One of the attractions for us here at the Fanjeaux campsite is that it is run by the friendliest, most welcoming French family we’ve ever met. A regular visitor soon feels like a personal friend. The aspect that makes it a good base for a lengthy stay, however, is that it is well placed for several attractions not too distant. To the South, about 90 minutes distant, are the Pyrenees towering above Ax-les-Thermes where there are some very attractive valleys, both for walking and nature enthusiasts. About one hour away to the east is the Mediterranean coast around Narbonne for those keen to sample a little beach life or simply to enjoy a fishy lunch at the attractive little town of Gruissan. For the shopping enthusiast (i.e. women), the bustling town of Toulouse lies about an hour west. To the north, about 45 minutes away, are Les Montagnes Noires [the Black Mountains], source of the water that keeps the famous Canal du Midi “flowing”.
One stretch of the 240kms/150mls long Canal du Midi passes beneath Fanjeaux to the north only about 15 minutes away. An engineering icon, the canal may not be the most scintillating place in the world but, with it’s mostly flat, famously tree-lined banks, it certainly provides a calm and shady environment for those wanting a relaxing stroll or bike ride. Its boat traffic varies from the most numerous plastic bath-tub-like tourist rental boats (I swear they’ll have Armitage-Shanks written on them somewhere) through the gin palace cruisers, the big boys’ toys, to the much more appealing and interesting converted large barges that used to ply their trade along the canal. Now, of course, many of these erstwhile working boats are also rental boats but they are v. expensive, come with a skipper who knows how to drive them, and have much more character than all the others put together.
With large boats plodding up and down the ecluses [locks] naturally have to be large. They are permanently manned so that grockels can’t mess up the water usage (sensible decision) and power operated rather than manual. Oddly, considering the tourist traffic, the canal is not over-commercialized and there seem to be relatively few places to get fed and watered.