No gardening today because we went on a trip with our Occitan group to the Canal du Midi, an amazing feat of engineering and the vision of Pierre-Paul Riquet. Riquet was born in Béziers and in the late seventeenth century had the idea of linking the Mediterranean with Toulouse so that, in those days before the railways, goods could be transported between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. From Toulouse to Bordeaux the river Garonne was navigable. Without machinery, at that time, it was a huge undertaking and took much hard work by men and women workers. Interestingly, these workers benefited from a sort of social security system centuries before this was common. If they were injured or ill they were still paid while they could not work – almost unheard of at that time. After the development of the railway system the canal became less used until recently when it has become a tourist attraction.
Heading towards Béziers and the canal bridge which crosses the river Orb, and in the middle photo you can see the new road bridge and the old bridge.
Descending, surprisingly quickly it seemed, in one of the locks.
At Fonsérannes, just outside Béziers, there is a sequence of seven locks and eight gates (although this is called Les Neuf Ecluses, the 9 locks – one is no longer used) where the canal climbs a hill on its way westwards. This is said to be the third most visited tourist site in the Languedoc after Carcassonne and the Pont du Gard. At the top there is this lovely worn old stone quay, and then the canal continues towards Toulouse. We walked back downhill from here past the café where, earlier, we’d had a wonderful lunch with a main course of seiche et gambas a la sauce rouille, a local speciality of cuttlefish and large prawns cooked in a tomato sauce and served with rouille, which is a kind of mayonnaise with added garlic and saffron. I’ll try to re-create it for the recipe blog soon.