Boating in France: A Cruise on the Saone

The last cruise we wrote about this summer was on the Burgundy Canal from St. Jean du Losne to Dijon and back. We are currently in the middle of a cruise on the Saone river from St. Jean to Chalon sur Saone.

saone-fields0001There are some significant differences between cruising canals and navigable rivers. Perhaps the most notable is that on most rivers there are a lot fewer locks. Our Dijon canal cruise took us through 48 locks in 60 kilometers (36 miles) while this river cruise will have a total of only 4 locks in 96 kilometers (57 miles). We don’t mind locks, one gets used to them, but since an unexpected side current on the approach or a mooring line jammed in a crack in the stone lock wall can instantly create difficulties, one does have to stay constantly alert and focused on what is happening.  So the fewer locks, the more relaxing the cruise. Also, the locks are much larger than on the canals and, in general, much easier to pass through.

saone-fishermenThe Saone is a very nice river to cruise, since in addition to fewer locks, it is comfortably wide, the channel well marked, and there was not a lot of current on this trip. In addition, there are a number of small and medium sized towns along the way, many of them with mooring facilities. This makes for short cruising days, if you wish, and lots of opportunities to visit places that are, in many cases, well off the beaten tourist path. Most of the time there were no other boats in sight, and it was just us, the fishermen, and the herons and swans.

saone-port-seurreOur overnight stop on this cruise to Chalon was at the town of Seurre.  The pontoon provided by the town cost us only 11 € (about US$15) including shore power and water and was only a ten minute walk from the main shopping street. Having gotten away early that morning, we arrived in time to buy fresh vegetables and fruit, as well as a small goat cheese, at the Saturday outdoor market before it closed at noon. With fresh bread from one of the several bakeries and half of a roasted chicken from a butcher, we were set for meals for the day as well as for Sunday, when almost all shops in Seurre are closed.

saone0001Seurre doesn’t rate a listing in the Michelin Green Guide, but it has a number of interesting buildings and architectural details from the past few centuries, such as half-timbered houses, corner circular turrets, and stepped brick gables that would be expected in Belgium or Holland, but not here.  The tourist office was helpful, but unfortunately this weekend was between events, except for an evening organ concert in the church. We got to listen to a few minutes of the afternoon rehearsal when we visited the church, but decided to give the concert a pass.

saone-weddingAs always, there were the local cafes with people chatting over small cups of espresso or a cold beer, or gathered under the trees in the park near the port, discussing whatever comes to mind on hot Saturday afternoons.  Others were fishing off the riverbank, and a bride and groom were having wedding pictures taken at a picturesque spot by the port. In other words, a very relaxing typical French small town Saturday afternoon.

saone-treesSince afternoon rain showers were predicted, we departed early Sunday morning after I walked up for a fresh baguette from the nearest bakery. As on Saturday, we encountered only a few other boats on the river, sharing the one lock with one of our pontoon neighbors from the prior evening. We arrived in Chalon early afternoon, found a mooring on the pontoon and headed for the tourist office for maps and information.  Next week, we’ll write about our stay in Chalon.

For over eight years, Neil and Joan have been spending their summers cruising the canals and rivers of Western Europe aboard their now thirty-year-old Dutch motor-cruiser, the “Estate.”  This year they are sharing their experiences.