Having enjoyed a brilliant cruise on the beautiful Canal du Midi from Le Somail to Agde last year in a cruiser, my wife, Lois and I, and our colleagues Malcolm & Jill (plus our three dogs!) decided we would like to do something similar again this year. Having explored the eastern stretch of Canal du Midi before we thought we would try the section north of Carcassonne this time.
With last years’ experience in mind we thought we would not only try a different section of the Canal du Midi this year but we would try a different model of cruiser. We duly booked a Nicols Confort 900DP with two double cabins, two showers &WCs and a dual steering position including a fly bridge.
When we arrived at Port Lauragais on the day we should be starting our cruise we were horrified to find that the boat we had booked had been returned to the base the previous day in a seriously damaged condition with a hole in the hull! An alternative boat was ready waiting for us but as luck would have it this was exactly the same model of boat as we had used the previous year. The manager of the base at Port Lauragais was unaware of that, but as we had planned to write a report on a different model both we and the base manager were faced with something of a dilemma!
After some phone calls a solution was forthcoming whereby we would indeed have a different boat to write about although it meant an hour’s drive south to the Nicols base at Le Somail where we were allocated a large Confort 1350 with four cabins, four showers and electric WCs and designed to accommodate up to ten people!
Our original passage plan was to have travelled from Port Lauragais south-east to Carcassonne but now we were starting from Le Somail our revised plan was to cruise north-west towards Carcassonne.
We decided to spend the first night of our week’s cruise on the mooring at the very attractive village of Le Somail. With its old hump-back bridge and quintessentially Languedocienne old stone buildings Le Somail is arguably one of the most attractive villages along the Canal. In the 18th century it was one of the staging posts for the passenger barges that plied the Canal on the four-day trip between Agde and Toulouse; in those days passengers had to change boats every time they reached a double or triple lock and carry their baggage up the steeply sloping towpath past the lock – no less than twenty-five during the four day trip!
On a bright and sunny Sunday morning we left our mooring at Le Somail and headed west along a very pretty lock-free 10 km stretch of the Canal to Paraza. Passing through a couple of quite low and narrow bridges we encountered our first lock at Argens-Minervois.
As we were travelling west we were effectively going up-hill so one enters the lock when the water is at its lowest level, secures to the lock wall and waits for the lock to fill. After passing through more locks we arrived at the very attractive small town of Homps which is an ancient commercial port where barrels of wines destined for Bordeaux were loaded onto barges. Homps was one of the few places along the Canal du Midi where the 30m long barges called “Peniches” were able to turn round.
We stayed here for two nights as the port authorities provide visiting boats with one night free of charge and there are ample electric and fresh water connections available. There are at least two good restaurants which we sampled.
We were still aiming to reach Trebes on the outskirts of Carcassonne so we pressed on to the port of La Redorte where we moored up alongside the canal bank and set out to explore. To our surprise La Redorte turned out to be quite a large town almost completely encircled by the Canal, and apparently entirely devoted to wine making!
After abandoning our plan at La Redorte of getting to Trebes we now had time on our hands, so the next morning we visited the local Cave a Vins to sample and buy some of the local wines. We then set off back towards Le Somail.
We got through a couple of locks before arriving at the double lock at Pechlaurier just as it was closing for lunch so we had to moor alongside the canal bank for an hour. Having eventually got through the lock we now had just one more lock ahead of us before the lock-free section all the way to the Nicols base at Le Somail. But having now got a full day in hand we decided that we would push on past Le Somail as far as we could before dark with the idea of getting to the attractive canal-port town of Capestang.
Passing Paraza, Le Somail and the junction with the Canal de La Robine and eventually arriving at Argeliers the wind had increased to a good force 6 so trying to find somewhere secure to moor alongside the canal bank was interesting. After turning around even with the engine going full astern it was virtually impossible to stop. The only possible place we could moor safely was on the wrong side of the canal for our door and gang-plank so we had no alternative but to moor up downwind which made for an interesting five minutes!
The following day we motored on down to Capestang for lunch before making our way back to Le Somail to moor up at the base ready for handing the boat back in the morning – but before that we were going to enjoy a good evening meal and a few glasses of wine at the local Auberge!
So would we recommend a cruise on the Canal du Midi? Absolutely! And would we recommend hiring a cruiser from Nicols? Most definitely! In fact we’re about to contact Nicols again about our next year’s cruise!