Blending scenic cruising aboard an intimate barge by day with a fine hotel stay by night provides the perfect way to discover stunning river scenery and less-visited traditional French towns and villages. Spend each morning gliding along sleepy waterways, disembarking for afternoon visits to places of great heritage including the fine city of Nevers, Burgundy’s impressive book town of La Charité-sur-Loire, and the wine region and hilltop town of Sancerre. There will be lots of time to experience the history and craft of waterways life as we pass through 22 locks in the course of the week, including the double lock and aqueduct where the Loire's canal crosses the River Allier west of Nevers. Such is our pace of travel that you will be able to spend time walking or cycling the towpaths if you wish - there are bikes on board that are available on request. We enjoy short-range coach excursions that help to further bring to life the beauty and history of central France include visits to the ‘Plus Beaux Village’ of Apremont-sur-Allier, the spectacular Château de Sagonne; the Bourbonnais capital of Moulins, and a scenic drive into the remote Morvan Regional Park.
8 nights in hotels (accommodation as specified or similar)
We journey this morning, by Eurotunnel or ferry to Calais and south to Magny-Cours in central France. We will stop en route, perhaps in the northerly French city of Amiens divided by the pretty Somme River and home to a UNESCO-listed 13th century cathedral. Our journey resumes to Magny-Cours and we check in to Hotel Le Paddock (3T+), set in lush green countryside and our base for the next seven nights, with dinner included each evening. As its name implies the hotel is integral to the famous Magny-Cours race circuit, once home to the French F1 Grand Prix.
Day 3 Decize - Fleury-sur-Loire
Today marks the start of our scenic river cruising adventure, as we transfer the short distance to the old fortified town of Decize, where we board our spacious and exclusively-chartered river barge, Natalia. Newly commissioned, the vessel has been designed as a floating lounge, and its air-conditioned saloon offers grand views of the waterways scenery as we glide along the Canal Lateral de la Loire. Following a light lunch on board, we end our cruise for the day at Fleury-sur-Loire and rejoin the coach for a scenic journey around the south-western edge of the Morvan Regional Park, an area of upland farming, dense forest and lakes that is a haven for wildlife and especially well known for its birds of prey.
Day 4 Fleury-sur-Loire - Nevers
This morning we rejoin our day-cruiser at Fleury-sur-Loire and continue towards Nevers, where we will enjoy lunch in a local auberge. One of Burgundy’s finest historic towns with heritage dating back to the Middle Ages, Nevers is filled with grand architecture including the spectacular Cathedral of St-Cyr and Ste-Juliette of both Romanesque and Gothic styles, and the Ducal Palace, a reminder of the powers of the ruling Counts and Duke of Nevers who resided here during the 15th and 16th centuries. In the afternoon you will be free to explore Nevers.
Day 5 Nevers - Pont du Marais
This morning, we take advantage of our hotel's location by taking the coach for a run around Magny-Cours racing circuit, before continuing for today’s river cruise which takes us along more of the River Loire's eponymous Canal. After lunch aboard the boat, our coach takes us for an afternoon visit to the Château de Sagonne, an impressive fortress built between the 12th and 15th centuries. Explore the grounds and see its grand towers, medieval rooms, intricate frescos and the Manhart Museum (an exhibition of 14th and 17th century painting, tapestries, ancient weapons and historic portraits). Later we return by coach to the hotel.
Day 6 Pont du Marais - Marseilles-lès-Aubigny
Today we re-embark at Pont du Marais and savour more tranquil waterside scenery as we make our way gently to the small canal town of Marseilles-lès-Aubigny. We enjoy a light lunch on board before we join our coach to visit the heritage-rich city of Moulins. Once the seat of the Dukes of Bourbon before the French Revolution, the city’s cobblestone streets lead to a striking cathedral that dominates its skyline.
Day 7 Marseilles-lès-Aubigny - La Charité-sur-Loire
Rejoining our boat at Marseilles-lès-Aubigny, we follow the canal northwards to the town of La Charité-sur-Loire, notable for its UNESCO listing as a waypoint on one of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela, and in more modern times, as a ‘town of books’. After lunch on board, we will visit La Charité-sur-Loire before going on to visit the spellbinding village of Apremont-sur-Allier, named ‘one of the most beautiful villages in France’. The village has many medieval houses, which were reconstructed following World War II but still showcase their traditional designs, and we can explore the Parc Floral home to trees, plants and flowers from all over the world, alongside waterfalls and lakeside scenery. For anyone who would like to spend a free morning in La Charité-sur-Loire, the coach will be available to transfer you ahead and then rendezvous with the group just after lunch.
Day 8 La Charité-sur-Loire - Saint-Satur
Our coach transfers us back to La Charité-sur-Loire for our final morning of cruising as we continue northwards into the wine region around Sancerre and Pouilly. After lunch on board, we join our coach for a short ride up to the hilltop centre of Sancerre to enjoy its magnificent views and historic interior, before we make our way back to Magny-Cours.
Day 9 Magny-Cours - Dover
After breakfast we begin the return journey home, aiming to pause in Senlis en route before crossing by Eurotunnel or ferry, to the Ramada Dover (or a similar stop). On arrival you will be met and guided to your Titan vehicle, for the journey home.