France is a beautiful country to vacation in. Filled with lush forests, beautiful rivers, and exquisite architecture, and a lot of hidden gems, it’s no wonder that it’s one of the most visited countries in the world. You want to make every second count in France, including travel time between popular destinations. This is where canal boating in France comes in.
France is unique in the sense that you can travel within the country by boat. Of course, you travel by train, bus, or even rent a car, but where’s the fun in that? Canal boats are a great means of transportation, and taking a French Canal Cruise can be an amazing experience. In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about getting around France in Canal boats!
A few basic tips about canal boating in France
With more than 100 canals and rivers, France is home to the largest river network in Europe. The French canal network stretches over 800 kilometers of navigable waterways which makes this country a perfect canal holiday destination. This will allow you to see France from a different perspective and you’ll soon realize why…
Organizing a canal boating vacation in France
French cities are different. You can travel almost anywhere by boat. This is a different experience because everywhere else, you rent a car. Driving for hours at a time can get monotonous and stuffy. It gets old pretty quick, and half of your vacation time is spent in a metal box.
With a boat, you can let the gentle wind caress your hair as you slowly travel along the many waterways. Boats bypass the busy commute in the streets, so you spend less time stuck in traffic jams. They can easily travel to the countryside as well. You can jetty your boat and even spend the night in it. All in all, traveling by canal boat will make for a truly unique experience.
What if You Live in France?
If you live in France and want to experience the country in a whole new way, then canal boats might just be the thing for you. France’s cities are filled with small rivers and canals. Having a boat of your own can make your life much easier.
There are many kinds of boats to choose from. Your needs may be daily or only occasionally. Finding the right boat is crucial because this is an investment. You can even search on the internet and look at various options as many websites feature canal boats for sale.
What if you are an international traveler?
This doesn’t change much. You still don’t require a license and you can rent a boat as easily as you can rent a car. However, for your own safety, you should learn some steering basics from the internet before you take your boat out. When it comes to mooring, you can generally moor anywhere, as long as you’re not causing an obstruction or disturbing wildlife. Most moorings are free but some charge between €10 and €50.
Passing through bridges and locks doesn’t require an additional charge. Additionally, most locks have keepers who speak English and can help you if you need assistance. Keep in mind that most locks are temporarily closed around lunchtime and lock keepers don’t work on Bank Holidays (May 1st, July 14th, and November 1st).
Why should you go Canal cruising in France?
You may be wondering why you should go through all the trouble of getting a boat when you can simply use public transportation or rent a car. Renting a canal boat is not difficult at all.
Canal boats are readily available. They come in many different types, depending on your needs. You can either rent them or buy them outright if you are planning to live in France for a while.
Additionally, some canal boats provide all the comforts of home. These boats have a built-in bedroom, and you can sleep tied to the harbor. There is nothing like waking up in the morning and going to the local bread shop in the village you’re in to get breakfast.
Some boats are super luxurious and even have kitchens. You can cook your own food with fresh produce found in the local markets. Make it a special day for your loved one by cooking them a boat-cooked meal.
Renting canal boats in France is not expensive
Whether purchasing or renting, canal boats are not expensive. Summer is the busiest time of the year for canal boating in France, and naturally, prices go up, but even then, the cost per person with supplies will amount to about $100 per day. This is cheaper than some cars out there.
If you are traveling alone and wouldn’t mind some exercise, you can rent a small canoe and row your way through France. Canoes are really cheap as they don’t require fuel and are small in size. Rental companies have various drop-off points as well, so you don’t have to worry about going back to the same place to return them.
Boating Holiday Packages
Many tourism companies and travel agencies offer boating holiday packages as all-in-one deals. Everything from the boat to your provisions will be set up from before. All you have to do is show up.
These packages have recently increased in popularity and demand. However, it is always a good idea to do your own research. The boats these companies provide may not be to your liking. There are plenty of websites to look at boats online, and it does not take long. Don’t lose the liberty of choosing your own special boat.
French Canal Boating Tips
Canal boating in France can be intimidating if it’s your first time using a canal boat. There are some things you should remember to make your journey easier.
Just like cars, in France, boats keep to the right of the waterway. French waterways are littered with tunnels, so the boats come with headlights. Always turn them on whenever entering a tunnel and use your horn when heading toward a tunnel. A speed limit applies on the water and is usually capped to 4 mph inland. Reduce your speed even more when approaching bridges.
If you are mooring (parking) in a busy spot, make sure there is space for other boats as well. Never moor close to bridges or bends, and always fasten the upstream rope first when mooring.
Whenever you jetty, make sure to tie your boat securely and double-check that you have done so. Tie both in the front and in the back. Always have someone steer when you are tying up the boat.
It’s recommended to keep extra fuel onboard just in case you run out. There is nothing worse than being stranded in the middle of the river because your boat ran out of juice. If you are canoeing, make sure to wear proper safety equipment.
Boating Holidays in France
Now that we covered some useful tips about canal boating in France, it’s time to show you some of the best places in France for canal cruising! In case you’re wondering what’s the best time to go canal boating in France, in my opinion, it is the spring but if you’re planning more activities while visiting France and would like to learn more about the different seasons in France, you can learn more about the different seasons of France before your trip.
One of the best places to start canal boating in France is the Loire Valley. It’s approximately 2 hours away from Paris and this river cruise crosses to the heart of the French countryside. The region is famous for its local produce, arts and crafts, and numerous historical sites. The two main bases in the region are Rogny, for Canal de Briare and Plagny for Canal Lateral a la Loire.
Another great place for canal boating in France is Burgundy, a region famous for delicious wine. The two biggest canals are Canal de Bourgogne which connects the Seine and Saone valleys and covers a distance of 242 kilometers and Canal du Nivernais that links the Seine Valley to the Loire Valley. The biggest bases in the region are Brienon and St. Florentin for Canal de Bourgogne and Vermenton and Vermenton for Canal du Nivernais.
Two more regions that are perfect for canal boating in France are Franche Comte (River Doubs), a region famous for its scenic countryside and historical towns and Alsace, one of the most beautiful mountainous regions in France. The biggest bases in Franche Comte are Port sur Saone (near Dijon) and Dole (near Lyon).
Enjoying this article? Check out our guide to spending the perfect day in Paris and our list of non-touristy things to do in Paris. It might come handy if you’re having a canal boating holiday in France and don’t have a lot of time to lose.
When speaking of canal boating in France, Brittany is one of the first regions that comes to mind. It’s a fascinating historic region with a lot of medieval castles, cathedrals, and villages. The main bases in Brittany are Glénac at the Canal de Nantes a Brest and Sucé sur Erdre.
Another great region for canal boating in Western France is Anjou. Anjou boasts a canal network that stretches over 300 kilometers and is perfect for beginners because it’s the region with the lowest number of locks. The main bases are Atlantique Laval at Canal La Mavenne, Grez Neuville at L’Oudon and Sablé sur Sarthe at La Sarthe.
South West France
The most famous canal in this region is Canal de Garonne along the River Baise. The canal starts at Castets-en-Dorthe and meets Canal du Midi in Toulouse. You have to cross this canal to access the southern part of France but it’s also a relatively easy cruise (all locks along the way are automatic) and there are several great stops along the way.
Southern France is the most popular region when it comes to canal boating in France and home to the two most popular canals; Canal du Midi and Canal du Camargue. Canal du Midi is probably the most famous canal in the world because it links the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. The biggest bases are Port Lauragais, near Toulouse, Capestang, near the medieval town of Carcassonne, and Le Somail, near Beziers.
Boating holidays are a step out of the ordinary and can lead to a wonderful experience. They capture the adventurous spirit and create memories that last a lifetime. So get behind that wheel, and be the Captain you always wanted to be!
Helpful resources about visiting France
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If you’re looking for some budget-friendly tours in France, I personally recommend GetYourGuide. They have something for everyone and a lot of their tours are extremely budget-friendly.
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