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11 of the best canals to go boating in France

PUBLISHED: 10:32 22 February 2018 | UPDATED: 10:32 22 February 2018

Plane trees along the Canal du Midi ©pase4-Thinkstock

Plane trees along the Canal du Midi ©pase4-Thinkstock

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Want to enjoy a boat holiday on the French waterways but not sure where to go? We’ve picked 11 of the best canals and navigable rivers to cruise on in France

Canal du Midi, Occitanie

From Toulouse to the Etang de Thau.

Perhaps the most famous of French canals, the Canal du Midi is inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. Flanked by perfect rows of plane trees, the canal attracts visitors the world over who love its serene banks, green waters and fascinating locks.

Canal de Nantes à Brest ©Pierre Guezingar-flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)Canal de Nantes à Brest ©Pierre Guezingar-flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Canal de Nantes à Brest, Brittany

From Nantes to Brest

This lovely waterway slices through inland Brittany in three closed off sections, which are no longer linked together after a section was submerged by the Guerlédan dam in 1920. It takes you through the lovely towns of Josselin, Malestroit, Pontivy or even La Gacilly and offers the chance to discover inland Brittany’s whimsical countryside.

A lock on the Canal du Nivernais in Burgundy ©ERAL-flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)A lock on the Canal du Nivernais in Burgundy ©ERAL-flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Canal du Nivernais, Burgundy-Franche-Comté

From Auxerre to Decize

Originally built as a way to float wood from Burgundy to Paris, this canal is now known as one of the most picturesque of the Burgundy waterways. It meanders through unspoilt countryside, dotted with charming and sleepy villages and includes a spectacular view of Auxerre’s cathedral, abbey and préfecture.

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La Baïse flows through Nérac in Lot-et-Garonne ©Alistair Paterson-flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)La Baïse flows through Nérac in Lot-et-Garonne ©Alistair Paterson-flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

La Baïse, Nouvelle-Aquitaine/Occitanie

From Valence-sur-Baïse to St-Léger

This short stretch of river is a tributary to the Garonne and is a lovely natural waterway, favoured by fishermen. It flows down to Valence-sur-Baïse, crossing the lovely towns of Nérac and Condom along the way and features historic locks.

The Canal de la Marne au Rhin in Nancy ©Renzo Stanley-flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)The Canal de la Marne au Rhin in Nancy ©Renzo Stanley-flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Canal de la Marne au Rhin, Grand-Est

From Vitry-le-François to Strasbourg

Crossing the rolling hills of Lorraine, steep wooded valleys and picture-perfect Alsatian villages, this canals offers the perfect panorama to Alsace, ending in style nearby the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

The port of Louhans on the Seille river in Saône-et-Loire ©Marcel Musil-flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)The port of Louhans on the Seille river in Saône-et-Loire ©Marcel Musil-flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

La Seille, Burgundy-Franche-Comté

From La Truchère to Louhans

This little-known canal is an affluent of the Saône with only four locks. It is a quiet waterway and crosses a natural reserve so offers a glimpse of a preserved natural environment, dotted with a few ancient mills.

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These photographs truly capture the beauty of the Canal du Midi

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Cruising on the Charente ©Lara DunnCruising on the Charente ©Lara Dunn

La Charente, Nouvelle-Aquitaine

From Angoulème to Tonnay-Charente

Meandering through the enchanting Cognac country, the navigable stretch of the Charente is a delight to cruise on, thanks to a gently changing scenery, lively otters and mesmerising light. Plus you can stop in pleasant towns such as Jarnac, Cognac and Saintes.

Cycling along the Canal de la Somme ©Dominique Levesque-flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)Cycling along the Canal de la Somme ©Dominique Levesque-flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Canal de la Somme, Hauts-de-France

From St-Valéry to Péronne

The Somme river was canalised to accommodate leisure boats and is a very beautiful waterway which takes you through marshy valleys. It begins at the Somme estuary at the harbour town of St-Valéry-sur-Somme, and offers an alternative approach route from the English Channel to the waterways of central France and a nice way to see Amiens too.

The Canal de la Robine in the south of France ©Clarence Sundberg claphoteau-flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)The Canal de la Robine in the south of France ©Clarence Sundberg claphoteau-flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Canal de la Robine, Occitanie

From the Junction Canal to Port-La-Nouvelle

Officially a branch of the Canal du Midi, this waterway takes you down the river Aude through Narbonne and then out to the Mediterranean at Port la Nouvelle. A short and quiet canal it’s easily explored entirely over a weekend’s gentle cruising.

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The 19th-century Pont-Canal de Briare ©Poudou99-Wikimedia CommonsThe 19th-century Pont-Canal de Briare ©Poudou99-Wikimedia Commons

Canal de Briare, Centre-Val-de-Loire

From Briare to Montargis

This is one of the oldest canals in France and features the Pont-Canal de Briare, an amazing feat of engineering dating back to the 19th century. From Briare you can carry on and enjoy a peaceful cruise on the Canal Lattéral à la Loire.

View of the Canal du Rhône à Sète in Beaucaire, Gard ©Davidbascunana-flickr (CC BY 3.0)View of the Canal du Rhône à Sète in Beaucaire, Gard ©Davidbascunana-flickr (CC BY 3.0)

Canal du Rhône à Sète, Occitanie

From Beaucaire to Sète

This stretch of waterway connects the great Rhône river to the blue Etang the Thau and the fascinating town of Sète which gives you access to the Canal du Midi of course. On the way you can enjoy the beautiful Camargue landscapes.

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