Watertravel & Waterside DestinationsCentral France's commune of La Charité-sur-Loire basks in late afternoon sunlight.

Central France   Barge tours   Self-drive boats   Auxerre   Briare   La_Charité-sur-Loire   Nevers   Bernadette   Apremont-sur-Allier   Gien   Châteaux   Sully-sur-Loire   Countryside
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Central France’s Upper Loire Region

The Loire — called “the last wild river in France” — wends its way among the country estates of former French kings.

Given that the river is wild, it can rise to the brims of its levees in the wet season and shrink to a shallow stream in the dry. Because of this mercurial aspect, cruises in the Upper Loire region go instead via the Canal Latéral à la Loire and typically begin at Briare.

Barge tours which originate at Auxerre, on the nearby Yonne River in western Burgundy, travel on that river or its alternate route, the Canal du Nivernais. It makes sense to plan a trip with an eye to the weather. We went once in late June during a heat wave and, although the châteaux and such were beautiful, it was hot as Texas.

Central France barge toursThe touring barges are converted cargo haulers which can offer quite a luxurious experience: floating hotels where the passenger is fed and pampered in grand style. Aboard one 100-foot barge, for example, eight passengers are attended by a crew of five.

Self-drive boat in Central FranceBarge tours offer superb passenger comforts, but many prefer to rent/hire a self-drive boat. Despite some sacrifice in luxury, they have the opportunity to be captain of the craft and set the course and timetable as their own whims dictate.

AuxerreStarting from Auxerre, barges and self-drive boats have several options. Going downriver on the Yonne takes you to the Seine and Paris, and beyond that to Normandy. Cruising upriver (south) one can go as far as Clemency, or take the Canal du Nivernais farther.

Briare, Central FranceIn every direction there are plentiful opportunities to cruise Central France’s canals and rivers. Many begin at Briare, crossing the Loire via the famous Briare Aqueduct, for years the longest canal bridge in the world, then head south on the Canal Latéral à la Loire.

Charité-sur-Loire, Central FranceWith a relatively low population La-Charité-sur-Loire is large enough to offer a full range of restaurants and shopping, but still small enough to be relatively free of congestion. Centrally located and convenient to highways, we found it an excellent place to stay.

Nevers, Central FranceHome to some superb classic architecture and an important stop for many Catholic pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela, Nevers offers a lot to draw your attention. Not least is the convent where Saint Bernadette of Lourdes lived and served.

Apremont-sur-Allier, Central FranceApremont-sur-Allier is a village that looks almost as if the last two or three centuries hadn’t passed. A château on the hill dominates the area, its grounds having been developed into a fine garden. The village is located a fairly short drive from Nevers.

Sully-sur-Loire, Central FranceThe main attraction at Sully-sur-Loire is its superb 14th-century moated fortress, built on a site which has been one of the few bridge crossings of the Loire since Roman times. The commune itself is an interesting place to browse shops and relax in an outdoor café.

Gien, Central FranceThe most striking feature of Gien is its famous bridge of 12 arches, commissioned by Anne of France, daughter of the “Spider King,” as Louis XI was known. Also interesting is her château on a ridge above the river, now a museum of hunting.

Central France's ChateauxLike the castles in Germany’s Middle Rhine Gorge, Central France’s Loire Valley region is known for its wealth of châteaux. Some are open to the public, some converted into luxury hotels, still others privately owned and tucked away in relative obscurity.

Central France CountrysideWhether you travel by canal barge, automobile, or self-drive cabin cruiser, a trip through Central France takes you by quaint villages and pastoral countryside, a landscape dotted with the regions's famous Charolais cattle and, of course, many vineyards.

Copyright © Don Douglas