A voyage along the Canal du Midi is a surreal experience. The waterways of the canal make for a languid dreamlike journey. The sense of floating on a cushion of air for mile after mile lulls one into a dream-like state. The “speed limit” is 8 km per hour so the country sides passes by slowly. Because of the engineering feat of keeping the canal level the countryside rises on one side of our view and is below us on the other side. Nowhere but in a canal can you be on a boat and look down on rooftops. Only on a canal can you completely confuse reality by being in a boat on a canal which is also a bridge that spans over a river. It is a magic carpet view of the world. Castle and church spires appear in the distance, then rooftops of village homes at the feet of these grand buildings. The sound of the muffled boat’s motor is soft and steady; the landscape’s powerful silence is stronger than this rumbling mantra.
So silently we glide through and past these quiet canal-side communities. Several times we come to cities. Ancient cites started by the Romans to protect their roads leading to the north. The canal has been important to the growth of these places, a new road to usurp ancient ones. The waterway usually slides right through the center of town. A haven of treelined peace for the city center.Our intimate boat world seems strange passing through railroad yards, past apartment buildings, and then surrounded by modern downtown businesses.
Outside of the few human habitations and the explosive excitement of the locks, there are few intrusions into the tranquility of the voyage.
The canal du Midi was conceived and started during the reign of Louis the IV. This was the late 1600’s and work was done by hand, demanding 12,000 laborers at it’s peak. It is a waterway to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. The canal was to be a safe and quick route to transport goods within the confines of France, thus avoiding a long ocean voyage and attacking Spaniards. Wine has always been the most important cargo of the barges.
One passes acre after acre of vineyards and it is a lot of fun to tie up the boat and make a visit to one of the wine producers. Seeing the enormous containers of wine waiting to be bottled you can see how this one commodity kept the canal going for years and years. And, of course, one cannot fully understand and appreciate this region unless one accepts the responsibility of stopping the boat to sample the nectar of the locals.
But the most hypnotic, dramatic and memorable part of the journey are the trees. In the 1830’s 42,000 trees were planted along the canal to shade the boats and the tow paths. Now over 200 years old, their stately statuesque presence defines that route. Like ancient giants, these sycamores stand sentinel along both sides of the canal. Straight-a-ways, S curves, narrow and wide loops are all signaled by the glow of the smooth, light-colored bark and the soft green of the never-ending cloud banks of foliage. Trees, only trees, can give this sense of shelter, powerfulness and beauty. Mile after mile of them seeps into one’s soul to create a sense of peace as profound as only nature can give.
A great big thanks to the friends that added so much to the joy of this adventure!