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Canals calling: find your favourite ‘Little Venice’

Several French towns and cities boast the nickname ‘Little Venice’ thanks to their canals. Here are some of the best... 

You might think that there is only one ‘Little Venice’ in France: Strasbourg, right? Mais non! There are many worthy of a road trip call...



Colmar’s (Haut-Rhin) multi-coloured, half-timbered houses seem to rise directly out of the water, making them a sight never-to-be forgotten.

Take a boat trip around the canals fed by the river Lauch to admire the town from the water, and do not neglect to shop for Alsace wines, which are light, dry and fruity. Also, before you leave, check out the Maison Pfister, which you’ll recognise from Howl’s Moving Castle. Grimm’s fairytale Venice.



On the way to Geneva or the Alps, stop-off at Annecy, Haute-Savoie. Set on the shores of Lake Annecy it is breathtakingly beautiful. Small but perfectly formed, dump the car and wander the narrow streets in the old town.

Tiny stone bridges lead to restaurants overhanging the canals where you can have tartiflette and beer.

Once you have visited the town, you can hire bikes and cycle round the lake, or take a pleasure boat cruise.

From June 11-16 the town will be taken over by a huge animated film festival. Picnic at a free screening in the park next to the lake. A flower-filled Venice.



Driving between Lyon and Geneva, take a detour to Chanaz, Savoie. Nowhere near the size or splendour of Colmar, it is still worth the time. Its claim to be the ‘Petite Venise Savoyarde’ arises from its location on the banks of the Canal de Savières.

You are hardly likely to get lost here, but it has a lock, a windmill, a humpy bridge, and a waterside prom where you can watch the paddle-steamers. It also has a good selection of restaurants. A mountainside Venice.



Heading from Paris towards Calais or Lille? Stop in Amiens, Somme (above).

Visit the detailed and moving Somme 1916 museum, see the fabulous Unesco-listed Gothic cathedral, and gobble foodie specialities including macaroons and ‘la ficelle Picarde’ (a cheesy crepe).

There are lots of restaurants by the river, and then afterwards, explore the nearby St-Leu quarter which has multiple bridges and canals lined with Medieval buildings. A sombre Venice.



Instead of driving the direct route between Nantes and Rennes, sidle off westwards and send a day in Redon, Ille-et-Vilaine, a small town blessed with riverbanks and canals. This one even has its own museum, Le Musée de la Batellerie de l’Ouest, detailing the history and construction of the canal network in France and the cute little port is a great place for lunch. A village Venice.



If you are heading south from Montpellier towards Perpignan and Spain, take a break in Sète, Hérault. It has lots of water but does not truly evoke Venice because so much of it is industrial. But this is an attractive, lively port town well-worth exploring – the canal is taken over by a water jousting tournament every August, and the old centre hosts a very popular German beer festival in September. A bustling Venice.    


Port Grimaud

It is tempting to chase along the Riviera without drawing breath, but a stop in little Port Grimaud, Var, really is worth it. It has a lively beach, and there are boat trips round the canal and port complex. €7 buys a ticket on the ‘petit train’ up the hill to the old town, where you can wander the narrow streets and catch fantastic views out across the Med. A glamorous mini-Venice.  

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