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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
25 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.