France is laced with a network of canals that once served to connect the country’s main waterways and aid in the transportation of goods. The Canal du Midi, one of the largest of these canals, was built to form a shortcut between the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Today, these canals serve mostly recreational purposes. One popular mode of travel that has developed is the barge cruise, which allows tourists to see France while floating down these scenic waterways. Many of the older, traditional barges used for transport have been refurbished into beautiful and comfortable floating hotels and restaurants. Barging your way through France can be an ideal way to get off the beaten path, while still enjoying a relaxing vacation.
If you are looking for a unique travel experience, these barge cruises could be just for you. Most cruises last seven days and six nights, though it is possible to find both longer and shorter cruises. They are all-inclusive, so travelers don’t have to worry about feeding themselves once aboard. And, because you are in France after all, you can expect great food and accompanying wines. If you are more of the independent type and would rather be in control of your own trip, you can also rent barges and head out into the canals on your own. This way you can stop as you please, cook aboard your own boat and enjoy the scenery at your own pace. Also, since most of the canal cruises are only a week long, renting your own boat and heading out can allow you to see the entire country by boat over the course of a month, two months, however long you want!
Barge tours vary depending on which company you chose to book with, but nearly all will have tours of the cities you pass through. Some of the more popular barges keep bikes on hand so the cruisers can get out and explore the towns and regions by bike. Some tours offer guided tours into the towns and cities. The scenery from the water is also beautiful and tranquil and will take tourists under bridges, through tunnels, past amazing landscape and through a series of locks. A relaxing way to see a lot of French countryside in one week, barge tours are the perfect way to see a lot without the stress of figuring it all out on your own. Barge tours also allow for a lot of relaxed family time, pleasant walks, informal cheese and wine tasting, sunbathing and slowly watching the world float by.
Luxury Barge Cruises
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There are many companies in France that offer luxury barge cruises on the many canals and rivers of France. If you want to be pampered, this is the way to go. Not only will you not have to worry about what or where to eat, you’ll be given guided tours of the surrounding areas. This is the perfect way to go if you want to sit back, eat, drink and see the French countryside.
Cruising the Canal Solo
If you want to set more of your own agenda while cruising France’s waterways, you can rent your own boat and head out on the canals sans crew. The canals are easy to navigate and being on your own can allow you the freedom to stop and see what you please. It is recommended to keep a couple of bikes on board so you can explore the neighboring towns and villages by bike as the boat floats along.
Aquitaine: The Garonne Canal and the Canal du Midi. These canals in southwestern France. The Canal du Midi, a world heritage site since 1996, and is an engineering feat of the 17th century. The canal is picturesque and historic and will wind you past the medieval fortress town of Carcassonne and into a region known for its rich food and bold wines.
Breton Canals: These canals were mostly built during the times of Napoleon, these canals were built mostly to serve military and strategic purposes and avoid English interference. These canals wind through the lush Brittany landscape.
Parisian Canals: This varied network of canals were built to serve Paris. Many are interconnected, which allows for a great variety of navigation options for tourists. Because of their historic nature and proximity to Paris, some of these canals have dramatic bridges and scenic locks along the way. The Briare Canal has boasts a dramatic bridge made from tubular steel that was designed by famous tower architect Gustav Eiffel.
Rhone-Rhone Group: These canals mostly serve commercial traffic and are wide with large capacity. These canals are usually mostly avoided by tourist traffic.
Northern Group: This is another series of canals mostly devoted to commercial trade traffic. These canals are also avoided by most tourism boats.