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The Grand Bief or 'long reach'

The 'Grand Bief' or Long Reach; is one of the most amazing feats achieved by the builders of the Canal du Midi.  Pierre-Paul Riquet succeeded in maintaining a constant altitude of 31.35 metres above sea level for 54 kilometres, digging a tunnel through the hill at Malpas, the highest point.  This was the only possible place for the canal to pass, as to the South, the marshes made it impossible. Today, between the locks of Argens (small village in the Minervois) and those of Fonsérannes (Béziers), over a distance of 54 Kms, the Canal du Midi meanders freely between the plane trees through the vineyards of the 2 main regional AOC appellations, the “Minervois” and “Saint-Chinian”, where several chateaux “pinardiers” and wine-châteaux are dotted around.

One of the notable things about this portion of the canal is that, being slightly elevated, there is a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside.  The Canigou peak in the Pyrenees, to the S.West and nearer, to the North, the Caroux hills, are visible on a clear day.

Navigation is possible on this portion of the canal all year round, even when the locks are closed.  In Winter time it is, however, advisable to consult the VNF (Voies navigables de France) who are responsible for maintaining the canal, in case part of the canal is closed for maintenance work.

Boats can be rented on the canal for a weekend, for a mini-week or a whole week all year round for an unforgettable holiday.  For first-time sailors, this lock-free stretch provides you with plenty of time to get used to handling the boat before you reach a lock!

Smaller, electric boats are available for rent for an hour, half a day or a full day, enabling you to enter the marvellous world of the canal.  You might spot a kingfisher and are sure to see plenty of fish. Remember to take bread to feed the ducks, always an enjoyable sight for everyone. 

In the Hérault portion of the “Grand Bief” (long reach) the Canal du Midi passes through villages full of character. Not far after Pöilhes, a small, buccolic village on a bend standing on a bend in the canal, you will approach Capestang  with its  imposing Collegiate church of Saint-Etienne  rising above a wide plain, overlooking the dried-up marsh land and the commune of Montels . The 'étang' (the name for this marsh land), has Natura 2000 classification owing to the numerous species of birds who nest and reproduce there, such as the bittern and the beautiful, tourquoise European roller.  It also has one of the most beautiful reedbeds in Europe.

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