Wanderlust can travel all through the European continent on the canals and rivers. In a 20-meter long barge, canals and rivers are pretty much equally easy to navigate. Each type of waterway has its own advantages; each has its own challenges. Though navigation is similar, life is different on a canal than on a river. The countryside alongside canals is closer and often less developed. Traveling by canal is like taking a trip on a backcountry road while navigating a big river can be like driving on a superhighway. Though canals can be nicer to cruise during the day, when it comes to stop for a night, it is often better to be on a river.
There’s a simple reason for our preference for spending nights on rivers: Towns and cities along rivers tend to be older and larger than those on canals. Most of the canals in France were constructed in the 19th century. These canals are old, on the New World standard, but not particularly old on the European scale. So, with endless exceptions, the towns that developed along canals are newer and less historical. After all, the rivers were flowing long before man arrived and the early humans always settled near water sources. There are more cows to see during the day when traveling by canal but there’s more history to be seen at night when traveling by river.
The last portion of our journey from Calais to Auxerre was on rivers. Alongside the last stretch of waterways, the Marne, the Seine, and the Yonne, are numerous historic communes. The interesting towns continued all of the way to the end in Auxerre.
After our bow thruster was repaired in Migennes, we traveled to Auxerre with an overnight stop in Gurgy. Exiting ecluse la Chainette, the uppermost lock on the Yonne, Auxerre’s riverside old town comes into view. On the slope, standing high above the water, are three large ecclesiastical buildings, a cathedral and two abbeys. It is our favorite view of the journey from Calais.
Beyond the spectacular view from the river, Auxerre is an interesting place to visit and stay. History runs deep here. Civilization thrived at this spot on the Yonne in Roman times. Today Auxerre retains much of its Medieval street plan and has numerous well-kept old buildings in the historic center.
Auxerre is a Goldilocks place. With around 39,000 residents it is neither too large nor too small. Most of the shops and services needed for day-to-day life are a walk away. Auxerre has many of the advantages of a city without the chaos.
Navigating from Migennes to Auxerre covers 23 km with nine locks.
We’d actually traveled this stretch of water on our way from Joigny to Auxerre we did our first hire boat trip in 2010. Even with a late start it took us one day in 2010 to travel the 30 km and 11 locks between the Locaboat base in Joigny and the port in Auxerre. In Wanderlust, the shorter trip from Migennes to Auxerre took us two days with a stop in between in the small village of Gurgy. With the slower pace this time through, we have far better memories. This stretch of water is very appealing.
Gurgy is about halfway between Migennes and Auxerre. With a late start after the bow thruster repair we covered the 11 km and four locks and reached the town just before nightfall. We spent the night at the bank in this small bedroom community at an unserviced mooring. The water is shallow here and we were careful to come to shore slowly.
Between Gurgy and Auxerre there is 12 km of river and five locks. Auxerre has a professionally managed port run by Aquarelle. All services are available. Water and electricity is provided at the bank though our electrical feed was a tad anemic. It is possible to park a vehicle next to the boat. Aquarelle’s staff can help with repairs and winterization. It cost us just over 1,000 Euros to leave Wanderlust for five months. (By the standards in France this is expensive.) Chablis’ world famous vineyards are a bike ride away.