Boating in France: The Burgundy Canal to Dijon

Last week we decided we needed some time out of port and on the canal, so we headed up the Burgundy Canal towards Dijon. We have been to Dijon by train from St Jean de Losne a couple of times this summer; that’s only about a 30-minute trip. The trip by boat takes us two days for the 24 locks and 30 kilometers at 6 km/hour. Six years ago we cruised the entire 242 km. length of this canal and knew that there were some very pleasant sections we would encounter en route to Dijon.

longecourtWe decided to get about a third of the way on the first day, stopping at Longecourt en Pleine where we had spent a night on our previous trip. We tied to a bollard on the bank in a shady, tree-lined section, just above a lock.  As is frequently the case, a local road crossed a bridge at the lock, and we walked to town following it.  Longecourt en Pleine is known for its chateau that is now a B & B. Originally constructed in the 13th century, it was transformed into an Italian style house in the 18th century.

The town of Longecourt, itself is quite small, but does have a bakery and some very nice residents. After getting directions from a couple of people, we found the bakery closed.  As is frequently the case in small towns, there were no hours posted.  What’s the point? Everybody in town knows when the store is open. So we crossed the street to a magazine/tobacco shop to ask if there was another bakery nearby. When I queried a man waiting in line to make a purchase, he replied there was no other bakery in Longecourt, but there was one in the next village. When we told him we were on foot, he offered to drive us there so that we could get our bread!  We thanked him and declined and upon leaving the shop found that the bakery had just re-opened (a few minutes late) after the normal two or three hour midday break.

canal-house0001During the night another boat had tied up not far behind us, so the next morning the lockkeepers wanted us to travel together through the locks.  This saves water —and the backs of the lockkeepers, as most of the gates are hand-operated. As a courtesy to the lockkeepers, whenever possible, Neil lends a hand with the closing of the gates. Sometimes locking through with another boat works well, sometimes it doesn’t. This time it didn’t, as the design of the two boats and the placement of the bollards on the lock walls were not a good match. As a result, I strained my back and it was a much less pleasant trip than I had hoped for.

estate-dijon0001The pontoons in the port of Dijon were crowded so we moored along a quay wall next to a park with large shade trees and benches filled with the senior-citizen residents of the newer apartment buildings behind the park. Our arrival and tying-up was very carefully observed and quietly commented on. After a day with 16 locks, it is a relief to stop and relax; the first glass of a local beverage goes down very smoothly indeed!

The next day we moved into the port, which was not as pretty, but had electrical and water hookups, which we wanted since we intended to stay for five days or so. We had quite a contingent of English-speaking boaters near us: British, Australian, and Dutch (most Dutch speak at least some English). Our late afternoon’s entertainment was the young children and their moms and/or grandparents who visited the playground directly in front of our boat.

dijon0001The next morning at 5 am we were awakened by “duck wars” on the swimming platform at the rear of our boat. We sleep in the aft cabin, so it sounded like we were being attacked by ducks, or was it geese?? Was it a dispute over nesting space, or possibly a defensive reaction to a heron looking for breakfast? (There were many young ducklings and goslings, a favorite meal of herons). Since we were up early and it was Friday, we headed for the street market in downtown Dijon. Dijon is the capital of BurgundyBurgundy considers itself the capital of French gastronomy. This market, therefore, has some of the best fresh produce, cheeses, meats, fish, etc. of any market we have visited. An example of just the produce: lovely blushing apricots, delicate strawberries and crisp green beans (both “haricots verts” and Moroccan flat beans).  And the best part is that, since we are traveling by boat, we can buy, prepare and eat these wonderful things, not just take a picture of them and wonder, back at the hotel, how they might taste. The DIjon market, held every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday mornings, also features colorful table linens from Provénce, geometric, patchwork clothing from Africa, and a whole host of things you might never buy but are intriguing nevertheless.

ride0001Saturday started a two-day festival at the port, mostly kid-oriented with rides, balloons, bungee bouncing, a merry-go-round etc. There was a stage with local and imported talent (such as a dancing and singing group from Poland). The evening ended with a short but very spectacular fireworks display. We were so close that we got grit in our eyes from falling residue!

hotel-boat0001Sunday at midday the festival started up again, with the first music selection being Chubby Checker’s, “Let’s Twist Again.” Are we really in France??  We wandered through the crowds, stopping to talk to the captain of “Prosperité, one of the two hotel boats also in the port. He shared some informational brochures with us. Wow: incredible menus and wonderful sounding accommodations.

During the next couple of days we enjoyed a special exhibit on Hungarian post-impressionism at the Musée de Beaux Artes; wonderful costumes, furnishings and preserved old storefronts from downtown Dijon at the museum of life in Burgundy (Musée Vie de Bourgogne); and last but not least, mussels and fries at “Les Moules Zola” on Place Zola, a square with many open-air restaurants.

Then we headed back down the canal to our home port. The best experience along the way was eating freshly picked cherries. Late in the afternoon of the first day, we tied up beside the canal and decided to walk towards some houses about a kilometer away. In front of a house at the crossroads was a sign: “cerises” (cherries). I asked the woman standing on the front steps, under the cherry tree, about the cherries and she immediately offered us some samples: they were delicious! We walked back to the boat along a path planted with flowering shrubs, beside a ripening wheat field, under a brilliant blue sky spotted with fluffy cumulus clouds, eating cherries fresh from the tree. It is true: the little things in life are the best.

Château de Longecourt
Tel: 03 80 39 88 76

Les Moules Zola
03 80 58 93 26; 3
place Emile Zola

Spencer Hayes
Tel: 03 80 49 09 28

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.

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