Cruising the rivers of France is such a delight, each offering very different experiences. When thinking of the Bordeaux region, it’s all about food, wine and all the beautiful châteaux. On the Seine, history, World War II and art are highlighted, and on the Saône and Rhône rivers it’s about gastronomy, history, architecture.
Experiences on the Saône and Rhône rivers are often more focused on the Rhône, Lyon and Provence, so when I was introduced to the Burgundy region of the Saône, I found it so delightful I just had to share the insights with you.
The Saône, one of France’s most beautiful rivers, starts just above Dijon and flows south until it converges with the Rhône River in the city of Lyon. The Saône is narrow and curvy, serene, with quaint villages and wildlife along the banks. In contrast, the Rhone is wider with larger cities and a few manufacturing and power plants.
Burgundy (Bourgogne in France) is a territory within the region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comte through which the Saône flows. Dijon is in the northeastern area of the territory, and Mâcon, just north of Lyon, marks the southern border. Well known for its wines, the French know Burgundy for so many more reasons.
Burgundy has some of the most gorgeous countryside in all of France. The area is known for its rolling green hills filled with vineyards and forests, mustard fields (Dijon mustard…) small towns, villages and castles.
Many famous wines actually got their names from these small villages. One that we all know – Chardonnay, located near Mâcon.
Burgundy has a long and diverse history. The territory was always very strong and independent from the Kingdom of France, up until the 17th century when it finally became part of the Kingdom. The Dukes of Burgundy were the heads of the territory, and at one point had expanded their territory all the way up to Belgium and Flanders. It is believed that this expansion highly influenced the importance of the dairy products important to the region today.
The Historical Political and Religious Entity
While the Dukes of Burgundy ruled the northern area of the territory, the southern area was more of a political and religious entity. Here you will find the large Cluny Abbey, once home to a huge order of monks who had influence ranging from Spain to England. This area was considered to be the heart of Christianity during the Middle Ages, even bigger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is also thought that the monks had a large influence on the planting of the vineyards and productions of wines (Thank you!).
While many of the buildings were destroyed during the French Revolution, a good number are still standing.
The architecture of this region is very different from other parts of France. Here you will find the half-timbered houses and colorful tiled roofs (as compared to the Rhone where you will see more stone buildings and terra cotta tiled roofs). You'll also find samples of Romanesque architecture from the 11th century such as the beautifully preserved Saint Philibert du Tournous Abbey and late Gothic gem Royal Monastery of Brou (below). Burgundy also has many chateaux, castles and fortresses to be discovered with their beautiful gardens.
The architecture and sites along the Saône are largely based on the Middle Ages – small villages, castles, etc., as compared to Provence and along the Rhône which is largely based on Roman times from around 2000 years ago.
Gastronomy – not to be forgotten! The Saône and Rhône River valleys have been described as the markets and stomachs of France. You can drive (or sail) along both rivers and eat your way through the area.
Burgundy is of course famous for its wines. One of France’s largest wine producing regions, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the primary varietals. Some of the world’s most famous and expensive wines come from this region. Burgundy has over 100 wine appellations (geographic areas) and the entire region is one of only 5 UNESCO designated wine producing heritage sites in the world.
Food is a big deal for the French, and Burgundy is so much more than wine. Other things the region is famous for: Dijon mustard, one of the oldest and most famous condiments (the recipe dates all the way back to the 14th century), boeuf bourguignon (beef burgundy) made from the Charolaise breed (creamy white colored breed), Escargot du Bourgogne (large snails eaten as a starter, made with butter, garlic, butter, parsley and butter!) and dairy products, specifically the milk, butter and cheeses, the smellier the better on the latter!
How does Burgundy differ from Provence? Completely different menus. For example, potatoes in Burgundy versus tomatoes in Provence, butter, butter and more butter in Burgundy, olive oil (more Mediterranean style) in Provence.
So there you have it. The secret is out. Burgundy certainly has a tremendous number of gems to enjoy. As does Provence. Such diversity between the two, making a river cruise that combines them an exceptional experience.
To learn more about river cruising in France or cruising in general, reach out to Laurie at 602.540.7338 or firstname.lastname@example.org. River cruising is my specialty - would love to help you when you are ready to travel.
Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder