Go Back  Fodor's Forum > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page > Anyone done a self-drive boat canal/river trip in France (or elsewhere)?
Notices

Anyone done a self-drive boat canal/river trip in France (or elsewhere)?

Reply

Sep 21st, 2016, 10:31 AM
  #1
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,229
Anyone done a self-drive boat canal/river trip in France (or elsewhere)?

Last minute planning for us as usual. We'll be in SW France next month (mid-October) and just started to think about possibly doing one of these for a week--perhaps the Lot River or Canal du Garonne and River Baise. I also know this is close to the very end of the boat rental season.

We're from the US and we've taken perhaps 6 or 8 trips to France before. We own boats and keep a boat on a river slip on a wild and scenic river near our home, so we are not new to boating. And, we did a lot of camping in our younger days, so we don't need luxury. Our style is slow travel where we get to know an area more intimately, and we frequently rent house, gites, or apartments for 3 to 7 days. Yet, we still are not convinced that this boat trip idea for a week is really for us and a good way to spend 1/3 of our trip time. (We are already spending 6 days of our trip on a cycling trip where we will be just focusing on a small area.) I can think of lots of pluses and lots of minuses to the boat idea and would appreciate your feedback if you've ever done one of these. Thanks.
julies is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 21st, 2016, 10:51 AM
  #2
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 14,855
Yes it will be easy to do if you can get a booking, the Canal du Midi is the big draw and is certainly easy enough. The Canal du Garonne is the other end of the Canal du Midi.

Easy to do, you'll find that there are either shops or, someone puts up a sign "next village on left for bread", or "ring this number if you want a restuarant meal, we pick you up" etc.

Normally best to include bike hire in the trip so you can zoom off and buy bread/wine for breakfast.
bilboburgler is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 21st, 2016, 11:51 AM
  #3
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 19,726
We did the Canal de Bourgogne with Rive de France, going from St. Florentin to Montbard.

The pictures are between the two maps: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca...7622755059630/

Others feel that it is of no importance, but I was happy that we went upstream because when not in use, the locks were kept open downstream--perhaps to minimize the growth on the lock walls--which meant that we could slide right in be raised and go out; whereas if we had been going downstream, we would have had to wait for the lock to be filled. Considering that we went through 50 locks in that one week, that represents a certain amount of time saved.
Michael is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 21st, 2016, 12:49 PM
  #4
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 821
We did Leboat.com and it was FABULOUS on the Midi. We have taken some pretty spectacular trips and that week long trip is in the top 5. With LeBoat you get a guide book that show you every town, city, water, stopping point, lock, winery, grocery, all along the way. I have posted comments on this in the past couple of years, so check under cruises for reports or other postings.

Suggestions: you need very heavy gloves for the ropes at the locks.
You always need food for the next meal or 2 in case the lock (if manned) is closed--no problem just have a meal like he is. There are usually market days somewhere along your route, which is great fun. We rented bikes and the girls rode ahead to shop and met the guys at a designated spot.

Really a wonderful trip.
jan47ete is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 21st, 2016, 01:08 PM
  #5
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 2,812
I think you will find the Canal du Midi more interesting than either the Lot or the Canal Entre Deux Mers, particularly at that time of year. Ideally you can find a rental which takes you in one direction only, keeping the terrain interesting and the sense of adventure fresh.

Here are a list of companies which offer rentals:

http://www.franceafloat.com/
http://www.leboat.com/
http://www.canalous-plaisance.fr/
http://www.locaboat.com/
http://www.nicols.com/
Sarastro is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 21st, 2016, 02:55 PM
  #6
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,229
Keep the comments coming, please, while we think about this some more. We've already learned that if we do this and if we want to be comfortable, we should rent a slightly larger boat than is necessary for just two people so that we'll have a bit of extra room inside in case of inclement weather. I have been checking into rentals, and I think there are some available that might meet our needs (size, price, and time frame).

I've heard about the pluses from all of you, and that is great.

But, I still have thought about these concerns or possible negatives (and, I'd love someone to address these if possible because maybe they really aren't true negatives):

a. We'll be bored by the slow pace and/or the monotony of the scenery.
b. Restaurants/shops etc. will not be open at the time of year we would be traveling. While we certainly aren't foodies and don't need to do a lot of fancy meals, I really don't want an entire week of just picnicking and doing my own cooking.
c. A trip like this is really all about relaxation rather than about seeing new things and places (we are coming from the US and want to experience France).
d. Since there are just the two of us, my husband (the boat's captain) will be stuck doing nothing but boat driving.
e. It is too late in the year to be doing this, and with the waning daylight we'll be spending lots of time at night just sitting in the boat's cabin.
f. Mooring slips may not be convenient for an evening out in town and/or be too noisy.

Finally, a lot of you are suggesting the Canal du Midi as a good choice. I've read some accounts where people say they were bored with this canal and its options, and some said that by the time of year we'd be traveling many of the venues that are set up with the sole goal of taking care of the needs of cyclists and boaters on the canal are closed for the season. Are there enough easily accessible real towns and villages along this that we'd find open shops and restaurants?

Thanks again.
julies is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 21st, 2016, 03:15 PM
  #7
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 19,726
Since there are just the two of us, my husband (the boat's captain) will be stuck doing nothing but boat driving.

Nothing to stop you from taking over. The boats can't go over 5mph (or is it kph?).

e. It is too late in the year to be doing this, and with the waning daylight we'll be spending lots of time at night just sitting in the boat's cabin.
f. Mooring slips may not be convenient for an evening out in town and/or be too noisy.

Yes, it may be late in the season.

Mooring can be done anywhere along the canal except under bridges and in the locks themselves. Moreover, there are no heavily trafficked roads along the canals and most of the towns are quite small.
Michael is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 21st, 2016, 04:00 PM
  #8
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 4,703
Also, if you have a bicycle aboard one of you can cycle along the bike path to the next lock to handle lines. That will break up any monotony of just sitting on the boat. One can look at the wildlife stop at interesting things and talk to lock keepers as well as hikers and other cyclists. We have never been bored.
nukesafe is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 21st, 2016, 05:02 PM
  #9
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,229
Perhaps my concern (that Michael validated) that it is a bit late in the season for the Canal du Midi may be justified. Over on TA I just found a report from someone who did the Canal du Midi at exactly the same time of year we are thinking of.

"The reason we cooked was not just because we were craving some of our own home cooked meals, but also because we found at this end of the tourist season, all the restaurants we tried to get into were closed!...Being the tail end of the season did mean a lot of the villages were almost shut down along the way-but this was the trade off for the lack of other boating traffic and no delays getting through the locks at all."

Another quick question: Realistically do you need more than just two people to manage a trip like this where there are numerous locks?
julies is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 21st, 2016, 10:51 PM
  #10
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 2,812
a. We'll be bored by the slow pace and/or the monotony of the scenery.

I have traveled just about every canal one can in France and I have never found the scenery monotonous. No one here can determine for you how bored you may or may not become.

b. Restaurants/shops etc. will not be open at the time of year we would be traveling.

A primary reason to select the Canal du Midi. Some of the quick food or bavettes may be closed for the season but there are still plenty of restaurants within easy walking distance of the canal. Having two bikes would increase your access to nearby facilities.

c. A trip like this is really all about relaxation rather than about seeing new things and places

A trip like this is about whatever you want it to be. It can be relaxing but your boat will not be overly staffed. You´ll both have plenty to do the control your vessel in the locks.

Make sure you travel in one direction only and everything you see will be new.

d. Since there are just the two of us, my husband (the boat's captain) will be stuck doing nothing but boat driving.

Someone surely must drive but there are two of you.

e. It is too late in the year to be doing this,

No.

and with the waning daylight we'll be spending lots of time at night just sitting in the boat's cabin.

Why would you just sit in the cabin? Take a flashlight and walk into town. The Canal du Midi has been there over 300 years and much has grown up around it.

f. Mooring slips may not be convenient for an evening out in town and/or be too noisy.

You will not find a large number of mooring slips anywhere. The idea is that you can stop almost anywhere you like, for as long as you like. That´s why the boats have stakes, mallets with which to pound them into the ground, and mooring ropes to tie to them.

I should be very much surprised if noise were a problem at all.

Finally, a lot of you are suggesting the Canal du Midi as a good choice. I've read some accounts where people say they were bored with this canal and its options,

Where have you read this? If someone is bored with the Canal du Midi, he certainly will not find the pace along the Charante or Burgundy or Lot to his liking. The Canal du Midi is the most developed of any canal in France.

If you are really concerned about liking canal travel, it´s probably not for you. I have responded to a lot of questions through the years about canal travel in France but yours are not the kinds of questions that most people have. Most people approach a future trip with enthusiasm and pose questions about provisioning, travel to/from a boat base, techniques for negotiating locks, where they can obtain charts, or advice on supplemental equipment that they might carry.

You sound more as if you want someone to talk you into an impulsive idea. Don´t be afraid of letting this go until another time.

The boats can't go over 5mph (or is it kph?).

I believe that it is called knots. The boats do have governors but are capable of speeds faster than one should be going. Overall the idea is not to create much of a wake (which can erode the embankment).
Sarastro is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 21st, 2016, 11:01 PM
  #11
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 19,726
The main reason I chose the St. Florentin-Montbard route is that it has more "old stones" (castles, Buffon's forge museum, etc.) than the other itineraries.
Michael is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 22nd, 2016, 12:25 AM
  #12
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 14,855
Noise

We took my father one time and could not understand why ducks attacked the boat every morning at 7am. The silly duffer was feeding them bread!

Noise will not be an issue.

Much of the south of France goes silent from October to April. The C d Midi is better than much of the rest.

Boring, well it is a canal.... my friend was so entraced a passing tree took his glasses off and flipped them into the canal.

Are there villages, yes, often fascinating ones.

Restaurants open, well the harvest will still be going on so yes.

The great thing is you go as far and as fast as you like (up to limits) we spent 2 nights in Carcasonne, loved it.
bilboburgler is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 22nd, 2016, 02:08 PM
  #13
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,229
Thanks again for the detailed replies. We definitely are still contemplating this, but I always like to know both the pluses and minuses to options before taking the leap. Perhaps I should have made it clear that I did not take time to list the pluses since we all know what they are; they don't need more explanation.

Online I have been reading all sorts of reports and feedback from people regarding various canal/river trips in SW France. As I am doing my research, I am now also expanding the area I would consider to the more easterly parts of the Canal du Midi (even towards the Carmargue area).

I have also realized that as far as weather, as usual, I am comparing fall weather in the locales we would be traveling in France to where I live. From what I can figure out, that area of France is about a month behind fall weather where we live, so the weather we are having right now at home (somewhat mixed but mostly nice) should be about what we could anticipate at that time in France.

I appreciate hearing that since the Canal du Midi is the most frequently traveled it probably has more service/towns/villages/restaurants available than the Garonne or the Lot river. From my research I have also discovered that traveling in off season has the benefit of fewer boats with fewer waits at locks.

I guess when discussing the Canal du Midi I should also throw in that we have been to Carcassone twice, and we fall in the group of people who don't like it all that well and feel it is too touristy.

Are there areas of the Canal du Midi where there are more numerous easily accessible real small towns (and not just canal-side stalls to service boaters/cyclists)? And, since there are just two of us, would we be better off looking for a route with fewer locks?
julies is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 23rd, 2016, 01:40 AM
  #14
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 14,855
Ah, you went to old Carcassone maybe?

As you go further north on the canal system you'll find more stuff closing, I like the bit around Auxerre, but I have nothing on density of villages, beyond what a good look at Google maps offers.

What I will say is there are very few canal-side stalls in these places but you may find lock keepers selling honey etc, there are villages right on the canal with all that comes with that.

Locks are dead easy, everything happens slowly, and unless you get into a North european or USA state of mind (ie competitive or rushed) you'll be fine with just two. My BIL and wife did it a few years back and neither are boat people and found everything easy. While renting a boat make sure you have enough space. If a boat says 8 births it is good for 4 people .

In terms of the CdM start west of Beziers (which has a mountain of locks). NB locks only work certain times stopping for lunch etc. This should not make you panic, just chill into it.
bilboburgler is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 26th, 2016, 09:01 AM
  #15
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,229
Well, we are 99% certain we are going to book a one way between Castelsarrasin to Le Mas d'Agenais on the Canal de Garonne. The area looks very interesting for stops and scenery, and we found a great last minute deal (sometimes waiting until the last second to make plans pays off).

Now, we just have to decide between a 7 night and 10 night cruise. Any advice from those of you who have done these types of trips in the past? Thanks again.
julies is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 26th, 2016, 09:56 AM
  #16
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 14,855
Its about 100km, I don't know how many locks but allow 30 minutes a lock tops (20 minutes after you get into the swing). If you want to know how many locks http://www.canal-de-garonne.fr/english/

4 km an hour means 25 hours motoring. I'm lazy, after breakfast I might start motoring so say 10-12 and then 2 till 4. So each day I could do 16 km (see lock calc). So 100 km would take me 6+ days.

Now if I wanted to go wine tasting I might need an afternoon off.

Of course you guys might be get-up-and-go types ;-)
bilboburgler is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 26th, 2016, 10:00 AM
  #17
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 14,855
The list of locks is down the bottom of this page

http://www.canal-de-garonne.fr/fran%...rages-bateaux/
bilboburgler is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 26th, 2016, 10:31 AM
  #18
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 4,703
Thank you for that neat link, Bilbourger! I have not done ditch crawling in France for a few years, and the details in that link were really difficult to dig out back when I was researching routes. Almost makes me want to go canaling again, but at my age the thought of slimy ladders and scrambling for lines makes me think again.

For the OP, I don't know the Garonne, but such a trip will be one you will never forget. Go for it!
nukesafe is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 26th, 2016, 08:51 PM
  #19
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,229
We're going for it. Thanks to all of you who chimed in to help us make a decision.

bilbo--

Thanks for the great link. I need to take some time to thoroughly explore it. Your comment about our travel style also made us realize that we are not ones to hop up first thing in the morning to get a fast start on non-stop action, sightseeing and activity. We've decided to book for the 10 days so we'll have time to slow down and enjoy. I guess we've decided if it rains the entire time we'll be doing a lot of sitting in the boat enjoying the wines of the area.
julies is offline  
Reply With Quote
 



Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On



All times are GMT -8. The time now is 12:29 PM.