Exploring around Nantes on a houseboat
On a recent trip to Europe I was lucky enough to spend a few days in one of my favourite parts of France, Brittany, where I lived for a year and a half around 20 years ago. If you love being close to water, as I do, then Brittany is an absolute must to visit! With the Atlantic Ocean on the north with its pink granite coast; on the west with rocky outcrops, lonely lighthouses and crashing seas; on the south with the stunning Golfe du Morbihan, its islands such as Ile aux Moines and Ile d'Arz, plus the Atlantic ocean islands, Belle Isle, Houat and Hoedic, it is no wonder the Breton people are sailors of the sea.
One afternoon, I was at Suce-sur-Erdre, the base for the houseboat holidays which you can hire through Slow Tours, and was invited to take the helm of one of the boats on a short trip to Nantes and back. Well, maybe not that short, as it is a two-hour trip up the river, and two hours back, but what a wonderful experience it was! We passed so many chateaux of all shapes and sizes as we meandered along our way, herons, ducks and other water birds accompanying us. Lush, green grass, poplar trees, weeping willows and other beautiful deciduous trees starting to show their autumn colours adorned the banks of the river. As we approached the city, more houseboats, barges, sailing boats from local clubs and a couple of tourism boats, gave another perspective or river-boating.
We motored through what is almost the centre of Nantes city, with many places available to tie up the boat and go ashore to enjoy the local cafes, restaurants, bistros and night life. After navigating through the 900 metre tunnel which goes under the chateau, we stopped at the marina next to the central train station to find ourselves within easy walking distance of the chateau of the Dukes of Brittany, the cathedral and the famous shopping centre 'Passage Pommeraye'. What a great place to moor the boat for a couple of nights and explore Nantes city!
The houseboat was a joy to drive, easy to handle with a steering wheel and gear lever (forwards and reverse) the main parts to operate. A handbook tells you what any signs and markers on the river mean and gives lots of advice on how to get the best out of your houseboat holiday. I could see why a boating permit is not essential. It really is an interesting journey, sometimes so calm and peaceful, but with the possibility to stop, take in a town, village or city, then calmly go on your way again.
In France, you may moor the boat wherever you like along the towpath, unless a sign fobids you to do so. (Be sure not to have the mooring ropes tied to trees on the other side of the towpath, restricting and endangering other people using them!) If you use a quay or special mooring spots along rivers and canals, you may have to pay 10-50 EUR per night.
I could picture myself with friends doing this journey, mooring near small villages, taking one of the bikes out in the early morning to get the baguette and croissants from the local bakery. If this is you, don't forget the beret on your head, and put the baguette across the handlebars, so you can keep an iconic photo of your trip!
Slow Tours offers a number of Houseboat Holidays in Europe