A Biker's Reverie

Saone River - Route Description
  |  Gorp.com
Saone River Route

Total Distance: 100-135 miles.

Terrain: If you hold to the lower"cttes," your thighs will still feel a burn. But if you hanker for some true lactic acid build-up, treat yourself to the views and backroads villages of the "hautes cttes" too. In general, the land slopes up to the west, and you are headed south. You will more or less follow a contour. But any time you want to get off the beaten path, you will have a climb.

Season: As with many of the wine regions in France, the spring can be wet and sometimes chilly, but the summer hordes have not yet arrived. The roasting summer months are when every grape drink tippler in the hemisphere many of them on bikes comes to admire the terroir. Accommodation can occasionally be hard to find. Mid-October sees a return to calm.



What follows is a week-long trip that can be easily tackled in sections.

Dijon. Don't be too eager to get out on the road. Dijon, the historical and commercial capital of Burgundy, is a town well worth a full day's adventuring. In fact, the seven-day program outlined here assumes only six days of riding. Give Dijon its colorfully tiled roofs, central old town, market, churches, museums, and thriving night life its due.

Dijon - Beaune (25 miles). When you set tire to road, take it easy for two days."La Route des Grands Crus" will take you through a winepressful of little villages that have given their names to some of the biggest wines in the world. For 48 blissful hours, you will beam at the endless fields that are at the heart of the Ctte de Nuits and the Ctte de Beaune (together called the Ctte d'Or), the first two and perhaps greater of the four wine zones you will cover. There is ample opportunity for tasting. Take the time to learn about what goes into the making of wine. Suddenly, what seems like simple surroundings will take on a very special character. After resting as necessary, hop back on your bike and drink in the vast expanse of gently rolling, unchallenging vineyarded landscape unlike any other in the world. Stop when you want and must. Give Beaune at the end of this run its moment in the sun as well. If Dijon is Burgundy's brain, Beaune is its heart. At more than 500 hundred years old, the Httel-Dieu should not be missed.

Beaune - Chagny (25 miles). More of the rolling terrain and big-named small villages of yesterday. The difference is in what you might have avoided previously: climbing into the hills. Today is the day to brave the upslope and check out what is on top of and beyond the ridge. From Beaune, head west toward the castle at la Rochepot and the ancient market square at Nolay. In the afternoon, a rolling descent through Santenay will drop you off in the workaday town of Chagny, little more than a convenient place to stop.

Chagny - Chalon-sur-Satne (10-15 miles). It is time to catch your first glimpse of the Satne and to see if you can identify the difference between the Ctte d'Or and the Ctte Chalonnaise. You won't see much change in the terrain to which you, your bike and your muscles are by now accustomed. The nicest ride still takes you to the wine villages (how could anyone drink his or her fill?); stick to the hillside and swing through Bouzeron, Rully, Mercurey, and Givry. Only then is it time to head east to Chalon-sur-Satne and the river itself.

Chalon-sur-Satne - Tournus (20 miles). Try to stay as close to the west bank of the river as you can. The main roads hold a straight southerly course while the Satne sweeps east. There are little lanes and side paths that will make this day, a break from the vineyards and tough digustation (wine tasting) schedule, painless. Tournus, your destination town, is a peaceful stone retreat.

Tournus - Mbcon (20-50 miles). The straight and easy path running along the river is full of cars, so that is not recommended. A slightly longer route takes you through the villages of your fourth wine zone, the Mbconnais. A tough, much longer route, takes you overland and you do go up and over quite a bit of land to Cluny and then back out to Mbcon on the river. The latter route is spectacular and proof that you have gained strength after a week on the road. And Cluny, although many people find it disappointing, is a fine place for a mid-day lunch before heading back. Cluny was once home to the world's largest church (until St. Peter's was built and Cluny was destroyed). There is not much left, but imagining what engineers accomplished in the 11th and 12th centuries is good lunchtime contemplation. Mbcon, your terminus, is a portal city to the south. Whet your cultural appetite for your next trip into select parts of the midi (southern France), like Provence.


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