Navigating the locks on the Canal du Midi made the trip even more exciting.
On my Canal du Midi cruise aboard the Athos barge, we sailed through several locks along the way. For those who aren’t familiar with the Canal du Midi, it’s a fascinating body of water in the South of France. It’s a 360 km network of waterways linking the Mediterranean and the Atlantic through 328 structures, including locks, bridges, and tunnels. The Canal du Midi is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Fonserannes Locks Video
Before I tell you a little about about the Fonserannes Locks and my own journey, watch this video that I put together. You’ll see the Athos hotel barge travel through each of the staircase locks. It’s best to be able to visualize the Fonserannes Locks (also known as the éculses de Fonserannes). You’ll view the experience perfectly in this short video.
Canal du Midi Cruise
It’s a whole different kind of cruise experience. Canal du Midi barge holidays are an entirely unique way to see the South of France. We spent six days and nights drifting peacefully along the Canal du Midi, stopping each evening at a new point in the countryside or near a village.
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While Canal du Midi barge trips may start and stop at various destinations, ours began in the port town of Marseillan (one entry point of the Canal du Midi) and ended in Argeliers. Each morning, we visited a new small town, whether it was right alongside our boat or a short drive away. These included: Pézenas, Narbonne, Minerve, Capestang, and Carcassonne.
Every afternoon, we sailed along the Canal du Midi. On our first day of sailing, Athos navigated through several singular locks. While many people rent houseboats or own smaller sailboats on the canal, commercial vehicles get the right of way. That meant that our barge was able to bypass other smaller boats that wanted to travel through the locks. It was rather nice not having to wait for other boats to go through the locks!
Staircase Locks on the Canal du Midi
Athos was scheduled to travel through the Fonserannes Locks around 4:30pm that day. Right on time, we sailed up to the locks, ready to begin our journey.
The Fonserannes Locks are a set of staircase locks near the town of Béziers, France. Originally, there were nine gates and eight oval-shaped chambers, so Fonserannes Locks is also known as the “nine locks” or nine staircase locks. However, the flight nowadays is made up of six locks in total. Boats now enter chamber seven instead of eight, and the eighth chamber/ninth lock are disused today.
These staircase locks allow boats to rise 71 feet (21.5 meters) over a distance of 980 feet (300 meters). It’s such an incredible feat of engineering. I must admit that I didn’t fully appreciate the construction that goes into designing these locks before I saw them with my own eyes.
Our Journey at the Fonserannes Locks
As we approached the first lock, the gates opened before us. I could see and hear the rushing water at the end of the next gate, quickly filling the oval chamber. Athos forged ahead until the barge completely filled the chamber. The gates closed behind us.
It was amazing to see a barge of this size travel through the locks. I felt like we were merely inches from crashing into the side walls, and our hotel barge just barely fit length-wise into the locks. Athos’ captain is certainly skilled at maneuvering the boat!
After gliding through the first lock, I had the opportunity to walk off the boat and view the journey from the sidelines. I watched Athos enter each lock. Water flowed into the container, quickly allowing the boat to rise to the top of the next gate. Then, our barge could drift ahead into the next chamber. The water is so powerful and intense as it rapidly fills each chamber.
How You Can Visit the Fonserannes Locks
You don’t need to travel on Canal du Midi barge holidays in order to see the locks in action. As the éculses de Fonserannes are just on the outskirts of Béziers, you can easily walk from town to the locks. Many people gathered to watch Athos travel through the locks on the Canal du Midi.
It was wonderful to see such a crowd watching our cruise boat. If you happen to be visiting Beziers, check out the staircase locks as part of your travel itinerary. Here’s a great listing of places to stay in Beziers, too!
After watching Athos travel through each of the six locks, the barge reached the top of the staircase. Athos continued down the Canal du Midi. As I wasn’t on the ship any longer, I walked down the path for about 15 minutes until I met up with the barge. This was where we docked for the evening, peacefully beneath the shade of gigantic trees.
Whether you’re on a Canal du Midi cruise or simply planning a day trip or overnight journey to Beziers, I highly recommend that you check out the incredibly engineering behind the Fonserannes Locks.
Thank you so much to France Cruises and European Waterways for hosting my cruise aboard the Athos du Midi. This post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.