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.
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.
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
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
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…?
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
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/
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.
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/
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.
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.
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.
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…