5th – 21st August ~ The Vilaine River

5th August – Passage from Bono to the barrage at Arzal

We woke to this stunning early morning on the Auray river at Bono! What a memory to take with us as we left the Gulf of Morbihan for the last time!

Early morning at Bono

We let go the buoy and motored down river to the entrance of the Gulf where upon we ‘shot’ out into the Quiberon Bay with the last of the very fast flowing ebb tide! We needed to be at the entrance to the river Vilaine three hours before high water in order to be able to pass over the bar and navigate the river to the Barrage at Arzal and so we set the sails and our course and had a very pleasant sail.

We were very much looking forward to exploring the Vilaine as we had been regaled with stories of it’s beauty and it’s peacefulness and the fact that it is possible to anchor almost anywhere along it and be totally alone – Bliss!

A yacht at anchor!

5th – 7th August – Arzal

First we had to pass through the Barrage at Arzal which was created in order to control the amount of water flowing into the river with the tides and therefore to prevent the flooding of the upper reaches of the river for example as far as Redon a distance of 42km!  It was opened in 1970 and it has allowed the development of marinas on the river which are now not subject to the rise and fall of the tide.

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The Barrage at Arzal – Quite a sight!

The river above the Barrage is literally an enormous freshwater lake holding in the region of 50 million m3 of water which is used in the production of safe drinking water for a massive area in this region of France.

A myriad of beautiful spots to anchor!



Passage through the lock which is to one side of the barrage can prove fairly exciting, not necessarily in a good way either!  We had a fairly easy time of it although it looks very daunting as you go in.  We were one of about 15 boats passing through the lock but under the control of the lock keeper.  It was all what you might describe as organised chaos, with lots of shouting and gesticulating between IMG_8743the lock keeper and the boat crews!!


We emerged safe and sound and put into the marina at Arzal where we spent two nights.

There really isn’t anything much to see at Arzal although it is an excellent place to keep your boat over the winter and has many marine facilities, such as rigging, chandlery, sails and engineering but no shops except for a tiny épicerie which was fine for emergencies but not for a big shop.  The marina office however was good with very friendly and helpful staff.

We put our bikes together and cycled to Pénestin – no ‘s’ in the pronouciation – which was the other side of the barrage, to the nearest supermarket to stock up, an 18km round journey which seemed to cause much amusement to the marina staff who clearly thought we were mad Brits! We also cycled along the riverside on the other side of the river from where we were moored, at Camoël. the terrain was fairly rough and probably more of a a walking route than a cycle route but it was fun anyway and gave us another view of the beautiful river!

7th August – Rieux

We left the marina at Arzal and set off for Rieux a distance of approximately 15 nautical miles.  The river is stunning with it’s high wooded and rocky embankments on either side.

Beautiful scenery!

We did try to sail but it was difficult with very little wind to get us going.  However, as we rounded one of the many bends we decided to challenge ourselves by trying to catch up with a little french sailing boat which was ahead of us!  We eventually overhauled him, which we should have done as he was half the size of us, longer water line etc!  Of course we were constricted by depth and so could only make short tacks and even some of those were hairy as we seemed to be getting very close to the shore and ROCKS before we ‘went about’. The frenchman could use the whole width of the river but we could see that we were making him ‘nervous’ and he took a risk by trying to thread his way through some buoyed moorings where he became entangled and that was his undoing! 

By the time he had extricated himself we were ahead of him in the distance!!  Haha, just a bit of sport and I wish I had a photo to put up but we were too busy racing for that!  We then realised of course that if we persevered with sailing it would be an exceedingly long day and besides we had swing bridge to negotiate and wanted to make one of the openings sooner rather than later!

Le Pont du Cran – safely through!

We made it in good time and it opened just as we approached.  We had another few miles to go to Rieux but these are some of the scenes we witnessed en route.  I have never seen so many herons and egrets, it was amazing and they were so bold too unlike the ones we are used to seeing.  We could motor quite close and they remained stock still!

Local fishing for Eels 

When we arrived at Rieux it was quite busy but there was room for us to raft up against another British boat!  They couldn’t have been more friendly and before we knew it we were enjoying a beer with them.  Later we were invited to a barbecue which was great fun and so nice to be included.

During the evening and the following evening, and we understood it would be continuing until 15th August, we were entertained by an ambulatory theatre spectacle called “Le Supplice du Chantal”!  written by Hubert Ben Kemoun. It was about the “torture of Chantal” who got off a train one summer’s evening in search of a drunkard named John Dulin. Why?

The cast on a barge!

It was almost burlesque-like and we only caught glimpses of it as each scene took place in a different part of Rieux – on the river, in a field, at the castle, in the woods etc.  Very droll and totally confusing and we couldn’t find anyone who could tell us what was really going on and why it had to be ‘on the move’  Perhaps it was because of Chantal’s search everywhere for Dulin? Who knows?

The pontoon at Rieux and the church up in the village

8th August – Redon

The river Vilaine passes through the centre of Redon where it forms a watery crossroads with the Nantes – Brest Canal by means of a lock system. Because it used to be a salt water river it was obviously subject to the rise and fall of the tides, hence the lock system which enabled commercial traffic to keep flowing.  However, with the completion of the Barrage at Arzal, the locks now remain permanently open.

The yacht basin at Redon

Redon was previously a large commercial trading centre but, as with many such places nowadays and the growth of road transport, the industry which used to use the river and canal system here in Redon has died and given way to tourism.  The river and canal sections at Redon are now used mainly for visiting yachtsmen who are often passing through on their way up to St Malo or down to the Bay of Biscay or even to Brest or Nantes.


We cycled Redon via a riverside cycle route , one of the many such facilities in France which make our exploration of places very enjoyable.  Evidence of the towns trading history are the properties alongside the yacht basin which used to be businesses of all kinds with their warehouses at street level but are now mainly riverside restaurants.  Further into the town we came to the Abbey church of Saint Sauvuer which is huge and austere, which appeared to make it not very welcoming.

The Abbey church of Saint Sauveur at Redon

There were some pretty cobbled streets with very old half timbered buildings which remindedus that Redon was once an old market town as well as the trades at the waterside.

The half timbered buildings and cobbled streets!

I think that you can see that it was not the best of days to be sight-seeing!  We did our best between showers but then beat a hasty retreat back to Rieux and Musetta before we got another dousing!

9th – 11th – Foleux

Morning at Rieux

A beautiful day dawned! It was time to retrace our steps down river and to visit Foleux but not before we had spent one night at anchor just down river from Foleux at a place called Péaule.  It was magical and we got in as close to the shore as we could and just chilled watching the world go by!

Peace and tranquility at anchor!

Early morning on the river at Foleux

The next day we went to the marina at Foleux for one night.  The marina, unusually, is on both sides of the river with a rowing dory to get between the two parts!  We were given a place on the Capitainerie side and so no need to take the dory but we did notice that it was well used!  Our mooring was odd to say the least as we were about 6 or 8 feet longer than the boated we were moored against and we stuck right out into the gap between the pontoons?!  We were ok though, nobody hit us thankfully!

You can just see Musetta’s nose protruding in front of the red hulled boat on the right of this photo?

Foleux is very bijou, like most places are on the Vilaine and we very much enjoyed our short stay there.  It is only very small but has a vibrant restaurant in front of the pontoons and on the Thursday we were there we were entertained by a live traditional jazz band who played from dusk until midnight in the garden of the restaurant and who were excellent!

Château Léhélec

Apart from gentle pace of life at the marina another attraction is the walking.  During the afternoon we took a long walk along the river and then inland  to take in the Chateau de Léhélec which happened to be open to the public during our stay. We seemed to be the only people visiting the château that day but we were warmly welcomed by the current incumbent, The Viscount Marc Le Mintier.  It was a beautiful château with lovely grounds but we thought lacked colour?  Perhaps the cost of the upkeep of the château didn’t run to flowers or flowering shrubs?

11th – 21st August Le Roche Bernard

By contrast, here was a town that was so picturesque and colourful….

La Roche Bernard


The ‘lavoir’ within the walled town.

As you can see by the length of time we have been moored here, Alan has had a week at home attending business meetings!  This of meant that I have been ‘home alone’ on board Musetta but was no hardship at all because La Roche Bernard is so quaint and lovely.  I had a great time exploring it all!

The streets and Le Ty Cosy where had a delicious meal!

The small town is very pretty and high above the port and it’s fortified remains.  Wandering round the quaint streets with all their nooks and crannies linked by stone steps going off in all directions was a joy, if rather taxing on the lungs!!  In the 19th century the port became very prosperous due to it’s prominent position on the river, being the first largish settlement you come to after entry into the river.  Prior to this in the 17th century La Roche Bernard was a centre for building warships.  However, the commercial side of the port is now finished and tourism has come to the fore and it is a very attractive destination for visiting ‘yachties’,like us!

Views of the old port.

There are all kinds of water sport activities to be found and with no tides, just the wind to contend with it’s a paradise for children and adults alike to go out to play! From the Quai St-Antoine it is possible to board a boat for a river trip or a tourist train which takes you around the town and gives a running commentary en route.

The yellow vedette boat and the tourist train!

If the water is not to your liking then there are some beautiful walks here too.  In particular the ‘Sentier des Ponts which is nearly 6km long and takes you across the river twice!

Views from the “Sentier des Ponts”

There is a market on a Thursday which is centred around the church, L’Église Saint-Michel, and is a hive of activity and it is possible to buy anything from fruit and vegs, cheese and meat to items of clothing and accessories but NO bread?  This might be be because there are very good boulangeries very close by and which remain open during market days!


L’Église Saint-Michel around which the weekly market is centred

The Bridges of La Roche Bernard

The Morbihan Bridge opened in 1996

In days gone by the Vilaine could only be crossed by boat and this could prove an extremely hazardous undertaking due to the vicious currents and the strong winds funnelling down the river when it was subject to the rise and fall of the tides.  This was obviously before the Barrage at Arzal was built.

The Viaduct suspension bridge built in 1839

The first bridge over the Vilaine was constructed in 1839.  It was a suspension bridge with two viaducts built out of stone and a wooden platform linking the two. The remains of this bridge are still visible today, just upstream of the new suspension bridge. In 1944 La Roche Bernard was occupied by the Germans and they had mined the river.  During a summer storm in that year a bolt of lightening hit one of the mines which exploded under the bridge and caused it’s collapse! A ferry system was reinstated!

The Passerelle Flottante d’Arromanche and the remnants of it remain today!

In 1948 the pontoon bridge from Arromanche which was used to land the troops on the Normandy beaches on D-Day was transported here and installed.  It remained in place for the next 12 years until a new suspension bridge was built to accommodate the ever increasing amounts of road traffic.  Even this bridge ultimately proved inadequate and so the new suspension bridge, The Morbihan Bridge, was opened in 1996.

The bridges at La Roche Bernard!

The latest version is in the foreground, next the stone remains of the viaduct bridge and beyond, in the distance is the 1960 bridge which I walked across on the arched walkway underneath the road during my exploration of the ‘Sentier des Ponts’!

Saturday 19th August – Alan is back!

We are now ready to move on.  The river Vilaine was just as beuatiful as we had been led to believe – and more, it has been a lovely experience!  We will head out of the river, passing the lock at Arzal and on to ‘pastures’ new.

However, I cannot end this post without mentioning four people who made my stay on board, on my own such fun! I experienced digging for clams at low water on the beach at La Pointe du Bile, I learned how to cook them and eat them (and moules too) thanks to this lovely couple of Belgian cruisers, Patrick and Hedwige who we first met in Vannes on their boat “Che”!

Patrick and Hedwige

Digging for my supper!

….. and another couple this time from Holland, Co and Jopie who were great fun and who we also first met in Vannes when they came on board with Patrick and Hedwige for an aperitif and have caught up with them again here on the Vilaine.  Jopie and I paddled round the market on Thursday in the horrid wet conditions and laughed a lot at our efforts to make the best of it all! 


  Co and Jopie on board “Heron”

No doubt our paths will cross again, if not this year then next!


À Bientôt!

7 thoughts on “5th – 21st August ~ The Vilaine River

  1. What an amazing trip you are having. Very different from our life here helping offspring to move and entertaining grandchildren!! Still just seen Bat out of Hell the Musical….a wonderful evening. Will I ever grow up?

    1. Yes, we’re very lucky!! I hope you’re not too exhausted by all your grandparenting duties Gay? So pleased you enjoyed the musical, that sounds fun! No need to grow up either by the way!! xx

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