Canal du Midi by Bike: Castelnaudary to Carcassonne
To continue from Castelnaudary, follow the bike path on the south bank of the Canal. At the next bridge, cross the street (
Rue Riquet) and pass the south side of the port. Be careful when you reach the main road, the D 1113 — traffic here is surprisingly fast, and it is best to dismount to cross the bridge and pick up the bike path on the north side of the Canal. An impressive four-chamber lock — the Écluse de Saint-Roch — lies ahead, with a small park to your left.
After 2.5 km along a wide gravel path, you reach Écluse de Gay, where you pass under the D 3131. You'll pass four more locks in short succession: Vivier, Guillermin, Saint-Sernin, and Guerre, where you cross the D 116 (a paved country lane that leads to Saint-Martin-Lalande to the left).
6 km Saint-Martin-Lalande
The village of
Saint-Martin-Lalande lies 1 km to the north. There are no accomodations in the village itself, but you'll find a B&B and campsite another 2.5 km farther on along the D116 (Watch for a sign on the left of the road).
After the D 116, the towpath narrows, and is rutted in places. Two more locks — Peyruque and Criminelle before the path joins a quiet country lane (the D 71) for 500m until Écluse de Tréboul (At the point where this lane meets the path, you could take it to the left to reach
Lasbordes). Continue on the gravel path along the Canal until you reach an arched steel bridge spanning the Canal after 2.5 km.
5 km Villepinte
To get to Villepinte, turn left at the bridge and follow the tree-lined country lane (D 213) that runs to the north.
In the countryside between Villepinte and
Lasbordes, you'll find the CHDomaine Saint-Joly, one of the highest-rated chambres d'hôtes along the entire route. To reach the estate, veer to the left after 500m and proceed along a paved farm track, instead of following the D 213 into the village.
The farm path turns to the left and meets the D 6113 after 250m. Be careful here, this is a major thoroughfare (relatively speaking), and since you are outside the village at this point, you may encounter fast-moving traffic. The safest way is to continue along the farm track on the left, and where it ends, push your bike along the left shoulder until you reach another farm track after 200m. This track leads you to the eastern boundary of St. Joly after 800m. Follow the track around to the entrance on the other side.
There's also a basic hotel in the village itself. Follow the D 213 up to the D 6113, and turn right, and find HLes Deux Acacias on the left after 50m.
The Canal path that continues to Bram is in decent shape, mostly gravel. You'll pass two locks, Villepinte and Sauzens, and shortly after that, the gate of CHChâteau de la Prade (described in next section). 600m after the Écluse de Bram, you reach the bridge where the D 4 leads to the town itself.
5 km Bram
The small town of Bram is worth a visit. Its circle-shaped historic center is built around a 12th-century fortress church. Bram holds an open-air market every Wednesday, and often hosts art exhibits.
On the practical side, there is a train station with frequent connections. Trains run hourly to Carcassonne — useful if you want to skip the following 24-km section of the route, parts of which are in bad shape. Bikes travel free on the local TER trains, but are not allowed during the morning or late-afternoon rush hour.
As for accommodations, there are two chambres d’hôtes, both next to the Canal: one on the north bank 1 km before the D 4, the road into Bram; the other on the south bank, on the D 4. If you head north on the D 4 for 700m and turn right on the D 6113, you'll also find a simple budget hotel.
Continue past the port of Bram. Cross the Rebenty Acqueduct, pass under a railroad bridge, and shortly thereafter, the path veers off the Canal and leads up to a road (the D 33). From here, you can reach the village of Alzonne.
4 km Alzonne
Alzonne has two chambres d'hôtes, as well as a campground that also rents out mobile homes and dormitory-style cabins. To reach the village, follow the paved lane to your left where the canal path ends at the road.
To continue along the Canal, you'll need to cross the D 33. Pick up the narrow trail that leads down to the Canal. As an alternative, cross the bridge and use a paved lane that runs along the other side, then cross back to the trail at Écluse de Béteille 1 km later.
After 3 km, the trail crosses the D 38, a country lane that leads to Sainte-Eulalie to the left (1 km north), and to the hamlet of Les Alauzes to the right (1.5 km south). There are no street signs, but you'll recognize the bridge across the Canal by its distinctive wrought-iron railings.
To reach CHClos Alexaur in Les Alauzes, head south (right) on the D 38 towards Arzens. After 1 km, turn left on
rue de la Fontaine.
After 2 km, the trail briefly joins the D 35, another quiet country lane that leads to Villesequelande towards the left. Continue on the towpath, which improves at this point (gravel instead of grass and dirt). After 2 km, it leads to the Écluse de Villesequelande.
500m after this lock, cross the D 33, the same road you crossed earlier. Pass the hamlet of Sauzens, then after 2 km, the bike path intersects with the D 48, a quiet country road that leads to Pezens.
If the Canal trail proves to be impassable (for example, after heavy rain), you have the option to reach Pezens from Alzonne using a series of paved farm lanes. The first one, Chemin de la Gare, starts just south of Alzonne next to a creek named Le Fresquel. It leads east from the D 8 into Sainte-Eulalie. From there, take the D 138 (the Route de Villesequelande) and follow a farm track to the left where it splits after 1 km. After another 1 km, near Villesequelande, follow the D 35 into Pezens.
11 km Pezens
To visit Pezens, turn left on the D 48 and follow it for 1.5 km. Pezens has one chambre d'hôtes with three rooms.
The trail continues for 2 km, turning into a wider gravel path. Just before the next lock, Écluse de Lalande, a farm track leads to the Domaine de Lalande winery. Shortly after, you'll reach the Écluse d'Herminis, the mooring site of the CHPéniche Mirage.
The path is wide and paved at this point, but turns into a gravel affair later on. Around the next lock, Ladouce, it becomes rutted and patchy, but is still in better shape than the stretch from Alzonne.
1.7 km later, you pass the Epanchoir de Foucaud — this structure drains excess water from the Canal, and, as a side effect, enables a nearby botanical garden to flourish. Shortly thereafter, you pass under the D 6161 road bridge. You're now on the outskirts of
Carcassonne. Just over 1 km later, you pass under a railroad line, and from here you will ride along the street (There is a bike lane for a short stretch).
You are now on the western boundary of Carcassonne's center.
9 km Carcassonne
Carcassonne is home to the world's largest medieval castle. It's one of the top attractions in all of France, rivaling Versailles, and unsurprisingly, a UNESCO World Heritage site as well. It will certainly be one of the highlights of your tour along the Canal du Midi, so budget a half-day at minimum to experience some of its sights.
Practical picks in center:
If you plan to spend more than one night in
Carcassonne and want to immerse yourself in its atmosphere, I recommend staying in the area near the river. There is a large park along the banks of the river Aude — part of it manicured, and some of it left in a semi-wild state — and the Cité is just a short walk away.
The CHCarcassonne Guesthouse has garnered some of the best reviews in the entire city. It's located along
Quai Bellevue along the Bastide side of the Aude, across from the riverside park.
The Pont Vieux, the ancient stone brdige across the Aude, takes you into an atmospheric quarter nestled below the castle. On
Rue Trivalle, a cobblestone alley that still retains some of its medieval character, you'll find several small hotels and B&Bs. H Hôtel du Pont Vieux and CHCôté Cité are top choices here.
I don't recommend staying in the Cité itself, as rooms there are small and pricey. The one exception is the impeccably clean and surprisingly tranquil youth hostel, which also has a moden, fully-equipped kitchen. For solo travelers, this is the cheapest accommodation option. (If you are sharing a room, the H Hôtel De La Bastide is still the best value).
The restaurants in the Cité are mostly tourist traps. Eat where the locals eat: At Place Carnot and along its surrounding streets, you'll find many good options with varied cuisine, including Thai and Japanese.
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