A low impact week on the water in Alsace with Nicols – Andrew Morris takes the helm!

quaint, peaceful Lutzelbourg in Lorraine on the Marne-Rhine canal | Alsace

Introduction

Many Silver Travellers have long been concerned about the impact their travel adventures are having on our fragile environment.

Well, how about exploring the quiet waterways of rural Alsace with a clear conscience, thanks to the latest addition to the fleet of Silver Travel partner Nicols.

The Region

Alsace is a historical region in north-eastern France. Bordering Germany to the north and Switzerland to the south, it was fought over by France and Germany through the centuries, so it’s no surprise that local architecture, food and language reflect both cultures.

Our Route

quaint, peaceful Lutzelbourg in Lorraine on the Marne-Rhine canal
quaint, peaceful Lutzelbourg in Lorraine on the Marne-Rhine canal

The local Nicols base is in beautiful Saverne, a commune in the Bas Rhin département. Situated on the Marne-Rhine canal at the foot of the Vosges mountains, it lies 45km north-west of Strasbourg.

We collected our boat from the much smaller community of Harskirchen, though, on the Canal des houillères de la Sarre.

The route back to Saverne is 73 km, passing through the bucolic villages of Mittersheim, Xouaxange, Hesse, Niderviller and Lutzelbourg, with captivating rural landscapes and wildlife throughout.

The Boat

Quattro Fly C Green electric boat

We were lucky to be exploring this well-chosen route on the Quattro Fly C Green boat, the latest addition to the Nicols fleet. At just under 13m long and 4m wide, with 2 cabins (each with a shower and electric toilet), a kitchen (better equipped than our cottage) and a living room (convertible to another bed), this piece of floating heaven was perfect for four adults.

But with merveilleux weather throughout our trip, the pièce de résistance is undoubtedly this model’s top deck, offering a spacious al fresco dining area and outdoor kitchen, including sink and BBQ.

Eating local sausages, cooked to perfection on the BBQ, accompanied by cheeses and salad, all washed down with a bottle of cold Pinot Gris from Alsace as the sun sank below the canal’s horizon, is not a memory that will fade quickly.

Navigation

No previous experience is needed to enjoy this route, or any other of Nicols’ boating holidays. Trust me…if I managed to steer our boat back to Saverne, all Silver Travellers can feel confident.

All their fleet is operated by an inside steering wheel, and by a second rooftop wheel so that the captain can enjoy the weather, landscape and sausages just as much as the crew. 

A comprehensive – and entertaining – induction from local Operations Manager Cédric certainly put our minds to rest about any navigation concerns, and told us everything we needed to know about the boat’s facilities.

There are 30 locks between Harskirchen and Saverne, all now operated automatically: as you approach by a remote control, and by tugging on a metal pole once you’re safely inside. All the locks on our route were free to use, and navigable between 08:30 and 18:30.

Green Credentials

Just like the Sixto Green, the Quattro Fly C Green is a completely silent zero-emissions rated, non-polluting and environmentally-friendly electric-powered canal boat.

The Sixto Green, introduced in 2018, was actually the first fully electric-powered canal boat in Europe.

The entire Nicols fleet in Portugal is equipped with solar panels, and the company is a Patron of the Canal du Midi, participating in the replanting of trees alongside that waterway.

The Experience and Highlights

The lack of noise, with minimal wake and pollution, genuinely enhanced our whole experience. Here are just a few highlights from our electrified week on the waterways of Alsace:

  • Wildlife – who knows if we got closer than our engine-fuelled canal companions, but we saw herons, storks, buzzards, kites, wagtails and other birds aplenty, all at very close quarters
  • Rural bliss – what a joy to be gliding noiselessly through the water, the swish of a gentle breeze through canalside reeds, the distant call of a cuckoo and the thrum of a harvester creating golden bales of hay the only sounds imposing themselves on us
  • I loved early morning strolls or bike rides in search of a local boulangerie. There was nothing like eating freshly baked croissants, pastries and a baguette for le petit déjeuner. And in the absence of a bakery in Hesse, we were directed to a machine, coughing up a baguette in exchange for 1€. Vive la France!
  • Our overnight mooring spot in Niderviller, away from the main port and surrounded by woodland and a farmyard, where a baby donkey emerged shyly from behind a wooden fence
  • Most of the time, herons would emerge from the reeds as we approached, and glide languidly along the canal ahead of us. But one day, en route to Xouaxange, one stayed firmly perched on dry land, staring us down eyeball-to-eyeball
  • The Plan Incliné (boat lift) at Saint-Louis-Arzviller, an engineering miracle enabling the canal to cross the Vosges mountains. Built in 1969, it moves 356 feet horizontally and 146 vertically and can take three boats of our size at a time. It replaced a flight of 17 ancient, narrow locks which needed a whole day to traverse. Incroyable!
engineering miracle of the ‘boat lift’ at Saint-Louis-Arzviller, on the Marne-Rhine canal

Conclusion

It’s hard to imagine a more relaxing, rewarding holiday for Silver Travellers than a week exploring these peaceful waterways of Alsace. And based on our experience, any other Nicols boating adventure.

And if you get the chance, opt for one of their electric boats. Silence and helping the environment…what a winning combination.

Find out more

Andrew travelled on board spacious two-cabin electric powered Quattro Fly C Green from the Nicols base at Harskirchen in the Alsace region of France. Boat hire prices for a one-week holiday start from 2,709 Euros or 1,354 Euros for a short break.

Nicols offers boating holidays on board a range of self-drive cruisers for parties of between 2-12 people and no previous boating experience is required.

In addition to Alsace, Nicols has bases in popular regions across France, Portugal, Germany, Netherlands and Hungary.

For more information visit Nicols or call 02392 401320

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Andrew Morris

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