Unveiling Southern Burgundy, One Pedal at a Time

Unveiling Southern Burgundy, One Pedal at a Time

Burgundy may well be known for its vineyards, but those rolling hills also make for great cycling country.

I didn’t know what to expect of Burgundy as a cycling destination. I’d never been to this famous and popular region of France and all I really knew for sure is that Burgundy is all about wine, wine, wine. World-class pinot noir, gamay and chardonnay.

And so, I figured: lots of rides through vineyards.

What I didn’t know and would quickly discover is Burgundy is a great and varied cycling region with paths through the famous vineyards (of course), plus rides along canals and rivers; challenging and rewarding climbs up and down the numerous ridges; rides to and past numerous abbeys, cathedrals, chateaux and medieval villages; and a trip through the longest bike tunnel in all of France.

Another discovery was at least half the people I saw pedaling along the Voie des Vignes (Path of Wine) were on e-bikes. The tremendous growth of e-bikes has made cycle touring more accessible and possible for an expanding number of travelers. If you’re not an experienced cyclist, Burgundy and the Voie des Vignes on an e-bike is a great option – and place to start. 

During my 11 days in Burgundy, I stayed in Beaune and Tournus and did day trips from each. Here are six highlights from my rides that can help you plan your own Burgundy cycling adventure.  

© Steve Wartenberg

Voie des Vignes

This was my first ride, from Beaune, and the perfect introduction to Burgundy. The “classic” and most popular route is the 14 miles south to Santenay, through the vineyards and towns of Pommard, Volnay, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. These are familiar names to wine connoisseurs. On a nice spring, summer or fall day there are hundreds of people cycling this route, often in large tour groups. There are tasting cellars in each town, and Santenay has several cafés and restaurants.

The Voie des Vignes extends north from Beaune all the way to Dijon. This section isn’t as popular as the Beaune-Santenay route. I think it’s because you have to wind you way through Savigny-lès-Beaune and do some climbing before you hit the vineyards and villages. It’s also a little harder to find and follow the cycle-route markers, so keep a sharp eye out for them. But it’s definitely worth it. 

© Steve Wartenberg

The Cirque du Bout de Monde

Translated, this means Circus at the End of the World. In this case, cirque means cliffs. With amazing views. A cirque is a natural rock formation of steep cliffs set in a semi-circular form. A ride up to the Cirque du Bout du Monde is definitely off the beaten path (and the Voie des Vignes), but worth the work. The views are panoramic and amazing.

I found two ways up to the Cirque. The first was from Santenay, after I’d ridden from Beaune along the Voie des Vignes. Take the bike path (a gradual uphill) to Nolay and then the real climbing begins on the D111 up to the edge of the cliffs. An easier option is to ride the Voie des Vignes to Meursault, get off the path, head north-west on the D17 through the villages of Auexey-Duresses and St-Romain until you reach the cliffs. The Cirque was and is my favorite spot in Burgundy. I rode there three times and each time took several minutes to stand there silently admiring the view. 

© Steve Wartenberg

Canal du Bourgogne

This canal path is 150 miles long and goes through Dijon. It’s a working canal, filled with locks and cranes. Lots of cranes. These amazing, graceful birds were lined up along the side of the canal, perched patiently, staring intently into the water, looking for a meal. Watching them take off, slowly flapping their long wings, is like watching a ballet.

To get to the canal, I rode north from Beaune on the Voie des Vignes to the village of Nuits-St-Georges. From here, I headed west, up a big ridge to Ternant, and then down the D35 to Pont-de-Pany and the canal. And then back to Beaune. Another option would be to take the train (with your bike) to Nuits-St-Georges and start from here. 

© Steve Wartenberg

Along the Saône

There’s a great bike path along the Saône that runs south, from Tournus to Mâcon (about 30 kilometres) and 13 kilometres north from Tournus. I saw a lot of people with racks and paniers on the back of their bikes, as this scenic and flat path is a great “connector” from Mâcon to Tournus, and eventually Dijon and beyond.  

© Steve Wartenberg

Tunnel du Bois Clair

This former railway tunnel is 1.6 kilometres long. It was on my must-ride list, but the challenge was getting there. It’s an easy ride from Mâcon, but a long ride from Tournus. I was going to take the train to Mâcon, but the next one wasn’t for more than an hour and I figured, “What the heck, it’s an easy, nice ride to Mâcon, let’s not wait around, let’s just go!” From Mâcon, there’s a bike path through the city and west to the tunnel.

There’s something eerie and a little nerve-wracking about riding through a long, dark tunnel. At least there is for me. But it was also a totally unique and cool ride. And by cool, I mean the experience of riding through the dark tunnel, and the temperature. It was a bit damp and cold inside. 

I stopped halfway through to take some photos and a video and … the lights went out! “Uh-oh,” I said to myself. “This is gonna be interesting.” I started peddling … and the lights went back on. Thank goodness for motion detectors.

A word of warning: Right after you exit the tunnel, there’s a really, really steep climb.

© Steve Wartenberg

The Cormatin Loop

This was my second-favourite ride (after the Cirque). From Tournus, head west (and up) on the D14. This road takes you to Brancion, a medieval village; then to the charming village Chapaize with its church; and then down to Cormatin and the Chateau de Cormatin, which dates back to the 1600s and is surrounded by moats and gardens. From Cormatin, you can take the D14 back to Tournus. Or pedal south on the bike path to Cluny and the famous Cluny Abbey and Museum of Art and Archaeology.

© Steve Wartenberg

Travel essentials

Bike rental: I rented my road bike from Bourgogne Evasion through Cycle Classic Tours. Bourgogne Evasion has lots of e-bikes and they also lead tours.

Hotels: There are multiple options in and around the center of Beaune. In Tournus, I recommend the Hotel Saint Philibert. The owner, Christine, is a wonderful hostess, and her husband, Bernard Siguenza, is a world-class amateur cyclist.

Wine: My advice is … yes.  

Something different: The Musee du Velo in Tournus has a wonderful collection of bikes that date back well over 100 years. 

© Steve Wartenberg

To sum up, Burgundy has a little bit of everything, and a lot of vineyards and ridges. The Voie des Vignes and the paths along the canals and rivers make it a great place for your first French cycling trip. And the climbs up and down the ridges make it a great destination for more experienced cyclists looking for longer, more challenging rides.  

Lead photo credit : © Steve Waterberg

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