When you think of countries with canals, France is often one of the first places that come to mind. The popular European destination has plenty of scenic waterways crisscrossing the different regions, offering plenty of routes for all kinds of French canal boat trips.
Experts in boating holidays in France, Locaboat Holidays explain there are all kinds of travellers boating trips are ideal for, whether you’re seeking a romantic getaway or just want to admire more of the area’s countryside. There are plenty of French canal holiday routes that offer all kinds of experiences, meaning that you’ll have plenty of choices when it comes to deciding where to book your trip.
But where to actually travel when you’re canal boat cruising in France? Which regions offer the best routes, and which are more suited to certain kinds of activities?
In this post, we offer recommendations for some of the best places for French canal trips.
Canal du Nivernais, Burgundy-Franche-Comté
This canal flows from the River Yonne in Auxerre to Decize, crossing the Yonne Valley and connecting the Seine with the Loire. Historically, the Nivernais was built as a way of transporting wood from Burgundy to Paris and took over 60 years to complete, finally opening in 1843.
The Nivernais Canal flows through the west of Burgundy and is known as being one of the most scenic places for boating in France. The route is incredibly peaceful, offering views of hills, valleys and fields as well as passing through quite a few picturesque villages where you can moor your boat and explore.
This is one of the best canals of France for a boating holiday if you’re a keen wildlife spotter, as there are plenty of opportunities to see a range of bird species along the water as you travel. It’s also a great place for a trip if you’re looking for a canal that won’t be overly busy, even during the peak season for canal trips in France.
Canal du Midi, Occitanie
The Canal du Midi is one of France’s most famous canals as well as one of the most historic, making it an ideal place for a canal boat holiday if you want to learn more about the country as you travel. Winding from Toulouse to the Etang de Thau, this canal curves around the foothills of the Pyrénneés mountain range and actually connects the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Oceans.
Known for featuring in the travel diary and cookbook titled ‘French Odyssey’ by Rick Stein, the Canal du Midi was built in the 19th century and achieved a UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1996. You can navigate the entire canal in three sections; the Canal du Midi, the Garonne and the Lateral Canal to the Garonne.
As one of the best-known canals in France, this is a great route to choose if you want to travel through plenty of busy locks and bustling towns and villages. The scenery is also gorgeous, with plane trees lining the water and historic canalside buildings from the Gallo-Roman era.
Canal de Bourgogne, Burgundy
The Canal de Bourgogne is one of the most popular places for a canal boat holiday in France. Linking the River Seine and Rhone, it’s a north-south route that passes through several historically significant towns, making it an ideal location for a trip filled with lots of sightseeing.
This is also a famous route because it’s the highest canal in France, passing through almost 190 different locks. There’s also a tunnel at the summit at Pouilly-en-Auxois, offering a range of different canal environments for those looking for a more adventurous French boating experience.
If you’re looking to go on a luxury canal boat holiday in France then the Canal de Bourgogne is ideal, as its location in one of the country’s best wine regions means that there are plenty of opportunities to moor up and enjoy a glass from one of the local vineyards. In previous years the route had fallen into disrepair, but recent grants have meant that it is well on its way to an outstanding condition once again.
Canal de la Marne au Rhin, Grand-Est
The Canal de la Marne au Rhin in Grand Est begins in Vitry-le-François at the River Marne and travels all the way to the River Rhine in Strasbourg. It crosses the former region of Lorainne and allows travel and transport by water from Paris to the east of France, offering a great blend of countryside and populated areas on the journey.
Originally completed in 1855, this canal was built to be a link between France and Germany and was once the longest canal in the country. Whilst it no longer holds this title, it is still a great place for French canal boat trips, with two summit levels, several tunnels, and the famous Arzviller inclined plane.
Whether you decide to float along the eastern or western section, there’s a great range of scenery on offer alongside the water, as well as plenty of examples of quaint French architecture in some of the smaller towns and villages. If you’re looking for a canal boat holiday that offers a taste of all the highlights of the French canals, the Canal de la Marne au Rhin is ideal.
Canal de Briare, Centre-Val-de-Loire
Stretching from Briare to Montargis across the Loire Valley, the Canal de Briare is one of the oldest canals in France. It’s an ideal place for French canal holidays that are steeped in history, passing through plenty of villages that have stood beside the water for centuries.
The canal was completed in 1642 and was originally used as a way to supply food and fuel to Paris from the Allier and Loire Valleys. It’s quite a short route in comparison to many of the others in the country, but is ideal if you’re looking for somewhere to enjoy a short canal boat holiday in France.
A highlight of the Canal de Briare is the Pont-Canal de Briare; an aqueduct crossing the River Loire that was built between 1890 and 1896. Designed by Gustave Eiffel, the same architect of France’s most famous landmark, it features a towpath on either side of the canal and iconic Renaissance-style lanterns dotted along each side, making it a truly superb example of beautiful and impressive design.
Canal de la Somme, Hauts-de-France
The Canal de la Somme is a canalised section of the River Somme, flowing from the estuary at St-Valéry to Saint-Simon where it meets Canal de Saint-Quentin at
a junction. This route offers an alternative way to approach the waterways of France from the English channel, which may be a preferable option for some people embarking on a canal trip in France.
Originally established to allow leisure boats to cruise along the Somme, the canal is now almost entirely traversed by people on boating trips and holidays, making it an ideal place for your first French canal holiday. It’s known as being one of the most beautiful places in the country for canal boats, so it’s no surprise it’s such a popular route.
Canal du Centre, Burgundy-Franche-Comté
The Canal du Centre gets its name from its location in the middle of France. It was one of the first to be built in this area of the country and was built between 1784 and 1793 as the first link between the River Loire and the Saône.
Passing through 61 locks over 112km, the Canal du Centre is mainly used by people on leisure cruises and boating holidays in France, although there is still some commercial traffic. Stretching from Chalon-sur-Saône to Digoin across the Burgundy-Franche-Comté region, the route is very peaceful and offers sections of quiet floating through the countryside as well as chances to stop at more lively towns and villages along the way.
This is another canal holiday location that is ideal for wine lovers, as you’ll pass by plenty of vineyards and wineries no matter which part of the canal you travel on, particularly in the northern section.
Canal boat holidays in France are one of the best ways to explore the area and get a feeling for the country’s history, all whilst travelling at a slow and stately pace that is ideal for trips where all you want to do is relax and unwind. There are a variety of different routes to choose from on a French canal holiday, providing plenty of options and experiences for all kinds of travellers, so whether you’re looking for a luxurious cruise through a famous wine region or want to learn more about the history of the country’s waterways, there’s something for everyone.
This article was provided by Locaboat Holidays specialists in boating holidays in France and across Europe.