I would like to start by thanking Nicols and Silver Travel Advisor for the prize of a week in France on a Nicols boat. I asked my husband, sister and son to join me, so our ages ranged from late twenties to seventy and we had never been boating before. We were very excited and positive about taking the trip which was booked for the last week in September, 2022.
We set off from Le Somail in France and hoped to go along the Canal du Midi to Bellgrade in the Camargue which involved crossing the Etang du Thau – a large lagoon. We experienced very strong winds and had to return to Le Somail after 3 days. This caused us to radically change our arrangements to get to an airport and fly home.
Great things about the holiday were the slow pace, peace and beauty of the canal, the very pretty and at times dramatic scenery and the lovely villages like Le Somail and Capestang. The beautiful gardens with lots of unrecognisable shrubs and flowers were another delight. We navigated some complicated and strangely beautiful locks including the 7 step staircase lock at Fonserannes. The lock keepers and other canal users were mostly friendly and helpful. There was a worrying absence of wildlife, but we saw little egrets and kingfishers. Many of the Plane trees lining the canal are diseased and were being cut down and burnt but there are efforts to replace them.
Good things to know in advance would be that it helps, but is not essential, to have some French. I revised mine using Duolingo and was glad I did. It takes time to learn how to drive the boat and we really underestimated the impact of Autumn winds. You are given a brief demonstration of the boat’s main features and how to drive and care for it, but then you are on a steep learning curve. We studied the literature and film about the boat we were sent in advance but in retrospect should have tried to find out more about how to manage a boat.
I loved living and travelling on the boat. Ours was ten years old, clean but a bit battered. We saw this as a positive as something brand new would have felt very intimidating. We were on a Quatro B and space in bedrooms is very limited, but the glories of the countryside were ample compensation. France is a lot more expensive than Britain, we had to pay a deposit of 1,500 euros in case we damaged the boat. You can stop overnight for free but mooring costs were up to 25 euros a night to stay and top up water and electricity. We paid £230 euros for diesel, but this would have been a lot more had we not been forced to turn back. We cleaned the boat ourselves, but it would have cost 300 euros if we had not done this.
If you are thinking of doing a boat trip, I would say it is a wonderful thing to do but you need to be aware of the additional costs and you do need to be physically fairly agile and to be prepared to change your route if the weather is unpredictable. You need to be comfortable in small spaces and be prepared to see the funny side when things do not go to plan. If you opt for a one way as opposed to a round trip you need to have a backup plan for getting home if your final destination changes.
Would we do it all again? Yes – definitely and I suspect a second holiday when we already had some boating experience would be even better!