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Hear from our experts: boating holidays in Burgundy from the base at Venarey

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.

In Burgundy it is Stéphane that provides the warmest of welcomes at our Nicols base. Located halfway between Dijon and Tonnerre, the Venarey base welcomes tourists every year who take the time to discover this famous wine region…but as you’ll find out here there is much more to it too!

Welcome to Burgundy!

Having worked at Nicols for more than 20 years, 43 year old Stéphane might not be our oldest base manager but he’s certainly one of our longest serving.

With a passion for both tourism and the waterways, he started out studying in the hotel hospitality industry before then moving on to vehicle mechanics including working with Formula 3, Formula 2 and Formula 1 engines. As a result Stéphane knows our Nicols boat mechanics like the back of his hand!

For him it’s not just about him and his base. “Nicols is a family that works together – bases are confident that they have the support of our head office team while all the bases share their practices and experiences – after all we all have the same common interest and goals at heart. As a collective we strive to offer our customers a unique and unforgettable experience.”

A region of history(s)

Many of our customers coming to the Venarey base have a holiday itinerary that includes exploring some of the areas wonderful history.

Walk in the footsteps of the Gallic King Vercingetorix who united the Gauls in a failed revolt against the Roman forces at the Battle of Alésia. The museum here, as well as being creative in design, explains the importance of the battle as well as has the remains of the Gallo-Roman town of Alésia and a statue of Vercingetorix. Stéphane says “the museum immerses you into what happened here more than 2000 years ago using modern technology and engaging displays."

If historic buildings and architecture is your passion then a must see is the Abbey at Fontenay. “This magical place is over 900 years old and listed as a World Heritage Site.” explains Stéphane.

Finally, take time to appreciate the Grande Forge de Buffon (named after its designer) which became the most modern forge in the world at the time. Stéphane explains “what made the forge special was the conception of the factory with the workers homes set close by to the industrial machinery.”

Fontenay Abbey

Places that have to be on your Burgundy boating holiday itinerary

It’s never easy trying to choose places and visitor attractions to visit in our beautiful French regions, after all there is not a canal or river that does not have charm and secrets waiting to be explored.

We’ve posed the difficult question to Stéphane … what are his five must see things to include on any boating holiday in Burgundy itinerary?

“The first night, I recommend spending it in Montbard and there are two mooring ports (lower and upper) with water and electricity available. It is a great place for beginners too because it is easier to moor on a pontoon than at a quay for the first time.”

It’s been mentioned already above…the museum at the battlefield of Alésia (Museopark of Alesia) is a must see too. A top tip is that most of our customers decide to visit here at the end of their holiday.

Historical buildings make up the rest of Stéphane’s top five. “Although located 4km from the canal, the Abbaye de Fontenay is an easily accessible jewel, on foot or by bike and the same goes for Buffon's forges which is located on the edge of the canal, barely 50 metres from the water. Both places deserve spending some time and simply soaking up the spirit that led to the construction of them so many years ago.”

The castle of Ancy-le-Franc is an astonishing residence, an Italian Renaissance palace. “Located 500 metres from the canal, it is a peaceful and calm place in addition to being splendid.” says Stéphane.

Castle of Ancy le Franc

Great gastronomy guaranteed

In France it is rare (almost non-existent) that a region doesn’t have its own gastronomy flavours and themes and Burgundy is no different. Our base teams are a great source of information for making recommendations of where to wine and dine and Stéphane is no exception.

“If you can only go to one place then make it ‘Le Marronnier’ in Buffon. It is a gastronomic restaurant which offers an interesting menu and is found between Venarey and Montbard (3 hours of navigation), then on from Montbard to Buffon (2 hours of navigation). It is therefore 5 hours of navigation from the base and ideal for the Sunday or Monday meal.” We recommend making a reservation if you’re travelling in the busier parts of the boating holiday season as this restaurant is always in high demand!

In Montbard, ‘Calypso’ is a simple but very good and great value pizzeria restaurant, where you’ll receive exceptional service.

Then another two restaurants in Saint-Rémy have caught the eye of our base manager: “A warm welcome and a menu using fresh products can always be enjoyed at ‘La Mirabelle’ restaurant. For something a little different head to ‘Le Saint Rémy’ which is an all-you-can-eat barbecue themed restaurant, ideal for large groups. A great atmosphere is always guaranteed!”

Taking your time is what makes a successful boating holiday

With his 20 years of experience, Stéphane should be trusted when he tell us that the secret to achieving a successful boating holiday on a Nicols canal boat is to plan, but not over-plan.  “You shouldn't set goals every day, otherwise you won't achieve them” he adds.

“Meeting and talking with other boaters, lock keepers and local traders will allow you to make unexpected discoveries that will make you want to change your itinerary altogether. And therefore remember - it's a holiday, not a speed race”.

The Canal de Bourgogne is a good option for a very first boating holiday. Navigation is easy with two possible routes on offer. “Towards Dijon (heading south) the canal is a chain of 40 locks to pass over 15km then long reaches of 10-15km. The locks are semi-automatic and allow the whole crew to participate. Passing through these locks takes 2 to 3 days and is enough for a week of round trip navigation.”

Something to bear in mind is that it will be easier to find supplies in the direction of Tonnerre than Dijon… “I recommend filling the fridge well for the passage of the 40 locks” adds Stéphane.

Navigating through a lock on the Canal de Bourgogne.

Expect calm but also be tourist savvy

“The Burgundy Canal” begins Stéphane “…it's not the Canal du Midi. Here, you won’t come across traffic jams at the locks or difficulty finding mooring spaces at the pontoons. The waterways and the other boaters you’ll meet are calm and peaceful. So absorb and enjoy this calm and tranquillity.”

As with all our boating holidays we recommend that you don’t overload your canal boat with luggage and equipment. Even things such as bikes can make a difference – for example the bikes offered by the Nicols base are small in size and perfectly suited to the type of short routes that you will do during your holiday and take up almost no space on board.

“Beware of tourist traps” adds Stéphane. “There are some along the Canal de Bourgogne like everywhere else. Using restaurants as an example, you only have to look at the menu carefully and tell yourself that if they are offering too many things to eat, it means that the quality is not there - including with names that sound traditional!”

Name a hidden treasure that could otherwise be missed?

For Stéphane it is the Ouche valley, towards Dijon that should not be missed. “It's calm, full of nature and wildlife, and dotted with many lovely little boating stops which have a shop, snack bar or bar.”

Can you sum up venarey in three words?

We asked Stéphane to try and summarise his region in just three words. This is what he said:

  • Heritage - that can be discovered all along the waterways, in sometimes unexpected places.
  • Gastronomy – excellent regional menus using high quality local produce and ingredients.
  • Oenology - historic cellars and exceptional wines waiting to be tried!

Still not convinced? You will be!

We can’t believe that, if you’ve read this far already, that you’re not already itching to start planning your boating holiday in Burgundy…but in case you needed more convincing we’re letting Stéphane have the last words…

“If you need calm and rest then Burgundy and life on the waterways is what you need. There really is nothing more relaxing than planting your stakes in the ground and mooring in the quiet countryside away from life’s hustle and bustle. When clients tell me that they want quiet, I tell them they’ve come to the right place.”

“We are lucky to still have many lock keepers on the way to Tonnerre, sometimes with the same lock keeper following you along the route.” begins our expert. “The lock keepers are great sources of local information, providing tips for finding a restaurant, visitor attraction or business. If needed, they can also give some navigation advice, beyond the training that we provide at the initial canal boat handover.”

The countryside here is beautiful, green and hilly. In summary, in Venarey “nature awaits you!” ends Stéphane.

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

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