If you’re looking for a cycling adventure that will take you directly to the heart of historical France, look no further than the Burgundy Canal. Construction on the Burgundy Canal, begun during the reign of Louis XVI, taking 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. A trip along this canal is an opportunity to experience first hand, the many marvels of this engineering feat. 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 oozing with charm, great food, and of course great wine. Here is a YouTube Video on biking the Burgundy Canal to give you a sense of the route and attractions.
This is the region where voie verte or greenways were born, so the cycling will be safe, even for families with children. The wide and flat canal towpaths were once mule paths used to pull barges along the canal. The route is mostly dirt paths, so you definitely want to be sure that you use hybrid or mountain bikes. The canal begins in Miginnes, but there is no direct train service from Paris to Migennes so I recommend beginning in either Tonnerre and Montbard. If you have time limitations and want to see the Abbey at Fontenay, Montbard would be a perfect starting place for you. You can cycle this route in either direction–from Dijon to Tonnerre or Montbard, or in reverse. Which way you choose may depend on where you will either rent bikes or begin a self-guided tour. Now, lets take a look at the top 10 reasons to choose the Burgundy Canal for your summer bike trip!
Easy Access by Train From Paris or Dijon:
All three cities are easily accessible from Paris:
- Paris Bercy station to Tonnerre is 1 hour, 50 minutes on a regional express, so you can take bikes on the train if needed
- Paris Gare de Lyon to Dijon is 1 1/2 hours via TGV, no bikes permitted
- Paris Gare de Lyon to Montbard is 1 hour, 4 minutes via TGV, no bikes permitted
- Paris Bercy to Montbard is 2 hours, 17 minutes on a regional express, so you can take bikes on this train if needed
If you’re already in Dijon, you can hop on a train at Dijon Ville and be in Montbard in 36 minutes on a regional express and bikes are permitted. While the actual ride begins in Migennes, the best train service from Paris or Dijon is to Tonnerre and Montbard, so I would suggest starting your trip in one of these towns.
Affordable Bike Rental and Self-Guided Tour Options:
Other than easy train transportation, the other challenge when planning a bike trip is where to rent bikes. Luckily, bicyclists have a number of options for bike rental in Burgundy.
Veli Bourgogne is the major bicycle rental agency for anywhere along the Burgundy Canal and the Canal du Nivernais. Detours in France, one of my favorite bike rental companies is now out of the rental business, focusing only on tours. Luckily veliBourgogne has picked up the slack, and has developed a rental network similar to that available along the Loire. You can now pick up your bicycles (Giant hybrids) at one of 16 locations along either canal, and drop the bike off any one of 16 locations. This provides great flexibility for cyclists, and also avoids having to double back to drop off bikes. The company has also partnered with BagTransfert so that you can seemlessly arrange to have your luggage transferred also. I have not used this new service yet, but I am looking forward to in the near future. The veliBourgogne website is in French, but there is a Google Translate option at the bottom of the page that will translate the page for you.
If you are planning to visit Beaune while in Burgundy (an absolute must!) then you can rent bikes from one of my favorite rental companies, Bourgogne Randonnees. Located a short walk from the Beaune train station, Bourgogne Randonnees rents the French Gitane hybrids that are one of my favorite bikes to rent in France. All bikes are serviced and cleaned before each rental, insuring that bikes are in perfect condition. For longer rentals, extra repair items are provided, and brakes pads are changed to insure that customers will not have any problems. The emphasis at Bourgogne Randonnees is service and support, so you can feel secure you’re renting a safe and reliable bike.
Bag Transfer Service Along the Canal:
If you’re planning an independent bike trip along the Burgundy Canal, you’re in luck as there’s a very efficient baggage transfer service along the canal. Bicycle touring along this route can be more enjoyable and relaxing with the easy 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 6Euros/bag.
Locks Along the Canal:
There are 209 locks along the full length of the Burgundy Canal, and watching them in operation is a incredible sight. If you are traveling with children, watching the locks in action is sure to be a highlight of their trip. If you’d like to see a bit more about the mechanics of the canal lock system, take a look at this animation at Burgundy-Canal. You can pick up more information on the lock system at any of the larger tourism offices along the canal.
Even the French view Burgundy as a gastronomic region, a designation earned by the most simple family-run restaurants to the most expensive ones. This is the home of Boeuf Bourguignon and Coq au Vin, Bresse Chicken, escargots, mustard and gingerbread cake. The “‘Kir” was invented here, using two local products from Dijon, Creme de Cassis and wine from the Aligote grape. The food of Burgundy will make your bike trip through the region one to remember.
Charming Hotels Along the Route:
Whether you choose four star hotels, family-owned B and B’s, manor houses with period furniture, or campgrounds with chalets and bungalows, there is no shortage of charming accommodations along the Burgundy Canal. Additional information on lodging can be found at the Burgundy Tourism Office and at Burgundy By Bike.
The Abbey of Fontenay:
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. 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.
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.
Renaissance Chateau of Ancy-le-Franc
The Chateau of Ancy-le-Franc is true Renaissance complete with carved ceilings, Italian tiled floors, rooms of frescos. The chateau contains one of France’s finest mural paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries. A tour of the chateau is considered a highlight of a trip to Burgundy. It is open from early April to mid-November with guided tours from 10:30 to 5:00, closed on Mondays.
The Ouche Valley:
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. 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.
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.
Think this route sounds interesting? Worried you won’t have time to finalize your trip before the summer? Unless you are planning on traveling in the middle of August, you should have no problem with hotel reservations along any of these routes, especially if you are planning to travel in June, July or September. I’ll be taking my summer trip in late July and early August and I’ll only plan on reserving rooms on the weekends during my trip. That will give us the flexibility of deciding how far to bike and where to stay as we go. This is my favorite way to travel through France as it allows you to stop for 2 hours at a local market, or have an extra long picnic lunch, without having to worry about covering a set number of miles to get to your hotel for the night.
Favorite resources for trip planning in Burgundy: