As you amble along the waterway, time stands still. Peace and quiet reign supreme here. On your self-drive boat (no licence needed), you creep along at a pace that gives you time to really enjoy the surrounding countryside, with its lines of trees, tiny lock keepers’ cottages and tow-path. The passing countryside alternates between lush green countryside, forests and fields rich in plants and wildlife. This is the perfect destination for anyone who wants a break from the hustle and bustle of city life. You go with the flow, at little more than walking speed, drifting along between the tranquillity of the waters and the peacefulness of nature. You can stop whenever the feel like it, for a picnic, an excursion, or to stay the night.
Head into the countryside:
Every now and then you can set off on foot to explore the nearby countryside, leaving the canal banks behind. One really good excursion is the walk along the Rigole de Boulet. This walk is suitable for families and will introduce you to the rich history of boating on the canal. The walk starts from the church at Feins and takes you through countryside made even more magical by the presence of the ‘Etang de Boulet’ lake, one of the sources that used to feed the canal.
A door-to-door cruise:
The Ille-et-Rance is not just another canal. It’s 84 km long, and is unusual because it includes a change of height of 27 metres. The engineering challenge has been overcome by means of 11 locks, very close together, that create a kind of staircase in the water. This series of structures is well worth a look, to appreciate the grandeur of these feats of hydraulic engineering.
Gently does it through the locks, with help from the lock keepers who are there to ensure the safe passage of boats. Every year, holidaymakers from all four corners of the globe stop here, meet other boaters, and enjoy chatting for a while. Cyclists and walkers are always fascinated by the spectacle of the boats passing through the lock gates. It’s a magical interlude that has been a feature of this journey for centuries.
By all means have a chat with the lock keepers, they are a mine of all kinds of anecdotes and stories. And to find out more, visit the ‘Maison du Canal’ visitor centre in Hédé, which relates the full story of this site both in human and technical terms. This lock keeper’s cottage has scale models and other exhibits connected with the waterway.
Choose your crêpe:
It’s time to set off again and cruise gently along the calm waters. Villages and other character places appear round bends. If you’re a foodie you’ll definitely want to spend a few moments in Dinan’s cobbled streets to sample the crêpes at Chez Ahna. This pancake house attracts crowds of regulars who come to enjoy the crispy galettes (savoury buckwheat pancakes) that look like fine lace, prepared by a man-and-wife team who fell in love with this region.
A few leagues further along is Léhon, a “Little Town of Character”, that will weave its magic on you. Léhon lies peacefully along the banks of the river Rance, dominated by a 13th-century medieval castle that looks down on the old stone bridge and the Benedictine Abbey founded in the 9th century by the King of Brittany. It’s an enchanting scene set against a picture-postcard background. If you happen to come here in September you can swing along to the jazz festival at La Madeleine locks, which has brought the canal banks alive every year for the last nine years.
Look at those malouinières:
Carry on a little further, and just south of Dinard you’ll discover the “malouinières”, the magnificent shipowners’ residences standing in beautiful grounds and gardens. Take a look inside; some, such as the Domaine de Montmarin, are open to visitors. This majestic 18th century estate, stretching over six hectares, features a fine botanical collection. You can picture yourself strolling up and down the avenues during the days of the Enlightenment, with an intoxicating variety of scents filling the air. Bordering the estate are French-style gardens, Mediterranean rockeries, a walled kitchen garden and an orangery.
Your delightful date with nature reaches its end in Saint Malo. But before going back to real life, make sure you leave time to explore this wonderful city. That’s skipper’s orders.