Exploring the French Canals – Briare

In Life & Travel by Jackie Cruz

Traveling from Paris by train to the most beautiful canal beside Briare, I was excited for the challenge ahead. We strolled down the French canals for 1 week on a boat! It was an experience unlike any other and I was able to see a different side to France. Guiding the boat over the famous Pont Canal de Briare (Briare Aqueduct), I felt like I was on top of the world!

Approximately 2 hours south of Paris, Briare is a small town of 6,000 people located directly on the famous Briare canal flowing through central France. These canals are the oldest in the country with a span of 36 miles (57 kilometers).

Immediately after my 2nd Bundesliga (German league) game on a Sunday in September in Berlin, I took the train to Paris! Then, after taking the regional train a few blocks away, I finally arrived in Briare. My aunt, uncle and family friends met me at the train station and we started walking toward the boat parked in the canal.

The town of Briare was so quaint! It was like walking through a storybook. Every flower pot was blooming with the most beautiful flowers and every hedge was precisely trimmed.

I got on the boat and we immediately started on our journey. It was a little rocky for me at first because I was not such a boat fanatic. However, after awhile, it was very calming riding along in the canals. Awhile after, we reached one of the most famous parts of the French canals – Pont-canal de Briare. In English, it translates to aqueduct, or water bridge, and is basically a canal running over another river. Ironically, it was the world’s longest navigable aqueduct until Magdeburg (where I lived for 3 years) built its well-known Water Bridge.

We rented the boat from Le Boat, however you have to provide your own boating license or certification. Luckily, our family friend is a captain in Granada with his own boat, so we had a professional with us the entire time. He was even able to teach my uncle and I how to steer the boat! We took control (with the Captain’s guidance of course) and we were guiding the boat down the canal! Oh, just another day in France.

Another unique surprise on the trip was my first experience in a lock. Coming from California, the only canals I have seen before were in Venice Beach, so this was so awesome! Locks are used for transporting boats in between canal when the water levels are different. As you can see in the picture, you enter the lock when the water is low. The people open valves and release water from the other side to fill up the lock. Once the proper level is reached, the lock is opened on the other side and you can continue floating down the canal. Like the French canals themselves, the lock we were in was very old as you can see from the stones lining the sides and the manual mechanics.

Had to get this sign in here! “Poussez” in French means “push,” like instructions to open a door.

Riding along the canals, we saw so many picturesque, old houses and lush, green scenery. The trees were never the same shade of green and numerous other deep-toned colors were amidst the bushes and brush. Several villas and smaller homes were nestled along the water’s edge. Some buildings were almost too beautiful to just walk by – like the house below with the bright blue shutters and matching bicycle. I stared and examined every detail until my family yelled for me a few blocks away to catch up.

There were also churches along the way, of course, and many antique stores. My aunt and uncle’s house in southern California is absolutely stunning and has a lot of its character from many unique, antique items she and my uncle have collected on their global adventures. So, it was fun to go antique hunting with her.

Traveling a bit further south on the Loire River, we stopped and took a taxi up to Sancerre. It is a smaller, hilltop village that is known for wine. Coming to the entrance of the town, there were large flower pots and smaller statues. The streets were impeccably clean and the buildings were more or less neutral colors. Since it was Sunday, the town’s stores were mostly closed, but there were people walking around and gazing at the sights.

Of course, we tried the world renowned Sancerre wine with its accompanying goat cheeses, which were freshly made by the passionate corner baker. I took a small nibble into the various cheeses we had and it was heaven. The creamy, yet light texture of the cheese combined with the balanced, drier taste of the wine was a dream. What I am saying? It was one of the best pairings I have ever eaten and I would travel how ever many hours it takes to Sancerre to taste it again!

My family kept going on their adventure, but Sancerre was my last stop of the trip. I took a taxi to the local train station, traveled to Paris and ended in Magdeburg.

I would definitely do a boat trip again, but in another region to explore different cuisine and culture. Or, maybe a cruise next time? Do you have any recommendations for future trips? Write yours in the comments below.