River tourism: France's major assets
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River tourism in France is both simple and attractive: a speed limit of 6 kph for houseboats (sleeping 2 to 12 people) available for hire, the possibility of piloting independently without a licence and after a few handy tips on how to navigate plus some basics of the navigation code, an itinerary guided by the very nature of the peaceful, safe canals and rivers, and technical assistance proffered by experienced boat hire companies...
So you can embark with the family or friends and make your own way, even through the locks. Basically, you navigate with your little house, unperturbed by currents, and you can moor where you like along the banks, travelling at a very peaceful pace.
Further major assets for France: a sprawling network covering all the regions, to get to places you can't reach by road, where you can discover undisturbed landscapes, a different way of seeing the cultural and natural heritage. From Burgundy to the Languedoc, from Brittany to the Loire Valley, the historical and tourist canals, fairly narrow (about 20 metres wide, on the Freycinet scale) are now only frequented by boaters and barge-hotels. Most of all, they show off their wonderful ornaments, ingenious, impressive structures, some of which date from the seventeenth century, like the "cascade of locks" at Fonséranes on the famous Canal du Midi (a UNESCO world heritage site), the 3-metre-long tunnel at Pouilly-en-Auxois (near Auxerre) on the Burgundy Canal or the famous canal bridge in Briare which goes over the Loire river (not far from Orléans), etc.
- For information
This public corporation under the aegis of the Ecology and town and country planning ministry manages the whole network, the largest in Europe, including no less than 2,000 bridges, plus access to the river banks and also the regulations.
- For consultation
Waterweb: a website devoted to river tourism in France (in 3 languages)
The major boat hire companies
The three main operators have formed this group, which includes Connoisseur and Crown Blue Line, based mainly on the Canal du Midi but which have developed several boat hire centres along all the attractive canals.
Connoisseur: A specialist present all over Europe, but particularly active on the French network.
Crown Blue line: Another reference in boat hire, with some twenty centres on the, Erdre in Brittany, on the Lot, in Alsace, etc.
France Passion Plaisance: Another collection of about twenty centres, from Digoin to Agde, via Redon (Brittany) or Pontailler-sur-Saône (Franche-Comté).
Paris Canal: for astonishing escapades right outside France's capital city...
Péniche de croisière du Midi: to remain a simple passenger on a very comfortable barge on the Canal du Midi