It was the week of the ‘canicule’ (the heatwave) in France, with temperatures reaching up to 45 degrees Celsius in the countryside. This summer two friends and I would literally embark on an adventure along the French canals in Burgundy, France. We rented on a canal boat for 7 days and cruised through the beautiful countryside through green pastures, medieval towns and challenging locks.
(READ the online published version on Conde Nast’s House & Garden SA HERE )
Barging through Burgundy
A barging holiday is the ultimate way to experience slow travel. It’s really all about the journey within the destination, as you learn how to drive the boat, throw and tie ropes and navigate the narrow bridges. Driving the boat is actually really easy and a few bumps and pre-planning along the way all become part of the adventure.
We had a spacious 3-bedroom boat which houses a kitchen, comfy indoors saloon and an upper deck area.
The supermarket near the base and in the villages were well stocked and had amazing fresh produce to stock up on. We enjoyed a variety of chacuteries for lunch and on board barbeques all while sipping on delectable wines every day. My favourite part was unwinding with sundowners while watching those beautiful French summer sunsets create works of art on the water.
We decided to spend a day in the beautiful town of Auxerre that lies on the Yonne River. The village is the stuff made out of fairytales, with cobbled-stoned streets, wood-framed facades, Gothic cathedrals and a beautiful clock tower.
As we were in a heatwave we decided to find the municipality pools to cool off. We ended up riding through the town on our bicycles along the quay through the vast botanical gardens to the pools situated along the riverbank. The pools in Auxerre were beautiful and not too overcrowded.
The region we barged in is also known as the Franche-Comte and is renowned for its excellence in refined French cuisine. The evening I sampled some of the Bourgogne escargot and Boeuf bourguignon with ratatouille.
Summer On Board
We cruised through farmlands, grazing livestock all set between idyllic villages along the waterways. Barging also means going through many locks, which are narrow gates that allow the boats to descend or rise up to the river bed. They are an adventure in themselves and as first time boaters we were kindly helped by the lock keepers and other bargers waiting in the locks. You will drive at about 10 km p/h on theses placid canals that wind through the most picturesque regions of France.
We managed to stop and enjoy a few more towns. My second favourite was Clamency to which we arrived on probably the hottest day of the week. We walked through the quaint town to find yet another swimming pool which was open for free that week due to the heatwave.
Barging along these old canals allows you to visit places completely off the map and away from the summer season tourist crowds. I fell in love with Auxerre and Clamency. The beautiful winding streets leading to scenic town squares surrounded by classic architecture will charm all those who wander through them.
My Boating Holiday
Will I do it again? Yes! Even though we did it through a heatwave, I still want to do another barge. It’s an incredible experience. There are plenty of routes to explore around France as well as in Italy, Holland, Germany and the UK.
I loved the relaxing slow gliding motion as your boat cuts through the tranquil canal water. You hear nothing but the sounds of nature from all around as a refreshing breeze swoops in from above and between shady trees lining the waterways. I can’t wait to get my captain’s hat out again.
We barged with Le Boat, a canal boat rental company that has been around for over 50 years. They offer incredible offers every month. Best thing is they have booking offices right here in South Africa too. I was surprised to find so many South Africans on my trip who were doing it for their second or third time.
Phone: +27 21 200 1838
Watch the Video and see what cruising is like: