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The inland voyage, instead of the adventure of cruising around the Atlantic coasts, offers a thorough immersion in French culture, plus passages through rivers, canals and locks of many different types and sizes: a memorable and unique experience in its own right. Under way, someone will always be at the helm - no autopilot laziness here. There's lots of activity to negotiate the locks. Hazards are occasional winter floods, turbulent locks, and depths dependent on seasonal rainfalls.
Vessels over 1.5m draft are limited in their choice of routes, and some routes have even less water. A new world of bridge heights, air draft (<3.5m, and less in places), flights of locks, CEVNI endorsements on your Certificate of Competence, ATIS and RAINWAT are considerations often new to the sea sailor. Sailboats will also need to consider how best to ship their masts.
From Bordeaux to the Mediterranean through the Canal des Deux Mers (Canal du Midi and Canal de Garonne). Maximum feasible draft 1.3m (officially 1.5m), headroom 3.3m. Journey time between 14 and 18 days. The Canal du Midi can be crowded in July and August.
A choice of entries from the Channel coastline; a short crossing to Calais or Dunkerque, passing north of Paris, or a longer hop to the River Seine and Honfleur/Le Havre, thence through Paris. After that, the "Champagne" is recommended, leading to the River Saone and River Rhone. Maximum draft 1.8m, headroom 3.5m. Journey time between 24 and 34 days.
Rather than re-invent the wheel and write our own site, we recommend you use French-waterways.com for further extensive information about travelling through – and enjoying – the canals and rivers of France. Topics covered (with many photographs) include –
Plus descriptions of the whole range of Mediterranean and Channel coastal ports linking with the waterways.
Updated Apr 2017