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France

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- its regional diversity - the unspoiled natural landscapes, whatever your route may be - the unexpected encounters along the canals - the possibility to experience centuries of history in the heart of the city: Carcassonne, Narbonne, Auxerre, Strasbourg, Cahors... - the cuisine, unique and full of surprises in each region


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Scenic River tourism in France

With a view from a barge on a canal, France is no longer the same. There is no more traffic, queues, loud noises, cramped spaces or crowded restaurants, only relaxation in a quiet and natural environment over the water and every bend of the river reveals new picturesque landscapes. Welcome to the privileged world of river traveling on a barge, narrowboat or river boat !

Canal du Centre France has a large inland waterway network of rivers and canals that spans 8,500 km. The rivers are controlled naturally or through facilities such as dams or locks. It does not always meet the requirements for river transportation of goods or irrigation needs.

Photo: Canal du Centre, Bourgogne.


It is for this reason that artificial channels have been built since the seventeenth century, including irrigation channels and there are specific navigation channels .

River tourism in France mainly uses the navigation channels, where supply is divided between the rental narrowboats, boat ride excursions (for a few hours or a day), hotel-barge excursions and river boat tours over several days.

Narrow boat rentals

Comparable to motor homes, which are a means of transportation on the road combining residential equipment and mobility, narrow boats (also known as pleasure crafts) are the equivalent to motor homes but on waterways. The rental narrowboats managed to transport over 144 000 people in 2011 with an estimated 1,568 boat fleet spread over 113 rivers. The number of people that were transported is rather low compared to the 10 million passengers that had boat rides, but it is comparable to that of a river cruise ships (180 000 passengers) and exceeds the amount of people transported in hotel-barges (18,500 passengers).

Canal de Briare The waterways in France where the rental boats and barges can be ranted are mainly navigation channels. The first artificial navigation channels were created in the seventeenth century.

Photo: Canal de Briare.


The Canal de Briare is one of the oldest shipping canals in France and the construction began in 1605 with the aim of connecting the Loire to the Seine. Sixty years later, in 1666, the construction of the Canal du Midi began, connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.

Other navigation canals have been re-built recently, but they have been in use for inland travel from the Neolithic period (about 4000 BC) like the little Canal de Savières which is just 4.5 km long, connecting Lake Bourget to the Rhone.

Main destinations for river cruises

The number of passengers in the regions Languedoc-Roussillon andBourgogne account for almost two thirds of the market. Languedoc-Roussillon is the leader with 57,408 passengers in 2011, or about 40% of river tourism market in France.

The following table shows the number of passengers for the 5 regions according to their importance in the river tourism market in France.

Amount of passengers by region
Region Number of passengers National comparison Growth 2011/2010
Languedoc-Roussillon 57408 39,8 % 20,6 %
Bourgogne 35640 24,7 % 26,3 %
Alsace-Lorraine 19344 13,4 % 16,8 %
Franche-Comté 7965 5,5 % 7,3 %
Aquitaine 7110 4,9 % 6 %

Passenger distribution by region

River boat passenger graph

This undivided control that the Languedoc-Roussillon region has is explained by the presence of the Canal du Midi, a worldwide notoriety, but also by the sunny climate of this region, the ease of access (Autoroute A7, TGV and airports), the proximity to the resorts as well as the Mediterranean sea, the historical heritage and picturesque landscapes.

 Canal du Midi, river travelPlease note that the river boating is not limited to the Canal du Midi as boats and barges can continue to travel beyond Sète, Beaucaire and the Camargue via the Canal du Rhône à  Sète.

Photo: Canal du Midi.


The Canal du Midi is still not the only river to offer boaters a choice of routes. Burgundy, second in the rankings, offers a river system less known but equally remarkable around Saint-Jean-de-Losne near Dijon. At the eastern edge of Burgundy, Saint-Jean-de-Losne provides access to the Canal du Centre to the south, and the Canal de Bourgogne to the north. These two channels join the beautiful Canal du Nivernais which passes by Auxerre, Decize and the Canal latéral à  la Loire. For these two locations, the share of the river tourism in France has increased by over 20% compared to 2010.

Houseboat cruises and activities

In a cruise barge or boat, there are many possibilities for leisure activities, sports and cultural experiences. It is possible to follow the barge with a VTT or walk on the paths, practice canoeing, fishing, take photos or visit remarkable historic sites. Activities are abundant and are presented along the routes on our river stops , classified by region.

 Castle Bouziès on the cliff A good example is the river cruise in Bouziès, in Quercy which is upstream of Cahors, where the trail was dug into the cliff bordering the River Lot which follows the barges to the river port.

Photo: Castle Bouziès in the cliff bordering the River Lot.

Castle Bouziès is nestled in the heart of the cliff. There is a bas-relief alongside prehistoric murals of classified caves, the Pech Merle. The VTT rides between the cliffs and river side will be most unusual experiences.



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Capital : Paris
Currency : euro
Area : 551600 sq. km
Population : 60100000 Hab
Density : 109 Inhabitants/sqm
Time zone : GMT + 1
Head of state : François Hollande
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