland towards Beziers around 15km away .... we thought.

Things started badly when we got lost trying to find the right stretch of canal out of Agde. Riding along a very waterlogged river bank at first Esther had her second cycle spill of the trip when her bike came to a complete halt right in the middle of a muddy mire before slowly falling off sideways into the cold mud. Great. After some doubling back we did eventually pick up one old sign for the Canal du Midi and started bumping along the tree root strewn surface of the narrow canal path, shaking us up quite a bit although we couldn't slow down too much as this would have given the swarms of mosquitoes an easier target.

Still we persevered and after an hour of challenging paths did reach some tarmac which led into the town of Vias. Checking the path ahead it seemed to be more tough going and quite a distance from the canal banks for the next few kilometres and we were feeling tired with the accident, mosquitoes and getting lost so we decided to call it quits for the day and follow the road back to Agde instead.

In the end it turned out with all the doubling back and slow going on the tree roots we hadn't made it that far at all and reached our motorhome in just half an hour via the road, before heading out to the nearby sea to sit and relax in the afternoon sunshine. Although our brief adventure on the Canal du Midi hadn't been quite as easygoing as we expected, looking out of over the calm waves lapping at the sandy beach we soon felt peaceful again as we reflected on where we might head to in the morning?

NB: The following day our driving route did track much of the canal from Narbonne to Carcasonne and onwards to Toulouse. From what we saw from the motorhome, as the route nationale got very close at times, the cycle paths were much better surfaced, maintained and signposted further upstream. It really looked quite idyllic. We guess that the stretch near the sea has just been a little bit forgotten in recent years, but the other sections we saw looked much nicer and they are definitely rides we'd like to try in the future. We would have stopped on this trip, but the weather forecast in the Pyrenees looked too good to be true for mid-October and we were racing to the mountains instead.

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