Explore French culture alongside the Canal du Midi

Sailing in lush French tranquility doesn't mean turning off your brain entirely! From Toulouse to the Mediterranean sea, the Canal du Midi winds its way through more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) of gems of Romanesque art, citadels in Cathar country, and exceptional large-scale infrastructures. Here's our selection of cultural highlights not to miss along the Canal.

A palm tree of stone

Could palm trees grow inside Toulouse's church of the Jacobins Convent? Not in reality, but in incredible facsimile: the 28-meter (918 foot) tower is made in stone and crowned by 22 ribs in brick evoking palms! It is not the only curiousity of this medieval art gem—in the Saint-Antonin chapel, visitors can read the life of the eponymous saint on faded frescoes as easily as a comic book.
Couvent des Jacobins (External link)

Master carver's mysteries

Regarding the Cabestany master, we know nothing, not even his real name. But his sculptured work, a treasure of Romanesque art in the Middle Ages, has endured for many centuries. Triangular faces, bulging eyes, spider-like fingers—his styleis a pastiche of human and monster faces cut on the capitals of the Saint-Papoul Abbey.
Abbaye de Saint-Papoul (External link)

At the headwaters of the canal

To know everything about the Canal du Midi, go to the Saint-Ferréol basin, the UNESCO-listed source of its supply. For more than 200 years, this dam, which was build in 1667, was the biggest one in Europe. Today, you can go back in time with the old "maison de l'ingénieur," where a museum depicts the saga of Pierre-Paul Riquet, the dam's fabulous creator.
Le bassin de Saint-Ferréol (External link)

The sentinels of Cathar country

No less than 52 towers line the 3-kilometer (1.86-mile) wall. Contemplating this UNESCO-listed fortress, it is hard to imagine that the city of Carcassonne was threatened with destruction in the 19th century! Strolling along this massive symbol of the tumultuous history of Cathar country, admire the fruits of architect Viollet-le-Duc's labor, who suceeded in recreating its medieval look.
La cité de Carcassonne (External link)

A Roman wine cellar

Do not be intimidated by its odd name: horreum in Latin is a public warehouse. There is still an underground one remaining in Narbonne as witness of the Gallo-Roman era—it's a range of galeries with a perfect humidity that can be used as a bedrock for a market or a warehouse. Up until it was turned into a museum in 1975, it was still a working wine cellar!
L’Horreum romain (External link)

A canal can hide another one

Engineers or aesthetes: here is a large-scale work that's a must-see. With 240 meters (800 feet) in length, 28 meters (90 feet) in width and 12 meters (40 feet) high, the Orb bridge canal is one of the highest in France. From the top of this whimsical work (made in order to allow boats to cross the Orb river perpendicularly), you have a unique view on the river below and the Cathedral of Béziers in the distance Le pont-canal de l’Orb (External link)

Italian-style theater

If you can't participate in a guided visit on Saturday, book tickets to a performance at the Théâtre Molière Sète. It is a great way to appreciate this listed Historical Monument, known as "the most beautiful Italian-style hall of all South of France." Snuggle against the velvet sofas and take in the red and gold decor, crowned by the celestial-style vaulted ceilings—until the curtain rises, that is!
Le théâtre Molière Sète (External link)

Head off to the Canal de Midi in Occitanie  

The Canal du Midi connects Toulouse to the Mediterranean sea. It's 241 kilometer (150 miles) length glides past the cities of Castelnaudary, Carcassonne, Narbonne and Béziers, ending in Sète and emptying into the Thau pond.