Beefing up waterways on Wikipedia

FW’s Practical Navigation editor and waterways expert David Edwards-May has recently devoted weeks to editing, updating, correcting and creating over 60 river and canal information pages on Wikipedia . . .

As an interlude between cycling the canals and promoting waterways through Inland Waterways International, I have been updating and improving some 60 pages of information on Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia and internet’s most inspiring story.
On this site we feel that we are filling a need for information, but in our practical navigation pages we are drilling down to a level of detail that would normally only appear in books. We wanted to correct some glaring errors. But we also feel that Wikipedia articles are the obvious ‘landing pages’ on any subject, hence also for French waterways. That justified my mission to go into the articles and edit as necessary or appropriate, using the experience acquired over the last 40 years. The point was also to add links to these pages for those who want more information. Examples are the Rhône-Rhine Canal or, with a slightly different focus and style, the La Nouvelle branch of the Canal du Midi.
This has been a learning experience, but also quite difficult, because Wikipedia’s strength is in having established a firewall against all forms of abuse that on first sight seems excessive. Once you’ve understood the principles and overcome a few obstacles, it becomes immensely satisfying to go into this universal repository and ‘do one’s best’.

Map produced for the Wikipedia article ‘List of French canals’ which of course also covers navigable rivers

The ‘List of French canals’ map previously posted on Wikipedia didn’t show the waterways, which I found sad. Just as I found inappropriate the design for the very first VNF vignette plaisance in 1992. There was only the outline of France and the year of the vignette. I supplied a new design including the waterways, before that contract went to my friend John Riddel.
Part of the fun has been seeing so many familiar names as previous contributors. But I confess it was also disappointing to see that none of my writer-colleagues had referenced Inland Waterways of France. Fair do’s, I suppose, except where the information is lifted lock, stock, and barrel from my book!
Sans rancune! On such a platform we do what we feel is of benefit to the community, with some spinoff for ourselves. So my sincere best wishes to Hugh McKnight, David Jefferson, Hans Kouwenberg, the Fluvial magazine team and many others, and let’s together use the Wikipedia platform to help raise the profile of our waterways! They desperately need it. But that’s another story.
Next, I will be turning my attention on Wikipedia to the boats and barges that ply these waterways…

Stage 1 – Meuse and Ardennes to Reims and Paris

It’s taken more than two months to recover from the shock and excitement of getting this initiative on the road. The itinerary chosen with Padraic Neville (a member of the Canal Society of New York State and IWI, from Fairport, NY) started with a conversation that took different directions, and that’s what we ended up doing. ‘Where do you want to cycle?’ I asked, and Padraic said ‘Reims, and then Paris’. ‘Why Reims?’ ‘Well, because of Clovis.’ ‘Ah, of course (the first King of the Francs, crowned there in 481 AD), but you don’t need 5 days to cycle from Reims to Paris, and not far away there are the spectacular landscapes of the river Meuse, and I’d love to cross the Canal des Ardennes.’ ‘Alright, then, but let’s add a day to be safe’. And in no time at all, the nights were booked and we had a plan: two nights in Charleville-Mézières, then Rethel, Reims, Château-Thierry and Meaux. Ignorance is bliss!

Cycle path along the Meuse at PK 56, downstream from Monthermé

The practice followed the plan regarding the nights, but it was a grueling experience at times, and we had to make compromises, and take roads in places, even local trains. The very notion of a towpath seems to have been eroded over time, so that any form of canal bank ‘rollability’ (a term we coined while struggling through impossibly dense vegetation) can no longer be counted on. Unless the local authorities (départements) have taken control, and invested in canal paths. That was the case on the Meuse on our first, hot day from Charleville-Mézières down to Givet, just short of the Belgian border.

The path is a joy to cycle on, and lulled us into a sense of ease as we soaked up the glorious landscapes of the Meuse valley: the craggy rocks of the 4 Fils Aymon above Château-Regnault, the delightful site of Monthermé in the long loop of the Meuse, the fascinating alternation between the wide open river reaches and the narrow lock-cuts like the one shown here, and the succession of work sites where contractors are building new weirs to replace the old needle weirs to improve operating safety and reliability in handling extreme flows. The path is called the Voie Verte Trans-Ardennes, and has already been used by more than 200 000 cyclists in the 9 years since it was opened.

Monthermé moorings

Art deco cinema and community centre beside the delightful moorings at Monthermé

At Ham, the path leaves the waterway to cross the Meuse near the start of its long loop past the Chooz nuclear power plant. Earlier, our path had taken us through the Revin tunnel, but the Ham tunnel is without a towpath, so the designers had to route us over the top this time. Doubly disappointing: (a) because you have to climb up a hill, and (b) because you’re in the thick of the local traffic. One gets spoilt by these cycle paths!
Givet was our destination for this day, and quite far enough – 85km of cycling, covering 78km in actual waterway length, so the train back to Charleville-Mézières was welcome.
The second day started in slight rain, continuing upstream on the Trans-Ardennes path which at times leaves the river some distance to the right, so the towpath experience is not complete. How incomplete it can be we were to discover later.
A former railway bridge at Flize took us back to the left bank, where we had to be to enter the Canal des Ardennes at Pont-à-Bar. Just before the junction, we suffered from sign indigestion.
VNF signs Ardennes

VNF signs at the entrance to the Canal des Ardennes

The first one shocked me because it was a page out of a guide, which tourists have anyway, whether on paper or on their devices, and it was only in French. The second one was irritating because the locks were shown with the chevrons pointing the wrong way. Consultants or communication agencies that get this kind of job can be forgiven for making the mistake when they produce their draft, but for VNF’s engineers to let the error slip through to costly production of the final panel is unforgivable! The last sign was interesting, because the new limit of 5.05m had been superimposed on the sign initially produced. ‘Pinching’ of lock chambers is a classic structural weakness, so it’s not surprising that VNF have had to impose the 5.05m; it’s just unfortunate for the péniches that are a little wider, which will scrape through regardless.
Café Franco-Belge

The café at Pont-à-Bar used to provide a whole range of services to mariniers, and was even a freight exchange centre

Pont-à-Bar was a busy place, as junctions so often are. Xavier Durr was preparing boats for hire at the Ardennes Nautisme base, while Marie-Claude was holding fort at the Café Franco-Belge beside the lock. This place is a gem, typical of France, urban or rural, where character, tradition and memories seem to ooze out of every crack in the walls. Marie-Claude and her husband ‘Tintin’ (the Belgian connection) have been running this café for 40 years, but cannot imagine retiring. Longue vie à eux !

Summer guide to the best French beaches: pavillon bleu

With thousands of kilometres of coastline, France has a long, long list of beaches. Just the sandy ones stretch for over 5,400km. But if you’re looking for the best French beaches you’ll want to narrow your criteria down a little. One of the best ways to do this is to check out the those with the pavillon bleu award.

French beaches blue flag pavillon bleu

Known as the blue flag in English, pavillon bleu beaches in France (and marinas too) have ticked lots of boxes to earn the privilege of flying the well-known flag. In 2017, some 390 French beaches won the accolade along with 102 marinas.

Most blue flag French beaches

The Alpes-Côte d’Azur coastline takes the prize for the most blue flag beaches this year. This popular stretch of the Mediterranean received a total of 58 and they’re dotted more or less everywhere along the coast. So it’s easy to be near at least one. Hot on its heels comes the Occitanie coast with 53 blue flags, also conveniently flying along this popular shoreline.

In a country crisscrossed by infinite rivers and canals, it’s no surprise to discover that the best French beaches aren’t just on the coast. Inland lakes and the occasional river boast long stretches of sand and several has earned themselves blue-flag status. For instance, the Lac de Serre-Ponçon, a giant reservoir located between the Alpes-de- Haute-Provence and the Hautes-Alpes, flies nine blue flags this year.

The same applies to marinas. While most pavillon bleu marinas are located on the French coastline, there’s a good sprinkling inland too. For example, Port de Decize on the confluence between the Loire and Nivernais, flies a blue flag. As does Port de l’Epervière, a popular marina for mooring at Valence on the Rhone.

The criteria for the best French beaches

To fly the pavillon bleu, a beach has to fulfil a very long list of criteria. At the top of them comes sustainability. The commune where the beach is based must show that it’s doing its bit for sustainable tourism. This includes minimalising environmental impact by providing facilities such as rubbish bins and public toilets. Pavillon bleu beaches must also be accessible to all visitors.

When it comes to the natural surroundings, the commune must aim to avoid water pollution. Regular updates on water quality must be provided so visitors know exactly what they’re swimming in. The commune must also show it’s raising environmental awareness by providing information about local fauna and flora, etc.

Find out where the 390 blue-flag French beaches are here.

The criteria for the best French marinas

Blue-flag marinas in France are those where environmental protection takes priority. Marinas must show their efforts to reduce water pollution and waste, and preserve the natural surroundings. They also need to reduce their impact on the surroundings by protecting local wildlife.

See a map of all the blue-flag French marinas here.

Safety first on French beaches

Another requirement for the best French beaches is safety and those flying a pavillon bleu must provide lifeguard services during the summer holiday season. Blue flags in the water mark out the swimming areas – swimming isn’t allowed outside these. Flags on the beach indicate swimming conditions – green for good, orange for caution and red for danger.

Blue flag beaches and marinas also offer tips on safe swimming in freshwater or seawater plus advice on boating whether you’re on a hire boat or just a stand-up paddle board. There’s also information on how to look after the environment when you’re on the beach or water. You can download the free brochures (in French only) for rivers and lakes here and for beaches here.

Handy app

If you want information about the best French beaches at your fingertips, the pavillon bleu association provides a free app for iPhones. The app locates the blue-flag beaches and marinas, and provides essential information about each one.

Discover the best French beaches on the waterways and rivers for yourself on a hire boating holiday.

Hauling Out, river Lot – 12 metres, 10 tonnes

Grehan has returned to the Lot after 5 years. This is where she was last hauled out so it will be interesting to see what’s happened underneath during thousands of miles of cruising around France interim. She is going to have a slow-leak investigated, with a possible gel coat repair, re-painting of top sides with Toplac – after sanding down and some more primer in places – and anti-fouling to the hull.

We rent a small chalet for a couple of weeks while we get the work done – and we want to make a bimini for the boat too which requires space for the sewing machine. We take what we need off the boat and move in.

We’ve already been to the Castomrama in Agen to get gloss rollers, masking tape, a decent brush for ‘tipping’ and some throw away gloves. We’ve already unearthed our old ungodly shorts and t-shirts which will be thrown away after this make-over.

Day 1 Sunday
A glorious morning, sun’s up and there’s a light breeze. Rob gets trailer ready and Daniel (son) assists. Height of pads adjusted and extension arm attached to tractor. The trailer is then pushed down slope in readiness, just as Grehan approaches the waiting pontoon. I get the camera ready, Alan gets on the pontoon ready to take ropes. Various other folks emerge from other boats to watch and lend a hand. Captain stays aboard, in order to watch behind and keep an eye on the port side – the trailer has a bar each side that must be equi-distant from the sides of the boat.

Hauling out - attaching bar

Hauling out - attaching

The trailer is pushed down the slipway and wheels and pads disappear beneath the water. Various lines held by assistants are used to combat the breeze that picks up, and pull and release Grehan until Rob is satisfied that the keel is central over the trailer and the pads are in the right place. This continues until 11:00 when everything stops because a party of children going canoeing also needs to use the slipway. Not an unpleasant distraction and a chance for a rest.

Hauling out - slipway

Finally the pull-out. She’s sitting straight and comes up good as gold. Rob adjust the pads and locks them tight. The hull is looking a little slimy but no growth or nasty surprises.

Hauling out on the hard

Fenders come off first and then the Karcher pressure washer is fixed up and work begins on cleaning her off. Grehan is in position over the yard drain so all mess disappears rapidly. It’s very hot so she dries quickly in the sun and a cursory run over with sandpaper takes off loose bits of previous anti-foul paint and other marks. Picnic lunch taken on the go, on the shady side.

Hauling out - jet -washed

After Jet-wash

Break for cup of tea on Alan’s boat – so welcome.
Rob takes an initial look underneath for possible crack that might cause water ingest; he finds an old patch, made before purchase, and thinks this is what might be failing, with water seeping in very slowly while the boat is at rest and faster when she’s pushing along. He will have a proper look with a sander tomorrow.

Late in the evening yesterday Rob returned to the boat – couldn’t resist! – and found a still-damp spot on the keel (all the rest had dried), roughly in line with where we suspected we had water ingress in the bilge. He’s already picked off some loose fibreglass pieces and will return to repair it later.

Meanwhile, J gets the sander out and gives the body a going-over, to remove scratches, mysterious blobs and to smooth the edges of the paint that has started to flake off over the years. (The original blue paint, we discover, was put onto the gel coat without any primer first, so it has lifted off around the edges in places. However, it has taken 8 years to do so).
Next, we wash the powdery bits off with soapy water, then prime the bits of bare gel coat wherever they show through. Alan has half a tin of International topsides primer for us to use.
And that’s enough for the day in blistering 36 degrees.

The heat wave continues but Rob returns in the morning to take a proper look at the hull and keel. Quite a few repairs have been made but all seem OK except for the damp one already identified. He gets the grinder out and starts work. At least it’s cooler under the keel. Later in the day, we see that other areas have required some attention as well and he has treated the grills protecting the bow thrusters with anti-rust paint.

We confirm that the gel coat resin is on its way from Bordeaux, the 5 half-cans of Oxford Blue topcoat paint have already been delivered and the red anti-fouling paint is ready and waiting. We have also ordered some traditional red vinyl tape to join the two painted halves when complete.

The whole country is burning up in the heat wave, local children sent home from school. We didn’t want it to rain this week but this is an extreme opposite – quite exhausting and we realise it’s going to be tricky to work with paint.

We get up early to start the anti-fouling, avoiding the heat of the day if possible. One of us uses the roller and tray, the other a wide brush – best on the fiddly bits. We have a box to sit on and board to lie on as the ground surface is pea shingle, general grit and now glass-fibres too. We have to leave the areas where Rob is still working on the repairs for later. It goes on well, nice and thick, although we now notice some osmosis lumps – just a few – and plenty of scrapes from rocks etc, but no actual glass fibre showing through. We’re happy she’s generally in good shape.

We finish around lunch-time – that’s all we can do for the day, it’s just too hot and we are covered in paint, grit and perspiration. We need to rest and drink some litres of water. Rob arrives in the afternoon, happy that he’s cut back to sound glass-fibre and that he can start laying new glass-fibre. It will need to be done in stages – layers – and left to set in between.

We return again in the cool of the evening to make a second coat of anti-fouling. I chip large pieces of rust off the rudder with a wall-paper scraper and sand it down smooth-ish. It gets primed too with underwater primer. The propeller is clean as a whistle although it has a chip out of one blade; so different from the horrendous collection of barnacles that almost stopped our yacht dead in the salt-water of the Mediterranean and took forever to chip off. Again, we leave the repair patches for another day.

We arrive early and inspect our work carefully – the surface is not perfect but we reckon 90% will do for us. It’s a compromise between time, effort and result – and quick, clean and effective is preferred over slow, picky and perfect. We sand the newly primed bits – quite a few…

Hauling out - topsides primer

Nearside aft, the vulnerable back-end, had been severely clouted by a previous owner and a hand-size piece of gel-coat is actually missing, so this will also need Rob’s attention. Meanwhile, the first layer of new fibre-glass repair is drying – more tomorrow.

Before sun-downers, we wipe down again with white spirit ready for tomorrow’s early start.

Top-coat day. We stir the paint and thin it, knowing that the heat will have a thickening effect, adding just enough white spirit to almost reach the top of the tin, say, a couple of egg-cup-fulls. We collect everything we need – a box to stand on, step ladder, gloves, hats, kitchen-paper rolls. Deep breath and we start. J rolls the paint on with up and down strokes, I ‘cut in’ (do the edges) and ‘tip’ (smooth the paint with a soft sideways strokes to prevent any excess from forming curtains). We’re early enough in the day to get the paint on before the boat-sides catch the full heat of the sun and it goes on thinly and evenly. We are pleased.

We start at the back corner, where the rubbing strake defines the edge, and work quickly, a small 3 ft square piece at a time, me going over the rolled section with my brush. At one point, early on, the roller starts to leave blobby bits – maybe because the roller is new and still a little ‘fluffy’ – but defter strokes seem to solve that  My work leaves a brush stroke mark after I’ve done, but as the paint dries it ‘draws’ together leaving a smooth finish – magic!

We finish one side, stopping at the square corner of the bow, wrap the equipment in a black plastic bag to keep the moisture in, and place it in the darkest place under the hull for use later on. It’s time for lunch and a well-earned siesta.

We decide to take a swim and early supper before tackling the other side, which has now had quite a few hours in the shade. We think it’s cool enough. Again, we work quickly from the aft and whizz along with more confidence this time, having inspected and been delighted with the results from the first side. The bow is harder to reach but manageable and after a couple of hours we’re done. It’s good to work in the evening – fewer distractions, less glare. Again, we leave the patches fore and aft where Rob still has to do a repair.

Hauling out - repairs

Early morning inspection. We’re still pleased, but one can clearly still see different tones, where the primer was, or where the paint is not as evenly applied as we thought. No problem! We have only used just less than 2 tins out of 5; we’ve vastly over-estimated and have plenty left.

We use another tin today for the second coat to both sides, producing a rich and shiny finish. It dries to the touch within minutes. Very satisfying.

We go shopping for food and general time out away from the boat. Rob has finished the repairs to the keel and other places so we spend the rest of the day checking the remaining items to be done – the anodes, the stripe round the middle, the tape round the swim platform, the anti-fouling and painting to the repaired parts. When can she get back in the water? The tractor will be available on Monday.

Today we anti-foul the remaining patches, twice, and make sure it’s on really thickly – to last another 5 years on the inland waterways. We prime them first with underwater primer. We prime the aft topsides patch and sand it, and then later in the evening get a blue coat on that too, with a brush.

A good day’s work, with all the small items coming together. Getting back in the water is now confirmed for Tuesday. All good.

Hauling out - all done

We check all handiwork again. Still happy.
We fix the red vinyl tape around the middle, having tried out the exact line with masking tape first. We notice that the boat sides are not at all ‘even’ and a straight line viewed from the side is not necessarily straight when viewed from the bow, and vice versa. We decide that the boat is most often seen from the side, or at least the line is most noticeable in the longer view, so we apply the red tape according to that line. It looks great.

We fix some white tape around the edges of the swim platform; it’s been so bashed in a previous life that the gel coat has completely disappeared in places, but as it’s of no consequence structurally it will only get a quick face-lift. However, we run out of white tape and will have to get some more.

We spend an hour or two cleaning the fenders, scouring off the caked-on dirt by hand. It makes a huge difference; but we still promise ourselves a new set, all matching, one day.

Return to boat to apply second blue coat to tiny aft patch – it dries almost immediately. We clean up all the equipment, throw away or put away still-usable items for another time. Go shopping and buy more white tape and apply to edges of swim platform. Looks much better and we think we’re done.
Return to boat to re-fit clean, shiny fenders and notice the new magnesium anode has been added just in front of the prop. Call Rob to discover when re-float might happen. Yes, straightaway!
Tractor arrives and the hauling in process starts – everything in reverse. Chaps appear from nowhere again to help. Captain is aboard to check all round at the aft and also down below – all the bilge hatches still open for easy access.


Hauling out

She floats off the trailer as good as gold and J checks down below again, for leaks or anything else untoward. This time he notices some seepage around the engine bilge stop cock – that’s a completely new event. When Grehan’s all tied up on the waiting pontoon – very carefully with all fenders in place to protect new paint – Rob dashes off and returns with a large spanner to tighten up the joint. He suspects it’s just dried out a bit in the fierce heat during the week.

It’s too late in the evening now to move Grehan back to her berth on the riverside so we leave her on the pontoon for the night. We go out with friends for supper to celebrate a successful makeover. They have just received their planning permission to build just up river so everyone very happy all round.

Hauling out - safely in

J goes to check on the leak and there’s no trace of seepage this morning – hooray. BUT engine won’t start! Newish battery totally dead – a mystery since everything’s been turned off for 10 days. Rob takes it away to see if it’s fixable but no, we need a new one. The garage up the road at Bias has a good range and we find the right sized one at a good price. Grehan fires up immediately – and then we’re off.

June 2017

Fruit liqueurs: part 5 of our essential guide to French liqueurs

Fruits and fruit liqueurs take centre stage in the next part of the French Waterways’ guide to French liqueurs. Whether they’re citrus or berry, fruits form the base for some of the best known French liqueurs. Read on to know your oranges from your blackcurrants and your raspberries from your cherries when it comes to fruit liqueurs that hit that sweet spot.

Cointreau fruit liqueurs French Waterways

Take ordinary oranges and you get Cointreau

Some of the fruit liqueurs that the French do best contain oranges. Cointreau ranks among the world’s most famous after dinner tipples and Grand Marnier isn’t too far behind. Both take the humble orange and raise it to a whole new level, not just in taste but in design. The two brands boast some of the best looking bottles in the drinks cabinet.

Pure oranges make pure fruit liqueurs

Cointreau rules as the king of orange liqueurs in terms of fruit content. This classic contains nothing more than sugar, alcohol and orange peel. It was the brainchild of Edourd Cointreau who perfected the recipe in 1875 at the family distillery in Angers. Cointreau takes the peel from bitter and sweet oranges, and adds it to sugar. Two distillations later and one of the world’s best cocktail mixers is born.

In its signature square bottle complete with moiré ribbon and wax seal, Cointreau offers the purest taste of orange in any liqueur. Oranges are also the only thing you’ll catch in the liqueur’s bouquet and although the taste is intense, it also feels light on your tongue. Don’t let the lightness go to your head, however. Cointreau has one of the highest alcohol contents among French liqueurs: 40% ABV.

How to drink Cointreau

You can drink Cointreau neat, although some people prefer theirs on the rocks with a splash of lemon juice. But this orange liqueur really comes into its own in cocktails. It forms the base of many of the world’s most famous:

  • mixed with tequila and lime, it becomes a Margarita
  • combine it with white rum and lime, and you’ve got a Beachcomber
  • add cognac and lime to make a Sidecar
  • together with vodka and cranberry, you have the ultimate Cosmopolitan

Grand Marnier fruit liqueurs orange crepe suzette French Waterways

When oranges meet cognac you get Grand Marnier

The other quintessentially French orange liqueur also comes in an unmistakable bottle, although this one’s round. But like Cointreau, it carries a ribbon (red) and wax seal. Grand Marnier also turns out to be more or less contemporary with Cointreau since its recipe was perfected in 1880 in Neauphle-le-Chateau, just outside Paris.

Grand Marnier takes bitter oranges and adds them to cognac – the world’s finest brandy.

Unsurprisingly, this combination gives the orange liqueur vanilla and oak overtones, both in taste and scent, to remind you of its origins. Grand Marnier also tastes heavier than Cointreau as the brandy adds ‘weight’ to the drink’s texture. Although it has the same 40% strength.

How to drink Grand Marnier

Grand Marnier tastes delicious at room temperature or on the rocks. Like Cointreau, it’s a mean cocktail mixer:

  • Red Lion is one of the best known Grand Marnier cocktails where gin and orange juice join the liqueur
  • The B52 also counts as one of the most famous and original – its three bands of coffee liqueur, Irish cream and Grand Marnier certainly stand out on the bar counter
  • Grand Marnier makes a mean take on a mojito when used as an alternative to white rum too

But Grand Marnier also comes into its own in the kitchen. Crêpe Suzette, invented in 1905, still ranks as one of the most classic dishes on the French dessert trolley and duck à l’orange somehow wouldn’t be the same without that dash of Grand Marnier.

Our luxury hotel barge holidays include fruit liqueur tastings – experience the world’s finest orange liqueurs for yourself while you gently cruise down the French rivers. If exploring the base behind Grand Marnier appeals, book a boating holiday in the Cognac region.


Take a handful of berries to create more fruit liqueurs

Given that there’s a whole world of berries, it follows that there’s a wealth of fruit liqueurs made from them. Whether they’re blackcurrants, cherries or raspberries, berries take pride of place in our guide to French liqueurs.

Cassis fruit liqueurs blackcurrants French Waterways

Classic cassis

This berry liqueur needs no introduction because like pastis, it’s a national aperitif especially when mixed with dry white wine to become a Kir. The wine and blackcurrant combination is named after Felix Kir, Mayor of Dijon in the 1950s, who regularly served it to his guests.

The origins of cassis appear in 1841 when it replaced the traditional ratafia fruit-based liqueur, popular throughout southern France. Using blackcurrants as its base – only two varieties of the berry, Noir de Bourgogne and Black Down, will do – cassis is made by fermenting the fruit in oak barrels for up to two and half months before adding sugar and alcohol. The resulting liqueur has an alcohol content of 15-20% depending on the brand.

How to drink cassis

  • Crème de cassis works best in a Kir: add the blackcurrant liqueur to dry white wine (about 1 tablespoon to a glass of wine) and mix
  • Upgrade the tipple to Kir Royale by using Champagne or cava instead of the wine
  • For the ultimate gin cocktail add cassis, lime juice and a sprinkling of sugar

And while you’re in the kitchen, add that je ne sais quoi to fruit puddings and desserts with a splash of blackcurrant liqueur.

Cherry Guignolet fruit liqueurs French Waterways

Cherry Guignolet

Like Kirsch, their famous German and Northern France cousin, cherries also get their share of the berry liqueur limelight in France. Known as Guignolet after the Guigne cherry grown in the Saumur region on the banks of the River Loire, cherry liqueur goes back centuries in France. Like so many other liqueurs its origins lie in monasteries and Guignolet reputedly dates back to 1632 in a convent in Anjou.

The red fruit (unstoned to add to flavour) is fermented in oak barrels before sugar and alcohol complete the recipe. It tastes sweet and rich, and you’ll notice distinct almond undertones both in the bouquet and on the palate. These come from the stones.

How to drink Guignolet

This cherry liqueur tastes best on ice or mixed with tonic or soda water. Like cassis, it makes a good addition to fruit puddings and cakes.

Chambord chateaux raspberry fruit liqueurs French WaterwaysRaspberry Chambord

Last but not least, our next berry liqueur originates from Chambord on the banks of the Loire, famous for its unique chateau. Originally concocted in the 17th century and reputedly presented to King Louis XIV for his approval, Chambord liqueur takes raspberries as its base.

The berries – both red and black varieties of raspberry are used – are fermented twice before the other ingredients are added. The exact list and quality remains a secret, but the deep red liqueur is known to include honey, spices, vanilla and cognac, which provides the main base.

Chambord fruit liqueur offers a world of flavours that range from the sweetly acidic raspberry to the rich oak undertones from the cognac oak barrels. It comes in a characteristic round bottle – the Chambord Royale has a crown bottle top – and has a strength of 16.5%.

How to drink Chambord

Just a little too sickly to drink neat, Chambord tastes best on the rocks or mixed with soda water or lemonade. It also makes a good combination in cocktails. In fact, some purists claim that the real Sex on the Beach must include Chambord along with the vodka, cranberry juice, melon and pineapple. On the culinary side, a dash of raspberry liqueur sets off summer desserts and combines well with foie gras in savoury dishes.

Visit Chambord and discover the origins of this classic fruit liqueur for yourself on board one of our luxury barge cruises.