Boating in France: A Week in Chalon sur Saone
We recently visited Chalon sur Saone, a very pleasant small city (population under 100,000) with a large port for pleasure boats (about 145 moorings). We were expecting friends, Lisia and Dennis, from the US for a few days, so wanted to be in a place that was interesting, had good rail access and complete port facilities, including showers. As an added bonus, Chalon has a huge Carrefour store for groceries and almost everything else that you need plus much you don’t–and a large “bricolage” (hardware-do it yourself store) within an easy walk of the port. We booked in for a week on our arrival and spent the rest of the day getting the boat ready to accommodate two additional people. This involves moving lots of stuff around to provide sleeping quarters as our V-berth guest cabin is usually used for storage.
Chalon proved to be as nice as we remembered from previous visits. Downtown is a 15 minute walk across two bridges and an island with a great array of restaurants along its main street. Once in town, there are several interesting pedestrian shopping streets for both clothing and food. French law only allows major sales twice a year, and we were in the midst of the summer sales. Lisia and I had great fun poking around in the shops one afternoon, looking for those 50-70% discounted treasures – but only managed to spend about 20 euros between us!
Chalon sur Saone as a significant city goes back to the time of Julius Caesar, who chose the town as the main warehouse for his legions’ food during the time he was conquering Gaul. During the Middle Ages, Chalon held a popular animal pelt fair that was known throughout Europe.
A little more recently, the city was the birthplace (1765) of Joseph Nicphore Niepce, the father of photography. We spent one afternoon visiting the museum (free admission) named after him, which has a rich collection of old photographic equipment and galleries, some that are permanent, others that display special exhibits. Many explanations were in both French and English.
I think the loveliest part of town is the Place St. Vincent. The Cathedral St. Vincent, begun in the 11th century, is on one side of the square and half-timbered houses on the other sides. The vibrant colors of perfectly ripe fruits and vegetables add color to the scene when market is held on the square twice a week (Friday and Sunday mornings).
Chalon sur Saone is well-served by trains, so we decided to use the easy rail access to visit Tournus, only 15 minutes away, for a day. We had cruised there previously, but that takes about 3-4 hours each way, and for this visit we preferred spending our time touring.
Tournus is home to an architecturally lovely abbey church and associated buildings dating from the 10th and 11th centuries. The Romanesque simplicity, faint pink limestone and unusually bright clerestory windows make for a soft, wonderfully pleasing interior. But, my favorite place is the cloister, planted with bright red begonias that provide a lovely contrast with the weathered stone walls.
Lisia and Dennis headed on to Paris and home after 4 days; we headed back to St Jean de Losne a couple days later. We cruised back under threatening skies, but only traces of actual rain developed. En route we stopped again at Seurre (see our previous blog), planning for a quiet Sunday evening. As I wandered through town looking for a pizzeria, I noticed a handmade sign advertising “un spectacle,” a show, right at the port. It was to be put on by “les enfants mariniers,” children boaters. What we didn’t anticipate was that two boats would arrive with about 10-12 pre-teens per boat—-and that they would tie up on either side of us! With the idea of a good night’s sleep, we decided to move the boat to an open spot further down the pontoon.
However, we did thoroughly enjoy “le spectacle,” a collage of a talent show, tai chi, a robbery reenactment, and a young male vocalist with a lovely, clear voice. The kids wore makeshift costumes, using props, such as a cardboard cutout sun. The curtain of the “theatre” was colorful sheets sewn together patchwork style and clipped between two trees with a cord. The small crowd of 30 or so local people and a few boaters gave each act an enthusiastic round of applause and demanded an encore from the young singer. Who knows, perhaps we got to see the next Maurice Chevalier or Catherine Deneuve perform!
For over eight years, Neil and Joan have been spending their summers cruising the canals and rivers of Western Europe aboard their now thirty-year-old Dutch motor-cruiser, the “Estate.” This year they are sharing their experiences.