France has 5,000 miles of navigable waterways. There are ten stunning regions to explore. You can cruise through Paris, La Rochelle, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and even Nice. You are tempted by The Three Musketeers Cruise, An Opening In The Green For Gargantua Cruise, The Delicacies of Aquitaine Cruise, The Sparkling Cruise, and The Golden Midi Cruise. Figuring out where to go takes some work.
We dispensed with all the colorful cruise names. Asking “What do you think about the Delicacies of Aquitaine Cruise?” wasn’t going to work. There’d be no problem asking that question, but we could imagine the responses. My responses in particular. Encountering a smart ass after doing research from 3 to 5 am would be problematic.
Our basic plan included flying into Paris and spending some time there. That narrowed down our cruising options. We wanted to start our cruise within an hour of Paris by train. That lead us to Canal du Loing, Canal de Briare, Canal lateral a la Loire, Canal de Roanne a Digoin, Canal du Centre, and the Canal du Nivernaise.
Booking a cruise has a lot to do with the availability or boats. You might pick a route and find there are no boats leaving from your starting point on the date you’ve chosen. It is also possible, and sometimes likely, that you might book a cruise that starts in the north, but be required to start in the south. Read that last sentence again. Unpredictability is written into the package.
So, Donna started by looking at train routes. Starting the cruise in a location that required the advanced purchase of tickets was out. How do you purchase advanced tickets when you don’t know exactly where you’ll be starting? Donna planned our entire trip hoping we’d start our canal trip in the north. It was a considered risk based on the notion that we were starting our cruise early enough in the cruising season. The further you get into the season the further boats are spread out from central bases. Fingers were crossed.
Donna started pouring over our growing collection of guidebooks and maps. She quickly discovered you can cross reference guidebooks and determine how many locks are on a given route. The maps indicate which locks are going up, and which locks are going down. Up locks are considered more difficult. Not impossible, but they demand more effort and coordination. Guidebooks also give rough estimates of how many hours a day you have to motor to reach your destination in the number of days you booked.
An Opening In The Green For A Gargantua Cruise has 236 locks. That’s roughly 17 locks per day over two weeks. Given a 5 hour travel day you’d be navigating 3.4 locks per hour. Um…no!
Eventually Donna read the following. “The Canal lateral a la Loire follows the gentle slope of the Loire Valley. There are few locks so it’s a fast and easy cruise.” We were narrowing down our choices to The Sparkling Cruise and it’s variations. It didn’t hurt that the tour description read, “Vineyard tours and wine tasting are a favorite pastime in the Loire Valley, making French canal vacations almost essential to best see the historic sites. Pretty towns and larger towns beckon. Vibrant and packed with superior restaurants and fascinating museums, the towns offer the best of both worlds on the Canal lateral a la Loire.”
I don’t know who wrote that last bit, but wine, superior restaurants, and history sold Donna. Then she recounted the number of locks on the map. There were 26 up locks, and 1 down lock. 27 locks over 14 days meant we’d only navigate something like 2 locks per day. This was at least as alluring as the wine ( fewer locks = more wine?). We were booking The Sparkling Cruise from Chatillon-sur-Loire to Decize! Donna immediately started researching bakeries, butchers, cheese shops, markets, and restaurants. Oh, boy!!!