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Canals of France’s Burgundy

Burgundy, France

Burgundy’s canals, dug to transport goods by water during the Industrial Age, now transport vacationers who want to experience the region slowly by barge. With stops for locks and a towpath alongside, passengers can mix jogging, strolling, biking, and relaxing.

Complete Video Script

Burgundy, like much of France, is laced by canals dug in the early Industrial Age. Two hundred years ago, canals like these provided the cheapest way to transport cargo. With the help of locks, you could actually ship your goods clear across France, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. Today, trains and trucks do the heavy hauling, and canals are for art form in which the French excel.

Whether you're cruising in a big full-service luxury barge or a small captain-it-yourself boat, the basic experience is the same: a lazy glide by pastoral scenes.

This time I'm joined by my friend and co-author of my France guidebook, my favorite Francophile —Steve Smith.

Steve: I love slowing down. Cruising is the best way to see Burgundy. It forces to you to slow down.

And Steve's family is hitching a ride too, as we learn how the French, who invented our modern concept of a vacation, are on to something good with barging.

Steve: Oh my...

The canalside lane — built as an Industrial Age towpath — is ideal for jogging, strolling, or biking. Boats come with bikes, and the pace is relaxing enough to allow for excursions. Your ride is punctuated by a lock every mile or so. By going from lock to lock, boats can gently "climb," step by step, over the rolling terrain.

Each lock is a treat. Attendants, who live in the historic lock houses, are friendly and always ready to help out. Some locks are automated; others involve a little old-fashioned elbow grease.

Full-service barges can be hired with a captain and crew who do the navigating, cooking, and guiding. Boats have comfy staterooms, all the comforts you'd expect in a good hotel, and you'll invariably be eating and drinking some of the very best that Burgundy has to offer.

Our day on the canal was an ideal family vacation: three generations, the scenery coming to us, a capable skipper, and not a care in the world.