In the first of a two-part series on cycling from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, Iain Griffiths follows the Canal de Garonne from Bordeaux to Toulouse. In part two, we ride the Canal du Midi from Toulouse to Sète.
Stretching from Bordeaux to Toulouse, the Les Canal des Deux Mers route – the Canals of the Two Seas – links the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The route is made up of a short section from Royan, followed by a link via the Roger Lapebie bike path to the Canal de Garonne, which in turn links to the Canal du Midi. The entire route can be cycled from one end to the other in 10 days at a pace that leaves plenty of time for exploring.
The path that follows the Canal de Garonne is an excellent tarmaced surface, but after Toulouse as you cross to the Midi, the track varies, and is a mix of tarmac and earth. To travel between Bordeaux and Sete involves cycling from Bordeaux to Sauveterre on the Roger Lapebie bike path, followed by a linking section to the start of the Canal de Garonne proper. From here it's a lovely, 192km ride through to Toulouse. From here, another 240km along the Canal du Midi will take you to Sète.
In the first of a two-part series, we cycle the Canal de Garonne. (You can read part one about the Canal du Midi here.)
Cycling the Canal de Garonne
The excellent Roger Lapebie bike path (below) officially starts in Latresne, south-east of the Bordeaux city centre on the eastern side of the Garonne River. It runs for 57km from Bordeaux, through Créon and onto Sauveterre-de-Guyenne.
The best way to access the Roger Lapebie bike path from Bordeaux is to follow the river bike path on the opposite side of the river to the city centre (it's generally well-signposted towards Créon and Sauveterre).
From Sauveterre there's a link down to La Reole (below), which takes you just shy of the canal path.
This section links to the start of the actual Canal de Garonne near the Musée de l’Allumette (Match Museum) at Fontet. This is also close to the first lock, where a 14th century chateau looks down on you as you start your adventure.
I've included the full Canal des 2 Mers route below for people cycling coast-to-coast but you can zoom in from Bordeaux to follow the Garonne path. The Roger Lapebie is in GREEN and the GARONNE path is in PURPLE.
Following the trees
Between here and Toulouse, the towpath is very well kept and surfaced, ideal for cyclists. The route is well shaded by plane trees, so even on the hottest days the ride is a pleasure. You can relax as you pass sunflowers, orchards, grapevines and sleepy villages.
You cycle on past La Reole, once a major port on the River Garonne that's rich in Roman history (Henry II also left his mark here). Further along the canal and further back in time is Meilhan-sur-Garonne, which dates to the Gallo-Roman era. Don’t miss the chapel at Tersac, just down from Bernes Lock – it's among the most photographed chapels on the waterway.
From here it's past Le Mas-d’Agenais, with its Rembrandt painting of Christ on the Cross in the 12th century St Vincent church next to the market place.
There are lots of exciting little discoveries on this canal section of the canal through Lot-et-Garonne. After the old English bastide of Damazan (where the route meets the Lot Valley bike route), you enter Buzet-sur-Baïse, famous for the Buzet wine.
The largest town on the route is Agen, famous for its prunes. It also has the longest canal bridge in France on its western approach, its 23 20m arches cross the Garonne cover some 580 metres. This is followed by a 356-metre-long brick and stone canal bridge that you cycle over as you leave the town of Moissac. This delightful town is home to two great treasures of the region: the sweet, aromatic chasselas grape that grows on the slopes around the town; and the abbey, whose cloisters are considered to be among the most beautiful in the world.
One of the most interesting features on the whole waterway is to be found at Montech. Here, instead of going through 5 locks, boats are ‘pushed’ between two rail engines up a 443m channel, a difference of 13.30 metres up a 3% incline. The only other place in Europe that a water slope like this can be found is at the locks of Fonserannes at Béziers.
The run to Toulouse is entertaining, with plenty of activities to see along the canal such as canoeing and rowing. When you arrive in the 'pink city' of Toulouse (named after the colour of its brick buildings), you enter via the port de l'Embouchure (mouth of the port), where the Canal de Garonne meets the Canal du Midi.
A statue of Pierre-Paul Riquet, the man behind the concept of linking the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean, stands near the waterway to welcome you to Toulouse, and to bid you ‘au revoir' as you head off towards the sea on the Canal du Midi.
Iain Griffiths is the author of A Cycling Guide to the Canal de Garonne and the Canal du Midi (UK, US), available for Kindle. Iain worked as a freelance cameraman filming new stories, and natural history and travel documentaries worldwide before retiring to France. His passions include cycling, photography, watercolour, and mountain walking.
Bike rental in Bordeaux and Toulouse
See our bike hire listings for options in Bordeaux and Toulouse, or try a bike delivery service if you are planning on only cycling way. If you are linking up with the Canal du Midi in Toulouse to do the whole Bordeaux-Sète route and, again, only want to cycle one way, it may be worth investigating Bordeaux-Toulouse bike hire, and then hiring another bike for the Toulouse-Sète. Bike delivery services may be more affordable for the shorter stretches rather than the whole route.
Organised cycling holidays of the Canal de Garonne
A number of tour companies operate tours along the Canal de Garonne. Mostly these are self-guided tours with luggage support and pre-booked accommodation. There are also lots of options for rides in and around Bordeaux and along the Atlantic Coast routes before or after your canal ride. You can use our Organised tours section to get started.
Books and maps
An English guidebook for the canal is available from independent publisher Cicerone. Cicerone also publishes a Cycling the Canal du Midi book, which is an authoritative guide covering Toulouse to Sète.