A boat ride from the pretty little port of Capestang, with a picnic and a bottle of wine made locally in Saint-Chinian is the perfect introduction to the Canal du Midi…
The Canal du Midi
Like many, I fell in love with the Canal du Midi back in 2005 long before I’d ever visited it. It was the changing flavours, aromas and dishes of Rich Stein’s “French Odyssey” as he sailed his way to the Mediterranean, which stole my heart and placed the canal high on my “must visit” list.
Starting in Toulouse, the Canal du Midi meanders its way through the southern French countryside and vineyards to the Mediterranean Sea near Sète, massaged gently along by willow, plane and poplar trees and an abundance of wildlife, flora and fauna. It is 150 miles long, and took 30 years and some 12,000 people to build it. Back in the 17th century it was considered to be one of the greatest works of construction ever and its main purpose then was to transport wheat, wine, silks and other textiles.
Today, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is hedonistic, soothing and inspiring all at once and there can’t be many better places in France to while away a few hours.
Capestang Canal du Midi
One of the best places to enjoy its full glory is in the medieval village of Capestang in the wine growing region of Saint-Chinian. Here you can stand on an ancient bridge arched over the canal, admiring a selection of sun drenched riverboats and lazy coypu and contemplating just what a marvel this Canal is.
For a couple of hours and about 40€, you can slip into the serendipity of this French icon on a quiet little electric boat, available for hire from the Tourist Office that you’ll find right on the harbour. If you are short on provisions, then stop here first for a selection of local wine, tapenades, fresh olives and honey, and then picnic in hand, head for the canal. And don’t forget a couple of glasses with your picnic because there’s no better way to get your first taste of the wines of the region.
I found myself in the company of some delightful little olives called Lucques, a bottle of Chateau Coujon and a bottle of 2014 Mas Champart both of which are Saint-Chinian appellation wines which I’d never tried before. As the luxury houseboats slipped by and the sun slowly started its sleepy descent from its zenith, I left the cares of the world behind me. It was easy to imagine at that moment, that I was a mixture of Rick Stein and an ancient pilgrim and it was the perfect cue to dig out the glasses and pour the wine.
Whilst I don’t know much about wine, the Mas Champart which is a Grenache blend was everything I know that I like. Fresh, elegant and fruity – it slipped down with my olives very nicely. And the Chateau Coujan which I followed up with some tapenade and French bread, was equally easy and fun to drink – tangy and fruity and a little bit oak-y and absolutely perfect for lazy days down by the river.
My introduction to the Canal du Midi was everything that I hoped it would be and a little bit more. As I headed back into the port at Capestang, with the sun setting in a fury of pinks and salmons and red, the smell of barbeques wafting from the decks of the houseboats, I felt relaxed, re-fuelled and ready for all the heady delights that the region of Saint-Chinian has to offer.