Just below the commune of Dole the western portion of the Canal du Rhône au Rhin connects to the flowing River Doubs for the first time. From its intersection with the canal the River Doubs continues down to its confluence with the Saône in Verdun-sur-le-Doubs. The natural channel of the Doubs takes a circuitous route to the Saône. Rather than trying to canalize the lower Doubs the builders decided to construct a much shorter canal segment that heads more directly to the Saône.
Once we left the lower section of manmade canal Wanderlust was on a waterway that closely followed the route of the Doubs. Indeed, much of the Canal du Rhône au Rhin was now on the river’s channel, a feat made possible by a series of weirs and accompanying locks.
Above Dole the Doubs begins leaving the farmlands and starts moving into the foothills. The sides of river valley steepen; the rows of crops and fields of grazing cattle are increasingly replaced by hillsides of dense forests. The banks of the Doubs become more natural with an untamed feel.
Wanderlust had to work to push through the rippling waters of the Doubs as she moved upstream. The spring rains increased the flow and height of the river, in the process assuring that the water was clear and cold. Aside from Wanderlust very few boats were traveling: We had the river mostly to ourselves. It was as much more of a wilderness experience than we typically get while cruising in France.
The first indication that we were nearing our next port in Besançon came when the commune’s famous citadel appeared high on the hill above the water. Situated on the inside of a naturally defensible horseshoe bend of the Doubs Besançon is striking from all directions of approach. Indeed, it is the type of place that is particularly spectacular from above, a place perfect for helicopter flyover television travel show.
We had two options for reaching our night’s mooring near the Cité des Arts: Cruise around the horseshoe bend of the river that partially encircles the old town or shorten our day by traveling a canal tunnel that goes directly underneath the citadel complex. Bypassing the horseshoe bend saves several kilometers and about an hour of river travel. With the locking hours coming to a close we took the quicker underground route. Wanderlust’s long cruising day ended when we reached the long metal pontoon mooring on the river near La Cité des Arts in Besançon.
Besançon itself is an attractive, destination-worthy commune. We had held off on visiting from our base in Saint Jean de Losne, a little more than an hour by car away, figuring that one day we would reach the commune by boat. When we tied Wanderlust up at the pontoon the day had finally come and we were able to spend several days exploring the beautiful and historically interesting city. Besançon would have been worth a visit by car, but it was better for us to arrive there by boat.
There are 36 kilometers and 11 locks between Ranchot and Besançon. Wanderlust’s engine ran 8.5 hours. We enjoyed seven nights in Besançon before continuing upstream. We also stopped on our return journey in mid-July. The port was much busier then.
Notable along the route is the Thoraise Tunnel, which was renovated in 2008 make this piece of navigational infrastructure an art installation and water feature.
As a note, the lock for the tunnel under the citadel is particularly turbulent. It is worthy of extra caution. It would likely be better locking down, though we took the long way when we returned down the river.
The pontoon mooring at La Cité des Arts is somewhat notorious in the barging community for the problems with riff-raff hanging out on the bank nearby and causing trouble. During our stay we didn’t have any issues. Perhaps it was the time of year or the riff-raff had moved on to harass more interesting targets elsewhere. Indeed, the port’s bad reputation seemed a benefit to us as it kept the excess boaters away, at least early in the season.