We leave at 08:30 and reach the top of the hill, at Baye. A retaining wall keeps us off the large reservoir – one of the feed lakes supplying the Nivernais canal system in both directions.

Heading into the tunnels at Breuilles, Mouas and CollancellesWe head past the port and into the deep cut and the three tunnels of Breuilles, Mouas and Collancelles, the last one being the longest at around 750 metres.  So headlamp on and peak concentration through this one way system, guarded by traffic lights at each end. It took years of hard labour to create this channel through the limestone hills – providing freight barges a shorter route to Paris – and not much over an hour to pass through it, out into the sunshine of Port Brûlé.

P1130212xThen down the 16 lock staircase of Sardy. Behind us, a smaller boat laden with first-time hire-boaters marvels at how it all works. Yes, we had to wait at many locks, whilst the lock-keepers moved from one to the next, allowing ascending boats to pass in the biefs – but how wonderful it is to sit in the sun, have lunch on deck and explore the banksides and hedgerows with the puppy and chat to fellow travellers. What’s the hurry.

P1130258xOne or two of the lock cottages on this stretch are currently inhabited by artists, who greet cruising boats and passing cyclists with music from the sixties, pink-painted bollards, wind-chimes, pottery and (rather odd) sculptures. At the foot of the hills, we pass a local quarry, with towering piles of gravel; a travellator carries the stones across the canal and white dust coats the trees and grasses for hundreds of metres. Later, we see on Google earth that the extent of the plant is actually enormous. All in all, it takes 10.5 hours to reach our stop for the night at PK78 (Editions du Breil : 11), south of Corbigny.

P1130310xThe port is a Locaboat base, situated just below lock 24 (‘Yonne’). It’s on one side of an extra wide stretch of canal that has a long, piled bank-side for free mooring with several pontoons, water and electricity, and showers in the Capitainerie. We are pleased to pay 13,50€ for the night for a safe, extremely pleasant mooring and all mod-cons. Next day, Serge, the second in command (the Port chief is Jose Lucain) tells me that they have 9 boats for hire from this base, varying from the Penichette 935 for two people to the Penichette 1160 for six. He says they’ve been busy this season. While we talk, a 1165 returns to base from a week downstream.  It scoots along, does a sweeping turn and parks neatly on a finger pontoon opposite. A family of Germans, with impeccable English, have had a wonderful time and want to book it again for next year!

In the afternoon, whilst turning the boat around to make it easier for the dog to get on and off the boat (she is still wary) I misjudge the length of rope I have in my hand when pulling to secure it on the cleat. I fall in backwards. Quite shocked and fully clothed, it is surprisingly difficult to heave oneself out of the water on to a pontoon only 18 inches higher than the surface.  I’m not sure I would have been able to do it without a hand to pull me up. And also, fortunately, just for once, I didn’t have my phone in my pocket.

A memorable two days – but important to stock up with provisions before you start; there is really nowhere to shop.

A holiday in France just would not be complete without frequent trips to the local boulangerie.  The smell of freshly baked baguettes, piles of croissants and pain au chocolat in front of your eyes all create a fantastic display making you want to buy more than you can healthily eat! Whether you’re popping in for your morning pastries or lunchtime baguette, boulangeries play a big part in people’s daily routine in France. One often sees the man of the house walking home from work with a paper-wrapped baguette in hand.

8 types of bread you can you expect to see in your local boulangerie

There are lots of different types, but here are the main ones…

In France, bakers have impeccably high standards and bake each item to exact specifications and mostly to their own bespoke recipes. Most French bakeries sell a variety of baguette-type loaves as well as round, square and cylindrical shapes.

We are all familiar with the baguette “normale”. This is your standard baguette and generally the cheapest. The one you tend to see locals carry under their arm wrapped in brown paper, on its way to be eaten at breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is, however, not at all like the soft, doughy thing you can buy in the UK.


Baguette tradition
(or “La Tradition”)

French baguetteQuite often the superior baguette in many bakeries and a bit more expensive. It generally has a more complex and pleasing flavor; perhaps a bit crustier and chewier to eat.

 

 

 

Baguette aux cereals

Baguette aux cerealA baguette with whole grains and/or seeds incorporated into the flour.

 

 

Flute

Flute baguetteA shorter baguette-style loaf with more tapered ends. These can also come in wholegrain or seeded varieties.

 

 

Pain complet

Pain completA wholegrain loaf or round

 

 

Pain de campagne

pain de campagneSo-called “country-style” loaf. Generally dense, crusty and made with a mixture of white and wholegrain flours.

 

 

Pain aux noix

pain aux noixWalnut bread (some bakers use different types of nuts)

 

 


Pain de seigle

pain de seigleA rye loaf

 

 

Pain brioche

pain briocheA sweet, eggy bread, generally consumed for breakfast. And while definitely not very French, it makes for a tasty twist on bread and butter pudding!

 

 

Remember your manners

In France, when you enter a boulangerie it is like stepping inside someone’s home. The custom in France is to say ‘Bonjour Madame/Monsieur’ when entering a shop or a restaurant and ‘Merci Madame/Monsieur’ when leaving. If you are feeling extra confident, you can ask for your items in French too.

 


Croissant au beurre vs. croissants ordinaires

croissant ordinaire and croissant beurreWhatever boulangerie you visit, be sure to only consume a true croissant au beurre. No we’re not being food snobs! You’ll thank us as you enjoy that unmistakable smell of deeply-toasted, caramelized-crunchy pastry made with French butter. Croissants ordinaires are made with margarine and are usually crescent-shaped and obviously there is a big taste difference. Fortunately, you won’t find many of them as not all bakeries make the two varieties. But let this be a warning and keep your eyes peeled!

 

Bakers used to have their summer holidays restricted by law

Laws dating back to the French Revolution restricted, or more precisely, prescribed when boulangers could take their summer break. The laws were initiated to ensure the population remained fed in the years immediately post revolution. The law also required them to indicate, via a sign in their shop window, where the nearest alternative was during their absence. 2015 saw the first summer where the law, regulated by the Paris préfet, was relaxed allowing bakers to take as much time off as they like in July and August. It led to fears of a ‘baguette crisis’ in Paris and there are tales of queues and having to walk block after block to find an open boulangerie, but the locals all appear to have been fed.

Sunday opening laws are also being relaxed. However, they are still told which day they have to take off every week so the bakeries are not closed at the same time.

 

To be called a boulangerie, you have to follow 3 basic rules:

  1. Knead
  2. Shape
  3. Bake

Another French law is in place that states for you to be called a boulangerie in France you have knead, shape and bake the dough on the premises.

 

Don’t forget…

  • Choose the bakeries with the longest queues – quite often the trail leads out the door and down the street
  • The boulanger needs to eat too, so buy your bread before the shop shuts for lunch
  • If you ask for your pain ‘bien cuit’ you’ll receive a well-baked, crustier or browner loaf
  • If you’d like it sliced asked for tranché
  • Have your change ready and place it in the saucer on the counter. If you are owed any change, that will be placed in the saucer too. They won’t take money from your hand.

We hope you enjoy your trip to the bakery as much as we do.

Bon appetit!

We joined the Loire, with a quick stop on the Decize town quay for croissant and pain complet, and then on to the Nivernais, passing the confluence of the tributary Aron. And before too long the renowned beauty of the Nivernais kicks in. 

Cruising tales 5: Decize- Bazolles

It’s not so very spectacular – sunny, green rolling pastures, Charolais and chateaux – it’s just that it’s everywhere, so much of it, on and on. There is a sense of entering a different land where peace is never ending and you are welcomed into it, embraced. Not so much a world gone by, nor untouched, but a secret country, cherished and revered. Am I describing heaven?

Cruising tales 5: Decize- Bazolles   The Nivernais was originally built – from 1784 – to carry timber, building stone, grain and wine into Paris, and to bring in new essentials, like coal.  In spite of, or perhaps because of, the complete cessation of this commercial trade, the canal-side banks are now low and well-kept, providing plenty of places to moor up for a break, or for the night, and excellent views across this paradise. The locks are frequent but mostly shallow and all are manually operated, except for a couple of electrically operated gates at the triple lock at Chavance. 

Nivernais lock cottageThe keepers – not all students on this canal, in fact, one is an almost toothless, elderly lady – follow our progress in their Nièvre region logo’d vans (this southern leg of the Nivernais is not managed by the VNF) from one lock to the next, handing over to a new keeper as we move through a sequence. They are all kind and friendly, ready for a chat.

Nivernais lock: Cruising tales 5: Decize- BazollesTheir lock-side cottages are a joy, the lower ones built as late as 1837, with some inhabitants on a mission to cover every square inch of their patch with flowering plants, even the lock gates themselves. If only there were more boating folk around to appreciate them…

Cruising tales 5: Decize- BazollesWe know that some of the bridges are low and we take precautions, lowering the navigation light mast and also the rear flag pole. But even so, the bridge at Anizy at PK31 shaves off another 2mm from the wooden staff. Two inches lower and we’d have been scratching the aluminium aft-deck rails too.

Wooden push gates Nivernais lockWe see coypu for the first time this year, swimming by the banks with their mouths full of grass roots; walnut and apple trees with ripening fruit at every lock; blue sloes in the hedgerows and strongholds of mistletoe in the many stands of poplar. We see our first wooden push-gates, still in operation after perhaps 100 years of use.


Antoine Herault-Simonnar
Then, at Bazolles, we meet Antoine Herault-Simonnar, a young man with a large case and umbrella by the lock-side. I help him with the gates and the vannes (sluices) and when we’re nearly done he asks if we’d like to hear a little music. Out of his case he fetches a shining new Vielle – a hurdy-gurdy – the traditional instrument of the Auvergne (not this region) with a 1,000 years of history. He plays us a jig and a waltz and says that he is part of a small group of other musicians specializing in traditional music. Just one of the many serendipitous moments of life on the French waterways.


Grehan mooring au sauvage at BayeWe’ve now done the ‘uphill’ leg from Decize north to Baye. Some lovely places along the way and we are moored now looking out towards a little hilltop village, alongside grass and trees, just beyond a lock, on our own, very quiet and peaceful. We have moored similarly, ‘au sauvage‘ (in nature), every night since we got onto the Canal du Nivernais. No need of pukka places with electricity, not that there are that many anyway.

Tomorrow we start going downhill towards Auxerre (still northwards), which is easier for the locking but we do then have a chain of 16 in 3km to experience, as well as three (short) tunnels and a deep cutting.

It’s all pretty marvellous.

After a night of heavy rain and a drizzly breakfast-time we leave Dompierre, hoping that Meteo France  is correct – that it should all clear up by 11:00 – and it does. The view is still limited by the flatness of the landscape – the Loire meanders by very close now – but it is still beautifully green and peaceful with good, piled bank-sides and mown verges for lunch stops and dog walks. We head north by west through Beaulon and Ganney-sur-Loire, for Decize.  

Lock cottages Dompierre to DecizeThe last few lock cottages are lived in and cared for, with neat and tidy gardens, and dogs for Zoe (our dog) to bark at.

Entering DecizeAll the locks are still manually operated. I make sure to phone Florent, the base manager, to make sure it’s OK to stop by at the Le Boat port ahead. It’s the most southerly of their bases on the Burgundy-Loire loop and we arrive at PK68 ready to take the right-hand turn through the (automatic) lock.

Le Boat base at DecizeIt opens into a large basin, the Le Boat base immediately on the left, the ‘council’ moorings further on. Steep banksides on the right form the flood defences from the Loire, protecting the smart hospital nearby as well as the basin restaurant, holiday cottages and canal.  

In 1987 Crown Blue Line began operating one way cruises from here to Briare and then Connoisseur began cruises from Ganney to Chatillon. But following their incorporation into Le Boat in 2008 the one way route was re-scheduled from Decize to Chatillon (or the return trip) and also Decize to Tannay.

Florent Le Boat DecizeFlorent manages all 3 bases and 47 boats with a total staff of 21 spread between the bases. Previously a chef (cuisine), he learned his impeccable English whilst working in the UK. Then, back in St Jean de Losne, he jumped ship (forgive the pun) and began working with Crown Blue Line on their boats. He was promoted to Decize some years later having impressed his employers with his skill at the customer interface. It’s a measure of the care and attention to the boats and customers that he and his team have achieved over 900 successful cruises on these routes so far this year.

At the next lock, we pass through to the Loire itself, a short downstream leg past the town of Decize for a sharp right hand turn on to the Nivernais. The Loire here is calm with large sand banks to the right, a yellow beach, and green buoys warn of the shallows almost half way across. It’s either too little or too much water, as the height of the lock gates tells of past inundations.

BOURGOGNE-NIVERNAIS-LOIRESince leaving Auxonne we have travelled 228km and passed through 70 locks. Our engine has run for 41 hours. It’s a Nanni – a Kubota engine that’s been marinised – and it’s never let us down yet, in 8 years. It starts first time and just keeps going. Provided it has a constant supply of water (we check the filter often) and a change of oil once a year, it purrs away happily down below and up top you can only just about hear the water and exhaust discharge on the port side. We’re now at Dompierre-sur-Besbre.

Flatter landscape of Canal LateralThe Canal Lateral a la Loire began at Digoin to the east and now follows the Loire itself, still descending but through a flatter landscape now, more tree-lined stretches, fewer views but more welcome shade. With the Canal du Centre, the Lateral forms the bottom section of the Burgundy-Loire loop, with a little spur leading down to Roanne, an important city for the transportation of Beaujolais, ceramics and textiles in times past. We pass the entrance by and at the first lock we notice it is manually operated with winding gear for the gates and sluices.

Students hired by the VNF to man manual locksAs normal, the VNF employs students for this seasonal activity but it’s quite fun and OK to help too, if you want. The Lateral is wide and tranquil and with easy access to provisions along the way, and just a handful of locks and bridges to negotiate, it’s the perfect learning route for beginners, getting the hang of boating for the very first time.

Dompierre port - early 20th centuryWe take the next embranchement, left to Dompierre, just before the Peugeot factory at PK29 with one modern commercial barge tied up at its foot. This, and the concrete block factory at the end of the canal, hint at times past, when Dompierre port was busy with commercial barges loading up with goods for transportation by water to Lyon and beyond.  Waterway commerce has slowly declined since WW2 and Locaboat’s hire-boat base, built beneath one of the old loading gantries, arrived almost 20 years ago, bringing new industry and a little life back to the port.

Marcus - Locaboat DompierreMarcus, deputy manager, is one of three full-time staff looking after guests as they arrive and return from their cruise, making sure the boats are cleaned and serviced for the next arrivals. Being Swiss he speaks English, Italian and German, as well as French, starting his career as a restaurateur – he knows all about customer service. The days are very long during the summer months, with departures usually on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays (the base is closed on Sundays).

Locaboat DompierreThe port carries 12 Penichettes and Locaboat Linssens of varying sizes that cruise to the other bases on the loop. Most guests are from Europe, with an increasing number from America and Australia; on a recent Saturday eight boats departed with guests just from Germany. Customers appear to favour an ‘out-and-back’ cruise, Marcus says, returning to Dompierre to collect their cars after their week afloat. But Locaboat offers a car delivery service – your own car can be at your destination base for a fee of around €300 making your homeward journey shorter perhaps.

Canal Lateral easy access to amenitiesLocaboat’s port opens in March and closes in October, with the boats stored, maintained and repaired by the staff in the refurbished sheds alongside the canal. Close by you can spot the old branch line railway station and the water deposit to refill the steam trains, and also the remains of the old public ‘laverie’ for clothes washing from the days when the Besbre flowed faster, higher, and before town plumbing. It’s still a large pleasant town with a Super U a 10 minute walk from the port, quite a few bars and restaurants, and an Office de Tourisme if you get stuck.