The thing that drew us to the Burgundy region of France was not the wines but the canals! The wine was just a nice lagniappe. Burgundy is notable as the region where the watersheds for the three great rivers of France - the Seine, the Loire and the Rhone - all come within digging range of each other. Since these three rivers link the great open waters (the Atlantic, the Med, the North Sea), connecting them was a no-brainer and the French responded to this rare situation by building an incredible system of interlinked canals that tied all the rivers together so that cargo could get from virtually anywhere in France to virtually anywhere else by water. And where there are canals, there are trails - hence the emergence of Burgundy as one of the premier cycling regions of France.
The namesake and still the most picturesque of the canals is the Burgundy Canal (Canal de Bourgogne) that links the Nivernais (which connects to the Seine) with the Saone (which connects to the Rhone which leads to the Med and to north-bound canals that connect to the Rhine) by means of a spectacular 2 mile long tunnel at Pouilly en Auxois. There is a lovely cycle train running the entire length of the canal, so this was our first destination. We drove to the town of Vandenesse - a charming village near the great turn where the canal makes a sharp turn to follow the Ouche River which runs North to Dijon. We were lucky to get a very comfortable camping cabin at Lac Du Panthier - one of the great reservoirs that feed the canals. These cabins are always fully booked until mid-september when the Europeans go back to work, so this is a great time to explore this area. We were also lucky to be in a comfy cabin because the sunny weather that had blessed the first 6 weeks of our tour, had finally deserted us, testing our optimism with nearly a week of dreary rain.
We were camped right on the edge of the vast Lac du Panthier, one of the massive reservoirs constructed in the mid-1800s to feed the canals. Standing on the edge feels like looking down into the pyramids turned inside out. All the great reservoirs are down about 40 feet or more... we don't know if this is due to chronic water shortage or just a seasonal phenomenonl.
But even so, the sun usually showed its face for a few hours each day and since we were almost right on the trail, we were able to dash out and take full advantage of the break in weather. This is by far the prettiest, most charming and most interesting of the Burgundy canals. The locks are about one per km, very narrow and deep and lovingly maintained. Although now the lock tenders cover several locks and run between them on motorcycles, many of the lockhouses are still is use as homes, restaurants or gites (holiday rentals). If you can only do one segment of the Canals of France, the section between Pouilly en Auxois (we called it PweeNoekswah which is as close as we can get to the French Pronunciation) and Dijon is the one to visit.
We also discovered a really notable restaurant in the Town of Vandenesse the Restaurant de L'Auxois, where I was able to discover first hand the way Boeuf Bourguignon is meant to taste and to be presented. With a fine Cotes D'Or pinot noir - one of the best meals I've had - ever. Later on, on a cold rainy day, I attempted a facsimile in our camping cabin - and entire bottle of wine reduced. Actually not bad - I plan to perfect the recipe once we get home.
If you decide to explore this section, I definitely recommend campground at Lac Du Panthier and the Restaurant de L'Auxois at Vandenesse. If you can get up to the top of the crag, you should definitely plan a meal and if possible an overnight at Chateau Neuf, one of the most spectacular and picturesque castles and walled cities in France. We did manage a few meals there, but our hotel reservation was canceled by the hotel, so we didn't get to stay over night.