Cycling The Burgundy Canal for 100€ A Day

If you’re looking for the perfect deviation for an upcoming trip to Paris, look no further than Burgundy, specifically the Burgundy Canal.  One of my favorite starting points along the canal is Montbard, just over 1 hour, but light years from busy Paris.  Just a few steps from the train station you can rent a bike and quickly immerse yourself in Burgundian history, enjoy cycling along car-free bike paths, eat local Burgundy specialities, and visit picture-perfect medieval towns all at a fraction of the cost of one day in Paris.  Bicycling along the Burgundy Canal is one of my favorite itineraries in France.

Early Evening Along the Canal

Construction on the Burgundy Canal, began during the reign of Louis XVI and took 67 years to complete. The canal provided a navigable route to connect northern and southern France, and proved to be an important factor in the modernization of France.

The locks in action

There are 209 locks along the full length of the canal and watching them in operation is an incredible sight.  If you are traveling with kids, watching the locks in action is sure to be a highlight of the trip. If you would like to learn a bit more about the mechanics of the canal lock system, take a look at this animation at Burgundy-Canal.

Lockkeeper’s House Along Canal

The wide and flat canal towpaths were once mule paths used to pull barges along the canal.  Cycling along the canal is safe, even for families with children. The itinerary along the canal is dirt and gravel, so you definitely will need a hybrid or mountain bike.

Dirt and gravel paths along the canal

Cycling on the gravel and dirt paths is slower than cycling on solid surfaces, so be sure to plan your mileage accordingly, especially if you are carrying your own panniers.  Also be sure to have a spare tube and bike repair kit and know how to use it. Odds are you will never have a flat when you are near a repair shop.  At least I never do.

Bike repair

Migennes is the starting point for the itinerary, but there is no easy train service from Paris. I prefer starting in Montbard, which has TGV service from Paris in just over 1 hour.  If you are already in Dijon, you can hop on a train at Dijon Ville and be in Montbard in 36 minutes on a regional express.  My favorite long weekend itinerary is Montbard to Dijon at 112 km, allowing time for deviations to Fontenay Abbey and Flavigny-sur-Ozerain or Semur-en-Auxois.

Deviations from the Canal

Bicycling along the Burgundy Canal has become a lot more attractive in the last year   thanks to a new bike rental service from Veli Bourgogne.  Similar to Detours de Loire bike rental service along the Loire, with Veli Bourgogne, you can pick up/drop off your bicycle at one of a dozen locations along the Burgundy Canal including Migennes, Montbard and Dijon.

Train stations where you can rent bikes from Veli Bourgogne

The service uses Giant all-terrain bikes and a three day weekend rental picking up Friday and returning on Sunday is 45 Euro.  A seven day rental is 99 Euro.  For the time being you will need to use Google Translate to use the site, but the bike rental services they offer are well worth it.

Another service available to cyclists along the Burgundy Canal is a very efficient and affordable luggage transfer service offered by BagTransfert.  Bags can be transported between the following cities along the Canal:  Migennes, Brienon, Auxerre, Tonnere, St. Florentin, Thunder, Ancy, Montbard, Venarey, Semur, Flavigny, Pouilly, Vandeness, Dijon, Beaune, Santenay, as well as many intermediate villages.  Luggage can be transported to hotels, B and B’s, private homes, campgrounds as well as local tourist offices, which is nice in case you don’t have a reservation yet for the night!

The luggage transfer service is available from May to September (contact each spring for exact dates) and is very easy to use.  Just go to the website, www.bagtransfert.com, and make your reservation by 5:oo p.m. the night before.  Provide the pickup and drop off locations and date of transfer. Pay for the luggage transfer online, in advance with Visa or Mastercard.  You will receive a bag tag to place on your luggage.  Leave your bag at the pick up location by 9:00 a.m. and it will be delivered to your destination by 5:00 p.m.  It is also possible to arrange for transfers in advance before leaving the States by contacting Laurent Richoux at info@bagtransfert.com and providing him with your itinerary and your credit card information. Laurent speaks great English and is very quick to respond to inquiries.  The cost of this service is 8Euro/bag.  There is a 20% discount for groups and families.

Other than great train service from Paris, easy bicycle pick up/drop off and an affordable luggage transfer service, why else would you choose the Burgundy Canal as a bicycling destination?  Because the route is full of more cultural, historic and religious attractions that you can squeeze into your schedule, great food, gorgeous surroundings and the beautiful city of Dijon at the end!  Here is just a sampling of attractions:

This perfectly preserved Cistercian Abbey was founded by Saint Bernard in 1118. The Abbey of Fontenay is one of the oldest Cistercian monasteries in Europe and one of the best examples of Romanesque style.  The monastery was plundered during the Hundred Year War, and then was closed during the French Revolution and subsequently converted to a paper mill. In 1906 it was purchased by the Aynard family who painstakingly restored it to its original splendor.

The Abbey at Fontenay

All of the rooms have been perfectly restored except for the refectory which was destroyed.  In 1981, the Abbey was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of 23 such sites in France.  A visit to the Abbey at Fontenay would certainly be a highlight of a bike trip to Burgundy.

Chateauneuf-en-Auxois is recognized as one of the most beautiful villages in France.  It’s castle and fortress date back to the late 12th century and was once an important stopping point on the pilgrimage route through the region. It is best known for the castle in the town – the Chateau de Chateauneuf-en-Auxois. The castle and surrounding village developed in the 12th – 15th centuries (the original castle dates from 1132) and many of the houses to be seen date from that time.

Chateauneuf-en-Auxois from the canal

The fortified town Flavigny-sur-Ozerain is regarded as one of the most beautiful villages of Burgundy.  Best known in recent times as the town where the movie Chocolat was filmed, Flavigny is steeped in history and at one time was one of the most powerful towns in Burgundy.  Today, it is a sleepy village with mostly day visitors to the 8th century Benedictine Abbey and the Crypt of Sainte Reine.

Gates of Flavigny

The fortunate ones are those who stay when the crowds leave.  It is a steep uphill climb of about 3 km to reach this hilltop town, but well worth it.

Flavigny’s famous anise candies

Alesia is where modern France was born.  The battle of Alesia in 52 BC was the turning point in the history of France when Julius Caesar defeated Vercingetorix, the leader of the Gauls.  Several hundred thousand Gauls fought tens of thousands of Romans in a battle that is thought to have lasted more than six weeks.  Ultimately Vercingetorix surrendered to save his people.  As a Roman province, the region stabilized and became educated, Latin was taught, the culture developed and modern day France was born. Earlier this year, a new museum park opened at Alesia which documents the battle of Alesia, including displays of weaponry, clothing, logistics, strategies of the Gallic and Roman armies, and in the cinema, you can watch a reenactment of the battle.

Museum at Alesia

Outdoors there is a reconstruction of the Roman fortifications.  In the area surrounding the museum, there is an archeological area containing remains of the old Roman forum and temple.  The museum is open from April to November.

Note that Flavigny-sur-Ozerain and Alesia are part of a 25 km deviation loop that includes Bussey-Rabutin, Alise-Sainte-Reine (Alesia) and Flavigny-sur-Ozerain.  You return via the canal from Pouillenay.  Flavigny or Alise-Sainte-Reine are perfect choices to spend the night after visits to area attractions.

The Ouche Valley is spectacular, and from a bike it is even more incredible.  From Pont-d’Ouche, this valley is one beautiful village after another:  Veuvey-sur-Ouche, La Bussiere-sur-Ouche, Barbirey sur Ouche and its castle, and Pont de Pany, each unique and well worth a visit, and a perfect choice for lunch or a picnic.  The Ouche Valley is also full of peaceful cycle path deviations, making it a perfect choice for weekend exploration.

Cycle routes in the Ouche Valley

If you only have time for a weekend bike trip from Dijon, it would be well worth it to consider a weekend bike excursion from Dijon to this beautiful valley.  Since this area is so popular with local French cyclists, the hotels and B&B’s in this area tend to be more expensive than other towns/villages along the Canal.

The ancient and modern capital of Burgundy, Dijon is one of the most beautiful cities in France.  Visit the Duke’s palace and noble houses.  Enjoy strolling on pedestrian-only city streets.  Explore ancient alleyways and half-timbered buildings.  Either at the beginning or the end of your trip you are definitely going to want to spend time in this capital of Burgundy.

Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy in Dijon

The Canal is sprinkled with small towns and villages, both along the canal and in the hills.  It is possible to find very affordable lodging in either location.  The most affordable choices are generally in gites or B&B’s.  A complete list of lodging options along the route can be found at the Burgundy by Bike website.  On my last trip along the Canal, I stayed at L’Ange Souriant in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain and my room was 67€ for 2 people, including tax and breakfast.

L’Ange Souriant in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain

I understand that the wonderful woman who ran the gite has since left, and the reviews have been mixed.  Another new location in the village is Couvent Des Castafours where a room for 2 people including breakfast is 65€.  English is spoken.

Bicycling toward Dijon, there are numerous affordable gites and small hotels where you can stay for under 60€/night.  In Bellenot-sous-Pouilly, 2 km from Pouilly-en-Auxois, Le Clos de la Perdrix has a double room for 60€/night.  In the charming town of Pouilly-en-Auxois, the Hotel de la Poste has double rooms from 58-66€/night, depending on the time of year.  There are plenty of affordable restaurants and cafes in town also, making it easier to stay within a tight budget.  If you want to splurge, the hotel offers a four course menu of the day for 25€.  The town also has one of the best bicycle shops along the Burgundy Canal.  In Crugey, the gite Le Pre Vert has a double room for 55-65€/night including breakfast, and offers a five course dinner with a bottle of wine for 23€/per person.  The closer you get to Dijon, the more expensive the lodging options become.  If you are looking for something very unique, there are even houseboats along the Canal that offer lodging for the night!

A unique lodging option

One of my favorite ways to save money on any bicycle trip is buying lunch supplies at the local market or the supermarket for a picnic lunch.  We normally spend under 10Euro/day for lunch for two.  We also spend several Euro/day for water, as I get really thirsty on the bike.  One day during our trip, we discovered that the local supermarket was making Boeuf Bourgogne, so we bought two servings of it along with a bottle of red wine, a baguette, and two tarte au citron for 16€!  It was without question one of the best dinners of our trip, and certainly our favorite dinner picnic.  We did splurge one night for dinner, but the other three days, we had no problem staying very close to our 100€ budget.

Bicycling along the Burgundy Canal is an incredible experience.  Whether you have a week or a long weekend, whether you are biking in France by yourself or with your family, this route has it all:  history, castles, abbeys, knights in shining armour, small medieval towns, great food, great wine and of course, the incredible lock system.  The fact that you can enjoy all of these things and do it affordably is just an additional benefit in my book.

 

Posted by Maggie LaCoste

I love the adventure and unpredictability of experiencing France by bike. Cycling in France is the ultimate slow travel adventure, an opportunity to see it through the back door in a way few tourists experience. One week on a bike in France and life takes on a different meaning! I created Experience France By Bike to inspire recreational cyclists to visit France the slow way....by bike, and to be the best source of information for planning the perfect bicycling adventure. I encourage readers to embrace the uncertainty of the road ahead and to take the path less traveled, exploring roads, towns and villages that you would never experience traveling by car.

  1. […] a little from the initial ‘right, down, up, left‘ plan. I recently read a post on the Burgundy Canal route that looks very inviting and is definitely in the ‘must do’ basket. We will […]

  2. […] one day in Paris.  Bicycling along the Burgundy Canal is one of my favorite itineraries in France. Read more  Tweet This entry was posted in Cycling, France, French language, Paris, Restaurants […]

  3. A friend and I are planning a short trip with about 5-6 days of cycling in Burgundy. I have “Le tour de Bourgogne a velo” as a guide, as well as a set of the IGN 1:100,000 maps. After reading your article, I’m thinking the Burgundy Canal might be ideal for a first trip. Unfortunately, we are doing this in the last week of April, and the BagTransfer service doesn’t start until May 1. We’ll be travelling with carryon baggage only, but still don’t want to be encumbered with all of it on the bikes. Do you have any suggestions for dealing with this? Also, when I checked the SNCF schedule, the only TGV service to Montbard from Charles de Gaulle is around 8 pm… our flights from Canada and the US arrive early in the morning, so that won’t work. Everything else involves taking the RER from CdG into Paris, then getting to the Bercy station for TER service. In that case would it make just as much sense to start the cycle in Dijon or Migennes? Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer!

    1. Hi Sandra!

      Thanks so much for your note regarding your upcoming trip to France. One of the challenges of traveling early or off-season is that train service may be limited and some bicycle services may be limited. Such is the case with your planned trip in late April.

      You are correct regarding the TGV from CDG. Direct TGV service year-round from CDG is limited to begin with, primarily with good service to Bordeaux, the south of France and several towns on the Loire. There are more options during the season, but that really won’t help you. I personally think that unless you are interested in spending a night or two in Paris, trekking there just to make a train connection is not a great way to start a bike trip. With that said, I have some thoughts for you.

      Bicycling in April can be challenging in that there is a good chance that you may encounter some rain. With that said, ideally you want to plan an itinerary that will give you some flexibility in the event that you encounter this four letter word! Flexibility to me is lots of attractions to see, plenty of towns/villages to get out of the rain and/or have a hot coffee or chocolate, a train line that you can hop on to get out of the rain, etc. Unfortunately the Burgundy Canal route doesn’t have any of these. Mind you, this is one of my favorite routes, but it would be a miserable one if you hit a few days of bad weather, a definite possibility in April. Other than the canal itself, most of the bigger towns and attractions are off the bike route and there is no train route along the route.

      Since getting to the Burgundy Canal without going into Paris may be a problem, perhaps you might consider bicycling along the Loire River instead. It is one of my most favorite destinations, and one I would feel comfortable doing in late April. First of all, you can easily take a morning TGV train from CDG to St. Pierre des Corps (the TGV station for Tours), and from here you can connect to virtually any town on the Loire to begin your trip. I would suggest a town like Saumur.
      There is a 10:16 and 14:16 TGV to Tours that runs every day of the week. For example if you wanted to take the 10:16 TGV to Saumur, you would connect and change trains in St. Pierre des Corps and arrive in Saumur at 12:38. You could plan to pick up your bikes there, and spend the night. It is a great town. Lots of history, castles, monasteries, great vineyards, quaint villages, this route has it all. You could have a fantastic 6-7 day trip. And when you are done, you can easily pick a train up going back to CDG from probably either Blois or Les Aubrais Orleans. You can pick a bicycle up in your origination town with Detours de Loire (http://www.locationdevelos.com/BanFr.swf) and then drop the bikes off in your departure town. They also have a baggage service available, but there may be other alternatives.

      In the event that you encountered some cold or rainy weather, there are plenty of attractions along the way to break up the day, a train route that follows the river, and lovely charming towns and villages dotting the entire bike route. Since I have done this route a number of times, there are many blog posts on this itinerary. In addition, you can take a look at the Loire a Velo website at: http://www.cycling-loire.com/. It is one of the best French websites for planning a bike trip.

      The first e-guide that I am writing on biking in France is Blois to Chambord, one of my all time favorite rides and destinations. I hope to have it done by next month, so if you decide to go to the Loire, it may be of some help to you. In the meantime, feel free to let me know if you have any questions and what you think about this alternative.

      Should you still want to go ahead with the Burgundy Canal, I have sent a note to several of my friends there to see about a solution for your baggage. I will let you know when I hear back from them.

      I hope this information helps! Thanks for reading Experience France by Bike!

      Maggie LaCoste
      Experience France by Bike

  4. Hi Maggie, We are planning to spend at least a week in Burgundy in late August or early September thanks to your insightful recommendations. We plan to select a base apartment or house in a charming smaller town (but one large enough to have a grocery store and selection of restaurants) for exploration and then fan out for trips in various directions. Would you recommend Montbard or farther south in the Beaune area? Unlike our previous 2 month trips where we traveled entirely by bike and train, this time we hope to have a vehicle to get us between starting points. This year we plan to include the Danube, Burgundy, upper Mosel (we’ve already done between Koblenz and Bernkastle in both directions. and maybe Provence/Luberon (as well as our normal delightful drifting around in the Netherlands which doesn’t require advance planning).

    1. Hi Maggie!

      How lucky you are to be planning such a fantastic trip in the fall! You always seem to pose challenging questions to, like your question of what area to choose as a base! I could answer this question many different ways, it all just depends on the experience you’re looking for. If you want to bicycle along the Burgundy Canal, then basing yourself out of Beaune would be too far away, unless you plan to start every day on the train to your starting point, and then bicycling back. If you were planning to cycle on the Burgundy and Nivernais Canals and into the Chablis region, then Tonnerre might be an idea, but I would look into the area around Alise-Sainte-Reine which is a bit more in the central part of the canal, allowing exploration north, and then over to Semur-en-Auxois and then through the Ouche Valley.

      Cycling along the Burgundy Canal is so lovely that I would hate to miss out on any sections! I guess it’s a bit of a trade-off when you make the decision to base yourself out of one location. If you’re looking for a central location, I like Alesia, the town is small enough to find a great place to stay, but it’s packed full of history. The battle of Alesia was one of the most famous battles in French history and the museum there is fantastic! http://www.alesia.com/english_fr_000369.html

      The great news is that this is a wonderful area to explore by bike, I don’t really think you can make a bad decision. Even if you chose a location outside of Beaune, you have train connections to Tonnerre, Montbard and Alesia, so you would still be able to enjoy parts of the Burgundy Canal. I guess your final decision will depend on where you find a perfect place to stay! Hope that this information helps. Let me know how your trip planning is going! Any chance you might try some bicycling in the Hill Towns of Provence? Adding an e-bike adventure to your list of things to do might be a lot of fun!!!

      Maggie LaCoste
      Experience France By Bike