Our original plan was to rent a cottage in France for two weeks but a brief look through the cottages and villas available offered a bewildering array of options in virtually any location and at any conceivable price. It all sounded idyllic but what if we got the cottage next door to the sewage disposal plant, or the one with the ‘neighbours who party’? Two weeks could be a very long time.
Another snag for us coming from New Zealand was not having a car in Europe. Regardless of where in France we finally decided on we would have to hire or buy a car for our visit so that we would be able to see the country. Bicycles just don’t cut it.
The upshot of this research was to look at exploring part of France by river. Although the cost of a river boat seems expensive it has to be compared with the cost of the cottage plus renting a car and its fuel. We were also able to save quite a bit by travelling from the UK to France using an early purchase flight from EasyJet rather than driving.
We finally ended up renting an America 38 from Pavillon Saone (http://www.house-boat.net/) in Tournus. This proved to be an excellent choice as the boat was spacious and well presented. It was quite large enough for our party of four with a double and a twin cabin and a spacious lounge as well as the large upstairs deck.
To say the Saône is a big river is huge understatement. The range and diversity of rivers and canals leading off the Saône enabled us to visit a wide range of the towns, see museums, visit vineyards, sample cafes, cycle, meet locals and generally get a detailed view of a very wide area.
Although we have done quite a bit of boating in runabouts and narrowboats in the UK, the size of the launch, the enormous locks coupled with having at least one of the crew with no previous boating experience was initially a concern. We quickly found that we were able to manage and that the other river users were only too happy to help out by catching mooring ropes and so forth.
Mooring for the night, in the main, has to be on mooring pontoons. Unlike the UK canals it is hard to find locations where the boat can simply be tethered to the bank either during the heat of the day or for the night. On several occasions this caused us to have to carry on past our intended destination as all the spaces on the pontoons had been already taken.
Our two weeks was mostly hot and sunny (40C+ on a couple of days). A really good feature of the boat was that it had a very large awning which gave ample shade, something that we noticed other boats were lacking. This awning was also invaluable during a couple of heavy downpours that we experienced. Several hire boat operators only offer a sun umbrella for shade and I think we would have found this a serious problem.
There were some minor irritations about the boat hire. The cutlery and some of the kitchen utensils were of poor quality, other items like salad servers and a portable BBQ were missing altogether. We also had to hire things like towels and some ancient bicycles at additional expense and fuel was charged separately and based on a hourly price rather than being metered.
There were also a number of items that the company had not been able to fix during the short turn around from the previous hire. Although nothing went wrong we had the impression that things like the awning and mooring ropes could use renewing (there was no spare mooring rope either, a lost or rope would have given us considerable trouble)
On the positive side the irritations were very minor and on the occasion that there was a problem with the generator the Pavillon Saone staff were promptly able to attend and rectify it.