Want to quit the hectic pace? Try a houseboat holiday
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Paris - You said you wanted to slow things down, quit the hectic pace of your normal everyday life. \That's why you chose a holiday navigating a canal boat France's historic Canal du Midi.
And here's your chance to enjoy complete slowdown: Traffic on the waterway has come to a halt and you just sit there.
It turns out that in a storm the night before, a huge sycamore tree came crashing down across the canal. The workers up ahead are clearing the huge tree. So, just sit and relax and enjoy the sunshine.
At this point, you may have already become acclimatised to the much slower pace. The fastest you can putter along the canal is six to eight kilometres per hour. On the paths alongside, not only the bicyclists are passing you up, but even the joggers.
No matter. Now you finally have the time to really take in the scenery of vineyards and huge fields of sunflowers.
The Canal du Midi was built 1667-1681 for transporting freight between the Atlantic coast and the Mediterranean, thereby shortcutting the sea route around the Iberian Peninsula.
Now registered as a Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site, the 240-kilometre canal links Toulouse with the saltwater lagoon of Etang de Thau near Sete on the Mediterranean coast.
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Today, the most important activity on Canal du Midi is houseboat tourism. There are four houseboat rental companies operating at several points along the canal. Some of the vessels are spacious enough to sleep eight to ten persons.
A family vacation can also mean Grandma and Grandpa coming along. Other houseboats are smaller, accommodating only four people at most.
Almost all the boats require no boating license.
The holiday skippers, accompanied by an instructor, take the boat out on a brief test ride. And that's all.
To paraphrase Samuel Taylor's “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” on the Canal du Midi there is water, water everywhere - but just don't think about going in it for a swim. This is forbidden for health reasons, made quickly clear by the fact that the houseboats discharge all their dishwater, bathwater and sewage into the canal.
But along the route there are some great spots for swimming, one of them being the Lacde Jouarres lake near the town of Homps.
It's about a 20-minute bicycle ride from the canal. Homps is also a good place to stop because of a number of restaurants and cafes right next to the canal.
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Well worth taking some time at is Carcassonne, with its medieval city centre. In order to avoid the tourist crowds, it is best to try to visit either in the early morning hours, or else in the evening.
At Carcassone's harbour that you face the challenge of navigating your houseboat through a lock, one of 63 along the Canal du Midi.
This is a test of your skill that guarantees an adrenaline surge as your boat rocks up and down a bit as the roiling waters fill up the lock basin. But after a few days and a number of such locks, you and your crew will have come to master the process.
At St. Roch near Castelnaudary and at Fonserannes near Beziers, you have to go through a series of locks with six basins. Also, the lock operators take a break from 12.30 to 1.30pm.
As a result, long queues of boats can be expected, so be prepared to slow things down again.
Vineyards dominate the landscape between Beziers and Carcassone, while further to the west fields of sunflowers and maize line the route.
It is here that you'll find the sycamores that were planted in the 18th and 19th centuries to provide shade for the draft animals that towed the barges. Nowadays, in the hot summer months it is the houseboat tourists who are grateful for the shade as they slowly chug along the 330-year-old waterway.