Culture and haute-couture, gastronomic delights and vineyards as far as the eye can see, plus a warm and sunny climate – all these make France the world’s number one holiday destination. But behind the scenes, flowing quietly through the vineyards and sunflower fields, and feeding rural and city life down the centuries, lies its waterway network. Formerly an essential commercial connection between the far flung village and the city market, it’s now a haven of peace and joy for those hankering to get away from it all or looking for that special family vacation.
In this respect France is totally unique in the world. No other country has this vast and beautiful resource, ready to be enjoyed by tourists and travellers – luxury hotel barge guests, self-drive hire-boat holiday makers, river-ship passengers and private boat owners. Over 330,000 visit France to cruise every year – and are treated to the joys of calm sailing, with breath-taking vistas and delicious culinary treats, all gathered around its precious waters.
One couple that chose Burgundy as their destination recently offers a typical cruising comment, “We continue to reflect on what was truly the most wonderful family holiday imaginable; we can’t thank you enough for captaining our trip with such exquisite service, accommodation, gourmet meals, weather, excursions and hospitality.” Cruising in France makes people very happy!
Self-drive canal boat vacations
For many, the dream of owning a boat and sailing off into the glowing sunset may never materialise, but a yearly dabble on a comfy rented GRP cruiser is nearly as good, and certainly simpler; be your own captain and explore a different region of France each time. You have many, quite different destinations to choose from, each with its own dialect, cuisine, climate, terrain and architectural style. There are over 80 hire-boat bases with many styles of boat, available from Mid-March to the end of October offering you a fully-equipped week afloat.
France’s major rivers offer excellent opportunities for traditional cruising. More intimate and scenic than an ocean cruise, river cruising allows you to glide through major cities such as Paris, Lyon, Avignon and Bordeaux, and stop at iconic sites with thrilling histories. River ships offer larger groups of passengers luxury balcony cabins and full facilities, with excursions each day to bustling town centres, outlying vineyards and sights of all kinds. There’s room for diversions and entertainments aboard too!
For those who’d like to treat their family and friends on an exclusive smaller vessel this option means you can take charge of your own itinerary – living it up, slowing it down, just as you wish. Special birthdays or anniversaries are popular excuses to hotel barge, and for some it’s that ‘once in a lifetime’ event. Hotel barges such as Belmond’s Fleur de Lys with its four-poster beds, or Savannah with her Christian Lacroix fabrics and helicopter excursions, raise the bar of what’s possible at the luxury end of being afloat in France. See this page for the wow factor on hotel barging.
All of these options have grown in popularity in France because they offer the sought-after freedom to cruise in your own style, and at your own pace, with a change of stunning scenery every hour: it’s a combination of no car, no noise (except wildlife), no routines (except your own), no rush, no horrible weather (except sometimes) and an ever-changing view – with a range of options for walking, cycling perhaps, sun-bathing, snoozing, dining in, or out at the local restaurant, visiting the ‘caves’ and chateaux, swimming, painting and chatting to your new neighbours from all over the world.
Come on over
With the new French president, M. Macron, in place perhaps France can look forward to a period of greater economic stability. There is certainly a raft of affordable boating vacations up for grabs right now so no excuse not to get packing and visit the Hex this year. As one ex-yachtie said to me recently over a beer, “Well, what else can you do when you’ve sailed around the world twice? Just get rid of the mast! France is quite big enough to keep us amused forever”.
french-waterways.com is the world’s most popular website for inspiration and information about enjoying the waterways of France. Discover all kinds of cruise vacations as well as vital information for boat owners, with route details, maps and guides.
Next time: a regional waterways review, night markets and what’s on where.
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