Le Canal du Midi, Toulouse to Carcassonne, June 11 / June 24, 2012

Michael J. Ferguson

Journal Index


1  Introduction
2  Montreal to Toulouse, Mon. June 11 / Tues. June 12
3  Toulouse, Wed. June 13
4  Toulouse, the Canal du Midi to Camping Violette, Thurs. June 14
5  Camping Violette to Avigonet-Lauragais, Fri. June 15
6  Avigonet-Lauragais to just beyond Castelnaudary, Sat. June 16
7  Beyond Castelnaudary to Carcassonne, Sun. June 17
8  Carcassonne, Mon. June 18 and Tues. June 19
9  Carcassonne to Castelnaudary, Wed. June 20
10  Castelnaudary to Toulouse, Thurs. June 21
11  Toulouse, Fri. June 22
12  Camping du Rupé to ETAP Airport Hotel, Sat. June 23
13  Toulouse to Montreal, Sun. June 24
14  Maps

1  Introduction

I had been toying with going back to Toulouse for some time, and checked the air fares. June appears to be the month. They double later in the summer. The longest I could find at the lowest price was for two weeks and I wanted something that would be feasible for that time. Rather than go to the mountains, I decided to explore the world heritage site, the Canal du Midi and the apparently delightful Cathar town of Carcassonne.

2  Montreal to Toulouse, Mon. June 11 / Tues. June 12

I had a pleasant ride to the airport and arrived with enough time to leisurely pack my bicycle and trailer. My audience was an admiring bicyclist who built trailers and folding bikes, and had numerous suggestions for my equipment. As he left, he said ``I am very impressed with what you are doing.'' The wait at the Air Transat counter was quite short, and I discovered that the charge for my bicycle was less than the charge for a second piece of baggage. The in flight service was quite good with a rarity these days, free wine with dinner.

We arrived essentially on time, at about 11:30am with a very good landing, but it was then that my difficulties began. My trailer came off the carousel, but my bicycle was no where to be seen, even after the signs said ``Unloading Completed'' and the oversize gate slammed shut. Fortunately, there was a baggage attendant around, and he led me out of the baggage area to the airport baggage handling office. I filed a report after the lady went back in to see if it was someplace I didn't look. It wasn't there. After the standard problem of describing my bag, I told them that I was going to stay in a campground. After some difficulty finding it, and a realisation that moving my trailer around without the bicycle, was incredibly difficult, I decided to stay at the ETAP Airport Hotel where I will stay on the night before I leave. They had room for two nights so I checked in, and hauled my trailer upstairs. I contacted Air Transat over the internet, and discovered that they were members of a worldwide lost baggage service. My bicycle had been entered on that service, but I sent them email anyway. It was early afternoon, and after checking the Lost Baggage website with no results, went for a walk after the pouring rain when I arrived had stopped. There is nothing around here and I dearly wanted my bicycle. I came back at about 4:00pm, and checked again, the website said my bicycle had been found and delivered to the hotel. That was apparently a lie, but they had contacted the hotel and told them it would arrive at 7:30pm. It did arrive at 7:40pm and with much delight, and some strain, I took it up to my room.

3  Toulouse, Wed. June 13

After some difficulty, I assembled all my stuff, and took the bicycle, and essentially empty trailer, downstairs. The hotel breakfast did not look too interesting so I opted to go to a McDonald's on my way to Carrefour where I was going to get supplies. Unfortunately the McDonald's was not open for breakfast, but there was a nice boulangerie/patisserie beside it where I had a small continental breakfast. I continued on to Carrefour where I got my supplies, but much to my dismay, it was pouring rain when I wanted to leave. After it stopped, I put on my rain jacket, and rode into the centre of Toulouse. I spent most of the day riding around, being totally lost, even with my GPS, and unable to find anything that I wanted. However, being lost meant seeing many new things.

Toulouse is known as the ``pink'' city because of its bricks, but I found the pervasive wrought iron balconies quite striking.

Airbus has created huge industrial and research complexes around Toulouse, but it must be remembered that one of the world's finest mathematicians was from there.

After some lunch at a small kebob stand, I started back to the ETAP, and arrived there in the mid afternoon. It was a good, but wet day.

4  Toulouse, the Canal du Midi to Camping Violette, Thurs. June 14

After much difficulty following the turns on the GPS, I found the beginning of the Canal du Midi. The first part of the canal was filled with moored boats. Some were utilitarian but most looked like permanent houseboats.

Later the Plane, or Sycamore trees as they are called in North America lined both sides of the bicycle path, both sides of the canal, and, of course, only the bank side of the tow path.

The highlight of the day was a barbecue lunch, right beside the bicycle path, for the Intespace employees. I stopped to see and was invited to have something to eat and drink. They were very friendly and curious.

I finally found the bridge that crossed the canal to get back on the road that led to the Camping Violette where I stayed for the night.

5  Camping Violette to Avigonet-Lauragais, Fri. June 15

Although it started out overcast, the sun soon appeared and it was a beautiful day. The strong head winds of last night disappeared, but the3 did come back during the afternoon. The hills on either sides had numerous villages, and most of the bridges were designed by the canal's architect, Pierre Paul Riquet.

There were a few boats actually sailing on the canal, all of them pleasure craft, and I made the day of one woman passenger. She shouted ``Canada'', after seeing my flag, and I shouted back oui. She immediately threw her arms in the air and started clapping vigourously.

I stopped early afternoon at the small municipal campground of Avigonet-Lauragais. Avigonet-Lauragais was the one of the last strongholds of the Cathars, a ``pure'' Christian sect, before they were wiped out by the establishment, the Roman Catholic Church. The town is right up the side of steep hills, and even on an empty bicycle, it was a strain. The centre of town is the Eglise Notre Dame des Miracles. It was here that Dominic, of the Dominican Brothers apparently performed a miracle that raised him to sainthood. He is said to have caused a deadly leg disease to occur in Cathar who was kicking the corpse of a priest that he had recently killed.

The town was not totally in the 12th century as can be seen from the windmills on the hill.

6  Avigonet-Lauragais to just beyond Castelnaudary, Sat. June 16

Today started cool and sunny, but quite windy. The main change on the canal was the deterioration of the bicycle path at Port-Lauragais from nice pavement to rough dirt. It started out quite wide, but soon narrowed to the point that you hoped you would not meet anyone. Fortunately, I didn't.

The locks became rather frequent and canal started to drop, instead of rising, as it did out of Toulouse. The two chambered Ecluse St. Roc was quite crowded, with two boats going through the two chambers, and a third on waiting.

From there the path was a little wider, but still quite rough and required too much concentration to really be a tourist. My intended stop for the night was Castelnaudary, but their Camping Municipale had been turned into a park, and the other one, Camping Girialle was quite closed, with no indication that it ever was a campground, although there were RVs in back. The port basin at Castelnaudary was built because of the canal and from a bicyclist's point of view is especially notable because of its narrow, walking, bicycle path. For the very last part, you were forced onto a short section of road.

It was clear that I couldn't get to Carcassonne, so I started to look for a place for Camping Sauvage. I was a little worried, because the canal is quite civilised, with much residential property facing it. After rejecting a small path into a very small wooded area, I found an ungated, grassy area behind some trees that appears to be an abandoned industrial plant.

7  Beyond Castelnaudary to Carcassonne, Sun. June 17

It was a very pleasant day, except that the path got narrower, about 6in (15cm), and in places quite rough from exposed tree roots. I stopped at the Herminis lock for lunch, and met, again, the group of cyclists that were walking the path in Castelnaudary. They were very curious as to how my trailer worked. Its one wheel was essential on the narrow paths. The path through Carcassonne is supposed to be even worse than what I had seen, and my guidebook recommends the road. I left the canal at this lock to go by road to the Camphole la Cité campground. It is quite pleasantly modern.

8  Carcassonne, Mon. June 18 and Tues. June 19

Although the campground is quite modern and has many conveniences, its WiFi is the most expensive I have seen anywhere ... 15min costs 5 Euros. McDonald's has free WiFi so that was to be my first stop of the day. On my way to find the one in the Basse Ville, I passed in front of the original Carcassonne, now called La Cité. Carcassonne began as a hilltop fortified town and was the first line of defence against Spain, just next door. I got a beautiful view of it at the north edge of the campground.

That McDonald's in the Basse Ville has apparently died. My GPS coordinates were exact, and I asked a woman where it was. She pointed across the street to a now vacant store, and said ``It appears to have gone!''. My second choice was much further out of town, but had all that I needed, including power.

On my way back to check out the train schedules at the Gare de Carcassonne I passed through a gate to the Basse Ville.

The Canal du Midi goes right through the centre of the Basse Ville, with some rather busy locks in front of the Gare de Carcassonne.

There are also some tiny canals, and one leads right to the campground. Its main use seems to be the jogging path beside. The only boats that could use it would be radio-controlled models.

Early Tuesday morning I rode up to La Cité. It is quite clear that the fortifications were serious.

It was very early, and drippily overcast, but that did not stop the school groups.

The two major structures in the city are the Basilique des Saints Nazaire et Celse and the Chateau Comtal. The chateau gate was closed, but it was easy to see the moat and gate from several places. The garden boxes were quite unusual.

Just off the basilica square was the pretty Chez Saskia restaurant and the Rue St. Louis.

9  Carcassonne to Castelnaudary, Wed. June 20

In contrast to the continual downpour yesterday afternoon and night, this morning I wakened up to a clear sky, brilliant sun, and a wet tent. However, it was nice to pack up in sunshine rather than rain. I rode on the highways to avoid the distressing unpaved track on from Port Lauragais to Carcassonne. I was aiming for Camping le Violettes where I stayed on my first night out of Toulouse, but I passed right by Camping Girialle, which had been closed on my way to Carcassonne and was quite happy to find that it was open. Their campsites were very nice, right by the Canal du Midi, with the bicycle path on the other side of the canal.

10  Castelnaudary to Toulouse, Thurs. June 21

After climbing up the hill from the my campsite to the entrance, I turned and rode out of Castelnaudary, the road became beautiful, quiet, and one lane.

This was not to last though. After about 3km, I reached the D6113, a rather main road with heavy traffic. This road runs parallel to an toll autoroute so I suppose the drivers, ans especially the truckers are saving tolls by avoiding it. Every so often I was greeted with a strong sweet fragrance. The lavender is not in bloom, but the honeysuckle was.

The D6113 used to be the national N113, perhaps a reason for the traffic. At the border between Aude and Haute Gironne departments it changes to the D813. This border is marked by old and new signposts.

Montferrand, on the top of the hill is apparently an old Cathar stronghold ... I admired it from down below.

One of the advantages of missing the dirt canal track, was that I passed through several of the excursion towns mentioned on my canal guidebook. The first was Villefranche de Lauragais whose main street was typical small French town.

The most interesting, though, was not an official excursion, Villenouvelle, just outside of Villefranche. It's church, on the main street, had been totally encroached upon, on both sides by townhouses.

A short distance after that, I saw a sign to the cycle path on the Canal du Midi and was on a nice, quiet, almost empty paved path, all the way to Toulouse.

Up in the highlands on the road, I had a gentle tail wind. As I entered the canal path, it died to almost nothing leaving a glassy surface on the canal. However, as I got inside Toulouse, it became a ferocious headwind and remained that way until I reached Camping du Rupé, which was exactly where my GPS said it was. It was a good day.

11  Toulouse, Fri. June 22

Today I saw Toulouse in beautiful sunshine and light winds. It was a nice change from my first day. I rode all the way to the start of the Canal du Midi on the bicycle path along side the Canal Latéral that completes the way to the Atlantic.

It was considerably more commercial than the Canal du Midi but much nicer and pleasanter than my ride from the ETAP Hotel on my second day. Toulouse is known as the pink city because of the colour of the bricks. One nice example was by the Canal du Midi.

The Place du Capitole was much cheerier in the sunshine.

The street signs are all bilingual, French and Occitan. The Québec Office de la langue Francaise would be happy, the French is always first.

The streets were narrow, with pedestrians usually walking down the middle of the road but cars, and trucks, were allowed.

After much aimless riding around, I stopped for lunch, along with many other Toulouse residents in the Jardin Pierre Goudouli.

Saint Sernin basilica was much more charming in the sun.

The ride back to Camping du Rupé was a delight ... cool and no wind.

12  Camping du Rupé to ETAP Airport Hotel, Sat. June 23

It was only about 8km (5 miles) from the campground to the hotel so I was in no hurry to leave. I was just north of a recreation area so I detoured into it so I could see the Lac des Sesquières.

Much to my delight, my GPS routed me along a bicycle path on the way to Blagnac.

I passed over the Rivière Garonne, through the southern centre of Blagnac, which was very sparsely commercial, rode past several Airbus Campuses and found my hotel. It was still very early so I rode back into Blagnac and had lunch in the delightful Parc Public D'Odyssud. While there, I communed with the mallards and a Barnacle Goose, and admired the wildflowers.

Then it was a lazy ride back to the hotel.

13  Toulouse to Montreal, Sun. June 24

The ETAP Airport Hotel did not have a shuttle, so I rode the very short distance to the airport and put my bicycle and trailer together there. It was an appropriately uneventful flight back and this time, although they were almost the last off the plane, both bicycle and trailer made it. I put everything together in a very pleasant shaded spot and rode the very crowded bicycle paths home. Today is the St. Jean-Baptiste holiday, the Québec Fête Nationale and everybody was out riding. Except for the initial trauma, it was a very good trip.

14  Maps

The Google Earth map of the trip is only for the ride from the ETAP hotel at the airport, along the Canal du Midi to Carcassonne. If both directions are included, there is too much overlap. This is the link to the map.

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.02.
On 27 Jun 2012, 08:36.