Floating on the Loire

The hustle and bustle along the river in the 19th century is long gone. But a handful of enthusiastic boatmen still keep alive the world of sailing on the Loire with traditional flat-bottomed boats. A chance to float along the river from Amboise to Candes-Saint-Martin, via Langeais.

Here the towboats are called futreaux, toues or coches d’eau. The boats are all different, but these wooden vessels all have a flat bottom so that they can sail even in shallow waters, sometimes less than 30 centimetres deep. In summer, there are plenty of sandbanks along the Loire, and the water level can be very low…

Near Amboise

The Loire

The Loire

The trips organised by the Millière Raboton association at dusk are a big hit. In summer, around 7 pm, the passengers get on board a traditional boat on the quays of Amboise. The boatmen don’t provide a regular tourist commentary but share their personal and authentic experience of the river, with their hand on the stay, a long wooden rod that moves the boat forwards when there is no wind. In the sunset, the landscape is a delight. While the light lingers on the water surface, the boat glides towards the jungle of “boires” (oxbow lakes in the Loire), brushing against the shore, where you might see a castor nibbling on a tree trunk as if it were sharpening a pencil. On moonless nights, there is darkness all around, and the sense of hearing takes over, with the sound of frogs croaking and nightingales singing. A fleeting silhouette, near the boat’s stem, really is a beaver, with its snout raised above the rippling water. Shh!

On the way, passengers drink a glass of Loire wine and share a snack, with some rillons and goat’s cheese, and get to know each other. “It’s also really nice early in the morning, but people have trouble getting up early,” the boatman says with a laugh. There is also bivouacking, picnics on an island, evenings on special themes and a chance to meet local fishermen.

Millière Raboton

Millière Raboton

On the right bank

Alexis Fouché called his association Endremage in homage to a sailing technique. “It’s a technical term to describe sailing under a bridge with a series of boats”. The boat leaves from Langeais with four passengers on board, below the suspension bridge over the royal river. His traditional boat, the Ritournelle, has a capacity for twelve passengers. You can choose between a trip with a commentary for one or two hours or, for food lovers, a tasting of local specialities and wines, and not forgetting a visit to the Château de Langeais with its old stone keep in the background.

Endremage

Endremage

Heritage and galipette mushrooms

Downstream, on the way back along the left bank, the River Vienne joins the Loire at Candes-Saint-Martin, a delightful listed village, the neighbour of Montsoreau, its alter ego in Anjou. The majestic confluence is a playground for Sylvain and Robin Delaporte, two brothers at the helm and in the kitchen. The meals served on board are one of the big assets of the Amarante, a cosy traditional haul boat. You can also spend the night with your loved one… in a real bed. There”s no danger of ending up at Saint-Nazaire the next day, since the boat is at anchor and the brave seamen take on the role of bakers for breakfast on board the next morning.

The smaller, beautiful Adèle is a sand tow boat. It has the advantage of being accessible to people with reduced mobility. So you can sail in a wheelchair and soak up the landscapes listed as World Heritage sites by UNESCO. The gourmet cruises (for up to 60 diners) give pride of place to local ingredients and wines, in particular the famous galipettes, succulent stuffed button mushrooms…

In the town, Chinon and Tours

In Tours, the Boutavant association organises trips (including a walk featuring a pre-dinner drink) upstream and downstream from the Wilson Bridge jetty, near the Guinguette de Tours sur Loire riverside music bar. Close by, in Rochecorbon, Captain Clément Sirgue will also be happy to share all he knows about the river on board La Rabouilleuse.

In Chinon, the boats from the Compagnie de Navigation Vienne Loire (François and Julien Ayrault), and the Gargantua (Nicolas Lemonnier) take lovers of fauna and flora along the River Vienne with trips lasting 1 to 4 hours.

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