Burgundy by Tandem

30 August-14 September 2009 

7 days in a village and 7 days touring: 650 km

This trip report should be read in conjunction with the geo-tagged photos that can be found here. (Click on the first photo and then use the arrows or the 'Play' button to go through them.)


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The plan was to spend the first week relaxing and visiting nearby places from the lovely village house of our friends Pat and John at Villiers-le-Bois. 

Then 7-8 days seeing quite a bit of Burgundy, following a circular route linking the Canal de Bourgogne and the Canal de Nivernais in a loop starting and finishing at Auxerre. 

We used the European Bike Express bus to transport us and the tandem to Auxerre. 

On Saturday 29th we were picked up at 10:30 am by the European Bike Express coach at South Mimms and at about midnight we were dropped off at the B & B Hotel, Monéteau, 6 km north of Auxerre. Our plan was to get some sleep in this cheap but comfortable formula hotel before setting off in the morning for Villiers-le-Bois, We were able to get a ground floor room at the hotel (we reserved a ‘acces handicappé’ room).

Sun 30th August. Auxerre to Villiers-le-Bois 65 km

We had a good breakfast at the B & B Hotel, Monéteau and decided that it is probably the most tolerable of the many French chains of ‘formule’ hotels and set of, riding into Monéteau village, where the road crosses the river Yonne on pretty bridge, probably a WWII rebuild. Continued, buying picnic lunch supplies in Seignelay (centre closed for festival of Boules Carrée. Big church, closed. Pontigny was crowded for a big market (vide grenier) but we pushed on past the many stalls to reach the Abbaye, which we then realised we had already visited in 2005, but concluded it justified a second visit.

We eventually arrived at the river Armancon at Flogny-la-Chapel and stopped for our picnic lunch by the river - the canal de Borgogne runs parallel to and sometimes unites with the Armancon. After lunch we rode the towpath a little way, then went up the hill to Lignières and followed several further ups and downs through Chaserey and Etourvy. We enjoyed wide open views over ploughed or cut fields which had produced cereal crops and wild flowers by the wayside. It was a hot afternoon and we were feeling a little tired now, but we carried on passing through several patches of woodland and eventually arrived in Villiers le Bois (which isn't in a wood, despite its name) after climbing a very steep hill at Etourvy.

Monday 31st August. Villiers-le-Bois to Chaource and back 29 km

It was a quick half hour’s ride down via Maisons de Chaource to Chaource itself. We bought fruit from the market, then discovered the ATTAK suopermarket on Troyes road. (Closes 12.15-3.15) so we had to grab everything very fast. Coffee and gougéres in square. The ride home up the hill with a loaded bike in hot weather took us an hour with a pause for rehydration at Maisons de Chaource.

Wednesday 2nd Sept. Villiers-le-Bois to Tonnerre and Tanlay and back 56 km

We took a steep route with many ups and downs via Etourvy and  Mélissy passing through open fields - mostly ploughed, a few with stalks remaining. Arriving in a rather dead-seeming Tonnerre just in time to buy sandwiches, we sat with our picnic outside the 13th century former hospital until it opened again. (Hotel Dieu/Vieil Hospital). This very early stone hospital building was built by Margaret of Borgogne. It consists of an immense space with church style windows and covered by a massive timber roof with a curved ceiling - room for plenty of patients. A gnomon (a beam of light through a hole in the wall, falls on the ground) - indicates the date.   In one of the side chapels, we saw a beautifully carved mise au tombeau. This was the first of many beautiful middle-ages Burgundy sculpture seen on this trip. 

The other sight of Tonnerre is Fosse Dionne where an old spring fills a beautiful stone pool - which appears to be very deep and contains underwater plants. The pool has a roof and runs off into a trench. We heard that the spring comes through underground caves in the limestone and that the source of it has not been reached by cavers who investigated it. Walked up to Church of St Pierre an old gothic church with good view over the roofs of the town. But closed.

Leaving Tonnerre we rode along the Canal de Bourgogne as far as Tanlay (10 km). We were very pleased to find that the canal towpath was well-organised cycle track with a smooth rolled surface of small gravel. The way is signed to Dijon in one direction (and Migennes in the other). This canal links the Yonne at Migennes to Dijon. Tanlay has a beautiful renaissance chateau. Built during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Light stone walls and steep slate roofs with with cylindrical towers at the four corners. Surrounded by a  moat and - cross over a bridge guarded by a pair of obelisks.

We were pleased to discover very pleasant lanes via Baon and Villon and Arthonnay. There was less climbing on this relatively flat route and we passed through some beautiful woods between Baon and Villon. The TdF passed through Villon - celebrated by multiple decorated bikes beside the road. 

Sunday 6 September. Start of the circular tour

From Villiers we followed another pleasant route to the Canal de Bourgogne at Ancy-le-Franc where we stopped to see the chateau. It’s another beautiful renaissance chateau., but this time italian style (seraglio) with facades decorated with flat columns, windows in the slate roof. Rectangular tower at each corner. Dry moat. In an immense park. Peered at central court through a window.

Cycled through Chassignol and joined the canal near Ravières. Picnic by canal. We left the canal again just before Cry to ride through the woods (Foret Domaniale Jaily) passing through Arrans and Le Petit Jailly to reach Touillon - a lovely ride. Lots of big Cyclamens by the roadside.

The B and B at Touillon is about 1 km up the hill above the village. Owners (retired bakers) vare ery friendly. Dropped our bags there and coasted down to Fontenay 4 km where we found a green sward to for a very welcome lie down and rest before entering the abbey. The Abbaye de Fontenay is a beautiful collection of buildings in lovely surroundings by a river in a green valley.  A Cistercian abbey (so named because first was at Citeaux). Founded by Bernard in 1100, Norwich bishop helped with finance. After revolution, sold and became paper mill, Mongolfier bought it, then 1900, family closed paper mill and started to restore abbey to original state. The abbey church is a big romanesque structure but with broken arches - guide said they allow height but wouldn't admit to gothic. Floor had been built up at time of flood then restored recently to original position, but most tiles lost ( a few on show in the choir). Lovely sculpture on rood screen - small scenes from like of Jesus. Statue of Mary - guide said smile is Champegnois and style of folds in dress Burgundian. 

Monks dormitory - big room with timber barrel vault (oak).

Cloisters - beautiful but simple - white stone.

Forge - hydraulic hammer invented here. 

Meal at recommended café/restaurant at Les Malmaisons. The lady just brought course after course (charcuteroe, quiche+ham. chicken in sauce + peas, beans, cheese, ice creams (in packets). 28€ with 2 half bottles wine!

B&B: Besson, Louisa, Demeure des Ormes, 6, Rue Des Vignes, Les Malmaisons, Touillon 21500
Tel: 03 80 89 05 49

Monday 7th September. Touillon to Vanderness 78 km

Meal at recommended café/restaurant at Les Malmaisons. The lady just brought course after course (charcuteroe, quiche+ham. chicken in sauce + peas, beans, cheese, ice creams (in packets). 28€ with 2 half bottles wine!

Chat with Bessons at breakfast - retired bakers, she paints and makes models in sugar and has written a book about sugar. Grandchild, Lorenzo lives in Djibuti.

Early start - joined canal de Bourgogne south of Montbard. 

We me and chatted with Hanspeter Schwarz from Switzerland, who holidays by walking along canals in France.

Stayed on canal most of the day. Good route over the tunnel at Pouilly en Auxois. Bought picnic lunch at huge supermarket in Venarey les Laumes because all the boulangeries have closed down. 

Picnic near chateau of Marigny le Cahouet - impressive, private, no visitors, Dijon style decorative tiles on roof.

Church of St Thibault. Very beautiful pieces of burgundian sculpture round door - tympanum (13th C). Inside - via side door, you come to the choir - very tall and elegant. Area around choir very early gothic - broken arches. Two layers windows behind tracery.  Also timber carved altar piece, plus columbarium - a device with a pulley and rope through dove's body for raising and lowering the host.

Stopped at Eguilly - an old farm/chateau, taken over by artists colony. Friendly dog - man at desk didn't even look round. Went in chapel and various other rooms with studios and exhibits. A lot of metal installations. 

Night in Peniche Lady A at Vanderness. Owner Sami very hospitable. Big cabin with proper bathroom.

Sami drove us to Chateauneuf en Auxois. looked around attractive little walled town. meal at Orée de Bois (edge of woods) run by English couple. Walked back down the hill in moonlight. Mist coming up, but moonlight effective. 

Tuesday 8 September. Touillon to Autun 55 km

The morning started very cold and misty. Breakfast with couple from Normandy and sisters from Ypres. 

The mist gradually lifted as we road along the towpath to St Sabine. We enjoyed glimpses of Chateauneuf through the mist and being able to see the dew-saoked spiders webs in the emerging sunlight. The towpath passes neatly under the Autoroute de Soleil. Although we would have liked to continue on the towpathj as far as Pont D'Ouche, we we left it for a more direct route to Auton.

The village of St Sabine is on a sloping hillside. A nice chateau is in use as a hotel - looks like a conference place. As it was so early, we didn't buy bread and then regretted the decision, since no subsequent village had a boulangerie. The landscape here is very pastoral - the farming is mostly the white Charolais cattle. This seems to lead to smaller fields with hedges and intermittent woodland. The many villages have stone houses with red tile roofs and small stone churches. There were so many: Cussy-le-Chatel, Couletre, Painblanc, Antiguy, Maligny and eventually Sully. Sully's big chateau  looks quite defensive with a moat all round and diagonal square towers on each corner. It has been the home of Irish immigrants, the Mac Mahon family since 18th century. We missed the tour, but had lunch in the garden with good view of the chateau. 

After Sully we rode through attractive countryside, ups some hills and then rode down through the nasty suburb of Pantaléon into Autun.

Mmme Lequine's  B and B is behind the cathedral in Place St Barbe. This is in an old building - was a priests' house. Rooms are on the first floor - we had a big bedroom and the very kind landlady provides a fridge and drinks and glasses as well as a beautiful garden to sit in. She and her son are restoring the chapel at the side. 


We soon went over to visit the cathedral of St Lazare - we had been to Autun in our 2003 tandem trip, but had missed most of the Giselbertus works. Giselbertus  was a sculptor from the romanesque period (12th century) who is supposed to have  carried out (presumably with assistants) the carvings in Autun cathedral - most notable are the tympanum and the capitals in the nave which illustrate tales from the bible. On our previous visit, we saw the tympanum (fortunately as it's now covered for restoration) as well as an Eve in the nearby museum. But this time we discovered the 'capital room' where many of the best works have been put, presumably to preserve them, but also this provides an eye-level view of the carvings - some abstractions of leaves as well as scenes from the bible. 

Wednesday 9 September. Day in Morvan

Went with our friends Robina and Mike to their house in Jonchères, then to Lac de Settons. This is one of several large artificial lakes in Morvan. It's very pretty- surrounded by trees. We went down to a narrow corner where our friends launched their canoe so that we could paddle put to an island for a picnic and a swim.   

The Morvan is a regional natural park. We had cycled along its southern edge in 2003 but were keen to see the inside. It's mostly at 500-600 metres above sea level - apparently very cold in winter but was  warm, sunny and green when we were there.  There seems to be extensive farming, mostly cattle and hay. 

Thursday 10 September. Autun to Cercy la Tour, 70 km

Nivernais Canal - runs from Decize on the Loire to Auxerre. It was built to enable logs to be floated from woods in Nievre up the the Yonne and Seine and on to Paris. We planned to join it at Cercy-la-Tour a little way on from Decise. Previously most of the wood for Paris came from the Morvan - a new canal would allow a new area to be exploited. But building the canal was a big project - it wasn't finished until about 1840, by which time, peniches were also in use. 

We found a quiet route out of Autun south of the railway  and then a good baker at Laizy. 

As we had discovered in 2003, the N81 takes the best contour between Autun and Decise. But we devised a route to the north of the main road but not going up and down too many hills on the edge of the Morvan.

We were forced depart from our small road strategy and to use a short stretch of the N81 as far as Maisons de Bourgogne - fortunately it was not too busy. We then rode just inside the Movan park, passing north of Luzy. We stopped for a picnic at a view point near la Garde.

We saw many Charrolais cattle, lots of hills, trees, green fields and little chateaux. We had the idea that we would call at the chambre d'hote in Fours where we stayed in 2003, so we re-joined the main road. Unfortunately no one was at home. 

Back on the side road to the north of the main road, through Thaix. By now we were  outside the Morvan and heading into Nievre. Still sssing plenty of white cattle as well as several rivers (e.g. Alene). Eventually we rode into Cercy la Tour and went on to find the canal and river basin. The rivers Alene and Alon and the Nivernais canal meet up in Cercy. The boat basin is on an attractive stretch of water where river and canal meet. 

The B and B with Mme Bouma is on a corner at the entry to Cercy. Run by a dutch woman who provides a garage for the bike and a good terrace to sit on as well as free warm drinks and a choice of cold drinks to buy.  

But apart from the canal basin, we didn't much like Cercy - it's a very long town - meaning that you have to walk miles in order to find the few facilities it offers. There's a big square by the church at the top of a strange brick towre-like structure with a very white Virgin statue at the top. 

A bar near the B and B offers 'frites and steak hache' - ugh. The hotel in the square  is only open at lunch time. The logis hotel on the other side of town has a 29€ menu... So we raced back to the little mini market and bought a picnic from the very friendly shop keeper. Then we sat and eat it on the peaceful terrace at the B and B. 

Friday 11 September. 71 km  Cercy la Tour - Corbigny

We really enjoyed cycling on the Nivernais canal which passes through very beautiful landscape. the towpath is wide and mostly has an asphalt surface, so you can go quite fast - better than Bourgogne canal. Whoever manages it has  planted areas of colourful wild and cultivated flowers here and there. There tend to be interesting trees near the locks (walnut, for example). In this part,  the canal follows the course of the river Aron which appears fromtime to time. Occasionally the route leaves the canal and follows a well-signed route on small roads. 

The lock keepers' houses have been sold to private owners: some are gites and others belong to artists or potters.

The canal route takes some very big curves on the approach to Chatillon-en-Bazois, but we forgot to take a straighter road and very much enjoyed the scenary. 

We had our picnic lunch by the very large boat-mooring basin in Chatillon-en-Bazois. We decided not to stop to visit the chateau which is another conference place: it looked good from the towpath. 

After Chatillon the canal coninues without an accomnpanying river, eventually reaching a big artificial lake at Baye. This lake was created to provide water for the canal. It is at the summit of the canal - we had bee coming uphill from Cercy. The canal branches off eastwards and almost immediately enters the tunnle of Collancelle - they signpost the way to the 'Voutes' but it seems they're in the tunnle and the only way to see them is in a boat. The canal emerges from the tunnel in a deep trough, but after a while we managed to get back on the towpath. The canal then descends sixteen locks in succession through some very attractive landscape. 

We left the canal to take the road into Corbigny as there was no B and B at a convenient spot near the canal -apart from Chitry les Mines which was fully booked.  We stayed in Hotel de l'Europe which is in a quiete street in the centre of Corbigny and they let us put the tandem in their garage at the back.  The town has a pleasant centre and a large 17th century abbey. But it doesn't seem to have a choice of restaurants, so we had a meal at the hotel. 

Saturday 12 September.  Corbigny - Vézelay, 47 km

The hotel breakfast was limited compared with most B and Bs and expensive. We retrieved the bike from the garage and set off up the hill - a D road, but vey attractive landscape to compensate. A variety of trees, verdant meadows, some very ripe sunflowers and some cut down.

A cooler day, but clear, some sun. We stopped to see the chateau of Bazoches which was the home of Vauban - famed for building fortifications. His family had lived at Vauban, nearby. 

Bazoches is a 12th century chateau but Vauban added to it during reign of Louis 14 (in 1675). His main feature a long galley on the first floor which he used as a work room. It contains a model of Neue Brisach (which we visited in 2003) and models explaining his theory about how to build fortifications. His armour is there -pierced where he was wounded in battle. Vauban was a military strategist as well as an architect of reinforced strong points. Vauban also redesigned the courtyard in yellow stone with gray stone stones round entrances. Views of Vézelay from windows and several portraits of Louis 14, Vauban's patron.

Picnic in a field with a view of Vézelay. Then went of to St Pere sous Vezelay address of the B and B), only to find it was another 2km up another big hill in Fontette. 

The Ch d'Hote Residence Mireille is behind the village of Fontette. It is in nice stone buildings with a very pleasant garden. 


Although we liked the landladies a lot when we got to know them better, their first remark was that people on a tandem were killed on the road outside.

Then we went back down the hill (by a quiet road through Nancheres) to St Pere and up an even bigger hill into Vézelay. We locked the tandem at the bottom of the main street. 

Vezelay is a small town with a single main street that mounts the hill to the basilica. This street is a big tourist trap and being a Saturday was full of tourists. 

The maginficent basilica at the top of the hill is pure romanesque apart from the choir area. The round arches in the nave have altenate red and strwa colour edges and appear to rise up and widen oit. Almost every column has a carved capital (probably Giselbertus and friends, although no sculptor is mentioned in the leaflet. Anyway, they are very similar to those in Autun and very well preserved.

The nave is receded by a narthex - the wall between them has a big tympanum in the centre and smaller ones on either side; all more magnificent burgundian romanesque sculptures. The tympanum on the exterior is said to be a copy of the original commissioned by Violet le Duc. 

A big wedding (Nicolas and Alex) went on for hours - everyone dressed up to the nines, big hats etc. We sat in a bar for a while while it finished so that we could have another uninhibited look inside - and see choirand crypt.

Great view of surrounding countryside from terrace of basilica - could see St oere, Bazoches (?).

On return to B and B stopped to look at gothic church in St Pere. Lots of sculpture outside over the door and higher up. Big flying buttresses on one side and giant gargoyles.

Sat in garden at B and B then went in for meal with other guests ( a couple and three women). One of the landladies (the cheerful one) cooks TH every night - both are very hospitable. We had:

Good experience at repas and breakfast. Couple from near Lyon have 2nd home near Cluny. Lots of discussions.

Sunday 12 September. 70 km  Vezelay - Auxerre

From Fontette to Auxerre and then to pick up point for bike bus.

We planned a route that avoids going via the big hill into Vézelay: so we went up to the view point above Fontette and then down to the valley that runs behind (north of) Vézelay.

Very attractive route through several villages with rough stone houses -  Danecay, Givry, Blannay  and then down to the river Curé which also runs through St Pere. Then we entered the woods at Bois d'Arcy. At firts it seemed dark as we went on a narrow road between tall trees.

Reached Nivernais cabal at Mailly-le-chateau (didn't go up the hill into the town on the left). But we found both a boulangerie and a butcher with fruit at the bottom of the hill. The first boulangerie of the day.

Canal passes by chalky looking cliffs on the right.

Very good path - asphalt and about 2.5-3 m wide all the way to Vaux. Picnic at an attractive spot soon after Maillt. Then a stop for a sleep at another more prorected spot not far on.

The canal is really river Yonne after Mailly. At each lock there is a big weir and backwater to take off the river flow.

Attractive countryside - trees - many pocnic spots.

Short road section before Vaux - not well signed - then on road beside canal and odd stretches of towpath, but without signage into Auxerre. Canal ends (an  become river navigation) on approach to Auxerre. Path goes under a stone bridge and then we stopped by the Tourist Office which is opposite the footbridge. We left bags there until its closing time 6.30.  

Cathedral St Etienne, very consistent early gothic church. The choir end is the oldest(1215) and nave 14th C. Beautiful stained glass (mostly blue) at choir end and elsewhere. Also stone carvings - small scenes from life of Christ and heads of local people. Dome creatures on wall at top of small columns. Front of cathedral tympanum + surroundings - bourgogne sculptors (gothic) carvings lower down damaged b calvinists.

Walked into old town center timbered buildings, pedestrian areas, but not many people about. Quick look at church of St Eusebe - hybrid of styles. 

On town map it appears that you can ride to Monetau on the towpath. In practice, it was mostly on a nearby road, but after going under N6 (about half way) qwe followed river Yonne. This river navigation has big locks. Recognised the beridge at Monéteau and traced our way back to the bus stip location.

To Campanile Hotel - buffet meal7.30-9.30. Sat in loung waiting until lock up time (about 11.30). then waited in doorwayat B and B hotel. Bus arrived at 1.05.

General Notes

Distance recorded at end 560 km + 65 + 29= 654 km. 


- sight seeing - romanesque and gothic churches, abbeys, burgundian sculpture, stainde glass  (Autun, Vezelay, Fonteney, St Thibault, Auxerre) 

    - chateaux everwhere

- countryside - very green, mixed, small cale, variety of trees, charrolais cattle - we didn't see much of the wine production...

- canals - our first postitve intentional use of canals in france for touring 

   - both canals positive, Nivernais preferable

   --- Much better than the Canal du Midi which we tried in 2000 and found it had a poor towpath

- table d'hote. Good idea to do this sometimes to meet french people and learn about their life. Fontette was a real archetype. Is there a book to identify those with character? 

- weather

  -- 2 days solid rain at Villiers

otherwise sunny ranging 21-26 degrees. Wind some days, but not too serious. Protected by trees on towpath

Boulangeries. …are dying in the villages

Rivers - Yonne/ Auxerre/Migenne

Maps. IGN TOP 100 1 cm : 1 km. Used to improve planned routes e.g spot a valley behind Vezelay.

But even with that, hard to plan towpath route out of Auxerre.

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