A Le Boat vacation lets you be your own captain as you navigate French waterways

How often is it that your vacation can be de-scribed as both relaxing and exhilarating? That it provides stimulation and learning balanced with just letting go of stress? How valuable would it be to discover such a vacation?

Look no further, for we have found it for you. Re-cently, we took a Le Boat canal boat vacation and toured through France, just south of Paris, and it was a vacation of a lifetime.

Every few kilometers along the way, you’ll see small villages dating as far back as the 11th century.
Every few kilometers along the way, you’ll see small villages dating as far back as the 11th century.

Admittedly, while we were experienced boaters on the Chesapeake Bay, we were unfamiliar with maneuvering a canal boat, and certainly unfamiliar with the French canal system. But Le Boat rents to people who have never boated a day in their lives and gives on-the-spot training. And, navigation is easy since it is impossible to get lost on a canal.

Still, the first few hours were spent in an unwarranted mode of hyper-vigilance. Similarly, the initial navigation of locks also kept us on our toes, but in no time, we were totally at ease.

We quickly adjusted to the craft and found it remarkably accommodating. Eventually, three of the four travelers in our group learned to drive the boat.

Our trip was aboard the 36-foot Clipper — quite a coincidence given our Chesapeake Bay heritage — with a saloon and separate galley that gave us plenty of room for socializing. It was easy to access the upper sun deck, which had a second steering position and provided 360-degree views.

The two double en suite cabins made it a perfect boat for two couples, but the craft can sleep up to six people since the love seat in the saloon converts into a third double bed.

Each stateroom comes with comfortable bed-ding, storage for clothes and luggage, and an en suite bathroom with plenty of hot water for showers.

The galley kitchen was equipped with an oven (we baked pizza), plus a cook top to heat water for coffee or cook a meal.

The kitchen also had a refrigerator, which we needed for the eggs we bought fresh from the lock keeper, the wine we purchased along the way from vineyards, the cheese we bought in the villages, and the delicious pastries and breads we got daily at each small town’s bakery (or “boulangerie”).

We had many opportunities to dine in the towns, take in the sights, and mingle with the locals, all of whom were friendly, helpful, and willing to please, even if they didn’t speak much English and we could only speak a smattering of French.

Because of the fine weather, we did all of our driving from the upper deck. It was very peaceful and quiet as we glided by the sights while basking in the sun and enjoying a bird’s-eye view. During our cruise, we passed through 27 locks, fascinating examples of engineering from the 1500s through the 1800s, where changes in elevation beyond the natural gentle fall of the river were managed via an aquatic elevator. Some were manned by a lock keeper, others we triggered automatically. We enjoyed working with the lock keepers to open and shut the gates and often purchased items from them such as postcards, wine, and ice cream.

Passing though the French countryside

Our canal cruise took us from Decize, about two-and-a-half hours south of Paris, to Chatillion-su-Loire, along a planned route called “The Spar-kling Cruise.” We cruised on the Canal lateral a la Loire, which follows the Loire River through the gently sloping hills, which were often covered with vineyards. We sailed past many quaint old villages, then docked and rode our bikes, discov-ering amazing chateaux and ancient churches. We explored countless winding little streets filled with unique shops and picturesque houses, discovered cemeteries and waterfront parks, and picnicked beneath grand old trees.

Each day yielded a new set of sights to enjoy, the majority being things you simply cannot see in America. Our favorites were the buildings that dated from as early as the 1100s, including medi-eval villages, cathedrals, churches, and castles — or, as the French call them, chateaux.

The countryside was full of vineyards, pastures, meadows filled with cows and sheep, and expan-sive fields of red poppies and wildflowers. A wide variety of birds, lakes, and the canopy of blue sky and puffy white clouds all added to the relaxing bucolic experience. We never tired of seeing what was around the next bend, bridge, or lock. We set our own schedule, waking when we felt like it, walking or biking to buy our fresh bakery goods, and then shoving off when we were ready. We cruised until we reached a town that piqued our interest where we stopped to explore.

The only excursion we booked was in Sancerre. The winery and vineyard tour also included a tast-ing in a goat cheese store and a tour of Sancerre and a couple of other nearby small towns.

Sancerre sits atop a ridge above the Loire that can be seen from miles around and provides gor-geous views of the many hillside vineyards that produce several varietals of delicious whites and a pinot noir. The visit to the winery was educational, as well as a great chance to meet the “farmer” (vine-yard owner) and some British visitors to the area.

The towns along the way Decize — Our town of departure along the Loire River, two hours south of Paris. Fluery-sur-Loire — A very small town of perhaps 100 people with overnight docking and a small pub. A great place to bicycle and discover the nearby castle, Cha-teau de Chevenon.

Nevers — This medieval walled city, roughly the size of Annapolis, Md., is home to the shrine of St. Bernadette, a beautiful cathedral from the 12th century, as well as a duke’s pal-ace and medieval town square, where we enjoyed a great dinner.

La Charite-su Loire — A 14th-century town noted for its long medieval stone bridge, cathedral, and town square. Chatillon-su-Loire — The ruins of Chateau Gail-lard date back to the 11th century. The medieval town retains a population of 3,000.

LeBoat offers a huge variety of stunning Euro-pean destinations: 10 in France, 14 in England, 12 in Italy (including Venice), 15 in Germany, two

in Scotland, nine in Ireland, five in Belgium, 10 in Holland, and six in Poland. The vacations you can choose from are flexible, and can last from three days to a week or longer. They are great for couples, families, or groups, because the boats’ sizes range from two to five cabins, with a variety of lay-outs, styles, and features that allow for customizing sleeping areas.

Our boat truly felt like a home away from home. Chartering one from Le Boat is so easy that the unique vacation is practically effortless. See our additional photos at RecreationNews.com and book your trip by calling 800-734-5491.

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