The Canal de Bourgogne in Burgundy is often revered as one of the nicest canals to navigate in France, with beautiful scenery that features charming French houses and colourful greenery. There are lots of historical sites to visit along the way too, including cathedrals, abbeys and markets.
Length and Route
This 242-kilometre-long waterway connects Burgundy to Paris. If you want to expore the canal on a barge holiday in France, I would recommend travelling on the Saône Tiver from Saint Jean de Losne to Dijon, before winding down towards Monereau, passing through Yvonne, to finally reach the Seine.
History and Feats of Engineering
Conceptualised in the seventeenth century, this canal is an incredibly well thought-out chef d’oeuvre of engineering, perfect for your barge holiday in France. The waterway opened in 1832 and took over 50 years to build. It features 127 locks, the most impressive of which is at Pouilly-en-Auxois. This lock is continuously filled by an underground reservoir via a tunnel system; it serves as a watershed from which the water flows both towards Dijon in the south and towards Migennes in the north.
The canal boasts many ingenious features. Its best one, though, is the tunnel which links the Pouilly-en-Auxois lock with the small port of Escommes. It is a very narrow two-and-a-half-mile-long underground passageway that was dug out from the rock in the early nineteenth century. Even today, it remains an essential connection between the north and south of France.
Attractions en Route
The great thing about a barge holiday in France is that the canal wends its way through a number of beautiful French cities, giving you time to explore their history and soak in a little local culture. Cruising along the Canal de Bourgogne allows you to explore the Northern and Southern areas of the region.
In the north, be sure to visit the Abbaye de Fontenay. Though founded in the early 1100s, its structure has been incredible well-maintained with its cloisters, scriptorium and dormitories still intact. It’s a breathtaking piece of architecture, and now that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, even its gardens and ponds retain their original glory.
As you travel further down south, you’ll want to visit the monumental Notre-Dame de Dijon. It’s a Gothic-style church with an ornamented façade that boasts gorgeous columns and archways, as well as the typical gargoyles. Inside, you’ll find lovely colourful stain-glass paintings. Both edifices are an unmissable time capsule, the first providing unrivalled insight into Cistercian life and industry, while the second lets you revisit French Catholic practices.
If you have time, you should also stroll through Dijon’s market. It wouldn’t be a barge holiday in France without sampling French wines, local cheeses and artisanal breads. There are also pâté and terrine stalls that are worth a visit, as well as local delicacies like snails on offer. Make sure to try Dijon’s famous mustard and take some back with you as a souvenir. It’s a real treat for the tastebuds!
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury itineraries for a barge holiday in France and other great destinations. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.