Slow-boating in style with Nicols on the River Saône in France
The kingfisher catapulted across the river like an azure
ball-bearing, landed on an overhanging branch then ricocheted back across to
the other bank again.
It was one of many sightings of birds and wildlife that
reminded us we were on slow-time now, driving ourselves down-river at a little
over walking pace. And aboard our Nicols boat, we were enjoying not only the
luxury of time but also of space aboard a beautifully designed and equipped
It was the quality of the Nicols boat that really made the
trip for us. We saw other vessels that we wouldn’t have wanted to spend a week
aboard. Our immaculate Quattro S had a full-size fridge-freezer, a proper
shower with glass doors (no waltzing with a sticky shower curtain here, or
worse, having to sit on the loo as you hose yourself down), a master cabin that
could have come straight off a cruise ship with full ceiling-height, hanging space
and plenty of storage. Plus, two bikes for exploring, safely stowed on the
For two people, this was ideal, with the smaller second
cabin serving as an overspill area, though there were so many nooks and
crannies for storage in the kitchen/dining area that we were still finding new
hidey-holes after 7 days on board. But if you were bringing the grand-kids
along too, it would all work equally well – the boat is so well thought-out.
We were roaming the River Saône in the
Franche Comte region of Eastern France, and what a quiet joy the whole area
proved to be. In mid-September, the Parisians and schoolkids had all gone home,
leaving the river uncrowded even though the weather still felt like summer. Off
the main tourist-trails, the pretty riverside villages, mini-chateaux and towns
welcome visitors with open, flower-filled arms – in Gray every roundabout,
bridge and cobbled street seemed to be spilling with blooms. Many places have
short walking trails marked where you can stretch your legs, and there is a
flat canal path that’s perfect for cycling, virtually the whole way.
The locals were friendly and tolerant of our laughable
French, listening intently and answering slowly in French, not patronising us
with their much-better pronounced English (which many of them spoke). Everyone,
from tractor-drivers to teenagers, from bikers to fellow boaters went past with
a cheery ‘Bonjour’. Slow-lane life is
The river is a lazy beast, so slow-moving that Julius Caesar
allegedly said it was barely a river at all. Semi-canalised now, it has a
series of 25 locks along the 150 km route between Porte sur Saône and delightful
Dole, as well as two rather exhilarating tunnel sections, where an optical
illusion reflects the tunnel lights in the water making it feel like you are
levitating in a sort of space tube. Weird but lovely at the same time!
I had some trepidation about the locks, but Nicols’
publicity is clear – ‘no experience needed’. They take you through how
everything on the boat works and how to negotiate the locks before you set off
(and escort you through the first lock to make sure you’re comfortable with what
to do). And if some of it is bit of a mix of franglais and sign-charades, then
there are also very clear, illustrated written instructions in English to
ensure you keep safe on the water.
The locks are automatic, triggered by what looks like a long
bell-pull suspended over the river as you approach each one. Give it a twist
and, following an easy sequence of traffic lights, the lock will open up for
you. You glide into the chamber – the boat has fenders all the way round as well
as a rubber rubbing strip, so you can’t do any damage – loosely tie-up, give
the lock gate mechanism a tug, and Bob’s your uncle, it all happens for you.
After one or two locks, we relaxed: we could do this – and so, I’m sure, could
The navigational chart book that Nicols supplied became our
guide for the week – as well as showing where the locks are, it has snippets
about the many places of interest en route and indicates where the supermarkets
are. The marinas for overnight stays with water and electricity are clearly
shown (about €13 a night depending on boat length) but we choose to fly-camp at
‘nature moorings’ most evenings, simply tying up at the side of the river and enjoying
the splendour of such an unspoilt setting.
With our roomy fridge-freezer topped up with French regional
goodies, oven-cooking dinner was fast and easy. And watching the sun go down as
the last boats of the evening pottered past was a daily highlight. One night,
two flat-nosed coypus, looking like beavers that have run into a wall,
snowploughed their way across the river before having a rummage among the
The birdlife surprised us – it seemed like there was a heron
at every bend in the river and a pair of swans hustling for bread on every
straight. But very few ducks. Were they all in cans in the local supermarkets?
Grebe and egrets, bats and buzzards, dragonflies and damselflies all thrive
here though – and the river is jumping with fish. No wonder that like us, the
kingfishers love it!
Gill travelled onboard a two cabin Quattro S from the Nicols base at Port sur Saône to Dole in the Franche Comte region of France. Boat hire prices for the Quattro S, which sleeps four people, start from 903 Euros for a 2 night short break or 1,805 Euros for a one-week trip.
Nicols offers river and canal holidays onboard a range of self-drive cruisers suitable for parties of between 2-12 people and no previous boating experience is required. Boat hire prices start from 342 Euros for a 2-night short break or 683 Euros for a one week trip.
In addition to Franche Comte, Nicols offers boating
holidays from 18 different bases in popular regions such as Alsace, Burgundy,
the Loire Valley, Brittany, the Canal du Midi and Camargue plus bases in
Germany and Portugal.
For more information visit www.boat-renting-nicols.co.uk or call 02392 401320.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Nicols.