Cruising the Canal du Nivernais, France
A cruise on the scenic, peaceful Canal du Nivernais as it winds gently through Burgundy is a good choice for an initial experience on the French canals.
The Nivernais canal is divided at the summit into two sides, one flowing north to the Seine and the other flowing south to the Loire.
The beautiful city of Auxerre, at the northern end of the canal, is 157 km (97 miles) southeast of Paris; it can be reached by autoroute or rail.
The spires of the Cathedral of St. Etienne and the Abbey of St. Germain dominate the city. Located along the waterfront are shops, wine caves and open-air cafes.
Port de Plaisance Aquarelle, on the east side (right bank) of the Yonne river. A footbridge leads to the city center.
The river Yonne is bypassed by frequent canalized sections; this is the entrance to the first, at the southern edge of Auxerre. Speed limit 8 km/hr.
The scuba crew was called to the lock to remove debris that was jamming the gate.
The port at Vermenton is also the base for rental boats from France Afloat.
Leaving the port at Vermenton for the short (3.8 km) run to the main canal.
Sometimes the waterway is in the natural river, but more often a canal with locks has been created alongside.
The houses provided for the éclusiers (lockkeepers) are now often rented to others; most are well-maintained and have beautiful flowers.
There are several liftbridges along the canal, so that local users (primarily farmers and fishermen) can cross the canal. This wooden bridge is no longer used.
Others are do-it-yourself bridges, such as the one at l'Arc.
The boat must stop before the bridge and disembark a crew member to open the bridge with a crank, a slow and very physical process.
If the crew member decides to take a walk in the beautiful fields, then it's up to the skipper!
It does require some strength and patience. When fully opened, the dangling chain can be attached for security (of the skipper, as he passes under!)
But even elderly folks can manage.
After passing through, the bridge must be lowered again.
At the upstream end of canalized sections the river flow is often diverted over a weir; there is little danger but caution is required.
Leaving the river to enter a canalized section.
The "little Mermaid" and fishermen at Mailly-la-Ville.
Mailly-le-Chateau is located atop high limestone cliffs; stone steps lead from the lower part of the village to bourg du haut at the top of the cliff.
The curve of the canal bypasses two natural channels of the Yonne; this is one of the most beautiful places on the waterway, if not in all of France.
Moored at Pk 142, Mailly-le-Chateau, at a very pleasant halte.
Rental boats are equipped with metal stakes and a large hammer; it is illegal to tie to trees. Most boats also have a metal or wooden gangplank onboard.
A few bollards are furnished. Hikers are on the towpath, on the other side of the canal.
Merry-sur-Yonne is a quiet village, a good place for a walk.
Scenic rocky cliffs called Les Saussois form vertical limestone sausages very popular with rock climbers. The less adventurous can hike to the top.
The right bank of the river is suitable for tying-up. Several restaurants serve boaters and climbers.
Late July on the Nivernais; two boats exit the lock at Chatel Censoir while three more wait to enter. To the right of the lock there is a port with water & electric.
The northbound boats are now on their way.
The town of Chatel Censoir offers shops and restaurants on the lower level and a classic Burgundian village on the hilltop.
It is permitted to tie up anywhere along the bank; one such mooring offers this view from the boat. The Château de Faulin is a working farm.
The misty morning view from that mooring, of Lock #55, Lucy. The lock is not yet ready for service, as indicated by the single closed gate.
The hotel barge Liberté arrives at the halte of Coulanges-sur-Yonne; passengers are walking the towpath, to re-board here at the halte.
Some of the canalized sections are narrow.
Port des jeux at Clamecy is a popular stop, at the southern end of the route for hotel barges. It’s a small city with full services and shops.
Although the river twists through the fields alongside the canal for another 36 km, Clamecy is the southernmost navigable section of the river; travel is all in canal.
At Marigny-sur-Yonne there is a halte on the right bank and a rental-boat base on the left. The natural river Yonne, much smaller now, flows next to the moorings.
The first of 14 locks in 10 km waits ready, just beyond the Marigny halte.
The French word for lock is Écluse. Locks are numbered each way from the summit of the Nivernais: versant (toward) de la Seine or versant de la Loire.
A large rental boat in lock #30.
A short section of canal near Corbigny is one-way, oncoming boats must wait.
16 closely-placed locks lead from Sardy up to the three tunnels at the summit of the canal.
The locks still use the old-style beam lever rather than cranks and gears.
There are places to moor between locks; a two-day passage from Sardy to Baye is possible.
The approach to the first of three summit tunnels. Note the red light, the tunnels are one-boat-at-a-time passage.
The entrance of the last tunnel, the end of the Yonne/Seine side of the Nivernais.
At the summit is a large reservoir (seen in background) for recreation and to supply water for both sides of the canal. This is Lock #1, Loire side.
Most of the Loire-side canal passes through open fields and wooded places.
In summer months the chateau and gardens at Chatillon-en-Bazois is open to visitors; the port and rental-boat base is nearby.
Cercy-la-Tour is a pleasant town to visit and to have a walk through the streets above the port.
Decize is a town built on an island in the Loire river. Facilities at the town-operated port have recently been expanded and upgraded.
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