While wintering in Nevers journeys to towns and villages around kept an interest in all things French.
A typical hilltop village, Sancerre is well worth a visit and the “caves” for the best of the local wine. Sauvignon blanc and Pinot noir are the staple grapes.
A highly regarded white wine that benefits from growing on the chalky soil that stretches from Kent through Champagne Southwards.
The pits at Circuit de Nevers Magny Cours, where the French F1 Grand Prix was held 1991 to 2007.
Sadly, the circuit was never very popular due to its location, the drivers prefer Monaco to Nevers, the lack of accommodation and the distance from a major city.
The track has been home to Ligier, later Prost, team and the Winfield racing school.
Paray-le-Monial noted for the arts and religion, modern and ancient.
A Benedictine monastery was founded here in 973 and the Romanesque church of the Sacred Heart is a major feature of the town.
Agriculture forms the other religion in the area as Charolles and Nievre are home to the famous white Charolais cattle that have now spread through Europe and the world. There are over four million Charolais in France alone, even though I confess to having tried to eat my way through the herd.
Chalon-sur-Saône where Nicephore Niepce pioneered photography.
The town is situated near the junction of the Canal du Centre with the Saône. The Canal de la Marne á la Saône (Champagne et Bourgogne), the Canal des Vosges and Canal du Rhône au Rhin all added considerable traffic to and from the South of France.
Dole, on the River Doubs is the start of the climb into the Jura. Once the capital of Franche-Comté the honour was transferred to Besançon and never returned. In 2013 Franche-Comté was merged with Burgundy and the capital moved to Dijon.
For those who like a hard unpasteurised cheese Comté produces around 65,000 tons per year.
Louis Pasteur was born here in 1822.
The tunnel under the Citadel in Besançon. The citadel is built on Mont Saint-Étienne and cuts off the famous bend in the river that Besançon is built around.
After the Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678 Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, who for obvious reasons was usually just called Vauban, designed the forts and citadel that defended the town for centuries. Vauban later made Marshal of France was the country’s foremost engineer of siegecraft and fortification.
The Peugeot museum at Montbeliard show the growth of the oldest motor car company in the world as they started making coffee grinders in 1810, then bicycles and finally internal combustion engined cars in 1890.
Peugeot completely took over Citroen in 1975 and in 1978 took over Chrysler’s European division which was made up of Simca and Rootes. The Talbot name was revived and then abandoned in the 1990s.
The Chinese company Dongfeng now has a significant stake and the group produces Peugeot cars in many countries throughout the world.
The extraordinary Cite du Train, a major railway museum with “son et lumiere”, in Mulhouse, is a tribute to steam railways in France.
Its postal address, appropriately, 2 Rue Alfred de Glehn, named after one of France’s foremost locomotive designers.
The main exhibits are displayed with flair and ingenuity, whereas my favourites NRM York and GWS Didcot are shown in a more matter of fact way.
A locomotive is even lying on its side after being derailed by the Resistance and a rotary snow plough in a simulated snow scene.
The Cité de l’Automobile houses the Collection Schlumpf and is a huge car museum containing some 400 exhibits, including three Bugatti Royales. The front door is striking enough!
The collection was taken by the liquidators of the bankrupt woollen business that had fallen on hard times closing in 1976. In 1982 the cars were sold for an astonishingly low price of 44 million francs to the Narional Museum of the Motorcar.
Nevers, Fleury-sur-Loire, Decize, Gannay-sur-Loire, Beaulon, Pierrefit-sur-Loire, Digon, Paray-le-Monial, Montceau les Mines, Montchanin, St Leger-sur-Dheune, Chagny, Chalon-sur-Saone.
Chalon-sur-Saone, Verdun-sur-le-Dubs, Seurre, St Jean-de-Losne, Dole, Osselle, Besancon, Baume-les-Dames, Isle-sur-le-Dubs, Montbelliard, Ecleuse 9, Dannemarie, Mulhouse.
Back in “Big Barge” territory on the upper Rhine.
The length of the river is shown on the kilometer posts, measured from Lake Constance (395m) to The Hook of Holland (0m). The Upper Rhine section from Basle (246m) to Bingen (79m) shows a marked fall with some sections being narrow as well.
The Rhine generates large amounts of hydro-electric power and these locks create passage for the barge traffic. One of the hydro plants is being demolished to make a dam more fish friendly!
The Rhine around the Lorelei is spectacular and fast flowing. This part of the Rhine is not for the faint hearted, very difficult to climb unless your have many spare horses and quite tricky to descend, especially in flood as we managed 25 kph on “slow ahead”. As you would turn around in about a mile or two, with traffic coming the other way, it is like the pig discussing breakfast with the chicken, “All right for you, for me it is total commitment”
The Rhine in Flames, in Koblenz, is a summer spectacular firework display and includes many barges and passenger steamers. There are five stretches of the river that “burn”; St Goar, Oberwesel, Koblenz, Bingen and Bonn.
These festivals were revived in 1986 and are held on different dates and are an excellent excuse for wine festivals and other entertainments.
The town is overlooked, on the East bank, by Fortress Ehrenbreitstein initially built by Archbishops.
The Mosel joins the Rhine at Koblenz and hosts an enormous statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I at the junction.
The Mosel is probably the most beautiful river to cruise, steep vineyards overlooking countless bends in the river.
More than half the are planted produces Riesling, with Pinot Blanc, Noir and Gris forming much of the remainder. You will recognise many of the place names if you read wine labels. Piesport and Bernkastel are the two best known.
Back into Holland where the streets of Utrecht are well policed!
Utrecht was once the most important city in the Netherlands, until surpassed by Amsterdam in the Golden Age.
The most striking feature of the city is the Dom tower which is part of what was to become a cathedral called Saint Martin, between 1321 and 1382. Work stopped due to lack of money and the unfinished nave collapsed in 1674. The tower has been freestanding since then.
The tower houses an extraordinary fourteen bells and in 1664 a carillon of 35 chimes was installed, subsequently increased to 50 chimes.
‘s-Hertogenbosch, possibly pronounced “sairtogenbosh” means The Duke’s Forest. Dutch speaking readers please feel free to correct this!
The picture shows a fairground ride at night in Den Bosch.
Hieronymus Bosch born here in 1450 as Jheronimus van Aken, died here in 1516. Though relatively few of his unusual paintings survive, the Prado is well represented due to their theft by Philip II of Spain and never returned.
Due to a short period of my life framing pictures I developed an allergy to Constable’s paintings, mainly due to the sheer quantity. i was fascinated to discover a “Hay Wain” (1516) by Hieronymus Bosch!
The flood barrier across the Julianakanal below Maastricht brings another year’s cruising to an end.
Mulhouse, Breisach, Kehl, Worms, Koblenz, Treis-Karden, Mondorf, Duisburg, Bijland, Utrecht, Montfoort, Arkel, Den Bosch, Helmond, Pietersplas Maastricht.