For your next barge holiday in France, why not travel down the Canal de la Marne au Rhin and discover the wonders of Alsace-Lorraine. Its complex history has made it a beautiful crossroads of French and German culture, creating the iconic wooden-beamed houses, delicious Alsatian wines and even their very own dialect. There are a variety of landscapes to admire along the way too, including rolling vineyards, breathtaking mountains and historical cities.
Length and Route
The Canal de la Marne au Rhin is a 313-kilometre-long stretch of water that links Paris to Alsace and Germany. An excellent route for a barge holiday in Francestarts in Vitry-le-François and continues towards the historic town of Bar-le-Duc. You can then travel down towards Nancy, first passing through Toul, to finish a little beyond the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
History and Feats of Engineering
Completed in 1855, the Canal de la Marne au Rhin posed a few major issues to the engineers who designed it – mainly, how to pass through the Vosges mountains and reach the Col de Saverne. Initially the canal was made to rise gradually by passing through a seventeen-lock ladder, which would create a 44-metre level change over 4 kilometres. This technique was used until 1969, at which time it was replaced by the Saint Louis Arzviller inclined plane.
With this new system, the barge enters a large caisson and is either lifted or lowered up or down the slope thanks to a counter balancing weight. On a barge holiday in France with European Waterways, you’ll be 1 of 39 barges to use it. It should take about 20 minutes to complete the full journey (including entering and exiting the caisson). It is an ingenious system that uses very little electricity and only requires two men to monitor it.
Attractions en Route
Following the Canal de la Marne au Rhin lets you explore all the Alsace-Moselle region has to offer. You won’t want to pass up on the opportunity of discovering the Lehrer Crystal Glassworks once you have passed over the Arzviller slope, or of exploring the historical city of Strasbourg and taking a tour around the renowned family-run Meteor Brewery when you reach Alsace.
The Lehrer Crystal Glassworks lets you immerse yourself in the world of glassblowing as you watch experts craft and cut fine glass. Once you’ve ticked that off your list, I’d recommend visiting the Cathedral in Strasbourg, with its gorgeous Gothic-style architecture, its beautifully detailed stained-glass windows and intricately carved gargoyles. There are 332 steps to climb to reach the top, but the view from up there is well worth the effort.
You should also have a wander around the windy streets of La Petit France to see the picturesque Alsatian houses lined with colourful geraniums. You can then head to the Meteor Brewery. It offers guided tours on which you’ll learn the six complex stages of creating and blending that goes into making the unique flavour of this 400-year-old beer. It wouldn’t be a barge holiday in Francewithout a little culture!
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury itineraries for a barge holiday in France and other great destinations. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.