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The River Loire

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River Loire in Burgundy France

The Loire river forms the south-west border of Burgundy and the main towns of the Nièvre department, Nevers, La Charité-sur-Loire, Pouilly-sur-Loire and Cosne-sur-Loire, stand along its axis. The Canal Latéral à la Loire runs parallel to it, carrying any commercial traffic with the result that the river and sandbanks are rich in wildlife. So much so that a stretch of 20 km has been designated a protected nature reserve in the region.

Over 1000 km in length, this is the longest river in France and it is described as the ‘last wild river in western Europe’. Its journey begins in the Cévennes, part of the Massif Central, and it ends in the Atlantic, south of the Brittany Peninsular.

Its path through Burgundy begins in the Brionnais, not far from the medieval village of Semur-en-Brionnais, one of the most beautiful villages in France.

The river heads on to Digoin, known as the ‘town of water’ with the rivers Arroux, Bourbince, Vouzance and Aronce converging on the Loire making it a boater’s haven. With a marina for 100 craft, here the Canal du Centre, Canal Latéral à Loire and Canal Roanne à Digoin converge. Probably the strongest visual image is that of the Pont-Canal, resembling a viaduct only this is a ‘viacanal’ which crosses the Loire and joins the Canal du Centre with the Canal Latéral at a great height. Watch all the activity from the Observaloire centre on the bank or go on one of the river trips on offer from the Port de Plaisance.

Apart from water activities, cycling enthusiasts have the Voie Verte running from Digoin to Paray-le-Monial. In time, the western flank will join up to Bourbon-Lancy. In this area there is also a tradition of pottery, particularly faïence. But the prosperity of this surprisingly large town lies in the steel industry up the road at Gueugnon making this a lively and well served trading area.

The river passes close to the spa town of Bourbon Lancy, this is also a water town but this time it is due to the hot mineral springs which have brought wealth and well-being since the Gauls and Romans. The town is named after the Celtic god Borvo and the healing waters comes from four separate sources at temperatures consistently between 56 and 60 degrees C.

At the top of the hill is the medieval town with its ramparts dating back to 1495, there is the little walled garden of the Collégiale, geranium clad windows and shady squares. It is small and charming with its half timbered houses, a choice of restaurants and many photo opportunities. Thanks to the large workforce at the FTP Powertrain factory on the outskirts of town, there is a prosperous youthful element to the boutiques in town ranging from decoration, to fashion and food. 

The spa is at the bottom of the hill and if you want to relax and take the waters, head to Celtô, a recently opened well-being centre. Beyond this there is the casino with a new hotel adjoining, a large area of parkland with a smart well laid out campsite, large supermarket and the Plan d’eau du Breuil, a lake with watersports and good fishing.

Around Bourbon-Lancy there is a nine hole golf course at Givalois, and more good fishing on the Etangs de Givallois and Loire and Somme. Cyclists can enjoy the Voie Vert which will shortly continue on to Digoin, and there are plenty of opportunities for horse riding and walking in the area. The majestic Château de Saint Aubin lies 7 km south west of the town and welcomes visitors from mid June to mid September.

Decize is the next port of call. The medieval town of Decize rises up from the Loire on a rocky spur. Moats, towers and the remains of battlements show it to have been of major strategic importance centuries ago. The gateway, the Marquis d’Ancre dates back it is thought to date back to 1194; the fortifications are 16thC.

On entering the town, running parallel to the river, you will find the Promenade des Halles, a 985m walkway edged with magnificent lime and plane trees planted in 1770. There are several churches worth investigation plus the cloisters and chapel of the Couvent des Minimes. History lovers will be interested too in the murals in the tiny church at Verneuil, just to the west of Decize dating back to the 15thC.

Decize comes to life on the water in the summer. Here the river Aron joins the Loire, and the Canal du Nivernais and the Canal Latéral à la Loire converge. Pleasure boats of all kinds from barges to kayaks create a good atmosphere. Decize is surrounded by lovely landscapes where there is plenty of scope for keen fishermen, walkers and cyclists, bird watchers and nature lovers. 

The town of Nevers gains its stature from the river and promotes activities along it. There is one particularly panoramic spot at Marzy of the Bec d’Allier, 10 km to the west of Nevers where the river Allier joins the Loire. This is a series of ‘islands’, rich in wildlife.

La Charité-sur-Loire is the most picturesque town on the Loire in Burgundy, a designated UNESCO Heritage site. From the bridge over the river you can photograph the famous church Notre Dame, an important priory in its heyday, coming under Cluny, with 400 monasteries in its control. Today the town is more famous for its annual book fair held each July.

From La Charité up to Pouilly, there is 20 km of protected nature reserve. 190 species of bird have been spotted here; it is the home to beavers and numerous fish such as salmon and pike. So important is it not to disrupt the habitat of the wildlife that during the hunting season, bows and arrows are used instead of guns to kill wild boar. Pouilly-sur-Loire marks the centre point in the Loire from its rise to fall at km 496. There is a pavillion on Quai Jules-Pabiot with information about the reserve, the wine area and current exhibitions.

The vineyards of Pouilly-sur-Loire are famous for their delicious Pouilly-Fumé made
from the Sauvignon grape. On the hillside, across the river is Sancerre, another area renowned for its white wine, and a charming village to visit.

Cosne-sur-Loire is the last town of importance along the Loire in Burgundy. Now a busy market town, its medieval ramparts saw much activity during the middle ages and the Hundred Years War. Here the Loire leaves Burgundy, passing on its way to Orléans, Tours and the Atlantic.

See also Kid's Stuff for information on teenage activity breaks canoeing on the Bec d'Allier