The Canal du Midi is a stupendous engineering project of the 17th century. Its purpose was to create a waterbourne goods passage between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, bypassing the dangerous and expensive sea route around the Iberian peninsula via Gibraltar.
The project was undertaken by a Mr Riquet who had no engineering qualifiations, no diplomas, no knowledge of hydrology; in fact no paperwork giving him any status at all as a canal builder. He was however extraordinarily rich, which, then as now, helped to overcome these little difficulties. He sank 3 million pounds into the project and left his family a further 2 million pounds in debt when he died. These were not small sums of money in the 17th century. It took 50 years for his family to pay off the debt, but after that they coined it.
The first stretch of the canal (for which Mr Riquet is responsible) that linked the Med to Toulouse was opened in 1682, the connection to Bordeaux being made at that time via the Garonne river. It was much later (1857) before the entire route could be travelled on man-made waterways, and today it will take you about 15 days to get from one end to the other. There is no commercial goods traffic any more though, and the canal closes in Winter.
Initially, the canal was not allowed by the city elders to come to Carcassonne, probably too Anglo-Saxon or something. However when they saw how rich their counterparts in Castelnaudary were getting on account of the canal dock there, they changed their minds. So the bit by Carcassonne is a later bolt-on, a kludge.
We took a couple of the tourist trips on the canal; one up and one down. It's a relaxing way to see the coutryside, and the result is that I'd like to do the whole thing from sea to sea one day.
We stopped off at this canalside house for lunch. It's situated just by a big sluice gate and a runoff channel that are used to drain the canal for cleaning. They did a nice goats' cheese salad that they served with the cheese heated up on what seemed to be honey-flavoured poptarts. It's a combination I hadn't seen before and it worked very well. They also sold a ragondin (musk rat, coypu) paté. We nearly got some for our neighbours who are plagued by these creatures in their garden, but we thought they might not, in the end, like it.