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Canal Boats in France

Jack Bonham

Nivernais Canal

Monday, after stocking up on groceries and a few other necessities for the upcoming week on the canal boat, we departed through the Burgundian countryside to our home base for the canal boat rental in Corbigny on the Nivernais canal. After loading the boat, filling out the paperwork, and getting a short course on boat handling, we set off in a southern (and uphill) direction. Because of the late (4pm) takeover time for the boat and the relatively early (7pm) closing time of the locks, we only traveled a bit on the first day. We rented our three cabin, two bathroom boat from Locaboat, a reputable company with canal boats primarily in France, but also Ireland, Holland, and Germany.

The Nivernais Canal was built in the early 1800's to transport firewood from the Morvan forests to Paris. As the firewood demands increased there was a need to transport logs from further away, and many areas of the Seine and Loire were not navigable. The Nivernais essentially connects these two rivers for commercial transport. As you travel south on the Nivernais, climbing many locks, you reach Baye at the summit and Lake Baye, which is the water source for the canal.

France, canal boat. Photo taken by Jack from IN, 06/01

On our first full day we "locked up" meaning we rose in elevation a few hundred feet to arrive at Lake Baye on the first evening. The day's trip took us through three tunnels. The weather was very warm and after operating about 20 locks (not a normal day) we were hot and welcomed the swimming beach of the lake for a refreshing dip. You don't generally swim in the canals as they are still and fairly shallow.

Succeeding days were all downhill, both literally and figuratively. Many fewer locks and after Baye we were headed down toward the Loire. A pleasant thing about canal boating is that the days tend to run together. Lots of relaxed family time, bike riding, reading, walking, informal wine and cheese tasting, sunbathing, etc. I think there were a few museums we could have visited, but at the time they just didn't seem that appealing.

We had three dinners on board and three dinners in local restaurants. The restaurants were all good and reasonably priced with one minor exception. I generally know my species on the menu, but not necessarily the preparation. My son and sister-in-law both liked veal so when I saw "rognon de veau" on the menu we all assumed that it would be delicious. As those of you who are French speakers will know this dish was veal kidneys! I understand that many people enjoy kidneys and our crowd were good sports, but it was certainly not what they expected. After that experience, no matter how little English the waiter/waitress spoke I requested some clarification on the meals. This usually involved pointing to body parts.

France, Jack cooking on the canal boat. Photo taken by someone in Jack's family, 06/01

The French people on our journey were patient and wonderful. Many of the lockkeepers cottages are nicely fixed up with flowers and landscaping and at some locks you can buy honey, produce, crafts, etc. The trip would have been enhanced had I taken a conversational course in French; I did this with Italian and it was amazing how much it helped. Everyone was very willing to be patient and help, especially if you tried even the most rudimentary French.

Because of our flight situation, we had to make our seven-day boat trip in six days. This was not a challenge at all and after our sixth night we packed, cleaned the boat, and headed for Paris for one last night.


www.burgundy-canal.com: Burgundy Canal

www.locaboat.com: Locaboat Holidays

www.slowtrav.com/tr/TripReport.asp?tripid=103: Jack's full trip report

Slow Travel UK - Travel Notes: Jack's article on Canal Boats in England

the-hamiltons.tripod.com/France1/: Personal website with trip report from canal boat trip in France, Canal du Nivernais in 2000

Jack Bonham lives with his family in the Indianapolis area.

© Jack Bonham, 2001

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