French canals and rivers: France’s best 5 regions for boating holidays
Take a boating holiday in France and enjoy the French countryside from the country’s canals and romantic rivers at a slower pace
For calm and tranquil waterways, pretty scenery and crêperies aplenty, Brittany is a great choice. Potter along the Canal de à Brest or on one of the many rivers that link into it. Although it is not currently possible to travel all the way from Brest to Nantes by boat, you can hop on board at Pontivy and, in doing so, enjoy one of the prettiest waterways in France.
If history is your thing, then Northern France makes an ideal destination. Many self-drive boat trips will allow you to explore the Canal du Nord, the Canal de Saint-Quentin and the Canal de la Somme, where the peaceful countryside and calming open skies stand in sharp contrast to the bloody history of World War One, which played out in many key sites in this area. The Canale de la Somme also passes through the picturesque cathedral town of Amiens – one of France’s oldest – and down to Abberville and Saint-Valery-sur-Somme where William the Conqueror set sail for England in 1066.
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For colourful, timber-framed houses, historic wine villages and some really off-the-beaten-track countryside, head east to the regions of Champagne-Ardenne, Alsace and Lorraine, and Franche-Comté. Here the canals were built in the early 19th century to transport goods through France and beyond. The canals link up with the Rivers Meuse, Moselle, Seine, Petit-Saône and even the Rhine, and pass through miles of vineyards, forests and farmland.
Burgundy and Centre
Follow your nose to Burgundy, and you’ll be well rewarded by top-class cuisine and wonderful wine, for this is the area for true gastronomes. The River Yonne, and the Nivernais and Burgundy canals will also lead you past superb châteaux and abbeys, and the famous vineyards of Chablis, Tannay, Sancerre and Pouilly. Those worried about their waistline, should feel free to indulge – the physical challenge of negotiating the locks (for those on a self-drive trip) will burn off the calories, as will an exhilarating bike ride along the towpaths.
Midi and South-West
For the quintessential French canal experience, you can’t beat the Canal du Midi. Built in the 17th century to link the Atlantic with the Mediterranean, thus allowing merchants to avoid the pirates lying in wait off the Spanish coast, it is considered one of the most impressive feats of engineering in the country. Depending which section of it you choose to cruise, there is much to see. The ‘pink city’ of Toulouse and the impressively fortified cite of Carcassonne make fascinating stop-off points, or head further south to Béziers, Sète and onto the Camargue for wonderful wildlife watching.