The Canal de Garonne, which used to be known as the Canal Latéral à la Garonne, is an excellent location for property hunting in France. It is wonderfully rural, and boasts some interesting things to do, plenty of fantastic canalside eateries, and some attractive villages.
The Canal de Garonne was built in the mid-19th century. In the west at Castets-en-Dorthe it links with the River Garonne and in the east at Toulouse it links with the Canal du Midi and the Canal du Rhône à Sète. It thus forms the middle section of the so-called 'Canal des Deux Mers' which connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. In this post we'll cover the western section, which extends about 100km, from Castets-en-Dorthe to Agen. I'll cover the eastern section from Agen to Toulouse in another post.
Let's start our amble down the canal at Castets-en-Dorthe, where the canal begins at Lock 53, the Embouchure. Castets-en-Dorthe is a good sized village with a growing population of 1,162. Sadly, though, the village sprawls across some fairly flat and uninspiring terrain, and it lacks an attractive centre. Near the canal, things are more interesting, with a motorhome park, and a restaurant by Lock 52, followed by a long row of moorings served by its port office. The canal exits the village on the north-eastern side.
Now we emerge into lovely countryside. It is not far to Lock 51, where there is a seasonal cafe. The lock is named after the tiny nearby hamlet of Mazerac. The canal ploughs on through open countryside, unperturbed by any villages until we reach a smattering of houses and farms near the Bassanne Lock. A little further on the canal passes the small village of Puybarban, which is pleasant but unremarkable.
We continue through lovely countryside until we skirt the northern edges of Gravaillot and Loupiac de la Reole, not so much villages as a semi-rural sprinkling of houses and farms. Most of these are attractive and well cared for - this is certainly a pleasant area. Continuing eastwards, the canal passes through Fontet Lock and curves into the village of Fontet. The first thing you'll see is this lovely old tower overlooking the canal, still standing, and now on private land.
There's an attractive old church near the canal, and right beside it, Le Musée des Allumettes, a museum which displays the local history of rural life and a collection things made out of matchsticks!
Just to the east of the museum there is a lovely mooring basin.
The village itself is well spaced out, quite pleasant, and offers (just) the basic facilities you would need for daily life, and is surrounded by pretty countryside. My only reservation is that it seems to have lost its 'heart'. Am I being too fussy?
Leaving the village we cruise on to Auriole Lock, where the Garonne flows nearby. Through more beautiful Gironde countryside, to Hure, which has a population of 557. Ahhhh! Now we've found a canalside village with heart. It is really pretty, with some attractive block paved streets, a good handful of useful shops, and a rowing club on the canal. I could really envisage living here and, it seems, so could a few other folks, as the population of has been steadily growing.
We continue on, out of the gentle landscapes of Gironde and into Lot-et-Garonne, where we reach Meilhan-sur-Garonne, a good sized village with some attractive historic character, and a population of 1,338. I'd guess owes its size to being a trans-shipment port for the canal and the River Garonne. This area also has a bit more in the way of hills and landscape interest. There are magnificent views from parts of the village, and I would really enjoy walking around the area. Down by the canal, there's a campsite, moorings, and even a cafe-restaurant by the canal - always a bonus! I wasn't surprised to find that this is not a particularly cheap area - and at the time I posted this, you'll find some rather splendid villas and building projects for sale here!
Leaving Meilhan-sur-Garonne, we head south east. Eventually we pass a little lock cottage converted into a seasonal cafe, L'Escale des Gravières... perhaps we should stop there for a while! Then on we go through agricultural areas, passing the International School of Bordeaux, the Écluse Des Bernes, a small campsite, the tiny hamlet of Buros, and the Écluse de l'Avance. There are several streams in this area, and you'll find a few short aquaducts.
Next, we arrive at Fourques-sur-Garonne, a larger settlement in Lot-et-Garonne with a population of 1,333. This is quite a busy, sprawling village, with not a great deal of the character I prefer, some shops, and various other facilities. There is plenty of rather suburban and agricultural housing, but there are also some small industrial areas which I suspect make the traffic on the main road through the village a little heavy at times. By the canal you'll find a company offering bike, canoe, and day boat hire, and there are two cafe-restaurants near the canal!
We head onwards south east, and we arrive at Caumont-sur-Garonne, Lot-et-Garonne, a quieter village with a population of 789, surrounded by gently rolling countryside. The character is pleasant but unremarkable, with just a handful of ancient buildings. There are enough shops and eateries for everyday use, and a seasonal market. Away from the older part of the village, you'll find a mix of country houses, suburban homes, and villas. The main road of the village runs near to the canal at each end. At the northern end there is (or was?) a Mexican restaurant (perhaps this is just seasonal).
We travel through more countryside until we reach Lock 44 at the village of Le Mas-d'Agenais. Here you'll see a base for the boat hire group 'le Boat'. Beyond this, a long line of moorings is strung along the canal.
The village of Le Mas-d'Agenais has a population of 1,482. This is another spot where the canal lies close to the River Garonne. It is just the kind of village I like, with an ancient village centre, almost devoid of traffic, a good number of shops, a market, and a vibrant atmosphere - it even has a lido! There are some lovely walks around the village, and the nearby fields and forests. Here's the official website for the village.
Continuing along the canal, it passes close to the hamlet of Lagruère then continues into the countryside where, in the middle of acres of farmland, we find the Écluse de la Gaulette. On we go, until we reach Villeton, where the tiny rural settlements of Pigeon Blanc, Le Pont Canal, and Les Barthes straddle the canal. Here you'll find the restaurant Chez Oscar, right beside the canal. A little further south is another lock cottage restaurant, La Chope et Le Pichet. Further south, beside the canal in the middle of nowhere, you'll find the Musée de la Falotte, which is dedicated to minerals, fossils, corals, shells and sand from all over the world. Then, there's another lock cottage cafe, La Maison Berry Snack at Lock 41 in the tiny hamlet of Berry. There are so many wonderful finds on this delightful stretch of canal!
Further south we arrive at the village of Damazan, which has a population of 1,357. This is an atractive place with a vibrant community. Just watch out for potential road noise where the motorway passes near the western side of the village (thankfully the side furthest from the canal).
The next village south of Damazan is Buzet-sur-Baïse. This is quite a 'roady' village, with a mix of old and new property, mainly ranged along two main roads. Not unpleasant, but not my kind of village. The canal is lovely though, and to the east of this village where is quite a substantial basin.
This part of the canal is cut through quite flat farmland, green and fertile. You'll see plenty of streams and lakes, and even some aquaducts. There are few villages and only scattered farmhouses. Continuing south the motorway roughly follows the canal cut, but thankfully it is mostly hidden from view.
After we pass through the Écluse de Baïse, the canal begins to curve to the east, and the motorway moves a little further away. Near the Écluse d'Auvignon we pass a fish farm, the Pisciculture Federale de Bruch. Then we cruise through more agricultural areas until we pass near the village of Sérignac-sur-Garonne, another flat and quite roady village which doesn't have the charm I'm looking for.
Passing through more countryside we eventually arrive at Agen, the prefecture of Lot et Garonne, which has a population of 32,214. This marks the end of today's journey. I hope you enjoyed it!