Luxury & Tranquillity: The Canal Boat Holidays France Offers
Holidays are the perfect time to rest and recharge, treating yourself to luxury experiences and enjoying a different pace of life as you explore somewhere new or indulge in pampering yourself and properly relaxing. France has always been a travel destination that is known for its luxury, but canal boat holidays in France are a type of trip growing in popularity when it comes to experiencing tranquillity alongside high-end experiences.
There are a range of different options on offer when it comes to French river cruises, from self-drive holidays and barge rentals to hotel barges and private charters. In this article, we share all the key information you need to learn more about the canal boat holidays that France offers and what you can enjoy if you book one for yourself.
Where are the Best Canal Boat Holidays in France?
There are over 2700 miles of waterways in France, including numerous canals and rivers that can be explored on a boating holiday. Here are some of the best places for a French canal cruise.
Canal du Midi
The Canal du Midi is one of the most popular places for canal boat holidays France has to offer in the South. Connecting the Mediterranean with the Canal de Garonne, it’s one of France’s most popular waterways for cruising holidays, covering 240 km from Sète to Toulouse. Here, you can enjoy the south of the country’s warmer climate, plenty of nearby vineyards and miles of beautiful countryside, as well as appreciate the incredible historic engineering that went into completing this waterway that is now a UNESCO world heritage site.
Canal du Nivernais
The Canal du Nivernais is in the centre of France and is only 174 km long, connecting the River Yonne with the River Loire. If you cruised the entire length you’d travel from Auxerre to Decize in Burgundy, but many visitors only explore a portion of the route. It’s a particularly peaceful canal that is ideal if you’re looking for a tranquil French holiday on the water, with highlights along the route including the beautiful Noyers-sur-Serein, the Palace of Fontainebleau and Vincelles with its multiple nearby wineries.
Canal de Briare
The Canal de Briare is known for being one of the oldest canals in France, making it an ideal place for a boating holiday if you want to enjoy historic sightseeing. It’s also one of the most beautiful, winding between the Seine and Loire Valleys, providing plenty of idyllic scenery. This 57 km canal was famed when it began being built in 1604 for the variety of engineering techniques that allowed it to flow properly, but has been rebuilt and improved many times since its original creation, allowing it to still be used by many today.
Canal de Bourgogne
The Canal de Bourgogne is one of the most popular places for a luxury French canal holiday if you want to enjoy a lot of wine tasting during your trip. Travelling 242 km from Burgundy to Paris, it’s another very picturesque route that sees plenty of visitors, despite the high number of locks along the way. Burgundy is often described as a part of France that is best explored at a slow pace so that you have the time to learn all of its secrets and charms, so a cruising holiday is a perfect choice for visiting this part of the country.
When to Book a French Canal Cruise
France has typically European weather; it’s hot and sunny in the summer and cooler with wetter conditions and snow in the north over the winter. Therefore, the best time to plan canal boat holidays in France is between the spring and the autumn, when you’re likely to get the best weather.
A lot of people opt for river cruises in France in the summer, when temperatures are in the high twenties or low thirties and you can enjoy brilliant sunshine as you travel along the country’s waterways. However, as this is the most popular time of year for travellers to visit and plan barge trips, you may find some of the most popular routes to be quite busy, with queues at the locks and congestion near towns and villages.
Late spring, in April or May, is a great time to visit France on a canal trip, as you’ll still experience warm and sunny weather but it won’t be the peak season for tourism just yet. You can enjoy sightseeing trips and lounging on the deck without worrying about getting too warm, and will also benefit from off-season prices and a quieter atmosphere along the canals.
Alternatively, planning luxury canal boat holidays in France in the autumn is also a great idea if you want the waterways to be quieter so you can enjoy more tranquillity on your trip. The weather in September will still be pretty warm and dry, and you can also appreciate the beauty of the French countryside bathed in the golden colours of autumn.
Types of Canal Trips in France
One of the brilliant things about canal boat holidays in France is that there is a range of different types of trips to choose from. Here’s a breakdown of the options on offer.
A self-drive canal cruise puts you in the driver’s seat and gives you full control of where you travel and stop off on your journey. After being given an induction into how to drive your boat and navigate the waterways, you’ll set off as captain of your own vessel and enjoy the total freedom that comes from being able to moor wherever you choose.
You can hire a boat for a French canal holiday from a range of providers, like Locaboat Holidays, who have bases on many of the most popular canals around the country. You can choose the length of your trip, or even opt to just spend the afternoon cruising and then return your boat in the evening to get a taste of what it’s like being out on the water.
A hotel barge is a large vessel with its own captain and crew, usually providing accommodation for a small group of passengers who each have a private room and access to communal spaces on the boat where they can relax and dine. Hotel barge trips in France are a good option if you’d rather not be responsible for steering or just want to relax on your holiday and let someone else be in charge of the itinerary.
Many hotel barges also offer catering for their passengers, which is perfect if you’re looking for more of a luxury experience. They’re a great choice for couples or families, with many cruises catering to specific tastes such as culinary trips or historic sightseeing itineraries.
We’ve already touched upon how hotel barges can be a great luxury travel option, but if you’re looking for this kind of high-end holiday experience then you can also charter a boat or a barge with your own private crew. This is a fantastic choice if you’d rather travel with only your friends and family, or if you’re celebrating a special occasion.
Luxury canal boat holidays in France can involve private chef experiences, trips to gourmet restaurants, excursions to spas, or just ultimate comfort and privacy aboard your own vessel. Whether you hire out an entire hotel barge or just charter a small boat with its own captain, there are plenty of options to choose from to suit your preferences.
What to Do on Boating Holidays in France
If you choose to rent a canal boat in France then you may just wish to spend your trip mastering the art of steering this kind of vessel and navigating the locks, stopping off at times to rest and relax in your surroundings. But if you’re looking for recommendations on what else to do during your trip, here are some of the most popular options.
Towpaths are a fantastic place to cycle, thanks to their flat and relatively straight nature and the lack of traffic. A popular activity for passengers on a French river cruise is to hire bikes for a day and cycle from where their boat is moored, particularly if there are children in the group.
This is also a great way to see more of the area of France you’re cruising through, as some towns and villages are easier to reach by bike or may be a short distance from the canal or river. It’s faster than walking and more fun for active travellers, allowing you to see more of the canal and its surroundings whilst maintaining the ‘slow travel’ aspect of your trip.
Sightseeing is another very popular thing to do on a canal holiday in France, especially if you’re cruising along a route that passes plenty of towns and villages along the way. The French countryside is full of beautiful architecture and charming settlements that are ideal for an afternoon of exploring, whether you’re looking for museums and shops or just want to admire historic buildings.
Sightseeing is also possible from the water in some places, especially if you’re cruising along rivers as well as canals. You can plan your route according to what you’d like to see, from architecture to art, history or even wildlife and gardens.
France is famous for its food, so what better way to add a touch of luxury to your canal trip than enjoying visits to top-rated restaurants as you travel? This is a great idea if you’re a foodie, allowing you to plan your route based on the eateries you’d like to dine at whilst you’re on holiday.
You can also enjoy visiting local markets in the towns by the canals in France and rustling up meals back at your boat, or buying the components to enjoy a picnic. If you want to go all out, you can hire private chefs to come to your boat trip Europe centric or otherwise, and cook for you in the evening, which is perfect if you want a really special experience or are trying to create a particularly romantic atmosphere.
As well as sightseeing excursions from your boat, if you’re planning a longer boating holiday in France then you might decide to organise a day trip somewhere further away. Châteaux are a really popular option, especially if you’re looking for a luxurious holiday, but there are also plenty of brilliant art galleries and museums in larger towns and cities that are great if you want to add an element of culture to your trip.
Our final suggestion for what to do on river cruises in France might not seem like an activity, but it’s definitely worth recommending if you’re travelling by barge. One of the best things about a canal boat holiday is that it’s naturally slow-paced, encouraging you to take a step back from the usual busyness of life and simply relax as you watch the world sedately go by from your boat. Bring a book, pack a camera, or just sit back and chat with your fellow passengers as you admire the scenery.
Canal and river barges are spacious, modern and ideal for a slow-paced holiday that doesn’t compromise on luxury, and France offers plenty of experience to complement the trip. Whether you’re cruising past vineyards, cycling through the countryside along a towpath, or simply sitting on the deck in the sunshine as the world rolls by, the best canal boat holidays in France always combine luxury and tranquillity, and more and more people are discovering what makes this type of travel so special.
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