Hotel-boats on a canal, private boating, river cruises or even renting a boat without a licence... Do these ideas make you dream? River tourism is perhaps the answer to this desire for the unusual, to escape mass tourism while experiencing a real change of scenery. Especially if you prefer France this summer, like the majority of French people, and if you want peace and quiet and nature, far from the crowds in the city or by the sea. Here are the top destinations to choose from to inspire you.
River holidays, the choice of freedom
France's dense river network has many surprises in store. However, it is still a little known and unsuspected French destination. More and more French people are discovering it, while foreigners have been enjoying it for a long time and now represent 50% of visitors. You can discover these destinations by sailing on board a pleasure boat for a day cruise... Or by joining the tens of thousands of private boaters on the VNF (Voies navigables de France) network by renting a houseboat without a licence for a few days, a week, or more. The freedom of sailing in total independence is yours, for quality time with your loved ones! What could be better than exploring at your own pace?
The second largest river destination in France, this is where river tourism was born. First of all, there is the Loire, which dominates like a crown of jewels. Its banks, which are easy to cycle along, guide you to the most majestic châteaux in France, while you make gourmet stops at the resort to taste some of the best wines and cheeses in France.
The Burgundy Canal is a small-gauge waterway that runs through the wine-growing department of the Côte d'Or and is an ideal way to discover the wine heritage. It joins the Saône to the Yonne. It is bordered by a cycle route. Its landscapes are magnificent, and it will be the occasion to make a gourmet stop in Dijon.
Often considered as the most beautiful canal in France, the Nivernais canal crosses western Burgundy, the Yonne valley and sometimes merges with the Yonne itself. It is known for its tranquility, beautiful valleys and hills, and historic and picturesque villages and vineyards. It crosses the hills of the Morvan, the wild Yonne valley and the green meadows of the Bazois.
In addition to the locks at Rogny-les-Sept-Ecluses, the many other attractions along the Briare Canal make it a popular route in France. In Montargis, one of the most famous local shops that have put this pretty town on the map is Mazet's Praline Shop. Located in the commune of Saint-Fargeau, the magnificent 17th century Renaissance château of Saint-Fargeau is the cultural centre of the region. Its current pentagonal construction, surrounded by six imposing towers, is built on an original fortress.
The Canal Lateral à la Loire continues southwards on the left side of the Loire. Near the canal, on the Burgundian side, are the towns of La Charité-sur-Loire, Cosne-sur-Loire and Pouilly-sur-Loire. Cruise ships can stop near the hilltop village of Sancerre to sample the region's delicious white wines, then head for Nevers, Decize and Digoin, where the waters of the Centre, Nivernais and Roanne canals meet.
The Canal du Midi runs along the sunny shores of the Mediterranean before winding its way inland through ancient villages, Roman fortifications and famous vineyards. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the canal is defined by its beauty, lined with shady plane trees that often touch to form an arc of greenery over the water from one bank to the other, and crossed by pretty arched bridges. It is an ideal destination for cycling or walking along the picturesque towpaths. In the distance you can see the Pyrenees, while closer to you are the vineyards that stretch for thousands of square kilometres
Alternatively, sail through the mysterious Camargue to meet the pink flamingos of the Etang de Thau on the Canal du Rhone à Sète
The canal from the Marne to the Rhine
The canal from the Marne to the Rhine links the Marne at Vitry-le-François to the Rhine at Strasbourg. Combined with the canalized part of the Marne, it allows transport between Paris and eastern France. Vineyards producing Riesling and other fine Alsatian wines. Half-timbered houses with pretty window boxes, onion steeples and intricate ironwork give the villages a festive air. It is particularly popular with river boaters, especially the busy Réchicourt big lock and the Arzviller inclined plane.
The Seine, a favourite with tourists
What better way to rediscover Paris than on a cruise ship? The Seine carried 10 million passengers in 2018. If you're in the mood for a rather urban getaway, take the opportunity to rediscover the capital by cruising on the Seine and you'll be treated to a condensation of the mythical places in the most pleasant way possible: Pont Neuf, Louvre, Ile de la Cité, Petit and Grand Palais, Notre Dame..., all while staying away from the crowds
But the Seine is also the ports of the Côte Fleurie in Normandy, where it flows, as well as the magnificent Regional Natural Park of the Loops of the Seine. You can visit Claude Monet's house in Giverny, with its marvellous gardens, stroll through the streets of Rouen, the city of Joan of Arc, with its half-timbered houses and its thousand steeples. Otherwise, opt for the river tourism and cycle through the greasy Normandy countryside.
The Sambre to Oise Canal, a multicultural itinerary
This 215 km long Franco-Belgian waterway crosses the departments of Nord and Aisne, then part of Belgium before returning to France via the Meuse. Boaters flock here to discover a heritage that combines nature and art, through the bucolic landscapes of the Avesnois-Thiérache region as well as the many treasures close to the canal, such as the Matisse Museum in Cateau-Cambrésis, the Maubeuge Zoo or the City of Boatmen in Thuin, in Wallonia.
In addition to all these cultural activities, the Eurovélo 3, which runs along the Sambre and Oise valleys, and the Mormal cycle route, linking the Valenciennois and Val-de-Sambre areas, allow you to get in the saddle, without forgetting the hiking. A multicultural itinerary where activities abound
Linking Toulouse in the Haute-Garonne and Castets-en-Dorthe in the Gironde, this 193 km long river offers a great way to discover part of the South-West. If the section of the river which continues to the capital of Gironde invites you to discover one of the most renowned vineyards, the canal continues its course through the typical towns of Lot-et-Garonne to the Agenais region and its market gardening plains, before continuing to Moissac in Tarn-et-Garonne. Whether by boat or by bike along the canal, this route promises generous discoveries combining architectural, natural and gastronomic heritage.
The Lys valley and the cross-border Lys
The Lys valley and its many riches reveal an itinerary conducive to the discovery of green landscapes and diverse activities through the Artois region to the Belgian border. From Aire-sur-la-Lys to Deûlémont, boat trips allow you to sail along the waterway and enjoy a peaceful stroll. More entertaining activities are also available, such as the marked hiking trails or the water sports activities offered at the Haverskerque and Flandre Lys bases, or the Prés du Hem peri-urban park along the river.