Don’t Miss the Top UNESCO Sites in France: Part I

France is abundant with UNESCO World Heritage sites, and there’s truly no better way to explore these locations than via the country’s waterways…

Luxury Hotel Barge Anjodi, cruising in Southern France on a viduct on the Canal du Midi

France may be best known for its exquisite wine and cheeses, its elegant and refined fashion scene and its generally romantic atmosphere, but believe it or not, this country is also home to some of the world’s top UNESCO sites. Despite the nation’s large geographic size, many of these top World Heritage sites are located along important waterways, making it possible to easily navigate between these top locations onboard our hotel barges.

A French river cruise on a hotel barge will serve as the perfect home-away-from-home for groups looking to see several UNESCO sites while gently cruising along an iconic French river or canal.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Choosing a cruise that includes any of France’s UNESCO sites is sure to contribute to the trip of a lifetime. These locations are some of the top destinations across the globe, drawing countless tourists to these sites each year. Here are our favourite heritage locations in France that can be seen during your waterway adventure.

Verdant green trees bow over the world-famous Canal du Midi in Southern France

Canal du Midi

A Canal du Midi cruise takes guests on a smooth journey through the Mediterranean region for great sight-seeing tours of world heritage destinations. The Canal du Midi is a UNESCO site itself, notable for its lush green trees flanking the canal, and dotted with bridges, nearby vineyards and Roman fortresses.

This iconic seventeenth-century waterway is best experienced at an ultra-slow pace, and there’s no better way to feel at home on the waterways than from the comfort of your own hotel barge.

Discover the Canal du Midi > 

Champagne's rolling vineyards - a UNESCO World Heritage site and a wonder to behold

Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars

France’s Champagne region is best explored via its waterways. Most famous for its sparkling beverage of the same name, the region draws visitors from across the globe each year looking to sample some of the finest food and drink options France has to offer. A cruise along the River Marne will offer visitors a glimpse into the luxurious (and delicious) Champagne area. Some tour highlights include visits to local cathedrals, cheese tastings, and naturally – plenty of champagne sampling.

Some of our other favourite places to visit along your tour through this area include the domaines and French hillsides where you can explore the wine-production process and see where the famous grapes are grown.

Visit Champagne on a luxury barge cruise >

Vézelay Abbey, a monastery in France that's also a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Vézelay, Church & Hill

A truly mythical destination, Vézelay has remained an important pilgrimage site since receiving relics of the Christian Saint Mary Magdalene in the ninth century. Later, announcements of the Second Crusade were held in the town, and it served as a starting point for armies under Richard the Lion Heart for the Third Crusade.

Today, this historical town remains culturally significant for its basilica and the town of Vézelay itself, which sits alongside the ‘eternal hill’. Visitors to this charming village can walk in the footsteps of pilgrims and soak in the cultural and spiritual atmosphere that resonates through the streets.

Discover Vézelay aboard L’Art de Vivre >

The Chateau Fontainebleau, located to the south of Paris, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Palace and Park at Fontainebleau

Our final pick for our favourite World Heritage sites in France is the remarkable twelfth-century park and grounds at Fontainebleau. With a story of expansion and reconstruction that mimics the country’s own exciting history, this building and its grounds are really one that must be seen first-hand. Visitors can explore the palace’s grand ballroom, gaze at the throne and enjoy a walk through some of the most majestic gardens in all of France.

When it comes to France’s important historical sites, the best way to maximise your time and enjoy the sights is from a boat tour on one of the country’s major waterways. A hotel barge operated by European Waterways is a great option for those looking to book a relaxing and memorable holiday through this glorious country.

See Fontainebleau on an enchanting Renaissance luxury cruise >

Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Former Abbey of Saint-Rémi - a UNESCO World Heritage site

Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Former Abbey of Saint-Rémi and Palace of Tau, Reims

The city of Reims, located north-east of Paris, boasts three UNESCO sites: the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, the Abbey of Saint-Remi and the Palace of Tau.

Beginning with the Notre-Dame Cathedral, this Gothic wonder was constructed in the thirteenth century and later partially rebuilt when its vaults were damaged during WW1. This site is particularly beautiful for its stained glass and ornamental sculptures commemorating France’s kings.

The Abbey of Saint-Remi exemplifies medieval architecture and now houses a museum on the town’s history. This impressive building was founded in the eighth century.

Reims’ third site, the Palace of Tau, was once home to the Archbishop and also the French king during visits. Decorated in seventeenth-century ornamentation, this palace also features the Musée de l’Oeuvre today.

Discover more >

Why Choose a Cruise

Sight-seeing in the French countryside and in popular cities from a hotel barge truly is a unique experience people cherish for the rest of their lives. While Europe itself is the perfect destination for cruises along popular Danube and Rhine routes, French river and canal cruises tend to be shorter, allowing visitors extra time off the river to explore the sites on land.

Best of all, France’s temperate climate gives the country an extra-long season for boat tours. Most companies run cruises from early spring through late autumn, though in the warmer south of France, the seasons can run even longer (and give tired visitors a much-needed break from long walks in the hot sun!). No matter which route you decide to take, French river cruises, particularly hotel barge options, offer a relaxing and enjoyable alternative to typical walking or bus tours.

Luxury Barge Cruising with European Waterways

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