From castles and hilltop villages to walled cities and ancient vineyards, the Canal du Midi is the perfect location for a slow motorhome trip without the crowds.
“Where’s the Canal du Midi?” is usually the first question we are asked when we mention this beautiful part of southern France. It’s an area we know very well, having crisscrossed across this region and those adjoining it for many years. We’ve also sipped champagne and dined on many a dish made from the local produce aboard the luxury barges Savannah and Enchanté as they cruised along this age-old waterway.
The Canal du Midi is one of France’s many ‘hidden’ waterways, once used by commercial barges as their transport hub prior to the introduction of the railway. It runs from Toulouse in the west to the Étang de Thau – near Sète – in the south of France – and lies within the Occatanie region. It is 240 kilometres long and remains a functioning waterway with 91 impressive locks along its watercourse.
Related reading >> If you are interested in learning more about the Canal du Midi and the barges that operate on it, please click on the links below. We have travelled on both of these barges along different parts of the canal.
- Canal du Midi itinerary
- Day 1-2 Narbonne
- Day 3 Minerve
- Day 4 La Redorte to Olanzac via Homps
- Day 5 Puicheric
- Day 5 Trèbes
- Day 6-7 Carcassonne
- Day 8 Lagrasse
- Day 9-10 Le Somail
- Additional motorhome travel guides
Canal du Midi itinerary
A motorhome road trip that follows the canal’s twists and turns will take you to regional, often unseen parts of France. It is a perfect choice for seeing parts of France that many don’t (or would have to take a tourist bus for hours to get to).
While there are several larger towns along this route, one in particular that is a showstopping tourist destination, many are unheard of. It offers a perfect blend of slow travel, good food and wine, and a never-ending supply of things to see and do, even if sometimes the seeing is just sitting back and admiring the region’s beauty.
Not all cities and towns in this area need to be visited, but we’ve mentioned some of the main ones below, along with some of our favourites.
And, while we are writing this as a guide for motorhome travellers, it can easily be achieved with a hire car and hotel combination.
Notes about this itinerary
This itinerary provides information about smaller towns and villages located along or near the Canal du Midi between Narbonne and Carcassonne. It does not include every town, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be added to an itinerary.
As mentioned above, the canal is only 240 kilometres long, and this itinerary covers about 170 kilometres. It can easily be done in 7-10 days. So, adding extra towns in or diverting off the route is not an issue. Actually, it’s something we encourage. It can also be done in any direction.
It all depends on how you like to travel and what you like to do. If you have bikes, you can literally ride everywhere in this area. There are vineyards and wineries to visit, and there are always great places to stop and eat, have a picnic or undertake other outdoor activities.
The inclusions in this itinerary are because we’ve travelled there and spent time in the towns or surrounding areas. We’ve visited local producers, eaten at local restaurants, ridden bikes, been on barges on the canal or stayed in Aires or France Passion sites.
We know this area well because we’ve travelled through it several times in a motorhome and on barges. As always, with the content on this site, if it’s here, you can trust its authentic content written by us for you.
Also note that due to the size of the towns along this route, it is not viable for most of them to remain open all year round. So, before planning to stay or drive through this way, do your research to find out what is likely to be open. While some businesses operate all year round, it’s safer to assume that in this region, businesses are generally open from April 1 through to October 31.
Keep in mind that businesses open and close, sometimes without notice. The same goes for aires and campgrounds. We try to keep our information updated, but it’s not always easy. If in doubt, do some quick research to check the business operating times.
Day 1-2 Narbonne
Narbonne is a great place to start this route. As a larger town, it has all the conveniences you need to commence a road trip, including supermarkets, fuel stations, general shopping, the large Les Halles market open seven days a week, hotels, buses, and train stations. It’s also one of our favourite places in the area.
We also started a journey here that took us through the south-west of France, through the Loire and up into the Champagne region. Using our preferred motorhome hire company, Anywhere Campers, we picked up the motorhome at the Narbonne train station and dropped it back off at Charles de Gaulle Airport.
More reading >> Read our comprehensive review of Anywhere Campers here. Our readers can also save money on a winter or spring hire from 8 January – 30 April 2024. Book 14 days and receive two free or book 20 days and receive four days free. Click on this link to get a quote or book. Also quote ANYSPRING to receive this terrific special.
There are many supermarkets just outside the city centre, so it’s easy to make this either a starting point for your trip or a place to stock up on supplies. Some of the supermarkets here also have parking for motorhomes.
There are also a number of fuel stations in and around Narbonne.
For motorhome parking near Les Halles Market, try Parking Quai Victor Hugo. The ParkPlatz can be found at 1000 Avenue de la Mer. It’s a large, open parking area. A city-bound bus stop is about five minutes away.
Narbonne is known for its ancient Roman ruins, including a fabulous series of underground caves that still exist today. There’s the cathedral and Archbishop’s Palace, Les Halles and the Canal de la Robine, overflowing with great places to eat and drink.
As we’ve been here three times and spent some quality time there, we’ve written a comprehensive guide to spending one or two days in Narbonne. We suggest you use this guide as your reference point for things to do in Narbonne.
Day 3 Minerve
For good reason, Minerve is one of France’s Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (beautiful villages in France). Like many of these fabulous locations, it’s perched on the side of the cliffs, overlooking a deep gorge, with an incredible arched bridge connecting both sides. You can walk around parts of the old ramparts from where you’ll also get a great view.
In fact, amazing views are possible from many parts of this town; the best ones are those you find at the end of the laneways, tucked away, making it feel like you were the first to find it. The town itself is steeped in history involving the Cathar religious ideology and a period of great brutality in the early 1200s in a quest to gain control of the area.
This town can only be explored on foot, and you could take many hours to do so. All vehicles must park out of town, and then access is via walking up the road to get to the medieval ‘old town’. If you start at the carpark, the walk will take you up Rue de la Tour and then around the bend into Rue des Remparts. There is also a view at every turn. The walk is approximately 550 metres. Motorhomes can be parked here safely.
Note: While this isn’t an overtly strenuous walk there are parts of the entire journey there and back that are uphill and undulating, and the walk is done on the side of the road. There is no formal walking track to get to the city.
The formal entrance to the town is near a solitary cylinder-like tower stretching into the sky. This is the candela, or castle from the 13th century, or rather, what is left of it. At the top sits the Church of Saint Etienne, a standout landmark in the distance.
At the other end of town, the Porte Bassa is one of the original gateways into the city. Here, you can walk down a path and get access to the river bed, where you can take a walk.
If you can, walk down to see the natural cave that has been carved out under the hills.
And, while so much happens up on the cliffs, some fantastic things can be done at ground level. Here, you can walk into the river bed and some caves that eventually carry the river underground, that go deep into the mountain. It provides a great perspective of the towering village overhead.
Keep an eye out across the river, opposite Porte Bassa, for the medieval catapult. Back in the days of conflict, rocks were placed into the contraption and flung across the gorge.
A small but interesting museum, Musee Archeologique, contains thousands of archaeological artefacts, including old tools, ceramics and pottery pieces, all assembled by locals. It’s worth a visit, even for non-museum people like us.
Our tip: There’s no rhyme to how the streets are laid out in Minerve, so it can get a little confusing if you don’t keep track of where you are. However, fear not; you’ll never go in and not come out!
Vehicles must park at Aire du Bouys on the outskirts of the town.
Overnight stays are also possible at Aire du Bouys. Park2Night app has the details.
Day 4 La Redorte to Olanzac via Homps
Even though the motorhome is our primary method of travel for a trip like this, it doesn’t mean we have to use it all the time. Back in Australia, our ebikes are an important inclusion to our road trips. When hiring motorhomes overseas, we still ensure we have bikes with us. They mightn’t be the best bikes in the world, but they are perfect for getting around in the small villages we love to frequent.
For this part of the journey, we parked at La Redorte and took our bikes to ride the Canal du Midi bike route along the canal towpath. It’s one of the best things about this area, and it allows you to absorb even more of this beautiful area by getting off the roads and riding alongside the peaceful canal.
If you’re lucky, you’ll also see one of the barges cruise along here. If you do, it’s worth stopping to watch them glide by. Don’t forget to wave at those onboard. They will always return the favour – I know we did.
Most of this path is unsealed. If it has been raining, there are some areas where the water will pool across the track, and others will be a little muddy, but generally, it’s an easy ride.
From La Redorte, you can ride most of the way on the towpath, meaning the ride is leisurely and peaceful, allowing plenty of opportunity to stop along the way.
You’ll ride past never-ending vineyards, mini forests and old stone bridges; don’t miss the delightful Pont-Canal de l’Argent Double; it’s one of the oldest in France. In April-May, you’ll also be wowed by the fields of poppies.
At Homps, stop to take a walk through the town. The area around the port and canal has several places to eat, and it’s a good spot in general for watching the many boats that cruise along the canal. If you’re there on Tuesday afternoon or Thursday, head down to the bridge at Ave du Minervois and see if you can spot the Enchanté barge.
Nearby Jouarres Lake is an area for summertime swimming and other water activities.
To get to Olanzac, you’ll need to come off the towpath for the first time and follow the D2610 road into town.
Olanzac is a very small town with an interesting market every Tuesday. More flea than produce, there’s an eclectic mix of clothing, handmade items and things that look like they belong in a boot sale.
At the end of the market area, you’ll find locals hanging out at their favourite cafes. There’s also a good bakery here.
Our tip: While most of this ride is on the vehicle-free towpath, there are several areas where you need to cross a road. Always stop and check for oncoming traffic. Locals might know of the towpath and riders entering the roadway, but visitors are less likely to. And, even if it is a local behind the wheel, bikes and cars can come up quickly on one another. To be safe, slow down and make sure you have a clear path before continuing.
Day 5 Puicheric
At the Écluse l’Aiguille near Puicheric, an unusual art display has become quite an attraction. The resident lockkeeper has filled his property with groovy sculptures.
Take the D11 out of the town, straight down to the lock (écluse).
Day 5 Trèbes
Trèbes is another typical canal town, with a village feel about it and plenty of life on the canal. There are some good restaurants right on the water at the Trèbes Port, or if you are after something a little fancier, the Michelin-guide Le Moulin is a little further down the canal.
A must-stop is the triple lock, especially if there are boats or barges ready to make their way up or down the canal. It’s quite a sight and really interesting to watch.
Trebe also has a depot for Le Boat if you are interested in parking up the motorhome for a while and taking a cruise along the Canal du Midi. Bookings are advised well in advance if you do.
If you like olives, consider visiting Domaine des Pères, whose olives have been grown by three generations of one family. Tours can be arranged by appointment.
Location: 16 Avenue Pierre Curie 11800 Trèbes
The Domaine des Pères also offers an overnight stopover as part of the France Passion network. You can read more about France Passion here. Note that there are no services here.
Day 6-7 Carcassonne
We could write an entire guide on Carcassonne! It’s the most significant city in this region and the largest on our itinerary. It’s also one of the busiest, and to be honest, we would not want to visit in peak tourist season.
It’s a walled city with narrow, winding cobbled lanes, so when thousands of tourists descend upon it, it can be a fairly uncomfortable place, especially if you visit on your own rather than with a tour group.
But it’s definitely worth a visit. The city of Carcassonne is split into the lower town, which is occupied by the UNESCO World Heritage citadel. It sits prominently on top of a hill; its commanding location in the foothills of the Black Mountains was key to medieval defence strategies. It’s THE reason why everyone comes to visit.
One of the best things about driving here is that you get to appreciate this magnificent structure from a distance; there’s just no way you can miss it. Its imposing walls and towers will have you mesmerised in an instant. On Bastille Day, a fantastic fireworks displays lights up the citadel. Don’t miss it if you are here on that day. Or better still, plan your trip around it.
Being here in shoulder season allows you to linger and not be pushed along by the crowds. It also means you can soak up the atmosphere of being inside a walled city by chilling out at one of the many places to eat and drink.
Entry through the Narbonne (Narbonnaise) gate will be enough to stop you in your tracks. Take your time to look around as your eyes take in the (now empty) moat, bridges, towers and turrets.
Beat the queues: We recommend buying your entry ticket in advance online to avoid having to wait in long queues to buy one. This ticket also includes entry to the ramparts, which is a great thing to do here.
Our tip: If you want to park up the motorhome and stay in Carcassonne, you could try staying at a local hotel operated by a former colleague, Jacqui. L’Echappee Belle, a Chambres D’Hotes inside the walls of Carcassonne, is a perfect spot.
Key sights within the walls
While there are well-known spots within the walls, one of the best things to do in Carcassonne is to wander around the perimeter first. Walk all around the moat, in between the walls, stopping to observe and admire the sheer magnitude of the walls and taking notice of all the key spots from which they once fired weapons.
It’s almost beyond comprehension to think that something so large was built all those years ago without any of today’s technology and mechanisation to help them.
Inside, the cobbled laneways and buildings are a sight to behold. My favourite building is perhaps the Hotel de la Cité; a fancy hotel in itself, but the ivy-covered exterior and bright flags always grab my attention. This is our second visit to Carcassonne, and I still gravitate to this building.
Chateau Comtal and the Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus are important buildings in the old city and worth visiting, depending on your time.
The original Romaneque-style church built in the 12th century has been modified with Gothic-inspired additions. Nonetheless, it’s an incredible building with beautiful stained glass windows.
The only blight on the Carcassonne landscape is the tacky tourist shops lining the main shopping streets, offering plastic armour and other kitsch stuff. For a better shopping experience, work your way around the streets, seeking out authentic craftsman stores and boutiques like Olivier Ledoux’s wood sculptures and totems.
Even though Carcassonne is a very busy place, and it’s obviously impossible to drive a motorhome into the walled city, the importance of the motorhome community to this town is recognised through parking access and accessibility.
Motorhomes can park at Chemin de Montlegun, which is near the old town. The area also accommodates large coaches, so look for the signs indicating where the motorhome area is. It is signed as P1. Note that this is a paid car park.
Walking to the gate – approximately 400 metres away – takes around 6-10 minutes depending on your fitness level.
Our tip: Put 13 or 15 Chemin de Montlegun into your GPS or mapping app, as it can be a bit tricky to find. There are other carparks nearby that have height barriers that won’t allow a motorhome through.
A small carpark between Rue Aime Ramond and Rue de Verdun can also be found.
Aires de Service
The P1 carpark also doubles as a paid aire (overnight stopover).
There is also an automatic aire – no electricity – at Chemin Bernard Délicieux; entrer via Rue Mayrevieile. It’s next to the official campsite, which isn’t open all year round. It takes about 20 minutes to walk to the old town from here and it is uphill.
If you don’t want to stay at an aire in the more central locations, there are several good campgrounds within 20-30 minutes of Carcassonne.
Camping Montolieu is a peaceful campground located about 20 kilometres (20 minutes) from the old city. If you have bikes, it’s a nice ride along the Canal du Midi – for most of the time – and will take you about an hour one way. This campground is not open all year round. If you camp here and then drive in, consider using the P1 car park mentioned above.
Location: 775 Route de Carcassonne, 11170 Montolieu
Domaine d’Arnauteille (Yelloh Village) is also a similar distance away from Carcassonne, in the opposite direction. It’s set in a rural location, with views over the mountains, a restaurant and a bar. This campground is also not open all year round.
Location: Arnauteille, 11250 Montclar
Our tip: Carcassonne is very busy in the summer months, and it is difficult to find a campground if you have not booked ahead. Don’t expect to wing it and hope for the best. The aires are also extremely popular.
Day 8 Lagrasse
Another of the prettiest villages, Lagrasse is known for all the usual reasons, but it is also home to an incredible abbey and arts and crafts centre. Even better, it’s home to a Michelin-standard restaurant and vinegar producer that should be on any foodie’s list.
It stands in the shadows of the Pyrenees, in the Corbières hills. It’s postcard-perfect.
The city must be explored on foot, with car parks outside the town. To make things easier, a well-signed walking route can be followed to take you past all the key points of interest in town. If you’ve got time, I’d recommend going for a walk, visiting the abbey, going to the vinegar store, and then finishing with lunch at the restaurant.
Key sights at Lagrasse
Lagrasse Abbey (Abbaye Sainte-Marie)
It’s an impressive building on the western side of the River Orbieu. Guided and unguided tours are available.
The abbey is split into two halves: the public section owned by the government and that of the privately owned and inhabited Abbaye Canoniale Sainte Marie.
A permanent exhibition for the town of Lagrasse, we particularly loved seeing the intricately painted ceiling work that once lined the medieval houses.
As you go through the town, stop to admire the artisanal craft workshops, the old Les Halle covered market building (which still has markets every Saturday) and the beautiful stone buildings locals call home.
Cyril Codina Vinegar
I’ll admit to never having given France a thought where it relates to the production of fine-quality vinegar. At Cyril Codina Vinaigrerie, we soon learned that this was not so. The owner and chief vinegar maker, Cyril Codina started making vinegars after he wondered what else could be made from grapes.
The boutique vinegars are made on-site and have no additives; they are made simply from the grapes and natural flavourings. The balsamic vinegar is starkly different from its Italian namesake. Light and thin, but with an incredibly complex taste on the palate that leads you directly to its grape origin. There’s vanilla and lemon, blueberry and basil and quite simply, a vinegar that will suit everyone.
We went on a tour and tasted the vinegar, and then we entertained ourselves in the shop before buying some delicious vinegar to take home with us.
Tasty tip: Pick up a jar (or two) of the Perles de Vinaigre. They are unusual and a special addition to salads or fish.
Eat at Le Bastion
Just off the main street and down the road from Cyril Codina is the cosy two-floor Michelin-standard restaurant, Le Bastion. We chose the Le Bastion menu, a set menu offering two choices in each course. If you are dining in groups of two (e.g. two, four, etc.), we recommend choosing one of each option so that you can taste all of the menus.
There are dedicated paid parking areas that have been set aside on the periphery of the town. Look for the signs to P1, P2 and P3.
There are two large carparks: one is located near the D3 bridge at the entrance to the town from the western side (left-hand side) – look for the blue P2 sign, and the other is where the Route de Ribaute (D212) meets Boulevard de la Promenade (right-hand side) – look for the blue ‘visitors obligatoire’ sign.
If you are travelling in a motorhome, it is recommended that you park in P2 (near the D3 bridge).
Free parking, for a maximum of two hours, is possible for cars in marked blue zones. Otherwise, the parking lots are paid zones from 10 am-6 pm.
Walking access to the city is possible directly from the car parks.
The P2 parking area has a dedicated Aire de Camping Cars at the rear where you can stay overnight for €9.
Day 9-10 Le Somail
Le Somail, built around a beautiful stone bridge – Le Somail Bridge- that crosses the Canal du Midi, is one of my favourites, for no other reason than it is beautiful, and just screams out ‘old French village’! The vibe is a relaxing one, a far cry from its heyday as one of the busiest and most important service towns along the canal.
As with many of the towns along the canal, the introduction of the railway caused irreparable damage to their economy and they become a shell of their former self.
If you feel like experiencing the canal a little more closely, head to Le Comptoir Nature (once stables for the horses that walked the towpaths and pulled the boats along the canal), where you’ll find electric boats for hire. Afterwards, pull up a chair canal-side at the restaurant and enjoy a meal or a drink.
Our tip: If you are near Le Somail in the evening (usually Tuesday or Thursday), the Enchanté luxury barge will be docked on the western side of the arched bridge. Look for the giant palm tree, and you won’t miss it. The best bit is that in the evening, entertainers will be on board the Enchanté and the music and singing can be heard all around.
The buildings on either side of the canal near the bridge were once a service station (to service the barges carrying the mail); it morphed into a grain store. Near the palm tree, the building was an inn, where passengers who travelled along the canal stopped for the night. Today, it still operates as a Chambres d’hotes.
Across from Le Comptoir Nature stands a 19th-century icehouse or cooler (also known as la Glaciere), where large blocks of ice were stored to assist with the refrigeration of food and fresh produce transported along the canals. The Le Somail Chapel also sits nearby.
Watch out! If you are walking around town, keep an eye out for the geese. They are pretty and fun to watch, but they can break into a run and try to peck you if you aren’t careful.
Quirky things to do in Le Somail
If you love books, especially trawling through second-hand books, then don’t miss Le Trouve Tout de Livre. It is said that over 50,000 books have a home here.
If you need a few supplies for your motorhome or just like exploring food places like we do, keep an eye out for the green and yellow barge moored on the bridge’s eastern side. The ‘Tamata’ is unique along the canal, operating as a shop. Here, you can find all the things we love about France: wine, cheese, olives and a variety of local and regional artisanal products.
Le Mas d’Antonin
Approximately 10km from Le Somail, in the village of Argeliers, is a local producer of olives and black truffles. Le Mas d’Antonin is a generational farm run by Elena Anton-Marty and her family. The olives are harvested from October to mid-November and feature the ‘La Lucques’, an olive common in this region.
Truffles are also farmed here, many in ancient plantations of hazelnut trees. The truffle hunting season takes place from November until mid-March.
Location: 22 Rue Delpy, 11120 Argeliers
We highly recommend visiting Le Mas d’Antonin and doing either an olive oil tasting or truffle hunt (or both). They are open all year round, but times differ throughout, depending on the season. Olive oil tasting is free, but you must book ahead to avoid disappointment.
There is an onsite shop full of their delicious goodies and other local produce and gifts. They also run an onsite gîte and guesthouse, so if you need a break from your motorhome, this place is quite special.
Domaine La Tasque
Also, only around 10 minutes from Le Somail is a small but excellent winery run by ex-pat British couple, Juliet and Simon. If you know a little about wine and want to know a lot more, or want to try some different grape varieties, then Domaine La Tasque is for you.
Located approximately 10 minutes from Le Somail, ex-pat British couple Juliet and Simon run a vineyard that has some vines dating back 60-odd years that they harvest (mostly) by hand. As a Wine Master, Juliet’s wine knowledge is a standout. She is one of only 20 women in a pack of 430 Wine Masters in the world. It’s a special treat to be taken on a tour around their vineyard with her.
Location: 18 Rue de la Tasque, 11120 Mailhac
A good aire de service is right on the canal at Le Somail. It’s a hard stand; depending on how people park, there is room for 10-12 vehicles. The great thing about stopovers along the canal is that they are incredibly peaceful and quiet. It is free, but there are no services.
Having travelled now on five barges along the canals of France, we can honestly say that some of the best sleep we’ve had has been onboard on the canals. They aren’t the centre of nightlife and are usually in small towns with low populations.
**Do not attempt to cross the arched bridge in your motorhome. If you are on the opposite side of the canal to the aire, access via the D607, turning into Rue Canalet, which connects into Rue Paul Riquet.
Location: 316 Chemin des Patiasses, Le Somail
Additional motorhome travel guides
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