A family boat trip along the Nivernais canal, Burgundy

Winding its way through an unspoilt natural landscape, Burgundy’s Nivernais canal is a haven of peace where you can truly switch off - and the ideal place to explore by boat. Blogger Aurélie Borel took her family along the canal from the Baye-Bazolles sailing centre to the arches of La Collancelle, via Châtillon-en-Bazois. She shared her experience and highlights with France.fr.

Getting to grips with navigation

The starting point for our cruise through Burgundy is the sailing base at Baye-Bazolles, well known to hikers and fishermen. This is where the experience begins, with an introduction to navigation. Before embarking on the adventure, a quick briefing is required, given by the team of Aquafluvial, one of the boat rental agencies on the canal. The operation of the boat is very simple: a steering wheel, a joystick and a few controls for the lights, water pump and fan.

‘Our briefing was pretty straightforward,’ says Aurélie, ‘even if we initially zig-zagged around because of the boat’s momentum! We were a bit anxious at the start, but by the end, it was a great laugh.’ Sailing is an experience like no other. ‘We immediately loved it! This slowness is so rare these days, and we enjoyed the fact that we could take breaks when we wanted. Five minutes are enough to take control of the boat. After that, all that remains is to gaze at the landscapes... until you reach the first lock,’ smiles Aurélie.

Passing through a lock: an experience in itself

‘The passage through a lock is always a memorable moment. The first time, we were impressed by the system,’ she says. ‘In simple terms, it’s as if the boat is entering an elevator: you have to wait for the door to open, enter, then wait for the door to close. The water goes up or down, then the second door opens, allowing us to continue our journey. It’s a magic moment and the opportunity to exchange with the lock keepers or onlookers, who stop to watch us pass.’

Switch off in nature

‘When you live on a boat, you live outside and your relationship with nature changes straight away. It’s wonderful to be carried away by this slow navigation, to see the landscapes pass by at the rhythm of the boat,’ explains Aurélie. ‘You can’t help but fully switch off from modern life and reconnect with nature. In the morning, you wake up to birdsong and can watch the rabbits at the edge of the wood.’

‘We loaded our bikes onto the boat. During our stopover in Châtillon-en-Bazois, we explored the canal in a different way, in the company of the local wildlife. Our daughter loved the hens and the horses, which she knew, and the herons, which she saw for the first time! And we’ll be back to see the kingfisher, a regular of the canal…’

Read more about Burgundy's outdoor activities here.

Discover the arches of La Collancelle

Aurélie and her family witnessed some incredible places during the cruise. Her favourite was the arches of La Collancelle, named after the eponymous town and hidden in the lush vegetation. ‘There are three galleries, each measuring several hundred meters long, one after the other. Navigating under these structures is an extraordinary experience! Between the galleries is a different environment, with incredibly dense vegetation which has earned it the nickname of Little Amazon. It’s simply magnificent!’

Excavated from the granite and porphyry of the ‘mountain’ of La Colancelle from 1784, the arches allowed the canal to pass through. At the time, 1,200 men contributed to its construction, resulting in one of the most remarkable structures in the region. Next to this exotic place is another exceptional site: the astonishing Sardy’s locks, a spectacular ‘staircase’ of 16 locks.

Meander down a living canal

Following Burgundy’s Nivernais canal also means meeting people. ‘We found the canal very lively,’ reflects Aurélie, ‘with many friendly, unusual places to stop and have a drink or something to eat.’ One such place is the Chavance Lock dining bar, run by Stéphane, which Aurélie recommends for its ‘good-quality local produce at low prices’. Another beautiful place is the Crêperie Sur l’Eau in Châtillon-en-Bazois. Through discussions with other boat-trippers and the lock keepers, the canal shows off its human side. Just be open to chance encounters and the magic of the present moment.

‘With this river cruise, we were looking for guaranteed calm. Our mission was accomplished. But we were also pleasantly surprised by the friendly aspect’, notes Aurélie, referring to their meetings with people along the way.

What a way to relearn how to live in harmony with yourself, with your environment and with others.

The Nivernais canal, Burgundy