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Dreaming about the South of France? Why not rent a boat and relax as you go down the Canal du Midi! Make your dream a reality!
My husband, three daughters and I rented a boat and spent a lovely week on the Canal du Midi during our last trip to France. The trip was fantastic. However, unlike my husband who has sailed frequently in the past, I had no experience whatsoever with boats and I was apprehensive. Fortunately, the boating staff were fantastic at making me feel very comfortable (not always easy to do) before we departed on our own.
Why rent a boat?
Because it’s fun and exciting! The scenery is very peaceful. We went in May, so it wasn’t crowded. The weather was cool, but sunny. For us, it was perfect. Also, for a boat it was very roomy. We rented a three bedroom/three bathroom boat. It felt like we had a lot of space and it was great fun for us as a family.
Why the Canal du Midi?
The Canal du Midi is a beautiful and peaceful canal. Unlike rivers, the Canal was man-made and doesn’t have the force or depth of a river. The water is calm and gentle. The area is surrounded by peaceful farmlands and small villages. The air is fresh and there are beautiful birds and ducks on the canal as well.
What about food?
We planned our meals and bought a lot of food beforehand. There was a small, but fully functional kitchen. However, the refrigerator was very small and struggled a bit, so don't go overboard with perishables. Buy long life milk and some tinned food. Amazing bread and baked goods were very easy to find along the canal. Every morning we ate fresh bread, croissants, and other pastries. Also, there are restaurants and small convenience stores that you can visit along the canal. For us, with kids, it worked out better to have most of our meals on the boat and then use the cafes along the route for lunch or snacks.
We used Le Boat for our trip as it was one of the larger companies. Our boat was very clean and in good condition when we got it. They also had a good variety of routes- I wanted to avoid the intimidating (but impressive) Fonserannes locks at Beziers. These amazing locks look like a staircase and are quite a feat, but I wasn't game to try them out, so we chose to start in Trebes and end in Narbonne which meant we were going down the locks (which is much easier).
Also, for the first part of the journey, all the locks were manned. This meant that there was a lock keeper who would start the lock. We found them to be really kind and helpful as well. As we got closer to Narbonne the locks were manual/automatic. This means that you have to get off ahead of time to push a button to prepare and open the lock for you. I was really intimidated by the unmanned locks as I felt that the lock keepers offered a bit of a safety net. However, it really was just a button that you press and you wait for the lock to either fill or empty for you (depending on your direction). Once you are in and roped up, then you press a button to activate the lock. So, yes, manned locks are easier because you don't have to press any buttons, but it wasn't nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be.
Is a boat safe for the kids?
Yes, it’s safe, but if you are not going with other adults then I would wait until your youngest is school age. When you do the locks, you’ll need your children to be able to occupy themselves for that period of time. We have three kids and only the middle one was interested in helping out with the locks. She would help my husband hold the rope, while I jumped on and off the boat to tie the ropes to the bollards. My other two watched from the windows inside. There are also life vests for the whole family. We only allowed our children up on the top deck with a life vest on. The living room has a secure lock. Also, because the water is so calm and the canal so narrow, we had no issues with motion sickness.
What if we get stuck or have problems?
At one point we had some minor problems and needed to call our boat company. They sent someone almost immediately to help us out.
If you are thinking of doing this with friends or family than this is a great holiday idea. The more adults that join in, the easier the trip. While I’m not a boat person, we had no problems with the locks or anyone falling in the water. Great trip with older kids or with another family.
Keep in mind that the canal can get crowded during high season with people and mosquitoes. So, if you plan to go in summer, schedule extra time into your day as the locks will take longer because there are more people and you will have to wait your turn. And, remember to bring plenty of sunscreen, mosquito repellent, and hats.
Also, as beautiful as the water may look, it's famous for not being all that clean, so don't swim in it.
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