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Hear from our experts: discovering the Charente river

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 (and sometimes secrets!) about how to get the most from your boating holiday.

Today, we invite you to discover the Charente in the company of Audrey and Alexandre who are the managers of the Sireuil base.

Discover the land of Cognac with a boating holiday on the Charente

Saintes, Jarnac, Angouleme, Rochefort…all names you will find as you make your way through The Charente (this is the name given to the group formed by the Charente and Charente Maritime). It is one of those regions of France where you can go from one minute being in a bustling big city to then being in the calmness of peaceful countryside.

At 381km in length the Charente river is the eighth longest in France and is also fully navigable meaning that there is an array of holiday itinerary options available to you. Whichever you choose you will notice the heavy influences of Francois 1st across castles, churches, museums and historic houses.

Alexandre and Audrey, managers of the Sireuil and Charente base


Introducing Audrey and Alexandre, base managers at Sireuil in Charente

It hasn’t always been the case that Audrey – who previously was working as an event organiser – and her husband Alexandre – a sports club manager – would end up on a nautical adventure.

Originally it was Audrey’s father who was the base manager and so from growing up close to the waterways Audrey knew the Charente river very well. As her father approached retirement age he wanted to leave his loyal customers in safe hands, and with Audrey and Alexandre looking for something that would mean they get to spend more time together and provide a lifestyle that appeals to them, the most natural transition was for them to take over and keep up the good work!

With a team of four people (Ludo, Ludivine, Alexandre and Audrey) the Sireuil base in Charente welcomes a mix of regular crews and those who have never previously set foot on a boat before. In total, there are 14 canal boats of different sizes available for boating holidays from Sireuil.

You’ll feel looked after before even stepping on the boat

“We do everything to make our guests feel like they're on holiday as soon as they arrive at the base.” explains Audrey.

The base team go over and above to make sure everything is in place for the perfect holiday experience. “Parking is free at our base and in addition to the secure parking if people want to put their car in shelter then we can also offer indoor parking. This can be really useful for customers with motorhomes as they can be left sheltered and even connected to electricity.” says Alexandre.

At the end of your boating holiday you have peace of mind that you car will be ready for you with no problems and no parking tickets!

We enjoy a close partnership with the Nicols HQ

As with all Nicols bases, the team at Sireuil enjoy a wonderful relationship with those at head office – be it the boat building team or those in the central reservations and management team.

We have always belonged to the Nicols network – it’s a well known name for our customers too. The team there are brilliant at taking onboard (pun intended!) both our feedback and that of our customers.

Praise is also given for when, on the odd occasion, there might be a technical problem as Alexandre adds: “In the event of a problem we can put in a call, even out of usual working hours, and they will find a solution to ensure that the customer has minimal impact on their boating holiday in Charente.

The Nicols Sireuil base on the Charente river.


Introducing the Nicols base at Sireuil

"She's great our base!"

It is with this cry from the heart that Audrey describes her base. The base is located directly on the banks of the Charente river, with everything you need all together in one location. "There is no need to get back in the car, look for parking and waste time getting to your boat as is the case with a city centre location. Here, once out of the car, both adults and children are immediately into holiday mode.”

Once they are ready to collect the boat the crews receive instruction from the base staff and are given all of the useful information that will help make their boating holiday a success.

For book lovers, Audrey and Alexandre have created a library of books in multiple languages including French, English and German. They are also preparing to set up a travel book box, an additional collection for people to enjoy whilst on their holiday.

At just 15km from Angoulême and one hour from Bordeaux, Limoges and Poitiers, the base is central for anyone wishing to extend their trip either side of their boating holiday. The base is also easy to get to via train and the base team can arrange for a local taxi to pick you up from the nearest station.


Everything you’ll need is close to the Nicols base

Where is best to buy initial supplies for the trip?

There is certainly no need to get lost in a busy town centre in search of your initial supplies for your boating holiday. “When you arrive you’ll find a shop in the centre of the village that has plenty of choice to start you off…as well as a bakery, a restaurant and some other useful shops. My advice is to not buy too much to begin with because there is no shortage of great places to pick up local produce and goods all along your route on the Charente river. In fact there’s not a day without a market – the most famous ones being held in Jarnac, Saintes, Cognac and Angoulême.” recommends Audrey.

However a top tip from our experts for Angoulême market is “the city centre is quite a distance from the waterways so don’t overload yourself with purchases from here as it will be a struggle getting it all back to the boat!


Cruising along the Charente river: navigation advice

What do you need to know when travelling on a Nicols canal boat?

Moving on to navigation… “the Charente river is calm and peaceful” explains Alexandre. “The reaches of the river are short and winding so you have to navigate gently. You have to remember that the river is shared between swimmers, fisherman and people on boats…but don’t worry, this isn’t a busy boat highway. There are less than one hundred boats all along this river.

The locks here are all manual which is why our recommendation is to have a crew of at least four people. Although perfectly possible with just two people, going through a lock with four people on board is so much easier.” says our Sireuil base team.

Manual locks shouldn’t put you off. Negotiating them by hand has been happening since the last century and the advantage of not needing a lock keeper on hand is that you don’t need to wait for them to be available to operate the gates for you. Your itinerary doesn’t need to be planned around the lock keeper’s lunch breaks and instead you can navigate from sunrise to sunset in complete freedom.

It doesn’t matter how experienced our crews are – everyone will receive instructions and a demonstration prior to setting off on their own. Audrey says “We always accompany customers beyond the first lock to make sure they are happy being in control of the canal boat and know how to use everything onboard.

Top three-ish activities to do during your Charente boating holiday

There’s nothing more enjoyable for Audrey than sharing details of the great things to do in her region which is why she offers every guest the chance to participate in an optional presentation. This happens prior to departure and basically provides lots of useful local information on the best places to go and the best things to do during your trip.

We asked Audrey and Alexandre to list their top three activities for customers to incorporate into their boating holiday and here is what they said:

  • "Swimming and bathing in the Charente river, whose water is of excellent quality.”
  • “Fishing, because it's always an opportunity to spend time with the family in a beautiful setting, even if you don't catch anything!”
  • "And go through a lock, because it's something you rarely have the opportunity to do."

With all of these activities our base managers ask you to take selfies and post on Instagram or Tik Tok (with the hashtag #nicols) to inspire others to want to get onboard and enjoy the fun of a boating holiday!

  • Ah yes… Audrey and Alexandre wanted a fourth option too so we let them! “Please just take time to stop in the middle of nature and enjoy your surroundings. Find somewhere to moor up (there is very little risk as you’ll be travelling slowly and the clear water makes it easy to guide the boat into the banks) and then once stopped pour yourself a drink or rustle up a lunch and enjoy it in peace and tranquillity from the top deck or terrace of your canal boat."

What are the best mooring sites?

Audrey and alexandre's secrets for mooring and fully enjoying a boating holiday on the charente river.

Audrey tells us that her recommendation for an ideal place to stop is a very small pontoon with somewhat hidden access to the small village of Saint-Simeux, close to an old eel fishery. Simply secure your canal boat, enjoy the good weather to the sound of the dikes and flowing water.

Then there is another lesser known spot as she tells us here… “Look for a mooring spot close to the entrance of the reach of the Vibrac lock. Here you having weeping willows on either side, the little Roman style bridge behind you and of course the lock in front of you. If you want a day out of the kitchen then the extremely good ‘Les Ombrages’ restaurant is just a few hundred metres away on foot or you’ll find many shaded corners for a peaceful picnic.


Where are the best places to discover Charente gastronomy?

If navigation on the waterways is good for the mind then it is the Charente gastronomy that is good for the stomach! Alexandre and Audrey appreciate great food and recommend the following:

  • At about three hours cruising time from our base in Châteauneuf-sur-Charente is the brilliant ‘Graine et Garenne’ restaurant.” they begin.
  • Then in Bassac there is a friendly and relaxing family owned restaurant that is a former retirement home and where the father runs the kitchen while the son is a sommelier. You should also make sure that you don’t miss the chance to do Cognac tasting – especially since you can moor up just a few hundred metres away. And if the road seems too long to walk back to your boat they will even drive you back to the pontoon!” 


Where can you taste the best Cognac?

Because it is undoubtedly the symbol of the region, you must make sure that you get to taste some of the famous Cognac – in moderation of course!

According to Audrey an absolute must visit is to The Moisans distillery in Sireuil…”You can moor your Nicols canal boat alongside this small Cognac producer and in addition to tasting can learn more about the production process from harvest through to bottling. There are also some other locally produced spirits to try here.

Painted walls of the city of Angoulême ©charentetourisme


The cultural and historical heritage of the Charente

The Charente region of France is captivating and its history can be seen as you explore from town to town.

  • Angoulême is not just famous for comic strips. The architecture here is magnificent – it’s a city perched on high ramparts and a sort of impregnable Gaulish village whose steep streets should be explored. Expect surprises – you are in the city of bubbles!” begins Audrey with a reference to the comic bubble signs and the bubbles of locally produced sparkling wines.
  • She follows that with… "Stop at Saint-Simeux too. It's a picturesque little village with an unobstructed view of the river that has to be earned because it's steep getting up to it!"
  • For Alexandre "You have to visit Cognac, a place also steeped in history and whose name comes from the world famous spirit. There are countless distillery houses to discover – one example being ‘Maison Otard’ which is also the birthplace of François 1st.”
  • “If you look carefully you will notice that the walls of the historic town are blackened by centuries of evaporation from maturing alcohol. Also worth seeing is the old town of Cognac which still has some visible half-timbered buildings and the ubiquitous Romanesque art."
  • Saintes has a wealth of architectural history. Stone lovers will discover many Gallo-Roman remains there and it is a city where life is good, strolling among the many markets that are held in the four corners of the city."
  • In Rochefort, a town now classified as town of Art & History, you won’t be able to miss the unusual tower whose history was it being used to send signals on to Fourras. Still in Rochefort, visit the old trade museum in town centre which has a collection of advertisements from across the ages.
  • At Saint Savinien there is the well known ‘magic rock’ where legend has it that touching it provides good luck for both fertility and wealth.
  • Finally, for a little more contemporary history, Jarnac offers the birthplace of the President of the Republic François Mitterrand which has become a museum. But this is not the only heritage of this city which also offers the Saint-Pierre church, whose historic crypt is worth a visit. The advantage of arriving at Jarnac by boat is that the city has a beautiful mooring stop which is very well equipped.

Charente, a long calm river © M Joncquez


Any last tips before taking the helm?

How can you choose from everything on offer in the charente?

Audrey explains that to help with the planning of their boating holiday, she provides all her customers with a list of suggestions of places to visit and things to do. This exhaustive list covers everything from places to eat and drink, market days within the region and both active and relaxing activities that the boats crew can enjoy.

“There is even a relaxing spa where Marie-Laure welcomes you just five minutes from the port. With so much to do there is literally no way you can get bored when onboard!” she claims.


What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen on the waterways?

Alexandre has possibly the strangest story we’ve heard so far in our series of meet the Nicols experts!

He regularly checks the mechanical condition of the fleet of canal boats so it was surprising to find that a crew who were ready to enjoy their boating holiday in Charente had a problem quickly after leaving the base. Their canal boat kept stalling so Alexandre had to bring them back to the pontoon at the base to investigate.

Everything seemed correct – the fuel tank was full and the battery was in good condition so the next thing to check was propeller and propeller shaft. Alexandre opened the access hatch, reaching in and felt what he describes as “a lump that looked like carpet”. It wasn’t a carpet and was in fact a wild boar that had somehow got in, probably after being chased by something hunting it.


Things to think about if you’re on your first boating holiday

Audrey tells all those new to boating holidays “You must take your time and not plan to travel too far on each day of your holiday. Navigation by canal boat is a slow form of travel and this should be seen positively – let yourself relax and enjoy the beautiful rhythm of the nature that surrounds you.”

“Also remember that a canal boat isn’t the same as a house. Yes you’ll enjoy home-from-home comforts but the biggest difference is that you might find a shortage of space if you and your crew are all inside in the event of not so good weather. It’s not a bad idea to investigate taking a slightly bigger boat than is needed just to give you that extra bit of space.”

“Finally, we love to see animals making up part of the crew but be aware that they might be afraid of the water and being in a strange environment. A great tip is to take your pet for a few walks along a waterway prior to going on your boating holiday – this will help give them some familiarity and confidence and possibly avoid any stress once you get away for your trip.”


In conclusion…with help from a king!

Knowing of his love of the region we leave it to Alexandre to sum up why you should think about exploring life on and around the Charente river for your next boating holiday with Nicols…

“François 1st said that the Charente river was the most beautiful river in his kingdom. I believe that even today this statement is still true for every kilometre that you will travel.”

Why not find out more and see the full range of boating holidays in Charente offered by Nicols by looking at our dedicated Sireuil base pages.

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