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Hear from our experts: Discovering the Canal Latéral à la Loire

The Nicols base in Plagny is located on the Canal Latéral à la Loire, close to the intersection of the Loire and Allier rivers. This exceptional location offers a wide range of boating possibilities, from one atmosphere to another, depending on your mood.

Florent, 40, is in charge of the Plagny base, which has been affiliated to the NICOLS network since 1993.  His partner works with young children, and they both have a 21-month-old daughter. Well... we could say "second child", because it's clear that the Plagny base, where he's been working for 19 years now, is one of his babies! Studying psychology in Clermont-Ferrand, this Plagny native already spent his vacations there as a child...



From speed hill climbing to river cruising

It is always surprising where life can take you. It was because Florent loved speed hill climbing (with vintage cars) that he took up mechanics, and the base manager at the time offered him to work on the boats he rented out for a season.

Today, at the head of what he calls a "small structure" of 3 people (two mechanics and himself), he explains that he needs reinforcements in the summer, to allow him to carry out training courses for users of one of the twelve boats available at the Plagny base.

From left to right: Jimmy, Anne-Marie and Florent, manager of the Plagny nautical base.
From left to right: Jimmy, Anne-Marie and Florent, manager of the Plagny nautical base.



Do it yourself, and do it your way

Independent-minded, Florent above all enjoys "doing lots of things, managing the structure himself and going from bookkeeping in the morning to changing an engine at lunchtime to welcoming clients in the afternoon", as he so aptly explains.

"As Plagny has become a suburb of Nevers, we get quite a few rentals from city dwellers for long weekends, as well as long-distance sailors who come for several weeks", Florent says. It's this multitude of encounters and profiles, each as fascinating as the next, that gives this dad the pleasure of getting up every morning. In the off-season, he also enjoys the chance to rediscover a certain form of solitude and do some "in-depth" work, taking his time to do it. "I like facing a mechanical issue and challenging myself to fix it. Even though I know I can count on the support of the entire Nicols team, I really enjoy the solitude of reflection", explains this sailor at heart.

He only has one regret: the lack of time to devote in the summer to his daughter "who joins him as often as she can on the boats and tractor", as he explains.



An easy-to-navigate area

According to Florent, "Our three waterways - the Canal Latéral à la Loire, the Canal de Briare and the Canal du Nivernais - are easy to navigate”. Those accustomed to rivers will be surprised to discover that on a Canal, the advantage is that you can moor wherever you like, on a municipal pontoon or in the middle of nowhere.

"If you head north, you'll come to an area with many activities, the busy Route de Paris," explains the connoisseur. "The Canal du Nivernais, past Decize, is ideal for rest and relaxation. It's also advisable to bring your own provisions, as there aren't many rest stops or shops along the way.”

"Finally, the Canal Latéral à la Loire is a mix of both aspects: it is lively in many places, while offering numerous possibilities for stopping off, not all of them in the wild, however". As the base manager explains, "this is the itinerary I recommend to those who have never sailed before, as they are sure not to be disappointed by what they find".



4 (and more) things you need to see around Plagny

It's a tough question for our base managers, as they all love their region dearly! Picking top places to go means setting aside Florent’s tips and tricks when it comes to discovering the area. And, obviously, there's no shortage of places to visit in the region!

"On the Canal du Nivernais, the Collancelle vaults are an absolute must. These are trenches dug into the rock, where open spaces alternate with underground spaces. The riverbanks are irregular, and you'll need a week to do it all. And don't miss the 16 locks in Sardy: the lock houses are all open for pottery, bakery and other activities. And, surprisingly, the locks are not separated by reaches - the technical term for the watercourse between two locks - but by small artificial lakes." The series of locks stretches on 3.6 km in total and can be completed in a day, with the possibility of mooring up in some of the reaches to spend the night.

Collancelle vaults
Collancelle vaults



Paris in the middle of the countryside

Another canal, another atmosphere: the Briare canal. "You absolutely must see the Guétin and Briare canal bridges." Florent explains. "Built by Gustave Eiffel, they have a surprising Parisian feel that stands out from the surrounding landscape," adds the connoisseur.

The Briare canal bridge – with a Parisian Boulevard feel
The Briare canal bridge – with a Parisian Boulevard feel


“Don't miss the Bec d'Allier, a WWF-listed site for wildlife reproduction. At the confluence of the Loire and Allier rivers, it is both an educational hiking area and a place to observe the surrounding nature."

The Bec d'Allier, a WWF-listed site
The Bec d'Allier, a WWF-listed site


"Not far from the Bec d’Allier," continues Florent, "take the Lorraine branch road, which leads to the lock of the same name. This takes you to the medieval village of Apremont, listed as one of the prettiest villages in France.” Completely restored in the last century, the village is dominated by its castle, surrounded by a floral park, itself classified as a "remarkable garden" and inspired by Vita Sackville-West's English garden at Sissinghurst. Although the castle is privately owned, the park and gardens are open to the public: 2 or 3 times a year, the owners invite visitors to picnic in the gardens. It's a unique opportunity to discover one of the region's most beautiful residences.

All along the Allier river, there's no shortage of summer markets, discreet beaches and secret spots, "so feel free to moor up and pedal a little to discover the surrounding area", adds Florent.

As you continue along the Loire, you'll come across La Charité-sur-Loire.  "This is a Cité Clunisienne. It has a restored abbey and ramparts that can be visited. And it's one of Europe's book capitals. Every year, it hosts both the Blues Festival and the Book Festival. The town itself is just two kilometers from the marina, so there's never a day without entertainment in La Charité," assures the connoisseur.

The town of La Charité sur Loire
The town of La Charité sur Loire

The more epicurean should definitely not miss a visit to Sancerre, a little higher up the canal. "The visit has to be earned, as you have to climb a hill almost two kilometers long. But the view over the Morvan is magnificent. And, renowned for its wine, Sancerre is also a feudal town, where you won't want to miss a visit to the Tour du Fief!”



Wine, markets, and good eats !

"The La Perrière cellars in Sancerre are dug into the rock, in troglodyte style. Prices are reasonable and the best bottles are those aged in oak barrels, deep in the cellar". While tastings are always possible, beware of alcohol abuse, and plan to stay off the water after your visit.

In Le Guétin, a market is held all summer at the nautical stopover "And at this market is one of the best producers of sheep’s milk cheese. Everything, including the vendor, is local. This market is a place of pleasure, not a trap for holidaymakers. It is authentic and typical, and a real treat. It's the perfect place to prepare a few meals on board that you'll be telling me about" recommends the guide.

Centre-Val-de-Loire AOC wines and cheeses
Centre-Val-de-Loire AOC wines and cheeses



A restaurant that only opens if its owner wants to open it

"About fifty years ago," explains Florent, "Marseille les Aubigny was a very big river port. The river business has declined sharply, but the gourmet business is still very active. Particularly at the Auberge du Poids de Fer. Situated at the crossroads of the old Berry canal, this restaurant has a small dining room that opens when it feels like it. I strongly recommend calling before you go, to avoid the disappointment of not tasting the cuisine made with local herbs and flowers. It's an experience, both in terms of taste and people, that you should try - if the restaurant is open". Incidentally, Florent and his wife had planned to spend their wedding anniversary at this restaurant. Unfortunately, it was closed. Or rather, the owner had decided not to open. Never mind, he opened his doors to the lovebirds and cooked them an anniversary meal worthy of the name!



Prepare your cruise and travel light, it's not the desert

Florent's first piece of advice is to call the base in advance to define with him what you want to do and see on site. "Depending on the tastes and desires of each person, I can direct them to this or that channel and suggest this or that stage," explains the manager.

Also, "there's no point in taking on too much food: you can always find a grocery shop, a butcher, a baker or a pork butcher along the waterways. And if you can't find one, the lock-keepers will be happy to recommend a particular place to stock up." So there's no need to set off with lots of tins - you can stock up along the way.
"When organising your trip, plan to let go and not have an up-to-the-minute schedule. At best, by the day, so as not to be disappointed, but never more precisely, as you never know what you'll come across on a river or canal."

And, Florent's final piece of advice, "Don't stress, there are shops along the canals, so you'll find something to eat!"
An outline of the visits you want to make is useful, if only to avoid forgetting certain participants who may have particular desires. "River cruising is a way of sharing between all the participants, young and old alike. Everyone brings on board what they want to experience and will experience it according to the moment," adds the local expert.



Sailing with the curiosity of a child

All along the Allier, in particular, "there are little beaches that you can't guess if you're going too fast or not paying attention," explains Florent. In the space of a few metres, you can go from a deserted stretch of water to an area of mulberry trees and brambles that will delight young and old alike. You stop here and suddenly you feel all alone in the world. You point your GPS and stay for an hour or a day in these places. That's the real charm of river cruising, letting yourself be surprised," says the specialist.

"Lock-keepers - where they still exist - are excellent advisers when it comes to finding places to stop. As locals, they are used to visiting the surrounding area and are always happy to share their knowledge". "Unfortunately, the automation of the waterways is tending to wipe out these essential tourist advisers," adds the man who loves his region.

"All along the way, you have to take it easy and keep your eyes open as only children know how. A beautiful flower, a surprising tree or even a pile of stones can reveal unsuspected treasures that it would be a shame to miss," concludes the guide.


Hire a boat and explore... through the eyes of a child
Hire a boat and explore... through the eyes of a child



Dreamers, saviours and hurry-ups

Among the personalities and adventures Florent introduces us to are the countless deer rescued from the water by customers, "who have to be handled with care, calling for help to return them to their natural environment as quickly as possible".

"There's also this group of fisherman friends," says Florent, "who hired a boat for a fortnight and didn't move from the port. Worried, I went to see them, but all they wanted to do was catch fish, nothing more!"

"There was also this tenant who wanted to do all the canals in France. He only spent his time sailing, at the speed limit, to go as fast as possible. The result was four days for a tour that normally takes a week!"

Of all the people who practised this sport, only the fondest memories remain. It's just like river cruising, calm and peaceful.



Back to work, experts!

Can Florent sum up the region in 3 words? It's not difficult: "Nature, Gastronomy and Letting go..." something I apply to myself whenever I can!



A wise adventure that limits the risks

There's no shortage of desires and motivations for a river cruise. So how could Florent convince us to come aboard one of his boats? "It's an accessible experience," he begins. "We spend a lot of time on training: the principle is simple, once the stress has been left on the pontoon, it will remain absent throughout the crossing. And a sailor who has had a great experience will inevitably want to do it again."
River sailing? "It's a different way of looking at nature, at houses and at your family. Everyone, including the most grumpy of teenagers, enjoys taking part in the manoeuvres, passing through locks and docking. A river cruise strengthens family ties. It's a wise adventure with limited risks!

A family swimming break on a beach at the foot of the Guétin Bridge-Canal
A family swimming break on a beach at the foot of the Guétin Bridge-Canal

If you too would like to discover the Canal Latéral à la Loire by boat, visit our dedicated page to see our suggestions for short or long river cruises.

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