We have been traveling through the Loire Valley for a couple of weeks. Starting in Briare we have made our way on the canal that paralleled the river. We spent a week in Briare and the car allowed us to travel through the valley and see places not easily accessible by boat.
Traditional market in Briare
For those of you interested in geography you may be aware that the Loire is the longest river in France. For those of you who enjoy general knowledge quizzes you may be interested to know the Loire is 10112 kms long (629miles), starting in the Massif Central and entering the Atlantic Ocean at St Nazaire. At one time this river was the boundary between the English and the French, around 1453 the English (remember Henry V) claimed Aquaitaine.
The upper Loire is a Joan of Arc country where there is a chateau on every corner. The river is mostly not navigable above Orleans, and canals were built to provide a connection between the centre of France, the coasts and the capital. These are the canals we are now travelling the Canal lateral a la Loire and the Canal du Nivernais were built around 1838. The Loire like many European river valleys presents better than ideal agricultural opportunities – the alluvial soils and the south facing slopes have made this region a garden Grape production for wine one its most famous crops (although you can also buy wonderful asparagus, soft fruits and local cheeses).
Loire Valley from Sancerre
Our time in Briare was an opportunity to do some work on the boat and create some new friendships. We had been meeting up with a couple of boats – Cuanna and Manuka we first met in Moret sur Liong and again on our way down to Briare. As we were all staying for at least five days in Briare we had ample opportunities to have drinks and snacks on the poop deck. Daytime temperatures started to rise again (30C), so our evening socials were in the pleasant temperature of a cooling day.
Drinks on the poop deck
Our first car trip out of Briare was to the city of Sancerre in the centre of a wine region which produces Pouilly Fume and Sauvignon. Sancerre is a fortress town built in top of a hill with incredible views of the Loire Valley. We drove up and had a walk around and tried some of the local wine. There were a number of vineyard outlets in the town. Personally I did not care for the Sancerre wine – it left a sour aftertaste. The wine was also quite expensive as a bottle was going for €8 -10 ($12 – $15). Apparently there are three kinds of soil limestone, flint and clay in this area. The grapes grown in limestone tended to be most sour, followed by flint, where the wines had a acidic after taste, and the fruitiest wines were grown in the clay soils. J. our onboard guest bought us 6 Pouilly Fume as a thank you from a lock keeper when we were on the Canal – it was about €7 ($10) per bottle and very tasty.
Nougat like never before.
As we had the car were also able to take excursions, Sancerre was the first and we took to another day out to the Cathedral and city of Chartres. I could go on at length about the magnificence and beauty of Chartres – both the city and the cathedral.
Chartres Cathedral from the outside
I was looking for the famous thirteenth century labyrinth on the floor of the Cathedral – sadly, it was covered by rows of pews for pilgrims and Mass, as large parts of the church were under renovation. The reno did not detract from the amazing stained glass windows.
At Chartres there are 176 stained glass windows (28,000 sq feet stained glass) including three rose windows, made between 1210 and 1240. During World War II the windows were dismantled and taken to safety. The building itself is the largest Gothic cathedral in Europe started around 1020 and completed around 1250. My only advice is to see it if you have the opportunity – there are many beautiful churches in Europe but this ranks in the top 5 for me.
Rose Window at Chartres
The Ascension of the Virgin Mary Altar
Our third excursion was to the picturesque city of Auxerre. We went to pick up a new passenger Jocelyn G and to the boat yard for parts for the boat’s black water pump. We had been to Auxerre seven years before on our first trip down the French canals. In 2008 we took our first cruise on a Dutch tjalk called Linquenda with members of the Wolfestan family, down the Nivernais canal. We were in awe of the city at time and our second visit did not disappoint.
Fourteenth century buildings still in use
Overlooking the Yonne river and at the head of the Canal du Nivernais, Auxerre is now a major pleasure boat port with several marinas on either side of the river. It has about 4 cathedrals and major churches, a fifteenth century central core with a clock tower, streets, squares and houses from this time. Auxerre it should be noted is at the centre of the Chablis wine growing region of France.
Clock tower Auxerre
We picked up our guest from the train station. Jocelyn is the 25year old daughter of a friend of ours, on her first trip to Europe and travelling to two months alone. Needless to say she was happy to see friendly almost family faces and relaxed into a week on the boat. We returned to Briare to prepare for our next journey.
Eiffel canal at Briare
Cruising out of Briare is a majestic experience as we take the canal on an aqueduct that crosses the Loire River. This bridge with for a canal is 662 meters long and was designed and built in 1894-94 by none other than Gustav Eiffel.
View over the Loire from the canal
We wandered from the Briare marina with Kerry – following some older disused locks, to the Loire flood plain, then to canal bridge, which was a popular tourist attraction. We walked across the bridge and had coffee and afternoon dessert (some kind of very exotic apricot and pistachio mousse) at the restaurant close to beginning of the aqueduct.
Entrance to the Canal bridge
A few days later we took Skooum across the Eiffel bridge. Travelling by boat on so high above the river gave us a regal feeling but there were more of these aqueducts to come. The cruise down the canal to our first stop was very quiet and rural. Temperatures were around 27C, which made for a pleasant day on the water.
Our first stop after Briare was a tiny port called Belville sur Loire. This dainty village – with a very adequate supermarket was a mere 1.7 kms from the local nuclear power station. Martin – ever the curious scientist – just had to take the bike and ride over to see what actually was going on. He did get some information from the visitor centre after succeeding in setting off fence alarms by riding his bike on the grass around the perimeter..
Loire Nuclear Power Station at Belville
After his release (LOL) our next stop was just outside Sancerre. The weather had heated up to 36C, so we were quite exhausted by the time we reached the port at St-Satur/St Thibault. This port – which was a bit rough looking, is next to the Loire and a lovely swimming spot. There were some lovely restaurants and recreational centres in the area. However we were too hot and exhausted to use them. Jocelyn was a great asset on the boat; quite the galley fairy who helped with stuff in the kitchen and with the locks.
Fourteenth century village house
On the way south we went to Beffes, a delightful little spot on the canal where we reconnected with our pals Jacqui and Mike on Cuanna.
We needed Jocelyn’s help in the big lift at le Guetin, where there was a double lock that lifted us up 9.23m, then we immediately cruised across an aqueduct that traversed the l‘Allier river. It was so high over the river that we felt like we were cruising through the treetops.
Jocelyn on the bridge on the bridge
Jocelyn was a quick learner – Martin even spent time teaching her knots – a bowline and a clove hitch – a must for any boater (although I sometimes need to do some extra practice to remember my knots).
Jocelyn practicing her knot
We continued down the canal and turned off to Nevers. The pronunciation of the name of this town is like Inspector Clouseau ‘The Pink Panther’ aka Peter Sellers- saying ‘I will never surrender ’).
It took two locks to get into Nevers – they were automatic but still closed at lunchtime (noon to one).
We moored for a few days time to explore the town and see Jocelyn off on her next adventure in the south of France. She was learning about life and traveling very quickly, but was still homesick and a bit tired of traveling alone. However as Amelia Erhardt said ‘Courage is the price life extracts for peace’ and Jocelyn was determined to finish what she started, so she bravely caught the train to Marsallies to continue traveling for another month in France and Spain.
Nevers is the regional capital of Nivernais region of Burgundy. More about this town in the next blog as it is our winter moorage.
Sailing the Loire – the old fashioned way.
We spent time some time in Nevers and moved down the Canal lateral a la Loire for a couple more days calling in a sweet little port called Fleury sur Loire. There we reconnected with our pals Cuanna and had some fun in the local ‘marina brassiere’ – which was a tent outside the small captainiere which also doubled as kitchen for the food service in brassiere.
Our final destination on this leg of the trip was Decize – a lovely large port in a small town. The port is very well equipped with several fingers, security etc, as well as holiday cabins, a hotel and conference centre. Decize is also a port for the rental company ‘La Boat’ which rents out a variety of craft for boaters. We have travelled 196kms from Briare to Decize and completed 40 locks over a couple of slow easy warm weeks.
Decize was a stopping point for us – we prepared our boat for our next visitors – my mum and young Joan. They were coming for a week on the boat. We had a couple of farewell evenings with Mike and Jacqui on Cuanna as they were on their way to the large port of St Jean de Losne on the Soanne river. But there was a circle to complete regarding their boat, which I will explain next time – which will be the last time for this year