If you’ve seen Rick Stein’s ‘A French Odyssey’ you’ll remember he travelled down the combined Canal du Midi and the Canal de Garonne in his much acclaimed TV series.
He created some great looking dishes using a wealth of fresh local produce, prepared on-board various vessels as he cruised down the canal or stopped off to enjoy local food at any one of the nearby restaurants. Basking in what appeared to the idyllic south of France climate.
Our travelling hotel has brought us to Castelnaudary on the Canal du Midi. After the excesses of skiing we’ve now tightened our budget, so there’s less dining out and more dining in. I’m eating salad (which is unheard of) especially nice with goats cheese on toasted french bread. When we’re on hook up Lesley is still experimenting but making some great stuff in the Remoska. And although I’m biased the chef’s also much, much better looking than Mr Stein…..!
Running from the city of Toulouse down to the Mediterranean port of Sète, the Canal du Midi is considered an extraordinary 17th century feat of engineering and has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1996.
The idea of building a waterway joining the Atlantic to the Med was voiced by the Romans, but it took one of Louis XIV’s tax inspectors to realise it.
Pierre-Paul Riquet, who designed and built the Canal du Midi, was a local farmer with intimate knowledge of the rivers of southwestern France, in particular the Montage Noire (Black Mountain) and its abundant springs.
Riquet ‘s main brainwave was to get over the lack of any major nearby river by creating a huge dam and artificial reservoir, the Bassin de St Ferréol and a two-way feeder canal.
Originally Riquet had not planned for the canal to go through Castelnaudary however the town’s councillors – showing more vision than those in Carcassonne – paying the sum of 30,000 ‘livres’ to have the canal flow beneath their town walls and have the basin built in, this caused Castelnaudary to develop substantially in the 18th century.
The Grand Bassin is a large man-made lake and is reputed to be big as Carcassonne’s walled city. But the Bassin is exposed to every single wind that blows and the day we were there it was blowing an absolute hooley! The Cers and the Autan winds were/are a real hindrance to manoeuvring boats and before a breakwater was constructed, when it properly blew, real havoc could be caused so that men and horses would be frequently blown into the water.
The building of the canal gave a significant boost to the flour mills transporting grain and flour and combined with the strength of the Cers or Autan winds, the 32 windmills were no doubt very productive.
A bit of a change from the low temperatures we had whilst skiing, we saw 16 degrees in the van today, but with wind-chill in Castelnaudary I doubt the temperate ever got above “IT”S BLUMIN FREEZIN”……… Quick let’s go find somewhere warm!
Hey Lesley’s just told me you can make even CAKES in the Remoska…