Holiday on Brittany's Canals and Rivers

Nantes-Brest Canal in Brittany France
Nantes-Brest Canal ©
Inland, Brittany's owns 600km of a network of canals and rivers which are used today mainly for leisure boating. There are two main axes of fluvial connections:
  • The English Channel-Altantic Ocean Link connected by the Rance coast and river, the Ille-et-Rance canal, the Vilaine canal and coast. A network that takes you through Dinan, Rennes, Redon and La Roche-Bernard.

  • The Nantes-Brest Canal stretches along 360km of connected rivers of Aulne in Brest, through Oust, Isac and finally Erdre in Nantes.

History of the Canals Boating Holidays Nantes-Brest Guide Book

History of the Canals

Ille-et-Rance Canal in Brittany France
Ille-et-Rance Canal
It is during Napoléon's time that the canals of Ille-et-Rance to Vilaine (North-South) and Nantes-Brest (East-West) have been built by prisoners of war and vilains as to reduce the possible impact of a blocus of the French coast by the English Navy fleet.
Until the first world war, this fluvial route was actively used for commercial transport of sand, wood, fertilisers or stone, with narrowboats and horse tracted sailing boats, which has in turn strongly contributed to the economic growth of the commercial harbours linked.
As transportation progressively switched to rail and road networks, the canals' appeal turned towards tourism.

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Boating Holidays

Boating Holiday in Brittany France
Boating Holiday © Bretagne Tourism Office

The best way to enjoy the beauty and relaxed atmosphere that canals have to offer is to take a boating holiday or go for a walking holiday.

There are a few boat hire companies in Brittany offering trips starting from Dinan, Hédé, Messac, Redon, Rohan, Pontivy, la Roche-Bernard or Sucé-sur-Erdre. If you want to do just a day hire, you can just go to their local offices usually based by the main points of departure or if you want to book in advance for a several days trip, we may want to check these two sites of interest:
- Blakes Holiday Boating ( is a European tour operators which offers different types of boats for hire like a narrowboat of traditional Pénichette style or a more modern and comfortable cruiser. Their bases are easily reachable close to local airports, train stations and main roads. You can also hire bicycles to give you more freedom to explore the surroundings areas.

- Boating Holidays ( gives you access to three different bases of canals and rivers starting from Messac, Dinan and Nort-sur-Erdre where you can choose your cruiser boat type for the number of day hire required. The site provides you with suggested cruising tours with maps, duration and distance.
You do not need a maritime licence. The boat hire company will give you a tour of the facilities and instructions. Cruising is at a slow speed and you will find that the majority of the locks have their own lock keepers as to ease your journey through. Along the river banks, you can stop-over at sites labelled "D'une rive à l'autre" with 1, 2 or 3 dragonflies symbols. These adhere to a specific charter which evaluates the quality of the environment, the tourist attractions and the equipment offered. They can also include leisure and sports facilities and information on walking circuits, watersports activities, children's games and places to visit.

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Nantes-Brest Canal Guide Book

The Red Dog Guides have published an excellent guide book, "The Nantes-Brest Canal, a Brittany Guide" which we strongly recommend to anyone before setting off. Available from

This comprehensive and well-illustrated guide about the 365km Nantes-Brest canal provides key information for planning and executing a long-distance walk or simply enjoying a short stroll along Brittany's most impressive waterway.

The entire towpath route is divided into large-scale sections for easy reference.

The maps show locks, roads, towns and villages; landscape and places of interest; accommodation near the canal (hotels, B and B, hostels, camping), restaurants, cafes, bars; location of shops & provisions.

Reference sections provide contact details to assist with planning a long-distance walk or ride along the canal. A detailed introduction traces the history of the canal from its origins in Napoleonic times and construction early in the 19th century, through a brief economic heyday and tragic decline, to today's role as an outstanding leisure resource.

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