Canal du Midi by Bike
The principal bike route along the Canal du Midi follows the former towpath, hence it is essentially flat. Over the first 50 km, the path gradually rises a grand total of 60 meters, then descends 200 meters as it proceeds towards the Mediterranean.
From Toulouse until Port Lauragais (the first 50 km), the bike path is smoothly paved. From there until Béziers, the quality of the path ranges from wide and well-surfaced to clay-and-gravel tracks, with a few sections that are narrow, pothole-riddled dirt trails. These sections aren't quite mountain-bike material, but you should have a quality hybrid bike (a vélo tous-chemins, or VTC, which has wider tires than a regular road bike), preferably with shock absorbers. The roughest sections can be avoided by following minor roads that either run nearby, or require only a short detour. (You'll find the details in this guide.)
From Béziers until the end of the Canal, path conditions improve considerably, though you will still find a few poorly-surfaced sections. The final 16 km to Sète follow a brand-new bike path along the seafront.
The entire route, as described in this guide, runs
256 km. To make your trip safe and enjoyable, assume that you'll only be able to cover half your usual daily distance along the unsurfaced parts along the Canal. With that in mind, completing the entire route will take a cyclist of average fitness about a week. This doesn't count any stopovers, though, and you should highly consider taking an extra day to explore the medieval town of Carcassonne, and possibly more time for any side trips.
The Canal tends to meander, but generally speaking, the route from Toulouse first heads southeast, then east. Nothing requires you to follow it in the direction described; however, the prevailing winds tend to blow from the west, so you'll have better odds of benefiting from tailwind by starting in Toulouse.
Best time to go
The route can be cycled at all times of the year. Winter, unsurprisingly, is the least popular season, as the vegetation is barren and parts of the Canal are drained for maintenance. Spring and fall are best; spring starts as early as March, and balmy temperatures can persist well into October (although with cooler nights). Summer can get very hot, especially towards the Mediterranean, although the heat is mitigated by the shade of trees in many sections, and the proximity to the water.
Many of the towns and villages along the route are linked by trains. This makes it easy to cycle only part of the route, or skip certain sections. From Toulouse, Carcassonne and Bèziers, high-speed trains connect to other parts of France. The smaller towns are served by local trains running along the Toulouse-Narbonne and Bèziers-Sète lines. Even some of the small villages have train stations, though fewer trains will stop at them.
Bikes travel for free on the local trains (TER), but you cannot bring them aboard during peak commuting hours (early morning and from 4pm to 6pm). The inter-city trains (intercités) require an advance reservation, as bike compartment space is limited, and payment of an extra fee (usually €10 per bike).
There are many accommodations along the route, ranging from simple hotels to charming bed-and-breakfasts (chambres d'hôtes) to luxurious châteaus. We've compiled a list of over 200 establishments, most of them within 3 km of the principal route, and often on the Canal itself. Supply of rooms may appear abundant, but this area is understandably popular; more than 2 million people visit the region around the Canal du Midi every year. During the height of the season — July and August — accommodations tend to book up quickly. At other times, it is usually sufficient to book a day or two ahead, or even call on the same day.
Some chambres d'hôtes will serve dinner, as well, often a multi-course meal of local dishes, which is generally a very good value. Make sure to reserve meals at least 24 hours ahead of time. The menu items are typically fixed, but your hosts will accommodate special dietary needs as best as they can. Try to be specific, and bear in mind that to many French, "vegetarian" includes fish.
An accommodation type particular to the Canal du Midi are péniches — house boats that function as a bed-and-breakfast. Many of them are meticulously restored barges that offer an atmospheric way to spend the night; some of them are even decked out with jacuzzis. And, being moored along the Canal, they are easy to reach.
Many of the smaller establishments tend to close from November until April; the péniches generally accommodate guests only in the summer.
Although we researched this guide diligently, we make no guarantees as to its accuracy. All information is provided without warranty of any kind, and we assume no liability for any damages resulting from its use. Pricing is illustrative only and does not constitute a binding offer. Traffic, weather, and other unforeseen conditions may make the proposed routes impracticable. Please use caution and common sense, and always follow the rules of the road and local laws.