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 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 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.