Our motorhome travels in France have covered almost every part of France since our humble beginnings in a Volkswagon Kombi in 1997. We’ve always taken the D roads – the slow roads – favouring them over the speedy autoroutes, for it is on these that we can travel at our pace and see everything France has to offer.
The Loire Valley is well-known for its river of the same name – Loire – which weaves its way from Mont Gerbier de Jonc in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west. It’s an area studded with vineyards and incredible chateaux and is known for excellent cycle paths that follow the river on mostly flat terrain, making it a cyclists’ paradise. Of all the routes taken in the Loire, the journey from Nevers to Saumur is the path most followed during a road trip.
Less known are the canals of the Loire Valley. We discovered them in 2017, along with slow barge travel, kicking off an unexpected love of luxury cruises along the hidden French canals and finding small villages that aren’t on the usual tourist’s radar. Many of these towns would be unheard of to a visitor travelling to France for the big sights.
That’s the attraction; the lack of must-visit locations and few tourists draws us to them. This is our seven-day itinerary that combines both of these travel passions.
Slow travel along the French canals
As part of a more extensive road trip through the southwest of France, the Loire Valley and up into the north, we spent some time exploring the small towns and villages along the Briare Canal and the Canal latéral a la Loire, an area we have previously explored on the magnificent Renaissance barge.
However, we haven’t included a list of everything to do in these towns because that is their beauty; take your time and walk through them at your own pace, focusing on what you love.
These towns are built around the canals, creating a serene ambience and often postcard-perfect images. While we provide some names of nearby campgrounds, those who read these pages regularly know that we prefer a version of wild camping, staying at aires de service, or mostly France Passion locations. You can read more about all of these by clicking on the links provided.
- Slow travel along the French canals
- Itinerary summary
- Itinerary map
- Day 1: Montargis
- Day 2: Montbouy
- Day 2: Chatillon-Coligny
- Day 3: Rogney-les-Sept-Ecluses
- Day 4 and 5: Briare (including a side trip to Gien)
- Day 6: Chatillon-sur-Loire
- General things to do along the canal
- More France motorhome itineraries
- Motorhome road trip resources
Duration: Seven days
Distance: 60 kilometres (37 miles)
Highlights: Canals and boat life, chateaux, wineries, castles, markets
The entire journey of approximately 60km (37 miles) from Montargis to Chatillon-sur-Loire would take about one hour if you drove without stopping. That’s what makes this a perfect slow travel itinerary. You get to see some incredible places, but you could finish it in a week without rushing. Adding the side trips to see the chateaux and visiting Gien would also add some depth to this plan.
This itinerary is also perfect for:
- Appending to a longer Loire Valley itinerary
- First-time motorhome hirer who doesn’t want to travel too far and has easy access from Paris
- Travellers who are flying into Paris and picking up a motorhome nearby and who don’t want to drive too far away from Paris
- Travellers flying into Paris who want to do a short motorhome trip.
Paris is approximately 125km (77 miles) north of Montargis. As a general guide, it is a 90-minute drive on the A6. Trains also run directly from Paris Gare de Lyon to Montargis.
Good to know: You don’t always need to pick up and return a motorhome to Paris or any European destination. If you want to pick up and drop off in different cities or countries, we recommend Anywhere Campers. We did this itinerary (as part of a longer one) in an Anywhere Camper motorhome!
For example, suppose you are flying into Paris but don’t want the hassle of picking up a motorhome in the big city. In that case, we recommend using Anywhere Campers and doing a pickup in Montargis. Get on the train at Gare de Lyon and arrange to pick up the vehicle at the Montargis train station.
Note that if you are coming into Charles de Gaulle Airport and catching the RER B into Paris, you must change trains at Chatelet Les Halles to get to Gare de Lyon.
More reading >> You can read more about our review of Anywhere Campers here.
Day 1: Montargis
Montargis is included in a fabulous list of villages known collectively as Les Plus Beaux Detours de France. You might have heard of a similar-sounding name before; Les Plus Beaux Villages de France is the term given to some of the country’s most striking and extraordinary villages. We’ve spent much time on the road tracking them down. The Les Plus Beaux Detours de France is quite similar, showcasing those villages where getting off the main road and taking a detour will be rewarded with interesting locations not to be missed.
There’s a lot to do in Montargis, so we recommend spending at least a day here. We know this town well as not only have we road-tripped here, but we’ve also cruised on the Briare Canal aboard the Renaissance luxury barge.
Our tip: This town looks beautiful in spring when all the flowers adorn the hanging baskets in the streets and along the canals.
Montargis is also known as the Venice of Gâtinais, with over 130 bridges crisscrossing the waterways; you can spend a day just walking around trying to find them all. There are some fancy-looking ones, too, and in the spring, they are all adorned with beautiful flowers.
Don’t miss the Victor Hugo Footbridge, where it is easy to pick its design origins, connecting it to the ironworks of the Eiffel Tower.
Walking around the old town will also give great insight into the former fishing area and the beauty of the old houses built along the canals.
Clinique Chirurgicale Hospice
It’s hard to find decent information on this incredible building, but it’s worth a stroll along Rue Jean Jaures to admire it, if only from the street.
Maison de la Prasline Mazet
Have a sweet tooth? Don’t miss this centuries-old store selling traditional praslines (pralines). Originating in the 1600s, the combination of almonds and sugar created a sweet sensation. Leon Mazet opened this store in Montargis in 1903, and it continues to trade together. Here you’ll find many traditional French goodies and loads of the praslines.
Church of Sainte Marie-Madeleine
As you make your way around France, there’s no shortage of incredible architecture in the local churches, but the Church of Sainte Marie-Madeleine is one of the best in the area and worth popping your head inside for a look, even if only for the stained glass. It has gothic-style origins; however, it’s one of the more subdued versions I’ve seen. Like many European churches, this one was devastated by a fire in the 1500s.
The church is located in the old town of Montargis.
Chateau de Montargis
While the Loire Valley is known for some impressive – and highly touristic – chateaux like Chambord and Chenonceaux, we prefer to visit the smaller, lesser-known ones (we mention a few more of these throughout this guide). Montargis has one of its own, and it may be visited with prior arrangement.
Explore the canal life on the Briare Canal
While the smaller canals that wind their way through the town provide a point of difference, there is always great activity on the main Briare Canal, especially during summer. Keep an eye out for the European Waterways luxury barge the Renaissance. Depending on the week, the Renaissance will either commence or end its week-long canal cruise in Montargis.
Related reading >> If you are interested in cruising the Briare Canal aboard a barge, you can read our review of the luxury Renaissance here.
Our tip: For a touch of all things canal, dine aboard Bateau Restaurant on the La Petite Venice barge, moored at Quai du Patis.
Shopping: if you need to stock up while in town, there is a commercial shopping precinct in the newer part of Montargis. (30 Rue du Faubourg de la Chaussée). However, the nearby village of Amilly is a good spot to shop, with several major supermarkets, petrol stations and LPG providers. A small SPAR supermarket is located on Rue de la Republique.
Overnight stay: Camping de la Forêt – 38 Av. Louis Maurice Chautemps, 45200 Montargis is the closest official campground. We stayed at a France Passion location – a local brewery – at Sceaux-du-Gâtinais, a 25-minute drive away into the countryside.
Parking: Parking in the streets of Montargis can be tricky during the week, especially. It’s less of an issue on weekends. There is a parking area on Rue de la Republique.
Day 2: Montbouy
We loved Montbuoy for the 12th-century church. We were fortunate enough to get a private tour. If you get a chance, go to the local town hall and see if you can convince them to let you have a poke around.
Day 2: Chatillon-Coligny
Further along the canal, Chatillon-Coligny offers up more beautiful architecture in the form of the chateau and Saint-Pierre Church.
Our tip for dining, if you love good food and a great experience, is the Michelin-starred Auberge Les Templiers. Set on an exquisite property, it’s perfect for an aperitif outdoors before entering the timber-trussed building that houses this award-winning restaurant.
Location: Auberge Les Templiers, located at 20 Route Départementale, Boismorand, is about a 20-minute drive from Chatillon-Coligny.
Overnight stays: There is no official campground in Chatillon-Coligny. Camping-Car Parks has a site called Camping de Mon with approximately 54 sites and all services.
You can read more about Camping-Car Parks here.
Day 3: Rogney-les-Sept-Ecluses
This town is a standout along the canal and should not be missed. The clue, if you know even a little French, is in the name of the town. The canals of France are full of locks that allow the passage of boats and barges up and down the narrow waterways. At Rogny, the historic stairs of seven locks (sept-ecluses) are an incredible sight.
The magnificent structure was commenced in 1604 to link two of the principal rivers of France and thereby create a vital transportation channel. It was not completed until the mid-1600s and was decommissioned in the late 1800s when a more suitable lock gate was constructed to supersede the clever but otherwise inefficient structure.
Our tip: Do a side trip to Chateau la Bussiere, one of the lesser-known chateaux in the area. Please read our reviews on this chateau and another local one here. It takes about 15 minutes from Rogny.
Overnight stay: The official campground, Camping des Lancières, can be found in this town. There is a small overnight parking area on Quai Sully; only four pitches are available here.
Parking: Authorised motorhome parking is located near the seven locks at Rue Hugues Cosnier. Public toilets are also located here.
Day 4 and 5: Briare (including a side trip to Gien)
The shining star of Briare and the town’s most significant drawcard is the Briare Aqueduct (also known as the Pon Canal). And, for good reason, it’s an incredible feature taking the Canal latéral à la Loire over the Loire River to join the Briare Canal. As mentioned above, the Renaissance luxury barge cruises along these waterways.
Keep an eye out for this beautiful barge on the canal part of the aqueduct. Even though it’s cool seeing the run-of-the-mill canal boats cross over the bridge, the pure splendour of the Renaissance is the pinnacle. It only just fits inside the canal walls as well. Depending on her itinerary, she will cross on Friday afternoon (usually after lunch) or Monday morning (usually after breakfast). We were fortunate to cross the Pont Canal on the Renaissance in 2018 (see below).
If you’ve got time, go for a stroll or ride a bike over the bridge and back. It’s also good to get down onto the river bank and admire the ironwork from below.
Église Saint-Étienne de Briare
This church is an imposing feature in the small town and is adorned with mosaic tiles inside and out.
Museum of the Two Marines
If you are as fascinated by the history of the canals and this bridge – as we are- check out the Musee des Deaux Marines.
Our tip: While it isn’t on the canal, if you are in the area, we recommend making a trip to Gien. You could easily spend a day (or two) in this fantastic town that was bombed and destroyed during the Second World War. It’s famous for its locally made Gien crockery. Visit the factory and watch them hand-paint everything from plates to vases and visit their store to see if anything takes your fancy.
Where to eat
Grab a drink or bite to eat at the Restaurant Le Pont Canal or the Gite du Pont Canal (one on either side of the canal). While these are tourist cafes, it’s great to sit on the canal and watch the boats go by.
We can also highly recommend L.Lhoste Boulangerie in Rue de la Liberte. It makes some of the best baguettes in the area. You’ll find it at the other end of the small square anchored by Église Saint-Étienne de Briare.
Briare is one of the larger towns along this route, so it has more services nearby.
Overnight stays: Le Martinet is the closest official campground in Briare. There is also an aire at 10 Rue des Vignes near the Pont Canal. It also has a borne where you can pay for water and the dump station. It’s not the prettiest site, but it offers proximity to the canal and is free. A little further away is the Briare-le-Canal aire at Val du Martinet.
If making the additional trip to Gien, Camping Gien is the closest campground.
Parking: the aire at 10 Rue des Vignes is the best place to park – space permitting – even if only staying for a short time.
We stayed at a France Passion vineyard in Briare, owned by generations of the same family since 1650, approximately 3.5km from the Pont Canal. It was an extremely safe and peaceful location.
Day 6: Chatillon-sur-Loire
We chose to walk around this town to take in the back alleys and the street art. There’s no advertised trail; you just need to wander and explore.
The bridge that crosses the Loire River is also a special one.
Overnight stays: At the port, there is a small aires de camping cars (Le Port de Chatillon). Services are available here for approximately €9. It’s a pretty spot as it’s right alongside the canal. Residents live in their canal boats immediately in front of the parking area.
There is also an official municipal campground on the Loire River called L’ecluses des Combles.
General things to do along the canal
Canal life is simple and often repetitive, but this is why doing a road trip in this area is so good. The canals are perfect for picnics, fishing, playing games, bike riding, reading, and watching the world go by. In many of the towns, boat rides on the canal are also possible. Some, like Rogny-les-Sept-Ecluses, have pedal boats, further highlighting the peace and tranquillity of life on the canals.
If you feel inspired by the French way of life, you can also play a game of petanque; just be sure to have a glass of pastis in your hand to make it even more French!
So, if you pass through a town at the wrong time for a picnic lunch, you’ll surely pick it up at another. If you want to do a bike ride but the weather isn’t kind, save it until another day, when you’ll be sure to find more towpaths and bike trails. If you feel like some downtime, grab a fishing rod and some bait, take your chair down to the canal’s edge and see if you can catch your dinner.
We’ve also given a few tips on camping areas, but for those who have travelled across France in motorhomes, you know that somewhere to stay is almost always close by, given the different types of stopover arrangements.
We recommend using apps like Park4Nite, Searchforsites, Camping-Car Park, Camper Contact and France Passion to help you find the best place for you depending on your travel plans.
More France motorhome itineraries
- 20 days in south-west France + France Passion stopovers in south-west France
- Lot River and Lot Valley itinerary
- Following the Tour de France in a motorhome
- 10-day itinerary Burgundy France
- Itinerary through Rhone-Alps and Provence
- Travelling through Europe in a campervan – a 42-day itinerary
Motorhome road trip resources
Click on the links below for more guides and tips to make travelling in a motorhome easier.
- Must-ask questions before hiring a motorhome in France
- Do I need to buy a crit air sticker for driving in France?
- Tips for planning a European motorhome itinerary
- What’s inside a campervan?
- Things to pack to make your motorhome life a breeze
- Tips for picking up a hired motorhome
- Tips for motorhome safety
- Comprehensive packing guide for motorhome road trips