Canal du midi unlocked: the Malpas tunnel (3/5)

Exploring the Canal du Midi and leaving Sète and the locks of Fonsérannes behind, we bike about eight kilometres further into the direction of the Atlantic, along the narrow and bumpy towpath where horses used to drag the heavy loaded vessels before engines made it obsolete.

After the cute village of Colombiers and its excellent bakery, we reach the tunnel of Malpas, the first canal-tunnel in the world. Even if only the boat tunnel can be seen, there are two more tunnels dug below it. The first one dates back to the 13th century and was drilled to empty the nearby Montady lake. This existing tunnel was Pierre-Paul Riquet’s inspiration for the canal tunnel which was excavated in 1679 through the hill d’Ensérune where you find the oppidum d’Ensérune, an ancient Roman settlement inhabited between the 6th century BC and 1st century AD, along Roman highway: the Via Domitia.

The second tunnel dates back to the 19th century and was used by trains. It is exactly this railway system, created by Napoleon, which killed the success of the canal that reached its peak in 1856. Before the 240-kilometre canal was dug, Toulouse and Sète were 4 days apart; the canal put them “only” 32 hours apart; and today the intercity train connects both cities in less than two hours. Maybe an enjoyable 2-day bike ride along its well-equipped banks sounds more tempting?

Claire & Marcella

Travel tips:

  • The Canal du Midi can be biked along or navigated on. Should you choose to bike it, its rather flat terrain makes it a long but easy ride, that is even easier starting from Toulouse.
  • Passing through many villages and towns, finding accommodation or food is really easy, and biking its whole length doesn’t require much logistics.
  • Sète and Toulouse are well connected by inter-city trains, so it makes it a good option to bike one way and ride the train back (this will take you about two hours).
  • The Canal du Midi goes through the medieval city of Carcassonne that is definitely a must-visit.
  • For an interesting article about another masterpiece of engineering, check out the Panama canal unlocked!
  • Check out this interactive map (quick tutorial) for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!

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