Canal de Garonne : Cruising in Detail

Information about the 193km of canal north-west from Toulouse in Languedoc to the River Garonne at Castets, in Aquitaine. There are 53 ecluses (locks) all rectangular in shape and mechanised, many of them automated by means of a hanging ‘perche’ (rod) over the canal. From PK0 at Toulouse the canal falls 128m to the Garonne junction.

The Canal de Garonne (the renamed Canal lateral a la Garonne) together with the Canal du Midi, forms the ‘canal des deux mers’ (the canal of the two seas – the Mediterranean and the Atlantic). There are a number of side detours possible: (a) north along the Canal de Montauban (or Montech) to Montauban at Montech, (b) onto the River Tarn (and the Garonne) at Moissac, (c) south along the River Baise at Buzet and (d) north along the River Lot, also at Buzet.

Canal entre des mers

Completed between 1838 and 1856, the canal is an example of rational C19th civil engineering. There are many straight sections that some people term boring. Not us. We love the canal for its unpretentious quietness, the predominately pretty countryside – soft fruit, maize and sunflowers; in the far west, the remnants of the once extensive Gitanes/Gauloise tobacco area – and the similarly pretty and historic towns and villages passed through. This was once English Aquitaine, fought over during the Hundred Years War. There are many places to stop; at haltes and ports and simply by tying up to the banksides in some attractive spot or other. Where once there was significant commercial traffic (in grain and petroleum), today there is none.

See also general notes (foot of page).

Basic Information

  • Approximate minimum depth 1.60m, headroom 3.6m, width 6m. These are the ‘book’ values and may vary according to conditions. The canal is fairly reliably supplied with water. As in most other waterways, the given depth is the middle of the channel; the sides may be noticeably less deep and this may affect ‘coming alongside’ especially if one has twin bilge keels or twin propellers. The final factor is that on the ‘down’ side of an ecluse the outgoing water scours a depression immediately outside the gate but then deposits that silt a short way beyond as a ‘bar’.
  • Also immediately outside the ‘down-side’ gates the spillway or overflow water rejoins the canal – with some force. Your boat will be pushed one way via the bows and then other via the stern.
  • The canal is currently (2009) subject to increasing amounts of long strand weed, particularly at its western extremity. We understand that this has is roots (sorry) in fish tank and other ‘introduced’ ornamental examples now literally ‘gone wild’.
  • The canal carries virtually no commercial traffic. It does, however, have a number of converted peniche hotel-barges travelling along it.
  • The speed limit is 8kph, 3kph past moored boats.
  • In season, manned locks open from 09:00 to 12:30 and from 13:30 to 19:30.
  • The Canal de Garonne is part of the south-west region of the VNF, one of the most energetic and go-ahead.
  • Using a pilot-guide book is strongly recommended: Breil Guides or Fluviacarte (Navicarte) Guides.

PK0 Toulouse – Port de l’Embouchure

The basin (a) off which runs the short Canal de Brienne, down to the Garonne and (b) into which connects the Canal de Garonne and the Canal du Midi. Terrific white marble bas-relief plaque – the Mediterranean and the Atlantic personnified together with canal building cherubs busy with picks and shovels. The turn between the two canals is quite tight; you might want to go further into the basin and take a wider approach. There are quayside moorings here (05 62 15 11 91), but it is bounded by busy roads.

PK0-PK4 - A relatively unattractive stretch, with the A62 autoroute on one side and commerce on the other. Also, the giant new Toulouse Rugby Stadium. A new swing footbridge at PK1 cuts across the canal on match days to allow fans to access, then leave, the stadium. At PK4 is a watersports school – watch out for children having fun in canoes and dinghies!

PK4-PK11 - The canal increases in attractiveness although the railway line is hard-by on the eastern side; there are large marshalling yards and a giant storage area.

The canal gradually becomes more rural, more leafy . .
PK19 – Hers Ecluse
– The canal crosses the River Hers in a double bend; pretty lock cottage.
PK31 – Dieupentale
– Possible bankside mooring on east bank, but railway line is very close. . . then considerably more rural, passing through the Forest of Montech – a number of possible bankside moorings and the railway line moves away to the east, heading for Montauban.

PK43 Montech

[pron. Montesh] Port de Plaisance harbour on the west (village) side (tel: 05 63 64 71 73 or 05 63 64 82 44), ‘quayside’ moorings a little further, close by the lock, but watch for depth and obstructions. Possible economical over-wintering location, but quiet. A good and unpretentious village with lots of facilities including a helpful computer technician at ‘Montech Informatique’ and a very large brick church. However, the main supermarket is actually a short distance east across the bridge, on the other side of the canal.

Montech, Canal de Garonne

Above (looking north-west) -  Left : Entrance to the upper ecluse of the chain of five. Centre : Entrance to the famous ‘Pent d’Eau’ water slope, only used by large cruise boats. Right : Entrance to the Canal de Montech/Montauban spur canal.

PK43 Canal de Montech/Montauban

For details of the canal, click here.

PK49 – Saint-Porquier. Excellent grassy banks to moor to all along the north-west side, between PK52 and PK48. At PK49 the village has provided a good timber pontoon adjacent pleasant gardens.

PK56 Castelsarrasin

Castelsarrasin Chantier Fluvial
Castelsarrasin port de plaisance

Another excellent, straightforward, French small town – a full range of facilities, a very good Port de Plaisance (05 63 32 01 39). Also a first class – if somewhat informal – boatyard run by Veronique and Bernard (05 63 32 12 67 or 06 22 61 55 12). Bernard’s crane can lift you out, he can provide welding and other metalwork services, and he has a large ‘hanger’ for winter storage. Railway station with connections to Toulouse and Bordeaux.

PK62 – The impressive brick arched Pont Canal over the River Tarn – next to the rebuilt railway bridge; the original was swept away in the terrible flood of 1930 that also caused destruction in both Moissac and Montauban.

PK64 Moissac

Moissac port de plaisance

One of our favourite places. Brilliant PdP ‘Port Moissac’, run by Kaz and Iain Noble (cepnoblemarine@nullorange.fr – Tel: 05 63 04 09 89 or 06 86 20 25 55). They will also maintain and repair your boat, or find and sell you another if all else fails!

The town is very old, has a beautiful Romanesque abbey church and cloister, a lovely brick road bridge over the River Tarn (the ‘Pont Napoleon’, although having promised the town it he didn’t actually get round to delivering on it before fate intervened), large local market on Saturdays and Sunday mornings also famed for Chasselas desert grapes; and also an unremarked suburb of small villas rebuilt following the 1930 flood destruction in authentic Art Deco styles.

The canal runs straight through the centre of the town; swing bridge (ecluse hours, hoot to open) halfway along.

Moissac is the ‘home port’ for Anne-Marie and Paul’s pretty – romantic! – floating gite “daVinci” and Tom Hollows’ hotel barge ‘easyvie’.

PK64 River Tarn, River Garonne

River Tarn, Moissac

Highly recommended. Descend a two-chamber lock by Moissac’s PdP, down to the River Tarn and the town’s river quay (water and electricity) (top photo). From there one can cruise downstream to the wide ‘lake’ junction with the River Garonne and then cruise a short distance up the Garonne. There are significant shallows to avoid, but also safe channels and beautiful safe anchorages. Alternatively, one can cruise up the Tarn (lower photo), currently as far as the first disusued ecluse but there are firm plans to reopen the upstream route through to Montauban.

Information about the navigable River Tarn (at Moissac and Montauban).

PK73 – small timber pontoon, overlooking the Garonne.

PK74 – Malause – Four small jetties, water and electricity available (Tel 05 63 39 55 78)

Malause halte fluviale

PK78 – Pommevic – Village pontoon with water and electricity available (Tel 05 63 39 56 55)

Pommevic, halte fluviale

PK81 Valence d’Agen

Valence halte fluviale

The village is very pleasant, with a much-photographed circular open-air wash-house. Opposite the PdP is a remarkable C19th abbatoir (now an activities centre) complete with bull’s head sculptures. The PdP itself (05 63 39 61 67) was a bit tatty but recently improved, with both finger pontoon and alongside moorings.

PK85 – Golfech
Village moorings by the bridge, looks like electricity and water available. Tel: 05 63 29 42 00

PK86-87 Lamagistere

Lamagistere, River Garonne
Lamagistere, Canal de Garonne

A terrific place to moor up, alongside the bank, under the trees – a number of spots including i) at PK87, ii) above the ecluse (photo above, right) and iii) by the ‘Blue Lake’ (the Lac Bleu de Bergon) at PK86.

The romantic hill-top village of Clermont Soubiran (above, left) overlooks the canal. Head south from the canal and one comes to the quite stunning village of Lamagistere itself, on the banks of the Garonne (photo, top). Elegant buildings date back to the time (pre-canal) when the extensive stone quays (essentially now left high and dry by a profound change in river level) saw 4,500 vessels tie up each year, receiving and discharging cargoes of grain, wine and fruit. Glorious. Not in any guide book we have.

PK102 Bon Encontre

Bon Encontre, Agen, Canal de Garonne

Above, the PdP ‘de Boé‘ with fairly short finger pontoons, water and electricity, by a country park. Tel: 05 53 96 04 00. Possibly more preferable are the informal bankside moorings between PK102 and PK103 – a tree-lined canal avenue with timber edgings and a small inlet at PK102 itself, north of the bridge. Intermarché supermarket near PK103.

PK107 Agen

Agen, Canal de Garonne

Pros and Cons. A large town – famous for plums and prunes – with lots of facilities, including a main-line railway station close to the PdP, itself located in a harbour basin. The PdP is basically a clean and well-resourced hire boat base (fuel may be available) Tel: 05 53 66 00 74, or there are bollards on the (opposite) north side, grass, hillside and pleasant suburban surroundings. But, the PdP is surrounded by busy roads that are especially noisy first thing in the morning. The town is not especially attractive. Other moorings at PK105, on new bollards.

PK109 – river crossing and descent. Impressive pont-canal over the River Garonne (the longest masonry constructed in France) leads to a chain of four 3m-3.5m ecluses. They are very easy ‘going down’. Going up, the highest is especially difficult due to the extreme force with which the incoming water enters the chamber. Do not moor at the front near the gates, even if this might upset a boat behind trying to use the lock with you. Allow 45 minutes to passage the four ecluses, which close 30 minutes early.

PK110 – The first/last ecluse is by a sharp turn and by the closed-off former branch that allowed descent to the river. This ecluse has a strong sideways overflow current immediately outside.

PK119 Serignac

Serignac, Canal de Garonne

A delightful mooring: timber quayside with water and electricity, pleasant walks along the grassy canalside dykes. The historic ‘bastide’ small village has a small supermarket, a restaurant, a good pizza bar, an ancient church with a twisted spire, and an excellent tourist office. Tel: 05 53 68 30 00

PK135 River Baise, River Lot

River Baise, River Lot, Buzet sur Baise

A double-chamber ecluse provides access from the canal down onto the River Baise. From that point one can head upstream, along the Baise. Alternatively, one can head downstream to join and then cross the River Garonne; and then join and head upstream along the River Lot.

PK135 Buzet

Buzet sur Baise port de plaisance

Good modern PdP exceptionally well managed by Christine – hire boat base (05 53 84 72 50). The village is pretty but with limited facilities. World renowned wines.

PK140 – Damazan

Small Halte – hire boat base. (05 53 79 59 39)

PK149 – Villeton

Villeton, Canal de Garonne

Halte with new timber quayside, water and electricity. By the Mairie. (05 53 79 05 59)

PK153 – La Gruere – Small Halte. (05 53 89 58 12)

PK155 – Mas d’Agenais

Halte with water and electricity. Hire boat base. (05 53 89 50 80)

PK164 – Pont des Sables – Halte and hire boat base. (05 53 89 25 59) Capitainerie website.

PK175 – Meilhan

Meilhan, Canal de Garonne

A beautiful leafy location for this Halte (05 53 93 82 47), set under a hillside from the top of which (‘la Tetre des Anglais’) are extensive views over the neighbouring River Garonne, where swimming is possible. Bar/restaurant adjacent.

PK182 – Fontet

Fontet port de plaisance

A harbour PdP (05 56 61 23 81) entered from the canal – weed much in evidence when we visited in summer 2009. Beach and swimming pool. Museum of models made from matchsticks!

PK193 – Castets

Castets en Dorthe, canal de Garonne

A small mooring or Halte, above ecluse 52 “des Gares”. Plans have been accepted to improve and enlarge this facility. Tel: 05 56 62 81 97. Moorings are ‘Mediterranean’ end-to with pick-up buoys that are difficult to pick up.

PK193 – River Garonne

Castets en Dorthe, River Garonne

Top photo – The large and very deep double chamber ecluse at the junction of the Canal de Garonne and the tidal river itself, taken at low water. VNF vignettes will possibly be checked at this ecluse, coming into the ‘system’ from the river – they can be purchased at the ecluse office (05 56 62 83 07) or online in advance (see VNF tariff information here). The entrance door is located two storeys up the face of the building: testament to the potential height of river flooding.

The eclusier here is the man to ask about joining the River Garonne and running down to Cadillac or Bordeaux. Local advice about this is valuable.

Lower photo – from the ecluse, looking west along the river and under the bridge. Just visible past the left-most bridge support is the river waiting pontoon.