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Howard Lewis

Beverly Hills, California Travel Agent

The Captain of My Own French Canal Boat

Of the thousand and one adventures and pleasures that I have experienced over the past 50 years of visiting France, my favorite is the experience of motoring along a French canal in a self-drive boat. To me, it is a magical way to experience the countryside, and it is something my brother and I do together almost every year. 

We travel at a relaxing four miles per hour, giving us plenty of time to unwind as we take in the scenery along one of the many delightful canals that crisscross France. There are no tourists, and the canals are very tranquil. The only sounds most of the time are the water and birds.   

Along the way, we dock and walk into small villages to buy food or eat at a local restaurant. We also take the time to visit some of the wonderful small family-owned wineries. It is also possible to rent bicycles along with your boat. 

Navigating is fool-proof. We follow the canal, and there is virtually no way to get lost. Passing through the locks is fun. Although it is not required, we enjoying helping the lockkeepers operate the locks and talking with them. Sometimes, we also meet other people traveling by canal boat. Many come from England, where canal boats are also possible. 

The company I like to use in France and elsewhere in Europe is Le Boat. They set you up to be the captain of your own boat, with no license or experience required. The boats are simple to operate, and Le Boat shows you everything you need to know in a single briefing and demonstration. Then, you are off to enjoy the boating vacation of a lifetime. It is a bit like driving a car, but much easier and far more fun and relaxing. 

A marvelous BBC series called “Great Canal Journeys” starring Timothy West and Prunella Scales offers a good feel for the experience of canal-boating. Most of their adventures are in Great Britain; this one--https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cXHY-mLbr4v—is along my favorite canal, the Nivernais in Burgundy, from Chatel Censoir to Auxerre.  

This former trade flows past stately chateaus, towering cliffs, flourishing vineyards, medieval villages, and larger Roman towns. As on all the canals, a new idyllic landscape greets you at every turn. Canal boats are ideal for couples or small groups who are looking for a relaxing way to immerse themselves in wine country and the rural side of France.

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