Day 11: Gigny-sur-Saône to Chalon-sur-Saône

Walking in France: Leaving the Château de l’Epervière's camping ground
Leaving the Château de l’Epervière’s camping ground

Sunday, 25 June 2017
Distance 22 km
Duration 4 hours 25 minutes
Ascent 18 m, descent 18 m
Map 136 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

We rose early and decided not to waste time on muesli, as there was supposed to be a bar at Ouroux-sur-Saône, about ten kilometres along the way.

This turned out to be a foolish decision, at least for me.

Walking in France: Departing Gigny-sur-Saône
Departing Gigny-sur-Saône

At 6:30 am we strode out of the gates and took the road to Gigny-sur-Saône, but then circumvented the village by way of a wide mown strip beside a stream, at the end of which was a scene of mass destruction – a whole stand of young poplars had recently been felled and were lying in broken disarray. We supposed they had been suffering from a disease.

Back on the road, we reached the riverbank and resumed yesterday’s stroll. It was a completely flat landscape, without even a distant hill to focus the eyes, but everything looked lush enough.

Walking in France: Beside the Saône
Beside the Saône
Walking in France: Crossing the Saône for a hoped-for breakfast in Ouroux-sur-Saône
Crossing the Saône for a hoped-for breakfast in Ouroux-sur-Saône

I was disgusted to find myself running out of energy so early in the day, and on such an easy walk, but it may have had something to do with the fact that I had not slept well, as the tent was on such a slope that I kept sliding sideways.

At the end of an hour we arrived at a high bridge over the Saône, and crossed it at the hamlet of Port d’Ouroux, the original village of the area, which appears on maps as early as the eleventh century.

Initially it was the home of boatbuilders, who were later joined by traders of various kinds. There was also a ferry across the Saône at this point, which endured for centuries, but in 1911 it was replaced by a bridge.

Walking in France: Hot cheese-and-bacon rolls and coffee for breakfast
Hot cheese-and-bacon rolls and coffee for breakfast

This was destroyed by the Germans in 1944, and the present bridge was opened five years later, remarkably quickly considering the general devastation in France at the time.

A kilometre or so further on we came to the village of Ouroux-sur-Saône, on the highway. To our horror, the bar was closed, so we walked on to the big supermarket that we had seen across the fields. It too was closed, but we noticed that some people were waiting outside, and in a few minutes (at 8:30 exactly), the doors opened and we all streamed in.

Desperate for food, we bought two hot cheese-and-bacon rolls and walked back along the highway looking for somewhere to sit and eat it, whereupon we noticed that the lights in the bar were now on, and the door had opened. Our mistake had been to arrive in the village before 8:30.

Walking in France: On an abandoned railway line near Colombey
On an abandoned railway line near Colombey

We rushed in gratefully and ordered coffee, which we drank on the wooden balcony at the back, wolfing down the hot rolls and finishing with another round of coffee for good measure.

We were now capable of facing the rest of the day’s walk. Our road branched off the highway and soon came to an abandoned railway line, now converted into a cycle path, which made a pleasant walk for a kilometre until we veered off at the village of Colombey and joined a wheel track through a forest.

We emerged into wheatfields baked by merciless sunshine, but fortunately for us, it was not long before we came to the town of St-Marcel, which had a proper row of shops, including two bars.

Walking in France: Getting hot on the way to St-Marcel
Getting hot on the way to St-Marcel

We chose the prettier of the two, where many locals were enjoying themselves, and got a table shaded by both an umbrella and a tree for our third caffeine hit of the morning.

From St-Marcel it was only three kilometres or so to the camping ground of Châlon-sur-Saône, but they were hot, tiring kilometres in the full glare of midday.

Naturally the entrance to the place was at the far end, near the bridge, so we had to walk past the boundary fence for a long way before we could get in.

Walking in France: Emerging from the bar in St-Marcel
Emerging from the bar in St-Marcel

The reception building was new and grand, full of posters, notices and brochures. Beyond that was a line of permanent cabins which were all occupied.

Initially we were allocated a spot past the cabins, between two tall white tepees (both unoccupied), and an ablutions block. It seemed all right at first, until we realised how sloping it was, and how little shade it had.

Although we seemed to be the only campers in the place, there was a constant stream of cars and pedestrians going past, so after a while we went to investigate and found a big tree-shaded field full of vans and tents, much more inviting. Our host at the reception was happy for us to move.

As soon as we had set up our tent, we had a visit from a sweet-faced woman with grey curls, who emerged from a Dutch camper van nearby.

She offered us cups of tea, and brought them on a tray, accompanied by serviettes and a plate of biscuits.

We had a pleasant exchange about where we lived and what our grown-up children were doing. Then other people came over for a chat. One Dutchman expressed his view that English and German campers were friendly, but French ones were not (we wondered whether this was caused by the language barrier, or the feeling that their country was being overrun, or something else entirely).

Walking in France: In the late afternoon, it finally started to cool down, Chalon-sur-Saône camping ground
Late afternoon at the Chalon-sur-Saône camping ground

Looking at our map, the sweet-faced woman pointed out the restaurant area, around the cathedral and also on the nearby Île St-Laurent, in the middle of the Saône. This was quite a different part of town from what we had imagined was the centre, so she saved us a good deal of time and trouble.

At about 6:30 pm we set off on the path beside the river, under the high, elegant road bridge, through gardens and past lovely old buildings, then crossed a channel onto a narrow island, which led, via a second bridge, to the main island of St-Laurent.

Judging by its architecture and layout, this was a very old community, although now wholly given over to restaurants and bars.

Walking in France: Chalon-sur-Saône's cathedral square
Chalon-sur-Saône’s cathedral square

We walked on, keeping to the shade of the awnings, then crossed the bridge onto the mainland.

A couple of streets further on we came to the main square, which was overlooked by the majestic west façade of the cathedral, bleached bone-white by the declining sun. At its foot, in dense shade, were masses of umbrellas and tables, crowded with people.

Walking in France: Two large cleansing glasses of rosé
Two large cleansing glasses of rosé

It was an inviting scene and we wasted no time inserting ourselves into it.

Large glasses of rosé choked with ice appeared and we felt all the tiredness of the day melting away. It was still hot, but there was the promise of coolness to come.

Walking in France: Beautiful façades of the buildings in the square
Beautiful façades of the buildings in the square

In due course, we went back to the restaurant strip on the island.

The south side of the street was well shaded, but we could see that it would recede from there and increase on the other side, so we chose a place (Chez Mélanie) that only had a sliver of shade at that time.

We huddled against the window under the awning until the shadows moved out, by which time the poor diners across the road were roasting in the full sun.

Walking in France: Shade at last at Chez Mélanie, Île St-Laurent, Chalon-sur-Saône
Shade at last at Chez Mélanie

The menus were written on a blackboard, for either €15 or €23. They did not look much different so we chose the €15 one and it was delicious.

We began with two cold dishes – panna cotta for Keith, prettily served in a glass with a topping of chopped tomato, and for me a salad with hard-boiled eggs and soft cheese.

Walking in France: Two cold dishes to start – panna cotta with a topping of chopped tomato, and a salad with hard-boiled eggs and soft cheese
Two cold entrées

For the main course we both had an entrecôte, which came with hot, satisfying sauteed potatoes and a celeriac frittata.

Walking in France: Entrecôtes for mains
Entrecôtes for mains

We supplemented our wine with the bit that we had saved from the château last night, topping up the carafe inconspicuously when nobody was looking our way.

To finish Keith had the obligatory crème brûlée and I took some cheese (but stored it away).

Walking in France: And a crème brûlée to finish
And a crème brûlée to finish
Walking in France: Leaving Chez Mélanie
Leaving Chez Mélanie

Eventually the sun actually set, and we strolled back to the camping ground in the mild evening air, very pleased with our little outing to the middle of Chalon.

Back at the camping ground, there was a sign on the gate “Camping Complet” – the place was full.

As we walked towards our tent, we noticed a small, faded Australian flag hanging limply from a caravan, and a couple of men sitting outside with a drink. We marched up inquisitively and they were very welcoming – in no time we were sitting with a drink too.

They were a gay couple, one Australian and the other Dutch (Brett and Tao), who divide their time between Leiden and Sydney.

They said that the next morning they were going to cycle to Verdun-sur-le-Doubs, which was also our destination, so we said we would probably see them gliding past us, as we would start earlier but go much more slowly.

Previous day: Tournus to Gigny-sur-Saône

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