Your Brittany cruise takes you into a land of Celtic traditions, in a waterways region that’s famous for art and historic monuments, as well as the peaceful natural surroundings you’ll pass through on your canal boat: a magical journey on a Pénichette®.
In Brittany, cruise down rivers and canals that interconnect.
When you hear the word Brittany, it conjures up all sorts of images: the bigouden headdress, the mysterious Brocéliande forest, sailing boats on the horizon, beaches that stretch for miles, picturesque villages, important artistic monuments… and magnificent canals. A cruise on the canals of Brittany in a self-drive boat is a wonderful experience, from the Blavet Canal to the Nantes-Brest Canal or, further north, the Ille and Rance Canal that links with the River Vilaine.
This is a region which is steeped in myths and mystery, as you’ll discover along the way. Your cruise will take you into the heart of Brittany, where legends and traditions are preserved in the many villages, such as La Gacilly with its traditional craftsmen. You’ll also see historic buildings that look like fairytale castles. You’ll get a different view of this heritage from your Pénichette®. For example there’s the imposing Josselin Castle, overlooking the waterway, or the many fortifications of the famous Dukes of Brittany. There are plenty of other sights to enjoy from your canal boat, from the famous transverse valley on the Île aux Pies (Magpie Island) to the watermills of Messac. This is a cruise made in Breizh.
One main departure base and possibility to cruise one way
The canals and rivers in Brittany interconnect, opening the way to a longer cruise… If you’ve already discovered Brittany’s ocean, you could rent a boat from one of our bases and try a cruise on the inland waterways, with no licence needed.
Discover the map of the
destination and its waterways
Must-see Breton attractions
Medieval monuments, arts and crafts, traditional half-timbered houses, gourmet cuisine with a flavour of the sea. A mixture of authentic tradition and magic: here are the top five attractions that shouldn’t be missed.
L’Ile aux Pies (Magpie Island), shaped by nature
With the largest transverse valley in the area, shaped by its river, 15 km of the island are listed as a ‘Grand Site Naturel’. Discover legends, the remains of human habitation and memories… a real treasure hunt.
Try a Breton pancake and a bowl of cider on the quay
We all know how to make pancakes, but there’s some secret to the Breton galette (buckwheat pancake) that only the Bretons know. If you wash it down with a bowl of cider, you’re enjoying Breton food and a Brittany cruise the way the locals do.
The village of La Gacilly, traditional craftsmanship
You’ll find an artistic and bohemian spirit in this village, famous for its artists and craftsmen, working in materials such as wax, clay and even flowers. You’ll also find a magnificent botanical garden that includes over a thousand varieties
The Vilaine Maritime Museum, the story of the River Vilaine
Beside the River Vilaine at La Roche-Bernard, immerse yourself in an age when the port was bustling. The museum includes costumes, artefacts and the remains of naval construction from another era. It’s the ideal way to discover the history of the river you’re following on your Brittany cruise.
Josselin Castle, a family history
Overlooking the town and the River Oust, this castle is one of the emblematic sites of Brittany, thanks to its imposing architecture, inspired by the feudal period and the Renaissance, and also because of the people who lived there: the Rohan family, one of the most important dynasties in the Duchy of Brittany.
Locaboat guides you through the waterways to discover Brittany’s treasures
After you rent a boat or Pénichette® from one of the two departure bases, the horizon grows clearer and the possible routes seem endless. You can cruise through Brittany on interconnected canals and rivers that seem like one long, peaceful waterway. Passing through the locks, you’ll see windmills, bridges and islets in the distance. Nearby are pretty villages or large towns, with typical regional architecture. Taking it all in, you know exactly why you chose this boating holiday.
Each route has its own special attractions: you can launch yourself into the green wilderness on a cruise along the Ille-Rance Canal; or plunge into historic heritage and gastronomic delights along the Nantes-Brest Canal… Or you could glide serenely on your self-drive boat from Melesse, along the River Vilaine, passing through the pretty town of Rennes. Wherever you are and whatever you choose, the waterways of Brittany are a real pleasure, a great place to recharge your batteries, and always surprising. You may feel you already know Brittany, with its beautiful coastline and beaches. Now’s the time to discover the Brittany of canals and get a different perspective on the region. All you have to do is choose where to start – and don’t forget to hoist the Breton flag once you’re aboard!
Begin your Brittany cruise from Saint-Martin-sur-Oust
Boating the northwest peninsula of Brittany is, in some ways, a world apart from exploring the rest of France via its waterways. Brittany, much like British Cornwall or Spanish Galicia is a region with an independent culture and history compared to the rest of the country. This gives Brittany its own identity, flavour, and feel; something that is noticeable as you pass through Breton villages towns, and the Brittany countryside.
Locaboat headquarters in the region are located at Saint-Martin-sur-Oust, on the banks of the Oust and the Nantes-Brest Canal. Saint-Martin-sur-Oust is a perfect starting point to explore the Breton peninsula and is well worth an exploration before setting off north along the canal. One of the most attractive sights in Saint-Martin-sur-Oust is Manoir de Balangeard or Balangeard Manor as it is known in English.
This beautiful mid-17th-century building is a perfect example of French manor architecture and is an ideal spot to explore.
Once you’ve got your fill of Saint Martin, you can head north with your canal boat and begin your journey north through Brittany, arriving at the commune town of Malestroit. Malestroit holds a strong place in modern French history and this is easy to see while walking through town. With half-timbre houses and stone facades, Malestroit has an appeal that makes it seem much bigger than it is, giving it the name ‘Petit Cité de Caractère’, a small town of character. Aside from its beauty, Malestroit has a strong connection to French resistance during the Second World War, something that can be seen in all its manifestations at the ‘Museum of the Breton Resistance’.
Follow the river with your Brittany boat as it meanders northwards
From Malestroit, the Nantes-Brest Canal winds north, allowing you to take in the canalside beauty of the rolling Breton farmland that passes by. As the canal makes a bend westward, the former commune of Le Roc-Saint-André offers up a handful of idyllic châteaus, something that really makes canal boat holidays in this part of France unbeatable. The best of these has to be the Château de la Ville Der, a grand château and gardens that can be explored with the permission of its modern owners.
Passing on from the countryside of picturesque chateaus, you will eventually enter the commune town of Josselin. Josselin is considered to be a must-stop when travelling along the Nantes Brest Canal and even central Brittany as a whole.
Taking centre stage in the town is the Castle of Josselin, an early 11th-century Medieval castle that looms large over the town. Open to the public from April to October; the castle is still owned by the descendants of the family that built it.
Aside from the majestic castle, Josselin is also famed for its Doll Museum, which first opened in the early 1980s. This museum has a collection of over 2,000 dolls, many of which have been collected since the 19th by the current owner’s great-grandmother. Specific exhibitions are held here every year, so it’s good to plan ahead to see what’s on before your visit.
Travelling through Rohan and beyond along the Canal du Blavet
Leaving one French royal town for another, the Nantes-Brest Canal carries on north to the historic town of Rohan. Although a small and unassuming modern commune town, Rohan has been the home to a long line of French nobility, from dukes and viscounts to princes and princesses. Today, the small commune town is a laidback peaceful place and is ideal for sitting back and watching the world go by. After the huge castles and museums of Josselin, Rohan is a more subtle impression of what royal Brittany once was.
Bending westward towards the sea, the Nantes-Brest Canal soon joins another famous man-made waterway, the Canal du Blavet.
Similar to the Canal du Midi of southern France, Brittany canal boat hire is usually reserved for the Nantes-Brest Canal and the Canal du Blavet.
The first stop along this race to Lorient is the quiet market commune town of Pontivy. Settled by Viscount Rohan in the 12th century, it soon became the capital of the area. It was then favoured by Napoleon Bonapart and became one of his ‘new towns’. Nowadays, visitors can enjoy the sights and sounds of Pontivy, all of which emanate the idyllic nature of this region. From its local chateau castle to its many canalside cafes and restaurants, there is something for everyone here.
Discover picturesque Nantes boat trips from Saint-Martin-sur-Oust
Picture-perfect sights in the southern regions of the Brittany peninsula
Heading south from Saint-Martin-sur-Oust, you can explore the southernmost regions of the Brittany peninsula. Passing the picturesque Magpie Island, an inland island of extreme natural beauty, you will eventually pull into the town of Redon. Another city listed as one of character, or Petit Cité de Caractère, Rodan is the perfect idyllic setting in which to enjoy all that Brittany has to offer. Many 18th century preserved buildings line the canal waterfront, drawing you in with its stunning views.
Rodan is considered to be the centre of the Nantes-Brest Canal and is the perfect place to watch a flotilla of boats pass by.
Head into the old town of Rodan to catch sight of the many half-timber and stone buildings, each one a picturesque piece of French history. One of the oldest buildings in the area still stands in Redon. Standing at 48 Grand Rue, this building dates all the way back to 1410 and is a wonder to behold.
Those with an interest in beautiful architecture shouldn’t miss the Abbatiale Saint-Sauveur, the medieval church in the heart of the town. With frescos and carvings throughout the church, its beauty is not to be understated. This stunning architecture continues throughout Rodan, especially at the 17th-century Benedictine convent and traditional salt warehouses on Rue du Port.
Sail through woodlands and onto the city of Nantes
Nantes-Brest canal boat hire will not only take you through some of the most picturesque and cultured towns that Brittany has to offer but will also show you many of the green and pleasant sights of northwestern France. One of the best examples of this is the Gâvre Forest. Covering over 4,500 hectares the Gâvre Forest can be explored as you leave the town of Rodan. An area of outstanding natural beauty, hiking through these woodlands is a fantastic way in which to leave the water behind for a while and stretch those legs.
Heading out of the Gâvre Forest, you will soon come to the town of Blain, home to a museum that presents the history of the Breton people, right back to their Galiec tribal routes.
This museum has a large collection of artefacts that illustrates this history vividly, taking you right up to the modern-day. Blain in itself, and is a great place to stop off before heading on further south along the Nantes-Brest Canal.
Before arriving in the city of Nantes, don’t rush past the unmissable commune town of Sucé-sur-Erdre. Although the town itself is one of natural beauty, it is its Ganuchaud Botanical Park that really makes you want to spend some time here. Walking through the many types of flora that grow in the garden will bring a sense of peace and quiet to your journey and one that will relax you before enticing the city of Nantes.
Park up your Brittany boat hire in Nantes and enjoy the cityscape
Although now in a different jurisdiction, the iconic city of Nantes will always be culturally and historically the capital of the Breton region. One of the most built-up destinations you’ll come across in this region, Nantes will be somewhat of a relief or a sensory overload, but never one that you will not enjoy.
Continuing with a string of fortified chateaus along the canal, Nantes’s Castle of the Dukes of Brittany is one that really blows you away. With huge fortress walls and fairytale-like ramparts, there is something really jaw-dropping about the castle. Step inside to learn about the history of Nantes in the in-castle museum. Surrounded by green fields and a deep moat, the castle is also a great place to sit back and enjoy a picnic in the sun.
Those who are lovers of the outdoors should not miss the chance to visit the Jardin des Plantes. Classified as one of France’s remarkable gardens, this seven-hectare garden packs over 10,000 species of plants into a relatively small space, giving an image of overwhelming floral beauty. A combination of glass and metal structure houses exotic plants from all over the world, and being in the centre of the city, access to the Jardin des Plantes is easy from the canal side.
If you are not tired of jaw-dropping French architecture (and who would be?), take a trip to the Nantes cathedral. This 15th-century cathedral took nearly 400 years to build, and it is easy to see why with its intricate design. Step inside to view the tomb of Francis II, the Duke of Brittany, which is considered a renaissance masterpiece.
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