The long-distance cycling route, EuroVelo 6, runs 3,653 km from the Black Sea to the Atlantic, following the course of Europe’s major rivers. Rupert Parker gets on his bike and tries a short stretch along the Saône through Southern Burgundy.
EuroVelo 6 from Dole
As I’m setting out, the lady from the B&B Maison Curie tells me to visit the cemetery if I get into difficultly. “They always have a tap where you can fill up your water”, she says. It’s good advice, which I’ll follow in the next few days as I cycle the EuroVelo 6, under cloudless skies, desperate to quench my thirst.
To get to my starting point in the Dole, I’ve taken the Eurostar from London, crossed Paris, and then caught a fast train. The city was the capital of Franche-Comté for over 300 years, before Louis XIV moved the parliament from Besançon. Imposing buildings, including the magnificent L’Hôtel Dieu, once the hospital, reflect its prosperous past. The famous scientist, Louis Pasteur, was born here in a tannery and they’ve preserved his house as a museum.
The Rhine-Rhone canal runs through the centre and I start my ride on the tree-lined towpath before meeting the river Saône. This is a quiet stretch of waterway, its surface clustered with water lilies, deserted except for the occasional pleasure boat. They’re coming from Saint-Jean-de-Losne which, because of its location at the confluence of two canals and the river, is one of France’s largest river ports. The water is wide here and its banks are stacked with craft of all shapes and sizes.
I skirt the village of Pagny-la-Ville, leaving the river, but rejoin it at Seurre where I overnight in B&B La Valériane, once the gendarmerie. The family invite me to their Saturday barbecue and serve some choice cuts of Charolais beef, sourced from the local butcher. The generous owner, who’s also the town’s major, opens bottles of quality vintage Burgundy and my French seems to improve immeasurably.
Next morning, the breeze blows the cobwebs from my brain as I cycle cross-country to join the River Doubs for a short section. This meets the Saône at Verdun-sur-le-Doubs, famous for Pôchouse, the Burgundy equivalent of Bouillabaisse. It’s a stew of local river fish, cooked in white wine and I get to sample it at Hostellerie Bourgignonne. Their version removes most of the bones, adds cream and includes eel, pike perch, perch, tench and carp. There are also a couple of slices of toasted garlic bread to soak up the juices and it’s the perfect lunch for a hungry cyclist.
Perhaps because of the influence of the wine, I lose the cycling track and end up on the main road, stalked by thunderous trucks. It’s also the hottest day on my route and I arrive in Chalon-sur-Saône, completely drained. Copious amounts of water revive me enough to explore the city. Its medieval quarter is mostly intact and the two towers of the impressive St Vincent cathedral dominate the square. Chalon’s most famous son is Nicéphore Niépce, the inventor of photography, and his statue stands by the river.
My bed for the night is three miles away in Dracy, slightly off track, but Hotel Le Dracy not only has a welcome swimming pool but also serves excellent food. Next day I follow the Canal du Centre, which connects the Saône to the Loire in a series of 80 locks. In the distance I spy the characteristic Burgundy vineyards lining the forested hills and stop in Santenay at Domain Prosper Maufoux for a tasting. It’s cool in the cellar but the winemaker tells me that Pinot Noir grape is really struggling with the increased temperatures. If global warming continues, they’ll have to replace it with another grape variety.
I leave the EuroVelo to see the magnificent Chateau de Couches. As you’d expect, it’s built on high ground so it’s a bit of a struggle. There’s an upmarket B&B in the grounds where I spend the night feeling like the king of the castle. Next day I’m back on the Canal du Centre and penetrate the industrial heartland of Burgundy. All that remains of a ceramics factory that employed 500 people is the owner’s mansion, Villa Perrusson, recently restored.
Further on, in Blanzy near Montceau-les-Mines, there’s an excellent museum devoted to coal mining, an industry which once employed 13,000 people. They’ve kept the original winding mechanism and it’s still in working order, but you’re not allowed to descend. Rather they’ve reconstructed a series of galleries on the surface with equipment from derelict mines. It effectively evokes the nightmarish conditions and sense of the claustrophobia the miners endured.
This is also the end of the road for me. I’m going to leave my bike here and have my last lunch at Au Vieux Saule in Torcy, before I catch the TGV back to Paris from Montchanin. I can’t help feeling sad that I haven’t tackled the whole route or, at least, the whole French part. Next time I’ll start in Basel, cross Alsace then enter Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, before following the Loire all the way to the Atlantic. It’s all perfectly possible I tell myself, as it’s mostly on the flat, following rivers and canals – just give me a month.
The EuroVelo 6 is well signed and almost impossible to get lost. Accommodation along the route is mainly in delightful bed and breakfasts and restaurants serve up delicious local food and wines. I carried everything I needed in two panniers and hired my bike locally. If you’re planning on doing the whole lot, it’s better to bring your own bike and there are ample repair shops along the way.
Rupert Parker is a writer, photographer, cameraman & TV Producer. His special interests are food & travel & he writes about everything from wilderness adventure to gourmet spa tours. Read about his latest adventures on his website Planet Appetite