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Hear from our experts: discovering the Canal du Midi

The Canal du Midi is renowned for sunny days and a warm climate. The Nicols base at Le Somail enjoys an ideal position on the canal and is located less than 20 minutes from Narbonne by road. As this article highlights, around the base is everything you’ll need for a great start to your holiday – recommended restaurants, libraries of old books, historical memories and much more. It’s impossible not to start falling in love with the Canal du Midi!

Didier, base manager at Le Somail, with Tonie

Our expert

At 61 years young Didier has been the manager of our Le Somail base, the largest Nicols base in France with nearly 35 boats, for 14 years so there is not much that he doesn’t know about canal boats and the waterways. He could talk to you about it for hours! He is also a former marine mechanic and tells us "I have been in the boating industry for 35 years now - after initially having run a boatyard I then headed for the Canal du Midi.”

Customers picking up their canal boat from the Le Somail base benefit from an onsite secure car park with 30 spaces available "And if that's not enough, the municipal parking lot is right next to the base."

“The nearest place to pick up groceries for the your trip is located just one kilometre from the base,” explains Didier, who suggests that holidaymakers head there first and then bring back their supplies to the boat so that they can then get going on their holidays as soon as they arrive on site.

“If you arrive later in the day, a grocery barge is just 30 metres from our base and this will offer the essentials you might need initially to keep you going for a day or two.”

The grocery barge at Le Somail


Didier does everything to guarantee a successful boating holiday

Didier offers many services to our customers:

  • If you’ve opted for a one-way trip where you will return the canal boat to a different Nicols base in the region, then he will take care of reserving the taxi for you if you wish. And if you came by car, he can arrange for your car to be waiting for you at the destination base.

  • Are you coming as a group? No problem, a minibus taxi service can pick up to 16 people and their bikes!

  • Before you set off on your holiday, the base team will give you full instructions for the boat and accompany you out on the water initially to show you how to manoeuvre the boat, how to moor or turn around on the canal... in just 30 to 45 minutes you will be able to take the helm and cast off for your boating holiday on the Canal du Midi.


Lock-free cruising for 70 km

As you set off from Le Somail 70km of the famous Canal du Midi await you, without the need to negotiate any locks. You’ll also find many opportunities to stop, moor up at the canal bank to have a picnic, an aperitif in the sun or even a quiet siesta!

Picnic by the water, on the Canal du Midi ©JJ Bernier- NICOLS


If you want to explore further afield, Didier's recommendation is to go directly to the Canal de la Robine:

“Spend a day cruising towards the city of Narbonne where I’d recommend visits to the birthplace of Charles Trenet and the museum of chivalry or the Horreum. Then resume your cruise and venture towards the wild ponds of Gruissan. Head to Port la Nouvelle, moor the canal boat and why not enjoy a swim in the sea.

Towards the east is Béziers which welcomes you with the nine locks of Fonseranes to pass. Here I’d recommend allowing half a day to pass through all nine but enjoy this time and appreciate how these places have remained both wild and natural. After Fonseranes your boating holiday takes you to seafood rich Etang de Thau and its many other tourism attractions.

Alternatively to the west, your journey focuses on travel to Carcassonne – your route lined with interesting landscapes and terrain and fine dining and wining opportunities along the way. Another great location for a dip in the waterways to cool off is Lake Jouarres so add this to your holiday itinerary too.”


The Canal du Midi - One of France's treasures

Created in 1666 by Pierre-Paul Riquet, the canal itself is a work of art to admire – and from a different perspective as you travel along it on your self-drive canal boat.

“You’ll find a bridge named after Riquet and cross it which will be a memorable experience. Although an impressive structure it won’t be difficult to cross – take your time to enjoy the fabulous views.”

Known throughout the world, the Canal du Midi has changed its face over time, unfortunately with the necessary felling of many trees which were diseased and therefore a threat to the waterways. Didier explains “There is a little less shade along the canal, but fortunately there are still the umbrella pines and the cypresses which make the charm of the Canal du Midi... and for those who really don't like the heat we can opt for an air-conditioned boat for comfort, especially in summer.”

Rows of cypress trees line the Canal du Midi ©Gill Haynes


Didier’s secret tip for swimmers: “Under the Riquet canal bridge runs a river called the Cesse. If you moor either before or after the bridge and then make your way down to the Cesse river you can swim in crystal clear waters. There are many great bathing and swimming places along the Cesse so this is a must-do for your boating holiday itinerary.”

“If you struggle to find space at a pontoon or stops, then simply find a space along the bank and enjoy mooring in the peace and quiet of nature using the stakes and ropes that are supplied on the boat. “Barbecues, parasols and bicycles are available at the base for hire to make the most of your holiday.”

You’ll find plenty of towns and villages offering opportunities to stock up on groceries, enjoy a meal out or explore historic places of interest.


Didier's top tips for the best boating holiday

“It can sometimes be quite windy on the Canal du Midi” warns Didier “so you sometimes have to anticipate your manoeuvres or stops.” Don't worry though, the Nicols boats are designed to withstand these wind movements and conditions.

Didier also alleviates any fears about bridges and locks…“Don't be worried by the bridges which are quite low or the narrow locks. Our boats have been designed for them and you will soon find that after negotiating your first one they are part of the fun of a boating holiday and nothing to worry about.” The tunnels are all lit and the lock keepers are at your disposal in case of doubt or need.

The Canal du Midi bridges: they are low, but don't worry, that's okay for Nicols boats!


Didier’s final tip is all about getting your boating holiday off to a good start. “Spend your first evening going nowhere” recommends Didier. “Take advantage of everything on offer at Le Somail and go to the restaurant and relax. Then the next morning, after tasting pastries from the nearby bakery, head out into the fresh air and off to your first stop off point on your Canal du Midi holiday.”


Le Somail - The perfect start to your holidays

You’ll find plenty more than just our Nicols base in Le Somail. “A huge library of old books (Le trouve tout du livre) where they claim to be able to find any book in the world is an attraction that deserves visit."

At the tourist office, don't miss the film which retraces the history, construction and operation of the Canal du Midi.

“We love our food in this region! We have some great dining options all close to the Nicols base.” Didier's recommendations are…

  • “L'escale du Somail is a very good restaurant. Here, only fresh products are used in all dishes and you choose from what’s a very refined menu. Four meat dishes, four fish dishes and that's it!” he advises.
  • Sit on the terrace overlooking the canal, but do also take time to admire the interior of the restaurant as it is packed full of history.
  • There is a tapas bar just a short walk from the base while if you want something sweet, an ice cream parlour welcomes you.

Enjoying an evening at Le Somail ©nicols-arnoldi-design


The heart of the base manager

Didier's favourite time of the year is autumn. “Go to the Robine canal. In the evening, admire the sunset among the trees that are beginning to lose their leaves. And in the morning, feel the gentle warmth rising. It is a splendid place, far from the world and the hustle and bustle.”


Didier summarises Le Somail

“The ethos of Le Somail is a place of welcome and best service. We want our guests to feel like they're on holiday as soon as they arrive with us. We pick them up at the train station, we accompany them to the supermarket or we keep their car safe.” explains Didier.

Didier and his team look forward to welcoming you so visit our Canal du Midi boating holidays page and start planning your holiday.

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