Five amazing ways to explore the Loire by boat
Take to the water with a fisherman, nature guide or even comedians, on the last 'wild' river in Europe! Lasting an hour, a half-day or more, these trips offer a different take on the Loire, and include tastings, bivouacking or shows. Here are 5 ways to discover the Loire by boat...
Vent d’Soulair – Boat trip with a fisherman
Shrouded in the morning mist, a small group moves slowly down the Loire, among circling cormorants and fleeting appearances by beavers. Every summer, Matthieu Perraud takes groups with him at dawn to haul in his fish-traps. On board his traditional Loire riverboat, known as a toue cabanée, he could talk for hours about pike, lamprey, pike-perch and the impressive catfish, “which can reach as much as eight feet long”. But his favourite is the allis shad, “because they taste of the sea. They swim upriver to reproduce, and are like large sardines weighing two kilos.” The young man is a proud representative of the tenth generation of a family of fishermen. “There are only thirty of us left working the Loire,” he explains, recalling that in the 16th century, a hundred vessels would sail past his fief of Saint-Florent-le-Vieil every day. The outing lasts just over two hours, during which time the local boy describes his night-time eel fishing, how his work contributes to the river's ecosystem, and the staggering variation in water levels, which can be as much as 30 feet between winter and summer! At the end of their voyage, participants can take the fish they have caught home with them. Note that more traditional boat trips, from 1½ hours to half a day, are also available.
Croisières Saumur Loire – An alternative take on heritage
“Look! It’s magical, it’s as if the building was spinning on a turntable!” From the flat-bottomed boat on which he carries his passengers, Bernard Henry points at the majestic château of Montsoreau. It looks like something out of a fairy tale, and from the water it does indeed appear to turn, revealing all its finery. This is the high point of the boat trips offered every Saturday, from May to August, by this enthusiast of the Loire landscape. The boat sets out from Saumur at 11 am, and along the way binoculars are handed round and passengers are invited to observe bell-towers, carvings on houses, the riding rings of the cavalry school, the towers of old windmills, and the dome of the royal chapel of Notre-Dame-des-Ardilliers. The vessel, the Coche d’Eau, chugs along at a leisurely pace, stopping as necessary at Villebernier, La Brèche or Gaure to pick up walkers or cyclists. After 1½ hours, passengers disembark at Montsoreau, a majestic town of slate and tufa. “If they wish, they can have lunch in a room of the château, then explore it further in the afternoon,” says Bernard. “The building now houses a centre of contemporary art which displays the treasures of Philippe Méaille, a tremendous collector.” To round off the day, visitors are free to stroll around the floral streets and alleyways of the town. Then, as the light begins to fade, it is be time to return home, heads buzzing with these new discoveries!
Rêves de Loire et d’ailleurs – A nature and adventure break
It has to be the best way to get close to nature: sleeping under the stars, tucked up in your sleeping bag in the shelter of the trees. In addition to his cycle/boat tours and sunset aperitifs, Alain Gillot offers Robinson Crusoe-style bivouacking breaks on one of the Loire’s many small islands. “In winter, I go backpacking around the world to meet the inhabitants of other rivers, and the rest of the time I am back here, in Thoureil, taking groups of four to six people up and down the Loire on my toue sablière,” he explains. During the trip, the vessel comes close to the sandbanks for passengers to observe the birds common to this area, such as grey herons and little egrets, as well as migratory waders like the common redshank and tern. “Look, there on the right, an osprey!” A breathtaking spectacle is given by this bird of prey, as it swoops down on the water and snatches up a mullet in its talons. There is no shortage of plant curiosities either, such as dodder (cuscuta), an incredible species from North Africa which clings onto other plants, and soapwort (saponaria), formerly used for washing clothes. To discover these marvels, participants can either take up their oars or hoist the sails, under Alain’s expert supervision. They will come away with stars in their eyes and the feeling of having had their fill of that all too rare commodity: adventure!
Loire en Scène – Floating shows
“On some concert nights, we have had the audience on their feet, dancing on the water!” smiles Anne-Gaëlle Codet, at the helm of La Luce. The vessel, which navigates what is termed the ‘Armorican Loire’ off Champtoceaux, where Maine-et-Loire meets Loire-Atlantique, is transformed into a floating stage in July and August. Aperitif concerts, comedy shows and live music liven up these river cruises lasting 1½ hours. Based on the traditional Loire fishing boat design, the toue goes where the current – and the skipper’s fancy – takes it. Along the way, passengers can enjoy some magnificent views, including the fishing village of La Patache and Les Folies Siffait, monumental gardens built on a rocky outcrop, not accessible to the public by land. Loire en Scène also offers other trips, including a one-hour guided tour of the area, from early April to the end of September. “The tour introduces passengers to the river’s wildlife, and also to the buildings along its banks. For instance, we pass the famous keep of the château of Oudon, which passengers have the opportunity to visit after the boat trip on a tour whose theme also includes the Loire.” In the summer season, trips are organised to Ancenis market on Thursday mornings, as well as twilight cruises with wine tasting. Let’s go!
Terre d'estuaire – Photographic cruises
“Make sure the sun is behind you!”, “Let me show you how to set the shutter speed”, “Move a bit closer to your subject”. There is something special about the guides on Loirestua’s cruises exploring the multifaceted landscape of the estuary: they are qualified photographers, who offer valuable advice to participants. Whether you have a basic compact camera, smartphone or semi-professional DSLR, these guardian angels will offer helpful hints to take the perfect picture. “And I can assure you there are scores of beautiful things to photograph along the way!” beams Yasmine Mamma, who runs the trips. From late May to late September, the cruises set out from Paimboeuf, Nantes’ former outer harbour, with its multi-coloured houses, and make for Lavau-sur-Loire, on the opposite bank of the river, where the flat-bottomed vessel penetrates the saltwater canals known as étiers, which criss-cross the marshes (note that the route can also be done in the opposite direction). Fingers poised on the shutter release, the more assiduous students train their eyes on reed beds, a lighthouse, river banks – and also two amazing contemporary artworks from the Estuaire collection, nestled in the landscape: Maruyama’s Le Jardin Étoilé and Kawamata’s L’Observatoire. The crossing lasts 45 minutes, after which the group of a dozen set foot on dry land to explore the village where they have moored. They enjoy an hour-long guided tour, then have a bite to eat before heading back to the quayside for the return journey. Say cheese!