You can explore the French countryside by car, by train, or by bike… how about being on a boat?! Our recent trip to the Burgundy Valley, during fall harvest ~ “vinification” (French code for wine making) a boat charter on the Yonne River and Canal du Nivernais proved to be a perfect way to truly see and savor this beautiful historic wine-rich region.
10 Reasons to charter your own boat in France:
The Scenery – there is no better view than aboard a boat as your cruise through the French countryside, passing white cows grazing along the shores, to charming ancient villages with towering church steeples, along lush vineyards and fields leading to stone castles. The view is enchanting, ever-changing.
The Pace – times slows down on a boat in the canals, to 4 kilometers. Not quite escargot or “snail’s pace” but incredibly relaxed. France’s inland waterways flow gently, and Le Boat’s rental fleet are designed for mellow cruising, even suitable for less-experienced boaters. In a week, we’d cover 100 kilometers, in 24 hours of actual cruising time, some of which was with wine in hand (not that we condone that).
The Wine – we chose the Canal du Nivernais from Le Boat’s extensive European waterway itineraries, we’d boat from Migennes to Tannay, to be in the heart of the Burgundy Valley – the Route de Grand Cru. Surrounded by vineyards along our voyage, every stop along our week-long trip brought us to proud provincial wineries and towns, during an especially exciting time – harvest in September. We learned everything there is to know, and note and “nose” about Burgundy wines, from the terroir and climat, to its mineral qualities, even best food and cheese pairings. It was a “grape” adventure.
The Villages – every port we arrived at by boat was a welcome place with historic sites, humble but delicious boulangerie and regional restaurants. Most villages offered fascinating sightseeing of medieval homes, Roman churches to Renaissance palaces. Auxerre, Clamecy, Châtel Censoir, Vincelles – are all amazing ancient French settlements with a wealth of stories and sights to explore just steps from our boat dock.
The Biking – having bikes on board, rented from Le Boat, adds to the adventure. At each boat docking, we’d hop on our bikes to find the local market where we’d provision – water, wine, local charcuterie, baguette and cheese – which all fit perfectly in my classic bicycle basket. Mornings we’d peddle to a pâtissérie for the freshest flakiest croissant or pain au chocolat accompanied by a foamy rich cappuccino. Our best excursions were biking to the hillside villages of Irancy, Vézelay and Saint-Bris-le-Vineaux, for amazing valleys views, interesting wine tastings and tours, especially the Caves Bailly – 9 acres of wine caves that store over 4 million bottles of world-famous houses Crème de Bourgogne.
The Locks – despite the river’s docile current, it doesn’t even rock the boat, there’s a bit of excitement as you arrive at each manual lock which are over two centuries old. These locks were originally constructed from 1784 to 1841 to transport timbers to build Paris , now they manage the water levels as dams, and provide leisure boaters access when the River is unpassable. The “éclusiers” (lock keepers) crank the gates open and closed upon the arrival of boats (first come first served). You quickly learn the lock procedure, navigating the boat carefully into a narrow stone holding cell that holds 1 to 3 boats inside the “écluse”. Looping bow and stern lines around pylons and back to the boat, you adjust lines as your boat rises with the rush of 1-4 meters of water (up or down). Note: bring gloves to handle the wet, messy lines. You pass through as many as 10 locks in a day of cruising, 50 in our week.
The Comradery – while charting your own boat is different from being on a Viking River Cruise- for example, since you do your own driving and planning, its still super social. Whether you bring friends and family aboard, or meet up with fellow boaters at each port, there’s fun conversations about best marinas, dining spots, and wine tasting finds. I’ll not soon forget the harrowing tale of the poor fellow who fell off his boat into a lock. He was the topic at one port party.
The Luxury Adventure – wine tastes better on the water! There’s a sense of accomplishment at each day’s end that you arrived in a new port, navigated the waterways, and you can celebrate on your top deck with a glass of Burgundy. Your boat is your floating hotel, unpack once – your home for the week, with a new port each day. Our 38’ boat was spacious, a modern salon with great big windows offered a fully equipped galley. Our V-Berth stateroom was so peaceful at night, and our head provided nice hot showers. Our favorite place on board was the fly bridge -called the “fun deck” for its commanding view, big cocktail table with wine and cup holders, BBQ grill, sun bed and extensive couch seating.
The Cost – Charters with Le Boat for a week range $1,000 – $3,700, depending on the season, location, boat style and size (accommodating 2-12 people). Sharing this cost with several couples or family makes it affordable, since it’s your lodging and entertainment for a week, with a kitchen for onboard dining. Plan on $500 + in extras for insurance, fuel, bikes, sun Bimini, early boarding, one-way trip which we recommend.
The Crew – Le Boat’s 50-year successful charter company is efficient, English speaking, with an extensive fleet, and countless itineraries in so many countries – Italy, France, Scotland, Ireland, Netherlands, even Canada. Our orientation and training were swift yet thorough, and our boat was well-equipped with a manual. Le Boat also offers a guide and an app to help you plan your voyage. Le Boat staff is available 24/7 by phone for any questions or concerns, or in our case – a flat bicycle tire which they readily came to replace.