Our series of ‘expert opinion’ articles let you meet the people at Nicols who bring our boating holidays to life – people who are passionate about their jobs, the waterways they work on and the regions they live within. Here we will share their advice about how to get the most from your boating holiday.
Welcoming you on your boating holiday on the River Lot, departing from the Nicols base at Cahors, is Sylvain and his sister Alice. They are our experts on everything on and around the River Lot!
This particular Nicols base is a family story starting right back in 1938 when Sylvain’s grandfather, a cabinetmaker making furniture began building boats. In the present day Sylvain, now 55 years old, manages the base and has done since 1994 when he chose to join his father instead of progressing to a career in accounting after competing his studies.
As if running a boating holiday rental operation isn’t enough to keep him busy, Sylvain also manages a canal boat maintenance and repair yard.
The Cahors base team is made up of seven people. Two are from Sylvain’s family and there are mechanics and team members who prepare your boat for you. There is also an apprentice – someone to learn the ropes and to pass on the passion to.
Right now in this article, Sylvain will share this passion with us as he tells us all about “his valley”….
In your journey covering just a few kilometres from Cahors you will be amazed at the different landscapes that surround you. Your canal boat provides the perfect vantage point from which to enjoy them all!
From the approximately 30 hours of navigation time required, half will be used for travel on the waterways and the other half for passing through locks. “We usually begin by recommending that our crews start by going to Luzech to discover the fine wines of Cahors before turning round. Along your route are many castles – each with its own unique characteristics. One not to miss is Château de Caix which belongs to the Queen of Denmark” explains Sylvain.
At the U-turn point in Luzech you have to pass very slowly under the devil's bridge – itself an impressive mix of construction and art. An excellent overnight mooring point for your holiday itinerary has to be Bouziès. Here, after a walk along the towpath (the Ganil path) which is carved into the cliffs (it's impressive to see and, above all, unique in the world!), spend the night sleeping at the foot of the cliffs to feel far away from all the hustle and bustle of usual everyday life.
It was during the television programme “Le Village préféré des Français” (The Favourite Village of France) that Saint-Cirq-Lapopie was declared the winner…so it would be a shame not to head there when it is located on your route. This medieval village, perched high on a rocky outcrop, dominates the entire valley. It’s a lively village that’s very much in love with tourists who will find many artists and craftsmen showcasing their products from stalls…some even providing live demonstrations of their work.
This award winner isn’t the only fantastic place to visit along the River Lot. Sylvain tells us again about the Valentré bridge in Cahors… “The best day to see the bridge, known as ‘the devil’s bridge’ and with three stunning towers, is a Sunday because there is no traffic.”
“And of course we’ve already talked about the Ganil towpath – something that is so different to what we come to expect from a towpath.”
After Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, Toulzanie is a small village that you should try and visit or at least admire from the water. “It is undoubtedly the prettiest village to see from the water in the entire Lot valley!” explains our expert…and he’s seen them all!
The Lot is the culinary region for truffles and pan-fried foie gras, cabécou, walnuts and lamb. It is a region perfect for lovers of fine dining and gourmet choices.
If you’re in need of a restaurant recommendation then Sylvain is on hand. “You can enjoy an exceptional meal at ‘Au Fil Des Douces’ in Cahors – located at the foot of the Valentré bridge and deserving of stars after its name due to the quality of the dining experience on offer.”
For those who want to discover the wines of Cahors (why wouldn’t you!), go to the ‘mémé du Quercy’ in Saint Pierre la Feuille. Here they produce not only fine wines but also foie gras so it’s one not to be missed.
Unlike some of the other waterways across France the River Lot remains relatively wild and natural in its form. This includes occasional flooding so the banks of the river are largely undeveloped and have less facilities and services for boaters. A small price to pay for this beautiful boating holiday setting!
This also means that sometimes the river can be more challenging to navigate so although a first time boater would be fine, if you have some experience then you may find exploring easier. Sylvain confirms this with “You will be fine if you have a crew of say four people or more as it makes navigation – mooring and passing through the manual locks – straightforward and stress free.”
“On the River Lot, the mistake not to make is to think that things will happen by themselves. Here you will need to throw yourself into life on the waterways. That’s navigating, it’s mooring up in countryside settings pegged to the bank, it’s turning the crank to operate the manual locks of our region. What you get back is a boating holiday in one of the most tranquil and calm regions of France.”
Here we will tell you about an almost invisible place except from by the water! Situated between Saint-Géry and Bouzies is ‘L’île aux chiens’. Turn off to the right from the main waterways and travel just 100m to be transported to a space that feels completely cut off from the rest of the world. There’s not a house, not a car, not an electric wire to be seen! All that is here is relaxation in a stunning and calm countryside setting.
As with all our ‘experts’ articles we asked Sylvain to tell us a funny story he remembers… and he doesn’t disappoint. In fact he had too many stories for us to share here but this is certainly one of the best!
“I received a call one Sunday morning from a couple who could no longer start the engine of their Nicols canal boat. I got to their location and proceeded to do all the usual mechanical checks that we do when notified of a breakdown…and when checking the air intake of the engine I found that it had sucked up the lady's nightie! Once her garment was returned everything went back to working like clockwork.”
The River Lot is disorientating…but in a good way! It is one of the most rural rivers in France and you don’t have to travel very far at all before you notice the peace and calm of feeling like you are in the middle of nowhere. Your surrounding landscapes are constantly changing and you get a new surprise after ever bend of the river.
Easy refuelling…of you! Despite feeling more rural you are never really far from anything. All the villages you come to offer an array of food and drink supplies – you’ll even find a supermarket just 100m from the very first lock you’ll pass.
A warm welcome from the Cahors base team. The icing on the cake for a great boating holiday is receiving a warm welcome on your arrival and then knowing that if you need them you have a friendly and knowledgeable team on hand if you need them. Even your car gets a warm welcome as Sylvain offers free and secure parking at the base!
Sylvain has done an excellent job explaining why the Lot region of France should be your next boating holiday destination…so it’s time to start planning.
You can find out more and see the full range of boating holiday itineraries available from the Cahors base by visiting our boating holidays in the Lot pages.