Making tracks in the Yonne

TER train at Chatel CensoirAn autumn Sunday afternoon in the depths of the Yonne departement (89 Yonne,BFC) following the route of the Canal du Nivernais south from Auxerre towards Clamecy (58 Nievre. BFC)) – a quiet, peaceful landscape where life follows a gentle pace. But, what is this? Not one, but two trains within an hour – modern, sleek and quiet – serving the chain of small villages along the valley, providng a service which can take you right to the heart of Paris. And the station which initially looks deserted, is manned with an open ticket office and a helpful man who provides me with a timetable for the route.

Rural France suffers many of the same problems of rural depopulation and poverty as the UK, but the maintenance of a good, reliable and affordable local train service makes a huge difference to the viability of the local community, and provides some of the “glue” that ensures its survival. And this is not a second-rate service, with delapidated rolling stock and surly staff.

French railways (state owned SNCF) has three levels – TGV which provides the impressive network of high speed trains between major cities, SNCF which provides the main inter-city and inter-departmental routes, and then the TER, the local network of lines.

And that elusive “joined-up thinking” seems to have been employed too, as the Region Bourgogne and the Departement of the Yonne, have also invested in the development of a tarmac cycle track alongside the Canal du Nivernais from Auxerre to Clamecy (almost complete), which being flat is a joy to ride. And you can put your bike on the TER train service which generally follows the canal.

From the hillsides of the Auxerre to the Vales of the Yonne, Clamecy-Auxerre is a wonderful route of some 62 kilometres along the Valley of the Yonne. Because it runs for the most part along the tow path of the Nivernais Canal, there are not too many hills to climb, making it ideal for a quiet family bike ride.
The Nivernais Canal, built at the end of the 18th and the start of the 19th century, runs from Auxerre to Decize, linking the Seine basin to the Loire basin. Like all the smaller canals, it has been deserted by commercial barges, which have given way to pleasure cruisers from around the world who are attracted to its route through the beautiful countryside, the quality of its engineering work and the charm of the towns and villages it runs through.

For more info on trains see TER BOURGOGNE (in French)

For more info on the Yonne and the Canal du Nivernais see YONNE TOURISME
Recommended Hotel: Hotel de la Poste – a few metres from the Nivernais Canal in the centre of Clamecy

By Train TGVTGV from London with Rail Europe

Water and wine – French vineyards by boat

Barge on the Canal Lateral de la Loire

The Telegraph (19 Aug 08) includes a boat trip up the Rhone Valley as one of its top 10 river cruises:

Navigating France’s mightiest river is a favourite for wine aficionados and foodies. A cruise through Burgundy and Provence gives you the chance to visit vineyards (think Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape), explore Lyon – the gourmet capital of France – and enjoy historic towns such as the fortified city of Avignon and the Roman ruins in Arles. The countryside is equally superb: its fields of lavender and sunflowers were an inspiration for artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, and as the river drains into the Mediterranean you’ll see the famous white horses of the Camargue.

The route includes many worthwhile stops for visits to suit all tastes, but it is also remarkably rich in potential wine visits as you’ll pass through appellations such as Costieres de Nimes, Cotes du Rhone (north and south), Lirac, Tavel, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, St Joseph and Hermitage – and if you branch onto the River Saone north of Lyon you can explore Beuajolais and southern Burgundy!

It should come as little surprise that rivers and canals tend to offer good access to good vineyards – vines often grow best on the steep valley sides with their good drainage and aspect to the sun.

A more modest trip than the Rhone, could be a canal trip from Auxerre (89 Yonne, Burgundy) close to Chablis and down the Canal de Bourgogne to Dijon and the Burgundy vineyards; or a trip down the Canal Lateral de la Loire for Sancerre AC, Pouilly-Fumé and Coteaux Giennois. By using the Canal du Nivernais and the Canal de Briare you could even manage a circular route via Auxerre.

Of course, Rick Stein’s French Odyssey was based on a canal trip along the Canal du Midi and the Canal Lateral de la Garonne and included the vineyards of Bordeaux, Cotes du Marmandais, Buzet, Fronton, Minervois, Corbieres and the Coteaux du Languedoc.

For another set of options try Hilary Wright’s book Water into Wine: A Wine Lover’s Journey Through The Waterways of France which also includes itineraries in the lower Loire. Cognac, Alsace, Lorraiine and the Lot.

For more info on the canals of France see the website for VNF (Voies Navigable de la France) now much improved and in English!

Burgundies from the Wine Cave

The Wine CaveThe Yorkshire Dales is one of the most beautiful regions of the UK (I used to live there) – such a large rural area is not over-populated with too many good specialist wine merchants. TheAngel Inn at Hetton is a favourite Bar, Brasserie and Restaurant with rooms in the heart of the Dales, and its offshoot The Wine Cave is an online Burgundy specialist.

“At the Wine Cave we have a simple philosophy that is to make Burgundy accessible to as many people as possible. By virtue of buying good quality wines from small, lesser known producers, we are able to pass on to our customers a level of quality and value for money that is otherwise unheard of in the UK. This is highlighted by our offering no less than six Grand Cru Burgundies for under £36.00!”

The Wine Cave
c/o The Angel Inn, Hetton, Skipton, North Yorkshire, BD23 6LT

Tel: 01756 730415 | Fax: 01756 730363 | email: