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Sublime River and Canal Boating through Brittany

17/07/2023 by .
River and Canal Boating through Brittany

Andy Mossack enjoys a relaxing week river and canal boating through Brittany on Le Boat’s Calypso 3.

After an overnight moored up near sleepy St. Anne de Vilaine, I take an early morning walk to the local boulangerie.  A mist floats across the water. A cockerel crows and a distant dog barks. There’s floral scent, birdsong, and a blue cloudless sky. Man alive, this is the life.

Honestly, you couldn’t write a script any better. And the warm just-baked pain au raisin and crusty baguette ancienne is the icing on the cake.

River and Canal Boating through Brittany

Welcome to life on the waterways of Brittany, a literal corner of France that carries a proud heritage of independence ever since the Celts settled here from Britain in the 5th century. Those links are everywhere you look, from the Breton language (they can also understand Gaelic and Cornish perfectly well) to the food and the traditions.

Little Britain, as this land was once called, perhaps offers a very different experience to the rest of France. Just order a traditional galette washed down with a local aromatic cidre and you’ll soon get the idea.

Brittany’s network of canals and rivers provides excellent arteries for a memorable boating holiday, and I was more than happy to take full advantage.

River and Canal Boating through Brittany

My Le Boat craft was a Calypso comfort class; a 13 metre-long three-cabin cruiser (two of which had ensuite bathrooms), a fully fitted kitchen, a main saloon lounge (which also converts as a fourth double bed if needed), a sun deck, and interior and exterior steering positions. While we’re discussing navigation, the throttle was a simple affair, just a lever pressed forward to go or pulled back to reverse, while bow thrusters via a dashboard rocker switch were a welcome aid for mooring and lock manoeuvring.

After a quick provisions stock up at the local supermarket and an excellent boat briefing from the boatyard base team, we were all ship-shape and set to begin our river and canal boating through Brittany.

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We were on a 7-night cruise and though there were numerous route options, we decided to take Le Boat’s suggested itinerary from its Messac base on the River Vilaine, to Redon, where we would join the Canal du Nante à Brest through to Josselin, before turning back. It was an itinerary with less than 30 hours of total navigation, enough locks to keep us on our toes, and more than a few regional highlights to visit. Josselin’s ancient waterfront castle, Malestroit’s half-timbered houses, and La Gacilly’s craftsmen, artisis, glassblowers and sculptors, were all on our to-visit list.

Although everything is clearly explained in the handbook and navigation maps on board, there is nothing quite the same as jumping straight in and learning on the job.

River and Canal Boating through Brittany

river and canal boating through Brittany

Our first lock encounter nearly ended in disaster. A poorly placed lock signpost and an almost invisible weir joined forces in an unplanned world record attempt at boat surfing, narrowly avoided by some nifty bow thrusting and full reverse.

You learn river etiquette pretty quickly. You always pass oncoming traffic on the right. However, buoys coloured green mean you keep to the right of them at all times and with red ones, you keep to the left. However, we quickly discovered once we entered the canal system, that particular rule was reversed! Hey ho. All part of the journey as they say.

Mooring up on the Vilaine is only at designated locations, and some of these may offer water tank refills and electric hookups, either free or for a small fee. However, on the canal system, you can moor anywhere, and part of the joy of this type of holiday is finding a small village or a riverside restaurant to moor up for the night. Staying overnight in marinas, however, will incur charges. We stayed the night in Redon for €32 but that included excellent toilet and shower facilities as well as electricity and water. It was worth it for a long shower with plenty of room for once!

River and Canal Boating through Brittany

Our Calypso had plenty of battery power and more than enough water for three days’ worth of showering and washing up, but we never overlooked an opportunity to replenish both. And when you’re on mains power you can use and charge on board multiple devices without having to worry.

I found navigating locks a highlight during our river and canal boating through Brittany. They’re narrow and the Calypso is a bit of a beast, so getting your crewmates to watch at the front and rear and taking it slowly should avoid any embarrassing moments. But if you do make a mess of it at least you’ll keep the lockkeepers amused.

They are a very helpful bunch though. All you need to do is navigate in and out, and they do the rest. You throw them ropes and they tie up, and they operate the lock gates. The only things you need to watch out for are closing times. The locks close for an hour or so every day for lunch and shut each night at different times depending on the time of year.

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Redon is at the crossroads of the river and canal system, and navigating through here was a memorable moment. We were joining the Canal du Nante à Brest and it involved a lock entry, a road bridge raise, and a very tight turn. Needless to say, it was a magnificent feat of nautical prowess if I say so myself. I’m also pretty sure I got raised eyebrows and a ‘bravo’ from the lockkeeper, but maybe that was just in my head.

There was another memorable moment at La Gacilly.

This gorgeous artisan village sits at the end of a narrow canal spur, but it is well worth the detour. We had just backed our boat into a vacant pontoon berth and enjoying the peace and quiet, when suddenly, another boat appeared, skidding around the bend on the nautical equivalent of two wheels before crashing magnificently into the floating pontoon.

We, and a few of our floating neighbours watched slack-jawed as the driver then attempted to reverse at full speed into a narrow berth, missed it and took half of it with him as he full-throttled forwards.

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Turns out this was an Italian couple who clearly thought they were still on the back streets of Naples. To avoid any further destruction of this centuries-old village, we got them to shut down their engine and pulled them safely back to shore.

Our river and canal boating through Brittany experience was a leisurely wander through the real France.  A chance to mix with locals, find some lovely riverside restaurants and villages, and spend time watching the wildlife. Herons, egrets, dippers, ducks and swans, and even the occasional otter.

As I wandered my way back from St. Anne de Vilaine, I felt this corner of Little Britain has left a postcard in my heart. Adieu, my friend.

All images (C) Andy Mossack

Tell me more about River and Canal Boating through Brittany with Le Boat

For more information on river and canal boating through Brittany with Le Boat or many other locations around Europe, please visit Le Boat T: 0044 023 9222 2177

Le Boat is the No.1 provider of inland water boating holidays, bringing together 50 years of experience, expertise and memories. Le Boat has a fleet of large self-drive cruisers, allowing entire families to stay on board and to explore their chosen region.

As far as river and canal boating through Brittany is concerned, a seven-night self-catered cruise on the Canal de Nantes à Brest and other rivers on board a Calypso, during the 2023 boating season, starting and finishing at Le Boat’s base at Messac, is priced from £1,219 per boat / £152.38 pp based on eight people sharing.

Getting to Brittany with Brittany Ferries 

Brittany Ferries sails direct from Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth to Le Havre, Caen and Cherbourg in Normandy and to St Malo and Roscoff in Brittany.

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We sailed overnight from Portsmouth to St Malo and returned on the same route by day. On this route prices start from £318 return for a car+2 including an en-suite cabin on the outward overnight sailing, or £445 for a family of 4.

For bookings T: 0330 159 7000 or online at Brittany Ferries

Recommended restaurants on our river and canal boating through Brittany

La belle Vilaine – St Anne de Vilaine.

La Minoterie  – Messac

Le Grain du Sel – Malestroit

La Minoterie – Redon  (a completely different restaurant from Messac)

Le Bistrot – Josselin. Excellent galettes

La Pailotte du Pont – Le Port du Grand Pas



3 thoughts on “Sublime River and Canal Boating through Brittany

  1. Laetitia DANIEL

    Thank you for this lovely report which will certainly inspire other travellers to come and discover our region.


    Merci beaucoup, will be piloting a canal boat in the Canal De Brest from Redon in late September of 2023, was great to get some recent feedback on this part of Bretagne and what to or not to expect, hopefully our adventure will be as awesome as yours.
    Nga Mihi Nui


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