The canal du midi was built between 1667 and 1681 by Paul Riquet, Return
who was born in Beziers.
It was an ambitious project to join the Atlantic ocean to the mediterranean.
The Garonne is navigable from Bordeaux to Toulouse and so the plan
was to build a canal from Toulouse to Sète via the Etang de Thau
The idea first occured to Augustus more than a thousand years before,
but Paul Riquet was the first to work out how to get the water
to flow in both directions.
The canal runs through a large valley
with the Pyrenees on one side and the Montagne Noir on the other.
The flow of water to operate the locks comes from a reservoir fed by rivers and streams
from the Montagne Noir thus enabling the flow to both East and West.
Paul Riquet was very advanced for his time,
employing both men and women and even paying for
weekend work and for periods of illness.
The project was the "Channel Tunnel" of its day
and massively over-ran the estimated cost.
Unfortunately Paul Riquet died just six months
before completion of his project
Once operational it was a great success
and by the 1840s was carrying 100 million tonnes of freight
and thirty thousand passengers a year.
Today it is classified as World Heritage
and is used almost exclusively for recreation.
Holiday barges cruise up and down through the beautiful scenery,
stopping at the charming villages along its banks
while cylists and walkers use the old towpaths.
A new developement in the last twelve months
is the advent of electric "barques".
They are like little wooden rowing boats
but are powered by an inboard electric motor.
You can hire one for 300FR for delicious half a day
and spend a few hours whispering silently through the countryside,
perhaps stopping for a picknick.
Montblanc is well placed for exploring the canal du midi
The nearest point of acces is 10 Km, or you can see where
the canal ends on the Etang de Thau, or visit the nine locks
in Beziers or the pretty port on the canal at Colombiers