Find out how to journey France by canal (with out going overboard)

Transport and tranquility are normally mutually unique, however not for those who e book a houseboat and cruise alongside France’s canals and navigable rivers. You’ll be able to cease at your whim to choose up contemporary produce from an area market, dine at a village restaurant or glide by an area château by bicycle. 

There are literally thousands of kilometers of rivers and canals that hyperlink collectively in an enormous internet touching a lot of the nation and permitting entry to the encompassing seas. Adjustments in altitude are taken care of by a system of écluses (locks) and boats vary from self-hire houseboats to luxurious lodge barges.

There are tons of of equally great canal and river routes, dotted with small homes the place the lock keepers used to dwell (and a few nonetheless do). Beneath is only a pattern of what lies forward. Further world-class routes embrace the Canal de la Marne au Rhin, a hyperlink between Paris and Alsace and Germany by way of the Rhine, and the 360km-long Canal de Nantes à Brest in Brittany.

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A big barge cruising alongside the tree-lined Canal du Midi within the south of France © iStock / Getty Photos

Canal du Midi

Stretching for 241km between Toulouse and Sète, the Canal du Midi is without doubt one of the nice waterways of southern France. Accomplished in 1681 on the behest of Louis XIV and labeled as a World Heritage web site since 1996, the canal was designed to offer a buying and selling route between main French ports. Mixed with the Canal de Garonne, it varieties a part of the Canal des Deux Mers (Canal of the Two Seas), which allows boats to journey all the way in which from the Atlantic (close to Bordeaux) to the Mediterranean.

It’s a murals as a lot as engineering, lined with stately aircraft timber, puttering houseboats and beautiful riverside cities. You’ll be able to stroll or pedal alongside the towpaths as you cease alongside the canal’s route, or go to its cities – Toulouse, Agde, Minerve, Béziers, Narbonne, Carcassonne and Sète.

It’s additionally value stopping on the Musée Canal du Midi in St-Ferréol, which explores the historical past of the waterway and the lifetime of its chief engineer, Paul Riquet.

Moissac Abbey monastery courtyard in Moissac with a pilgrim visit. View of the of archways that lines the yard as seen from one corner
The Unesco-listed Abbaye St-Pierre in Moissac is a must-see sight alongside the Garonne Canal © Alamy Inventory Picture

Canal de Garonne 

With 53 locks, this serene canal falls from the junction with the Canal du Midi at Toulouse to Castets-en-Dorthe on the Garonne river. The Garonne then lets out to the Bay of Biscay simply past great Bordeaux, a jolly cease for its attractive structure and wine aplenty. Or, take a day journey from the boat to Sauternes for its candy and white wines, or Roquefort, for its world-famous cheese. One other fascinating cease alongside the way in which is Moissac, a big riverside city, partly on an “island” fashioned between the Tarn and the Garonne Canal. Its crowning glory is the Unesco-listed Abbaye St-Pierre, a monumental abbey church. 

Canal de Bourgogne

Canal boating between Bourgogne vineyards actually can’t be beat. Burgundy’s 1200km of placid waterways embrace the Rivers Yonne, Saône and Seille and a community of canals, together with the Canal de Bourgogne, the Canal du Centre, the Canal Latéral à la Loire and the Canal du Nivernais, that are detailed under. 

The spectacular 242km Canal de Bourgogne connects the river Saône within the south at Saint-Jean-de-Losne, with the river Yonne at Laroche-Migennes – which in flip connects to the Seine if you wish to proceed on to Paris. Highlights Embody, in fact, touring the areas’ magnificent vineyards and sampling the wines, in addition to visiting cities like Dijon and Beaune. West of Dijon, alongside and across the Canal de Bourgogne, the Pays d’Auxois is a rolling land of mustard fields, wooded hills and escarpments dotted with fortified hilltop cities, together with Semur-en-Auxois. Tucked into this verdant panorama are a pair of remarkable historic websites, the Cistercian abbey of Fontenay and the MuséoParc Alésia historic museum.

Boating near Rochers du Saussois on the Canal du Nivernais
You’ll be able to lease a self-drive boat to discover the Canal du Nivernais © Christophe Boisvieux / Getty Photos

Canal du Nivernais

Initially constructed for shifting firewood from the Morvan’s forests to Paris, the peaceable Canal du Nivernais crosses the Yonne river valley, typically merging with the river itself and connecting the Loire with the Seine. A prime spot alongside the way in which, the traditional metropolis of Auxerre dates again to Gallo-Roman occasions and now curves superbly alongside the Yonne, with the magnificent Gothic Cathédrale Saint-Étienne d’Auxerre towering overhead.

You may also tour the vineyards – or just inventory the wines of the area – with Chablis being its reigning queen.

Loire Valley canals

A batch of bitty canals interlink between Burgundy and the châteaux-laden Loire Valley. They embrace the Canal du Centre, Canal latéral à la Loire, and the Canal de Briare.

Halfway between Dijon and Lyon, Burgundy’s southernmost département, Saône-et-Loire, is an inviting land of rolling inexperienced fields criss-crossed by hedgerows and dotted with indigenous Charolais beef cattle. The Canal du Centre and a few fabulous bike paths meander by way of Saône-et-Loire’s forests and pastureland.

Through the area’s medieval heyday it was house to the biggest church in all of Christendom, the magnificent abbey of Cluny. As of late it is a sleepier place, however fairly châteaux and little-known Romanesque chapels nonetheless sit round virtually each bend, hinting at Saône-et-Loire’s lengthy historical past and making this a pleasant space for day journeys.

Different regional highlights embrace wines galore: from the wine-growing villages round Mâcon to Sancerre, which produce a few of France’s most interesting whites – style checks abound.

Shorter hops and day journeys on France’s canals

If you happen to’re not capable of do a full canal cruise, you can too hop aboard a small day journey boat or punt the day away from French cities laced with canals, like Colmar. For instance, boat cruises run alongside the Garonne in Toulouse from the Quai de la Daurade; in summer time, some boats additionally journey onto the Canal du Midi. The 2 important firms are Les Bateaux Toulousains and Toulouses Croisières.

Within the Dordogne Valley you may go river boating from La Roque Gageac aboard a flat-bottomed gabarre with Gabarres Norbert.

Brittany, France - Abbey de Bon Repos on the Nantes Brest Canal, Cotes d'Armor, Brittany France Europe
In addition to boating, France’s canals present glorious biking routes to discover © Alamy Inventory Picture

Biking the canals

Most boats have bikes on board or can prepare biking day journeys. With an enormous community of biking paths, the French canal towpaths are pure two-wheeling pleasure. Voies vertes (inexperienced methods) stretch for hundreds of kilometres alongside outdated canal towpaths and are additionally open to walkers and horse riders, and lots of sections are paved to make sure a silky-smooth journey. Many hook up with véloroutes – designated biking paths.

You’ll be able to cycle on or very close to the chemin de halage (towpath) of the Canal de Bourgogne all the way in which from Dijon to Migennes (225km). The part from Montbard to Tonnerre (65km) passes by Château d’Ancy-le-Franc; between Montbard and Pouilly-en-Auxois (58km), spurs go to the Abbaye de Fontenay and Semur-en-Auxois.

Equally, peaceable towpaths alongside the Canal du Midi (try Canal des 2 Mers à Vélo) hyperlink the Atlantic with the Mediterranean by way of the canals.

Ideas for canal journey in France

Find out how to e book a French canal journey

Normally, firms, like Barge Lady Cruises, are brokers that then join you to the outfit proudly owning the boat or boats. Issues to think about are:

  • the scale of the boat;
  • whether or not there can be a skipper on board, and what different workers, like a prepare dinner or steward;
  • what number of staterooms will there be (and thus individuals chances are you’ll share with);
  • what do they provide in the way in which of day journeys and the way customizable are they?

…or e book a luxurious barge cruise as a substitute 

Ranges can turn into fairly luxe, with your individual non-public chef and bespoke meals, drink and day journeys. Smaller luxurious boats can have as few as two staterooms, with a most of 4 company, that are excellent for mates or household who desire a non-public boat. A prime purveyor within the discipline is Belmond, with its smaller boat, Allouette on the Canal du Midi, or bigger ones like Fleur de Lys in Burgundy. 

Find out how to lease a canal boat

If you happen to’re up for piloting your self, you may rent a ship. They typically accommodate from two to 12 passengers and are absolutely outfitted with bedding and cooking services. Anybody over 18 can pilot a riverboat, however first-time skippers are given a brief instruction session in order that they qualify for a carte de plaisance (non permanent cruising allow). The pace restrict is 6km/h on canals and 8km/h on rivers. It’s vital to learn up on the route you can be taking to learn to deal with the locks and different methods of the waterway. Besides in July and August, you may typically lease over a weekend.

You may also traverse the waterways by sailboat, however you need to unstep (take down) the mast to take action.

Rental businesses abound. They embrace the next:

France Afloat – Anglophone canal-boat specialist in France, based mostly in Vermenton, 25km southeast of Auxerre. This British-owned, family-run enterprise rents boats and supplies recommendation for journeys on France’s inland waterways, together with the Yonne River, the Canal de Bourgogne and the Canal du Nivernais.

Locaboat Holidays – based mostly in Joigny, 27km northwest of Auxerre – has been renting boats all through France since 1977. Burgundian locations for his or her self-guided explorations embrace the Canal de Bourgogne, Canal du Centre, Canal du Nivernais and the Yonne and Seine Rivers.

The place to discover a map of France’s canals

Waterway books with detailed maps are a should. Glorious guides embrace Breil and Imray, or try the web site French Waterways for a great deal of data and maps on the nation’s canals and waterways.

When to go

Rental firms provide boats from late March to mid-November (canals shut for repairs in winter). Advance reservations are important for vacation intervals, over lengthy weekends and in July and August, particularly for bigger boats. The most effective wager is to go in the course of the shoulder seasons (Could and June or September), when the climate is okay however wait occasions are shorter on the locks, and crowds fewer.