With over 8,000 kms (5,000 miles) of canals and rivers in France, it’s hard to find a tiny village, let alone a main town or city, that doesn’t have at least one lovely, picturesque river running through its heart! The longest French rivers usually wind their way gently through both towns and countryside, and are an integral part of the nation’s geography – there are even two words for “river” – mighty ones that flow to the sea are known as “fleuves” whilst all others are “rivières“.
From the dramatic Dordogne to Burgundy’s world-famous vineyards, and from rural Franche-Comté to the Mediterranean Midi, a fascinating web of waterways awaits the visitor to France this summer. But how do you decide where to go? Here are some tips from Headwater’s expert francophiles:
Tina James, Managing Director, started her Headwater career working as a rep in Burgundy in the early 1990’s and, still today, remains passionate about everything the region has to offer: “Burgundy is beautifully unspoilt and is a throw-back to how all of France must have looked centuries ago. Beautifully preserved historic villages, peaceful riverside trails, quiet rolling countryside and, of course, some of the finest wines in the world! Both our walking and cycling holidays have been meticulously hand-crafted to allow ample time for lazy waterside lunches – lots of pretty canal ports to explore too!”
Alsace is a firm French favourite for Senior Programme Manager, Heather Godbert: “I hold my hands up to being a complete culture-vulture on holiday, and history plays a big part in my choice of where to visit. With its Franco-German origins, Alsace affords an ecclectic cultural fusion that influences every part of life here, from cuisine to language,and from architecture to customs. It also boasts great natural beauty with ancient forests, majestic mountains, mighty rivers and rolling vineyards backing some of the prettiest villages in the country.”
For many, no holiday is complete without sunshine, and Senior Programme Manager, Charlotte McCutcheon always looks to head south: “Although beach holidays have never really been my thing, I do like being by the sea and love the whole concept of life on the Med – from leisurely al fresco lunches, to tiny hill villages, to colourful ports and bustling fish markets. I am delighted that Headwater have introduced cycling along the Pathways of the Canal du Midi for the first time this summer – and with its gentle, traffic-free canalside paths, it’s perfect for first-time cyclists too!”
Headwater’s Operations Manager, Mike Wheeler, has spent many years working as a Canoe Instructor in France and believes there is no better place to enjoy a family canoeing holiday than on the River Dordogne: “In my view, any sort of activity holiday has to be fun, so it’s essential that everybody is relaxed and in their comfort zone. One of the great things about the Dordogne is that it is so wide, calm and flat so no-one ever need feel nervous. Plus, there are no scary weirs to navigate meaning you can just sit back and enjoy the stunning scenery all around you!”
Finally, if you are looking to step back in time, to a rural part of France where time appears to have stood still, then Researcher, Calvin Yates, urges you to try chef Raymond Blanc’s home region of Franche-Comté in eastern France: “Having set up both the Headwater cycling holidays here, I really got to know the region in depth and I just love it! It’s about as far away from hectic 21st century living as you will find – lots of pretty villages, hidden farming hamlets, gurgling river valleys and shady forest – yet there’s a wealth of historic interest too, with UNESCO-listed sites in Salin-les-Bains, Arc-et-Senans and the bustling university town of Besançon.”
Hopefully this whistle-stop tour of the spider’s web of French waterways has provided some ideas as to where to consider for your next holiday – so, to conclude in the words of the song by Tony Hatch “When the weather is fine, then you know it’s a sign, for messing about on the river ….” – we hope to hear from you shortly!