Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Le Canal de Garonne, Aug. 20-24

Saturday morning we made our way through the center of Toulouse, completing the three locks in about 2 hours as we had to wait about 45 minutes for the peniche in front of us to complete the cycle. About 11 am we made the sharp right turn to enter the Canal de Garonne.

After completing the Canal du Midi in the late 1600's, the famous military engineer Vauban designed a canal along the Garonne connecting the Midi at Toulouse to the western coast of France in Bordeaux. The river itself was too shallow and rocky to provide efficient navigation. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 19th century that his plans were approved and construction begun under the direction of Jean-Baptiste de Baudre. Work was completed in 1856 although the canal stopped well short of Bordeaux, leaving the last 40 k in the river. Unfortunately, management of the canal was given to the railway company that already had a similarly situated rail line. The rail company favored the trains and traffic on the canal was modest until the 1970’s, the main cargos being grain, wood chips for paper, wine and fuel. In the 1960’s the canal was modernized; the locks were electrified and enlarged to meet the standards of the rest of France but, as the Canal du Midi locks were never enlarged, the Garonne canal was essentially cut off for commercial traffic from the rest of the network. Now it’s a pretty, quiet, pleasure canal, traffic equivalent to the smaller northern French canals, i.e. not much. It's also used to generate electricity with several of the locks hosting small hydroelectric generators.

There are two rivers with navigable sections that connect with the canal, the Tarn at Moissac and Montauban, and the Baise at Buzet sur Baise. The Lot also used to connect but now the crossing is not navigable, although there is supposedly work in progress to reconnect it to the Garonne canal.

The first 40 k of the canal from Toulouse are not very pleasant; straight, the few village moorings choked with derelicts and “liveaboard” boats and right alongside a major freeway and the railroad. We shared the first 29 k with the 19 meter barge that preceded us through Toulouse, including the 9 locks. By about 5 pm we had had enough and found a reasonable bank where we could moor. Luckily the road and the trains quiet down at night.

Sunday morning we set off to find something better and found a pontoon about 11 k down the canal in the Foret d’Agre, just 2 k before the town of Montech. We were tied up at the small pontoon about 11 am and cycled into town where one of the French boat clubs, Association Nationale des Plaisanciers en Eaux Intérieures, the National Association of Pleasure Boats on Inland Waters, was having a fundraising fete.

Not sure why a boat club has a display 

of antique Citroens but there you go.

We’d already had lunch but we enjoyed a beer, listened to some of the music and then returned to the boat.

Monday morning we were off to our next stop, Moissac. 16 locks later, about 2:30, we were secure in town. We’d visited here last year so we already had the lay of the land but it was going to be hot again so we wanted to be on the river Tarn for shade and swimming.

First, however, we had to pay a visit to the famous cloister at the Abbey of Saint Pierre. The Abbey was founded in the 7th century, destroyed in the 8th, rebuilt and then pillaged during the French Revolution. Each time it underwent a careful restoration and is now one of the most beautiful religious monuments in France.

Each one of the 76 pillars is topped by beautiful stonework. Half of them tell some biblical stories while the other half are called “decoratives”.

The entrance door to the church is topped with a famous sculpture representing Christ surrounded by the 24 old men of the Apocalypse of St. John.

Tuesday about 10 we headed into the two locks that drop boats down onto the Tarn River. Shade and swimming were in order.



  1. What a pity the first section of the canal is so tedious, Don and Cathy Jo. I love Moissac, though, and it’s such a boon that you can access the river there as well. It would be a dream for me to go there by boat but I doubt if that will ever happen. I shall just have to enjoy your travels vicariously :)

    1. The wild moorings on the river and wonderful. Fresh water for swimming! They remind us of our times on the Saone further north. The next post will be about our two trips onto the river and we're really looking forward to next year when we can visit the Tarn out of Montauban and the Baize. The latter goes into armanac country☺️.

    2. I’m already looking forward to reading about that. Roll on next year! I’m so glad you enjoyed the Garonne eventually!


All of a sudden I'm getting comment spam. I'll have to use Captcha until it gets under control. Sorry...