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Lock Stock and Barrel…
For a totally relaxing holiday, with bursts of adrenaline-pumping activity, take a canal cruiser along the rivers and canals of Burgundy says Paul Evans.
The south east of Burgundy is chicken country so there was no doubt about what was on the menu on our arrival. The first port of call on our holiday afloat was Louhans, famous for its bustling Monday poultry market. Supper of 'Poulet de Louhans a la Crème' was the perfect introduction .
We had hired a boat at Branges on the River Seille and after a thorough briefing on the dos and don'ts of river life from the local manager, we set off, passing through a couple of easy locks to get our bearings. Life on the river could not have been more peaceful watching the flora and fauna.
The Louhans market starts early. Here, the Bresse chicken is queen. It even has its own 'appellation contrôlée' - surely only the French could elevate a chicken so! Breakfast turned out to be a glass of local wine at one of the makeshift bars while the locals discussed the prowess of the best cockerel.
Having stocked up with wonderfully fresh produce from the market, we set off again, calling next at Cuisery, famous for its antiquarian bookshops. Shortly after this, the River Seille meets the Saône. Boating took on a more serious stance as we had to consider the sand banks and large timber and sand-carrying barges making their way south. We turned north to Tournus.
The huge lock at Ormes had to be negotiated, wearing lifejacket and all. It felt like passing through a deep canyon with the only daylight somewhere above. As the shutters were opened a torrent of water, sufficient to wash the boat downstream to Marseille, left us battling with the controls and lines. The waters calmed, the lock doors opened and we continued on our way in a state of exhaustion.
We tied up at Chalon-sur-Saône and headed off for a well-earned dinner at L'Air du Temps in Rue Strasbourg. The following day, we enjoyed shopping in the town, sampling the region's best wines at the Maison des Vins and visiting the museum of photography.
Having stopped off at Verdun-sur-le-Doubs, we 'sailed' through the lock at Ecuelles like old hands. Les Maillys and Restaurant Virion had been recommended to us and we were not disappointed. They served a magnificent dish of fish from the river served in a white wine and cream sauce, great value at about 45€ a head for a four course dinner including apéritifs and good wines.
The next stop was Auxonne where Napolean Bonaparte was based as a second lieutenant. A fascinating museum is dedicated to him and is well worth visiting.
We spent the afternoon drifting past sleepy riverside villages with wooded riverbanks, then on to La Mantoche for our last night before returning the boat to Gray. The car has been transferred from Branges and was there waiting for us. Sadly we said our farewells, leaving the tranquility of our boating life behind for another year.