This beautiful canal is just over 55 km long, and runs from the town of Roanne to the town of Digoin, where it joins the Canal Latéral à Loire. We'll begin at its southern end at the large basin in Roanne, Saône-et-Loire, a substantial town which had a population of 34,415 in 2020.
We exit the basin through Lock 1, passing some large, modern industrial units, before going under Route Nationale 7, passing an arm on the left, then some well tended allotments, and some further industrial areas, before leaving Roanne behind and emerging into beautiful unspoilt countryside.
The first part of the canal runs parallel to the River Loire, and is largely rural, with only the gentlest of hills, but plenty of fields and woodlands. Continuing north, we wind our way past the tiny hamlet of Guyonnet, after which we go through Lock 2 (Cornillon), then another little hamlet, Maltaverne, then Lock 3 (Briennon).
Before long, we reach Briennon itself. It's a sprawling suburban style village. There is not a lot here in the way of character, but this is certainly a beautifully kept village with good facilities. Beside the canal, there is a lovely wharf area with moorings, and beside this, you'll find a large canalside restaurant, and a 'péniche' barge which has been converted into a museum.
After lots more countryside we reach the tiny agricultural hamlet of Outre Loire. From here a road reads over the Loire to Iguerande. The new part of the village on the Grande Rue is not especially inspiring, but the cluster of old buildings up the hill is rather picturesque and provides excellent views across the countryside as well as a lovely little museum of local life, the Musée Reflet Brionnais.
Back to the canal we continue north through farmland, past the little hamlet of Les Galands, and the moorings at Port de Melay, eventually arriving at the sweet hamlet of Artaix, which is set on a slight rise to the west of the canal. It once had a shop, but I'm pretty sure there are none open there today. A little to the north of Artaix you'll find a large wharf-like area with a campsite at its side. I suspect that this was once used for trans-shipment, as there is a lane running from here to Le Port, an old ferry crossing on the Loire. Returning to the canal and continuing north, we reach Lock 4 (Artaix), Lock 5 (Montgrailloux), and Lock 6 (Chambilly).
Chambilly has a wharf area, now overlooked by Amefo SAS, a surprisingly large engineering company. It really is a rather anomalous place, considering all the rural land around it. Behind their buildings, between the canal and the Loire, you'll find the little village of Chambilly, which boasts a handful of shops and restaurants, including its own wine merchant and boulangerie. I suspect that the industry and the road links passing through the village affect the quality of life here.
Back on the canal we continue through more farmland dotted with grazing sheep, until we reach Lock 7 (Bourg-le-Comte). The little village of Bourg-le-Comte is just to the west of the canal. Most of the village, including the boulangerie, is strung out along one road, with the church and a few more buildings set a little higher on the crest of the hill.
West of Bourg-le-Comte the canal crosses the border from Saône-et-Loire into Allier, and eventually reaches the hamlet of Luneau, no more than a cluster of well-kept houses and farm buildings and a small canalside camping area. Soon after this the canal leaves the Loire. Eventually we reach Lock 8 (Chassenard). Chassenard is off to the east of the canal, and it's a pleasant little village with a restaurant and a church, but little else.
A little further north, just 4km from Digoin, we reach Lock 9 (des Beugnets) where there is a largely modern hamlet of pavillons and some smart detached houses and bungalows. These have some lovely views over the canal, but there are no facilities. The A79 passes over the canal, and we continue on through Lock 10 (les Bretons). Les Bretons is a hamlet with no facilities, which sprawls over both sides of the canal, just before it meets the Canal Latéral à Loire at a T-junction.
Turn right here (or should I say starboard?) and you cruise back over the border into Saône-et-Loire over the Loire via an aquaduct, and through Digoin Lock into the centre of Digoin, quite a large town with a population of 7,616 in 2020. It has quite an impressive marina in the central basin, an attractive church, and a good number of shops and facilities, but sadly I don't feel that it has a great deal of character.
Overall I would say that this canal is an absolutely beautiful one to cruise, but for my tastes, I don't think it offers a lot in the way of property buying options. My favourite villages are Briennon, if you don't mind modern, and Iguerande if you prefer a small hamlet in a rural setting with some interesting history. Do you agree with me?