with tips for cycling & hiking
Cycling in the Saône Valley
We were guilty as many people, in that we had in the past, swept by Chalon sur Saône, on our way to the guaranteed sunshine (and crowds and traffic) of the south and our experience in staying at sites on the river Saone, was that many people continue to do so, which is a great pity, as there are some very attractive towns and some great cycling .
Additionally the roads are quiet, as long as you avoid the A6, which on one weekend reported queues of 400km. The campsites are also quiet, that is until late afternoon when the overnighters pull in for their obligatory one night stop before proceeding to the south. In many cases the caravanners do not unhitch and sadly too often, do not venture to explore the nearby towns. Then miraculously in early morning they disappear for the cycle to continue the next day, whilst we continued our more leisurely cycle along the river valley.
The plan of action, in as such as there was one, was to drive south to Burgundy and to cycle the Canal du Bourgogne and to visit Chalon sur Saone and Tournus with a visit to Beaune and Macon. We did not make the latter two,though we came close to cycling to Macon and the Burgundy Canal, we did on the way back, as the weather was not so good on the way down.
We made an overnighter, well in fact two nights, at the municipal site at Chalons en Champagne. This is less than 4 hours from Calais and the town is very attractive and can easily be visited in an afternoon. The last time I visited the town was some 30 years ago when it was called Chalon sur Marne.
The canal of the same name runs close to the campsite and provides a very attractive half hour walk into the town via some very pleasant public gardens,Jard Anglais & the Grand Jard.
The town is famous for the invention of the 'muselet', the wire cage over the champagne cork, by Adolphe Jacquesson. The Jacqueeson champagne house was founded in 1798 by Memmie Jacquesson and claims to be the oldest independent champagne house, though the Jacquesson involvement ceased after the death of Adolphe.
The campsite, an ex municipal site, has had mixed reviews, mainly because its sanitary facilities are dated but they are perfectly clean and where else can you get a pitch with EHU, drainage & water on the pitch for 15 euros. Also there is a motorhome service point which is very spacious, though I managed to run over my waste pipe, which necessitated emergency repairs.
You can walk from the campsite along the canal into town.
The canal is still used by commercial traffic but is far from busy with boats.
We also cycled the canal to Vitry le Francois, which is about a 35 mile round trip, so is a great day's cycleride, passing through some quintisentially French villages,hugging the river Marne, before finishing in the classic town square where you can saver patisseries to revive you. Alternatively you can cycle in the other direction to Epernay.
We stayed at the campingsite, Pont de Bourgogne as it was within easy walking distance, along the river to the very picturesque medieval town centre, via the pedestrianised street, where many fine restaurants are located.
We got a great welcome and the pitches are of a generous size with water close by. I would suggest you use the pitches further away from the entrance to mitigate any noise from the road bridge and anyway the views of the river are better here. Though I would add, the bridge was a spectacular vantage point for the very impressive Bastille Day firework display.
The site has a dedicated motorhome service point but it is difficult to use for Brit vans with their LHS waste tanks. The sanitary block is modern and scupulously clean.
A visit to the tourist office is a must to pick up details of two superb green cycle routes,which can form the basis of two separate day cycle rides.
The first follows the Canal du Centre for 31km, from 3km north of Chalon Centre,(there are designated cycle routes in the town for most of the way to the entance to the voie vertes) to Saint Leger sur Dheune via the towns of Fragnes, Rully,Chagny,Remigny and Santenay.
There is superb restaurant, L'Escalle at Remigny, just past the bridge.
You can cycle as far as you like along the linear route but there are options of circular routes if you so wish.
The second Voie Verte, follows an old railway line from Chalon and continues to the outskirts of Mâcon, via a tunnel, 'Tunnel du Bois Clair' though in reality from Chalon, the town of Buxy is likely to be your limit, via the town of Givry, which is well worth a diversion to, it is only about half a mile from the old station at Givry. Also a detour to the town of Buxy is in order.
One of the old stations on the route, as a reminder of its past, now a private home
Buxy Station, now the tourist office.
Both Givry & Buxy offer opportunities for refreshments
Return via the river at Chalon
A short hop down the N6 takes you to the riverside town of Tournus. The reception at the campsite was fantastic, a friendly laid back attitude, pitch where you like, pay for one night and then anymore when you leave, just make sure you arrive before lunchtime, lunch is still sacrosanct. Again this is a stopover site, being even closer to the A6 and very popular with the Dutch and yes, some did not leave the campsite, even though the town centre is only 15 minutes away down the riverbank.
The town is not very large, it has a pleasant riverside setting and the piece de resistance is the Saint Philibert Abbey.
The town is also a popular stopping off point for the river cruisers, which ply up and down the river.
It is possible to cycle both directions along the riverbank, though in the direction of Chalon, after an intial paved section you will need an ATB as it is rough track for a lot of the way. I believe there are plans to construct a voie verte but these have not started yet.
In the other direction towards Mâcon, they were in the process of completing sections of the cycleway. When we asked about this in the tourist office we were told that because of the bad weather in March 2012, construction had been delayed and it was too dangerous.
Good job we chose to ignore her, health and safety gone mad. It was true there was heavy machinery and lorries carrying gravel but with common sense and the workers and us showing mutual understanding these were negotiated with no problems .
This is a fantastic cycleway as it hugs the river Saone all the way and you can go as far as you please. We never made Mâconbut came close.
It was whilst cycling along the river that we came across Camping D'Uchizy Le National
What we liked about this site is that we had a near perfect riverside location. It was also popular with French families who got their dinner from the river. We got ours from the supermarket at Tournus but felt quite virtuous, as for the first time, I used my new panniers to get the shopping by bike.
The toilet faciliies were a bit more basic but there was a good swimming pool and Pizzeria, but the position more than made up for it. Again it was a popular stopover.
This is the life,relaxing at D'Uchizy before leaving for the Burgundy Canal
Previously in 2012 we had attempted to ride from Tournus to Mâcon, in fact we were half an hour south at Camping Uchizy but only managed to get as far south as Fleurville, some 13 kilometres distant. In our defence they were in the process of completing sections of the route and we had to dodge construction traffic and in places the road was roughly laid.
A year later we turn up at the municipal campsite at Sance, just outside of Mâconfor our second attempt.
The campsite is well equipped with spacious pitches, in a pleasant parkland setting, with a number of them hedged off and at 22 euros, off season, reasonably priced, given that there was water and drainage on our pitch.
There is also an Auchan supermarket within walking distance for supplies and cheap diesel.
Mâcon is an attractive medieval town on the banks of the Saone, with its sister of St Laurent across the river and both can be reached by a pleasant half hour walk along the river bank. A walk through the town is very enjoyable.
Maison de bois. This Wooden House was built between 1490 and 1510, it is the oldest house in Mâcon, and its most famous.
Even before Mâcon existed, the Saône could be crossed via a ford. The Roman legions built a wooden bridge during the Gaul conquest, and the first stone bridge was erected in the 11th century. In the 16th century the bridge was extended.
The Saint-Laurent Bridge was one of the few bridges of the region that were not destroyed during the Second World War. .
For the cycle ride from Mâcon, you turn left outside of the campsite and left again and the cycle route, which is part of the Voie Bleu is directly in front of you.
The first part of the cycle ride is paved asphalt but the second part to FLeurville is also a superb hard surface so it is an absolute doddle to cycle. The distance to the bridge at Fleurville is 17km ,(10.5 miles) and the further section to Tournus is 13km (8 miles) and this section is now complete and is primarily a compacted gravel surface, so it is easy to ride.
The cycle ride along the Saône is simply blissful with its numerous fishermen, river traffic of barges, passenger cruisers and smaller craft and countless wildlife of cattle egrets, buzzards, kites and kingfishers to name a few. Also one should not forget the cattle grazing lazily on the lush river meadows. Along the bank there are information boards describing the river past and present and also reminding us of its devastating force, when it floods to quite awesome levels, which is difficult to imagine, as you cycle carelessly along on a bright sunny day.
There are a couple of restaurants on route on the riverbank if you want to build in a lunch stop or alternatively take a picnic. The first is just outside of Mâcon and the second is just outside of Uchizy. Lunch at a restaurant is remarkable value in France and normally is of excellent quality.
It is possible to pick up the Chalon, Buxy,Mâcon voie verte at Charnay Les Mâcon, but it is situated a few miles outside of Mâcon
This Voie Verte follows the old railway line from Chalon Sur Saône to Mâcon and was one of France's first. If you are feeling more adventurous you can tackle the whole of the 'Blue Route' which follows the whole of the river Saône.