Wine tourism along the Canal du Midi

© T. Joly
Between Carcassonne and Béziers, the Canal du Midi passes through several wine appellations. By boat, by bicycle or by foot you can follow its course to discover some of the wineries.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- By road
780 km from Paris to Carcassonne on autoroutes A10, A20 and A61
760 km from Paris to Béziers on autoroutes A10 and A71
- By train
TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon to Toulouse or Narbonne, then Intercités to Carcassonne. The journey takes 5 h 30 mn.
TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon to Béziers. The journey takes 4 h 20 mn.
- By plane
Flights to Carcassonne from several British and Irish cities.
Hop! Flights from Paris to Castres-Mazamet airport, 65 km from Carcassonne.
- Hotels
Chateau de Pennautier, in Pennautier
Odalys, in Le Somail
La Bastide, in Carcassonne
Ibis Centre, in Carcassonne
La Bastide de Cabezac, in Bize-Minervois
- Bed and Breakfast
Chez Pierrette Bernabeu, in Le Somail
Péniche Tango, in Le Somail
Aux Oliviers, in Homps
Risico, in Homps
Table cave du Chateau, in Pennautier
L’Auberge du Somail, in Le Somail
Le Comptoir Nature, in Le Somail
Les Tonneliers, in Homps
La Table de Norbert, in Carcassonne
Café du Midi, in Bize-Minervois
La Bastide de Cabezac, in Bize-Minervois
Boat rental
- Locaboat
Base in Argens-Minervois
- Nicols
Base in Le Somail
Maison des Vins du Minervois
35 quai des Tonneliers, 11200 Homps
Ph : 0468912948
Tastes en Minervois
2017 edition on September 2nd and 3rd
- Languedoc Tourist Office
Ph : 0499642929
- Hérault Tourist Office
Ph : 0467677171
- Aude Tourist Office
Ph : 0468116600
- Carbardès Wines
- Minervois Wines
- Languedoc Wines
Tel : 0468903830
Built in the 17th century by Pierre-Paul Riquet, the Canal du Midi is France’s most famous artificial waterway. Also known throughout the world since its inscription on Unesco World Heritage List in 1996, it connects Toulouse to the Mediterranean coast, reaching it at Marseillan, near Sète. 241 kilometres long, going through several wine areas, it can be travelled on a boat tour, on board of rental boats you can drive without license, by bicycle or on foot, following the old towpath.

Canal du Midi © T. Joly
 Cabardès wines
A journey along the Canal thus gives you the opportunity to discover the Cabardès appellation that stretches near Carcassonne, a town above all known for its imposing medieval fortress. Relatively young - it was granted AOP status in 1999 - it boasts only 540 hectares cultivated by 25 estates and 3 cooperative wineries. Its terroir has the peculiarity of being subject to both the climatic influences of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. This is why it is the only AOP in France where are allowed both the Bordeaux grape varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot as well as the Mediterranean varieties Syrah and Grenache. Together, they give complex wines combining power and freshness.
Located right along the Canal, in Villemoustaussou, a few kilometres from Carcassonne, Château La Mijane produces two of the best wines of the appellation, the Arpège and Fluvius cuvées.

Château La Mijane © T. Joly
 Petit Versailles
If you want to taste other excellent wines in the surroundings, go to Domaine de Cabazan that uses biodynamic methods, in Villegailhenc, Château Ventenac, in Ventenac Cabardès, or Domaine Loupia in Pennautier. This little village is also home to a castle nicknamed the Petit Versailles of Languedoc because its was designed by the architect Le Vau and landscape gardener Le Nôtre. Now turned into a luxury hotel, it can only be visited on Saturday morning during the summer period. The owners are also winemakers and produce wines in nine appellations of the region including Cabardès. Their wines can be tasted in the wine bar of the cellar where wine tastings and workshops focusing on wine and food pairing are regularly held. The AOP Cabardès being reserved for red and rosé wines, whites are sold under the banner IGP Cité de Carcassonne. The most amazing is the excellent dry Gewurztraminer produced by Château La Mijane. Floral and aromatic, it is perfect as an aperitif and to pair with fish or seafood.

© T. Joly
 Minervois wines
Further east, the Canal du Midi passes through the Minervois appellation for tens of kilometres. Boasting 3,400 ha of vineyards stretching from the banks of the Canal to the foothills of the Montagne Noire, it produces powerful, full-bodied wines with aromas of red and black fruits, mainly elaborated from Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre grapes.
In the past they were exported from Homps then the third most important port of the Canal thanks to this trade and because it was one of the only places where boats could maneuver and turn around. Naturally, it is here the Minervois winemakers have established their headquarters and opened a Maison des Vins where visitors can taste and buy wines of more than 130 cellars cooperatives and wineries of the appellation. Moreover, from May to the end of September, every Tuesday and Thursday a winegrower offers you to taste all his wines while on Friday they are four to do the same.

Domaine de la Croix Saint Jean © T. Joly
 Wines to discover
Among the winemakers of the appellation whose wines deserve to be discovered, let’s name the Château Guéry, in Azille, near Homps and the Canal. Domaine Borie de Maurel and Domaine Vieux Continent that are a little further away in Félines-Minervois, as well as Domaine Coudoulet in Cesseras, Domaine Sicard in Aigues-Vives and Domaine de la Croix Saint Jean in Bize-Minervois , a picturesque village that hosts the Tastes in Minervois festival dedicated to wines of the appellation and gastronomy. Or the Domaine du Somail located in Saint-Nazaire d'Aude, near the Somail, the most charming port of the Canal. An old stone bridge, a 17th century chapel, an inn, an ice house, the canal’s guard house and the former stables for towing horses, remind us that passenger boats halted there for night.

Le Somail © T. Joly
 Charming port
It was also there that goods to Narbonne were transferred to carts and then to other barges once a junction canal was opened. Le Somail is also home to a bookshop containing thousands of ancient books.
The Canal du Midi then goes toward Béziers it reaches after passing the spectacular set of 9 locks of Fonserannes. Then comes a canal bridge spanning the river Orbs and offering a superb view of the cathedral standing on a hilltop. Both this monument and the surrounding old district deserves a look as well as the Allées Riquet, a large shaded promenade where stands a statue of the builder of the Canal. A few kilometres out of town, you can complete your knowledge of Languedoc wines by going to Domaine de la Barthe, one of the best wineries of the little known IGP Coteaux de Béziers.

August 17, 2017
Thierry Joly 

[ Wineries ]

- Château La Mijane, 11620 Villemoustaussou, 0468109971
- Domaine de Cazaban, 11600 Villegailhenc, 0468721163
- Domaine Loupia, 11610 Pennautier, 0468249177
- Château Ventenac, 11610 Ventenac Cabardès, 0468249342

- Domaine du Somail, 11120 Saint-Nazaire d’Aude, 0618092473
- Domaine de la Croix Saint Jean, 11120 Bize-Minervois, 0468463532
- Château Guéry, 11700 Azille, tel : 0468914434
- Domaine Borie de Maurel, 34210 Félines-Minervois, tel : 0468916858
- Domaine Vieux Continent, 34210 Félines-Minervois, tel : 0698888928
- Domaine Coudoulet, 34210 Cesseras, tel : 0608886017
- Domaine Sicard, 11800 Aigues-Vives, tel : 0468912394