Welcome to the home of waterways tourism. If you’re looking for a canal cruise, France is the obvious destination. Its canals and rivers form a vast network of routes, offering fantastic opportunities for boating holidays.
All different, all offering the chance to discover the charm of our regions.
Think of France and its waterways come to mind: the elegant canals of Burgundy, the sun-drenched Canal du Midi, a UNESCO World Heritage site, Brittany’s endless stream of canals and rivers, the picturesque rivers of Alsace and the untamed Camargue. Every region of France deserves its reputation as the natural home of waterways tourism. France is the ideal destination for your first cruise … or your tenth! The only problem you’ll have is choosing from all the amazing routes.
A canal cruise in France means lots of relaxation as your self-drive boat glides slowly along, and plenty of expeditions on dry land too, maybe on a bike along the towpaths and trails – France has lots of these – or a gourmet break or a visit to a major tourist site. The atmosphere of the South, with its colourful markets, the way of life in the South West and its hideaway villages, the Celtic atmosphere of Brittany, with its crepes and buckwheat pancakes, and the wonderful vineyards around historic villages. Everything here is magical and makes you want to come back for more. Visitors return again and again to explore the different areas, because the choice is immense and it’s a chance to recharge your batteries. Slow down, sit back on your Pénichette® and enjoy it all.
If you want a few options for your river or canal cruise, France has something for everyone
Come and explore France’s waterways and discover its secrets in a brand new way. There are six remarkable regions for boating holidays, each offering a variety of routes. If it’s not something you’ve tried before, now could be the time!
France, the natural home of waterways tourism.
A cruise on the inland waterways allows you to really get to know a region – and as soon as you’ve done that, you’ll want to explore another! It’s only natural, when you can cruise on canals and rivers in a country that has so many facilities for waterways tourism and a great tradition for boating holidays. You can cruise in complete safety and enjoy a huge range of experiences.
You could wake up in the early morning on your self-drive boat with a view of a pretty Breton village; moor at a pontoon in the unspoilt natural surroundings of the Canal du Midi; have lunch on the deck of your Pénichette® to the sound of birdsong, against the backdrop of Burgundy’s vineyards. Come and discover this secret side of France: the gourmet dining and colourful traditions, the countryside opening up on all sides as you glide along in your canal boat, or step ashore to explore the surroundings on foot or by bike.
Hire a canal boat in France and traverse some of the best French water landscapes
The best French canal holidays in the country’s South West
The beloved south-west of France is home to some of the most idyllic waterways in the entire country. The region has 300km of man-made canals and natural rivers that self-drivers can easily navigate with the right boat. These hundreds of kilometres make for some of the most beautiful boating holidays in France. The entire area is also awash with history, culture and gastronomical must-dine spots.
Leaving the commune of Agen, you can start your barging through France adventure by travelling past the many-arched Agen canal bridges and the 11th-century Moissac Abbey. Boating down the Baïse River, you will soak up the overwhelmingly green French landscapes that roll by the river and canal banks.
As you head west from Agen, you will arrive in the medieval town of Nerac, home to Henri IV’s 15th-century château. Choosing to visit the south-west when looking for a canal boat for hire in France opens up a whole world of routes all over the Gascogne.
This region links both the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts together with a series of waterways, and as a result, you can enjoy the best of both French cultures.
Barge cruises in France through the Lot Valley
Also located in the southwestern areas of France, the Lot Valley welcomes tourists every year, seeking that hidden beauty the area is famous for. Taking a French canal barge through the Lot Valley is one of the best ways to see this area of the country. Starting out in Cahors, some of the best canal boat holidays in France begin along this stretch of the Lot River. River Lot boat hire is both popular and easy, making it a great destination when looking for canal boat cruises in France.
From Cahors, you can navigate the wild banks of the Lot River and find your way past the picturesque landscapes of cliffs, caves and several locks that you must navigate yourself. The river takes you as far east as Larnagol, taking you past some of the most idyllic small French villages in the nation. Sights such as the village of St-Cirq-Lapopie and Quercy and some of the best-preserved villages in France can be seen along this route. The Lot Valley is also a gastronomical dream come true, with the famous “black wine” of Cahors, one of the more popular local delicacies. There are also several dining stops for French staples, such as foie gras and truffles.
Navigating the Loire and Nivernais Canal with the canal boats of France
Passing from the south of France to its capital Paris in the north, the Loire and Nivernais Canal make for one of the premier locations for France boating holidays. Built between the late 18th and mid 19th centuries, the canal connects two very different river basins, both the Seine and the Loire. This section offers some of the most picturesque waterways and makes for fantastic barge trips in France and great boating holidays.
Flanked by green meadows and Charolais cattle, the canal winds its way through central France and is dotted by must-see sights along the way. You will get the hang of locks by the end of the Loire and Nivernais canal, with a section containing up to 16 locks near Sardy-Les-Epiry, also known as the stairway of locks.
Apart from the seemingly endless sections of locks and Charolais cattle, the Loire and Nivernais canal have one of the longest routes of any northern French canal system and make for one of the most popular routes for canal boat holidays in France.
Discover the best historic landmarks with canal boat holidays in France
Pass by the fortified city of Carcassonne when on your French canal boat rental
Rent a canal boat in France and when winding your way down the Canal du Midi, keep an eye for the medieval fortified city of Carcassonne, overlooking the canal and River Aude. The city was constructed in the 5th century and remains one the best preserved of its kind. The outer city walls are some of the longest city walls in Europe and add something extra to one of the best-preserved medieval cities in the country.
You can view Carcassonne from the comfort of your Canal du Midi boat hire on the calm waters of the Canal du Midi. You can even see more at the side of the canal by getting out on foot. Simply walk the meandering routes up to the medieval city and see its many sites.
Apart from walking, you can also store bicycles while on your canal trips in France and cycle your way around the well-preserved city. Cycling also allows you to cover far more ground and see more of Carcassonne when boating down the Canal du Midi.
Hire a canal boat in France and see the first Roman settlement outside of Italy at Narbonne
Canal barge holidays in France give you the chance to see a wide variety of sites you otherwise would not have seen. The town of Narbonne, along the south of France’s Mediterranean coast, is one of the jewels along the Canal du Midi route. As the first settlement outside of Italy to be settled by the Roman’s, the city’s historical significance and place as the Gaul capital can not be understated.
The city’s well-restored medieval quarter is one of Narbonne’s major highlights, and the Cathédral St-Jus is also one of the tallest cathedrals in all of southern France. The shining feature of Narbonne has to be the Pont des Marchands. This Roman bridge over the Canal de la Robine is one of only three of this kind in all of France and is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Narbonne is another such town that can be enjoyed from the comfort of your barge or up close if you choose to moor up and take a walk around the town. As the canal cuts through the heart of the city, it is more than simple enough to navigate your way through with a canal barge in France.
Secure your boat rental in France and navigate one of the lowest bridges on the Canal du Midi at Capestang
One of the biggest challenges when driving canal boat rentals in France is navigating the ever-changing routes of the waterways. The Canal du Midi has its fair share of obstacles and routes to navigate, making it an interesting route to travel down at the best of times. One of the canal’s most impressive features is the bridge at Capestang. The bridge is known as one of the lowest bridges on the Canal du Midi and is a delight to sail through.
Other sights in Capestang include the 12th-century collegial church of St-Étienne, home to the archbishops of Narbonne. This is another iconic religious and historic landmark, one of many that call the French canal routes home. There is so much to see; whether you sit back and relax on the boat or get out onto dry land, the exploration takes a new turn.
Mix self drive barging in France with a gastronomical adventure
Take your canal boat rental through France and discover the lesser-known cuisines of the Alsace region
Barge holidays in France can be full of adventure and surprises no matter where you go, but this is especially true of the Alsace region. Lapping the borders of France, Germany and Luxembourg, the Alsace region has long had a mixture of influences and cultures that added to the area’s charm and appeal. Alsace canal boat hire will take you down the Sarre Canal through towns such as Harskirchen and Saverne.
Apart from its stunning beauty and culture, the Alsace region of France, much like the rest of the country, has its fair share of foodie delights. Although often overlooked as a foodie region, the Alsace region of France has its own dishes, tastes and gastronomical delights just as appealing as the rest of France.
The Alsace’s national dish is a fermented cabbage dish known as choucroute garnie, a French version of the famous sauerkraut. Another Alsace favourite is a hearty meat casserole dish known as Bäckeoffe, ideal after a day on the water. Revellers can sample these dishes and many more along the Alsace canal route, stopping to sample a drop of traditional Alsace white wine on the way.
Opt for canal boat hire in Brittany and delight in the best Breton food
Canal boat hire in Brittany is one for the foodies! France’s northeastern region, Brittany, has its own network of canals, ideal for travelling around the green opened spaces of the Breton peninsula. The one channel that stands out is the Nantes–Brest canal, linking two major port cities in the entire Brittany region. The ease of obtaining a French river boat rental means you can travel through the entire region completely on the canals or rivers. With a similar climate and environment to the UK’s west country, the rolling cliffs and green fields are a step away from the country’s busier regions.
Again, Brittany has its own cuisine and culture, reflecting the region’s unique people, history and landscapes. As the Breton peninsula has the ideal climate for apples and orchards to flourish, this has given birth to a hearty cider making culture. This Breton cider has made a name for itself in France and across the globe, competing with traditional makers such as Herefordshire or Somerset in the UK.
Alongside their rich cider making history, Brittany has its fair share or traditional Breton dishes too. Those seeking a culinary adventure alongside their trip barging in France can sample the taste of Brittany through their delicious selection of seafood, especially muscles.
Drift through the canals and rivers of Burgundy and wine and dine until your heart’s content
France’s Burgundy region needs no culinary introduction. Home to fine wines and even finer food, this region has welcomed both Frenchman and foreigner alike for decades. Burgundy canal holidays often wind their way through the two main waterways of Canal de Bourgogne and the Canal du Nivernais, a total of 200 miles. This route will take holidaymakers from north to south or vice versa, giving them a grand overview of the entire Burgundy region.
Burgundy Franche Comté canal boat hire is a simple process and makes the region one of the most popular to barge travel in France. Alongside the fantastic canals and rolling landscapes, the Burgundy region is a haven for French cuisine, both food and wine. The now world-famous beef Bourguignon was coined in this region of France, and it is this perfect match between food and wine that makes the Burgundy foodscape what it is.
Apart from the famous beef bourguignon, other must-try dishes in the Burgundy area include the quintessential Burgundy dish known as Pôchouse. This freshwater fish stew will keep on theme with the day’s canal and river adventures and will have you tasting the true essence of local French cuisines.
A mix of French cuisine and history along the nation’s oldest canal
While on the gastronomical canal tour of France, there is one stretch of canals that should not be overlooked, and that is the Briare Canal. Constructed in the mid 17th century, the Briare was an impressive feat of civil engineering and is just remarkable today. Running from Briare to Bruges, this canal route runs through the very heart of France, south of Paris, and is often an overlooked area of the country when it comes to cuisines and culture.
Being overlooked has done nothing to the cuisine and culture that remains in the Loiret region in which the Briare Canal runs. Championed at the top of most of its cuisines are the fabulous patisseries and sweet treats this area is famed for. These include ‘le poirat’, a sweetened French pear pie that is the perfect complement to a long day’s boating along the Briare Canal.
Find the best boat for French canals which is the right vessel for you
Compact vessels for riverboat hire in France
If you’re planning that perfect romantic trip for two or simply wish to travel through the French countryside with an effortless boat, simple in size and easy to maintain, then a small, compact boat is the right one for you. Whether in the luxury category or the economy range, you can find smaller boats in many different styles, all of which are legally accepted along French waterways and will be of little trouble to even the newest of boat operators.
The smaller boats maybe some of the best boats for navigating the French waterways, yet users must remember that smaller self-drive canal boats in France will lack the capacity of larger vessels, meaning you can take fewer supplies on board and fewer people can call the boat home for the trip. This lack of storage space may not be a concern for those who are using the boat merely as a way of travelling between each destination.
Medium-sized boats for your family and friends
Those who need far greater size and space for their explorations across France’s rivers and canals should opt for a larger medium-sized boat. These boats still have the finesse and diligence that is needed to navigate the French waterways, yet the ability to hold far more supplies makes it an attractive choice for those who like to barge hire in France’s canals.
Apart from the ability to hold far more supplies, the medium-sized boats can play host to up to six people. This is perfect for families who wish to make a holiday out of boating along France’s waterways or a large group of friends taking the boat out together. Although these larger boats can be much more challenging to handle, the same principles apply to the larger vessels as they do to the smaller ones.
How to choose the ideal destination for a canal cruise in France?
All of our cruises in France are appreciated by our clients and present landscapes that are their own and that will delight you. For a first experience, make sure that the logistics are simple and straightforward. A one-week stay in a boat can be complemented by a week’s “classic” holiday in the same region.
For more experienced passengers, choosing a canal cruise each time in a different region is an excellent way to explore France in a new and peaceful way. Depending on the season, the weather and the wishes of the staff, Locaboat will be able to direct you to one region or another.
What is the best area for canal boats in France?
There are many different locations throughout France to enjoy fantastic boating, which makes deciding where the best area is rather difficult. The most famous canal route in all of France is the Canal du Midi, which is seen as one of the best areas in the nation to enjoy French boating.
There are a number of reasons why Canal du Midi is considered the best area. First of all, its location alone makes it an attractive route. Soaked in the sun of southern France, making this journey during the French summer elevates it to another level. The actual route from start to end also adds to its appeal, the canal runs from the Mediterranean coast to the Atlantic.
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Questions & Answers
Why choose Locaboat?
Locaboat Holidays has been the industry specialist for boating holidays and waterways cruises since 1977. Inventor of the Pénichette®, Locaboat is as famous for the friendliness and quality of its customer service as for the comfort and easy handling of its boats. When you rent a boat from Locaboat, you’ll benefit from the advice of local experts who are passionate about boating and will do their utmost to make sure you enjoy a wonderful holiday.
More than 200 routes throughout Europe
1.4 million customers since 1977
97% of our customers would recommend us
More than 40 years of expertise to draw on