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Hear from our experts: discovering the waterways of the Aquitaine

Sébastien and Nicole are the managers of the Nicols base in Buzet-sur-Baïse in Aquitaine – a region of France that has remained traditional and with the traits we love from a more off-the-beaten-track destination. Their love of the waterways of the Aquitaine and everything around them means that they have no shortage of ideas that will make your boating holiday one to remember.

Nicols base managers Sébastien and Nicole

Our experts

When we talk to Nicole and Sébastien it is impossible to not get carried away with their enthusiasm for their region and its many secret corners. Now 44 years old, Sébastien was the son of a farming family whose land was at the edge of the waterways between the River Baïse and the Garonne Canal and he tells us “I was born on the edge of the canal and the Lot-et-Garonne is my region and nothing in the world will see me ever leave it.”

“As a child I’d see the boats on the water and wonder where they’d come from and where they were going” says Sébastien whose first job allowed him to participate in his love of mechanics and saw him maintaining and repairing luxury cars for “enthusiasts who appreciate the value of great things”.

The Nicols base here epitomises this same outlook and what has been created is a wonderful setting for the modest fleet of 13 canal boats for hire. It is surrounded by green spaces and an aura of friendship – the perfect starting point for welcoming holidaymakers to this peaceful area of France. 

Sébastien describes their work as that of the daily ‘Indiana Jones’ and says “We have been working at the Buzet-sur-Baïse base since 2001 and have constantly had to adapt to the needs of our customers. It's a real challenge to satisfy the ever changing needs of our customers.” 

As for Nicole, her role as reception manager sees her look after the customers from the minute they book their holiday right the way through to the end of their holiday and when they return the boat back to us at the base.

La base de Buzet en Aquitaine
The Buzet base in Aquitaine

Introducing a peaceful and friendly region of france

Both of our managers agree on one thing… “When you hire a canal boat in Lot-et-Garonne then you’re not coming to see the crowds. Instead you are visiting a region that is full of tradition with old buildings and surprises around every corner.”

“The Covid years have reset the counters…but especially in what people want from their holidays. We’re finding more than ever that people want to come and take a breath of fresh air and our region is ideal for that.” adds Sébastien.

Boating holidays in the region are great for those new to boating as everything is done to make navigation easy. The locks are mostly automatic and you’ll find there is less need for tricky navigation manoeuvres. In the Gers area you will find that some locks are still operated by lock keepers who are always happy to assist our crews.

As Nicole explains “Passing through locks is huge part of a boating holiday and an activity that is loved by the young and old alike as it’s a moment where everyone comes together to experience one of the best bits of navigation.”

Passing through a lock on the Baïse river

Nicole fell in love with the friendliness of the region and says “hearing people saying hello to each other in the street shows that Lot-et-Garonne remains a region where it’s the people that make it a special place. The people are welcoming in the most genuine of ways.”

“In general, boating holidays are all about families being able to share moments together and more importantly spend time together. By involving teenagers in the manoeuvres, they abandon laptops and other gadget of home life. We often have people who initially are worried that they might end up being bored during their holiday…but find in the end that they have managed to completely disconnect, recharge and enjoy a wonderful trip.” adds Nicole.

All of this is what make this region special - the generosity and welcoming nature of locals and a reconnection with nature and the authenticity of the land.

The baths of Roy in Nérac

A region steeped in stories

The river port of Buzet-sur-Baïse is located at the crossroads of two waterways: the Garonne Canal and the River Baïse. The region is packed with interesting places to see and things to do… as the following suggestions show.

Let's start with the Garonne canal, of which here are the main treasures listed by our guides:

  • For Nicole, you have to go to the Mas d'Agenais to admire Rembrandt's work of art. “It's not a secret but it's a treasure to be discovered in the heart of the collegiate church of St Vincent”. A huge plus is that boats can moor next to the collegiate church.
  • In Fontet, a mooring stop and a leisure base await travellers. Fishing, picnicking, lazing around, swimming… Everything is there just under the bow of the boat.
  • For Sébastien: “Castets-en-Dorthe, terminus of the Canal des 2 mers, is a very pleasant and friendly little town to visit. Boaters can also visit the Château du Hamel.
  • “In Sérignac-sur-Garonne, you have to go to the town hall to ask for the keys of the church to visit the impressive bell tower. This type of bell tower is unique in Aquitaine and it is one of only a hundred found in Europe.
  • In Agen, a city famous for its prunes, there is an experience that must be tried: take the canal bridge, the second longest canal bridge in France by its length (539m). "It leads you directly to the centre of the city of Agen, the capital of the fine gastronomy of the south-west".
  • "From Castelsarrasin / Moissac, the buildings display the famous red brick and become more ‘Toulouse’” explains Sébastien. We come across cloisters, abbeys and churches all along the water. It is also an opportunity to join the Tarn for a change of scenery.

If during your Nicols boating holiday you opt for navigation on the River Baïse, once again you will be spoilt for treasures to explore:

  • The story of King Henri IV and his musketeers will guide your steps in Nérac and Condom. “Nérac is a small medieval town whose port is located in the heart of the town centre. Take the little tourist train for a guided tour of it” adds Sébastien.

The medieval city of Nérac (©bulle-communication)

  • Have you been told that Moncrabeau is the town where Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa? Probably not. And for good reason say Nicole… “every summer, the liars' academy organises The Liars' Festival on the first Sunday of August. This secular tradition allows all liars to perpetuate the habit that the bourgeois had taken of going to tell – and often exaggerate – gossip.”

The very best in food and wine

If there is a region that will tickle your taste buds then it is undoubtedly the south west. Don't limit yourself to the classic but unbeatable foie gras and prunes because there are many other delicacies that await you.

"It's the duck breast that you will come across almost everywhere in the Lot-et-Garonne in absolutely all its forms" assures Nicole. Without forgetting that Castelsarrasin is the real capital of cassoulet! “For Armagnac, Condom is the place to go for a taste of this regional alcoholic drink – drank in moderation of course” recommends our base team.

Give honour where honour is due! Less than 300m from the river port is the wine cellar of Buzet-sur-Baïse which can be visited. If you like your wines then this is a place not to be missed.

Wine cellar: “les Vignerons de Buzet”

Nérac is to melon what Marmande is to tomatoes! Unlike the wines there is no moderation needed to taste either of these great local fresh produce!

“In summer there are night markets along the river in almost every village. These are ideal for an interesting evening meal and you can generally either eat on site or take away many local specialities” suggests Sébastien who loves the lively and bustling local markets.

There is no shortage of tables with many restaurants waiting for you. Why not ask Nicole and Sébastien for suggestions of a few of their own favourites.

Our experts advice for beginners to boating holidays

The unknown of a first-time boating holiday is something to be excited about as opposed to be worried about. Nicole and Sébastien are on hand to help you prepare as best as possible before you even arrive to collect your canal boat, however, they have some advice for you.

From Sébastien his advice is “don’t be too strict with your planning and try and let the holiday simply flow. Your plans can be scuppered by the smallest thing…such as a broken down lock forcing you behind schedule but see that sort of event as an advantage - thanks to it you can now discover a completely unknown and unexpected new place in your surroundings!” 

This is the charm of a boating holiday - accepting the unexpected and even taking advantage of it. Yes preparation is important, but try not to plan an itinerary in too much detail just in case.

As for Nicole, her piece of advice is simple “Go and mix with the locals. Hospitality is at the heart of the region and it's now almost a tradition to share the very best spots.”

Sample the lively local markets (here the market at Condom)

Sébastien adds “You have to make sure that the whole crew takes part in navigation. Whether it's setting up a stake to moor overnight or going through a lock, it should be all hands on deck – literally! You’ll find that everyone will enjoy being responsible for their task at hand.”

Our base team summarise it best

We asked our team what words they feel best sum up a boating holiday from their base at Buzet-sur-Baïse. This was what they said…

Experience a real flavour of France and wonderful nature for Nicole.

The very best welcome from some of France’s friendliest locals… and of course exceptional cuisine for Sébastien.

Still not convinced? Then read on!

It’s nearly time for us to leave our endearing experts. If you still need some convincing on why you should come and visit Lot-et-Garonne on board a Nicols canal boat then here they go…

“Come and discover a region that is little known and full of riches. Come to us for our heritage and our gastronomy. You can live the experience as a couple, with friends or with your family. It's a land of plenty where we live well, we eat well and we share well!” says Sebastian.

Adding to that is Nicole with “You have to take the risk of getting lost in the area to find yourself better. It is a region of so many good things. There is so much to discover that a single cruise would not be enough. There are as many humans on Earth as there is warmth to give in Lot-et-Garonne!”

A Picnic lunch on the banks of the Baïse river.

Sébastien and Nicole look forward to welcoming you so visit our Aquitaine boating holidays page and start planning your holiday.

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