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Hear from our experts: Discovering Port-sur-Saône, a hidden Gem in Nature

Getting to know José and his wife Valérie is not a magical feat. Both are hyperactive, and timing is crucial to engage in conversations about their lives and their nautical base on the beautiful French river, the Saône. Charming and down-to-earth, the duo expertly manages the reception, guidance, and assistance of boaters on this picturesque French river.


The Port-sur-Saône base

One thing is certain: Valérie and José, aged 53 and 57 respectively, are passionate individuals. About boats, of course, but beyond that, they share a deep passion for the people they encounter in life, in boat rentals, and in their various activities.

On José's side, entrepreneurship runs in the family. In May 1968, his family opened the first pizzeria in Franche-Comté, in a particularly agricultural region he discovered at the age of 4. As he grew up, he gained experience, and about thirty years later, he opened a nightclub where he worked as a DJ at night. During the day, he was a workshop manager in mechanics, developing real expertise in the field. It was in 1989 that José fully entered the world of river navigation.

He explains, "I found my calling; when I entered the workshop, I knew I wanted to work in this field for the rest of my career." Unable to stick to just one activity, he even dug a basin in Fouchécourt to create a port! Married to Valérie for 35 years – they met in the family pizzeria – they never stopped working together, successfully blending their professional and personal lives.

In 1998, both joined Nicols, with a fleet of 5 canal boats. For two years, they managed both the bases in Port-sur-Saône and Fouchécourt. Everything was transferred to Port-sur-Saône in 2000, where the base now boasts 11 boats.

In total, five people work at the base. "We are primarily a team that offers all services for our clients to ensure their stay is unforgettable," says José, with a special mention for Dylan, who works at the base and lives on a barge just at the entrance of the port. "He's a young man who has been with us for years, and we've almost adopted him," explains José, with all his kindness.

Nicols'team on the base of Port-sur-Saône
Valérie and José, the managing couple, with Dylan their technician.


A region full of qualities!

"The Saône is the second most frequented river in France," begins the experts. Located very close to Germany and Switzerland, it is easy to navigate, with "11 locks in total along the route, all with lock keepers." There is always a human connection with professionals ready to assist boaters in the locks if needed.

José adds, "It's an agricultural region, and you navigate through greenery. Heading north, you enter the Canal des Vosges, and the landscape is very different."

Connected with the Dole base, one-way trips (toward Dole) are possible for boaters who prefer not to return the same way to return their canal boat to Port-sur-Saône.

To enhance the experience, José has enlisted a fishmonger friend from Vesoul this season. "We now offer boaters the option to order a seafood platter and have it ready to be enjoyed on board!" Clearly, Valérie and José want their visitors' river journey to be a success!


Family-friendly top spots

Valérie and José have a total of nearly 10 favorite spots to recommend along the waterway. And yet, they need to contain themselves because they always have a new idea or proposal!


  • For José, a visit to the Chapel of Notre-Dame-du-Haut in Ronchamp is a must. Designed by architect Le Corbusier, it's a peaceful and surprising place in the region.
  • The Ray Sur Saône castle, classified as a historical monument, with remarkable architecture, is nestled in the heart of a 6-hectare wooded park, a true green setting.

The Ray sur Saône castle ©Yves-Van-Cauter


  • "In Rupt-sur-Saône, the castle is a beautiful visit to make. You can visit both the buildings and the gardens, an orangery, a farm, or even a kennel, appealing to both adults and children," continues José, who believes that river leisure appeals to the whole family.
  • "There are two tunnels to cross on the Saône, one in Savoyeux and the other in Scey-Sur-Saône," suggests Valérie. "It's surprising and fun, especially with children, and it presents no difficulty." When attractions are on the water, it's even better!

The ST ALBIN tunnel at Scey-sur-Saône ©Yves-Van-Cauter


  • "Also in Scey-sur-Saône, the costume museum is amazing, located in a village that was conquered by the Spaniards, so the constructions are typical. The museum and the village tour complement each other perfectly," according to José.

  • Of course, a stop in Epinal, in the Vosges, is a must. The Image Museum, restaurants, bars, and beautiful mansions abound in this centuries-old city.

  • On the Canal des Vosges, the Passavant-La-Rochère glassworks, dating back to 1475, is a must-visit. "It can be visited, and it's fascinating, playful, and interactive," according to both.

  • At the nautical stop in Soing, you'll find "an Eiffel Tower and a large number of games for children, a chance to stretch your legs a bit," recommends José.

  • Finally, for some pampering during a river cruise, towards Traves is the Saône Valley complex. "You can rent a chalet, go to the spa, get a massage, and enjoy a great meal at the restaurant. It's a stop that is well worth making; after all, treating yourself is also part of what makes vacations." José's word!


Eating and drinking naturally

Obviously, epicureans Valérie and José have their gastronomic favorites and more. Like all Nicols experts, they know how to find the right addresses, good restaurants, and places that offer boaters a warm and human welcome.

At the forefront is "La Marine restaurant in Port-sur-Saône." Surprising, it's in unison that the two experts suggest this address. Both a stopover restaurant and a friendly place for vacationers, this address is certified and approved by our connoisseurs.

Next is "La Pomme d'Or, in Port-sur-Saône." "Magali and François offer traditional, quality cuisine at a very reasonable price. It's one of those restaurants where you leave feeling that you've eaten well, both in quality and quantity," explains José.

"Just before the Saint-Albin tunnel, Barnayout offers a terrace where you can have lunch on the canal," recommends Valérie.

Among the specialties to be consumed in moderation are Kirsch and Griottes. These are small cherries macerated in alcohol and can be enjoyed as a digestif. For Valérie and José, reasonable enthusiasts, the Peureux Distillery in Fougerolles is a must-visit. "It is known worldwide, a reference for both Kirsch and griottines."

For wine, the Guillaume cellar (in Charcenne) sells its own wine production and provides vines and grapevines to many Burgundy wine estates. A guarantee of quality, visiting this cellar is also an opportunity to better understand the world of wine.

For entertainment, the Port-sur-Saône music festival is held on the water every August. An opportunity not to be missed to attend beautiful musical moments.

The Pochouse, regional speciality ©dest70-M.Paygnard


Accompaniment, the key to the success of a first river cruise

If there is a secret to a successful first river cruise, both for Valérie and José, it is undoubtedly the support they provide as soon as vacation captains arrive.

"We are very focused on boater training," begins José. "I prefer to spend time helping users. They first have a video in the office, then we give instructions on the boat and its use. If needed, we navigate together up to the first lock. Both of us want vacationers to be truly on vacation when they have the boat in their hands, and 99% of what can happen on the water doesn't stress them out." Don't think, however, that piloting a Nicols barge is difficult; it's just different from driving a car or a canal boat and requires a bit more attention than a bicycle!

Navigation on the Saône, a wide and calm river

"Also, ideally, spend your first night in a well-equipped port, not in the wild," suggests José. "To find your way around the boat, adjust the various equipment, check tank fillings, and electricity. The principle, again, is to be able to enjoy your vacation time as soon as possible."

"Of course, you should arrive as relaxed as possible, having taken your time. Start with loading the boat, then move on to formalities and assistance. Done in this order, you feel like you're on vacation more quickly because you know the canal boat is already a bit yours," explains Valérie. Besides, to ensure stress doesn't exist, the base has both a closed and covered garage, a supervised parking lot, and a public parking lot nearby, allowing easy parking just a few meters from your boat.

Don't burden yourself with food or stress!

"Bringing too many supplies," says Valérie, is a mistake often made by first-time boaters. "In Port-sur-Saône, there are all kinds of shops, supermarkets, bakeries, so you can buy everything on-site. And throughout the trip, you'll find many small shops to supplement if necessary, every one or two days. It's also what allows for new culinary discoveries," explains Valérie.

And don't keep your stress either... "Get rid of it once and for all when you arrive, relax by watching our training video, and... forget everything else; you're on vacation!" José's word!


Water tanks are for storing... Water!

Each base has its anecdotes. The one José tells is quite surprising. A few years ago, while renting a boat to a television star, the manager received a call from the star's assistant: "He complained that the water had a terrible taste," explains José. As he always does when something bothers one of his tenants, he goes and checks the installation. "When he opened the drinking water tank, a strong smell of anise was released. The previous tenants, probably fans of aniseed drinks, had prepared the mixture of water and alcoholic beverage directly in the drinking water tank." An example not to follow, as the recovery of the tank was quite complicated and could have compromised the tourist's vacation!

Everything ended well; a solution was found "as always," adds José.


A secret haven of peace

Each base manager has their little place just for them, a kind of local secret. This time, Valérie and José agree: "In Chemilly, 45 minutes from here, there is a superb castle. At its foot, you will find a fantastic, calm, relaxing place surrounded by greenery. "An ideal place for a moment of relaxation and rest, away from everything and cut off from the world," they add.


It's a job for enthusiasts of others

If there was still a need to be convinced by river cruising, José knows how to use the right terms: "It's a very engaging job that we do to allow others to enjoy the places and moments they spend on the water. Our goal is for all customers to return to the base after their cruise with only one desire: to go back on the water."

"Our region is calm, nature, and a good dose of chlorophyll," adds Valérie. And José adds, "with a sip of red."

The colours of the Saône valley in the early hours of the morning ©Yves-Van-Cauter


The final words

Summing up in a few words an encounter with as endearing characters as Valérie and José is quite complicated. Nevertheless, how do they see the beautiful region around them?

For Valérie, it's about "change of scenery, fauna, and flora."

José's vision is towards "the ease of navigation, all the services available in Port-sur-Saône, and the family size of the business they run, all five of them."

If you also want to discover the Saône Valley by boat, visit our dedicated page to learn about our suggestions for river cruises, for short or long stays.

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