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Canal de Bourgogne

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Hotel Barge Le Premier, Burgundy, France

This canal promises a voyage to discovery with some of the most beautiful treasures of cultural Burgundy along its path. From the river Yonne, it threads its way past the Château de Ancy-le-Franc, l’Abbaye de Fontenay, past Châteauneuf-en-Auxois through the picturesque Ouche valley and on to Dijon before joining the river Saône at St-Jean-de-Losne. The images are of vibrant fields of yellow rape, wooded hillsides, verdant pastures, fields of poppies and ripening wheat, lock houses brimming with geraniums and poplar trees lining the banks standing to attention. The canal is 242 km in length with 190 locks along the way running from Migennes to Dijon and on to St-Jean-de-Losne

Canal de Bourgogne, Burgundy, France

Plans were started on the canal as early as the 17th century. All the big players of the day from Napoléon I to Maréchal Vauban offered up their ideas. Politics, funding and revolution all played a hand and it was 1832 when the canal eventually opened.

One of the most difficult sections of construction was at Pouilly-en-Auxois where a tunnel 3,345 metres in length had to be built. 182 workmen were killed in the process, digging down 50 metres with 32 wells for ventilation to the surface. Wide enough for one barge only, there was no room for a horse to tow the barge so men had to pull the barge through on a special cable. In 1867 the first steam driven tug arrived and in 1895 an electric tug was installed. This speeded things up substantially, pulling up to 15 empty barges at a time.

The water supply to the canal was another challenge. On the Yonne side the river Armançon feeds it, and on the Saône side, the river Ouche. In addition, there are seven reservoirs holding millions of tonnes of water to replace the loss at the locks, evaporation and leaking from the lock doors and the dammed sections.

And Now…

Burgundy Canal, France

From April to October, the luxury hotel barges and cruisers journey up and down the canal, introducing their passengers to the gastronomy of the region, visiting the châteaux and places of interest. There’s plenty of activity on the tow paths too, with cyclists, joggers and walkers. The government website has maps, accommodation and bike rental details.

Come winter while maintenance is carried out on the canal, the boats head for St-Jean-de-Losne, described as ‘the smallest town in France (covering 36 hectares of land), with the most important river port in France’. Here the river Saône, Canal de Bourgogne and the Canal Rhin-Rhône converge. There are 350 moorings and with all the craft, a very cosmopolitan atmosphere has developed with crews from all over the world.

villages en route

Migennes, Brienon, St. Florentin, Flogny-la-Chapelle, Tonnerre, Tanlay, Lézinnes, Ancy-le-Franc, Ravière, Montbard, Venarey les Laumes, Pont Royal, Pouilly-en-Auxois, Vandenesse, Pont d'Ouche, Veuvey-sur-Ouche, Pont Pany, Fleurey-sur-Ouche, Plompières les Dijon, Dijon, Thorey-en-Plaine, Longecourt-en-Plaine, St-Jean-de-Losne.

See Barge Vacations -
Canal Cruising
Canal Map

Melinda Lusmore's walking guides to the Canal de Bourgogne

Pam Elson ©burgundytoday.com