If you drive south at Chalon-sûr Saone, you will see the landscape change. The sky clears and you see houses with soft, warm colors. You feel the transition from north to south. Pastures with Charolais cows bordered by green hedges, swaying corn fields, tempting vineyards and mysterious forest alternate. Traditional farms, pleasant villages, Romanesque churches, meanderings of the Loire and straight lines of the Canal de Roanne à Digion: they are spread over this area like a patchwork quilt. There are so many nice activities en and sights to discover that we list here some ideas. To get into the holiday mood!
The rolling environment of Estefana is suitable for the sporty cyclist or for the recreational cyclist with electric assistance. Various cycling routes have been set out in the proximity (also for mountain bike), varying in difficulty and length (6 to 45 km). Contact us for a tailor-made route. 4 km from the campsite, the Voie Verte runs near Marcigny, a flat, asphalted route built on a former railway near the Loire. This is a great starting point to explore the hilly area with villages and churches on both sides of the Loire. There is enough variety to make varied cycling trips over several days.
The Loire and other waters
Fed with rainwater, the Loire is turbulent in some seasons. On the other hand, the natural course of the river provides beautiful beaches where you can enjoy a picnic on this last and longest (1012 km) unspoilt river in France. These places are easiest to find by canoe or kayak, other shipping traffic is not possible here. In the summer the river is low and you can swim along the way. There are several routes and no experience is required as you are sailing downstream. Ask us about the possibilities.
Canal de Roanne à Digion
This canal runs parallel to the Loire and was built in the period 1827-1838 to enable inland navigation from Digoin to Roanne. It is 55 kilometers long and has 10 locks to bridge the height difference of 37.27 meters. It was once intended to continue the canal and connect it to the Rhône via the Givors Canal. This never happened because other means of transport became commonplace. Now it is a quiet canal for recreational boating. In Digoin you can take a boat trip on this canal, possibly accompanied by lunch. You can also rent a boat yourself to discover the canal, without a sailing license.
Cascade de Pisserotte – Arfeuilles
These beautiful waterfalls are located just below Arfeuilles. The legend is that here was an unfathomably deep canyon. Anyone who looked into it disappeared into the depths. The villagers tried to fill the canyon with boulders, but it vomited everything up again, creating a waterfall. You can enjoy a nice picnic and you can bathe in the quiet parts. Nice starting point for a walk. The GR3 (part of the pilgrimage route to Santiago de la Compostela) passes close by.
Reservoirs – Renaisson
Two reservoirs lie together here: Barrage de Rouchain and Barrage de la Tache (or du Chartrain), which supply the Roanne region with drinking water. The last one is the oldest (1888-1891) and has a reservoir of 3.6 million m3. At the edge of this arch dam (towards St. Rirand) stands a 66 m tall Douglas fir, one of the tallest trees in France. The barrage de Rouchain is a gravity dam from 1976 with a volume of 6.5 million m3. You can walk around and on the dams and visit the nearby Maison de l’Eau. Water sports are not allowed.
More than 80 routes have been described in the neighbourhood of Marcigny. You can select by location and length via this website with walking routes. You can download the map as a pdf.
Forêt de Lespinasse – Vivans
Beautiful oak forest (455 ha) full of history. Julius Ceasar wrote about a skirmish between the legions of Arvernes and Aspinassia in the Texonnaria Valley, the predecessor of this forest. Various routes (hiking or mountain bike) are indicated. There is also a walk for the disabled / buggies. There are also pools where you can fish (with a permit!) and nice picnic areas. Also visit the Le Grand Couvert visitor center in Vivans to learn all about this forest.
Forêt domaniale des Charmays – Semur-en-Brionnais
Very old forest with a mystical charge. From the Chapelle Notre-Dame de La Touche you go up to an alleged medicinal spring. The story goes that a woman drank from the well and was unharmed after being run over by a cart. Out of gratitude, she placed a statue of the Virgin Mary at the well. Turn right and the pine forest gives way to oak thickets. Here you will see ancient rock formations, mysterious huts and meet escaped sheep from the farm on the edge of the forest. The nearby hamlet of Montmegin is said to have been home to druids, be warned!
La Roche Solutré – Solutré-Pouilly
The well-known Roche Solutré does not stand alone: it are 4 rocky hills with breathtaking views, in clear weather you can even see the Mont Blanc. If you go for convenience, then you climb the Roche de Solutré, if you prefer spectacle, choose the Roche de Vergisson. During the climb you pass steep cliffs where mountain climbers are often busy. On top you can have a great picnic. According to legend, the Roche Solutré was used in prehistoric times to hunt wild horses. Many bones have been found at the base, which can now be admired in the museum at the bottom of the rock.
Grottes de Blanot – Blanot
Personal small group tour in French or English. 800 steps lead you to a depth of 80 meters (and up again later). Via exciting, narrow and slippery winding corridors you pass through 21 halls with stalagmites and stalactites, each with their own appropriate name. Some are as old as 400 million years. Adventurous for children. Bring something warm, the temperature in the caves is 12 degrees! It is also nice to walk in the forest around the caves.
Long before the Dukes made history in the 14th and 15th centuries, there were two monastic orders that dominated Christianity in Western Europe: the Cluniac and Cistercian Order. The monks turned out to be valuable builders, which means that from the year 1000 we can speak of a Burgundian Romanesque architectural style. As a result, Southern Burgundy is teeming with Romanesque architecture. Cluny, Paray-le-Monial, Charlieu: all of them are highlights of Romanesque architecture.
Home to the Order of Cluny, founded in 910. Until the construction of St. Peter’s in Rome (1506), the abbey church was the largest religious building in Europe. Thanks to strict monastic discipline and charity, the order was widely imitated in Western Europe and became a place of pilgrimage for pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela. Even if you are not much into religion, Cluny is worth it. Go to the Haras National horse stud farm and visit the stables, visit a horse show or climb into the saddle yourself and follow the equestrian routes in the area.
This pilgrimage site is dedicated to the worship of the Sacred Heart. In the 17th century, the nun Marguerite-Marie is said to have had a vision of Christ pointing to his heart, in reference to his suffering and redemption. Now she has been canonized and lies in the Chapelle de la Visitation, where she also got her vision. Numerous religious communities are located here, allowing you to experience a serene tranquility in the city center. The Basilique du Sacré-Coeur is the most imposing church and outdoor masses are given in the adjacent Parc des Chapelains.
Abbaye de Charlieu
The foundations of this Cluniac-style abbey date back to 872. The abbey has a beautiful cloister and you can admire sacred art. The cloister was bought by Americans in the 20th century and was to be dismantled. The French state put a stop to this and so the Couvent des Cordeliers can still be visited. Be sure to climb up to the Église Abbatiale Saint-Fortuné for the view. There is also an exhibition of contemporary art. Finally, wander around in the cozy center with half-timbered houses and narrow streets.
Abbaye La Bénisson-Dieu
This abbey with a very beautiful roof was founded in 1138 by followers of Saint Bernard. It is estimated that the abbey had at its peak about 5000 monks who stayed either in the abbey itself or in one of its numerous outbuildings in the region. After the French Revolution all monks had disappeared. The buildings were sold and served as quarries. A few years later the church was bought by the villagers to become a parish church. From that basis, more and more has been restored to the allure of today.
Chateau Saint-Hugues – Semur and Brionnais
One of the oldest castles in Burgundy, the first foundations are from the end of the 10th century. Residence of the famous Semur family and also the birthplace of Saint Hugues, abbot of Cluny. Rare example of a keep from the Roman period. In addition to archaeological finds, there is a collection of posters about the French Revolution. Costumes are available for children. Also visit the freely accessible Grenier au sel. The hated salt tax was stored in this “tax office”, one of the reasons for the French Revolution.
Chateau de la Clayette – La Clayette
This castle is privately owned, but since the summer of 2020 certain parts of this castle can be visited three times a week, such as the Paray Tower, which has stood out since the 15th century, the stables, the medieval kitchen, the chapel and other outbuildings of the castle. It was originally a moated castle from the 13th century, surrounded by moats and a large pond in which the Gothic turrets reflect beautifully. The pond is full of large carp that the French like to fish for. The village is also nice to view and around the castle are several cozy terraces.
Chateau de la Roche – Saint-Priest-la-Roche
This fairytale castle, with foundations dating back to 1256, stands on a rock surrounded by the water of the Villerest reservoir, which is fed by the Loire. In the summer there are theatrical guided tours where the life of the Roustan family (castle owners 1900-1930) is re-enacted. An interactive visit, full of surprises and encounters for the whole family. There are also two escape rooms in the castle. Book your visit to the castle in advance.
And further… freely accessible ruins:
Château des Cornes d’Urfé – Champoly
Château de Montgilbert – Ferrières-sur-Sichon
Tour Saint Maurice – Saint-Jean-Saint-Maurice-sur-Loire
This is the weekly market in the region, attracting everyone from the region. The market starts on Monday morning and lasts until about noon. If you have had breakfast first, it is difficult to park. This market offers everything: vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese, spices, textiles and of course the animal market. Children can pet the animals. There are large stalls, but also farmers with a few eggs and vegetables from their own garden. Real local products. Tip to buy your vegetables here: much better than from the supermarket.
The Romans brought the vine to Burgundy, but monks really started growing the vines: not just for the mass, but even more for their guests. They selected the grape varieties and improved the wine techniques. Wine gradually became a political tool. Philip the Bold (1342-1404) always took wine with him in negotiations and encouraged the cultivation of quality grapes, in fact the predecessor of the appellation d’origine contrôlée. The closest AOP of Estefana is the Côte Roannaise and encompasses 215 hectares of vineyards with about thirty wineries. Inquire about the possibilities.
With 27 different Burgundian cheeses you can put a varied cheese platter on the table. Take an Epoissess, for example: characterful, creamy cheese based on whole cow’s milk with an orange rind. There are also monastic cheeses such as Cîteaux, La Pierre-qui-vire and Nuits-st-Georges. These spicy soft cheeses go well with a glass of wine. Finally, there are goat cheeses, such as Crottin de Chavignol de Loire. These small, spicy, round cheeses are made from raw milk. If you prefer a milder goat cheese, try the Pâtes molles du Charolais.
The Charolais cows
When you think of the Burgundian countryside, you think of the white Charolais cows. The name comes from the town of Charolles, but the main livestock market for this cattle is in St-Christophe-en-Brionnais. Every Wednesday morning farmers come from far and wide to buy or sell livestock. In the adjacent cafes favorable cattle traders give one round after another. In the kitchen, the pot au feu steams to end the market day with a hearty meal. You can visit the cattle market with a guided tour and taste the charolais specialties at lunchtime from local restaurateurs. More info www.tourismecharolaisbrionnais.fr
The thermal springs in Vichy
The spa town of Vichy, indeed of the famous creams…, was the place to be in the nineteenth century with a casino, hotels, and of course the warm springs. Now you can still stroll through the center, along avenues with Art Nouveau-style facades, beautiful parks and the boulevard on the Allier. Don’t skip the springs and tap a bottle of water to taste the pungent, slightly salty water on your tongue. Bring some Vichy pastilles for home, these peppermint candies are made with mineral salts from Vichy water. We also recommend the cozy lounge terraces along the Allier, there is a large playground where children can enjoy themselves.