Choosing canal boat holidays means choosing a different way to explore France. Whether you’re cruising through Brittany, Alsace or along the Canal du Midi, you’ll be bowled over by the unexpected gems along the way, perfectly-preserved and full of history.
The Canal du Midi, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a jewel in itself and when you pass through the villages along its route it’s like travelling back to another era. In Minervois, you’ll set off from the Locaboat base in Argens, a wonderful medieval village perched at the top of a hill and filled with the sound of cicadas. You might decide to stop off in the village of Castelnaudary, where you can visit the Collegial Church of Saint Michel and the 17th-century windmill. Castelnaudary is one of the earliest Cathar villages and the home of cassoulet, a hearty, slow-cooked casserole of meat and beans. Another stop along the Canal du Midi is the peaceful, laid-back village of Puichéric, with its pretty back-streets where you’ll find several listed historical monuments. The 14th-century church, the château and the old country houses are really stunning. And of course, when it comes to impressive, majestic towns, Carcassonne and Narbonne are an absolute must. The same goes for Aigues-Mortes, another fortified town that will take you right back to the Middle Ages.
You’ll also come across lots of unsuspected treasures on the Canal de Bourgogne, Tonnerre, for example, is a village packed with character, with its 18th-century wash-house surrounded by high walls, and some very pretty churches. A stroll through its ancient back streets is a real treat. To the south of Montbard, still on the Canal de Bourgogne, Châteauneuf-en-Auxois is on the official list of “the most beautiful villages of France”; so it’s definitely worth making a detour to see it. Here, you’ll find ancient buildings with thick walls draped in wisteria, wild vines and roses, along with towers and dovecots, and a fine panoramic view over the hills of the Morvan area.
In Brittany, too, there’s no shortage of villages in bloom, starting with La Gacilly, which is well-known for its botanical garden. This is such a picturesque, bucolic spot that a Photo Festival has been held here since 2003, celebrating the relationship between Man and Nature (31 May to 30 September 2014). In La Roche-Bernard, you’ll discover a small town of character (‘petite cité de caractère’), with typically Breton houses topped by pretty slate roofs.
Alsace and Lorraine are just as charming. You’ll step aboard your canal barge at Lutzelbourg, a village where medieval ruins perch on its highest points, then pass through typical towns and villages. Saverne, for example, with its half-timbered buildings and cobbled streets, imposing 18th-century château and pink-stone churches. In Sarreguemines, you can stop for a while at the famous Earthenware Museum and maybe buy something pretty. You’ll probably also discover the majestic fortified towers of Liverdun, near Nancy. We won’t spoil it for you by saying any more. Get aboard, shipmates! Off you go to explore the most beautiful villages of France for yourselves!