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Hear from our expert : Anjou, the region that welcomes you with good wine and great restaurants!

One might picture Anjou as a sleepy region, lost in the center of France, far removed from urban centers and city noise. Quite the opposite: the region is lively, welcoming and teeming with nooks and crannies. Children can pretend to be pirates for a day, teenagers can manoeuvre the locks, and adults can enjoy waking up to ever-changing landscapes.


A team above all

"The only photo you'll get is with the whole team. Neither Emilie nor I are enough to keep the base running." With these words, Raphaël, manager of both the Grez Neuville base (on the Mayenne) and the Sablé-sur-Sarthe base (on the Sarthe), welcomes the request for a photo to illustrate this article. And that's what it's all about!

There are 6 permanent employees on the base, backed up by more than 20 people in season!

It has to be said that this base has quite a history. It was Emilie's father, a river cruise aficionado in the 1980s, who launched the idea. He wanted other people to discover this leisure activity, in the best possible conditions. That's why he set about building five 9-meter aluminum boats. A pioneer among pioneers, Emilie's father was quick to adapt his barges to the expectations of customers who were discovering a whole new way of getting around on vacation.

With no need for caravans, camper vans or tents, these freshwater holidaymakers moved to the slow, peaceful rhythm of the rivers and canals of the beautiful Anjou region.

In 1990, the company turned to Nicols, "To be certain we would offer quality boats, and to refocus on the hospitality and tourism side, rather than the mechanical side. In this sense, Nicols provides us with unfailing assistance and logistical support, for anything we might need." Which, of course, is not possible when you build your own boats.

Today, the fleet of thirty boats is divided between the two bases. Some sailors prefer round trips, others one-way. "Here, all formulas are possible, it's à la carte" explains Raphaël.

"The bulk of demand is for family weekends," explains the manager. It’s true that the larger Nicols boats, with a capacity of up to 12 people, lend themselves without difficulty to family reunions. And when this is combined with the possibility of mooring almost anywhere, as allowed on the two rivers accessible from Sablé sur Sarthe and Grez Neuville, they're bound to be a success!

The couple have a motto that they repeat over and over again: "Anything can be ruined, except for your vacation", and they go to great lengths to ensure this. A friendly welcome, books, tourist advice... When you arrive at any of their bases, you'll feel welcome and at home, on a river barge.


Cruising into Château Gontier


Anjou is easy to navigate

Whichever river you choose, it will be easy to navigate. There are few locks (although passing a lock in a barge is always a great memory) and the water is very shallow. "Being on a boat and cruising on a river is a great way to get from one town to another. In the south of the Mayenne the atmosphere is very much that of a small village. North of Château Gontier, a more winding and rural environment awaits. Every day, you’ll see different landscapes throughout the day," explain Emilie and Raphaël in chorus.
"Where there are locks, we're lucky to have friendly, welcoming lock-keepers. Lock-keepers are the river's best ambassadors."


Many free services in an unspoilt setting

"Here, everything has been left in its original state, and it's like time has stood still", explains Raphaël. Emilie adds, "Everything here is on a human scale. The locks are well kept and brightened up with flowers. It's made of simplicity and beauty, it's pure and human, nothing artificial." But that doesn't mean it's a desert. Here, you'll find ports or pontoons in every town, water for your daily refreshment and sanitary facilities in some locks. All this is free of charge, with the only exception of electricity, for which you’ll have to contribute a little.
"And don't hesitate to stop at the piquets, if you go quietly and pay attention to the bottom, there's no real risk".

Castle of Angers © L. de Serre


So much to see and visit

To ask Raphaël and Emilie for their top three places would be to forget how chatty they are and how much they love their region!

In order of appearance, they mention:

  • The Solesmes Abbey, a Benedictine abbey founded shortly after the year 1000
  • Terra-Botanica, a theme park dedicated to the environment and plants
  • The Castle of Angers (Emilie's favorite), a medieval fortified castle
  • The Entrammes Abbey (also known as Notre-Dame du Port du Salut), where a certain cheese was born... If you don’t know it (and even if you do!) you’ve got to have a taste of the famous Port-Salut!
  • Chenillé-Changé, a quiet, soothing waterside village
  • Malicorne and its earthenware factory, one of the last in France, where you'll discover the secrets of such beautiful French porcelain.
  • Château Gontier... Because Raphaël loves Château Gontier ;-)

"And... Sarthe and Mayenne as a whole", add Emilie and Raphaël with one voice. Both are convinced that the region is particularly and above all beautiful, that it deserves to be seen and visited in its own right, because it has passed the centuries without being stared at.

Malicorne and its earthenware factory


Great gastronomic discoveries to bring back on board or at home

In moderation of course, we urge you to discover the châteaux along the water's edge, their hillsides producing an excellent nectar appreciated by all. For the sake of your health and safety, you should alternate boating days with wine-tasting days, as drinking and driving are not the best of friends.

In Le Mans, don't miss the rillettes. But... let's hear it from Raphaël: "The best rillettes are those from Aubert’s butcher's shop in Sablé sur Sarthe". And because a sweet treat never goes alone, the Sablé sur Sarthe shortbread cookies are well worth buying, because, as the name suggests, Sablé is the only place where you'll find them!

Finally, to quench your thirst once again, the fresh, fragrant wines of Anjou are perfect for a friendly aperitif on board, before a waterside barbecue, around a jar of rillettes de Sablé and fresh bread from the bakery next door. That's the Nicols way of vacationing!


Good food and good drinks

Where there's good food, there's good restaurants for a feast with your friends and family. "Here too, simplicity, kindness and friendliness are always the order of the day. No fuss, no waiters in livery. You're welcomed, served and appreciated as friends in every establishment," explains Emilie.

Among the choice of restaurants is La Petite Auberge in Malicorne, which also offers take-away food. Ideal for a picnic.

In Solesmes, a little more luxurious, the Grand Hôtel is a gastronomic stopover of excellence on the water's edge. Best reserved for a romantic dinner when you disembark your river barge.

In Grez-Neuville, the restaurant L'écluse doesn't look like much. "Eighteen tables, not one more, and a menu at 30 euros on weekends. We eat good, healthy, local food and really enjoy ourselves," explains Raphaël.

Still hungry? Don't worry, the advantage of talking to the managers of both a Nicols base on the Mayenne and one on the Sarthe is to multiply their gastronomic capabilities. Two venues, two atmospheres. Even if, as it happens, dozens of atmospheres await you at the water's edge.

In Chenillé Changé, La Table du Meunier is not to be missed.

In Origné, you'd be hard pressed to find a restaurant closer to the lock than Le Beyel. "They could serve your food directly on the boat, for all we know," laughs Raphaël.

Finally, a compulsory stop at the bar/restaurant/café/meeting place Les copains d'abord, in Château Gontier. "It's a great place," explains Raphaël. It's actually located between Le Beyel and Château Gontier, close to the water. But secrets have to be earned, so we'll say no more!

In Chenillé Changé, discover the old mill, and the restaurant « la Table du Meunier »


For a first-time visit to Anjou, allow a little over a week

Christophe is a regular on the circuit, and knows that all his boating friends will systematically stop en route simply to do nothing. That's why, according to the man in charge, "a week is the minimum you need to enjoy yourself and allow yourself to stop. Admire the trees, look at a flower or a hillside. That's what vacations are for, not just to get ahead", he explains. "Over the course of this week, head for Malicorne. Along the way, you'll come across countless villages and as many castles. Some can be visited, others are in ruins. No matter, they're there. Next, climb up to Fillé-sur-sarthe and stop to see the mill, which has been refurbished and is open to visitors. It's on Moulinsart Island, with a guinguette right next to the mill".

From Grez Neuville, join Château Gontier to visit the villages (Chenillé) and continue to Entrammes Abbey. You're in the domain of the majestic Mayenne. Wide, clean and soothing, the traces of French history surround you. For a change of pace and intimacy, set your sights on the Oudon. This peaceful little river makes you feel all alone in the world.


For the best memories of your Anjou cruise 

"The main recommendation is not to plan anything. Planning, inevitably, puts stress and pressure on you." Raphaël begins. And stress means... not taking advantage!

"Also" adds Émilie, "even if the temptation is great to switch from the Sarthe to the Oudon or from the Mayenne to the Sarthe, I believe that staying on the same river throughout your stay allows you to really appreciate the place and discover unknown places, those little pearls you only see with the slow gaze of river cruising."

River cruising is all about freedom. You can stop whenever and - almost - wherever you like: "You have to take advantage of this freedom that you only experience here to disconnect 100%", adds Raphaël.

"You have to reach that magical moment of letting go", explains Emilie. No doubt something akin to the famous "liberation speed" spoken of by the great navigator Bernard Moitessier...


Vegetation park «Terra Botanica »


The moment of secrets

As everywhere, being a local, embedded, and experiencing the territory is essential to discovering its hidden treasures, places off the beaten path. Most often, these treasures are within reach of canals, locks, or rivers, and are well-equipped to welcome those who enjoy being on the water.

For our friends in Angers, this gem is called Brissarthe. '"It's a small village with no shops. There's a petanque field, a surprisingly atypical church... And nothing else. The village square has remained the same for centuries. It's just comfortable, safe, in what looks like a dreamlike place. And you can moor there safely, as there is no risk or danger in Brissarthe."


Anjou in 3 words?

First, we must manage to distribute - almost equally - the 3 words between Raphaël and Émilie, the managers of the Nicols base on the Mayenne and the Sarthe. We achieve it in unison: "Simplicity, Tranquility, Art of Living"!

See you soon in Anjou!

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