It is difficult to add to what has already been said, and indeed, sang about the Canal du Midi – Claude Nougaro,the famous Toulousain singer, immortalized it in his song, “Ã” Toulouse”.
Anyone who has ever walked, boated or cycled along it will tell of the marvels of this brilliant, yet unassuming waterway – justly a part of the UNESCO world Heritage sites.
So, what is the charm of the Canal du Midi?Â
It forms a snaking, pea-green, ribbon that joins the two seas; The Mediterranean and the Atlantic, from Bordeaux to the Ã©tang de Thau in the south, on the Mediterranean coast.
It’s all pretty much the same, shady trees that almost touch at their upper branches, a strip of winding waterway and a towpath that has been turned into a Mecca for walkers, nature lovers and cyclists.
In fact the Canal du Midi is anything but ‘all the same’.
There are contrasts everywhere, stunning scenery, beautiful villages, historic cities and vestiges that recount their story as each kilometer unfolds.
Anyone who can stay blasÃ© in front of nature’s paint palette that forms part of the Canal du Midi – well, I can’t imagine how anyone could ….
Today we left from the Ecluse d’Embalens at St Rustice in the Haute Garonne (31) dÃ©partement, just near to Castelanu D’Estretefonds on a 50km (ish) round trip to the enigmatic Pente d’eau at Montech in the Tarn et Garonne dÃ©partement (82).
The start of the ride begins just across the main road from Montauban to Toulouse – the village of St Rustice has a beautiful, twin towered church made from the distinctive pink bricks of the region, dating from 1865. The village was the site of Roman baths, 10 baths were discovered here, which tells us something of the importance of the region in Roman times – there are mosaics on display at the MusÃ©e Saint-Raymond in Toulouse. The village was a notable outpost on the important Via Aginum, between Toulouse and Agen.
There is an, brick old watermill just opposite the Lock at Embalens, next to which is a very friendly man who is a model train enthusiast, all too willing to take visitors to see his trains and set-up. Take the path towards Montech, which is the opposite direction to Toulouse, the first bridge you will come to is Pompignan – where there is a fantastic boulangerie and pÃ¢tisserie – great for a short break to charge the batteries.
The pathway is pretty much flat with a very good, even surface, dotted with walkers, cyclists and anglers – oh, yes, The Canal du Midi is full of fish – and big ones at that – alongside the canal there are huge fields of melons, vineyards, orchards with apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, apples, almonds and greengages – this is well and truly fruit country.
You will pass some small villages along the way, including Dieupentale and Canals, but the next stop can be made at Grissoles where there is a museum, Le MusÃ©e Municipal de Calbert, with an exhibition of cooking in the 19th century. The porch of the church dates from the 13th century – if you are here, have a look at the ChÃ¢teau de Fontanas with its octagonal keep.
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Back to the canal, look out for the wildlife, including herons, white egrets, kingfishers, ragondans and I was told that there are otters to be seen too, although usually at dusk or at night as they are quite shy creatures.
The next stop is at the village of Montech, with it’s cute little port on the canal, there are lawns and benches for picnics but we chose to eat in the restaurant “La Maison de L’Eclusier” – The Lock-keeper’s House – see our eateries review for more information. Montech is surrounded by the forest of Montech, which is another superb setting for walks, mushrooming and nature-lovers.
At Montech, the canal splits into two, with one arm going to join the Tarn river and Montauban (11 kilometers away) – another beautiful town centre to visit.
The town of Montech, is notable for the world famous Pente d’eau – water slope – but it is worth having a look at the old brick buildings in the town, among the narrow winding streets and the imposing church ofÂ Notre Dame de la Visitation 14th century and the 19th century church la Feuillade.
Old factory chimneys along the canal mark the sites of a paper mill and brick works, long closed, but which transported both raw materials and finished products along the Canal du Midi.
Leaving the port of Montech, keep going for about 2 kilometers and you will come to the Pente d’eau – which is a peculiarity and tourist attraction. I am almost sure that Keith Floyd drank and cooked his way down the canal du Midi and actually went up the Pente d’eau on his barge.
The Pente d’eau was designed by Jean Aubert and inaugurated in 1974 to enable boats to continue using the canal whilst important maintenance work was carried out on the 5 locks parallel to the Pente d’eau. An arm of the canal was built to enable the diverting of the waterway traffic along with a huge concrete slope and twin locomotives to carry the boats up the slope to the final lock before rejoining the canal further up. The principle was that a boatÂ entered the pente, between the two locomotives, the doors at either end were then closed, trapping the water along with the boat, which was then carried up the slope – gaining 45 minutes over passing through the 5 locks, although the equipment was meant for larger boats of 30 to 40 meters long.
Apparently, it is not used today due to the locomotives being broken down and also to a lack of funds – but this doesn’t appear to deter the visitors coming to see this strange, almost Heath-Robinson contraption, which at the time it was built was both highly useful and ingenious.
To see how it works – click on “Comment Ã§a Marche”
We will be continuing our visit soon from Montech to Agen – stay tuned…