Departure point Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire
Suitability for duo
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© Michelin - Extract from '90 motorbike tour in France 2011'
Burgundy is famous for its history, lifestyle, fine wines and food. Less well known is the skilful way in which its rich heritage has been developed and shown to best advantage. Come and visit the Burgundy of today – châteaux, old castles and modern building sites (but run on medieval lines), from the wild river Loire to the Canal du Nivernais!
Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire > Clamecy
Departure point for this trip round Burgundy, the town of Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire is easy to get to from north or south via the A77 - N7. Follow signs for the A77 (exit 23, Cosne-Sud) to find the road to Donzy then continue in an easterly direction towards Varzy. At the far end of Menou, take a detour via La Chapelle-St-André and enjoy the little twisting roads of the Sauzay valley.
After Varzy, do the same thing and instead of heading straight for Clamecy, take a short detour starting at Villiers-Le-Sec along the river Beuvron which joins the Sauzy at Clamecy, itself flowing into the Yonne. Clamecy stands on a rocky spur overlooking the confluence. It was the hub of the old wood floating trade, ideally located at the heart of the Yonne valleys, linking the Morvan, the Nivernais and Lower Burgundy. This little town with its narrow, winding streets had an eventful and rather unusual past! A “town of glistening water and soft hills”, according to Romain Rolland, a writer who spent his childhood here. Clamecy is also one of the smallest dioceses in France, due to the crusader Guillaume IV, Count of Nevers, who bequeathed the Pantenor hospital in Clamecy to the diocese of Bethlehem. After the fall of Jerusalem in 1225, the bishops of Bethlehem took refuge in Clamecy, as seen in the strange-looking church of Notre-Dame-de-Bethléem, in oriental style but built of reinforced cement... Leave Clamecy on the Auxerre road.
Clamecy > Coulanges-la-Vineuse
From Coulanges-sur-Yonne towards Châtel-Censoir, your route runs close alongside the river Yonne and Canal du Nivernais. The little road runs past the large, late 15th century castle of Faulin (on the right, not open to the public). Further on, at the top of Châtel-Censoir hill, take time to admire the 11th century Romanesque chancel of the collegiate church of St Potentien, surrounded by tall, thick walls with a postern gate. Lovely view of the town from the terrace near the church.
Two meanders further on and you can see, on your right, the Saussois rocks, steep limestone cliffs used to train rock climbers and as a nesting site for peregrine falcons (April to June). Another two meanders take you to Mailly-le-Château, an old fortified town built on an escarpment above the Yonne. There is a shady terrace above the ramparts with lovely views as far as the Morvan hills. To reach it, cross the Yonne on the 15th century, double humpback bridge, one of whose piers supports a little chapel.
Carry on through the steep-sided valley as far as Bazarnes. The road runs straight to the top of the hill: down to the right you can see the village of Cravant, at the confluence of the Yonne and Cure rivers. The route takes you to Vincelles, before veering off towards Coulanges-la-Vineuse, away from the Yonne valley and back to the Lower Burgundy plain.
Coulanges-la-Vineuse > St-Fargeau
As its name implies, Coulanges-la-Vineuse is a wine-growing village, perched on a hilltop and surrounded by 135 hectares of vineyards, The area is even lovelier in April when the cherry trees are in blossom as vineyards and orchards alternate along the sloping Yonne valley. After this, ride to the medieval building site at Guédelon, by way of Courson-les-Carrières, Ouanne, Toucy and St-Sauveur-en-Puisaye. There are some good biking sections on the D955 road, between Toucy and St-Sauveur. Just after St-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, the small lake of Guédelon gave its name to a seemingly crazy project: that of building a 13th century medieval castle from nothing, using contemporary methods and tools! The venture began in 1997 and is due for completion in 2022...
All the old trades and crafts are represented: basket weaver, carter, quarryman, carpenter, potter, blacksmith, land clearer, etc. There are no modern building vehicles, just carts drawn by oxen or horses. Don't be afraid to ask the site heralds questions – they are there to share their knowledge with visitors. It's best to take one of the guided tours which are lively and well documented.
St-Fargeau > Gien
Turn right as you leave the medieval building, then take the first right: a little road running alongside the Bourdon reservoir. Ride slowly as it is also very popular with cyclists. It leads directly to St-Fargeau and its château which belongs to the originator of the Guédelon project. Its vast medieval exterior, in pink brick, belies a most elegant interior, home to the Museum of Sound. In summer St-Fargeau stages an historical show and the château has an educational farm with donkeys, cows, goats and sheep. Now head for Bléneau, then Briare.
After the Middle Ages at Guédelon and the Renaissance at St-Fargeau, leap forward in time with the canal-bridge at Briare. The town enjoys a key position at the gateway to the Seine-Loire link. The Briare canal was the brainchild of Sully (French statesman) and construction work began in 1604. Almost three centuries later the Gustave Eiffel company was responsible for the canal-bridge, an outstanding example of civil engineering of ingenious design. The predominantly metal structure, 662m long and 11m wide, enables the Canal latéral de la Loire to cross the river and join the Briare canal. Briare is also famous for manufacturing porcelain buttons and ceramic wall and floor mosaics, known as “émaux de Briare”, both of which can be admired in a dedicated museum. From Briare, follow the Gien road to cross the Loire.
Gien > Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire
Not many people know that the château of Gien, in red and black brick with a slate roof, is the oldest of the Loire châteaux (having been rebuilt before 1500). It is also the first in geographical terms, standing as it does on the edge of the Sologne area. It is home to the International Hunting Museum. There are fine views of the Loire and roofs of the old town from its terrace. Leave Gien via the 18th century Vieux Pont (old bridge) to gain the left bank. On the road back to Cosne, take time to visit the château of St-Brisson-sur-Loire: there are reproductions of medieval war machines in its moat and firing demonstrations are held late on Sunday afternoons in summer.