Canal Boating in France 2011 Overview

Posted by on October 4, 2011

Yes it really was this achingly beautiful on the Canal du Robine. Photo Sara Duke

Sara and I recently took a trip to France with two of our closest friends, Kris and Carolyn Karsell. This wasn’t any ordinary vacation.
We didn’t spend a week in Paris or take a multi-city big bus blitz through European capitals. We didn’t see the Louvre or Versailles. Instead, we went on a leisurely cruise through the French country side.  Let me explain.

Two years ago I read an article in Cruising World magazine about a
company in France that rents canal boats to anyone. Honestly, no boat
experience required. You rent the boat from one of their many bases
on the French canal system and self navigate, for a week, through the
countryside.

Morning light on the Canal du Midi. Photo Sara Duke.

French canal system? In the 1600s canals were the railroad of
the time and the French were, and still are, keen on improving
commerce and building connections. They built more canals throughout
their country than any other European country except maybe the Dutch who have a flat country that is mostly underwater. The French
have a hilly country and in the south water is scarce. The French
canals were used to move goods and people, connecting remote areas
with big cities and the coast and they performed perfectly until the
train and combustion engine stole their usefulness. The Canal du Midi
(which we cruised on) has been in constant operation for over 300
years.

Enjoying the ride on the Canal du Junction. Photo Sara Duke

Learning all this was a bit of a shock. I was surprised something
like this existed. I’d heard of chartering a sailboat but canal
boating was new to me. Simply put: you rent a boat from a canal boat
rental company. We chose LeBoat. You choose a departure date, a
departure point, a return point, a boat, and then show up on time to
collect your vessel. You spend a week seeing, eating, drinking,
touring and relaxing in rural France. The canals are no longer used
for commercial traffic—it’s just pleasure boaters, and often you
have sections of the canal all to yourself.

After I presented this idea to my fellow travelers it didn’t take
long for them to agree. So I set out an itinerary and we spent 11
days on a unique vacation.

Here was our itinerary:

  • Fly from Minneapolis to Paris
    direct on Thursday.
  • Arrive Paris Friday AM – check
    into a hotel for the night.
  • Spend Saturday in Paris – take the
    night train to Narbonne in the South of France.
  • Pick up our boat on Sunday in
    Narbonne.
  • Return the boat the following
    Sunday in Trebes.
  • Tour the medieval walled city of
    Carcassonne and return to Paris via TGV.
  • Fly from Paris to Minneapolis on Monday.

Here's a nice spot to spend the night on the Canal du Midi. Photo Sara Duke

Seems simple right? It was and it was better than I’d even hoped
for and don’t worry I’ll give you all the details.

Next up – the city of light.

Two days in Paris.

3 Responses to Canal Boating in France 2011 Overview

  1. Lora

    Cool! Makes me want to go!

  2. Lisa

    Always love your stories – can’t wait for the next installment!

  3. Robin

    Impressive! That sounds like so much fun!