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The Canals of Burgundy
The luxurious hotel barges and cruising boats bring the canals of Burgundy to life during the summer months. This is an idyllic, peaceful way to travel if you are on board, and provides pleasure for the onlookers too.
For two centuries the canals of Burgundy have been in and out of fashion. Once a key factor in the region’s prosperity, transporting goods during the industrial revolution, they then fell into decline with the rise of the railways. Then tourism revived them reaching a zenith of popularity at the end of the 1980s. Once again, there is now a resurgence of interest as people from all over the world discover holidays afloat, a way to switch off from the stresses of the day by returning to the simple pleasures of life in the slow lane.
Tourism on the canals has become an important source of revenue, generating around 36 million euros a year and helping to keep the hotels, restaurants and small businesses alive along the route. Much is being done to revitalise the tow paths with eco friendly programmes, such as La Voie Verte, and the rejuvenation of important cultural attractions like the châteaux along the way. Walking, cycling and fishing are the order of the day, rounded off with a glass of fine wine and a delicious meal, as is the custom.
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This was not always the case for these lines of transport were the equivalent of the autoroutes of the 19th century. The four major canals created a latticework of communication across the region, part of the grand design to connect the North Sea, Atlantic and Mediterranean by linking into the major rivers and the Paris basin. During the Industrial Revolution, their importance cannot be over estimated for the transportation of all the essentials – wood, flour, wine, iron ore, coal, construction materials, charcoal, contributing greatly to the wealth of the area.
Each canal has its own story to tell. The Canal du Nivernais was famous for the ‘flotteurs’, transporting logs from the Morvan Forest to keep Paris warm; the Canal du Centre was the most commercial of all, meeting the demands of the heavy engineering and construction factories; the Canal Latéral à la Loire linked the Loire valley with the Paris basin, and the Canal de Bourgogne, the spinal cord of the region, linked north and south, the river Yonne and the river Saône. All were huge feats of engineering and each a heroic building effort at a time when only manual labour was available.