We have just returned from France where we spent a week cruising the canal de Nivernais with France Afloat. My wife and I and later with our children have spent many years touring France by car, even in our 2CV. We have often driven over and passed by the French canals and have discussed a holiday afloat. This year (my 69) we decided to do just that and rent a canal boat. I have been a sailor for many years now both here in Canada and in the UK so feel very at home on the water. Newbies should note that full instruction is given before they let you loose. It was delightful and so relaxing seeing France from a new perspective and at a much more leisurely pace. On the Nivernais it is quite acceptable to moor along the banks and so we did. Stopping to moor up have a bite of lunch or just leisurely sit by the bank side, read a book and drink a glass of wine. We passed through a number of small villages where we sometimes stopped to take coffee in a local cafe and when water was getting low we checked into a marina or a key side in town, to fill up. There is always somewhere to buy food and essentials. Our cruiser (30') had to cabins, one fore one aft with en suite washrooms whilst the fore cabin had a shower. There was a fully equipped kitchen with double gas ring and a microwave oven. Some of the vessels have an additional gas oven. The large aft deck provided a good area for al fresco dinning and the saloon below the same on the one day we had rain. The only draw back was the heat, 30+c for a couple of days and the boat had no fans and fly screens at the port holes or hatches. This was uncomfortable for the period between dusk and bed when we needed the lights on but had to shut up everything to keep out the insects. France Afloat take note please! We did a one way trip from Vermenton to St Florentin and took a side trip on our penultimate day up the Yonne to Joigne. We stayed at the marina in Auxerre for two full days which gave us access to power and water plus on shore showers. Cost 8 Euros a day. Not only did the leisurely cruise calm our souls and open our eyes but we met Brits, Aussies and Kiwis who had bought their own barges and cruised the French and Dutch canals each summer. Canal cruising can be as sociable as you wish to make it. My wife, myself and 17 year old son will certainly do this again.
I would certainly recommend France Afloat <www.franceafloat.com> and even more if they would install a fan in each cabin and screens on the portholes and hatches.