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Jan 10th, 2012, 02:41 PM
  #1
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French self-drive River Boat/Barge

Anyone done one of these self-drive river barge trips? Any thoughts whether this would be an interesting way to see some of France? Can't seem to find any first hand objective info on it but I remember reading an article about a family doing it a few years back & I've always had it on my to do list....
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Jan 10th, 2012, 03:46 PM
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Yes, I've done it. We rented a barge on Canal du Midi in 2010 with another couple. it is a great way to see the countryside and local villages. We went from Carcassonne to Agde and had a great time. We rented a "penichette" style of boat which is one of the cheaper ones. The down side of this is the toilet and shower. You had to pump the toilet out into the canal and pump water in to flush. If you leave the pump in the wrong position you can flood the boat. the shower was only a pull-out device over the sink in the same room as the toilet. The water was only hot while you were running the motor and for a short while after you turned it off. There were showers available at some campsites and moorings along the canal.
There are more upmarket boats available so check exactly what you are getting.
I have posted a trip report. If you search for "Canal du Midi" you should find it and some others.
Even with these problems I would do it again. great food, scenery, wine and people.
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Jan 10th, 2012, 04:24 PM
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Here's a trip report from a few years ago, but if you do a search, you should be able to turn up others.
http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...s-finished.cfm

I recall a few reports from people that used Locaboat. The name might turn up some more reviews or trip reports.
http://www.locaboat.com/index.php?lang=2&logolang=en
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Jan 10th, 2012, 05:18 PM
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Wonderful way to see France, IMHO. Most people don't realize that there are some 5,000 miles of inland navigable waterways in France alone, and a lot in the rest of Europe. The French started building them way back when to transport heavy cargoes between cities in the Winter when the roads turned to mud, so the canals go right into the old hearts of the larger towns. You can enjoy the countryside at a leisurely pace, and yet park your boat in the center of Paris, if you wish.

We have done it many times, both in rental craft and our own boat. The advantage is that the costs per person work out just about what you would pay for a hotel, and you can cook the wonderful fresh things you get in the markets you pass as you move along, if you want to save money.

It's not for everyone, but I warn you that if you try it, it can become addictive. We have friends who bought their own boat, and have been cruising the waterways in the summer for the past 12 years.
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Jan 10th, 2012, 05:27 PM
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BTW, I should mention that there is a similar thread running on TA about the Canal du Midi that might be of interest. http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic...oussillon.html
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Jan 11th, 2012, 05:58 AM
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Thank you! I had tried searching several different ways but just didn't turn up anything. I appreciate it; sounds like an adventure!
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Jan 12th, 2012, 01:35 PM
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We have done the Castlenaudry to Agde trip with LeBoat. We have traveled to about 50+ countries and taken some incredible trips and that canal trip is in the top 5 for me. We also did it in May and the weather was great. Renting a bike was great as I went shopping and met the boat at a predetermined stop, so would recommend getting one.

Leboat was a terrific company and the boat was like a giant cabin cruiser and extremely easy to handle.

Hints I wrote in my notes for when we do the canal cruise again:
1-settle in on the boat and go to town to stock up ASAP as I remember the shops were soon to close by the time we got there or let them stock up for you.
2-with locks opening and closing and travel destinations at your leisure, always make sure you have food for breakfast and lunch for the next day. This way you can eat while the lockmaster, if there is one, does his thing.
3-bring 2 small sachels and backpacks for groceries and elastic ties for the back of the bike for groceries as well.
4-you might want to bring your own small mayo, mustard, S&P, clothes detergent and dish detergent, enough for the trip rather than buy what might turn out to be the only size in the store-large.
5-actually my #1 recommendation if you can is bring your own towels. I did find the towels to be thin and awful, so I had a note to bring some old ones from home--you know the ones with bleach marks or a hole, then you can just leave them.
6-bring extremely heavy gloves for handling the ropes at the locks. The ropes get wet and the water is pretty awful.
7-bring old sneakers as the same rope gets water on your feet and again the water is yucky.
8-don't forget a rain poncho, if unfortunately it rains and it's your turn to be out on deck.

Have a fabulous trip.
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Jan 12th, 2012, 02:14 PM
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We did a section of the Canal du Midi some years ago and really enjoyed it. I completely agree with jan47ete's advice above, especially with regard to gloves. I would add that you should consider waterproof gloves, and take some hand sanitizer along.

When choosing a boat, consider one that has a driving position on the upper deck. There were pretty high berms on both sides of the canal and we were happy to be able to see over them when on the upper deck of our boat, a Corvette: http://www.leboat.fr/flotte/corvb
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Jan 12th, 2012, 03:56 PM
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I have travelled virtually all of the rental boat routes of France; some routes more than once, including le Canal du Midi four times. Canal travel is very similar to camping and those with whom you travel are very important to a successful trip. If you enjoy the company of your crew, you will most likely enjoy the adventure overall.

Here is a list of the most well known and reputable companies now renting boats on French waterways:

http://www.franceafloat.com/
http://www.leboat.com/
http://www.locaboat.com/
http://www.nicols.com/
http://www.rive-de-france.com/

There are a lot of canal threads here, on Trip Advisor, and on Slow Travel.
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Jan 13th, 2012, 12:25 AM
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We did it with Rives de France. We took a one-way trip option on the Burgundy Canal and had two boats for 12 persons. We went upstream on the canal, not that there is any real current, but because the locks were generally kept open on the downstream side when they were not busy so that time is saved by not waiting for the lock to fill if going upstream. We went through 50 locks, and although not rushed, the week was fully covered by the 70 miles or so we traveled. Stopping for a full day's outing would not have been an option, although we did stop to see sights close to the canal, which I why I chose the Burgundy Canal because the itinerary had more "old stones" than most. The boat was not roomy, with barely enough room to place your feet at the end of the bed in the room whose width was a standard double bed. But the boat was fully equipped with sheets, blankets, cooking and eating implements. There were no storage tanks for the waste waters, so everything goes into the canal. You might want to have gloves to handle the wet ropes.

The photos between the two maps are from that trip:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/...ith/4083891938
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Jan 13th, 2012, 01:05 AM
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A question for jenmorg, did I understand correctly that the sewerage from the boat is pumped out into the canal? Hopefully I misunderstood!

For what it's worth friends of ours did this trip and were unlucky enough to have rain every day which ruined the experience. I know lots of people enjoy gorgeous weather, and they were just unlucky.
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Jan 13th, 2012, 01:25 AM
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You should assume that the majority of boats dump human waste into French canals, though some boats retain the stuff for eventual loading into land based systems. Result is that the canals are filling up and swiming in them is unwise. Fortunatly there is no terrible smell (ain't nature wonderful).

Other than that the french canal system is worth a visit, the german one is equally good while Belgium and Holland are fun.

The tricky bit for me is eat on board or eat in a restaurant?
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Jan 13th, 2012, 04:00 AM
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We're right there with you, Bilbo! One of our favorite meals was bought from a van-vendor: Schnitzel Cordon Bleu. We cooked it up that night and boy was it tasty! But we also had some very memorable dining moments at restaurants along the canal, too.

We did a long weekend on the Canal de la Marne in Alsace some years ago through Locaboat. LOVED it. The nice thing about this area,if you are older, is that the locks are mechanized instead of manual. My husband still wants to do the Midi Canal, though...some day.
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Jan 13th, 2012, 06:03 AM
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In newer boats, sewage is held in on-board reservoirs and treated.

In older boats, solids are ground and all sewage is released into the waterway. The waterways are not lakes and there is a constant waterflow which eventually makes its way into the sea.

On rivers such as the Charante or those in Burgundy, the water flow is very rapid and any released sewage is diluted and swept away relatively quickly. On the canals, even in spite of the locks which all have tunneled water bypass, the waterflow remains sufficient that you will never notice any odor. None the less, swimming in the canals is not recommended.
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Jan 13th, 2012, 12:23 PM
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Sarastro has it exactly right, as usual; "the solution to pollution is dilution". To make you feel a bit better, the amount of sewage released into the waterways is really minimal. Though the canal/river system is extensive, the number of boats plying the waterways is really small, and the commercial traffic on the smaller French canals has diminished almost to the vanishing point. You can travel for long periods without seeing another vessel.

Of course even with the great strides in waste disposal in the EU, the water quality will probably will never return to the time when one could stand on the bridges in Paris and watch the fish swim at the bottom of the Seine.
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Jan 13th, 2012, 01:01 PM
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the water quality will probably will never return to the time when one could stand on the bridges in Paris and watch the fish swim at the bottom of the Seine.

That must have never happened because the Seine was Paris' sewer even before the Pont Neuf was built. The Seine is probably cleaner now than it has ever been in recorded memory.

The canal waters move slowly enough--watch the fishermen's corks float with very little downstream movement--that I would consider the canals as polluted even though there is no odor.
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Jan 13th, 2012, 01:04 PM
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As for competence to steer the boats: only one member of our group (we had two boats) had ever experienced traveling in a self-drive boat. The rental agency gave us the basics in starting and controlling the boats. The boats on the canals are limited to 5 km. per hour. When a hotel barge comes by, one can simply pull over and stop. By the second day, everyone who wanted to steer was able to go in a straight line.
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Jan 13th, 2012, 01:27 PM
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You are right, Michael, the reference to a clear Seine dates back a thousand years, when it was renowned for both it's great number of fish, as well as it's clarity. Also, the present day turbidity is mostly the result of algal growth and suspension, rather than the presence of sewage; probably due to fertilizer runoff from farms. I read somewhere else that Salmon are even starting to recolonize the river.

Anyway, much better than our first time on the river in 1972. Then you could tie alongside the quai just by the Pont Alexandre III. Each morning I had to clear great masses of floating debris that would catch between the hull and the quai. No big problem except one night we had friends aboard for dinner, and there was a stench that started to overpower the food. When I went on deck I found a very dead goat trapped in the flotsam. The removal process surely killed my appetite!
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Jan 13th, 2012, 01:57 PM
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Yes Cathie's, on our boat it all went into the canal. We meticulously used antiseptic hand wash after handling the ropes because they always get wet. We were also told that the urine of the coypu, a south America rodent that lives in Canal du Midi, contains some sort of germ that can cause kidney failure in humans. We rented through Nautique. As others have posted, the towels were not good. We stocked up at a supermarket on the way to pick up the boat at Carcassonne.
In spite of all problems we had a great time and would do it again. We usually ate out for one meal a day and bought food from markets to eat for the other meals. The trees along Canal du Midi are beautiful. We met lots of nice people along the way. It was 2010 and the soccer World cup was on. Most restaurants, cafes and bars had big screen TVs where you could watch the games.
This year we are doing a self drive Narrowboat trip in England.
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Jan 13th, 2012, 01:58 PM
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I want to try this, bookmarking!
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