Winning tip: Burgundy Canal, France
This waterway winds past chateaux and vineyards that will tempt you to stop everywhere. Pick up a barge at Chagny and follow the canal south – stock up with cheese, bread and wine for lunch as many locks close from noon to 2pm. Waking to dawn sunlight on the water and sitting on deck with a glass of Chablis (but not necessarily at dawn!) are pleasures we quickly got used to.
•Several companies rent boats at Chagny from about €1,300 a week, sleeping 10, including Locaboat and HappyCharter
Charente river, France
Western France’s beautiful Charente river proved perfect for us as boating beginners. Over a week we sailed from Sireuil near Angoulême west to Chaniers near Royan and back, which was 132km at a manageable Wind In The Willows pace. There was plenty of opportunity for us to spot wildlife, for our children to cycle along the towpath beside the boat and for us to moor and explore. In Jarnac, Courvoisier’s HQ is a waterfront chateau where you can tie up and hop on a tour.
•Boat hire from €1,410 a week, sleeping seven, boat-renting-nicols.co.uk
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Canal du Midi, France
Starting from Narbonne we meandered along sections of the 240km Canal du Midi through beautiful villages such as Le Somail, Paraza, Homps and on to magical Carcassonne. We made memorable stops at the little écluse (lock) houses that sell perfectly chilled bottles of rosé. I have owned a narrowboat in the UK but this was my most memorable experience.
•Several companies offer boat hire on the Canal du Midi, including Locaboat and Le Boat, from about €1,200 sleeping five
The Camargue, France
Until we took a canal-cruising holiday down the Camargue canals I hadn’t realised just how wild the south of France was. As well as the indigenous Camargue horses we saw wild bulls, flamingos and many migratory bird species on the surrounding wetland. It wasn’t all wildlife though, as we stopped at fortress seaports like Aigues-Mortes which hides a lively little town of shops and bars behind it’s imposing medieval walls. I was surprised at how few locks there were, so this route would be perfect for novice boat users.
•From about €1,400 for a week sleeping up to eight, from leboat.com
Mecklenburg Lake District, Germany
Between Berlin and the Baltic coast is a network of peaceful canals and emerald lakes. Boaters cruise among including Eurasian cranes, sea eagles and otters. The water is clean and anyone can find a secluded spot for a refreshing dip. Moor up and wander through timber villages that feel forgotten in time. Supermarkets are cheap and well-stocked for picnics. Inns serve the local speciality of smoked fish (pike, trout and sometimes eel) and locals will happily recommend a favourite beer. Perfect.
•Companies such as Locaboat and Le Boat hire out boats from about €1,300 a week, sleeping six people
Krutnyia river trail, Poland
Taking a five-day kayaking trip in north-east Poland’s Masurian Lake District is not as strenuous as it sounds. As you drift down the Krutnyia river trail, a peaceful stretch of undisturbed lakes and rivers, you can go the whole day without seeing anyone but the occasional lone fisherman. Wildlife, however, is abundant – the rivers are teeming with fish, and cuckoos provide the soundtrack to your day. While accommodation is basic, the company we used provided us with home-cooked Polish cuisine and the complication of keeping luggage dry is avoided with it being transported to the next destination for you.
•Kayak hire £8 a day, or about £150pp with food and accommodation, kajaki.pl
Waterways of Stockholm
Boats were the transport of choice among the waterways of Stockholm and its archipelago for millennia, and they’re still a popular option for getting around for locals and tourists alike. Boat tours are a great way to see Stockholm’s museums, parks, shops and restaurants, as well as taking in the history of the city through its architecture. Thanks to right of access laws, private boats can anchor off any of the thousands of islands of the rest of the archipelago.
•72 hours hop on-hop off boat, £22, stromma.com