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Wonderful Waterways: The Rivers of Northern France

France is a stunning country with rivers, lakes, streams and canals. They've inspired artists, writers and nature lovers throughout the centuries.

In addition, these waterways have long been a draw for holidaymakers of all types. Whether you're interested in a spot of freshwater swimming, some alone time fishing on the banks of a lake or exploring the many hiking and biking trails nearby.

Of course, ancient settlements have also long sprung up on the banks of rivers – making natural waterways an excellent opportunity to explore some fascinating history.

Today, we're exploring five of the principal rivers of Northern France and some fantastic nearby campsites.

Seine River flowing through Paris, past the iconic Eiffel Tower
Seine River flowing through Paris, past the iconic Eiffel Tower

Seine

At 777 kilometres long, the Seine is one of France's longest rivers; its name is synonymous with the French capital.

Rising about 30 kilometres northwest of Dijon, it flows northwest through some beautiful medieval towns in Champagne. This mighty river runs through the centre of the French capital, with 37 bridges crossing its waters in the city alone.

Great for: fishing

If you're hoping for a fishing holiday, try Camping Sandaya Paris Maisons-Laffitte. It's located on the banks of the Seine (just a 20-minute train ride from Paris) on a beautiful grassy, tree-covered site. There's fishing available onsite, with direct river access.

Church and cliff reflecting in river Meuse, Dinant
Church and cliff reflecting in river Meuse, Dinant. Belgium

Meuse

The Meuse is 925 kilometres long and flows through Belgium, the Netherlands and France.

The French Meuse River valley is delightful. It boasts historic villages, fields, forests, limestone rock formations, and all the nature trails an outdoor adventurer could wish for.

The name "meuse" derives from the Latin word "mosa", meaning maze. It whimsically references the waterway's many meandering twists and turns.

Great for: walking and cycling

If you love exploring trails and paths, look no further than Camping Municipal les Bateaux. Located on the banks of the Meuse river, the entire area is fantastic for hiking and biking. There's an excellent walking path stretching along the river's edge.

Therdonne of the river Thérain, tributary of the Oise
Therdonne of the river Thérain, tributary of the Oise

Oise

The River Oise appears from its source in the Belgian province of Hainaut before flowing into the Seine just northwest of Paris. It's 341 kilometres long, giving its name to the French departments of Oise and Val-D'Oise.

Historically, the Oise was a crucial inland shipping waterway – connecting Paris with the coastal regions of the Netherlands, Belgium and France.

Great for: lake and river swims

If wild swimming is your thing, why not explore Camping de l'Abbatiale in the heart of the Oise valley? It's a small traditional campsite boasting a nearby lake for swimming, fishing, boating, you name it. The banks of the River Oise are also just a short walk away. So jump in.

Wine village of Piesporter, Germany
Wine village of Piesporter, Germany

Moselle

The Moselle (Mosel in German) is a sweeping, wide river that rises in the Vosges mountains in Eastern France. It flows through north-eastern France and Luxembourg before making its way into western Germany.

At 546 kilometres, the Moselle flows through many ancient towns and villages in France's Lorraine region. Indeed, the Roman historian Tacitus first described the river, which remains a significant waterway today.

Great for: town and country

Camping Municipal de Metz-Plage is a smart choice if you're exploring all Lorraine has to offer. Despite a picturesque setting on the banks of the Moselle river (with boat launches nearby), it's also a short walk into Metz city centre. Take advantage of the beautiful Pompidou-Metz Art Centre while you're there.

Sunrise on the mouth of the Somme River
Sunrise on the mouth of the Somme River

Somme

At 245 kilometres, the Somme is one of the shorter rivers on this list – but it's a river with massive historical significance. Rising near Saint-Quentin, the river flows to the Bay of the Somme in the English Channel.

The River Somme also featured in many prominent military campaigns. William the Conqueror's invasion fleet gathered at the Bay of the Somme in 1066. Most famously, the Battle of the Somme during World War One also occurred by the river, resulting in more than a million casualties.

Great for: history and nature

If you're fascinated by the history of northern France, why not try the well-managed Camping Airotel Le Walric (at Saint-Valery-sur-Somme)? As well as World War One history, the Bay of the Somme is also fascinating for bird watchers. It boasts some of the most diverse birdlife in France.

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