The Canal du Centre winds its way through the picturesque French region of Burgundy. It’s a man-made waterway that, when opened in 1790, completed the final piece of the puzzle in the first inland waterway to link the Mediterranean with the English Channel.
In its early days, the canal provided a route to transport firewood, coal, building materials, wine and pottery to Paris. Today it is a popular route for barge holidays in France and provides a delightful way to explore the Burgundian countryside.
The Canal du Centre
The route of the canal runs between the Loire and the Saône, connecting the two rivers and thus creating an unbroken route between the Mediterranean and Atlantic Oceans. The 73 mile-long waterway is served by 61 locks and over its course from Saône rises to an altitude of 300m, before dropping down to flow into the Loire at Digoin. It twists and curves its way elegantly through the landscape, through thick woods, open fields, the renowned wine producing Côte Chalonnaise area, and a host of charming villages.
While an impressive feat of engineering, the canal caused few of the challenges of the other man-made waterways in Burgundy – despite interruptions by the Revolution and huge floods during its construction. It was designed by Émiland Gauthey and took around a decade to complete. The finished canal rejuvenated the region, with the settling of towns and villages along its banks.
At the time of its construction the mining region of Blanzy-Montceau was flourishing, as were the factories and foundries of Le Creusot and Gueugnon. The entire region became an important commercial centre and the waterway was used to transport huge quantities of iron, bricks, tiles and other locally produced construction materials. In the 1950s part of the original channel was filled in to make way for a road and replaced by an alternative cut a little further north, shortening it by around a mile and reducing the number of locks.
Today the canal is virtually free from commercial vessels, making it an ideal choice for operators offering barge holidays in France.
Attractions en Route
As with all barge cruises, the pace is a leisurely one along the length of the Canal du Centre as it passes through the bucolic landscape of Burgundy. The attraction is, of course, in the journey itself, but there are plenty of highlights on dry land along the way.
The town of Chalon-sur- Saône offers an authentic slice of traditional life; its traditional cobbled streets are lined with beautiful Baroque architecture and the half-timbered medieval houses for which the region is renowned. Further along the canal, the wonderful Château de Chamirey is a working winery, and a visit to explore its vineyard, historic production site and beautifully preserved buildings is must. Constructed in the eighteenth century, the château's elegant Italian architecture and exquisite gardens provide the perfect backdrop for the vineyard and can be explored on a guided tour.
Once among the busiest commercial waterways in the country, the canal now serves as one of the most picturesque routes through the popular wine-producing region of Burgundy for barge holidays in France.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury barge holidays in France and other great destinations in Europe. 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.