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…

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.

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 

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!

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

France is a stone’s throw away for the British but for the rest of the world, it’s quite a hike. Yet France is still the world’s number one holiday destination – in spite of the attacks of 2015 and 2016 – so who is fuelling French tourism and 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 french-waterways.com 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 French tourism – 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 produce 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 french-waterways.com 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.

For a combination of tranquility and adrenalin, boating holidays in Anjou are perfectly family friendly. A former county, duchy and province, it has a rich and colourful history. You’ll find that reflected in its impressive examples of medieval, Roman and renaissance architecture throughout its towns and villages.

Map of Anjou for family friendly boating holidaysWhat’s more, this region offers 300km of beautiful waterways. Dotted along those lengthy riverbanks are numerous chateaux and many ‘villages of charm’ worth exploring.

Two such villages, Grez-Neuville and Sablé sur Sarthe, also happen to be bases for Nicols, one of our hire boat partners. In fact, Nicols is our only hire boat provider to offer self-drive cruises on the Anjou waterways. Their expertise in the region will ensure you choose the best vessel for your needs and group size. Plus, depending on the time you have and what you want see along the way, they’ll help you decide whether you opt for a one-way or out-and-back cruise.

The Anjou region is more family friendly than you think

The three key rivers for exploring the Anjou region by boat are the rivers Sarthe, Mayenne and Oudon, all of which converge in Angers, to then flow out into the river Loire. The towpaths along these rivers make for perfect family cycling. The Mayenne cycle path stretches for 85km if your kids are up for racing the boat. It’s flat and well signposted, so they might even identify their chosen lunch spot before you do!

You’ll share the river with the occasional canoeist. If your kids need a more adrenalin fuelled water activity one afternoon seek out one of the many water sports centres along the river. If you’re further along the Loire, there is a particularly big and recently refurbished centre at Mervent. Or from Anjou, make your way to Lac de Maine for the Angers Canoe and Kayak Club.

From Angers, following the River Sarthe north-east towards Le Mans, you’ll find a calm and peaceful river dedicated to cruising and ideal for first time boaters or those wanting a more relaxed cruise. With only a few locks to navigate (all locks in the Anjou region are open every day and have lock keepers) you can relax and enjoy the sights, both natural and architectural. There are plenty of picturesque villages to visit en route, with chateaux and local buildings of interest.

If the weather’s on your side, you might be tempted to dive into the river to cool off. There are some peaceful paddling spots on the edges of some of France’s prettiest villages skirting the Sarthe. If you’re not brave enough for wild swimming, why not add a piscinette to your cruiser. That way, you and the kids can take a dip whenever and wherever you like!

Cheffes and Sablé-sur-Sarthe

Near Cheffes you will find the moated castle Plessis Bourré worth a visit. You may have arrived here from Sablé-sur-Sarthe, but if not, head north to Sablé-sur-Sarthe which is dominated by its château. If you are just passing through, lunch at Au P’tit Bouffon, 47 Grande rue, will amply suffice. But if you’re mooring up for the night, make your way to Restaurant Soleil d’Asie on rue Saint Nicolas for a delightful dinner.


Solesme abbey imposes over the river Sartre in family friendly Anjoy

Solesme

Nearby, Solesme is dominated by an imposing Benedictine abbey, Abbey Saint-Pierre, famous for its Gregorian chants. Beyond the monastery near the village of Asnieres-sur-Vegre there are some perfect grassy river banks for a spot of family friendly wild swimming. Take a dip in the river. Splash around under the old bridge or opt for a deeper swim in the water above the weir. Before the bridge as you approach Solesme there’s another good swimming spot with a picnic area on the bank for a spot of afternoon tea too.

There’s also the perfect spot for a slow meal – Restaurant Le Boeuf Fermier on rue Marchande will leave you craving an afternoon nap or a brisk walk back to the boat, depending on your leaning.

Malicorne

Cruise further north towards Le Mans and you will pass through Malicorne, worth visiting and renowned for its fine earthenware. At the pottery museum here, you can learn about the history of the exhibits, from traditional to contemporary. You can all have a go at creating your own pots too – the perfect souvenir.

Le Mans with its family friendly car museumLe Mans

On reaching Le Mans itself you will know about its motor racing heritage, of course. And you will want to  visit its excellent family friendly museum, which is certainly worth it to find out all about the history of the race and the evolution of the cars involved. Many of the cars can be seen here – a must for any motor enthusiast and the perfect family day out with kids fascinated by fast cars!

But make a day of it and explore Le Mans town centre too. It is encircled by a remarkable 3rd century Roman wall, the best example in Europe. With such a rich tourism heritage, you won’t be short of places to eat either. However, we’ve narrowed our selection down to three: La Baraque a Boeuf in Place Saint Pierre, near the town hall; La Vieille Porte, unsurprisingly found on rue de la Vieille Porte; and Popote & Papilles on rue du Docteur Leroy.

If you want to get the bikes out, cycling in Le Mans is ideal. If you’re north of Le Mans, the V44 itinerary (Alençon – Le Mans – Sablé – La Flèche) follows the River Sarthe northwards to Normandy.

Grez-Neuville

A beautiful town from which to start your cruise. Before you depart make a point of visiting Castle Grandiére and the 12th century church of St Martin. For a typically French light bite take your family for a crepe at Creperie La Baletiére. Found riverside along the towpath in Grez-Neuville, it’s open March to October and is perfect for brunch.

Taking the river route north-west from Grez-Neuville, you can meander towards Segré via the river L’Oudon, passing through Le Lion d’Angers. Stop here if you have a budding equestrian in your family and visit the Haras National (National Stud Farm) where you can see many breeds and learn about their upkeep and training.


Château de Laval in family friendly AnjouLaval

If you decide to head towards the old town of Laval on the river Mayenne, there are charming villages to be found between Angers and Daon. The flat land here, together with a restored towpath, provides an ideal location for family friendly cycling. Take it in turns to pedal along the riverbank or stay aboard and steer the boat!

Laval itself is the ‘capital’ of the Mayenne region and has an imposing castle. Poised above the town, it dates back to the 12th-13th century. Its underground chapel is among the oldest parts. The castle houses the ‘Museum of Naïve Art’ inspired by the 19th century art of local artist Henri Rousseau.  Back up at ground level the old medieval town centre is a must-wander as it still retains some half-timbered buildings from the Middle Ages. Can you spot them?

For a light bite or some time to refresh and replenish try Tom Pouss on boulevard Jean Jaures or L’antiquaire on rue de Vaufleury.

Entrammes

Along a little further at Entrammes visit the Thermes d’Entrammes. The Roman-Gaul thermal baths are very well preserved (having been protected by the church built on top of them) and extensive. The four connecting rooms were rediscovered in 1987 after being lost for 2000 years.

Got a kid who only ever asks for cheese sandwiches in their lunchbox? Entrammes is home to Port-Salut and you can take tours of the factory.

For a very casual bite to eat, La Halte Fluviale d’Entrammes on Port Rhinegeard won’t win any culinary awards, but its basic café fayre will fill a gap until dinner.

Angers in family friendly AnjouAngers

The town of Angers is definitely worth a visit. A substantial town, officially the ‘Town of Art and History in France’, it has its own medieval castle, Chateau d’Angers. Its ‘stripy’ turrets will fascinate the youngest in your troop, while those of you with a history buff in tow will appreciate that the chateau is home to the Apocalypse Tapestries. This large set of tapestries produced between 1377 and 1382 depicts the story of the Apocalypse from the Revelation Gospel of John.

Buy a city pass that allows access to the chateau (and two smaller castles – Chateau de Plessis-Macé and Chateau de Montriou) along with many museums and other attractions. They’re available to purchase from the tourist office on Place Kennedy.

Angers castle will keep the kids entertained on your family friendly holiday25 minutes by tramway from Angers is family friendly Terra Botanica. Heralded as one of the top 10 parks in France by TripAdvisor, botanical gardens meet amusement park. These extraordinary gardens will occupy a whole day and still leave you wanting for more. Imagine dinosaurs, forests, tree climbing, gold mining, hands-on kitchen garden and an adventure park with climbing walls and tree houses.

For yet more family friendly activity and adventure, take bus 42 from Angers to Parc Anjou Aventure. Swing like monkeys amongst the trees, clamber up cargo nets and fly down zip wires. This is the adrenalin contrast to the calm of the river. It’ll leave the kids craving a croque monsieur and ready for a sound night’s sleep!

Our particular foodie favourites in Angers are La Brasserie de la Gare on Place de la Gare and La Creperie du Chateau on rue Saint Aignan.

In amongst the ancient architecture and modern eateries of Anjou, you’re bound to come across local markets brimming with the region’s produce and crafts too. From river to village you’ll all find something that will resonate longstanding memories of family friendly France. All you need to do is choose your cruise.

 

Alsace wine routeAlsace wine doesn’t immediately spring to mind when French wine is mentioned, but this idyllic part of France is a must-visit for anyone who enjoys a glass of vin blanc.

Not only are there 53 Appellations d’Origine Contrôlées waiting to be discovered in Alsace; all your senses will be rewarded, particularly your taste buds. Here are 9 facts about Alsace wine that your palate will thank you for.

  1. Perfectly located

Discovering Alsace wine takes you on a voyage providing a feast for all the senses. Visually, the scenery is stunning with Alsatian vineyards and wineries flank the River Rhine as it meanders northwards along France’s border with Germany. The 170km/106 mile Route des Vins d’Alsace (Alsace Wine Route) is a land of rolling hills, scenic mountains and over 100 wine villages.

While your eyes take in the spectacular surroundings, you can treat your taste-buds to the wines themselves. Alsatian wines are almost all white (around 90 per cent of the harvest) and some 150 million bottles are produced a year. And to go with the fine wining, the Route des Vins d’Alsace takes in no less than 26 Michelin-starred restaurants.

  1. Perfectly perfumed

One of the defining characteristics of Alsatian wines is their bouquet. These fruity whites offer delicious aromas, reminiscent of peaches and floral blends that give the wines their unique flavour. And along with the rich fragrances go the colours that cover all shades from light cream to golden yellow.

  1. Perfectly paired

Alsace wine pairs wonderfully with a wide range of dishes and provide the perfect drink for every menu. For a match made in foodie heaven, here are our suggestions.

Aperitifs – For nibbles or starters go for an Alsatian wine that isn’t too sweet or too alcoholic. Try one made from Muscat or Gewurztraminer grapes.

Seafood – Whatever the seafood or fish on your menu there’s an Alsatian wine that goes perfectly. For example, if you’re feasting on oysters, drink Sylvaner and if salmon’s on the menu go for a Riesling, dry or medium, as you prefer.

Desserts – Sweet Alsatian wines come into their own with a dessert. Try wine made from over-ripe grapes known as Vendanges Tardives for that perfect taste combination.

Cheeses – Almost all cheeses have a perfect Alsatian wine partner. For instance, Pinot Blanc goes a treat with fresh and mild cheeses.

Spices – Sweeter Rieslings are the perfect match for spicy foods and match surprisingly well with Thai and Malaysian dishes.

  1. Perfectly over-ripened

For maximum bouquet and taste, try a famous late harvest Alsace wine. These sweet whites are made from grapes picked as late as possible and almost at the end of the autumn harvest. Known as Vendanges Tardives and Selection de Grains Nobles, their sugar content is high and their fragrance and taste as good as they get. The latter of these two harvests selects only Gewurtztraminer grapes that show signs of botrytis fungus and they must be handpicked. If you like Bordeaux’s Barsac or know Hungary’s Tokaji, you’ll be in for a pleasant palate surprise.

  1. Perfectly celebrated

The Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) Crémant d’Alsace makes the most popular sparkling wine in France and it’s the only one allowing the use of Chardonnay grapes. Produced using a similar method to champagne, this bubbly is reputedly just as good but with a smaller price tag. The rose bubbly is made, rather uniquely, from 100% Pinot Noir.

  1. Perfectly chilled

To ensure your Alsace wine hits the spot, serve it chilled but never ice-cold. Alsatian sommeliers recommend a temperature between 8 and 10 degrees for all whites and a slightly cooler range of 5 to 7 degrees for the sparkling Crémant d’Alsace.

  1. Perfectly served

Alsatian whites are best served in long-stemmed tulip glasses. They make the most of the wines’ bouquet and taste.

  1. Perfectly vintage

Weather conditions vary from year to year in any wine region and so do vintages. Alsace wine had an exceptional year in 2010 (classed as Année Exceptionelle and awarded 5 stars) and both 2009 and 2012 achieved Grande Année status (4 stars). Wine produced during these years are worth sourcing.

To find out how good a particular year has been for Alsatian wines, check out this official website, which also recommends specific wine labels from each year. http://www.vinsalsace.com/fr/gouts-et-couleurs/millesimes/

  1. Perfectly prized

With so many AOCs and a good collection of Grand Crus it’s no surprise to discover that the wines of Alsace regularly win awards. The Sigille seal of quality, one of the most unusual prizes, rewards exceptional quality.

To decide which wines are worthy of the Sigille, the Brotherhood Saint-Etienne holds three blind tasting sessions a year. The vineyards that produce the winners must provide 12 bottles of the Sigille-seal wine to be kept in the Brotherhood’s wine cellar, home to over 60,000 award-winning wines that go back to the 1834 vintage year.

So without further ado, are you opting for a Alsace hotel barge cruise aboard Lilas or Panache? Or is it off to the wine merchants…

 

Your cruise starts the moment you set foot on deck, but your boating holiday in France begins as soon as your plane lands. What will you see and eat before your vacation even starts…

En route to your boating holiday in France, make the most of the bit in between and explore your arrival destination. It’s likely to be packed with interesting things to do and see. Not to mention delicious French food to try. Read our guide to what to see and eat en route to your waterway destination.

Garonne BordeauxBordeaux

A starting point for hotel barge cruises on the Garonne River, Bordeaux boasts the largest number of historic monuments in France after Paris. Unsurprisingly the city has world heritage status that is best enjoyed on a stroll round the old quarter and along the river.

Must-sees

Top of the list of things to see on your Bordeaux boating holiday are:

Grand Theatre – Bordeaux’s opera house is one of the loveliest in Europe. Dating from 1780, the interior’s tall columns and stunning painted ceilings provide the perfect backdrop for concerts and ballets.

Place de la Bourse – this popular square combines the best of 18th century French architecture in its elegant façades with magical landscaping in the Mirroir d’Eau (Water Mirror), one of the most photographed spots in the city.

Cité du Vin – this giant futuristic centre takes you on a voyage of wine and offers tastings and workshops along the way as well as 360-degree views of the city. http://www.laciteduvin.com/en

Must-tries

Any boating holiday in France must include plenty of wine-tastings. Bordeaux is home to one of the main wine regions in France so top of your list of must-tries are local reds and whites.  To accompany them, typical local specialities include:

Entrecôte bordelaise – rib steak cooked in a Bordeaux wine based sauce with shallots and butter.

Escargots – snails usually served in a garlic butter, but also in casseroles with wine and ham.

Cannelés bordelaise – one of France’s best kept secrets these small cakes are delicately scented with vanilla and rum, and coated in caramel. Buy these at the best patisseries around the city.

Where to try them

Bistrot de France https://www.facebook.com/Bistrot-de-France-325533427549740/ – Expect a warm welcome and friendly service at this popular restaurant in Rue de Bearn in the Passac district to the west of the city centre. Regional and French cuisine plus a good value lunchtime menu.

Bistrot L’Exploit – Generous portions of local and French dishes in this busy restaurant, one block back from the river in the centre. Only open of an evening and popular with young Bordelais. https://www.facebook.com/Bistrot-L-Exploit-477397015661593#_=_

Tante Charlotte – Dinner like your (French) aunt makes it in a cosy dining room, a short walk from Place de la Bourse. Unpretentious home cooking and an excellent value menu. https://www.facebook.com/Tante-Charlotte-208742832509243/info/?entry_point=page_nav_about_item&tab=page_info

Musée des Confluences is a must-see en route to your boating holidayLyon

The gateway to popular hotel barge cruises in Burgundy, Lyon makes a great starting point for your French boating holiday. On the banks of both the Rhône and the Saone, Lyon boasts more than 2,000 years of history and this world heritage site is a feast of Roman, medieval and Napoleonic monuments. Will your Burgundy boating holiday start here…?

Must-sees

On your list to see in the third largest city in France should be:

Roman Theatre – built in 43BC, this theatre is one of the largest in France. The Nuits de Fourviere summer festival of music and dance is held here during June and July.

Croix-Rousse District – the silk weavers’ district is home to fine 19th architecture and a maze of charming passageways as well as lots of little shops and restaurants.

Musée des Confluences – this giant structure of metal and glass, perched at the junction of the Saone and the Rhone, houses one of the newest museums in France and takes visitors on a journey through the history of mankind. http://www.museedesconfluences.fr/fr/visit-museum

Must-tries

Lyon has been known as the Capital of Gastronomy for decades and this is a city that prides itself on its bouchons (small family-run bistros) and its mâchons (a heavy brunch). Some of the best-known local specialities include:

Cochonaille – cold cuts made from pork (and every single bit of the pig is used). Rosette sausage, pink and cured, is one of the best known.

Quenelle – dumplings, usually flavoured with Rhône river fish in a creamy, soufflé-like sauce.

Salade Lyonnaise – a green salad with bacon lardons, poached eggs and croutons.

Where to try them

Café des Fédérations – take a break on your boating holiday and stop at one of the best buchons in Lyon, located in the heart of the Croix-Rousse. On the menu, lots of local specialities washed down with a glass or two of Burgundy’s finest. http://restaurant-cafedesfederations-lyon.com/#_=_

Le Café Comptoir Abel – something of an institution in the city and one of the best bistrots. Try local and regional dishes that all come with pilaf rice. http://www.cafecomptoirabel.fr/

Les Halles – Lyon’s main indoor market offering a feast of fresh produce stalls and restaurants. If you head here on an empty stomach you might need to go armed with a bag or two to collect your chosen produce – you’ll be spoilt for choice! Closed Mondays. http://www.halles-de-lyon-paulbocuse.com/les-halles/

Try Cassoulet when embarking on boating holiday from ToulouseToulouse

Toulouse marks the start of many a boating holiday along the historic Canal du Midi. The city, known as the Ville Rose because of its characteristic pink stone, mixes the very old with the very new, combining atmospheric Roman ruins with state-of-the-art space craft.

Must-sees

Essential things to see in Toulouse include:

Saint-Sernin Basilica – this striking pink and white cathedral is more than 1,000 years old, a fine example of Romanesque art and home to some exceptional 12th century murals.

Place du Capitole – in the heart of the city, the square is lined with handsome arches and under them, Italian-style frescos depict scenes from the city’s colourful history.

Cité de l’Espace – Toulouse is home to the European Space Centre so this vast complex is a must-visit for space fans. You can walk on the moon, get on a space craft, view the galaxies in the IMAX cinema… http://www.cite-espace.com/

Must-tries

Cassoulet – a seriously hearty stew packed with pork, duck confit, Toulouse sausage and haricot beans. Extra stopping power comes in the grated cheese on top. Toulouse is the homeland of cassoulet a renowned dish of this southern part of France. However much SPF you’re wearing, you need to find some air conditioning and try this dish.

Saucisse de Toulouse– made from fresh pork and eaten in stews, like the cassoulet, or confit (preserved in fat), this sausage is probably the best known local product.

Fénétra – deliciously sweet meringue and marzipan cake topped with apricot jam. This is a recipe you can imagine your Toulouse grandmother whipping up with her eyes closed. Native to the city, its creation is associated to a religious festival dating back centuries.

Where to try them

Le Grenier de Pépé – small in size but big in popularity with locals who flock here for the galettes and fondues. Closed Saturdays. Book in advance. http://www.legrenierdepepe.com/#_=_

Le Temps des Tartines – a cosy tearoom in the city centre where English breakfasts rub shoulders with daily specials such as cassoulet and violet-scented cakes. https://www.facebook.com/Le-Temps-des-Tartines-258250317541844/

Victor Hugo Market – one of the larger markets in Toulouse with over 100 stalls packed with local produce. The restaurants upstairs serve these dishes too.

Narbonne boating holiday Midi La Nouvelle PK 16 Narbonne

Smaller and not as visible on the tourist map as Nice and Cannes, many Canal du Midi hotel barge cruises take in this ancient city and if you’re opting for a bespoke itinerary make sure this is on your list. Take in Roman and medieval treasures before you head out into the stunning countryside.

Must-sees

Narbonne might be small but it packs in the sights. Top of the best things to see are:

Via Domitia – a perfectly preserved stretch of the Roman road connecting Spain and Italy via Narbonne, uncovered in 1997 in the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville.

Palais des Archeveques – an unusual mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles, this 13th century palace now houses the town hall, the Museum of Art and the Archaeological Museum.

Pont des Marchands – straddling the Canal de la Robine that winds its way through the town, this 7-arch bridge joins the Roman quarter on the right bank to the medieval quarter on the left.

Must-tries

Boudin blanc – a white pudding sausage made of white pork meat, milk and eggs, and sometimes raisins and truffles. Typically eaten sautéed or grilled.

Lucques olives – grown only in the Languedoc region, these fat elongated olives are renowned for their fleshly taste.

Honey – considered to be the best in the world by the Romans, Narbonne honey comes in a variety of flavours and depths of colour. The Mediterranean plants at the disposal of local bees include garrigue, which lends a darker hue to the honey. In other Languedoc honeys you might detect rosemary, thyme or lavender.

Where to try them

Les Halles de Narbonne – the town’s indoor market offers a great opportunity to try and buy local produce. Four on-site restaurants cook it too so you don’t have to miss out on the freshest of the regions raw ingredients. http://www.halles-de-narbonne.com/

Le Petit Comptoir – an attractive restaurant serving local dishes (prix fixe starts at €28) and wines – there are over 300 on the list including plenty of local tipples. http://www.petitcomptoir.com/

Cuisiniers-Cavistes – a slightly more haute cuisine touch to local dishes in this sophisticated venue round the corner from the market and a firm favourite with foodie locals. http://www.cuisiniers-cavistes.com/special.html

 

If we’ve whet your appetite for a taste of French cuisine, we’ve achieved something here! Now all you need to do is book your trip…

 

France starts autumn in cultural style with a month of events

Celebrating the very best of French history, culture, cuisine and sport, plus a splash here and there of international culture, too. From gardens to film, mussels to marathon, you won’t be stuck for something to do. Question is, where will you go first?

Events in September in France

1. Ryder Cup 2018

Where: St Quentin-les-Yvelines
When: 25-30 September

The doyenne of golf tournaments arrives in France for the first time. Team Europe, captained by Thomas Bjorn and Team America by Jim Furyk. The European Ryder Cup team will be firing on all cylinders as they aim to reclaim the cup from their American opponents who won it on home soil in 2016. Whether you’ve got tickets or will be watching via the TV screen, this September event will be a nail biting few days while it makes sporting history for France.

2. International Garden Festival

Where: Chaumont-sur-Loire
When: until 5 November

This outdoor art museum in the form of garden and landscape art takes over the castle grounds at Chaumont-sur-Loire for the summer six months. Depending on when you visit, the exhibitions will be in a different state. This is no static display, everything you see is a work in progress on a collective theme. For more detail on the exhibits take a two hour guided walking tour. This year’s theme is Garden of Thought.

3. American Film Festival

Where: Deauville
When: 1-10 September

Entering its 41st year, the Deauville American Film Festival (Festival du Cinema American de Deauville) is a celebration of American film culture. One hundred or more US movies are chosen for screening from Hollywood blockbusters to independent cinematic delights. There’s judging, awards and also a festival village for insight into every aspect of this fascinating and dominating arts scene.

4. Lille Street Market

Where: Lille
When 2-3 September

A combination of ancient history meets every day life in Lille on the first weekend of September every year at Lille Braderie. With its origins in the Lille Fair of the 12th century this 33 hour-long fair starts with a half marathon and runs through the night ending at 11pm on the Sunday. With the city pedestrianised, there are only three things to do. 1: sell your goods on one of the market stalls. 2: buy some of those goods. 3: eat modules frites. It’s traditional for Lille restaurants to serve the dish throughout the festival. What’s more there a competition to amass the tallest pile of discarded mussel shells outside your restaurant. That alone is a sight worth seeing!

5. Medoc Marathon

Where: Pauillac
When: 9 September

A rather novel combination, wine and running, and this really is rather unique in the marathon calendar. Celebrating its 21st year in 2016, the Medoc Marathon takes in the villages of Saint-Julien and Saint-Estephe as well as some 50 chateaux along the way. In addition to this scenic route, runners are invited to partake and replenish with culinary delights including wine, foie gras and oysters as they make their way along the 26.2 mile route!

6. Cremieu Medieval Festival

Where: Cremieu
When: 8-9 September

September events in Cremieu are a throwback to the Middle Ages. You’ll find costume clad fire-eaters, jousters, jugglers and traditional trades showing their wares. Take part in a workshop, taste time gone by at the big banquet or simply marvel at the many and varied street performances trying to catch your eye.

7. European Heritage Days

Where: across France
When: 16-17 September

Perhaps the crowning glory of France’s cultural events in September sees many public and private buildings open to the public. Across these two European Heritage Days you can access the Elysée Palace and town halls as well as private castles and villas. Whether the venues are open normally or not, this weekend sees special guided tours, demonstrations and performances hosted at each of them or across multiple venues so you can follow a heritage trail.

8. Touraine Loire Valley Marathon

Where: Tours
When: 23 September

While the route of this marathon takes in spectacular wine country, you don’t have to consume any until the finish. Starting in Tours the route goes along the banks of the Loire taking in Villandry Castle, Berthenay, Saint-Genouph and La Riche. But this wouldn’t be France if there wasn’t a gastronomic element. Competitors and their supporters are invited to join the “pasta party” the evening before the race.

9. Tous au Restaurant

Where: across France
When: 1-14 October

Such a unique event that celebrates the very best of French cuisine, we had to squeeze it in to this list of September events in France even though it starts on 1 October this year. Tous au Restaurant entitles diners to one free meal for every meal bought at any restaurant involved in the scheme during the two week festival. When reservations open on 25 September you’ll have to be quick to secure a place at the table of France’s finest Michelin star restaurants and authentic local brasseries.

10. The British Film Festival

Where: Dinard
When: 26-30 September

Dinard is said to be the most British of French seaside resorts and as such has become closely associated to launching British cinema in Europe. Just like Cannes, there’s judging, there are awards, there’s red carpet and many a successful British movie has been launched here. It’s rather an odd scenario for a Brit to experience, but good show!

11. The Great Bulwark or Grand Pavois

Where: La Rochelle
When: 27 September – 2 October

Now this is very much up our street! An international boat fair that takes places in Minimes Harbour, La Rochelle with more than 800 exhibitors. As events go this is vast. You’ll find themed areas, small boats and enormous yachts, and many are available to try before you buy. The atmosphere is fabulous and you’ll get close to some of the world’s most spectacular nautical creations in the stunning setting of La Rochelle.

 

There are plenty of summer-long events that take place in France and continue through September and some beyond then too.