Day 9: Pont-de-Vaux to Tournus

Walking in France: Pont-de-Vaux's boat harbour

Boat harbour at Pont-de-Vaux

Friday, 23 June 2017
Distance 24 km
Duration 4 hours 50 minutes
Ascent 32 m, descent 32 m
Map 142 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

We got up early and were at the boat harbour by 7 am. There was a glassy stillness to the water and neither sight nor sound of another human, possibly because the other humans were not intending to walk vast distances in the summer heat.

At the end of the harbour was the canal that joined it to the Saône river, and here a sign told its sorry history.

Walking in France: Leaving Pont-de-Vaux beside the short canal to the Saône

Leaving Pont-de-Vaux beside the short canal to the Saône

Apparently, in the eighteenth century Pont-de-Vaux was a busy trading centre, despite being three or four kilometres from the great transport artery of the Saône, but moving goods to and fro along the small tributary river (the Reyssouze) was always troublesome because of the many bends and sandbars, not to mention the fluctuations in water level, so in the late 1700s the local lord was prevailed upon to finance the building of a canal.

It was almost finished when the Revolution turned everything on its head, the lord died and the project stalled.

Walking in France: After a sudden rain squall

After a sudden rain squall

In 1810 Napoleon ordered it completed at the state’s expense, but soon afterwards there were more pressing things on his mind (such as war, exile and death) and it was not until 1843 that it was finally opened.

But by then the roads had improved and there was a new bridge over the Saône, so the canal could not make a profit, and gradually fell into disrepair, being declassified finally in 1956.

Walking in France: Crossing the Saône

Crossing the Saône

However, since the 1990s there have been major restorations and the canal is once again usable by boats (recreational, not commercial), and of course by cyclists and walkers on the embankment path.

We swung along at a fast pace, ignoring a sudden rain squall that came and went in a minute.

Our aim was to cross the bridge and then continue a little way off the river to a large boulangerie on the highway at Fleurville, that we hoped would have coffee as well as food.

Walking in France: Time for some serious Snaking

Time for some serious Snaking

By 8 o’clock we were at this emporium, which advertised itself puzzlingly as “Boulangerie, Patisserie, Snaking” (we decided after much thought that they probably meant “snacking”). Inside it was quite lively, with many drivers stopping for breakfast on their way past.

Walking in France: A delicious breakfast

A delicious breakfast

The baker kindly showed us foreign imbeciles how to put a coin into the coffee machine to make it work, and we proceeded to have two cups each, with a double allowance of pastry.

Thus fortified and heartened, we went back to the bridge and took the cycle path beside the water, the Voie Bleue.

Walking in France: On the Voie Bleue beside the Saône

On the Voie Bleue beside the Saône

Walking in France: Rest stop at the Port d’Uchizy camping ground ...

Rest stop at the Port d’Uchizy camping ground …

Most of it was shaded by a belt of trees so it was a pleasant walk, and after about an hour we came to a camping ground on the river bank at the Port d’Uchizy, hidden behind a tall hedge.

We went in and found it had all the comforts – a swimming pool, a playground, a restaurant and a bar, the last of which was the bit that interested us.

Walking in France: ... for coffee and water, and two croissants because we could

… for coffee and water, and two croissants because we could

More coffee ensued and I even put sugar in mine, to Keith’s horror, as I am a notorious sugar-hater. Perhaps that oddity was a sign of things to come, as in the next hour and a half I faded badly.

The day became scorchingly hot, the path was no longer shaded by trees, and I realised that I had developed several blisters. Our plan was to have lunch in Tournus and then press on, but in the circumstances it seemed a better idea to call a halt there.

Walking in France: Arriving in Tournus

Arriving in Tournus

On the outskirts of Tournus we went under a high concrete bridge and found that the Voie Bleue beyond was fenced off for renovations, so we had to take a detour, which we made a mess of by trying to take a short cut across a sports field. In the end we walked all four sides of the sports field and came out at the same gate that we had gone in at. After that we obeyed the signposts.

Back on the waterfront, we plodded past a line of cafes and bars serving lunch. We did not dare to take the riverside path to the camping ground, as it looked doubtful, so we turned at the next bridge and trudged up through hot streets to the station, stopping along the way for Orangina to keep us going.

We passed the great abbey but took no interest in it at the time. Around the station were many restaurants, but none of them looked promising for this evening.

Walking in France: Our humble home in the Tournus camping ground

Our humble home in the Tournus camping ground

The last half-kilometre, although hot, was at least downhill. At the camping ground the grass was lush, the trees offered a wall of shade and the showers were delightful. We were surrounded as usual by huge white vans, mostly English or Dutch.

Our neighbours were aghast at the smallness of our tent but we said it was bigger on the inside – “like Harry Potter’s bag”, said one Dutchman.

Walking in France: A glass of rosé before dinner

A glass of rosé before dinner

Restored by an afternoon of perfect inactivity, we set off in sandals to the town in search of dinner.

This time we took the path along the river, having been assured by our host that we would get through – a gate at the back of the camping ground was unlocked during the hours of daylight.

Walking in France: Happy walkers waiting for dinner beside the Saône

Happy walkers waiting for dinner beside the Saône

After some wandering about the streets, consulting menus and testing the ambience, we settled on a large brasserie on the waterfront, Lazzarella, which had a terrace across the road next to the boat harbour.

But first we had glasses of rosé on the street in front of the restaurant while we waited for a table to become vacant on the terrace. It was a beautiful, mild, tranquil evening, so there was no hardship in that.

Walking in France: A delicious dinner with a beautiful view, Tournus

A delicious dinner with a beautiful view

Once installed on the terrace, we ordered our food (lasagna for me, unswerving steak and chips for Keith) and had already finished the first basket of bread before the dishes arrived.

Both dishes were delicious and the second basket of bread lasted hardly longer than the first. We also drank two bottles of water and our customary half-litre of local red wine.