le Canal du Centre

The Centre Canal

Le Canal du Centre

The Centre Canal is part of the canaux du Centre (Central France canals) network. This idyllic water crosses Burgundy with its vineyards and pastures dotted with the famous white Charolais cattle.

The waterway connects la Saône to le canal latéral à la Loire.

Navigation on the Centre Canal starts at Chalon-sur-Saône and ends at Digoin.

Construction began in 1784 and ended in 1792.

The Centre Canal is 112.00 kilometres long (69.59 miles) with a total of 112.00 kilometres of navigable waterway.

There is a total of 61 locks, with an average of 1 lock every 1.84 kilometres (1.14 miles).

The highest point on the Centre Canal is 301.00 metres (987′ 6″ ft) above sea level and the lowest point is at 179.00 metres (587′ 3″ ft) above sea level.

From Chalon-sur-Saône to Digoin

The water draft is 1.80 metres (5′ 11″ ft) and the air draft is 3.50 metres (11′ 6″ ft).

Lock 34bis Chalon-sur-Saône

This is a "Large Freycinet" lock.
Lock length 40.00 metres (131′ 3″ ft)
Lock width 6.00 metres (19′ 8″ ft)

General lock size

There are 60 "Freycinet" locks
Lock length 39.00 metres (127′ 11″ ft)
Lock width 5.20 metres (17′ 1″ ft)

Barges cruising on the Centre Canal

Name Itinerary Passengers
Finesse From St Julien-sur-Dheune to St Jean-de-Losne 8 View the itinerary
La Vie en Rose Saint Julien-sur-Dheune to Seurre 6 View the itinerary

Self-drive boats cruising on the Centre Canal

Fleet Cruise route
Locaboat The Canal du Centre View the Locaboat boats
Le Boat Nivernais View the Le Boat boats
Le Boat The Loire canal & Briare canal View the Le Boat boats
Nicols Loire & Briare canals View the Nicols boats
France Passion Plaisance The Loire canal & Briare canal View the France Passion Plaisance boats
France Passion Plaisance River Saone View the France Passion Plaisance boats
Locaboat Rivers Saône & Doubs View the Locaboat boats
Locaboat The Loire and Briare canals View the Locaboat boats
France Passion Plaisance Canal du Centre View the France Passion Plaisance boats
Le Boat Burgundy, Franche-Comte, Vosges View the Le Boat boats

What forms today the canal network of central France is the result of an aggregate of canals built throughout the centuries to answer the needs of their time. During the last years of the French Ancien Régime, before the Revolution, there were plans to build a triple junction between the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and the Channel. Although these plans were not feasible at the time, authorities considered two projects. One would join the Saône to the Loire, the other the Saône to the Yonne. The former was eventually agreed on and became the Centre Canal, then also known as the Canal du Charolais, while the latter had to wait several decades to become reality (the Burgundy Canal).

In 1784, the local government authorized the construction of the Charolais Canal under the supervision of Burgundian engineer and architect Emiland Gauthey. Gauthey’s project seemed more realisable than the Burgundy one. With 114 kilometres and 80 locks, it would be a faster and cheaper build. The only difficulty was ensuring a sufficient supply of water, but Gauthey managed to overcome all these difficulties in a considerably short time. It only took ten years to complete the canal, which became one of the last major construction undertaken before the Revolution. By then, the new government changed its name to the canal du Centre as Charolais was too reminiscent of the names of feudal provinces.

The canal proved to be relatively successful for almost 150 years. From Châlon-sur-Saône to Digoin, barges filled with black coal cruised through Burgundy to join the Loire. However, the completion of the Burgundy Canal in 1832 created a serious concurrence. Mariners preferred the Burgundy route to join the Seine, as navigation was considerably easier and cheaper because the water was better distributed. The Centre Canal went through major transformations to the Becquey gauge, and then to Freycinet. Today, it links the River Saône to the Loire Lateral Canal, then the Briare and Loing canals to the Seine. It also has a connection to the Canal du Nivernais.

Until the second half of the 20th century, it retained an important status as a communication route to deliver goods to the region of Paris, mostly roof tiles and other construction materials. As commercial navigation seriously decreased, the Centre Canal became one of the waterway jewels of France. It is a quiet and peaceful canal leading tourists to beautiful countryside, pretty towns and villages surrounded by vineyards or pastures.


  • Bouron, Suzanne (1932), « Les voies navigables françaises de Bourgogne et du Centre » in Annales de géographies, n°230, pp. 188-96.
  • Desaunais, A. (1931), « La navigation intérieure française et le Rhône depuis 1928 » in Géocarrefour, n°7-3, 314-18.
  • Desaunais, A. (1940), « L’utilisation des voies navigables dans le bassin de la Loire » in Géocarrefour, n°16-2, 105-17.
  • (s.d.), « Le canal du Centre » in Projet Babel [Online].

More details about The Central Canal region