It’s one of the most scenic rides in the whole of France. Following the UNESCO World Heritage Path along the Canal du Midi from east to west, starting in the bustling city of Toulouse and concluding on the glorious French coast at the lively fishing port of Sète. Having already experienced an amazing cycling adventure in Quebec, I was keen to explore this meandering route along the canal. A well-signposted, safe ride with beautiful French towns and villages, a medieval castle, and numerous places to stop and enjoy incredible food along the way.
With a self-guided tour organised by Love Velo, the accommodation and luggage arrangements for my cycling days were taken care of. I also knew exactly what to pack! But first, I had to get to Toulouse, which unbelievably is not on a direct flight route from Manchester Airport. So it was an early start to the airport to fly to Beziers, which would actually be more convenient for my return flight.
The airport was deserted at check in, but quickly filled up with excited travellers, to the point where the queue for Costa Coffee was so long, it almost merged with the queue for the ladies’ toilets!
Béziers Cap d’Agde Airport is tiny, so I had no trouble collecting my luggage. I’d done a little research into how to get from the airport to Toulouse and it seemed relatively simple, so I decided to busk it. The shuttle bus to Beziers was right outside and for €1.60, I had a scenic ride straight to the station. A friendly local helped me with the overly-complicated ticket machine and I bought a single to Toulouse, with just one change at Narbonne, for less than thirty euro.
The picturesque journey took me through many of the places I would stay on my tour, including Castlenaudry and Carcassonne. Between fields of poppies, sleepy French villages and acres of vineyards, I caught glimpses of the Canal du Midi, snaking through the landscape towards my starting point. The weather wasn’t great, but mature trees lined the first part of the route and I had packed plenty of waterproofs, along with other pessimistic cycling essentials!
I arrived at Toulouse-Matabiau station, swept along by a host of busy commuters, together with a small group of French cyclists who were also unsure how to exit the station. Finally, I spotted a sign, pointed in that direction, and they agreed it was definitely the right way. We turned left down a line tunnel before turning right, stepping onto the escalators and emerging blinking into a bright, sun-filled square. As we got our bearings for the next leg of our journeys, I took the opportunity to practice a little French and explained that I was also there to do some cycling. The group nodded in appreciation, wished me luck and waved me on my way.
I decided to take the pleasant fifteen minute walk to my hotel using Google maps as my guide. The hotel Royal Windsor was located off Place Windsor, and just behind the Theatre de Cite. Check in was simple although there was a mix up with my booking and they made me pay for my room and breakfast. Later I would email James at Love Velo and this was rectified within minutes; an email from the booking company resulted in an apologetic manager knocking on the door of my room and presenting me with a refund receipt!
I spent the rest of the day exploring the city streets nearby until I reached Pont Neuf. The architecture in Toulouse is easy on the eye with many buildings made from the beautiful “foraine” brick that gives the city the name Ville rose (Pink city). Stopping off at a picturesque square to have coffee and cake gave me time to do lots of people watching and contemplate the epic cycling adventure I had planned. I also popped into a fabulously quirky bookstore and bought a copy of Gatsby le Magnifique. It would serve as a great memento and help with my French reading.
Had I not been so exhausted from my 1am start and the long journey to Toulouse, I would have been tempted to go and see Othello at the Theatre de Cite. Instead, ravenous, I opted for dinner at Oh! la Vache. A random find on Google that was just a five-minute walk away and turned out to be an absolutely brilliant find.
I fell into bed and slept like a baby.
Follow my adventures on Day 2 here.
Love Velo Cycling Holiday on the Canal du Midi
6 nights from £660.00
Accommodation, Digital Routes, Bike Hire and Essential Repair Equipment, Baggage Transfers
Go-Solo Star Rating
* * * * *
GO Isotonic Energy Gels
20 pack £28.80 (£1.44 per serving)