Home travel Our annual family holiday on the French canals (Canal latéral à la Loire)

Our annual family holiday on the French canals (Canal latéral à la Loire)

by Clare Mansell
Our annual family holiday on the French canals (Canal latéral à la Loire)

As regular readers to this blog may know, every year for the past four years my family has taken an annual trip on the French canals. The tradition started the year that Theo was born, when I mentioned at Christmas that I’d always fancied doing a narrow boat holiday, that off the cuff comment lead to us booking a holiday in Wales and a couple of years later, we moved on to holidaying in Europe…

Since 2015 we’ve built up a good relationship with Le Boat who we holiday with and we share our photos with them to use for publicity in return for them throwing in a few extras and doing us a good deal. Last years Thames trip even resulted in Alice appearing in their TV advert, much to everyone’s amusement!

This year Le Boat were keen to get us holidaying on (and photographing) their latest additions to their fleet, the Horizons and frankly we were equally as keen to stay in them, so a search begun to find a location where they had three Horizon boats available and somewhere which wasn’t too far to drive.

I expect you are thinking that it was probably us who stipulated the short car journey, but no, it’s actually all down to one rather pampered and loved canine family member who has to accompany my parents on every trip… though we might perhaps have found a more portable substitute for next time, as you will see if you read on….

The location that matched the bill this year was Chatillon Sur Loire with a return trip along the canal which runs paralell to the Loire River. In previous years we have explored the River Nivernais in Brittany and the canal that runs between Nantes and Brest.

As we do every year, each section of the family had their own boat. My parents and my sister’s family opted for the Horizon 2S which has two en suites and two cabins and we went for the regular Horizon with only one bathroom which was moderately cheaper. The boats have lovely bright white modern interiors and a great open deck on the top with a large space to sunbathe and enough room for everyone to get together on one boat for a meal in the evening.

There’s also built in ‘plancha’ grills on the top deck which are gas fired hot plates, sort of like barbecues, but without the open flame and space for food to slip down between the rungs.

Theo loved cooking on them so much, he actually asked to cook us all brunch on his birthday, so we started the day with bacon, egg, sausage and mushroom baps before present unwrapping.

Another nice feature of the Horizons is that you can easily step from the upper deck down to the bow of the boat (and vice versa) without going round to the stern to use the ladder. It’s very handy when you have to be moving around a lot as you go through locks.

During the trip we all traveled together as a flotilla on the three boats. Communication between the boats was via a set of walkie talkies we bought a few years ago, which are extremely useful. Anyone who has done any boating will know it can have its stressful moments and I often get told off for being in the wrong place / not paying attention, but it’s all part of the fun!

Fitting three boats of the size of the Horizons into a lock at the same time can also be a bit of a challenge but we managed it on every one we encountered and nobody crashed into anyone else. (That damage on the bow of our boat was not done by us!)

The only downside to the trip this year was that we picked a rather industrial canal, there were pretty French villages and vineyards on the journey…

…but also a fair amount of industrial buildings including cement works and abandoned factories. We even passed a Nuclear Power station (apparently the tour, which you have to book in advance, is very interesting!)

As we so often find in France, many of the villages we visited were deserted and although we found a boulangerie on most days, we often went a couple of days without seeing a restaurant or supermarket.

We got pretty good at making supper out of limited supplies and even managed to share two chicken breasts between ten of us on one night! Whenever we moored up we took the bikes off the boat and someone did a run into the village to see if they could find any sign of life.

Of course there was always life on the canal and during the week we met the usual interesting collection of characters, but the one we’ll have the fondest of memories of is Dead Cat Man.

One day when we were moored up waiting for the only supermarket we’d seen in days to open, an American man emerged from his boat carrying a cat. A perfectly still rigid cat. It was one of those moments when you know you shouldn’t stare, but find unable to turn away.

I’m pleased to say it wasn’t an actual stuffed dead cat, but was in fact a replica cat from an amazing company called Cuddle Clones who create bespoke replicas of people’s pets. ‘Smalls’ was a replica of ‘Mr Big’ and had been commissioned during the latter’s lifetime. Smalls now travels the world and as you can see is quite an ice-breaker! We’re thinking a replica Border Terrier might be a good more portable substitute for my parents…

All in all the trip was, as it always is, a great multi-generational holiday, a chance for the cousins to spend time together and a really good way of exploring a part of France without driving around in circles with grumpy kids in the back.

We always discuss the following year’s trip while we are away and the consensus this year was that having experienced a small section of the Thames we are all keen to explore a bit more of it in 2019, perhaps in the May half-term, beyond that, if budgets allow I think we’d all love to Canada too… but we’ll probably let the children do some growing ,while we do some saving!

A video tour of our Horizon boat is below..

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