This boater got lost in the waterways of rural France

Experienced boater Larry MacDonald gets lost in the simple pleasures of a Le Boat charter through rural France

Chartering sail and motor boats in my native Canada and around the US is something I’ve been doing for years, but I’ve always wanted to try a different style of boating on the waterways of France. Charter company Le Boat is one of the largest operators in this sector of the market with an extensive fleet of boats as far afield as Scotland and Italy, but the bulk of which are based in France.

As there were four of us we opted for a 38ft Horizon 2 based on the River Saône at Saint-Jean-de-Losne in Burgundy, France, for a week in May 2023.

Not only would this mean cruising through the heart of this world famous wine region but the route would allow us to enjoy a few hours of relaxed boating each day, leaving plenty of time to explore the picturesque towns and villages along the way. It also had just seven locks to navigate, whereas some have as many as ten or more in a single day.

The route


Staying two nights at the highly recommended Les Charmilles B&B gave us ample opportunity to recover from our flight, and shop for groceries prior to collecting the boat.

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After completing the necessary paperwork at the Le Boat office, watching a safety video and being shown around our boat, we were taken on a short accompanied trip to familiarise ourselves with the controls and practise our stern-to docking.

According to Le Boat, driving one of its boats is easier and more relaxing than driving a car; no experience is necessary and no licence is required. You can even bring your dog and rent bicycles to take with you on your cruise.

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Our friends Barry and Joan were as impressed as Sandy and I with the boat’s cleanliness and features: two separate cabins and bathrooms and lots of useful facilities such as a microwave, gas BBQ and large fridge freezer. As skipper, I was impressed with the bow and stern thrusters to make docking and locks easier.

Our boat had two separate helms: one inside on the main deck and one on the flybridge. A governor prevents the boat from going more than 8km per hour but we often cruised at lower speeds to admire the countryside and as slow as 3km per hour when passing oncoming boats (port-to-port) and anglers on a narrow river.

Larry enjoys the relaxing vibe of life in the slow lane on the Saône

By 2pm we were underway on a two-hour cruise downstream on the Saône River. Shortly after our departure, we had an opportunity to practise a successful person-overboard drill when Sandy’s hat blew into the water. Every day was delightfully sunny and we were seldom out of sight of white swans and cormorants gathered in the water, as well as cattle and sheep grazing on the grassy riverbanks.

En route to Seurre

Along the way we passed through our first lock. A lock keeper opened and closed the gates and sluices while Barry and I adjusted fore and aft lines attached to bollards, holding us against the wall while we dropped several metres.

Shortly thereafter, we arrived at our first night’s marina in Seurre, which offered electricity and fresh water (mooring fees ranged from free to 40 euros per night).

A friendly white swan and family of muskrats welcomed our arrival by meandering through lily pads beside our boat while we enjoyed dinner on the flybridge. As night fell we were serenaded by the sound of birdsong and clocktower bells chiming in the distance.

The charter is based at Saint-Jean-de-Losne, in the heart of the Burgundy wine region

The next day, after a leisurely breakfast of omelettes and fresh croissants, we were off to our next destination two hours downstream. Navigation is easy as every boat is supplied with a binder containing detailed charts of the river, while numbered signposts along the bank and coloured markers (red to starboard when going downstream, green to port) help keep you on track.

It wasn’t long before we were passing through our second lock, accompanied by another boat, before reaching the Doubs River and the village of Verdun-sur-le-Doubs.

Another delicious haul of French pastries from a local bakery

The strong current flowing past the marina provided a bit of a challenge when stern-to berthing. It took us a couple of attempts to figure out how far to go upstream to compensate for the current. On our third try, I nailed it using the side thrusters to negate the current as I backed straight onto the dock.

After a walking tour of the town to view a variety of historic sites, we enjoyed a quiche dinner topside with fresh baguettes and crème brûlée from a local bakeshop, supporting our recent addiction to French food and wine!

We spent hours meandering upstream, with cuckoos and kingfishers sounding our passage

Charming Chalon

The following morning, we set off downstream towards Chalon-sur-Saône, the largest town on our route.

Once again we moored at the marina and explored the historic centre, replete with old stone houses, fortifications and cathedrals. The birthplace of Nicéphore Niépce (inventor of photography), this charming city is brimming with art galleries, boutiques and restaurants as well as a major supermarket, all within walking distance of the marina.

Our next stop was Tournas and the three-hour stretch along the gently meandering river provided plenty of opportunities for friendly waving and bonjours with the numerous cyclists and anglers on the river bank.

Strong currents at Verdun-sur-le-Doubs proved a challenge when berthing stern-to

On arrival, no suitable berths were available but a friendly Swiss crew encouraged us to raft alongside while we waited for another boat to leave. A short walk from the marina led us to the Musée du Vélo (bicycle museum) with a fascinating collection of over 200 bicycles, tracing the history from its invention in 1818.

We followed this up with an organ concert at the majestic Abbaye St. Philibert and a delicious escargot dinner at a nearby restaurant with tables spilling out onto the pavement.

We had originally planned our next stop a couple of hours away but were told about a famous livestock market on Mondays at the village of Louhans, just beyond our terminal Le Boat base in Branges. We decided this was a must-see event and spent five hours meandering upstream on the narrow Seille River through lush green countryside, with cuckoos and kingfishers sounding our passage.

You don’t need a licence or any experience to charter one of Le Boat’s craft

This segment involved three locks, two of which were unmanned. Fortunately, we’d taken note of how the previous lock-keepers had opened and closed the gates and sluices using the various wheels and levers, and simply repeated their actions, mooring at the waiting dock and walking along the bank to the first set of gates. By our second lock, we were beginning to feel like experienced lock-keepers!

Lively Louhans

Monday morning after breakfast, we followed market goers with their tote bags to the livestock market where aisle after aisle of vendors were selling live chickens, geese, ducks, rabbits, guinea pigs, pigeons, goats and even dogs… a ritual that has gone on since medieval times.

We continued along cobbled streets to the longest arcade in France, 157 stores of every description, most of which had moved their wares out into the street, a true shopper’s paradise. It was such fun that we stayed an extra night allowing us to explore the city the next day without the mayhem of the market.

Louhan’s vibrant market

The next morning at the Le Boat base in Branges, we cleaned our craft and stood by for our noon inspection, which was completed within an hour to everyone’s satisfaction.

Gauges on board indicated the levels of fuel, as well as the fresh, grey, and black water tanks. During our week, we used only half of our fuel and refilled our fresh-water tank once. A macerator switch on the electrical panel allowed us to empty our grey water into the river… just once. Employees at Le Boat’s base pumped out our partially filled black-water tank.

A short taxi ride back to Louhans had us checking into Moulin de Bourgchateau, a remodelled grain mill dating back to 1778. An exquisite dinner at the Hôtel restaurant overlooking a lazy river topped off what we all agreed was one of our most memorable holidays ever, both on and off the water.

The 38ft Horizon 2 was more than spacious enough for four

Charter costs

A seven-night charter of a Horizon 2 based at Saint-Jean-de-Losne starts at £1,959 in low season rising to a maximum of £3,619 in high season during 2024.

The cost is for the whole boat, which sleeps up to four people. You will also need to leave a refundable boat damage deposit of around £2,500 and an engine hours deposit of around £350 to cover expected fuel and water use.


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