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Cycling the canals of France

Discover the perfect (and easy!) way to explore France

Cycling through France is an enjoyable, relaxing and also environmental way to explore the country and get right into the heart of the culture and the way of life which makes France the wonderful place it is.

France has thousands of kilometres of canals criss-crossing right through the country, the majority of which have towpaths running alongside. These flat paths make fantastic cycle routes, often travelling between main cities as of course, the canals were originally built in the 17th – 19th centuries to transport goods.

But why cycle the canals? Well, for one, canals generally are built on a flat level, and so it makes it a gentle, easy ride, you can take your time, and cycle at your own leisure without feeling like you have to train for months to prepare yourself for the route!

Plus – it’s different. It gets you right to the heart of nature, tree-lined paths surrounded by calm, lapping water, what more could you want from a holiday. Typically, a canal cycling holiday will take you past locks, through tunnels, over bridges and past villages and towns which are largely free of tourists, it’s the undiscovered France!

Below are some of the canals which are some of the most picturesque, most exciting to travel along, and our favourites too!

Canal du Midi

Canal du Midi

This canal was made famous by Rick Stein by his TV series when he cruised the length of the canal, visiting sights along the way and cooking wonderful meals. This canal has its source in Toulouse, and is a massive engineering feat spanning over 240 km before running into the Mediterranean. Of all the river tourism in France, one fifth will visit the Canal du Midi, and it’s not hard to see why.

Some of the top sites to see along the way include the fortified city of Carcassonne, a wonderful example of a medieval town, which has the longest city wall in Europe.

Other must see sights include the hilltop town of Béziers, also known as the wine capital of the Languedoc and Narbonne, with the largest cathedral in Southern France, it was the first city outside of Italy to be colonised by the Romans.

Our Canal du Midi Prestige cycling tour gives the perfect opportunity to travel along the canal, touring quaint villages and seeing sights such as Carcassonne.

Canal du Nivernais

Canal du Nivernais

The canal runs for 180 km linking the Loire to the Seine and now is exclusively for the use of leisure boats, but was originally for the transportation of timber, and then other important goods such as grain and stone. There are some fascinating sights to see along this route, including the historic city of Auxerre and Clamecy. If wine is your thing, then you are in luck, as there are plenty of wine villages along the route with wine cellars and caves just waiting to be explored. Fields and forests are typical of this route and there are lots of medieval castles and churches. At one point, the canal disappears under the ground, and there’s an impressive sight known as the ladder of Sardy, 16 locks within 3km, all in all, a picturesque canal to cycle along.

Our Canal du Nivernais cycling tour takes in the best sights of the canal, one of our new tours for 2017, it’s one not to be missed!

Canal du Rhône au Rhin

Canal du Rhône au Rhin

This is a really scenic canal which runs through the Alsace region, linking the Saône to the Rhine. It crosses the Doubs valley and the Haute Alsace, as well as a second branch which reaches Strasbourg.

The scenery is ever changing, from meadows and fields, through to forests. Some of the route will leave you in no doubt that this is the Alsace, and you can cycle alongside thatched houses, pretty villages, and with plenty of nature to see, you are in for a treat.

Our Alsace Prestige en Vélo tour covers some of this canal, starting from Strasbourg, there’s a gentle ride which takes you to the lovely town of Sélestat.

So, why not give canal cycling a try? If you want us to help put an itinerary together for you which takes in some of the canals above, then get in touch, and we’d be delighted to create the perfect trip for you!

Main article images:

Canal du Nivernais à Cercy la Tour, Nièvre, France - By Pline - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Percée de Thoraise sur le canal du Rhone au Rhin, Doubs ,Franche-Comté, France - By Pline - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0