River cruises on the waterway system of France offer an unparalleled window to the country’s cultural, historical and natural diversity. You can embark from any city that has access to the waterways – Paris or Lyon or others that you will discover as you tour France by river!
The river cruise provides a relaxing atmosphere for travellers looking to enjoy their vacation. Whether you’re interested in experiencing French cuisine, sampling wine, exploring historical sites, visiting stunning villages or admiring beautiful landscapes, there is something for everyone aboard these river cruises!
Cruising the waterways of France provides a host of benefits. From riverside bike rides to riverboat tours of idyllic villages, exploring France by river is pure pleasure. Whether you’re looking for an active or laidback vacation, river cruising offers excellent options for travellers of all interests and abilities.
These boat cruises are perfect for families because they provide activities at every stop along the way with plenty of time for relaxation too. With many different river cruises to choose from, everyone can find a river cruise vacation that is perfect for them.
Why are French river cruises such a great travel experience
River cruising is a great travel experience because river cruises allow for a good mix of touring both on and off the river. River cruises offer plenty of time to explore river towns, walk through quaint villages, and visit many points of interest.
There are a number of things that make river cruises enjoyable, but one key advantage is the ability to customise your trip exactly as you want it. In addition to choosing from many river cruise itineraries, you also have the option to select your departure city and from among hundreds of hotels located near departure points or river docks.
The river waterways have been an essential mode of transport in Europe for centuries and the river cities are known for their beauty and charm. The river cruise trip itself is incredibly relaxing because there’s no need to pack and unpack your suitcase every day, no need to worry about driving or taxis, and you even get to sleep in the same bed every night in different destinations.
The river cruise is also a fantastic opportunity for wildlife sightings. Whether it’s spotting France’s famous pink flamingos on the Magel river waterways or watching dolphins playing up-close off of Brittany coastlines, river cruising brings nature into a clearer view. River cruising is recognised as a way of exploring new places on your own terms.
How France’s river cruises fit into your travel plans
Do river cruises fit into your travel plans when in France? A river cruise can be a great way to see France’s cities, villages, and countryside. There is likely a river cruise option convenient to the chosen departure point no matter where you’re exploring, be in Western or Southern France.
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River cruising is flexible with departure points and voyage lengths to cater for different tastes and budgets. Cruising on the French waterways enables travellers to explore an unmatched diversity of natural landscapes and cultural treasures. And river cruising showcases France’s renowned gastronomy at dining highlights ashore with regional cuisine appealing to every palate. There is something for everyone between river cruising’s many options and the adventure of a riverboat vacation!
River cruise along the tranquil waters of Sarthe
The river cruise on the river Sarthe provides a splendid opportunity to discover an unspoilt region just over 200km from Paris. The river passes through some of the loveliest landscapes in Western France: lush countryside, historic towns and tranquil waterways.
The river Sarthe flows from Le Mans to the river Mayenne, a distance of about 283 km. From its source at Saint-Germain-des-Fossés in the south of the Sarthe department, it passes through Meslay-du-Maine and Sablé-sur-Sarthe before arriving at its river mouth at Laval in the Mayenne department.
The river is a popular waterway for river cruises, and this mode of transport is particularly suited to exploring the riverside villages, towns and cities all the way to the river’s final destination. The river cruise provides a peaceful and relaxing journey past landscapes that have changed little since the river was used for trade transport.
Captain your own boat along the river Sarthe
Captain your own boat along Sarthe, on an electric houseboat or river cruiser; no license needed or a requirement to hire a crew. This is adventure time for solo, couple, family or group of friends. This experience here will make a true freshwater sailor out of you, piloting your own boat along the tranquil waters of Sarthe.
Three hire companies rent out self-drive houseboats on this waterway – Anjou Navigation, Canalous and Aventure Nautique. A selection of cruise boats is available for rental ranging from 1 hour to up to a week.
The rules on self-driving a houseboat are relatively simple and straightforward. No license is required. Houseboat river adventure is for everyone, even if you have never been on a riverboat before. For the full experience of river cruising as a skipper, the rental companies generally offer an hour-long training session that will take place before starting your cruise.
One must be 18 years or older, have a valid ID, do not exceed boat maximal carrying capacity, follow a complete and personalised training (approximately 1hour), covering signs, rules and river map reading initiation. Using all the equipment on board, including deck and use ropes are covered as part of this training.
The sights and experiences to be had along River Sarthe
The countryside of Sarthe has been an escape from Paris for French nobility since the 18th century. During Roman times, this area was known for its thermal baths and it attracted many people seeking relief during their hectic lives like Lucius Tarquinius Superbus who ruled Rome before its downfall with his son Sextus Papirius Mascezel (and wife).
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Daytrips from Angers to see medieval towns along the river are a popular activity for travellers. Juigné sur Sarthe and Avoise, which sit on hilltops near each other in proximity with beautiful views across open farmland–are two such towns that offer visitors charming walks through their historic town centres and opportunities to explore preserved architecture.
As you glide past the tiny village of Dureil hidden in a forest, take time to dock at Malicorne. This city is full of history and art – perfect for those looking for a unique French countryside experience.
Golf and Family activities along River Sarthe
Imagine the sound of water lapping against your boat, whispering through reeds as you make your way to this hidden gem. The Golf of Sablé Solesmes is one-of-a-kind in all of France! With 27 holes and three 9 hole courses-The Fall Course (which features rolling terrain), Forest Course with tall trees looming over fairways like evergreen giants watching over their domain; Rivercourse located right on riverfront tee box where once traffic flowed freely while fishing boats bobbed upriver waiting for game caught offshoot streams.
This is a perfect spot to enjoy family activities. You will love the Domaine du Houssay at Spay, with its 40ha park and many water-related attractions. Pull up a pedal boat or take your kids on an adventure through a mini-golf course while you’re here. This property also offers other fun options too like swimming areas which make great photo opportunities as well.
Art & History along River Sarthe
Enter Anjou and discover a city with an artistic side. From historical architecture, riverside views to the wide variety of shops, this is one place you’ll want to explore for yourself.
Enjoy a pleasant 30-minute bicycle ride to the Plessis Bourré castle at Cheffes. The architecture combines medieval and Renaissance styles, making it look like you’re walking through an enchanted forest or stepping into stories from childhood.
The Cale de la Savatte Marina is a picturesque spot to moor your boat. A visit here brings you face-to-face with its gardens, walls and famous Tapestry of The Apocalypse – making it an excellent starting point for sightseeing throughout this historical city! There’s plenty more on offer too: numerous museums can be reached from the David d’Angers Gallery or Jean Lurçat Museum, among others.
Destination Canal du Midi – River cruise along the UNESCO World Heritage
The Canal du Midi in South France is a historic, unique and charming location that borders famous vineyards. This popular canal attracts tourists from all over the world to witness this French landscape for themselves while enjoying what many consider as some of Europe’s best wines.
The Canal du Midi is a beautiful canal in France that stretches across the Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi Pyrénées regions. With 328 structures, such as aqueducts and bridges to tunnels and locks – it’s no wonder this UNESCO World Heritage site was given its own chapter. There are countless twists through green waters bordered by plane trees lining your path while you enjoy views out over vineyards without interruption from any other structure.
Along this 200km route, you’ll find the picturesque little village of Le Somail and Narbonne with its historical treasures. A day trip to Carcassonne is worth every step as it stands proud amongst France’s most visited castles. But if your heart desires adventure, then head out onto these winding roads. There are so many towns and cities waiting just beyond where all that awaits us will be memories made better thanks in part by passing travellers who have shared their stories along this roadside eatery or painting shop before us.
Multiple options of self-drive canal boating & premium barges along the waterways
The historic canal is perfect for self-driving your way through the region, but if you want to get away from it all and enjoy some peace in style, then hire one of the many premium barges available. With attentive crew members ready at every turn, there will be no need to go hungry or thirsty during this romantic escape.
Watching the world go by is an experience that can take many different forms. You could spend your mornings lounging around, sipping on some cool drinks and watching people flit about their day like butterflies in a patchwork of fields; alternatively you might prefer to get up off the boat (or bicycle!) and explore.
You can take a trip to Narbonne and find yourself in the middle of foodie heaven. The town dates back centuries with its covered market where fresh produce from local farmers is sold alongside treats you would only expect to see here.
Exploring the Lush Vineyards from the Midi region – Minervois, Corbières, Herault and Pays d’Oc
Picturesque Languedoc is a paradise for those who love wine. There are many delicious ‘drink now’ varieties on sale direct from the vineyards that border an artery to the waterway. This scenic region of France has been called “the most productive in Europe” and it’s easy to see why: its grapes grow into some of the best wines around.
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The canal passes through many wine growing areas, including the Herault, Aude, Minervois and Corbieres. In addition to vineyards, fields of sunflowers meander along with little villages before passing cafes with views over vineyards where you may spot wildlife in its natural habitat.
A day on the river will convince you that French wine is made for drinking, and not just collecting. You can enjoy it every day during your cruise – where they serve up delicious food items such as meats cooked over open fires or fish served “en papillote” (in shallow dresses) to perfectly round off this quintessential meal experience.
Looking for a luxurious way to learn about wine? Then travel onboard one of these luxurious barges and enjoy the morning enlightenment with classes from respected sommeliers. You will then spend an afternoon wine tasting through some vineyards before ending your day in style at dinner, complemented by excellent selections carefully curated just for you.
What you can expect from a river cruise in France
There are several things to love about river cruising when in France. For one, river cruisers have an unparalleled opportunity to experience France’s rich biodiversity as they travel along with its network of navigable rivers. In fact, river cruisers can enjoy some of the world’s most attractive river landscapes while discovering lesser-known regions, riverside villages and canal-laced countryside.
Cruising the river systems through France also allows travellers to experience many different cultures along these waterways or near related rivers. River cruising is about experiencing French regional culture and interactions with river communities that are deeply steeped in local customs and lifestyles.
For river cruise passengers who enjoy fine dining, riverboat vacations offer a world of culinary delights. French cuisine at its best is found on river vessels with regional meals designed to enchant the palate as well as delight the eye. From elegant dining by day on river cruises to gourmet feasts served in bucolic settings ashore, river cruising is a foodie’s delight.
Detours are river cruise excursions that are entirely optional but can add significant time to your river cruise itinerary. Detours are based on the topics of wine, history, culture, cuisine and nature.
The art of cruising down the rivers of France is one that has been mastered over the years. With miles of waterways to soothe and relax on, river cruises in France offer the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, with countless towns and villages passed by so close you can almost reach out and touch them. River cruising offers a unique and timeless way to explore France. ◼
© This article was first published online in Nov 2021 – World Travel Magazine.