Cycling French canals – day 1

France has the most extraordinary and diverse network of inland waterways in the world. The length of the navigable network is conventionally given as 8500 km, while historically there were 12500 km, and in practice today around 9000 km potentially navigable.

With Padraic Neville, a member of the Canal Society of New York State, on the footbridge over the Meuse loop beside the Rambaud Museum. This was a ‘prologue’ around the town and the Meuse loop, before heading off down the Meuse on Wednesday 17 May

According to many French players in the tourism sector, it is urgent to start enjoying this unique heritage and its delightful landscapes from the towpath.

I’m now setting out to do just that, cycling or occasionally running along the whole 9000 km over the next two to three years.

Taking up this new challenge, the ‘towpath’ mode is chosen for practical and personal reasons; I couldn’t devote the time needed to cruise the whole network, even if I were fortunate enough to own a boat! But as the author of Inland Waterways of France, I have a duty to readers and users, to immerse myself in the reality of the system at reasonable intervals.

This personal project coincides with what has become an accepted form of waterway tourism, qualified by the unfortunate neologism tourisme fluvestre, a contraction of fluvial (which confusingly means ‘waterway’ rather than ‘river’) and terrestre (‘on land’). There was even an entire conference devoted to the subject in Paris in April 2017. VNF convened tourism agencies and local authorities to discuss the issues of itinerant tourism on the canal and river banks.
While I’m a keen supporter and user of cycling infrastructure, I wonder whether the emphasis on the cycling mode is not exaggerated, especially where councils see this as the ‘easy option’, a popular alternative to navigation. This new paradigm is not just French; the same trend is to be observed in Germany and Belgium, throughout the waterways of the Walloon Region.

Risks of downgraded service to navigators are looming on the horizon. Look at the critical situation of the river Lot. The ‘mainstream’ activity and focus of investments throughout the valley is now the activity on the river banks, while navigation is relegated to the status of poor relation. Politicians will vigorously deny this, and claim that navigability of the river Lot is still on the agenda. In practice, projects that remain on the agenda but are deemed to be non-urgent are systematically delayed until after the next election!

Map of the French waterways. Click to enlarge the map. In red are the sections I propose to cover running rather than cycling, for a more intimate ‘hands off the handlebar’ experience.

Navigation structures and the channel or canal ‘prism’ are expensive to build, to operate and to maintain. With a sluggish economy, the temptation is all too great to abandon the expensive works required for navigability, and to opt for the ‘land-based’ tourism option.

In conclusion, while perhaps appearing to jump on the ‘canal cycling’ bandwagon, I am determined not to betray the core readership of boatowners and other users of the waterways for navigation. This means continuing to support – even from the relative comfort of the towpath – the noble function of navigation, the reason the waterways were built in the first place.

See the day-by-day account on

12 best France bloggers 2017

Taking a look at the best France bloggers counts as one of the most entertaining ways to get real insight into the country. Our blog readers obviously think so too because our top 10 blogs about France 2016 published last year  is one of our most popular posts. So popular in fact that we’ve decided to revisit the listing for 2017.

Best France bloggers 2017

In this year’s round-up, you’ll find some old favourites along with some new kids on the blogosphere. In fact, we had to extend the list to 12 French blogs because we couldn’t whittle our favourites down to 10!

As usual, we cover destination-specific blogs, travel sites, foodie ideas and language-learning corners as well as blogs offering expat information. Whatever your interest in France we think our 2017 best blogs about France will give you some great inspiration as well as an irresistible urge to visit. Amusez-vous!


À votre santé France bloggers! 

French wine obviously has to put in an appearance on a list of the best France bloggers and our chosen entry ranks among the best. We featured Wine Terroirs, run by freelance photographer and wine aficionado Bertrand Celce, last year. 12 months later, his blog comes just as packed full to the brim of interesting facts and tips about French wine.

Bertrand is also listed as one of the top seven best wine bloggers for Food & Wine magazine so we’re obviously all on the same page with this one! We love his wine reviews in the Wine News section plus the long list of anecdotes. Bertrand recently discovered that until 1956, wine was served at French school lunches – diluted with water for primary and neat for secondary. Cheers!


(Definitely not) Lost in Cheeseland

Travel writer Lindsey’s Lost in Cheeseland blog centres on Paris with occasional sojourns to other parts of France. There’s a good sprinkling of travel posts – great tips for must-dos with kids in Paris and a good rise to the challenge of 24 hours in the city – plus the Franco File Fridays series featuring interviews with expats who share a love of France.

But it’s food where Lindsey, who hails (appropriately) from Philadelphia, excels. Every foodie post comes accompanied by mouth-watering photos (no wonder she has nearly 70k followers on Instagram) and we wanted to go on her Paris Pastry Crawl right away. There are great tips for the best coffee in Paris and a listing of Lindsey’s favourite restaurants, including some without those often unfriendly-on-your-wallet Paris prices.


From Languedoc to Paris via 200+ cheeses 

Chez Loulou began life in 2006 when American Loulou (aka Jennifer) moved to Languedoc-Roussillon before ending up in Paris via Calvados in Normandy. In Paris, this blog has taken on a mostly reflective stance – we loved the photos. But previous entries go practical with a long look at becoming a French citizen and some useful posts on the cost of living in France (although these could do with a bit of an update).

But where Loulou comes into her own is cheese tasting. She originally set out to try every single French fromage, no mean feat in probably the world’s biggest cheese producing country. She’s now well down the list on number 223. Each cheese tasting blog entry comes with a lip-smacking photo and some good tips for pairing the cheese with a glass of wine or deux.


France Comme Ci

Marcus Smith’s blog was one of our top 10 blogs about France last year and it’s so useful we just had to include it again. France This Way is obviously growing up because it includes advice on how to learn to drive in France for teens and a great fun post called ‘Why are the French so skinny?’.

As well as lots of advice on life in France, we also love the guides to the regions. They’re all there – Burgundy, Provence, Loire Valley, Cote d’Azur – and come with all the essential information you need to plan a proper visit. If you haven’t planned and need some inspiration, the ‘Holiday Ideas’ section offers a long list of places to get your travel bug going. And if you fancy practising your French before you visit, just click on the Version Française.


Keeping up with Provence 

American Julie Mautner’s The Provence Post featured on our list of best France bloggers last year and she’s back for 2017 simply because her ‘what’s on in Provence’ information is second to none. When you’re planning a holiday it’s super useful to know what’s on while you’re there and The Provence Post does just that. Starting at the Major Events and Festivals in Provence in 2017 listing, you can check what’s on, where and when.

Julie goes the extra mile with additional information plus dedicated blog posts for these events too. How’s that for planning ahead? And if you aren’t lucky enough to be going on holiday in Provence, take a tour round the blog. Each post comes jam packed with photos that transport you away from your PC or tablet into the sights, sounds and most of all, scents of Provence.


Literally everything en France

It isn’t often a blog covers quite as much and as well as this one, but The Good Life France takes the whole country well into its stride. Whether you’re looking for the best parks in Paris, serving a dinner French-style, chateau hopping in the Loire or simply interested in new attractions anywhere in France, this is your go-to blog. All the main tourist regions feature on the website with lots of ideas for holiday activities.

You also find out about French culture, gastronomy and the language. If you want to keep bang up-to-date with what’s new in France, you can subscribe to the weekly newsletter or get the latest The Good Life France magazine, published quarterly in pdf format and downloadable free. Now, surely that’s the good life?


Invisible Bordeaux

Or probably not so invisible now since Tim Pike’s blog featured on our listing last year! Tim, a photographer and yellow bike rider from England, provides a unique take on the city of Bordeaux and its attractions – all those things not on the postcards. He provides great alternative information on one of the most visited cities in France.

Via Invisible Bordeaux he doesn’t just take you off the beaten track but includes the essential things to see too so you can combine the Wallace fountains with the Miroir d’Eau, say. Tim has ventured beyond Bordeaux since last year and now covers Invisible Gironde where he also lists interesting must-see spots. The blog comes with useful interactive maps and self-guided walks, available as downloadable pdfs.


Bonjour Paris and hello history 

As one of the first blogs passionately sharing travel and tourism know-how on France, Bonjour Paris hits the list this year for its commitment and detail to Paris and a penchant for a backstory or two. Sue Aran’s monthly post delves into the history of French icons like the Marquis de Lafayette and Madame de Pompadour. Daily posts on a Parisian theme work for locals and tourists alike.

From Paris apartments for sale, to restaurants you can book for brunch rather than queue down the street waiting for a table, you’ll want this blog bookmarked for your next trip to France’s first city. The currency of the content is perhaps the most exciting – there aren’t just Paris restaurant recommendations listed here, there are restaurants to visit this month before your friends all ask “have you eaten at … yet? You really must…” The information is as fresh as fresh can be, just like the croissants Sue might have had for breakfast this morning.


Slow travel en France

Sue Aran’s own slow travel blog French Country Adventures is well worth a read too, preferably over a crisp glass of sauvignon. From her deep joy at living in southwestern France and sharing it with readers and visitors alike, to her philosophical ponderings, you’re left with a warmth for France and an eagerness to see it at a gentle pace.

The slow travel philosophy is in parallel to the slow food movement that encourages one to stop, savour, absorb and hold on to that moment and what it has to offer. If ever you needed reassuring that travel creates life experiences, read the blog on French Country Adventures. Tales from the French countryside will have you grounded and back in touch with perspective in no time. Now all you have to do is act on it…


One word at a time 

As one of the words from March would have it, rebelote! Here we go again, because this is another blog about France from our 2016 listing. But this is such a gem for learning French beyond the run-of-the-mill language classes we couldn’t possibly not include it. Blog owner Kristi posts a new word or expression daily, teaches you how to pronounce it via the handy audio download (her husband Jean Marc provides the perfect French) and then puts the word of the day into context in a short article.

From French Word A Day You can also download audios on mastering French vocabulary and while you’re there, catch up with Kristi’s two children who, although they spoke French after she did, have the advantage of being bilingual.


Shhh, don’t tell anyone else 

Written for tourists and residents, Secrets of Paris reveals much, much more about the City of Light than your average tourist guide. This is a blog that takes you right off the beaten trail and to places known only to Parisians, who incidentally don’t take their visitors to the Eiffel Tower. But if you do want to marvel at La Tour Eiffel on your trip, American and long-time expat Heather has some great tips on how to save money on tickets and get in first.

Since Secrets in Paris appeared in our listing of France bloggers last year, she has been joined by Scott Dominic Carpenter who takes a fun look at things to do in Paris and a tongue-in-cheek view of French current affairs. We chuckled all the way through his take on the May 2017 presidential candidate line-up. And LOLs apart, another great feature of this France blogger is the monthly calendar packed with things to do and see in Paris.


You too can cook French food 

French food tastes nothing short of delicious so it’s great to find a blog showing you how to cook it. And to do it “the easy way”. The words “this is a cinch” that appear when opening the roast guinea hen with fresh sage recipe were certainly music to our ears. Everyday French Chef owner Meg Bortin definitely made it sound doable even for amateur chefs.

Meg aims to make French cuisine cookable for everyone – we loved the useful list of kitchen equipment (all reassuringly familiar) and the even longer list of recipes complete the menu suggestions. If you’re going the whole hog (and there’s probably a recipe for one on the site), take a look at the Gala Dinner menus and seriously impress your guests. Bon appétit!


And that’s a wrap of France bloggers for 2017 – we hope you enjoy reading their regular posts about life and their passions in France.



New and Unique Cruising Adventure through France


The Princess Grace – a 1923 Gentleman’s Luxury Motor Yacht

A unique opportunity for a cruising Adventure through France

The Princess Grace will leave London in mid August, cruising down the river Thames into the estuary and round to Ramsgate in Kent. From there, she will cross the English Channel and cruise along the coastline to reach France at Le Havre.

Available to charter for up to four lucky guests

Spectacular scenic route
The Princess Grace will enter the French waterway network via the River Seine and cruise up to historic Rouen, to arrive in Paris approximately three days later.

The yacht will linger for a couple of days so that guests can enjoy the sights before leaving Paris for the ancient town of Auxerre on the river Yonne. From there, she will join the famed Burgundy canal and cruise through, with tasting visits, some of the most famous vineyards in the world.

The canal then joins the softly-flowing River Saone at St. Jean de Losne, the important waterways hub, and the route then heads south for Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France, for a couple of nights stop-over before joining the mighty Rhone to pass Avignon and Arles in the Provence region.

Princess Grace will then make a delightful detour along the Canal Rhone a Sète to Aigues Mortes, the crusades town in the Camargue region, for a fascinating two day visit, before returning to the Rhone to reach the Mediterranean Sea at Port Saint Louis.

The yacht will then cruise along the spectacular coastline of southern France – from Marseille to St Tropez, St Maxime, Port Grimaud, Cannes and her final destination, Nice.

Would you like to make this cruise of a lifetime?

Each twin-bedded cabin has a generous sized ensuite bathroom with unlimited hot water and power showers. There is full central heating and air conditioning throughout,

Princess Grace Saloon France cruise

The al-fresco dining deck is well serviced by a state-of-the-art galley and cocktail bar, where your personal Cordon Bleu chef will prepare and serve delicious cocktails and gourmet dishes from fresh ingredients.

The facilities on board are exceptional, with a hostess to look after your every need and ensure your well-being. An in-house laundry system will be available for your personal use.

The rate for a fabulous six-week cruise is 4,750 GBP per person, which is fully inclusive of all meals and wines on and off board, excursions to vineyards, museums and other attractions, and tour guides where applicable.

For a shorter cruise, for example from Paris to St Jean de Losne (two weeks), you’ll pay XXX GBP per person. Other cruise lengths are also possible.

Payment – by bank transfer
A 50% reservation fee is payable to confirm your booking, with the balance required two weeks before departure.

Terms and Conditions – available on application
Payment of the deposit implies acceptance of the Terms and Conditions.

For all further details about this cruising opportunity contact Phil Stafford (click to send email, or phone)

philstafford1a©hotmail,co,uk  (philstafford1a©hotmail,co,uk)   – – Tel: 0044 7582 153 047

Brandy: part 3 of our essential guide to French liqueurs

The third of our posts in the French Waterways essential guide to French liqueurs series looks at perhaps the most famous tipples of all: brandy. Known for its warming and digestive properties, this amber tincture conjures up images of an after-dinner drink by the fire, although it’s also a common ingredient in cocktails and vital for a perfect flambé.

Cognac brandy with iceCognac – the king of French brandies

cognac brandy distillation


Cognac has been a household name for centuries and ranks as the world’s finest brandy. Its defining characteristic is found in its double-distillation, a process that gives the liqueur its distinctive taste and the edge over other types of brandy.

This unique French liqueur originates from the Cognac region to the north of Bordeaux. The liqueur’s distillation method was discovered by the Dutch in the 16th century when they were looking for a way of preserving wine for export. They discovered that by distilling wine into eau de vie and then repeating the process, the end result was a fine, rich liqueur.

The region centres around the two towns of Cognac and Jarnac, although the actual growing area stretches as far as La Rochelle in the north, the Atlantic islands of Ré and Oléron in the west, and the town of Angoulème in the east. The Charente river flows through the region, which is also crossed by the Canal de Garonne.




Almost 6,000 vineyards grow grapes for Cognac production in six sub-regions, known as crus:

  • Grande Champagne
  • Petite Champagne
  • Borderies
  • Fins Bois
  • Bons Bois
  • Bois Ordinaires

The term champagne in this context has everything to do with the limestone soil and nothing to do with the fizz produced in the Champagne region in northeast France.

Characteristics of cognac

To carry the brand cognac, the liqueur may only be produced in the designated crus. Although all cognac is produced mainly from just one grape – the Ugni Blanc – the brandy is renowned for its myriad of different flavours. These range from floral to fruit cake.

Characteristics of cognac from Grande Champagne include lightness and a floral bouquet. This cru produces the finest cognac that also takes the longest to mature. Cognac from the Petite Champagne is broadly similar, although not as subtle. Grapes grown in the Borderies also make fine cognac with a smooth, violet-scented taste.

Vineyards in the three Bois crus are planted on sandy soil near pine forests and in the case of the Bois Ordinaires, on the coast. Cognac from these regions matures relatively quickly and has a smooth, rounded taste. This comes with a touch of the sea if it’s produced in the Bois Ordinaires cru.

The double-distillation process involved in making cognac produces considerable evaporation. The equivalent of millions of bottles evaporates annually in the warehouses and is known as the ‘angels’ share’. This celestial feast also feeds a fungus that grows all over the warehouse walls and gives them their characteristic blackened look.

Types of cognac and how to drink it

All cognac must contain at least 40 per cent alcohol. The brandy comes in three categories:

VS – an acronym of ‘very special’. Cognacs in this category must be at least two years old. VS cognacs taste best with mixers (e.g. ginger ale or tonic water) and in cocktails.

VSOP – short for ‘very special old pale’. This type of cognac has been aged for a minimum of four years. VSOP Cognac combines well with mixers or you can drink it neat.

XO – meaning ‘extra old’. This top category for cognac may only include brandy aged for six or more years (ten years as from 2018). As the finest cognacs of all, XOs should be savoured on their own.

Where to try cognac

Numerous wineries produce cognac from world famous enterprises such as Remy Martin and Hennessy to smaller family concerns such as De Luze and Guy Pinard & Fils. You can visit some of the distilleries and taste their version of the world famous brandy en route to your boating vacation. Many have a special cellar known as paradis (paradise), home to the winery’s best vintage cognac – consider it a privilege if your visit includes a glimpse of this hallowed place.

Experience the world’s finest brandy for yourself while you gently cruise down the French rivers. Our luxury hotel barge holidays include onboard cognac tastings – because the distilleries are mostly too far from the water to make for an enjoyable excursion.

If you fancy exploring the Cognac region on your own, book one of our boating holidays.


Armagnac – the crown prince of French brandy

Armagnac brandy glass and box

The other quintessential brandy among French liqueurs is, of course, armagnac. Produced in the Gascony region, south of Bordeaux, this French brandy has an older history than cognac.

Armagnac dates back to the 14th century when wineries in the area first began to distill the local grapes into eau de vie.

The region is smaller than Cognac – some 15,000 hectares produce grapes to make armagnac. The size, coupled with slower development in the area, meant that brandy produced in Armagnac was less known than its bigger sister cognac. Today, both brandies enjoy a reputation for excellence and some connoisseurs believe that the best armagnacs sit on a par with the best cognacs.

Characteristics of armagnac

Armagnac is made from several grapes including the Ugni blanc (the principal ingredient in cognac), Baco 22A, Colombard and Folle blanche. Like cognac, the grapes grow on mainly sandy soils, but those in Armagnac produce richer and earthier flavours.

Three crus produce armagnac brandies. Those from Bas Armagnac boast the most delicate flavours and have a strong fruity note. The Ténarèze cru produces stronger brandy that also takes longer to reach maturity. And the third much smaller cru is the Haut Armagnac.

Although armagnac is distilled only once, the process takes considerably longer than in Cognac. This results in a stronger brandy with often a darker colour.

Types of armagnac and how to drink it

Armagnac comes in four categories, depending on how long it has been matured. All must contain at least 40 per cent alcohol.

VS – ‘very special’ armagnacs in this categories have spent at least two years in the barrel. These are best drunk with mixers such as tonic water or ginger ale, or as a cocktail base.

VSOP – the ‘very special old pale’ versions need a minimum of four years to mature before they are released. VSOP armagnacs combine well with mixer drinks, although you can also drink them neat.

XO – ‘extra old’ armagnac has a minimum age of six years. This brandy should only be enjoyed neat.

Hors d’Age – this extra mature brandy is bottled only after at least a decade in the barrel. The only way to truly appreciate the many textures of an Hors d’Age Armagnac is to enjoy it neat.

Where to try armagnac

You can try the very best French brandy liqueurs while you’re on a luxury hotel barge holiday. How better to savour one of the world’s best post-prandials than on the deck of a barge as you glide down one of the finest rivers in France?


Calvados brandy distillery

Calvados – truly fruity brandy

Not quite in the same class as cognac and armagnac but still considered a brandy in its own right is calvados. This is a unique spirit made mostly from apples plus a touch of pear. The acidity provided by the fruit creates a very different brandy experience.

Unlike the other French brandies calvados has a relatively short history. History books reference its use as an antiseptic during the Napoleonic wars, but it wasn’t until the early 20th century that calvados production started in earnest. This makes finding vintage calvados difficult and wine connoisseurs generally consider any bottles dated before the 1960s as vintage.

Characteristics of calvados

Made in parts of Normandy and Brittany in northern France, calvados is produced from 200 types of cider apples and pears. The fruit is fermented and then distilled twice like cognac. Three crus produce the brandy:

  • Calvados Pays d’Auge – this brandy is the richest and smoothest of the three
  • Calvados – with a fresh taste and perhaps the fruitiest
  • Calvados Domfrontais – this brandy features a more floral note and may include up to 30 per cent pears

Types of calvados and how to drink it  

Calvados comes in four categories and contains around 40 per cent alcohol:

Trois Étoiles – three-star calvados. Also known as trois pommes (three apples), it is at least two years old. Drink as an aperitif with soda water on ice.

VO – ‘very special’ calvados has a minimum age of three years. Like the younger trois étoiles, this is best as a pre-prandial on ice.

VSOP – ‘very special old pale’ apple and pear brandies must mature for at least four years before bottling. These are best drunk neat and go well with the dessert or cheese course at dinner.

Hors d’Age – the finest calvados brandies are at least six years old. Drink these as you would an aged cognac or armagnac – neat and as an after-dinner digestive.

Dining on board one of our luxury hotel barge cruises give you the chance to experience the best of French liqueurs, both as aperitifs and digestives. Book your trip now.

Nivernais need to know

The Canal du Nivernais  ranks as one of Burgundy’s best-kept secrets and remains undiscovered by many hotel barge cruisers. Yet the 174km of gliding canal take you through some of the loveliest countryside in central France with plenty of surprises on the way.

Get ready to discover medieval villages, centuries-old vineyards and fortified chateaux. Enjoy French food and wine at its best. Have fun making your way through the locks (there are dozens en route) and tunnels. But most of all, sit back and relax as you make your way up river from Auxerre to Baye just ahead of where the Canal du Nivernais joins the great River Loire. Read our Nivernais need to know guide and find out just why this Burgundy canal should be next on your list for a French river trip.

Navigating the Nivernais

Stage 1 – Auxerre to Vincerres 14km, 8 locks

What to see

Start your Canal du Nivernais journey exploring Auxerre. This historic city boasts several fine monuments including its 13th century cathedral, considered a masterpiece of Gothic art, and Saint Germaine Abbey with its medieval battlements and treasure trove museum.  The main town up on the hill is a thriving centre for shopping with many bistro and street cafes.

Nivernais boating with kids?

Sign them up for the Cadet’Chou trail with seven clues to solve as they make their way round Auxerre. They then put the letters together to make the magic word and find the treasure at the end. Details at Auxerre Tourist office. Suitable for children aged 6 to 12.

Where to eat

L’Aspérule with one Michelin star is run by French-trained Japanese chef Keigo Kimura. He revisits classic French dishes in a minimalist setting. Tasting and set menus available. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. 34 Rue de Pont.

What to drink

This first stage of the Canal du Nivernais is mostly about vineyards and the wine villages. Don’t miss the Caves de Bailly Lapierre. These old underground chalk quarries cover an area of four hectares and are used to mature sparkling Crémant de Bourgogne (equivalent to Champagne – delicious!). Guided tours (available in English) and tastings are available daily in the summer months.

Where to moor

If you’re hire boating, start your trip at Auxerre port. Mooring is also available in Vincelles.

Did you know?

You can tour the Canal du Nivernais in style and luxury aboard hotel barge Luciole, the original converted French river barge and also Randle, a classically-styled mahogany and brass motor yacht.

 Canal du Nivernais


Stage 2 – Vincelles – Mailly La Ville 14km, 8 locks

What to see

As you can probably guess from their names, more wine villages highlight this stretch of the route: Saint-Bris-Le-Vineux, Coulange La Vineuse… The ancient village of Cravant, that dates back more than 2,000 years, is also well worth a visit to explore the keep, tower and church.

Boating with kids? Stop off at the Ecluse des Dames. Housed in the old lock keeper’s house, this family-friendly restaurant serves homemade fast food (think chips, croques monsieur, burgers and panini). Plus it has a trampoline fun park, Le Parcabout, suitable for children over 3.

Where to drink

Domaine Félix et Fils in Saint-Bris-Le-Vineux dates from 1690. Today, the family’s 32 hectares of vineyards produce 16 wines, some of which are award-winning. Open daily for tours.

Where to eat

At Les Tilleuls in Vincelles you look out onto the water as you dine on seafood, fish and meat dishes. Set menus are available and the wine list stretches long. 12 Quai de l’Yvonne.

Where to moor

Hire boat travellers can moor at Vermenton marina, Cravant-Bazarnes, Accolay and Mailly La Ville. France Afloat has a canal boat hire base here.

Did you know?

Le Festival Garçon La Note takes place during July and August at bars and restaurants in Auxerre and surrounding villages. Free concerts every evening (except Sunday)  9 to 11.30pm. Find out who’s playing where.

Nivernais lock

Stages 3 & 4 – Mailly La Ville – Censoir Coulanges 22km, 9 locks

What to see

Several must-see highlights dot this stretch of the Canal du Nivernais including Noyers-sur-Serein. Famed as one of the most beautiful in France, this village goes back to medieval times – as you can see from the castle and half-timbered houses. Mailly Le Château also has medieval roots and a stroll round its quiet streets is certainly atmospheric. While you’re on this stretch of the canal, don’t miss Chatel Censoir, a fortified village with some magnificent mansions.

Where to eat

Le Castel, in the heart of Mailly Le Château, has several good value set lunch menus. There’s also a special menu for kids. And when the weather’s fine, you can eat in the garden. 2 Place Saint Adrien.

Where to moor

You can stop at Mailly La Ville and there’s a marina at Chatel Censoir further up river.

Nivernais canal boat hire base

Did you know? Cycle tracks flank the entire Canal du Nivernais so you can discover the canal’s delights by bike as well as by boat. Plus, most hotel barges and canal hire boats offer bicycles for guests to ride the towpath.

Clamecy, Nivernais


Stages 5 & 6 – Coulanges – Tannay 24km, 12 locks

What to see

This stretch of the Canal du Nivernais was once the river logging capital of France. At the heart of this stretch is the capital of the Nievre region, Clamecy. Capture a bit of logging history as you explore the atmospheric medieval town. Don’t miss the church of Old Lady of Bethlehem; it’s dedicated to no less than 50 bishops of Bethlehem who lived in the town – a fascinating piece of world history.

Nivernais, old lady of Bethlehem church

Boating with kids? Take a ride on Le P’tit Train de l’Yonne, a restored mini-train that takes you on an hour’s tour through the picturesque Serein valley.

Where to eat

The historic coaching post Hostellerie de la Poste now houses a restaurant and hotel. Local dishes with a good choice of Burgundy wines reign supreme. There is a range of set menu options. 9 Place Emile Zola.

Where to moor

Clamecy is the best place to moor and stop on this stretch of the Canal du Nivernais route.

Did you know? A Luciole hotel barge cruise includes a guided tour of Chablis town and its vineyards. And best of all, you get to enjoy a tasting session of this unique wine.


Stage 7 – Tannay – Chaumot 13km, 9 locks

What to see

The river brings you back into wine country along this stretch. Admire the vineyards at Tannay itself and don’t miss the pretty village of Chevroches where a medieval wall encloses the stone houses. The towered 14th century Château de Chitry at Chitry-les-Mines proffers panoramic views over the River Yonne

Where to eat

Burgundy truffles harvested between September and December are a local delicacy and the perfect gourmet condiment to pair with local cheeses and cold cuts. Look out for it at food stores in the villages alongside the canal.

Where to moor

You can stop off at Chevroches and Villiers-sur-Yonne or at the marina in Tannay where Le Boat has a hire boat base.

Did you know? The Canal du Nivernais links the Loire with the Seine. Built in 1784, it was one of the main routes for exporting local produce to the rest of France.


Stage 8 – Chaumot – Baye 15km, 28 locks

What to see

This part of the Canal du Nivernais is all about the canal itself. Highlights of impressive canal engineering include the narrow Valley of Sardy with 16 locks along its way and the vaults at Collancelle Tunnel. Made up of three tunnels, stretching for 760 metres, the vaults allow the canal to go uphill.

What to eat

Stock up on local produce in Chaumot and you’ll be stocked for a tasty day ahead. Feast on local cheeses, fresh fruit and vegetables as you cruise your way to Baye.

Where to moor

If you’re travelling by hire boat, allow a day for this stage as the 28 locks will keep you busy! You can moor at the marinas in Chitry-Chaumot and Chaise Corbigny where Locaboat has a base.

Did you know? Two main grape varieties make up the many Burgundy wines – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But it isn’t just the grapes that are part of this world-famous brand. The region’s climate, stony earth and winegrowing know-how all contribute to the wines’ unique terroir.


Now we’ve given you lots of reasons to visit the Canal du Nivernais, might one of these detailed waterway or region guides be of use?



Anise: part 2 of our essential guide to French liqueurs

In the second of our posts making up the French Waterways essential guide to French liqueurs, we take a look at anise flavoured tipples. These are perhaps the most characteristic of all French liqueurs. Certainly an aperitif in France wouldn’t be the same without a glass of pastis.

Absinthe: one of the anise liqueurs

The Green Goddess of French liqueurs

Absinthe rates probably as the most famous anise-based liqueur. It’s also one of the most controversial and has a rich history of notoriety and prohibition. As a cure for indigestion, absinthe goes back centuries but it wasn’t until the late 18th century that it began to be produced commercially as a French liqueur.

Established at Pontarlier in eastern France by Henri-Louis Pernod, the first distillery produced Pernod Absinthe, a liqueur made from anise, fennel, mint and wormwood. The drink quickly caught on in Paris and became a favourite among artists and painters.

Known as the ‘Green Goddess’ or ‘la fé verte’ (green fairy) because of the green ‘smoke’ that rises from it when mixed with sugar and water, absinthe is also synonymous with the world of the arts. Degas’ ‘The Drinker’ is one of the artist’s iconic works and Van Gogh reputedly painted many of his pictures under the effects of absinthe.

The ‘demon drink’ appears in works by French poets Baudelaire and Verlaine. And Oscar Wilde’s quote about absinthe is infamous: “After the first glass you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they aren’t. Finally you see things as they really are and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”

The high alcohol content of absinthe (around 70 per cent) and its reputed hallucinatory effects gained it a notorious reputation. As a result, the authorities banned it in France in 1915 and didn’t legalise it again until 2007, when Pernod Absinthe returned to bars.

How to drink absinthe

If you’re going traditional you need an absinthe fountain – look for vintage designs in antique shops in France – or you use a jug. Fill your glass with one part absinthe, place a slotted spoon with a sugar cube over the glass and slowly drip chilled water into the glass (about four times as much water to absinthe). Watch the green ‘smoke’ rise from the glass as the water mixes with the liqueur.

Pernod and Pastis

The prohibition of absinthe meant that liqueur producers had to look for an alternative way of making anise-based liqueurs without wormwood. Pernod produced its first version in 1928 while four years later, Ricard Pastis appeared for the first time in Marseille. Named after the southern French term for lazy, the drink became hugely popular in its home city as the locals’ favourite long drink.

Nowadays, anise-flavoured liqueurs are the classic French summer drink, particularly in the south of the country where a lunch wouldn’t be the same without a glass of pastis or Pernod beforehand. Cocktails using the two are also popular – the pink La Tomate combines grenadine with the anise liqueur and water, and Le Perroquet goes parrot-green with its combination of anise liqueur, crème de menthe and water.

How to drink Pastis and Pernod

Pop a few ice cubes into a glass and add one part of the liqueur. Pour in water to taste, but at least four parts. As you pour, watch the liqueur turn from transparent to its characteristic cloudiness.

Anise-based French liqueurs in cooking

Pernod and pastis pair particularly nicely with fish and seafood dishes. Add a dash of the liqueur to white fish such as sea bass or halibut for a tasty liquorice-fragranced kick. Or pour in a splash to accompany langoustines and prawns.

One of the best vegetables to go with anise-based liqueurs is fennel whose intense flavour brings out the fennel in the liqueur itself. And if you want a classic French recipe for your pastis, make the Marseille signature dish – bouillabaisse, one of whose vital ingredients is a generous glug of anise-based liqueur.

Enjoy a quintessentially French summer for yourself: take a hotel barge trip on Napoleon through Provence and take in the stunning landscapes that inspired Van Gogh as you sip a glass (or two) of pastis on the sundeck or in the stately lounge.

Discover your love for Lyon

When you’re next in France, how about discovering a little love for Lyon? This fascinating city is all too often a fly in/fly out destination en route to more famous attractions. But the third largest city in France and the country’s gastronomic capital has plenty well worth visiting.

Read our guide to the very best to see and do in Lyon

Love for LyonLyon ranks among the most historic cities in France. With more than 2,000 years of history taking in Roman, medieval and Napoleonic times, there are some stunning monuments as witnesses to the city’s past. The long list of historic attractions has earned Lyon UNESCO world heritage status. In addition, Lyon has one of the loveliest settings of any French city. Sitting pretty on the banks of both the Rhône and the Saone rivers, Lyon counts as the perfect boating holiday destination.

Need to know Lyon

  • Nearly 500,000 people live in the city.
  • Lyon summers are sunny and warm, perfect for sightseeing.
  • Lyon has 17 Michelin-starred restaurants plus thousands of popular local eateries known as bouchons.
  • Lyon was the first place in the world to introduce a city bike rental scheme – use the Vélo’v when you’re there as one of the best ways to see the sights.
  • The Roman Theatre, built in 43BC and one of the largest in France, holds a festival of music and dance (Les Nuits de Fourviere) in June and July.
  • The Criox-Rousse District, originally home to Lyon’s silk weavers, has fine 19th century architecture and lovely boutiques and shops.
  • The Part-Dieu is the largest city shopping centre in Europe – with over 110,000 square metres of retail space, you can shop till you drop here.
  • The Musée des Confluences, one of the newest museums in France, has a striking futuristic design and takes you on a journey through the history of mankind.
  • The inventors of cinema, the Lumière brothers, were born in Lyon and the city celebrates the annual Fête des Lumières with light installations just before Christmas.

Best kept secrets in Lyon

There are lots of well-known tourist attractions in Lyon, but while you’re in the city, why not get off the beaten tourist trail and discover something different.

Our suggestions for unusual things to see in Lyon

Hidden passageways

Not just one of the best kept secrets in Lyon but difficult to find are over 400 secret tunnels. Built in the 4th century, these traboules have had a variety of uses. The city’s silk weavers used them to keep their goods dry from the rain as they took them from the workshops to the dealers and the French Resistance took to the tunnels to keep away from the Gestapo. Today, you can visit some of them – ask at the tourist office for details or look out for the signs as you walk around the Croix Rousse district.

Murals and trompe l’oeil

The 100+ murals that adorn just as many façades in Lyon aren’t exactly secrets, but they’re well worth discovering, especially the trompe l’oeil – sometimes so like the real thing you can hardly believe they’re a painting. The murals tell the story of Lyon’s neighbourhoods and give you a unique insight into the city’s history without the textbooks.

Secret garden

When you’re in the Fourviere district, look for the Jardin des Curiosités (also known as the Parc Abbé Larue). While it isn’t the largest and prettiest park in Lyon, the this quiet spot has some of the best views of the city, especially at sunset. On a clear day you can see the Alps in the distance.

Giant plastic flowers

Contemporary art meets one of Lyon’s historic squares on Place Bellecour where the Flower Tree stands out like a cheerful rainbow or a sore thumb depending on your taste. The giant installation, created by Korean Jeong-Hwa Choi, has 85 enormous multi-coloured plastic flowers on it and you literally can’t miss it.

Best restaurants in Lyon

Lyon has long boasted the reputation as the home of the best French cuisine and wears its Capital of Gastronomy crown with pride. The bouchons (small family-run bistros) are famed as some of the places to try traditional French food in the country. Include in your love for Lyon a dish or two at:

Café des Fédérations – ask for a local recommendation and the chances are that this restaurant will come up. In the heart of the Croix-Rousse district, the Café des Fédérations rates as one of the best bouchons in Lyon. Specialists in local cuisine and Burgundy wine. 

Le Vivaraisnear the banks of the Rhône and the Pont de l’Université, this bouchon specializes in traditional regional cooking and serves dishes based on seasonal produce. If you don’t want to eat in, order a take-away. 

Mère Brazierfounded by Eugenie Brazier in 1921, this restaurant now has 2 Michelin stars and ranks among the best in Lyon. The current chef has revisited Eugenie’s original recipes and given them all a modern twist. 

Best wine experiences in Lyon

Lyon enjoys a privileged location within easy reach of several prime French wine regions. Beaujolais, Côtes de Rhône and Bourgogne are all nearby.

For the best wine experiences in Lyon try:

Beaujolais Tour – take a tour of some of the prettiest villages in France and taste its most famous wine on a Beaujolais tour. Several companies organise these from Lyon – ask at the tourist office for details.

La Fourmilieretaste the best local wines or try a range of craft beers and artisan cocktails at this trendy bistro on the east side of the Rhône. Live music plays most evenings at a favourite venue with locals. 

Nunc Est Bibendumas the name says, ‘now is the time to drink’ at these personalised wine tasting courses in the heart of Lyon. The company organises regular events including the monthly Grande Dégustation Prestige. 

Best activities for kids in Lyon

Lyon has the advantage of providing something for everyone so you can easily include your kids in your love for Lyon.

Among the best kid-friendly things to do in Lyon are:

Lyon Fourvierejust outside the city, this aerial park has something for children from the age of 2 upwards. Ziplines, rope bridges and tunnels plus on the ground activities come together for a fun family day out. Make it extra fun and take the cable car to get there!

Miniature Museum – all children love tiny things and the Musée des Miniatures in Lyon is one of the best places to see them. Lots of miniatures and film sets plus the chance to see the secrets behind special effects in the cinema.

Parc de la Tête d’Or – cycle here on a Vélo’v rental bike and check out the largest city park in France. Ride round the lake, explore the greenhouses, see the animals at the zoo and take a ride on the traditional merry-go-round. In the summer, enjoy a refreshing dip in the outdoor swimming pools.

Experience Lyon yourself

The confluence at Lyon, the junction of the Saone and the Rhone rivers used to be a rail yard but has been developed into a new marina with a shopping centre, a trainline into the city centre and restaurant and nightlife. However, the marina is only for folks with their own boats and the big river cruise ships moor on the banks on the Saone side.

The nearest hire-boat base is Locaboat’s at Macon on the Saone, about 60km away, so a short train/taxi ride to get there.

Discover your love for Lyon and explore the city en route to your boating holiday. See the sights, taste the food and wine, and enjoy one of the loveliest cities in France in your own time.


Five stars on a Hotel Barge

How can luxury possibly work on a hotel barge?

|Hotel Barge Roi Soleil Canal du Midi

(Or even fit under this bridge?)

Take an ex-commercial Dutch or Fressinet barge, or build a brand new one.
You’ll need to fit spacious cabins, with twin or double beds, hanging and storage space, a writing desk and chairs.

Each will have an ensuite bathroom, with electrically operated toilets, a walk-in shower or a bath, a heated towel rail and opening windows. In contemporary style like this –

Hotel Barge Savannah Canal du Midi

Hotel Barge Savannah Canal du Midi

Or traditional style –


Fleur de Lys Burgundy

Fleur de Lys Burgundy

Next, create a saloon that’s light and airy, cool and shady, or snug and warm for chillier nights. Depending on the style of your barge, it may have panoramic views over the countryside and light streaming in from above as well.

Hotel Barge Savannah Canal du Midi

Hotel barge Finesse Burgundy

|Hotel Barge Roi Soleil Canal du Midi

Your five star barge will have central heating and air-conditioning, individually controlled in every cabin, and even a real fireplace for extra cosiness.

Your fitments will be of the highest finish and kept spotless; all furnishings of the best quality for appearance and comfort.

And then, a bar perhaps and a beautifully dressed dining table for sumptuous suppers; and another, less formal dining table on deck, for taking breakfast, a light lunch or dining al fresco.

Hotel Barge Esperance Canal du MidiHotel Barge Savannah Canal du Midi

And whilst we’re on deck, let’s have some comfy seating and loungers, with parasol-shaded views over the countryside, and perhaps even a pool or spa tub.

Hotel Barge Renaissance Canal du MidiHotel Barge Esperance Canal du Midi

Of course, you’ll need a galley and a great chef to provide delicious meals, and perhaps even French cookery demonstrations –

Hotel Barge Enchante Canal du midiHotel Barge Savannah Canal du Midi

Hotel Barge Savannah Canal du Midi

If your barge is large enough, even a 3 decker, you might have a lift, a gym, a small study, a library…

You’ll cruise for half the day, relaxed, unhurried whilst the crew attends to the cabins, the business of locking, the fresh-produce shopping and the preparation of meals.

For the remaining hours, you’ve planned well-prepared optional tours for your guests in your private luxury, air-conditioned vehicle, returning for delicious sun-downers aboard before supper.

La Nouvelle Etoile Alsace

And more than all of these wonderful ingredients, your 5 star barge cruise vacation will deliver good old-fashioned customer service; friendly but not over-familiar, attentive but not intrusive, organised but not military-style, flexible but not complacent.

Fleur de Lys Burgundy

It’s all about attention to detail.

Beyond le vin – an essential guide to French liqueurs

In the first of our posts making up the French Waterways essential guide to French liqueurs, we go beyond le vin to another level of alcohol. Stronger, richer and better for digestion but just as quintessentially French.

Liqueurs might make up a fraction of French alcoholic beverage production, but they form an essential backdrop to European history, culture and lifestyle. Cognac, Pernod and Cointreau are, after all, household names. And whose grandparents didn’t enjoy a tipple of crème de menthe after Sunday lunch?French liqueurs - our essential guide

A bottled history of French liqueurs

Liqueurs in France are thought to date back to the Middle Ages when monks distilled herbs and alcohol for medicinal purposes. Bénédictine is a case in point – the brandy-based concoction was reputedly first made in 1510 to fortify the Benedictine monks at the Fecamp monastery in Normandy.

Over two centuries later, liqueurs began their legendary association with after-dinner conversation when French writer François Guislier du Verges referred to them as “conversation drinks”. Du Verges praised the stomach-calming properties of the strong drinks and today, many French liqueurs are classed as ‘digestive’.

The heyday of liqueurs arrived between the middle and the end of the 19th century when absinthe took the literary and artistic world by the storm. Numerous painters – think Degas, Picasso, Toulouse Lautrec… – portrayed the often sordid world of the anise-based liqueur. In literature, Zola made numerous references to the ‘green fairy’ in his novels.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, liqueurs became almost anecdotal. Spirits such as whiskey, rum and vodka took their place both in homes and at bar tables. However, the recent revival of the cocktail culture has changed the fortune of liqueurs, now a fundamental ingredient in both classic and innovative cocktail recipes.

map of france

Liqueurs are often named for where they originated, and production is still centred in a particular region. You can take a cruise around French liqueur history and taste their digestive and fortifying power for yourself.

When a liqueur is a liqueur

For a liqueur to be classed as such (and not as wine or a spirit), it must contain at least 15% alcohol. In fact, most French liqueurs are stronger, hovering around the 40% mark, although the most ‘fortifying’ can reach 60% proof.

Another essential component of a liqueur is its sugar content. A liqueur isn’t a liqueur unless it contains at least 20% sugar. In the case of liqueurs known as crème (de menthe, de cassis, etc.), sugar must make up at least 40% of the drink’s ingredients.

Basic ingredients in French liqueurs

Along with sugar and alcohol, French liqueurs often come with a long list of ingredients. In some cases, they may run to over 70 – the closely-guarded secret recipe for Bénédictine is reputedly this long and the one for Chartreuse nearly twice as long again.

Broadly speaking, French liqueurs can be divided into four main groups according to their ingredients.

Anise-flavoured liqueurs

Perhaps the most infamous of the four groups, most of these liqueurs originate from southern France. Well-known brands include Anisette, Pastis and the classic Pernod. Absinthe, known as the green fairy or green goddess because of the puff of green mist that rises from the glass when the water is poured over a sugar cube into the liqueur, also has an anise base.

Discover and taste anise liqueurs for yourself as you cruise the southern French waterways.


Probably the king of French liqueurs as well as the quintessential digestive, make up the second group in this guide to French liqueurs. Made from distilling wine and maturing it in casks, Armagnac and Cognac are the best-known French brandies. Another national favourite, perhaps less known outside France, is Calvados apple brandy, sometimes made with pears.

No guide to French liqueurs would be complete without a section dedicated to herb-based liqueurs. This group encompasses well-known classics such as Bénédictine and vintage Crème de Menthe as well as other more unusual concoctions. Chartreuse in its yellow and green versions is also herb-based with around 130 different plants used to make it.

Fruit-flavoured French liqueurs

These rank among the most popular French liqueurs. In this group, oranges take centre stage, but other fruits, particularly soft fruits such as raspberries and cherries, also play a starring role. Cointreau and Grand Marnier are universally known and their signature brown bottles form part of the world’s best drinks packaging.

In the berry department, the raspberry liqueur Chambord from the Loire Valley and Crème de Cassis made with blackcurrants are possibly the most famous. However, other lesser known fruity liqueurs such as the elderflower St Germain from the French Alps Briottet’s wild strawberry Crème a la Frais des bois produced in Dijon are well worth adding to your must-try list.

And the rest…

Last but not least in our listing of French liqueurs, this group includes those made with coffee or quinine. Vermouth in its dry version is epitomised in the Noilly Prat brand. And there are some more unusual liqueurs made with ginger and honey, such as Domaine de Canton.

French liqueurs are served on all our hotel barge cruises – try them for yourself in the exquisite surroundings of our barges as you cruise the stunning French waterways.





France’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites from the waterways

There are no less than 41 UNESCO world heritage sites in France, a country that boasts the fourth highest number in the world. For fans of French culture and scenery, this ranking will come as no surprise; France enjoys, after all, a reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful countries.

With such a long list of prime heritage sites, it’s also no surprise to discover that plenty of the UNESCO world heritage sites in France are on or near the waterways. So when you’re on a boating holiday or river cruise in France you’re never too far away from some of the world’s best cultural and historical sites. Read on to find out where you can see sites from the water.

Canal du Midi CarcassonneUNESCO World Heritage sites along the Canal du Midi

Top prize goes to the Canal du Midi, because all 240km of the canal have UNESCO world heritage status. The Canal du Midi, built between 1667 and 1694 to link the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean, is an outstanding work of engineering, a feat recognised in its cultural status.

With no less than 324 structures – locks, aqueducts, siphons and the world’s first canal tunnel – the Canal du Midi has plenty worthy of note. Be sure to travel through the giant Fonserannes staircase where six locks and basins take boats up or down a height of 21.5m. And look out for the Beziers aqueduct where the Canal travels over the river Orb.

Also along the Canal du Midi is another of the most famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites in France: the walled city of Carcassonne. This medieval fortress that includes 53 watchtowers and well over 2km of ramparts is one of the best-preserved citadels in the world.

Where best to see them

Get up close and personal with all the structures on the Canal du Midi as you glide through or under them in your boat. If you’re river cruising in July, don’t miss the firework display in Carcassonne marking Bastille Day. This is best viewed from the banks of the River Aube.

See why the Canal du Midi is a world heritage site for yourself on board Enchanté  or Saraphina.

Bordeaux FranceRiver Garonne’s UNESCO World Heritage sites

A cruise down the River Garonne takes you to one of the largest UNESCO world heritage sites in France: the Port of the Moon in Bordeaux. This crescent-shaped bend in the Garonne is literally bursting with architectural gems and historic monuments.

The Port of the Moon received UNESCO heritage status in 2007 in recognition of its historical importance since the Age of Enlightenment. Home to the second largest number of listed buildings in France, after Paris, Bordeaux is today one of the most interesting cities to visit in France.

UNESCO highlights in Bordeaux

Almost everything in the Port of the Moon is worthy of mention. Particular highlights include the Place de la Bourse, the Grand Theatre and the riverfront mansions with their Neo-classical façades. Don’t miss the Mirroir d’Eau (Water Mirror) whose play on reflections has made it one of the most photographed spots in the city. Another must-see is the Cité du Vin, a huge futuristic building offering a guided tour through the history of the world-famous Bordeaux wine, plus tastings.

Where best to see them

As you’d expect, the best views of the Port of the Moon are from the river itself. Here, you get the whole picture of the crescent shape in all its beauty. The vistas at night are particularly stunning.

See this UNESCO world heritage site for yourself when you cruise with Saint Louis or Rosa.

River cruises Loire FranceUNESCO highlights along the River Loire

The Loire is not only the longest river in France, it’s also one of the most picturesque. In recognition of its scenic beauty and its historic monuments, a stretch of the Loire received UNESCO status in 2000.

The section receiving the accolade lies between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes-sur-Loire, and forms the central part of the Loire Valley. For many people, this is French countryside at its finest – not for nothing is it also known as the Garden of France. The many chateaux that line the Loire are another part of the reason why this area ranks as one of the UNESCO world heritage sites in France.

This stretch of the Loire is literally oozing with historic monuments and a great place to see quintessential French chateaux. Don’t miss those at Amboise, Blois and Chaumont – include the International Garden Festival (20 April to 5 November) in your visit. And make a stop at Orleans, home to a lovely old quarter and one of the world’s most famous women, Joan of Arc.

Where best to see them

Definitely from the Loire itself. You can best appreciate the magnificence of Chaumont Chateau and the attractive row of houses on the riverbank below it as you glide past on board a hotel barge or self-drive hire boat. The views of Amboise Chateau too are the finest from the centre of the river – get the best from the Ile d’Or.

See the Garden of France for yourself as you cruise aboard Meanderer or Renaissance.

UNESCO world heritage sites Pont du Gard RhoneUNESCO highlights along the River Rhone

The south of France also has its fair share of UNESCO world heritage sites, several of which are located on the Rhone. The historic cities of Arles and Avignon have both held world heritage status for several decades and make perfect stop-offs on your way north or south along the Rhone.

At the gateway to the Camargue, Arles boasts several fine monuments, all world heritage sites. Perhaps the most famous is the Roman Theatre, considered by many to be the best surviving example in the world. The Crypotoporticus (underground galleries) are also UNESCO sites along with several Romanesque monuments from the 11th and 12th centuries.

Further up river is Avignon with several UNESCO sites. These include the Pont d’Avignon, built in the 12th century (and the subject of that well-known children’s song!), the Palais des Pape, one of the most important religious buildings in the history of Christianity, and the castle ramparts and the cathedral.

Slightly off the Rhone route but well worth taking a detour to see is the Pont du Gard, a short drive to the west of Avignon. This Roman aqueduct rises nearly 50 metres over the River Gardon and has three tiers. It forms part of the equally impressive Nimes aqueduct that stretches for nearly 50km.

Where best to see them

You can take in most of the UNESCO sites in Arles and Avignon from the Rhone, which flows through both centres. If you want to see the Pont d’Avignon (and be sur le pont), you need to visit the town centre on foot.

See these UNESCO wonders for yourself on board Le Phenicien  or Roi Soleil.

River cruise France Seine ParisUNESCO highlights along the River Seine

Only a small section of the Seine has UNESCO world heritage status, but it’s home to some of the most famous landmarks in France and the world. Given the number of fine buildings along the Seine Banks, it’s no surprise to discover that this stretch of the river ranks as one of the most stunning UNESCO heritage sites in France.

The Seine Banks is the name given to the river between the Pont de Sully on the Ile de Saint Louis and the Pont d’Inea at the Eiffel Tower. This short stretch of river packs in the monuments and includes a long list of the most-visited places in Paris: the Louvre, Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, Les Tuileries, Musée d’Orsay, Grand Palais, Petit Palais, Les Invalides, the Eiffel Tower…

Where best to see them

Easily the best vantage point to see all these monuments is from a river cruise or hotel barge. Not only do you get the best perspective and see them in all their glory, you can also view them without the crowds.

See the Seine Banks for yourself on board Golden Odyssey.

All this history and heritage might ordinarily be exhausting, but from a sunny deck aboard a boat you not only escape the crowds but have a thoroughly relaxing time to boot.



Hotel barge Luciole: still ahead of the times after 50 years of cruising

Luciole is the original hotel barge in France. When Penny and John Lilley bought the barge in 1985 it was named Palinurus and had been since its inception as a hotel barge nearly 20 years prior.

As modernised and refurbished as Luciole now is, Penny has maintained a continual programme of renovation to keep the barge in tip top condition, befitting the needs and expectations of her guests. The level of service and quality of accommodation, food, wine, and itineraries are impeccable. Knowledge of Burgundy and the little-known Canal du Nivernais is first hand and expert. The hospitality is unfailingly warm and welcoming.

Penny also does a wonderful job of keeping Luciole ahead of the curve and always of appeal to new and returning guests.

Themed cruises aboard Luciole

Throughout 2017, Luciole has dotted a selection of themed cruises. These are open to individual cabin bookings. It also invites you to theme your own week. If you haven’t yet watched the Luciole video above, Penny talks you through some of the special itineraries and themed cruises available.

These cruises also incorporate Luciole’s favourite moorings and on-shore excursions for those not all-consumed by the day’s activity. So don’t be put off if you can’t paint but your other half can – there’s something for everyone.

Art cruise

28 May – 3 June 2017

With the watchful eye and experienced hand of art teacher Charles Hickson, indulge yourself in a week of art, complete with drawing and painting tuition.

Wine appreciation cruise

24 – 30 September 2017

Taking in Beaune, Chablis, Sancerre and Poully-Fumé, this week’s cruise guides guests towards tasting and appreciating some of France’s most iconic wine varieties.

Activity cruise

Any week

From the apparently simple art of larking around in trees to cave climbing and canoeing the River Yonne, an activity cruise week can be tailored to the ages in your family or party and their activity ambitions!

Ladies luxury cruise

One of the most popular itineraries, available to book when chartering the whole barge, is the Ladies Luxury Cruise. Getaway with your girlfriends and relax. Unwind with a series of pampering treatments, well-being sessions, culinary treats and plenty of shopping! Not forgetting the occasional slice of patisserie and plentiful wine. Just choose your week and check availability.

Beyond the boat

Luciole also offers a bike and barge cruise in association with France à Vélo enabling guests to safely and fully explore Burgundy by bike.

For those looking to charter a hotel barge in Burgundy, Luciole will tailor bespoke itineraries according to what you and your party most want to see and experience in France. Nothing is too much trouble.

This selection of itineraries reflects Penny’s understanding of her clientele and her knowledge of the region. The crew’s service is superb and that reputation goes before them thanks to delighted previous and repeat customers.

NEW for 2017

Luciole is offering, when possible, 4 cabins available for solo travellers. If you travel alone and want a cabin to yourself at the solo traveller price – with no single supplement – check availability.

Further reading

An interview with Penny Lilley

Cruising with hotel barge Luciole 

How the rivers and canals of France inspired an arts movement

Luxury hotel barge cruising in 2017

Forty seven hotel barges grace the pages of French Waterways this yearWe’re delighted to offer such a full fleet of hotel barge cruising holidays in France. There are plenty of familiar faces in the portfolio and a perfectly sized handful of newbies.

Here we’ll talk you through some of the trends we’re seeing in French tourism and boating holidays for 2017. We’ll also introduce you to some of our new barges.

More hotel barge cruising available by-cabin

All hotel barges can be chartered, for your private family vacation or friendship group jolly, but these days more barges are accepting cabin bookings so you can come as a couple, or alone – two hotel barges have single cabins but on other barges a single supplement applies.

Social cruising

Hotel barge cruising with others means that you are likely to meet more fascinating people and make new contacts. One of the great benefits of hotel barging in France is the company of fellow travellers. We have met so many new friends from the world over during our cruises in France.

Canal du Midi hotel barges 2017

Hotel barge cruising along the Canal du Midi aboard Clair de Lune

Clair de Lune with her cherry wood and African hardwood interiors is a warm and tasteful place of repose as she glides gracefully along the Canal du Midi on one of two itineraries. Let Nathalie and Yves steer you through their own intimate knowledge of the Canal du Midi and its surroundings.

In the early part of the season (March-July) Clair de Lune cruises from Le Somail to Carcassonne. The foodie fantasy begins on day two with a private wine tasting at Domaine Massamier La Mignarde, one of the finest Minervois wine producers, while day three is all about cheese. Day four’s lunch at a quintessentially French restaurant near Les Halles will tee you up nicely for another wine tasting on day five at Chateau Villemagne. Come the Captain’s farewell dinner on day six, you’ll know your Minervois from your Corbieres and be wondering how you can return to this gorgeous part of France again soon.

In the heat of summer (July-September) Clair de Lune cruises further upstream, from Trebes to Naurouze. Few Canal du Midi cruises are complete without a day’s allowance to explore the iconic hillside fortress town of Carcassonne. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll be rewarded for your rampart walking with a sumptuous dinner on board. Explore the ‘circulade’ village of Bram, savour a private tasting of Limoux sparkling wine with just the company of your fellow barge guests. Will you find the Holy Grail in Rennes-le-Chateau or will you save your exploring for the Cathar citadel at Fanjeaux? On to Mirepoix with its half timbered houses, through the triple and quadruple locks to Castelnaudary with its Grand Basin to devour some authentic cassoulet. Naurouze is the highest point on the Canal du Midi and it is here that the waterway’s creator, tax-collector Pierre Paul Riquet, is recognized for his outstanding visionary achievements.

More boating holidays for your holiday budget

With 47 luxury hotel barges to choose from there is now choice, not just the odd option, for every budget. So whether you have $3,000 or $6,000 to spend – we’ve got you and hotel barge cruising covered.

More inland cruising options across France

The Canal du Midi is the heart of the hotel barging phenomenon – the iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site being the magnet that it is – but beautiful Burgundy is where you’ll find the breadth of barges and itineraries.

Hotel barging in Northern Burgundy 2017

Hotel barge cruising in Northern Burgundy aboard C’est la Vie 

Pretty villages, serene countryside and fine wines epitomise a boating holiday in Burgundy and C’est la Vie is no exception. Add in lunch at a 2* Michelin restaurant and you’ll begin to get a feel for the opulence on offer.

Your hosts, Deborah and Olivier, pride themselves on exceptional standards and will tailor their service as best as possible to your French holiday requirements. Olivier is a borne and bred Burgundian, andalso a trained chef. Choose from their three itineraries:

The Burgundy Cruise along the Canal de Bourgogne from Ravieres to St Florentin encases history, wine and walking. Tick off a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay. Take to the towpath on foot or bicycle en route to Ancy le Franc (with its 16th century chateau) to get even closer to this region’s lush countryside. Moored in Lezinnes is a short excursion to Chablis, where it would be rude not to stop for dinner – if only to soak up the wine. At Tanlay the landlubber in you will have to contend with cobbles in this medieval town with ramparts. Wrap up your excursions with a visit to Auxerre on the river Yonne for a spot of café culture and people watching while musing over the town’s famous visitors of times gone by: Joan of Arc and Napoleon.

The Upper Loire to Burgundy Cruise takes in the Canal du Loing, River Seine, River Yonne and the Canal du Bourgogne as it winds its way from Montargis to St Florentin. This is the foodie cruise: dinner on the penultimate night of the cruise is at La Cote Saint Jacques, a 2* Michelin restaurant in Joigny. Back to the beginning though where at Nemours you’ll have an extensive tour of 16th century Chateau Fontainebleau followed by cocktails and dinner on board. At Moret sur Loing visit the house of Alfred Sisley an English painter born in Paris who also spent time in Moret painting the landscapes of this area. From the River Seine you’ll discover Sens, home to one of France’s first gothic cathedrals dated to circa 1140. Onwards to the River Yonne for an excursion to the 12th century abbey of Pontigny to rustle up your appetite for that extra special dinner. From the Canal du Bourgogne, at Laroche-Migennes, step ashore for a short drive to Chablis and a private wine tasting before heading towards St Florentin.

The Upper Loire Cruise along the Canal de Briare and Canal Lateral a la Loire meanders from Sancerre to Montargis. Naturally a private wine tasting of Sancerre sets the tone for this cruise and with some sauvignon blanc in your system you’ll be grateful of the chauffeur back to the barge! En route to Ouzouer sur Treze you’ll navigate over the Pont Canal, the famous aqueduct partly designed by Gustave Eiffel to cross the River Loire. An extra reward for your experience is a trip to the 10th century Chateau of St Fargeau. In Gien visit the pottery that made this town famous for tableware before admiring the seven lock staircase at to Rogny-les-Sept-Ecluse. Day five brings you to Montbouy and 14th century fortress Chateau de Sully – a stopping place for the royals of Europe over the centuries. Finally, draw in to Montargis or ‘little Venice’ with its many tributaries and 131 bridges, not forgetting a feudal castle, ancient buildings and Pralines!

Where there’s wine, you’ll find luxury boating holidays

Most hotel barge operators will not only arrange private wine tastings, they’ll introduce you to some of France’s finest regional wines over lunch and dinner. Beyond wine, you’ll likely have access to an open bar during your cruise too. From aperitif to digestif, explore France’s finest fruit products!

Hotel barge cruising Southern Burgundy 2017

Luxury hotel barging in southern Burgundy aboard Rendez-vous

A grand cruise through Burgundy will be guided by your Rendez-vous hosts, Spencer and Rejane, who bring 20 years of hotel barging experience to their hospitality and itinerary. Cruise the Canal de Bourgogne from Fleurey sur Ouche to Vandenesse-en-Auxois. Freshly refurbished for the 2017 season, you’ll charter cruise in luxurious comfort, sustained by glorious sunshine, fine wines, gourmet food and stunning scenery – the perfect recipe for a cruise of a lifetime.

First stop Gissey-sur-Ouche, which is reached via lush rolling countryside and canal-side pretty villages. It’s also the gateway to Cote de Nuits where you can stroll or cycle the Route des Grand Crus and visit Clos de Vougeot for a spot of wine making history and a soupçon or two of prestigious wines. Dotted amongst the vines of Burgundy are the fascinating cities of Dijon and Beaune. Dijon’s covered market could occupy you for hours – another of Gustave Eiffel’s creations its abuzz with the produce and wares of the locality.

A day in Beaune is only just enough and you’ll taste wines and mustards, plus enjoy lunch at one of the town’s  fabulously vibrant bistrots. After all that exertion a couple of days cruising through heavenly countryside are called for. From La Bussiere-sur-Ouche to Pont d’Ouche you’ll moor to take in the fantastical chateau atop the hillside in Chateauneuf-en-Auxois. Cruising towards Vandenesse-en-Auxois stop for a cheese tasting and a little surprise ashore before a gourmet farewell supper aboard.

Hotel barge cruising off the beaten track

The glory of boating holidays in France is the alternative perspective gained from the less than crowded, gently meandering course to your destination. During peak season the waterways come alive with boats,  especially the further south you are. Yet it’s a buzz rather than a jam of traffic. An excitement in the air to be doing things differently, seeing France from another perch. Most hotel barge owner-operators will tailor your itinerary, a little or a lot, depending on what you want to see and experience most on your French holiday.

Celebrate in style

Some of the hotel barges for large groups are perfect for celebratory occasions like big birthdays or anniversaries. Imagine the memories of France you’ll create as a group and the holiday of a lifetime you’ll have. Whether there’s 12 or 24 of you, believe it or not there’s a barge ready and waiting to cater for you and your party.

Luxury boating holidays in Bordeaux, Charente, Paris, Somme 2017

Luxury boating holidays in Alsace aboard Aurora

Meet Aurora. New to Alsace for 2017 and with a new host, John Baker, who brings 40 years’ luxury hospitality experience to the mix. John’s mission, aside from providing you with a luxurious hotel barge cruising holiday in France, is to uncover some of northern France’s hidden rural gems while enabling you to discover the myriad joys of Alsatian wine.

Cruise the Canal Marne du Rhin from Strasbourg to Arzviller in the refined ambience of king size staterooms and a third upper-deck for ultimate relaxation and unspoilt views. Define your itinerary by the excursions you choose along the way – we’ll just provide some examples.

Leave the architectural highlights of Strasbourg for the forests of Brumath and the prettier quarters of the city. Perhaps an excursion to Petite France, the Barrage Vauban, Strasbourg Cathedral or Fischer Brewery. Onwards to Hochfelden along what is referred to as the Wine Route. Stop in beautiful Obernai with its Alpine vibe, ancient ramparts, delightful restaurants and a deliciously eye-opening wine tasting. En route to Saverne perhaps Europe’s biggest care museum, the Schlumph Museum, will draw your attention or will it be a Benedictine Abbey and Jewish Culture Museum, or Camp de Struthof – the only concentration camp on within France’s borders.

On to Lutzelbourg – a picture postcard village – with excursions including the troglodyte village of Graufthal, the Lalique Crystal museum or the wartime fortifications of the ‘Maginot Line’. Wrap up this epic hotel barge cruise through France factoring in Marc Chagall’s chapel window and museum in Sarrebourg or renowned Faience Pottery and Lehrer Cristallerie. Not wanting to end such a cruise on anything other than a stunning note, you’ll encounter the Arzviller lift – the only side incline plane ship lift in France. If that isn’t enough, you can also add in hot air ballooning and the Spa of Sulzbad.

And so the decision is with you… Where will you go hotel barge cruising? Which itineraries take your fancy? What excursions must you see?

Need a hand? Ruth’s your hotel barge expert and is on hand to answer your questions and help guide you to a choice perfect for you. Send Ruth an email  (rn©french-waterways,com)  



Hotel Barge La Belle Epoque Burgundy

Hotel Barge La Belle Epoque, Burgundy

Wow! Amazing 10% to 20% discounts are now available for luxury hotel barge cruises on a variety of excellent barges for selected weeks. Bookings must be made (that means, deposits paid) by 30 May 2017.

The barges are in France’s favourite regions – all gorgeous! See the links below to discover the waterways and features of each, and click the individual barges for full details of the boat facilities, cabins and loads of photos.

Hotel Barge Panache Alsace and Champagne

Hotel Barge Panache, Alsace and Champagne

Per person prices range from $4,390 (Rosa) to $7,850 (Finesse and Renaissance) but  with these discounts represent fabulous reductions. In addition, families please note:

‘KIDS GO FREE’ School Holiday Promotion Dates*

L’Art de Vivre – July 23, August 13 and 20
Anjodi – August 13
La Belle Epoque – August 13

*Cannot be combined with any other offers. Up to 2 free children under 18 on 8 berth barges and 3 free children under 18 on 12 berth barges

20% off per Charter – Apr 30; May 7; Jul 30; Oct 1,15, 22
20% off per Cabin – Apr 23; Jun 4, 25; Jul 9, 23, Aug 6

La Belle Epoque:
20% off per Charter – Apr 23; May 7; Jul 9, 16; Aug 13
10% off per Cabin – Aug 6 & 27
20% off per Cabin – May 21; Jun 18, 25; Jul 30

20% off per Charter – Apr 23, 30; May 14; Aug 20
10% off per Cabin – Aug 27
20% off per Cabin – May 7, 28; Jun 4; Jul 16

20% off per Charter – Apr 23, 30; Jul 9, 16; Aug 13, 20; Oct 1, 15, 22
10% off per Cabin – Aug 6 & 27
20% off per Cabin – May 7 & 21; Jun 11; Jul 2

L’Art de Vivre:
20% off per Charter – Apr 30; May 28; Jul 23; Aug 13, 20 & 27; Sep 24; Oct 8, 15 & 22
20% off per Cabin – May 7 & 21; Jun 4 & 18; Jul 9 & 16

20% off per Charter – Apr 30; May 7, 21; Aug 13, 27
10% off per Cabin – Aug 6
20% off per Cabin – May 14; Jun 4, 11 & 25; Jul 2, 9, 23 & 30

Clair de Lune:
20% off per Charter – Apr 23 & 30; May 7 & 28; Jun 11 & 25; Jul 16; Aug 6 & 13
10% off per Cabin – Aug 20

20% off per charter – Apr 30; May 7 & 14; Aug 6 & 27
10% off per cabin – Aug 13
20% off per cabin – Apr 23; May 21 & 28; Jun 4, 11 & 25; Jul 9, 16 & 23

20% off per charter – Apr 30; May 14; Jun 11; Jul 9, 16 & 23; Aug 6, 13 & 20
20% off per cabin – Apr 23; May 7; Jun 18; Jul 30

20% off per charter – Apr 30; Jun 11, 18 & 25; Jul 2, 9 & 16
10% off per cabin – Aug 6, 13, 20 & 27
20% off per cabin – Apr 23; May 14, 21 & 28; Jun 4; Jul 23 & 30

20% off per Cabin – Jun 4

20% off per Charter – Jul 2
20% off per Cabin – Jun 18, 25

20% off per Charter – May 28
20% off per Cabin – Jun 4

Discount or not, once these weeks are gone, they’re gone.

Hotel Barge Enchante Cruise Canal du Midi

Hotel Barge Enchante Cruise, Canal du Midi

Le Boat’s New Year Offers – deadline 31 January

Le Boat hire cruise discounts

See the fleet

Send an enquiry

Fantastic discounts are available for bookings confirmed by 31 January:

March, April* & May, all regions:
15% off all boats for 3 nights minimum except for Royal Mystique, Mystique and the Horizon range
*(8th – 17th April 10% only)

Family discount
5% off for minimum 7 nights except for Royal Mystique, Mystique and the Horizon range. All regions.

10% off for minimum 7 nights on Clipper; Continentale, Crusader and Salsa A and Salsa B. All regions.

Le Boat Discounts

Le Boat Clipper

Nivernais, Loire region
10% off all boats for 3 nights minimum except for Royal Mystique, Mystique and the Horizon range.

Valid for all bookings confirmed by 31 January
Offers are combinable up to 15% discount
Minimum duration 3 nights
Not applicable to Horizon range
Offers can be withdrawn at any time
Subject to availability
Offers cannot be used retrospectively

Are you ready to book for 2018?
Take the Early Bird Discount of 15% on 1- 4* boats and 5% on 5* boats (excluding the Horizon range). Wow!

Le Boat hire cruise discounts

Nicols’ Year-round Special Offers

Nicols Confort 900 Discounts

See the fleet
Send an enquiry

Nicols discounts can be added together to create a maximum of 10% discount for short breaks or 15% for cruises of one week or longer.

Family discount
Save 5% for 1 child under 16 years old
Save 10% for 2 children (or more) under 16 years old
Any length cruise, all boats.

Seniors discount
Save 5% if there is at least one 65+ year old on board.
Any length cruise, all boats.

Couples discount
Save 10% on board a Confort 900 or Confort 900 DP, Nicols 1000 or Nicols 1010

Nicols Hire boat discounts

Nicols Confort 900 Deck Plan

Long cruise discount
Save 10% on the second week, and every additional week.

Large Group discount
Save up to 10% when more than one boat booked at the same time
5% off for 2 boats
7% off for 3 boats
10% off for 4 boats or more

Offers cannot be used retrospectively

Locaboat’s Discounts for Hire-Boating in France

Locaboat Discounts

Penichette 1180 Flying Bridge

See the fleet

Send an enquiry

The following discounts can be combined up to a total discount of 20%. They’re valid throughout 2017 for holidays of one week minimum.

The Families Discount
10% discount for any group with 2 or more children aged up to 18 years old
5% discount for any group including 1 child aged up to 18 years old

The Couples Discount
10% discount for just the two of you

The Flotilla Discount
5% discount if at least two boats are booked at the same time

The Long Stay Discount
10% discount for cruises of 28 days or longer
7% discount for cruises of 21 to 27 days
5% discount for cruises of 14 to 20 days
3% discount for 10 to 13 days

PLUS regular early booking discounts – so check back regularly

*Offers cannot be applied retrospectively


See the fleet

Send an enquiry

How to create a French Christmas foodie feast or Reveillon dinner

French Christmas

Making merry Christmas cookies

Whether you’re planning a Reveillon feast or looking to recreate a traditional French Christmas, how many of these French holiday traditions will make it to your table this year?

What’s Reveillon?

A tradition in French speaking countries and former French colonies. This is a long meal that happens on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Traditionally, the feast takes place after Midnight Mass. Across Europe, Reveillon dinners still occur in France, Belgium, Portugal and Romania. Around the world, Reveillon feasts are popular in Brazil, Quebec and New Orleans.

An aperitif to begin

An aperitif or apero is typically served with amuse-gueules, which might be light nibbles like nuts or full scale canapes. Will your aperitif of choice be pure Champagne or will you add a splash of crème de cassis to create a Kir Royale? Perhaps you’ll step outside the box with a Lillet over ice, a delightful aperitif wine produced in Podensac, Burgundy. For those with an affinity for gin, switch to Dubonnet this Christmas – quinine features in the red version that rumour has it is a favourite tipple of Queen Elizabeth II.

Now will you say “Santé!” or “Tchin Tchin!”

A canape with that

A reveillon feast would nowadays typically feature caviar. A canape of smoked salmon and caviar combines so naturally and sits perfectly perched upon a blini. A meaty alternative would have to incorporate foie gras. This rich liver parfait balances perfectly with a crisp melba toast that adds wonderful texture to the morsel without impeding the flavour of the pate.

An entrée to really get things started

Foie gras often makes it way to the entrée too. In these larger portions it goes down well with a fruit compote and if in Paris or Bordeaux you might find it accompanied with a sweet wine like Sauternes.

Continuing the decadent theme, how about oysters – might be wise to ask the fishmonger to shuck them for you! They go down beautifully with some shallot and red wine vinegar or break the mould and grill them for a couple of minutes covered in a champagne sabayon.

However, one of the simplest supper talking points has to be escargots in a garlic or herb butter – a particular French Christmas favourite in Burgundy. They might be the Marmite of the dinner table, but just like oysters, until you try one you’ll never know!

The main affair – your plat principal

Sticking to an extravagant thread, you’ll often find game a feature of a revellion main course. And for those closer to the sea or with a penchant for seafood, it has to be lobster and/or crab.

If you’d rather stick to a traditional turkey, fear not it’s the preferred plat principal in Burgundy.

Whichever way you lean, find a way to incorporate chestnuts. Chestnuts feature heavily in French Christmas recipes. They find a natural home in stuffings and are the perfect focus for a vegetarian dish or nut roast.

Next up: du fromage

A cheese that’s only made during the dark months of winter and comes into its own between October and February is Vacherin Mont d’Or. It’s an unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese that you’ll need to spoon from its traditional wooden box if you do right by it and leave it at room temperature before dinner begins.

Now that you’ve got something runny covered, add some texture in the form of Comte and its alcohol infused flavours and firm yet smooth texture. You’ll need a blue cheese too and thoughts naturally turn to the sheep’s milk Roquefort – it’s as old as the tradition of Christmas. Bring some nuttiness to the board with a goat’s cheese log.

You’ve left room for desserts haven’t you

Yes, we do mean multiple desserts. Thirteen, in fact if you’re celebrating Provence style. A traditional platter of 13 desserts to represent Jesus and his 12 disciples doesn’t have to be as extravagant as you think. Often a curation of dried fruit, fresh seasonal fruits, candied fruit, pain d’epice, nougat, pate de coing (quince cheese) oreillettes (think, pastry like waffles) a pompe a l’huile cake, and some regional variations like biscotins and calissons d’Aix.

Outside of Provence we’ll let you off with a portion of buche de noel – a traditional Yule Log.

After all that you deserve to celebrate, so bring out the Champagne again before retiring in time for Saint Nicolas (or Pere Noel) to make his appearance.

While we don’t expect you to indulge in the tradition Reveillon supper after midnight mass – you’ll still be going in the early hours of the morning – we do hope you savour some of these delicious French foods this Christmas.

A very Merry French Christmas from us all at French Waterways!

French Christmas Cookies

New look hotel barge and hire boat detail pages

These past few months we’ve been beavering away behind the scenes to bring you fresh new look hotel content, extra navigation pages and heaps of new waterway and self-drive downloads.

When you’re browsing through the boats and barges to find your holiday boat or hotel barge, or the best route for your own adventure, you’ll notice we’ve added layer upon layer of new and extra details. We’ve organised this new content in clear and descriptive tabs.

New look hotel barging in sumptuous detail

New look hotel barge detail page
Looking for a vacation of a lifetime? With our gloriously detailed hotel barge pages you can meet your hosts, delve into the opulent itineraries, or fall for the gourmet food and impressive drinks cabinet.

View each barge holiday in detail with a summary of the barge, its capacity, history and location. Get to grips with the available itineraries on the Cruising tab and get a feel for the region the barge cruises on the Region tab.

The on board facilities are handily listed on the Facilities tab. Then the real lure begins: the Cuisine tab let’s you in on the culinary highlights that’ll woo you to want to stay in France forever.

Under Gallery you’ll find exterior and interior images of the barge as well as a floor plan, in most cases. So you can get a feel for cabin size and communal space.

Under the Advice tab we provide some personal insight from our own experiences of staying the barges. We’ve known the barges and their owner-operators for many, many years. We’ve cruise the routes they meander and in most cases we’ve experienced their itineraries, their hospitality, their open bar and their culinary skills first hand.

If you send a booking enquiry via the Booking tab, we’re on the other end ready to answer your questions or provide more information. We personally handle your luxury barge cruise booking and liaise with the barge owner-operators and partners directly to secure the dates and itinerary you’re looking for.

See what we mean with Aurora

New look hire boating: all you need, all in one place

new look hire boat detail page
Desperately seeking a fun vacation with family or friends? Hire boating is a sunny, healthy and culturally fulfilling holiday in France. Choosing how, when and where is now easy too.

We’ve brought the boats and their cruise location information into one place. We’ve added images and videos too.

Each hire boat detail page starts with a Summary tab. Here we introduce the boat, its capacity, drive-ability and suitability for various group type.

On the Cruise Locations tab you’ll be able to see from which hire bases each boat is available from. Some hire boats are available to rent on a one-way route where you cruise from one base to another. Others routes are only suited to there-and-back routes or loops.

The Gallery tab will uncover exterior, interior shots as well as a flat plan of each boat so you can see how the living space is laid out. Now you can really imagine yourself aboard!

It’s easy to send your booking enquiry via the Booking tab online form too. We send this direct to the hire boat partner responsible for your preferred cruiser. They’ll be in touch directly to answer any questions, provide more detail or to process your booking and payment.

See for yourself with Horizon

Want the latest luxury hotel barge news?

new hotel barge latest news page
We’ve added a brand new page that’s dedicated to providing news and updates from our hotel barge partners.

Here you’ll discover first when we add new barges to the French Waterways fleet. We’ll also highlight stand-out itineraries and not-to-be-missed cultural experiences.

These might include dining experiences, exclusive tastings or chateaux tours.

See what’s new

Easy on the eye hire boating FAQs

self drive hire boating FAQs
Forget any horror stories of pages of Q&A. With this new look page we bring you videos and easy to digest bullet points. So you can quickly understand the ins and outs of self-drive hire boating.

If you’re never considered hire boating in France, this refreshed section of our site will hopefully clue you up. We also hope it’ll convince you to give self-drive waterways holidays a go!

Using the new look tabs on this page we walk you through the different types of boats at your disposal. You’ll garner enough information from At The Wheel to appreciate how accessible an adventure holiday this is. And under Locks you’ll appreciate that, in most cases, the days of winding or unwinding them manually are gone.

With more than 8,000km of waterways open to you in inland France, where should you go first? Under Where? we steer you through the various canals and rivers, their regions and what’s to love about each of them.

The Season provides additional insight for those with travel date flexibility. If you’re debating when to travel to France, this section will provide expert and personal guidance on the pros and cons of spring, summer and autumn cruising.

Start your hire boating revelation 

Did someone say holiday bargains?

special offers, deals and discounts page
We’ve also done a light-touch new look for our special offers page.

Our hire boating partners tend to provide a selection of deals and discounts at the start of each month. These are available when booking within the month. Some of the best deals relate to the immediacy of your booking. So if you’ve got the freedom and flexibility to take a last minute holiday in France – keep your eyes peeled.

Throughout the year, we add the odd offer for hotel barge cruising too. These significant holiday discounts due to the high value of these vacations.

To stay abreast of the best vacation bargains, drop us a line to request to be added to our regular newsletters. We typically send two a month, occasionally more depending on what news and offers we have available to us.

And if you’ve got this far, it’s definitely time to have a wander around the site and see how we can make your next holiday to France smooth in every sense of the word. Calm waters, the relative peace of the waterways, a very unique way to uncover the real France.

Take a peek and as always, let us know  (rn©french-waterways,com)   if we can help.

Maximum barge length on French canals

The maximum length of barge allowed to navigate through the French canal system is slightly longer than the official length of 38.50m indicated throughout the Practical Navigation pages on this site.

The Belgian owner of a 39.12m long barge asked if his barge could squeeze into the locks to reach his planned destination on the Mediterranean Sea in 2017. Research revealed that the 38.50m standard was established in the days of towing on the canal towpaths, first by horses and later by ‘electric mules’. When barges were fitted with engines, this meant adding a propeller casing and a more substantial rudder. Hence the extra 65 cm.

So while the 39.15m barge can make it through the system, it means using every bit of margin available within the lock chamber, and it literally means ‘squeezing in’, and being extra careful not to snag on the upstream gate sill, nor to touch the downstream gates when rising in the lock.

Beaujolais Nouveau – a classic or a bygone wine?

Beaujolais Nouveau is released on the third Thursday of NovemberOne minute after the strike of midnight on the third Thursday of November every year something unique to France happens in Burgundy. The year’s recently harvested Beaujolais Nouveau is released for sale.

So on Thursday 17 November 2016 the residents of Beaujeu, Beaujolais’s regional capital, will drink this year’s wine until dawn as part of Les Sarmentelles festival. This Thursday has become known as Beaujolais Nouveau Day. Celebrations typically begin the evening before in the form of festivals, tastings, music and fireworks.

Wine hype rarely lasts forever

What began as a wine for the locals of Burgundy to celebrate the end of the harvest, became a national and then international craze. Across the Beaujolais region alone some 100 festivals are held in relation to the release of the year’s wine. But following a poor harvest in 2012, enthusiasm began to wane.

It could also be argued that the evolution of the wine industry over the last 10-15 years has made wine more accessible and the general public more wine savvy. In turn people buy more superior wines with greater knowledge and are less swayed by the marketing and hype surrounding wine ‘one-offs’ like Beaujolais nouveau.

In the UK these days you’ll struggle to find a wine retailer or wine merchant promoting the Beaujolais Nouveau 2016 vintage. By 2011, sales of nouveau in the UK had slumped to a seventh of the figures from 1999. But this is Burgundy, the home of superior French wine thanks to the perfect combination of soil and micro climates. Where the focus on Beaujolais rather than the nouveau is promising some sort of renaissance for the region’s wine.

The Marmite of French wine

We’re a fickle bunch when it comes to hype these days. Even those who don’t know their Chablis from their Chardonnay call themselves wine snobs. And across France the mood around Beaujolais nouveau is no different: love it or hate it.

At just 6-8 weeks old, the need to chill the wine to eek out some of the flavours is enough of a faux pas for some. For others, the initiative to celebrate a hard harvest with just desserts is a tradition to be upheld and heralded.

Take it or leave it, but take it as it comes. There’s little complexity on the matter. While some see the release as an insight into the quality of the year’s grape harvest, others implore you to take a more relaxed view. Due to the rapid fermentation process, this wine won’t improve with age. So drink it now or, still chilled, as a spring aperitif. It’s said the wine’s quality depreciates from May onwards in the year following harvest.

11 facts to convince you to try Beaujolais Nouveau

  1. The original Beaujolais Nouveau publicity stunt was to see who could race the fastest to market to sell their vintage. Hence the slogan Le Beaujolais est arrive.
  2. Nowadays, the harvest is shipped ahead of Beaujolais Nouveau Day but still not allowed to be sold until 00:01 on the third Thursday of November. Note a revised slogan of It’s Beaujolais Nouveau time.
  3. Wines with such a brief fermentation process are known as vins primeurs. These wines are drunk within the same year they are harvested. Unless they are a particularly fine vintage, they typically need to be drunk within 12 months.
  4. 100% handpicked Gamay grapes are used to make the red version of the wine. The rapid fermentation process extracts the juice from the fruit without drawing the bitter tannins from the skin. It’s known as carbonic maceration (or whole berry fermentation).
  5. The relative lack of tannins is what makes Beaujolais Nouveau drinkable at such a young age. The tradition and recommendation of drinking the wine chilled also aids the fruit on the palate.
  6. Drinking red wine chilled, which is something we’d typically only do with white wine, naturally leads some to use the drink as a vehicle to learning about and enjoying red wine. Beaujolais nouveau is easy on the palate and largely quaffable, in celebratory style. The perfect red wine ice breaker.
  7. As is typical of French produce standards and labelling, there are strict rules. Aside from handpicking the Gamay, the grapes must be grown in the appellations of Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages. The grapes cannot be harvested in the crus of Beaujolais.
  8. The 10 Beaujolais crus are still made from the Gamay grape but via a more traditional fermentation process and cellaring. These more complex wines are packed with tannins and will improve with age to some degree. The 10 villages that form these crus and their wines are St Amour, Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon, Moulin a Vent and Regnie.
  9. You’ll need to remember those village names for when you’re label hunting in the supermarket or bottle shop, because these vintages rarely mention “Beaujolais” on their labels.
  10. George Duboeuf is the name most commonly and positively associated with Beaujolais. His Fleurie takes pride of place on restaurant shelfs the world over. Yet he is also heralded as the man behind the original race to market of the region’s celebratory nouveau.
  11. Whatever your opinion of French wine, it is where it all started. Other wine producing regions and countries have followed suit with their own vin primeurs. Gaillac AOC is produced near Toulouse. Vino Novello is Italy’s take on the method. Some even stick to the tradition of the November release date too.

Time to find out who will be stocking Beaujolais Nouveau 2016…

Enlarged Horizon fleet from Le Boat for 2017

Horizon fleet from Le Boat

The Horizon fleet went down a treat when it launched in 2016. So for 2017 it’s growing and improving just for you!

One of our hire boating partners, Le Boat, added the Horizon fleet of cruisers to its books ready for the 2016 season. The cruisers were incredibly well received. Demand outstripped supply. Hire boating customers wanted more of them than could be hired!

The Horizon fleet just got bigger

Thanks for this enormous customer demand and resoundingly positive customer feedback on the new fleet, there’s exciting news for 2017.

Le Boat is expanding the size of the fleet. In doing so it is adding to the fleet selection too. The Horizon fleet available to hire for the 2017 season will include a range of cabin options.

How many cabins do you need?

The freshly enlarged fleet will enable you to choose from, 2, 3 & 4  bed cabins. Plus, all of the cabins are en suite!

Sleeping 9 guests, Horizon 4 with four en suite cabins is perfect for large groups. This could be you and your friends on a fabulous wine tour of France. Soak up the rays. Absorb some of the region’s fabulous wines. Celebrate and create memories with friends.

Family holidays on a self-drive cruiser

If you’re thinking of a family boating holiday in France, how about Horizon or Horizon 2-S. These cruisers ares perfect for families with up to 2 children. What a wonderful experience for your kids too. If they have to produce something for show-and-tell when they’re back at school, this kind of vacation is full of experiences and memories.

When and where to cruise

The Horizon fleet is spread across the Le Boat bases in France. See the Le Boat fleet here.

Sixto Prestige C – new cruisers for Nicols in 2017

Nicols Sixto Prestige Cruisers for 2017The Sixto Prestige C glides into action with Nicols next season. Bringing with it air conditioning (yes!), 2 cabins, 2 bathrooms, dishwasher, microwave and a TV with satellite antenna.

Sixto Prestige C raises the game of self drive cruising

Self drive cruising in the south of France just got a lot cooler. Sleep well at night despite the heat thanks to air conditioned cabins. Serve up dinner and clear it away into the dishwasher so you can sit back and relax the evening sunset from your deck, while the dishwasher does the hard work for you. You’ll wonder how you managed without all the mod cons.

En suite cabins bring privacy to hire boating

The two cabins on the Sixto Prestige C each have their own en suite. If you don’t want to see your kids or your friends before you’re fully made up in the morning, now you don’t have to! And there’s no queuing for the bathroom in the morning either. Let your teenager carve their hair into the perfect bed head look for as long as it takes!

Where to cruise aboard the new Sixto Prestige C

These brand new luxury cruisers will be available from Nicols throughout the 2017 season, from the Canal du Midi, Camargue or Alsace bases.

Tell me more about the brand new, luxury Sixto Prestige   (rn©french-waterways,com?subject=Nicols%20Sixto%20Prestige%20enquiry)  

9 must visit Christmas markets in France

Christmas markets mean the festive season is unquestionably creeping up on us. Buying gifts at Christmas markets ensures you’ll give handcrafted, artisan items with the personal touch.

Christmas markets in France - the Lille Ferris wheelChristmas markets are a firm favourite for many. And as far as we’re concerned there is a festive market for everyone. Whether you plan on visiting one locally or perhaps look to venture further afield, there are so many lovely ones that are well worth a visit, especially in France. Christmas markets in France make a great excuse for a weekend break with a loved one or group of friends. With amusements for children they make a memorable family day out too. The majority of markets open at the end of November. So you can get ahead on some of your Christmas shopping whilst having fun soaking in the festive atmosphere.

Known in France as Marché de Noel, the big three Christmas markets in France can be found in Paris, Lille and Strasbourg. There are lots of smaller Christmas markets across the country.

Whether you plan to drive, fly or take the Eurostar, wrap up warm, sip your vin chaud and enjoy the entertainment. Here are our top nine must-visit Christmas markets in France.

Lille Christmas Market

When: 18 November – 30 December 2016 (closed Christmas Day)

Where: Place Rihour, centre of Lille

Travel: 1hr 22m from St. Pancras International, direct to Lille

If you plan on a proper shopping weekend then take the car. It is just over an hour from Calais, depending on traffic. The Lille Christmas market is somewhat an institution. Its presence in the city dates back for centuries and it has become the biggest of its kind in Northern France. Amidst the traditional wooden chalets selling local products and gifts to concerts and exhibitions there is plenty of entertainment too. The iconic Ferris wheel in the main square will give you a great view of the market. You’ll get a different perspective on the towering Christmas tree that dominates this winter wonderland.

Lille retailers really go to town at this time of year with their festive themed shop windows. And with nearly 4,000 shops throughout the city there will definitely be something to suit every taste and budget. A true shopping haven!

“Capital of Christmas” Strasbourg Christmas Market 

When: 25 November – 31 December 2016

Where: In front of the Strasbourg Cathedral in the historic quarter

Travel: Eurostar from London St Pancras changing at Paris, journey time between 5-6 hours including changeover.

Just over 2 hours away from Paris is the historic, cultural and gastronomic city of Strasbourg. Situated a few miles from the German border it is easy to notice several Germanic influences at France’s oldest and Europe’s largest Christmas market. From the food and wine right through to the style of gifts available you’ll understand quite quickly why Strasbourg has twice been voted ‘Best Christmas Market in Europe’. Known to many as the Capital of Christmas, it has some 300 chalets across 11 sites. It attracts up to 2 million visitors during the festive season. If this doesn’t get you into the festive spirit nothing will!

The Christmas market is situated in front of Strasbourg Cathedral, with its Gothic towers and famous sky-high clock. If you can drag yourself away from the stalls, the cathedral is worth a visit in itself.

Throughout the city, town squares are filled with characteristic wooden huts:

Place des Meuniers hosts a foodie market where you can purchase delicacies from Alsace’s legendary small growers and producers.  The Alsatian Christmas delicacies market has further local products in Place d’Austerlitz.

There is a Children’s World on Place Saint Thomas, definitely worth a visit if you are taking the kids. And have some fun ice skating on Place du Château.

Visit La Petite France, an area of quaint buildings with Christmas shops and even a gingerbread bakery. Food on offer at the market includes sausages and choucroute (pickled cabbages) and their famous three-meat baeckeoffe stew.

Reims Christmas Market

When: 18 November – 24 December 2016

Where: Place d’Erlon, rue Condorcet, rue Marx Dormoy and rue Théodore Dubois.

Travel: 2hr 16m London to Paris, on Eurostar

If you are visiting Paris then why not add on an extra day or two to explore Reims. Less than an hour from Paris by TGV it would almost be rude not to visit the capital of the Champagne region while in the vicinity. Reims is known as the “Cité des Sacres”. Its Christmas market is set to fill you with yuletide joy, Christmas cheer and of course a little Champagne.

With entertainment from street performers, carolers, jazz bands, jugglers and organ grinders along with wooden chalets selling local crafts and delicacies there is lots to see and do.

The market attracts more than 1.5 million visitors over its month long opening. Despite that it remains incredibly family friendly with animations for children, concerts, Nativity scenes, gourmet food stalls and even a funfair.

Nice Christmas Market

When: 03 December 2016 – 01 January 2017 (closed Christmas Day)

Where: Place d’Erlon, rue Condorcet, rue Marx Dormoy and rue Théodore Dubois.

Travel: 2 hr flight from London to Nice

The city is illuminated to set the celebratory tone for the abundance of festivities that take place throughout December. There’s a Christmas Parade and an end of year concert. Despite being on the French Riviera, you’ll very quickly feel Christmassy.

The market is set up on Place Massena, just at the edge of picturesque Vieux Nice. Over 50 wooden chalets selling arts and crafts, gifts, vin chaud and fresh socca (a local dish: pancake made from chickpea flour). Other attractions include an oyster and champagne bar.

In the centre of the city in the green park area is a Ferris wheel which is elegantly lit up. The palm trees that border the ice skating rink are also given a fairy light festive feel. What’s more the ice rink runs just four sessions each day, each lasting 1.5 hours. Make your way over to the Albert 1er gardens to find a festive play area specifically for kids.

Christmas Markets in Paris

There are a number of Les Marchés de Noël throughout Paris, selling art and craft products, local specialties, gastronomic treats for the Christmas dining table, toys and clothes. Plan a festive weekend to the city and wonder around the many markets Paris has to offer, mixed in with some memorable sightseeing.

When: 13 November 2016 – 15  January 2017

Where: All throughout Paris

Travel: 2hr 16m from London to Paris, on Eurostar

Avenue des Champs-Elysées Christmas market

The largest Christmas market in Paris. Dazzling illuminations line this iconic avenue, up to 160 chalets line the Champs-Elysées between the Rond-point and Place de la Concorde.

Paris Notre-Dame Christmas market

Marque chalets are set up in front of the city’s most famous cathedral. Although it is a relatively small market there are some 40 craftsmen, makers of clothes and accessories, wood turners and toys. There is also festive entertainment laid on each day such as street singers, puppet shows and stories for children.

Others include:

Saint Germain des Prés Christmas market in the Latin Quarter

13 November 2016 – 8 January 2017

St. Sulpice Christmas market in the Latin quarter

1st – 24th December 2016

Place des Abbesses Christmas market

26 November 2016 – 1st Jan 2017

We hope that we have conjured up all sorts of festive shopping ideas for you, wherever you may be or wherever you’re intending to visit in France. Happy festive shopping from all of us!

An idyllic place to stay before or after your cruise

If you’re heading to the Canal du Midi for your boating holiday then you’ll probably fly into Toulouse at the western end or Narbonne to the east, from where you can easily reach most destinations to pick up your hotel barge or hire-boat cruise.

Canal du Midi Map south France

And then, you might like to rest for a couple of days, to get your bearings and wind down, ready for your days afloat. Or you might like to expand your cruise experience by getting to know the wonderful culture of this region inland.

We recently discovered La Tour du Chateau, a fabulous retreat, overlooking the marvellous countryside of the Minervois region and the Canal du Midi at Ventenac, close to Narbonne, just west of Beziers.

La Tour du Chateau, Ventenac Minervois, Canal du Midi

La Tour du Chateau, Ventenac Minervois, Canal du Midi

View over the Minervois Countryside Canal du Midi

View from the Chateau over the Minervois Countryside – Canal du Midi

La Tour du Chateau owners Jodi and Peter Gaffey, Americans by birth and absolute Francophiles by nature, fell in love with the south of France and have brought this ancient Chateau Tower back to life in style.

With historic connections dating back to the Roman era, the town and region are full of fascination, and, perched above the Canal itself, the peaceful, sunny vistas of this circa 1641 Chateau Tower will seduce anyone.

Salon south facing La Tour du Chateau Canal du Midi

The south-facing salon with views over the Canal

Double Bedroom La Tour du Chateau

South-facing King-size Double Bedroom

La Tour du Chateau offers 2 to 6 night exclusive stays, for parties of 8 around guests in four gorgeous ensuite double bedrooms. And the rest of this 4 storey Chateau Tower is all yours too – a huge salon and dining area and three separate gardens, cascading down to the private pool, all south-facing and overlooking the Canal du Midi and the countryside.

Garden dining area La Tour du Chateau, Canal du Midi

The Bar-b-cue Terrace and dining area

We marvelled at beautiful decor and fine architectural details, original flooring and sumptuous furniture and furnishings to die for. We slept like royalty in super high-quality beds and linens and adored the spacious opulence afforded by the high-ceilings and tall windows everywhere, throwing in the Autumn sunshine.

The Gaffeys major on quality excursions, too, so you can fill a whole week with complementary outings to your cruise, places that are different, hidden, bespoke. A magnificent week will cost just 29,000 euros for 6 nights and 7 days of pampering – gourmet food, delicious wines, fascinating excursions and an all-round excellent experience.

For a two night pre-or post-cruise break the price is just 500 euros per room per night, including breakfast, with easy access to your cruise or homeward departure point.

Just call the Gaffeys and talk to them about what you’d like to do and experience. As a recent visitor, Elaine, put it:
“This unique property coupled with the owners’ ability to arrange everything for you, is a great place for a vacation, a family reunion, a destination event – or just a chance to relax in a quiet setting by the Canal du Midi. Leave the details to the owners.”
Elaine B, USA

Who’s coming to France?

France is a stone’s throw away for the British but for the rest of the world, it’s quite a hike. But France is still the world’s number one holiday destination – in spite of the attacks of 2015 and 2016 – so who is it exactly that’s coming to France to discover the waterways?

France global map

78 Countries

We’ve taken a look at our own enquiries this year, and the results confirm that the long-standing interest from USA and Australia is still significant, with other countries becoming more aware and intrigued by France as a boating holiday destination. The UK, being its closest neighbour, is way out in the lead, as you would expect.

UK and Ireland 46%
North America 22%
Australia and New Zealand 15%
Europe 11%
Africa 3.5%
Middle East 1.5%
Asia 1%

Customers have sent emails to from at least 78 different countries – from the Cook Islands to Iceland, from Iran to Tasmania – asking for details about sailing their own boat to and within France, or taking a hotel barge cruise, a large-river cruise ship or one of the many self-drive hire-boat options available throughout France.

Of particular note has been the increase in enquiries from South Africa, Switzerland and Israel, and a growing proportion from Ireland.

For many people the words boating and holiday and France are being put together for the first time, and the potential for a different kind of vacation – a more active one, sunny and warm, and within the heart of nature – is becoming a reality.

But why France?

As we journey through France, we talk to those we meet on the waterways, many of whom have sailed around the world at least once, or have travelled over-land luxury class to hundreds of foreign destinations, and we marvel at their tales. So why, after all their wonderful experiences in other lands, do they choose to spend a week every year, or many weeks, or months on end, in France on a boat?

france-waterways-map-300x282They tell us it’s because France is unique. Although the USA, for example, has its own waterways, significant ones that will take you many hundreds of miles, and of course plenty of coastline, it doesn’t have the small-scale canals of France, nor the breadth and depth of its ancient and more modern history.

It’s the concentration of waterways within a (relatively) small geographic area; an area small enough to comprehend easily and to travel through slowly, but large enough to have quite distinct regions within it. Different regions with distinct cultures, resulting in differences in language and pronunciation; differences in geology and climate, producing some of the world’s best wines and famed cuisine. Each visit to a different region can offer a substantially different experience – and there is nowhere else on earth like it.

Cruising in Burgundy, France

How to get around on your own boat

During October 2016 we will introduce a substantial new section on this website that will appeal to all boat-owners. David Edwards-May, the renowned author of many books about the inland waterways of France, is launching a new series of online guides, bursting with in-depth detail and supported by excellent plans and maps, kilometre by kilometre*; all available to download from and guide your way through this marvellous land.

How to enjoy it all from a crewed boat – the ultimate cruise

Hand in hand with David’s work we have updated all the information about hiring a self-drive boat or choosing a hotel barge cruise (with several new additions to the fleet on offer). A selection of hire-boats operate in every region to suit every pocket, and hotel barge cruises, although more limited in their cruising routes, can fulfil your longing for a little stylish luxury, whichever country you hail from.

Luxury Hotel Barge Belmond Lilas (Lilac)

*These downloadable pdfs will be the basis for the redesigned 9th edition of Inland Waterways of France, published by Imray Ltd.