France featured as the world’s most visited country in 2018. This is a ranking it repeats year after year so we wouldn’t be surprised to find that France is on your radar for this year. But rather than list the usual attractions (and there are many), we thought we’d take an aquatic theme and highlight the many wonderful waterways.
So, if you fancy a break with a difference, read on to discover our 10 best boating holidays in France.
Feast yourself on Lyon
The bustling city is already France’s capital of gastronomy, but in 2019 Lyon takes food up yet another notch. The giant Cîte de la Gastronomie opens in July and offers a vast foodie paradise. Feast all your senses on exhibitions, workshops, restaurants with top chefs in residence and shops to buy all those ingredients.
While you’re there: See for yourself why Lyon features as one of the 52 destinations in the New York Times “starter kit for visiting the world” this year. Don’t miss the secret passageways known as traboules (there are 400 of them!), dotted around the Croix Rousse district; the 100 or so murals and trompe l’oeil; or the views of the city from the Jardin des Curiosités in the Fourvière district. And don’t forget the final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup on 7 July.
Best boating holidays in Lyon
River cruise the Saone and Rhone from Chalon to Arles via Lyon on the way.
Say cheers in Champagne
View the world’s capital of bubbly at harvest time (September) and watch the grape pickers in the pretty vineyards outside Reims and Épernay. Then visit one of the famous champagne houses to see how the unique méthode champenoise turns those grapes into fizz. And then try some for yourself.
While you’re there: Don’t miss a stroll down the famous Avenue de Champagne in Épernay, flanked by some of the biggest labels in bubbles. The champagne house mansions are stunning examples of architecture and many include equally lovely gardens.
Best boating holidays in Champagne
Experience the famous fizz from on board a luxury hotel barge as you glide along the Marne from Paris.
Love Leonardo on the Loire
Leonardo da Vinci spent the last years of his life at Amboise. This stretch of the Loire is home to some of his finest architectural creations. 2019 celebrates the 500th anniversary of his death as well as the birth of the Renaissance with numerous events taking place in the area.
While you’re there: See da Vinci’s grave at the Château d’Amboise and then feast your eyes on the other stunning chateaux along the Loire. Don’t miss the special edition of the Festival de Chambord, a château also celebrating its 500th in 2019.
Best boating holidays in the Loire
Mark the occasion with one of the most emblematic holidays in France on the water with a hotel barge Loire cruise.
Go Gehry in Arles
Already famous for its link with Van Gogh, Arles is taking its art theme even further with the Luma Arles Project. The Project will house artists’ studios and exhibitions. The project’s crown? The Parc des Ateliers, a stunning Frank Gehry masterpiece with his signature metal scales and jagged profile.
The other spaces on site include former SNCF railway warehouses and the imposing Grand Halle, all set in a park to be designed by landscape architect Bas Smets. Completion is due next year, but pop along in 2019 to admire the progress.
While you’re there: Don’t miss the Arles UNESCO world heritage sites, such as the Roman Theatre and the Crypotoporticus (underground galleries). Or the Van Gogh route through the town taking in the spots that inspired the artist.
Best boating holidays in Arles
Arles may well feature as part of your excursion options aboard a Saone Rhone river cruise. Alternatively, hotel barges Anne Marie, Napoleon and Le Phenicien often incorporate a visit in their itineraries.
See new art in Paris
You don’t really need an excuse to visit the City of Light, but in case you do, check out this one. Spring this year sees the opening of the much-awaited Bourse de Commerce, a 17th circular building right in the city centre. The stunning restoration by Japanese architect Tadao Ando will house 3,000 contemporary art works owned by the world-famous collector François Pinault. Even if the paintings and installations aren’t quite to your taste, the Chambord-style double helix staircase and exquisite murals lining the iconic dome won’t fail to impress.
While you’re there: Fashionistas also have a must-do to add their list. The Gabrielle Chanel Rooms open this year in the Palais Galliera. Feast your eyes on some 200,000 pieces of haute couture.
Best boating holidays in Paris
The City of Light is best seen from the water. Of course you could take a day cruise. But naturally, we’d recommend taking the pace down a little with a Seine river cruise. For a hotel barge experience along the Seine you need to book ahead as few itineraries incorporate the city. But of course ask us and we’ll point you to them.
Cheer on the girls
France hosts this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup giving tourists the chance to enjoy some exceptional footie as well as holidays in France on the water. Destinations hosting the matches and near a waterway include Lyon, Reims, Nice, Paris, Grenoble, Le Havre, Montpellier… Knock-out matches for the 24 competing teams – including Les Bleues – start on 7 June with the grand final in Lyon on 7 July. ¡Allez les filles!
Best boating holidays for football fans
Take a look at our destinations and see which one fits in with your footie following.
The Marne-Rhine Canal might not be as famous as the Seine or the Canal du Midi, but it has just as much to offer. Think stunning architecture, fine wining and dining and yet more of that gorgeous French scenery. Make 2019 your year to explore one of the lesser known French waterways where France, Germany and Switzerland bring their best together.
While you’re there: Don’t miss Strasbourg with medieval architecture second to none; the Arzviller boat lift, one of the world’s wonders of hydraulic engineering; the Lalique Museum crammed with glasswork treasures; or the Art Nouveau delights in Nancy.
Best boating holidays in Alsace
See this unusual region from the luxury of your very own hotel barge as you glide down the iconic Rhine and the Marne-Rhine Canal.
Run in Marais Poitevin
Something of a secret among the French waterways, the Marais Poitevin is a treasure trove of canals and marshes, dotted with quintessentially French towns and villages. Gondolas make up the main means of transport up and down the canals – not for nothing is the area known as Green Venice.
While you’re there: Don’t miss the Maraisthon, celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. The marathon prides itself on being one of the greenest in the world both scenically and ecologically. Run it or watch it 15 to 16 June.
Best boating holidays in Marais Poitevin
No major waterways connect Marais Poitevin to the best-known French rivers and canals, but you can make this a side trip from Bordeaux (see below). Tag it on at the beginning or end of a river boat cruise.
Know it all about vin in Bordeaux
You can’t stray far from a vineyard in France, but fans of all things wine should also add the Cité du Vin in Bordeaux to their list. Over its 10 floors, the hi-tech centre teaches you literally everything you could possibly want to know about wine. From grape cultivation and wine production to art and literature via civilisation and technology. Oh and you also get to try a glass or two.
While you’re there: The list of must-sees in Bordeaux runs very long – just the historic buildings will keep you very busy. But don’t miss the Mirroir d’Eau on the Place de la Bourse, at any time of day and the views of the city at night from the Garonne.
Best boating holidays in Bordeaux
Make your way gently down the Garonne Canal as you feast on all your senses from on board a luxury barge on your way from Bordeaux to Toulouse. Or take the helm yourself with either a Le Boat or Locaboat self-drive cruiser hired from the four Aquitaine hire boat bases in the area.
Take a new trail in Burgundy
No list of French holidays on the water would be complete without a visit to one of the world’s most famous wine regions. If you like cycling and can hang on until the summer, bike the Voie des Vignes (the Vineyard Trail) whose last section opens later on this year. Running from Santenay to Dijon, the trail takes in the very best of Burgundy landscapes and of course, wine.
While you’re there: Don’t miss a visit to the vineyards, particularly those home to the world-famous Grands Crus wines. And if you’re near Tournus, pop into the Saint Philibert Abbey, celebrating its 1,000th birthday this year.
Best boating holidays in Burgundy on the water
Waterways come into their own in Burgundy, which is home to parts of the Petit Seine, Saone and Yonne Rivers. Explore them as you sit and relax on board one of our luxury Burgundy hotel barges (they carry bikes too!).
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