France | Cruising the Franche-Comte region in France – what you should know.
Cruising the Franche-Comte region in France – what you should know.
After two years in the making (thanks to Covid) we set sail for Burgundy’s Franche-Comté region in eastern France. The crew consisted of two couples from Australia. The boat, from Le Boat’s rental fleet, was the Calypso. At 13.25m x 4.10m the boat is quite spacious and very comfortable for two couples. It has three cabins, two bathrooms, galley kitchen, and top deck for dining. The route on the Saône and its confluent canals took one week. The month: early September. The canal route starts at Fontenoy-le-Château and ends at St Jean-de-Losne. The elevation descent is about 230 metres from start to finish. Crew members are not required to hold a boat licence. Full instructions, charts and touring information are provided by the boat hire-company on check-in day. The on-board manuals are comprehensive.
What to see?
For first timers, it’s difficult to know whether to moor your boat when you see houses along the riverbank. Is this a village? Is it worth mooring here and having a look? Is there anything to see or do? More importantly, do you have time to moor here as you have to get to a specific village or town to ensure you have a berth for the night at the port. Many of the villages are situated some distance from the canal; if you don’t have bicycles you will not be able to visit them as the walking distance is too far. If you do choose to visit them, you are not guaranteed there is anything of interest to view and you may not find bistros in which to dine and a enjoy leisurely drink.
Before booking your canal adventure check the route. Some routes are better than others. Do you want to pop into little villages along the way, or do you want to op-out of life’s chaos and cruise in peace and solitude? The Fontenoy-le-Château to St Jean-de-Losne can be repetitive; villages difficult to access.
When booking your boat, ensure you have a spare cabin to accommodate your luggage. The boats are well appointed but two suitcases in a small cabin would be very uncomfortable.
On board is the boat navigation manual to use as a reference guide about the boat, how to handle the boat, the rules of the waterway, and the villages you pass by. The waterways guide (Guide Fluvial) covers the Canal des Vosges (Fontenoy-le-Château to Corre) and the 186 km route along the Petite Saône to our final port, Saint-Jean-de-Losne.
Bring everything with you. The boats aren’t equipped with the necessities of daily life such as dish washing detergent, dish sponges or cloths, paper towels, toilet paper, shampoo & conditioner, hair dryer etc. The boats are well appointed in terms of kitchen appliances and cooking utensils, etc. Bath towels and sheets are supplied.
If you’re not 100 percent certain what the boat has on board, what you need or may want, contact the boat company well in advance to find out.
Take note of the Legend and the Signs and Signals pages. They will assist with your navigation. Remember if you are cruising from north to south the locks are easier. Consider the option of travelling south to north. Entering a lock when travelling upstream you will be lassoing bollards three metres above your head or climbing up ladders. Also, if the current is with you going ‘downstream’, it could be a money saver in terms of chewing up less petrol.
If you’re planning on a canal cruise vacation, start learning how to throw ropes around a bollard. We went through about 32 plus locks. Sometimes you are very close to the bollard, all you have to do is allow the rope some slack while the lock water is released. Navigating a lock may look easy but sometimes it can be tricky. Maybe start with a game of quoits in your back yard and work your way up to larger items? The more precise you become, the less stressful entering the locks will be.
Timing and Location:
The season or time of the year you choose for your canal adventure is very important. If you are travelling with family and you plan on sunbaking and swimming, some canal routes are not ideal. If you’re after continuous sun, then choose the month that guarantees blissful days. Our trip (September 07 to September 14) was sometimes hit and miss. Our day could start with rain, later the sun would come out, not long after the rain would reappear, then sunshine again.
At certain times of the year, the canals are inhabited by too many holiday makers. If you’re not feeling overly confident about navigating locks and passing other boats, then choose a less busy time when the waterways aren’t so occupied and avoid joining a queue of boats waiting to enter the locks. There may be occasions when you and another boat can fit in the lock at the same time.
Dress code – what to pack:
Take as little as possible. This is not a fashion show. This is a holiday where you relax and take it easy. Forget glitzy restaurants on our canal-river route. Your attire should be suited to boat not city living. Make sure you have no-slip shoes and hooded, weatherproof jackets for inclement weather. Standing on the bow or stern in the rain, lassoing the bollards to keep your boat ‘anchored’ while in the lock, will be a more pleasant experience if you’re in the right gear.
Food & Beverages:
We stocked our boat with some necessities (packaged cheese, crackers, cereal, tea, coffee sachets, wine, bottled water…) purchased at Leclerc in Colmar where were staying before our canal cruise. We drove a rental car to Épinal, then continued to Fotenoy-le-Château via private minivan; en route we stopped for supplies of fresh produce such as milk, eggs, bread. During the cruise, we restocked at supermarchés (supermarkets) and small shops. Although the boat stores an ample supply of water until the next filling station, the water is not drinkable. Boat water is for showers, washing dishes and flushing toilets. Buy up big on bottled water for personal consumption.
Restaurants may not be too accommodating if you simply turn up. We arrived in a couple of villages only to be told that their bistro was fully booked, or the day’s food service had stopped. Get to your desired dining destination before midday if you want any hope of securing a table for lunch. Le Boat’s manual recommends restaurants and provides their contact details. Phone first and reserve a table to avoid disappointment. These villages are small. Restaurants aren’t in over supply and the local villagers love a lunch, especially Sunday lunch. It’s almost like a religion. Do not get cranky if you miss out. You have been warned.
For people who love to post on social media, be prepared for major FOMO. WIFI is often non-existent when cruising; WIFI in the marinas isn’t much better. Best place to ensure you’re going to reconnect with your ‘followers’ is at the local Office of Tourism. You should be guaranteed you’ll have access to free WIFI, but you will have to ask…and probably in French.
Canal crushing isn’t cheap, but it isn’t expensive either. For one week (8 nights 7 days) you are looking at a starting price of US$2,049. And there are added extras too, including mooring fees, petrol, etc. You can’t compare the cost of a set boat tours with staff, daily meals, and reasonably-sized cabins such as a cruise down the Nile (Egypt) or sailing around the Croatian islands; it’s a completely different experience.
If you’re budgeting, start with around 200 euro per person. This will cover a couple of large food and wine shop-ups at supermarchés, leisurely afternoon, lunches, and drinks at a local bar. Don’t discount adding some extra dollars to top up the kitty for dinners in the villages.
Last comment: this route is slow and steady. If you’re wanting to opt out of the rat race this is for you. If you’re keen to wander around small villages and shop at local markets, reconsider this route. Make sure your arrival in a village is timed to coincide with the market day. You will need bicycles to access villages as they are not always nearby and there won’t be a line-up of local taxis waiting to give you a ride when you moor your boat.