Unlike the Loire whose very name conjures up the image of a Renaissance palace reflected in the water, Canal du Midi châteaux aren’t the most famous in France. But the 240km waterway does run through much of the famous Cathar territory, dotted with castles.
These include some of the most emblematic castles in France and offer a real insight into this dark period of medieval history. As you glide down the canal, you’ll also get the chance to see some of the finest wine estates in France giving your trip the perfect combination of castles, palaces and French wine.
Read on to discover 10 Canal du Midi châteaux you simply can’t afford to miss.
Best Canal du Midi château
Designed by architect Pierre Paul Riquet, the Canal du Midi and its 350+ locks, bridges and aqueducts is some feat of engineering. One of the biggest problems facing Riquet was how to bring water to the canal. To solve it he spent no less than a decade working on a life-size model at the Château de Bonrepos-Riquet, to the north-east of Toulouse.
Riquet bought the château in 1652 and dedicated two hectares of the grounds to his working model. Visitors today can admire the basins he constructed as well as the palace itself, the orangery and gardens.
Did you know? The entire length of the Canal du Midi boasts UNESCO World Heritage Site. status.
Best waterfront château on the Canal du Midi
Riquet’s own château lies some distance from the canal so he spent time living at the Château du Paraza, with an almost waterfront position. As a token of his thanks to his host, Riquet designed seven terraces that cascade down from the château to his masterpiece, the Canal du Midi below.
A fine example of 17th-century architecture, the Château du Paraza is home to one of the oldest wine-growing estates in southern France. Visitors can admire Riquet’s terraces and take a tour of the winery and vineyards.
Did you know? The Canal du Midi runs through the region of Languedoc, the largest wine-producing area in France. Read our guide to Languedoc wines here.
Best medieval castle on the Canal du Midi
The Château de Comtal takes pride of place at the heart and peak of the medieval walled town of Carcassonne, one of the highlights on a river trip down the Canal du Midi. The Cathar fortress, built in 1130, lies set in the town’s famous ramparts and house nine towers of the 53 protecting Carcassonne. Visits take you into the castle rooms, along its walls and up the towers – Pinte Tower is the tallest in the town and has the best views.
Did you know? A cruise down the Canal du Midi takes you to some of the prettiest sites in southern France including Carcassonne, Narbonne and Minerve.
Best medieval ruins on the Canal du Midi
The area around the Canal du Midi has more ruined Cathar castles than you can shake a stick at, but if you’re looking for fine towers with even finer views, head for Château de Lastours. Four castles make up this ruined fortress, originally built in the 13th century, high up on a rocky outcrop just outside Carcassonne. Perched above the pretty medieval village of Cabaret, Lastours provided the biggest resistance to the Crusaders. Nowadays, this peaceful spot offers some of the best views in the Canal du Midi area.
Did you know? Carcassonne’s magnificent skyline comes into its own on Bastille Day (14 July) when thousands of people gather on the banks of the River Aude to watch the fireworks. The display is widely considered to be one of the best in France.
Best Cathar stronghold
Slightly off the Canal du Midi, but an easy day trip from Carcassonne lies the Château de Quéribus. Located in a privileged spot in the foothills of the Pyrenees, these ruins were the last stronghold of the Cathars who held out here against the Crusaders for 11 years. It’s a tough climb up to the castle, but the views that await you at the top make the effort more than worthwhile.
Did you know? Carcassonne is just one of the highlights on a trip down the Canal du Midi on board a luxury hotel barge. Check out our selection of floating hotels and then pick yours.
Best Renaissance style on the Canal du Midi
One of the finest châteaux on the Canal du Midi also ranks among the most spectacular in France. When you arrive at the Château de Pennautier you’re instantly reminded of the grandeur of the Loire palaces – not for nothing it is known as the Versailles of Languedoc.
Built in 1620, Pennautier’s supreme façades sit in acres of parkland and gardens – don’t miss the English-styled park walk. Inside are some of the finest collections of paintings and antiques in the area while nearby lie vineyards that produce some of the best wine in Languedoc.
Did you know? A trip down the Canal du Midi counts as one of the world’s greatest river journeys. The 240km voyage combines the best of French architecture, history and engineering with fine wining and dining against the most scenic of backdrops.
Best Canal du châteaux for gargoyles
No trip in search of French castles would be complete without a good dose of mythical creatures. The Château de Belflou near the lovely town of Castelnaudary does gargoyles very well, particularly on its 16th century north tower. This château on the Canal du Midi isn’t open to the public, but you can admire the building dating from the 14th century through the gates.
Did you know? The first palm tree you’ll see on the Canal du Midi before you reach the Mediterranean is at the Jacobins Convent in Toulouse. The main church is crowned by a giant stone and brick palm over the choir and completed in 1292.
Best for mullions and towers
Not far from Castelnaudary sits the Château de Montmaur, another Cathar castle with its origins in the 9th century. It was largely rebuilt six centuries later and given its characteristic round turrets on each corner and mullion windows – some of the finest in the area. Like the Château de Belflou, this castle is privately owned, but you get a good idea of its grandeur from the outside.
Did you know? The Canal du Midi has a full calendar of events and activities to enjoy at any time of the year. See what’s on during your visit here.
Best châteaux for Languedoc wines
Several châteaux on the Canal du Midi double as hotels and wineries. Two of the best examples include the Château Las Carrasses, built in 1886 and one of the youngest Canal du Midi châteaux, and the Château de Blomac. Both sit on wine estates and produce their own Languedoc wines. Château Las Carrasses organises tours of its own vineyards as well as visits to neighbouring wineries.
Did you know? You can also explore the Canal du Midi on a self-drive boat trip. Discover the delights of this unique waterway as you make your way down to the Mediterranean.
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