Cycling Tour Canal du Midi France
- Duration: 6 Days (approx.)
- Location: Herault, Languedoc-Roussillon
- Product code: P0UDRV
The town of Sète is built on the slopes of a hill jutting out into the Mediterranean. The home of poet and songwriter Georges Brassens, who is buried in the sailors’ cemetery at the top of the hill, Sète is a bustling town with a busy port, with canals and quais lined with restaurants and bars. Our hotel is a grand old building on one of the main quaysides.
After fitting bikes at the hotel, we will ride a warm-up circuit of the ‘island’ taking in the oyster beds and fishing boats on the inner (lake) side. The Etang de Thau, the inland lake, is one of the biggest producers of shellfish in france, specialising in oysters (huîtres), mussels (moules) and whelks (bulots). The second part of the ride takes in the corniche overlooking the Mediterranean before coming back to the canalside and the hotel.
Back in Sète there will be time to explore the town, with its cobbled streets and canals; if you feel like stretching your legs, the sailor’s cemetery at the top of the hill is fascinating and offers wonderful views over the Mediterranean.
Our first evening will be spent in a superb local restaurant, with a menu taking advantage of the freshest seafood from the Etang that you rode by earlier in the day or taking inspiration from the game found in the hinterland.Day 2
Leaving Sète , we have water on both sides as we travel along the spit of land that divides the Mediterranean from the Etang de Thau. The Etang is the largest producer of shellfish in the south of France, moules (mussels), huîtres (oysters) and bulots (whelks) being the specialities. At the end of the spit is the fishing and pleasure port of Marseillan. Marseillan is home to Noilly Prat vermouth, which chefs love because included in sauces it goes very well with fish.
The destination tonight is the fascinating medieval town of Pézénas. The home of the playwright Molière, Pézénas has charmingly preserved old quarters which feature a Jewish ghetto dating from the 14th Century. All around the town you will see the intricately carved doorways and courtyards of the hôtels (mansion houses) of which the town is proud. You might want to try out the petites pâtes de Pézénas which are the local delicacy – small pies of sweetened spiced lamb, reputedly introduced by Clive of India when he retired here. They sound disgusting but are actually delicious!
Daily Distance 42km , vertical elevation 210mDay 3
We stay in Pézénas tonight, so no packing! Our circular ride takes us out to seaside town of Agde, a major fishing port as well as a tourist destination.
On the way we stop off to visit the ancient flour mill and Roman Bridge over the river Herault at Saint-Thibéry.
Agde boasts the longest nudist beach in Europe! The Cathedral dating from the 12th Century is constructed in black basalt, and was built with defensive fortification in mind, so resembles a fortress as much as a church. The ride takes us out to the mouth of the herault as it empties into the Mediterranean, and it’s the perfect spot for a morning coffee
From Agde we head inland into the vinyards that produce the Picpoul de Pinet dry white wines that accompany seafood so beautifully. In the village of Pinet itself, we come across the traces of the Roman Via Domitia which ran from Spain to Italy. Another degustation visit might be in order!
Back in Pézénas , there should be plenty of time to visit the old town if you missed it the day before, or to simply take advantage of the hotel’s spa and swimming pool.
Daily Distance 46km, vertical elevation 180mDay 4
Our route today takes us through vineyards via a series of typical Languedocian villages. In the first, Tourbes, the Wednesday morning market will be in full swing in the village square, and we will have plenty of time to stop for an exploration. In Pouzolles and Magalas there are wonderful wine producers of the Languedoc appellation and we can stop to taste the beautiful full bodied red wines.
We then head to Béziers, and its magnificent cathedral perched on a bluff above the River Orb. The town has a darker past – during the 12th and 13th century crusades to suppress the Cathar sect in south-west France, 30,000 men women and children were massacred by the Catholic armies. These days however the busy town is a great stop for shopping, or strolling the old town for a café or an ice cream.
The last, short, ride of the day is to our Château hotel in Lignan-sur-Orb, where you can stroll in the shady gardens or swim in the newly installed pool.
Total distance: 48km, vertical elevation 300mDay 5
Cycling south from Béziers we are heading towards the Canal du Midi which we reach after a few miles. Turning westwards on the tree-lined towpath, we soon reach the village of Colombiers the bars by the canal are perfect for a coffee stop. Shortly after turning back on to the canal we turn off again for the only climb of the whole tour. A 2km switchback takes us up to the Oppidum d’Enserune, the remains of a Gaulish and Roman hilltop town dating from the 6th century BC; in addition to the artifacts in the museum at the summit, there are also amazing views of the Lac de Montady, a now dried up lake which was cultivated in the 13th C in an experimental irrigation pattern, leaving a wonderful dartboard shaped field system which can be seen from the hill.
Back on the canal for the rest of the day, with opportunity to stop for refreshment at canalside villages like Capestang and Argelliers, we soon arrive at our hotel in the hamlet of Cabezac. With a well respected winery next door, you can choose to cool off in the swimming pool or walk a few yards for a degustation – or both!
Total distance: 49km, vertical elevation 260mDay 6
Our last day of riding takes us into the heart of Cathar Country. A short ride brings us to the scenic village of Minerve, perched above the gorge of the River Briant. It was into this gorge that 300 Cathar villagers through themselves rather than submit to Catholic conversion. After a coffee in Minerve we descend through vine- and yellow broom- covered hills to reach the canal again at the pretty port of Trèbes.
Back on the canal it’s plain sailing into our final destination of the tour, the magical fortress of Carcassonne. The French government, was, astonishingly, on the point of demolishing the medieval fortified town until public outcry forced a rethink. The architect Eugène Violet-le-Duc was charged with restoring the citadelle, a process which continued after his death. The result is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a magnificent spectacle, especially with the walls illuminated after dark. The interior is a maze of cobbled lanes and squares with myriad cafés, bars and boutiques.
Our hotel is right at the gates of the cité, with marvellous views of the fortifications and a stones throw from the entrance. We dine within the city walls for our last dinner, when we can reflect on a fabulous week of cycling and sightseeing.
Daily Distance 64km or 49km (with Minerve transfer), vertical elevation 450m or 100mDay 7
After breakfast we might like to take a dip in the pool or wander the in the old town. Onward transfers are to the town railway station which has connections to Paris (via Narbonne) and Toulouse. There are also flights from the local airport to London Stansted.