During my stay at Olonzac in France's Languedoc region this year, I enjoyed a relaxing cruise on the Canal du Midi. The Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage site, stretches 240 km, joining the the Mediterranean to the Atlantic coast. Construction began back in 1667 when the canal was dug by hand but these days we get to enjoy the rewards of that back-breaking work and that's exactly what I did on my two hour cruise.
The cruise on the Saint Ferreol starts and finishes at Homps, just 4 km from Olonzac and 12 km from the must-visit village of Minerve. Cruises operate from late March to the end of October each year with daily cruises in the cooler months and up to four sailings per day at the peak of summer.
We arrived portside half an hour before the next cruise was due to leave (and when the ticket office opened) so we bought our tickets for EUR12 each and looked for some shade until boarding commenced. It was obvious that the boat was going to be full and there was the usual jostling in line to see who scored the prized seats on the front deck of the boat. As it was a very warm and sunny day, we opted for seats inside the boat.
Homps itself is a lovely little town and with the canal as its main feature, you'll find numerous waterside cafes, bars and restaurants at which to dine. Homps is also a base for a number of barge and canal-boat operators so there's regular comings and goings of would-be sailors and their vessels during the warmer months.
Departing from Homps, the Saint Ferreol headed west to La Redorte, along the way taking us past the Pont de Jouarres, through a number of locks and even across the Argent-Double Aqueduct.
As we travelled west, we entered each lock at the canal's low level and had to enter the lock and wait until it filled with water, raising our boat to the high level of water from where we could sail onwards. To think that these locks were designed and built in the 17th Century and are still in use today is truly amazing.
As we sailed along (at a very relaxing pace of about 6 kph), we watched as cyclists pedalled along the tow paths, families picnicked and a lock keeper sold cold drinks and ice creams from a stall alongside the lock.
During our early July cruise, the Canal was busy with other boats. Self-drive barging holidays are popular in France and we passed boats adorned with flags from many countries including Norway and Australia. Boats laden with families, bikes and household paraphenalia floated by, perhaps tempting some to try this style of holiday for themselves.
Most people, though, myself included, were just happy to sit back and watch the lovely scenery float by.
Commentary was provided on board by the captain in both French and English and soft drinks were available for sale. The Canal du Midi cruise on the Saint-Ferreol was very enjoyable and I'd recommend it if you're in the area.
You can find out more about cruising the Canal du Midi on Saint Ferreol by visiting this website and you can read my article about other things to do in Languedoc in the south of France.
Have you enjoyed a cruise on the Canal du Midi or one of France's other Canals? Please share your experiences in the comments below.