“You are doing the very things that we only ever dream of!” My father’s words ring in my ears as I step on board our houseboat “Gabrielle” situated on the river Mayenne in Brittany, France. No driver’s license is needed to steer and drive the 12 metres long, 50 HP strong houseboat – just a brief introduction by Olivier of the houseboat rental company Canalous with me as an, uh, technical translator! Olivier speaks, “as befits a proper French”, only French of course. I do my best to translate his commands for Jörg, our captain, who does an amazing job at quickly learning how to steer, park & drive the boat – backwards and forwards. Et voilà! Ready to go now: 1 houseboat, 2 toilets / showers, 3 cooking stoves, 4 days, 5 bikes, 6 travel bloggers. No internet. A blessing. At least until we show symptoms of withdrawal and feel the need for WiFi at the nearest café in the small town of Laval … 😉 . But let us start from the very beginning.
In fact, it is really very easy (and beautiful!) to rent a houseboat in France.
My photo gallery here makes me want to go back immediately. In my mind, I am connected to the wonderful feelings on deck, surrounded by peaceful nature and river landscapes, the company of my dear colleagues and friends as well as simply having time to relax. The Mayenne is a relatively small and quiet river north of the world famous UNESCO World Heritage Loire Valley. Thanks to the good infrastructure and numerous excursions along the route, the river provides optimum conditions for a houseboat trip.
We start our journey in the small town of Château-Gontier. Check out Anne-Laure’s & Olivier’s romantic hideaway, a cute little château “Parc Hotel” and their newly built spa!
The fresh plum cake tastes just wonderful. My feet cool on the damp grass underneath the table. Again and again, my view touches the magnificent estate of the family, who constantly strive to make us feel wonderful. “Vous voulez encore du champagne?” – “Mais oui, avec plaisir!” Anne-Laure happens to have the same name as my dear friend Anne-Laure from Limoges, who I have visited over a year ago here in France. We both connect immediately, and I enjoy the fact of being the only one in the group speaking French well enough to make new friendships. I have never been in this corner of France. And yet I feel welcome almost instantly. The glorious company of my travel writing colleagues & friends Monika & Petar Fuchs, of “Travel World Online” (check out Monika’s articles & Petar’s video here!), Monique of “Teilzeitreisender” and Laurel & Jörg, of “Monkeys & Mountains”, add to the feeling.
“Alors, vous êtes bien préparés pour commencer votre aventure en bateau?”
Yes, I think we are ready to go on our houseboat trip! Thank you so much, Anne-Laure & Olivier, for making us feel welcome here at Parc Hotel in Château-Gontier ahead of our magic boat trip.
Docking maneuvers, dinner time & planning our trip keep us on our toes … as well as the rather cute French lock keepers.
“Elena! Elenaaa!” Always me, running on deck to help out Jörg & Petar getting through the river locks. On our houseboat trip from Daon near Château-Gontier up north to the pretty town of Laval, we pass about 15 different locks – and back again. The nerves of Jörg & Petar, when they manage to steer the comparatively large boat through the narrow locks! The lock-keepers, les éclusiers, always remain totally cool, and are enormously friendly – talking, of course, for the most part only French. I use the conversations to avoid possible misunderstandings, translating for our tech savvy captains Jörg & Petar, and managing to get some small talk going. “He is rather cute, don’t you think?!“ Monique smiles at me meaningfully. Mum always said, learning languages pays off! As state employees, the lock keepers usually spend the whole summer at their respective lock, happy to welcome more and more Australian, German & American cruise visitors along the Mayenne river. Now, they also have a Canadian (Laurel) and an Austrian to compliment that!
Laval for lovers of good taste: The small town on the river Mayenne offers an enchanting old town, excellent crêpes et macarons!
“Living in God’s country” … A saying we have rather cultivated on this trip in France! The French really know how to do “their thing”: The charm of half-timbered houses in the town of Laval, the northernmost point of our houseboat trip along the Mayenne. The friendly lady at the local Boulangerie, offering us deliciously crunchy, different coloured “macarons” sweets. The view of the city, the surrounding countryside, the large meandering river from the main square of the city. Laval’s car-free old town reinforces the impression of slow travel: Monique & I immediately feel welcome here. Finally, we end up in a classic French riverside cafe with crêpes, croque–madame toasts & café au lait … what more is it that you could possibly desire?
(Internet. We are travel bloggers, after all … just a quick update getting the “fan base” jealous via Instagram, Facebook & Co. 😉 ).
Finally, I would still like to share some practical reflections about our houseboat cruise with you. Yes, it is (much) easier than it looks to steer a boat this size as well as to pass through the locks along the river. In my opinion, at least two people should always pay attention to control, steer and navigate. Our group of six people proved to be a perfect size, allowing each other plenty of time to relax, to enjoy the nature & the pleasure of each other’s company. Cooking together and serving dinner out on the open deck was incredibly fun – nevertheless, I still advise you to visit some of the great crêperies & restaurants along the way (also as a means to avoid cabin fever)! No license is required to steer the houseboat. And yes, all the French people we have met are really nice.! No, most of them really only speak French. Yes, I would do it again. Right away. This trip has been a delight, especially the time we spent on the river, the quiet countryside passing us by, the happy little engagements with the local people. Vive la France et les croisières en bateau!
Disclaimer: We have been invited by Mayenne Tourisme to travel by houseboat on the river Mayenne. All opinions are my own.