France has around 5,000 miles of inland waterways, including rivers and canals. It is possible to travel the length of the country entirely by boat, and it's the ideal way to see the country. Many companies offer week-long barge holidays traveling from north to south as well as shorter trips. The most famous sight-seeing boat excursions include guided tours of Paris via the Seine and the famous wine-producing region of the Loire valley.
Paris and the Seine
Taking a riverboat cruise through Paris provides the ideal opportunity to see the heart of the city whilst keeping away from the worst of the crowds. Tours include the Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum and Pont Neuf (the oldest bridge in Paris), as well as less well-known attractions. Some companies offer trips all year round, but as many boats have only outside seating the most popular times are May to September. The most famous of the Paris riverboat companies is Bateaux-Mouches, who provide guided tours as well as evening cruises including dinner and entertainment. At the time of publication, cruise tour prices start at 11 euros for adults.
The Loire river is the longest in France, running for over 700 miles. The Loire Valley is designated a World Heritage Site, and is home to hundreds of species of animals. The Loire valley is famously home to a thousand chateaux, many of which line the river banks and are open to the public. To cruise the river, hire a canoe or book a place on a "peniche", a traditional flat-bottomed barge leaving from Candes, Chaumont or the well-known wine producing town of Sancerre.
As well as short sight seeing tours, several companies offer week-long themed stays on specially fitted out luxury barges. These range from wine and art appreciation courses to gourmet tours. French Wine Tours offers tutored wine-tasting sessions with a wine expert and accompanied tours to vineyards in the Languedoc region of southern France. Massachussets-based company French Country Waterways offers six-day cruises along various routes in the mid-France area, including one day excursions and restaurant meals. At the time of publication, rates started at £5,295 per person.
If you prefer not to take a package tour, many companies offer barge and cruise boat hire by the week or day. This is the best option if you prefer to plan your own itinerary and prefer more flexibility. France-based company H2olidays has a range of hire bases across the country, allowing you to pick up the boat from one area and return it another. They also offer charter boats complete with crew. At the time of publication, prices ranged from 600 to 4,185 euros depending on the time of year and size of boat.
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