Did you know that Burgundy has 1,000km of navigable waterways? To slow down and truly get into the spirit of the region, hop on board a boat and gently meander along Burgundy’s canals, perhaps starting with the Canal du Nivernais which is considered by many to be Burgundy’s most beautiful and unspoilt. Cruise along on a traditional ‘gabarre’ or, for something more adventurous, rent a canoe or kayak and do the work yourself.
Built between the 17th and 19th centuries, Burgundy’s canals were used to transport wood from the Parc du Morvan towards Paris. Lock-keepers, inn-keepers, port workers, millers, boat-haulers and horse-breeders: not all these historic river trades have disappeared, and every June in St-Jean-de-Losne on the banks of the Saône, the ‘Pardon des Mariniers’ festival celebrates traditional waterway trades. Visitors to Clamecy can also learn about the famous ‘wood floaters’, generations of bargees who earned their living on the canal de Bourgogne, canal de la Marne à la Saône, canal du Centre and canal de la Loire.
At the Bec d’Allier the waters of two wild rivers flow together over the upstream banks of the Loire: here it’s a paradise for salmon, migrating birds and a wealth of delicate plants. At Pouilly, the Pavillon du Milieu de Loire visitor centre is the place to find out all about the islets and meanders of the Val-de-Loire nature reserve. Mad about fishing? The Étang de Fleury has pike and carp aplenty.
For keen cyclists, the 650km of cycle routes that make up the ‘Tour de Bourgogne à Vélo’ network are one of the highlights of Burgundy. Many of the routes run alongside Burgundy’s canals, following former towpaths that have been converted into ‘voies vertes’ (‘green ways’). Along the five routes from the banks of the Yonne to those of the Saône, affiliated guesthouses and hotels pull out all the stops for touring cyclists. Freewheel to the spa town of Bourbon-Lancy in Saône-et-Loire, the Renaissance châteaux of Tanlay in Yonne and Cormatin in the Mâconnais, or take time to explore the Romantic poet Lamartine’s house in Milly. Fans of bike history and memorabilia will enjoy the Musée du Vélo in Saint-Usuge – charting the bicycle’s journey from 1890 to modern day, it also tells the story of the legendary Tour de France and honours the achievements of some of its best racers.
Pottery and tableware
For the village of St-Amand-en-Puisaye, pottery is a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. Visit its stoneware museum, based in a Renaissance castle and listed historic monument, which tells the story of pottery in Puisaye through superb collections of utilitarian and decorative stoneware pieces from the Carriès school. The Potters’ Memorial House also has displays of traditional Puisaye pottery and offers throwing demos, while the Jacques-Jeanneney Ceramics Centre offers one-off exhibitions and courses run by local ceramicists. You’ll also find numerous arty-crafty workshops in the village plus various markets: an old stoneware market held on the Easter weekend, pottery market on Ascension weekend and contemporary stoneware market in August.
The town of Nevers is known for its blue-patterned tableware, an ancestral tradition dating back to the end of the 16th century that made the Nivernais capital famous and prosperous in the centuries that followed. Nowadays, this artistic craft is kept alive by master earthenware-makers in town. In summer period, several workshops offer guided tours on which you can learn the different stages of the production process, from shaping and firing through to enamelling and decoration.