Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Sunday, September 26, 2021

In the South, Part 2

 Wednesday when we drove from Beziers to Saint Nicholas Grave we passed through the spectacular Parc régional du Haut-Languedoc. The road climbs up through some really twisty passes and down into the village of Castres. I wish there were pictures but unfortunately it was pouring down rain and we weren’t able to stop. We wouldn’t have been able to see anything if we had.

We hit the road Thursday morning for Moissac, just about 10 minutes away from our chambres de hote in Saint Nicholas. After visiting the marina and talking with the Capitaine, Bruno, we headed off to inspect the town.

The biggest attraction is the Saint-Pierre Abbey, it’s cloister and the tympanum, the stonework around the main entrance. The building is well preserved considering the first stones were laid in the 12th century.

This is a detail of the carvings to the left of the entrance.

There is also a supposedly beautiful cloister attached to the Abbey, one of the most well preserved in the world. We’ll visit that when we return for a visit, hopefully next year

After Moissac it was on to Buzet sur Baise, where the Baize River meets the Garonne with the Lot nearby. An English couple, Kevin and Sarah, own a small cafe there with moorings. The scene reminded us of the old days at Bourgogne Marine near Saint Jean de Losne. It seems like one of those places you can just show up and they’ll find a space for you. You may be outside other boats but there will be a space. We had a nice lunch there, too!

Thursday night we managed to find a meal at the only cafe in Saint Nicholas. Unfortunately some big group was having a meal there too. Very odd as all the men were at one table and the women at another. There were more than 30 people in all. It was crowded, noisy and a little chaotic but we did get our dinner.

Friday we were off to our last stop, L’Oustal del Barry in the village of Najac. We followed the Gorges of the Aveyron and the weather was much better. On the way we stopped in two beautiful medieval villages, Saint Antonin Noble Val and Cordes sur Ciel.

Looking down one of Cordes streets.

More Cordes

Entering Saint Antonin Noble Val on the bridge across the Aveyron.

In the afternoon we arrived at our last stop, the village of Najac and its picturesque tower. 

We had a little time before the hotel opened its doors so we wandered about the streets of the village.

When we checked in our room was on the third floor (there’s an elevator!) giving us a great view over the valley of the Lot River and a look down on the kitchen garden of the hotel.

The hotel is on the villages second hill and is very nice. Plus we had a great dinner. The meal was a a fixed menu; lobster ravioli to start, followed by a roasted quail dish, local roquefort cheese and apple crumble for the cheese course and a fruit compote and ice cream desert. All were paired with wines from their cellar. When we informed our server, Sarah, that we were unfamiliar with wines from the region she substituted the main course burgundy with a gaillac, a blend of syrah, merlot and a local grape, duras, that knocked our socks off. We’ll definitely be getting more of that!

We woke up Saturday morning to a fog bank on the Lot river out our window.

We rolled out of Najac on Saturday morning for the 6 hour drive back to Briare, mission accomplished. We got a good look at the marinas along the waterways and made contact with the ones we might be interested in staying in next year if our plans work out. We also saw some beautiful scenery and wonderful old villages. Our appetites are wetted for next year!

One last shot. The village of Martel on the Dordogne River.

By 5 pm we were back to Oldtimer ready to start getting her ready for winter.

Monday, September 20, 2021

We Head South (in the car)- Sept. 11-18 (Pt. 1)

 The original plan for last year was to head down the Saone/Rhone Rivers to the famous Canal du Midi in southern France. Obviously that didn’t happen and there wasn’t nearly enough time for it this year so, hope springing eternal, we decided to spend a week in the area this year with an eye to making the trip next year. We have also heard that it can be difficult to find winter moorings so we wanted to make ourselves known to the the various marinas so that when we contact them next year for a place they’ll have a vague idea of who we are.

The canal starts near the end of the Rhone River and heads west to the city of Toulouse. From there it becomes the Canal de Garonne, alongside the river that gives it its name. There are several connected waterways; the Rivers Lot and Baize and the canals Rhone a Sete, de la Robine and Montech.

Cathy Jo’s painting tasks complete and my chores under control, Saturday we headed off to Beziers, right at the eastern end of the Midi for a four day stay.

The city is dominated by the Cathedral of St. Nazaire, built beginning in the13th and 14th centuries, overlooking the River Orb, which flows below the hill.

My photoshop skills aren’t up to removing the crane 

rebuilding portions of the old city walls and the bridge.

The cathedral features a monumental altar.

Our apartment was the first floor of a large house on the side of a hill just outside the medieval city. The view from our porch to the west included the hill of Languedoc.

We really liked the quiet, peaceful setting…except for Sunday morning. It turns out it was the first day of hunting season. It sounded like a war zone in the trees below us starting shortly after 7 am.

On Sunday after visiting the port at Bezier we got our first look at the famous Midi oval locks and the famous Midi hireboat traffic (it is epic!). Just outside of town is the Fonserannes staircase, a set of 6 locks rising about 13.5 meters.

At the bottom of the staircase.

Stuffed with hireboats.

Entering the second lock going up.

Monday we headed out to the Mediterranean coast as we needed some boat supplies. There are no chandleries in the Briare area and there was a huge marina with many stores in nearby Agde so we spent the day at the waters edge. We concluded our business early and spent the afternoon driving around, lunch in Marseillan. It was very windy and we read later that 9 people drowned along the southern French coast in the choppy conditions.

A hireboat heads out into the Etang de Thau, waters protected from the open Med.

Tuesday we began our marina visits, touring Capestang, Castlenaudry, Homps and Carcassonne.

Besides having the lowest bridge on the Canal du Midi (We measured. We’ll barely fit through) Capestang features the Collegiate church of Saint Etienne.

Wednesday we checked out of our apartment in Beziers and made our way to a chambre de hotes (a bed and breakfast) in St. Nicholas de Grave, a small town near Moassic, for a two night stay. Our wonderful host, Severine of the delicious breakfasts, welcomed us to Au Coeur des Elements after a day on the road visiting ports in Castlesarrasin and Montauban, with a side trip to the village of Lautrec.

Lautrec was one of those happy accidents. We were motoring along when we say a roadside sign for a Village Étape. Just another beautiful medieval village, this one with a windmill.

The view from the hill.

A typical building in the village.

We were just 10k from the town of Moissac with it’s marina, and an hour from the junction of the Baize and Garonne Rivers at Buzet sur Baise. Those two were on our list for Thursday.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Final Days, Aug 21-26

 We only had 90 k to cover before we returned to Briare and a week to do it so we were in no rush. 

Setting off from the basin below the Guétin lock at the usual 9 am we didn’t reach our first lock of the day until 9:45 and after just 3 more locks we were back to the moorings in Beffes right around noon. We had seen a flyer for some kind of fete in Marseilles-le-Aubigny, just 2k back from those moorings and, since we hadn’t really been to any of the small village celebrations this year, we thought we’d check it out.

There really haven’t been too many of the little fetes this year. We assume it’s because of the COVID restriction and we wonder what all those small town “rock” bands have been doing with their time off. 

We cycled back to Marseilles and found the event but it was really pretty small, even by small village standards. It was some kind of fundraiser for the association that supports the old Loire boats, like the one in the last Nivernais post. We had a beer, checked out the booths and then headed back to the boat.

The next day it was back to the vicinity of Sancerre. We didn’t want to moor in Ménétréol again; the sides of the quay slope and there’s a noisy road right on the other side of the hedge. Just before the last lock into town there is a farm that specializes in the local delicacy, crottins de chavignol (literally translated as goat droppings), a delicious goat cheese. We had first visited the farm in 2016 and it was really not much more that a little stand. Since then they have greatly expanded the facility and now offer tours and regional products in a greatly expanded store/exhibition hall. They have also placed some mooring posts conveniently on the bank right above the farm so we tied up there and spent a very quiet night, of course after a cheese purchase. More about the farm at The cheese pairs exceptionally well with the Pouilly Fumé we bought earlier in the summer.

Sancerre and Ménétréol viewed from the lock at Thauvenay.

Our next stop was just 15k away so, again, we were tied up before noon outside the village of le Gravereau. Just a couple of bollards on the bank but we had seen a sign for a Route du Lavoirs so we thought we’d see what we could see. There was a lavoir right below our mooring and we found another in the nearby village of Boulleret but we really couldn’t figure out the rest of the walk so it ended up just being a ramble though the countryside.

These folks were getting a ride around Boulleret.

Those crottins have to come from somewhere.

Tuesday we were off to our usual stop in Beaulieu. It was only 15k away but first we made a stop in Bellville to buy our daily bread (it was very good) and wander around the town. We’ve never spent any time there as it’s between our usual stopping places so we made use of an opportunity to check it out. It’s pretty prosperous looking as we suppose the pay for working at the nuclear power plant in town is pretty good.

Wednesday we used another decent weather day to bike ride on the banks of the Loire and visit the nearby “U-pick” vegetable stand. We came back with a bag full of haricort verts, the delicious little green beans, and a freshly cut head of lettuce, plus a couple other goodies.

Thursday it was off to Briare, although not until 11:30. There are no locks before the embranchment with its three locks that leads off the Lateral canal into Briare and we wanted to get there after the lunch closure. By about 2:30 we were back in our slip, this years abbreviated voyage complete. We still had a month to go before our flight back to California, though, so more adventures await.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Apremont-sur-Allier, Fri. Aug 20

The weather was going to be very nice; sunny with highs in the mid 20’s C. Great for a bike ride. One of “The Most Beautiful Villages of France” was just 6 k down a nice shaded bike path. Off we went first thing in the morning.

The path follows a small feeder canal that takes water from the Allier River to the Loire lateral canal. It used to be a working canal that provided access to the river through a unique round lock.

2 k past the lock is the village of Apremont.

In the Middle Ages, Apremont thrived from the activity of the local quarrymen who cut the stones used to build the cathedral of Orleans and the Abbey of St Benoît-sur-Loire. In the mid 1400’s the chateau was a stronghold and prison for the Dukes of Burgundy, who were affiliated with the English. In the 15th century, Louis XI acquired the buildings and it went through its typical French chateau ups and downs. In 1722 Louis de Bethune bought Apremont and since then the château and its estate have been in the same family. In 1818, Caroline de Massevan inherited the estate, then pretty much in ruins, and she and her husband decided to rebuild it. In 1894, the ironmaster from Le Creusot, Eugène Schneider, fell in love with the site of Apremont, which belonged to his family-in-law, the Rafelis-Saint-Sauveurs. He bought out all other family members and became the sole owner of the château and village, which he transformed over fifty years. He had buildings not corresponding to the style of the site destroyed and replaced by groups of houses built in the local medieval style. In 1969, Eugene's daughter, the Duchess of Brissac (Marie-May Schneider, then married to the Duc de Brissac), inherited Apremont and in in the early 1970’s decided to greatly expand the gardens. The Parc Floral opened in 1976.

Looking toward the chateau over the village roofs, with your back to the river.

After passing through the entrance lobby you are faced with the most beautiful wisteria.

photo from the Apremont website

There are three “follies” in the garden, built after designs of the Russian born architect and artist Alexandre Sérébriakoff.

One is The Belvedere up at the top of the hill. The inside features four ceramic panels that took 10 years to manufacture in Nevers.

This panel show the characters from the Commedia dell’Arte Pulchinella puppets in the Apremont gardens.

The other two garden follies are the Turkish pavilion and the Pagoda Bridge.

After a couple hours in the garden and a light lunch by the river, we walked up to the chateau after looking at an exhibit of horse drawn carriages and wedding dresses through the years.

It is still a private residence and there are no tours but there is a very nice view over the countryside from below the walls.

After a very enjoyable day it was back to the boat. We had 7 days left on our cruising permit and not much ground to cover so it would be a very leisurely cruising week.

More info on the chateau and gardens is at

Friday, September 3, 2021

A Couple Days on the Lateral, Aug, 17-19

 The Carrefour supermarket at the end of the Nivernais in Decize has provided a most useful resource. There is a mooring right behind the store so you can bring your shopping cart right to the boat. That’s a good thing as the Nivernais is notorious for lack of major grocery shopping and our supplies were running low.

We cleared the lock before the supermarket right before the noon lunch closure and after lunch spent some time hunting and gathering at the Carrefour and the nearby Lidl. At 3 o’clock we cleared the last lock on the Nivernais and crossed the Loire to the Loire lateral canal with one brief stop. At the mooring on the river in Decize we spotted one of our neighbors from Briare, Lenny and Di on Elysium. They were actually on their roundabout way to Paris via the Marne for their winter moorings but had blown a fuse on their generator and stopped at the nearby hardware store to get one. Of course, the store didn’t have the fuse they needed but, luckily, we did. Problem solved and after a brief chat, off we went through the two locks at the Decize marina and onto the Canal Lateral a la Loire.

This typical old Loire boat entered the last Nivernais lock as we left it.

They seemed to be having fun.

Wednesday morning it was 25 k and 5 locks to the mooring we’ve used at Chevenon before. This time, however, it wasn’t raining so we were able to take a walk around the town. There is a chateau but it is not open to the public and surrounded by tall trees so we really couldn’t get a good look. We did spot some fantastic lawn art, though.

And this cow peeking over the hedgerow made us laugh.

The hairstyle reminded us of a singer we know. We called him “Lyle Cow.”

Chevenon is 3.5 k into a 20 k stretch of canal between locks so we had 17 k to cover on Thursday morning before we would reach the double locks at Guétin. We intended to stop in the basin right after the locks for a day so we could visit Apremont-sur-Allier, one of “The Most Beautiful Villages in France.” Friday was supposed to be the best weather day of the week. It would be a good day for a bike ride.

We made it to the locks right before lunch and were tied up right after noon.

The mooring at Guétin. When boats are coming through the locks

the walkways are choked with spectators, or as the Brits call them, “gongoozlers.”

Later in the day there would be several more hireboats from the nearby Nicols base.

After lunch we took a walk out to the Bek d’Allier, a large nature preserve where the Allier River meets the Loire. There is a marker there for Kilometer Zero of the Loire à Vélo cycle route. We stopped in at a cafe on our way back to the boat. It was a warm day and we needed a little liquid refreshment. It also gave us our first opportunity to use our French health pass. The QR code worked just like it should and the beer was just what the day called for.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Cercy-la-Tour, Aug. 15-17

We left Fleury Sunday morning at 9. We couldn’t leave any earlier as we were tied up right above the lock and they don’t open until 9. 

The weather had definitely changed; cloudy, much cooler and windy. 9 locks and 23 k later we were tied up on the pontoon at Cercy around 3 pm.

For €8 a night we would get water and electricity. The water tank was getting a little low and the laundry basket was more than full. That was Mondays chore.

The pontoon in Cercy is actually on a small section of the canal

that is in the bed of the river Aron.

Cercy is dominated by a large statue of the Catholic Mary on a hill that overlooks the town.

There’s not much going on here. The long main street is lined by shuttered shops. We think maybe it’s proximity to the larger town of Decize has siphoned off much of the business. There is a very good boulangerie at the top of the hill, however, and a butcher close to the moorings, although as we were there Sunday and Monday, it was closed.

Looking across the bridge over the Aron River

So, laundry. The forecast showed no rain, although clouds and wind. Of course as soon as the clothes went out on the line to dry it began to sprinkle and we spent the afternoon trying to keep the stuff from a rain water rinse.

Chores complete, Monday morning we set off for the last section of the Canal du Nivernais, a major grocery shopping in Decize and a night at our usual spot on the Loire lateral canal right outside of town.