Canal de Garonne
Traveling the canals France took us past a succession of small anonymous villes. We had our pick of stops. If a town appeals, and they often do, we’d overnight in the port. If not, we’d go on in search of a better location always with the fall back of “staking up” on the canal bank for the evening. It is a journey of discovery of France’s forgotten villages, villages so small that they are somehow not worthy of a guidebook listing. Each little town has its own surprise. Each has its own appeal. And so it is with Meilhan-sur-Garonne.
Our day started in Le Mas-d’Agenais with a steady cold rain. It was that first chilly storm that marks the turn of the seasons. Now the tree color change would accelerate; the foliage would rapidly transform from green to yellow. The rain and wind brought down a mass of wide flat leaves. In the canal the leaves floated like lily pads. The throng of yellow choked our boats propeller when we motored through. When the prop clogged the Herault shuddered heavily. The fix was easy. Several times a kilometer we’d reverse the throttle hard leaving a mangled knot of vegetation bobbing in water behind us.
After twenty kilometers and four locks we reached Meilhan-sur-Garonne. The Canal de Garonne and Meilhan’s port are tucked in tight between the Garonne River and the bluff on which the old town sits.
Our map book recommended climbing the hill for a view of the Garonne River and surrounding countryside. We dutifully complied. The top of the hill indeed provided an excellent view. Below us the broad river meandered through its flood plain. Between the Garonne and the base of the hill was the Canal de Garonne with a modern road now utilizing one bank.
When viewed from above it is a surprise that construction of the Canal de Garonne was begun 157 years after the Canal du Midi was finished. From Meilhan the Garonne River looks difficult to navigate by an unpowered cargo boat. With the stated intent of the construction of the Canal du Midi to link the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, the completion of a practically navigable alternative to the Garonne River seems a more urgent necessity.
The information provided by Locaboat, our boat rental company, and our map book did not say much about Meilhan-sur-Garonne. And, as usual, our guidebooks did not acknowledge the existence of this small town. This community, it seems, is too lonely even for Lonely Planet. It was left as a surprise to us that Meilhan is a particularly pleasant village with an irregular street plan. Perhaps there is nothing in particular to note about quiet Meilhan other than it is another nice place to visit along the canals. Indeed we’d stay there for two nights.
In retrospect there is one thing of particular to note about Meilhan-sur-Garonne. This one thing would for us insist on a side trip if we find ourselves again in the area. Meilhan has a great boucherie or butcher shop. People come from miles away and queue up for the meat on offer. And we agree with the vote of the masses. The meat being sold is excellent. We were sure to stop in again after we bounced off the western extreme of the Canal des Deux Mers in nearby Castets-en-Dorthe. It would not be long before were back. Castets-en-Dorthe, the goal of our long journey across France, was just a short day’s cruise away.
Start: Le Mas-d’Agenais
Travel time*: 5.2 hours
Cruising time**: 3.3 hours
Distance traveled: 20 kilometers
Lock chambers transited: 4
Weather: Cool and foggy morning, pleasant afternoon
At the end, our trip across France was 86% complete based on cruising time and 80% complete based on distance covered. We had passed through 219 of the 246 locks (89%) of the locks that we would cross.
* The time between the start of the day and the end of the day.
**As measured by the hour meter on our boat. When the motor is running we were either moving or standing by to move (like in a lock).