When you think of France, you might think of Paris, the Eiffel Tower and wine country. But France is actually home to some of the most beautiful, picturesque rivers and canals in the world, which wind through meadows, rolling hills, mountains and cities.
There's the Loire River, the longest in the country and spanning 630 miles, to the Garonne River, which zips throughout the southern portion of the country, and more that flow throughout France.
Here's a further look at the longest rivers and canals in France:
Loire River: As we previously noted, the Loire River is France's longest river, clocking in at 630 miles. It begins in the Cevennes Mountains and flows north, then to the west before finally emptying into the Bay of Biscay. It flows through many picturesque towns and areas, including the Loire Valley, which is also known as "the Garden of France." It gets this name from the many chateaux and unique architecture that is evident in this region, some dating as far back to the medieval and Renaissance time periods.
Rhone River: France's second longest river is the Rhone River, which spans a distance of 504 miles. The roots of the Rhone River actually begin in Switzerland, but as it enters France it winds through central and southern regions of the country before ending at the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, the Rhone River is the only major waterway that flows directly into the Mediterranean Sea, making it significant and important to the European continent. Its scenic route passes through the French cities of Lyon, Avignon and Arles on its way to the Mediterranean.
Seine River: While the Seine River is only the third longest river in France, coming in at about 482 miles, it's one of the best known waterways in the country, simply because of its close proximity to Paris. While the river is best known for its scenic and beautiful outlooks and bridges (the oldest of the 32 bridges along the Seine is Pont Neuf), not to mention having appeared in countless films set in Paris, its 482 miles begin in Paris and end at the English Channel, so it's hardly a body of water confined to one particular region. Aside from being a top tourist attraction in France, the Seine River is still the main commercial waterway used in Paris.
Garonne River: At 357 miles long, the Garonne River is the fourth largest in the country and passes through two of France's most beautiful southern-located cities - Toulouse and Bordeaux. Although the true starting point of the river is somewhat unknown - it's believed that up to three different locations could be the true start of the river - it's best estimated that it derives in the Pyrenees range. One neat thing about the Garonne River is that it's one of only a few rivers in the world that has a tidal bore, meaning that you can actually surf on the waterway at certain locations. Specifically, surfers can catch a wave on the Garonne around Cambes or about 75 miles upstream from the Atlantic Ocean end point. The tidal bore is also evident in several other areas throughout the river's route and can be contingent on river conditions.
Dordogne River: One neat thing about France's fifth longest river, the 300-mile longDordogne, is that it actually merges with the aforementioned Garonne River near Bordeaux to form the Gironde estuary, which eventually empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Although a lesser known river in France, the Dordogne might be one of the most beautiful waterways to flow throughout the country. While the river doesn't pass through any of the country's major cities, it makes up for it by winding through a variety of gorges and valleys. Sarlat and Saint-Cyprien are a few of the villages that it passes through. Like the Garonne, the Dordogne also generates a tidal bore. The best time to take in the beauty in this south central and southwest France river are during the main tourist season, from June to September.
Canal du Midi: We've covered the longest rivers in France, now it's time to examine the feat that is the Canal du Midi, a 150-mile long canal in the southern part of the country that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. Historically speaking, the construction of the canal is one of the major accomplishments of the 17th century reign of King Louis XIV, as it aided the economy of the region. Considered a masterpiece of engineering, today it is more frequented by tourists and cruise boats than trade ships, but it's still a major part of France's history that can be appreciated today.
For more information on France's rivers and scenic canals, contact The Barge Connection today. We've been specializing in barge vacations throughout the waterways of France, and other parts of Europe, since 1998 and offer a wide variety of excursions to choose from.