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Barging in France: Canal du Nivernais

Part 1: An Overview

The Canal du Nivernais lies between the Canal Lateral à la Loire and the the Yonne river at Auxerre which meets up with the Canal de Bourgogne at Migennes, about 20km to the north. The Canal du Nivernais stretches for 111 miles with 119 locks, passes through northern Burgundy, crossing the River Yonne and, from time to time, merges with the river itself. North of the summit at Baye, the River Yonne serves as a navigation channel for most of the way between Clamecy and Auxerre and, where the canal is artificial, the Yonne serves as a feeder for the canal’s water supply.

map canal du nivernais

The Canal du Nivernais

The Canal du Nivernais opened in 1843 after sixty years of construction. It was built primarily to transport firewood from the Morvan Forest to Paris. Since the 16th century, the Yonne was used for "flottage de bois" – a system for floating logs downstream. Logs were floated down the river on rafts in their thousands. Men called "flotteurs" rode on these rafts with poles to prevent jams. As the firewood demands increased, there was a need to transport logs from further away and so the requirement for a canal.

The Canal du Nivernais was first proposed in 1708. It was abandoned because of opposition from the Duke of Orléans who was the proprietor of the nearby Loing Canal. A project to extend the "floatable" part of the river towards the forests of Bazois was started at the end of the 18th century by building a small channel in a tunnel under the hills of Collancelle. However, since this was the era of canals, the project of a small channel for floating timber was expanded to become a navigable waterway. Work started in 1784 (based on an earlier plan) and completed in 1841.

The wood trade was the region's primary source of income until the 1920s. They outlawed flottage in 1881, so timber was then carried on barges. The canal saw the last of its commercial traffic in the 1970s. Shallow depth and small-gauge locks limit the size of barges that use it to 30m (100 ft) in its upper reaches.

Today, the Canal du Nivernais is known for its tranquility, its beautiful valleys and hills, and its historic and picturesque villages and vineyards. The canal's path through the hills of Morvan, the wild valley of the Yonne, and the green meadows of Bazois make it one of the most iconic canals in France.

Learn more about the Canal du Nivernais:

French Hotel Barges Cruising the Canal du Nivernais


Hotel Barge L'Art de Vivre - Barging in France, Burgundy -

Northern Burgundy: Canal du Nivernais
Up to 8 guests
Charters and Cabin cruises
Themed Cruises:
Bike, Family, Golf, Tennis, Walking, Wine

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