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Hear from our experts: boating holidays in Alsace from the base at Saverne

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.

At the Nicols base in Saverne (and one in Harskirchen), it is Cédric - 38 years old - and Sabrina - 33 years old - who welcome you and share both the passion and enthusiasm that they have for their beautiful Alsatian region.

An electrical technician by trade, Cédric says it himself “I fell into boats at the age of just 18”. He worked for four years at a river shipyard and, at the age of just 22, met Nicols. It is also in Saverne, at this Nicols base that the couple met… and the rest as they say is history!

Sabrina and Cédric, managers of the Saverne base, Alsace.

Nicols - a company where it’s all about the people

Both Cédric and Sabrina love being part of the Nicols family and explain it very simply: “Above all we are people persons and enjoy connections with others – be that our customers who come here to take out one of our canal boats or the people at Nicols head office who support us on a daily basis. We are certain that it is the importance of these relationships – being both efficient and friendly, that makes all the difference - and then comes across in the level of service that we provide to our customers every day.”


One base, two locations, visitors from all over the world

In addition to our base at Saverne there is also an additional ‘satellite’ base at Harskirchen. “This provides customers with even more boating holiday itineraries as they can choose a one-way option for a long weekend or a short break to get to explore more of the area.” says Sabrina.

This satellite base was opened in 2014 and welcomes customers “who come from all over the world to visit us.” Indeed, among the list of far flung countries that customers have arrived from include Israel, New Zealand, America and Brazil.


Electric boats in Alsace for environmentally friendly navigation

The Saverne base has a total of 28 canal boats for hire with the biggest being able to accommodate crews of up to 12 people. Two of the boat models here are the fully electric powered boats built by Nicols own boatyard.

“As part of a partnership with Voies Navigables de France who were responsible for installing ten charging stations for electric boats, Nicols produced the boats which provide up to seven hours of cruising time from a full charge and can be charged up to full power again in just 2-3 hours. And if you want to connect somewhere other than a fast terminal, the cable is provided so that the boat can be recharged on a conventional socket, in the space of around one night” explains Cédric.

Finally, in Alsace, travel is always at a gentle pace: “With a lock found every kilometre or so, the journey is always at a slow pace – which we love as it gives you plenty of time to take in the interesting landscapes and the beauty of the region.”


What are the strengths of the region?

“Above all, we have Sabrina's smile,” jokes Cédric. Regaining his seriousness, he adds “Going towards Sarreguemines, you arrive among the ponds where you can swim, stop for the night or even fish. It is an area that has remained very natural and calm. On the other side, we go towards Strasbourg, it's more typical, with Alsatian constructions. Both sides should be explored because they present two totally different faces of Alsace.”

The famous cathedral in Strasbourg and its famous cathedral


What are the top 3 (4, 5, 6…) best sites to discover when enjoying a boating holiday from Saverne?

Sabrina and Cédric have so much enthusiasm about their region that when we asked them for their top three we should have anticipated that their list would exceed that! This can only be a good thing though as it highlights the many great things that should be included on your boating holiday itinerary. Here goes…

  • On site, just next to the Saverne base, the Haut Barr castle offers a breathtaking panoramic view over the whole of Alsace. “It's a good warm-up before taking the helm” say our two guides.

  • Be in awe of the Arzviller boat lift, then head through the two tunnels that follow it. “This is very different cruising to the rest of your time on the water so embrace what is an amazing activity that will excite the whole family” says Sabrina.

The Arzviller boat lift (or inclined plane)


  • “When you cruise towards the ‘inclined plane’ (another name for the boat lift) of Arzviller you come across countless castles, most of them in ruins. There are lots of places to moor up at the banks with your mooring pegs and ropes so do that and go and explore them more closely.

  • One of Cédric’s favourites… “In Mittersheim, you have to stop near the pond and go, with your family, to visit the leisure centre: swimming, supervised beach, water games are all a delight for families!”

Just some of the activities offered at Mittersheim.


  • “Families with children will love a visit to the Sainte-Croix Animal Park. Also take a boat tour of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. While in Strasbourg, don’t miss the Petite France district where the world-famous Strasbourg Christmas market is held every winter.” suggests Sabrina.


Sainte-Croix Animal Park


  • Cédric explains “Beer is also part of the local heritage. I’ve previously visited ‘Villa Meteor’ with Sabrina and it's a castle, a restaurant as well as a brewery that is still in operation. It's a fascinating place and in summer is great place to visit.” Located just a few hundred metres from lock 42, Villa Meteor is a popular place of discovery in the region… “one not to be missed under any circumstances!”


Navigate right alongside the European Parliament building in Strasbourg!

It is said that France is the land of good food and good wine…which is great as this is undoubtedly what people want to be enjoying as part of their holidays. What are the dishes and places from this region that our base managers would recommended though?

“In Alsace, we have sauerkraut, red wine, pinot noir and white wine. You can easily do the Wine Route itinerary towards the south of Alsace or towards the Haut-Rhin. The tarte flambée - Flammekueche for the experts - is a treat, it is eaten with your fingers and you always want more!“ explain our local foodies.

For dining out they recommend ‘Le Caveau de l'Escale’ in Saverne. Then ‘La Marne’, which has a super pleasant terrace on the very first lock of the route. Think of it as enjoying a good meal to give you the strength for the upcoming navigation!

In Harskirchen, the restaurant ‘l'écluse 16’ is “almost gourmet” as Cédric puts it. “We eat very well here, for relatively little money and in a really pleasant atmosphere.” What more could you possibly want?


The restaurant ‘L'écluse 16’ in Harskirchen.


New region, new navigation, new discoveries. How should you properly prepare for your boating holiday in Alsace?

Sabrina is super organised so is the perfect person to ask how best to prepare for your boating holiday. Her advice is as follows… “Definitely plan your trip in advance because there really is a lot to see and do. Research before you go is important, so don’t forget to read all of the documents we provide you with when you book as there’s plenty of information in there. You can always get in touch with us with any questions you might have – it’s always a pleasure to share our knowledge and help.”

The base manager also adds “When planning your route remember to count in locks rather than in kilometres. This planning stage doesn’t need to be as rigid as planning out your route minute-by-minute. Of course you need to leave room for improvisation but time on board passes quickly so it certainly doesn’t hurt to have at least one idea for the day ready.”


What are the mistakes to avoid?

“Leave your stresses on land! On the water there is no honking, no arguing. We take our time. Most other boaters are beginners just like you. They also probably don’t know how to pass through a lock for the first time. So the motto should be that we don't get angry, we don't argue and we put a layer of good humour on everything we do!”

“There is no risk of damaging the boat in a lock, so we don't worry. Worry has no place on a boat, it's too cumbersome!”


Name a hidden treasure that could otherwise be missed?

This time, it's Cédric who talks about this magical place: “Just near the large Réchicourt lock, on the right side, there is an old lock ladder. Turn towards it, very slowly so that no one follows you and so as not to scare the birds! You will arrive at a very nice little recessed corner to spend a memorable and peaceful evening. You can moor in the wild, have a barbecue and spend the night, lulled by the sound of water and awakened by the chirping of birds.”


What are the surprises and feel good factors for both our boaters and our base managers?

In terms of surprises it has to be nature. “Animals of all kinds live on and around the canal, it's fun as the kids often ask us what animal it was. Sometimes you might see a splash - it could just as easily be an otter as a carp!” says Cedric. He adds “The best feel good factor is being invited by our customers to come and share an aperitif at the end of the day and spend some time with them on board. They are no longer customers, they become friends. This is our ultimate goal!” he adds.

Always pragmatic and practical, Sabrina gives somewhat more sensible but equally as essential advice based on many experiences: “Think about mooring the parasol, because a parasol flies away!”


A last challenge to our experts: in two sentences, convince us to come and visit this beautiful region…

“Come and discover the charms of Alsace, the excellent gastronomy and the warm welcome of the team. Come and see the capital of Europe. Pass through the impressive boat lift. Come watch the wildlife of the ponds, the surrounding nature and stunning sunsets.”

You can find out more and see the full range of cruising itineraries available from the Saverne base by visiting our boating holidays in Alsace pages.

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