If you hear "Burgundy" mentioned, you naturally think of its famous vineyards and renowned cuisine. But there is also another region that shares this way of life: the Morvan. The granite massif of the Morvan is the nearest mountain range to Paris and can be reached by motorway. It's covered with forests, and dotted with lakes, but this area is so much more than just another natural region to be explored. This is La Bourgogne verte, green Burgundy.
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Green Burgundy – within easy reach of Paris
In the Morvan, winters can be tough in the Morvan, but this has given the slate-roofed villages all their charm. In summer, the sunshine brings the calm countryside to life and visitors can enjoy the beaches at the lakes, and take advantage of the many leisure activities on offer to keep fit. It is no wonder that families come to the Morvan to leave the worries of daily life behind.
The countryside gently unfolds before you as you wind along the roads. The Canche gorges, just off the Autun to Château-Chinon road, are a typical sight to be enjoyed in the Morvan. In this deep valley, the streams flow down in waterfalls and have carved out strange formations in the granite. It is worth stopping for a while and getting out of the car. There are many paths to be explored. You can have a quiet wander, or if the mood takes you, get on your mountain bike. For just a weekend or for longer summer stays, you can find accommodation to suit you in the area. Enjoy the warm welcome and soon you will find yourself relaxing, and as people say around here, "living by the rhythm of the sun's path".
From Vézelay to Mont-Beuvray
It was on Mont Beuvray that Bibracte was built, the capital of our ancestors, the Aedui people. Abandoned in Roman times in favour of town of Autun, the ancient settlement has for years been the subject of archaeological excavations. Scientists have discovered fortifications, caves, houses, and many objects used in daily life. Many of these objects are on display at Beuvray museum, located at the foot of the fortress, to help visitors discover Celtic civilisation. In summer, guided visits of the archaeological digs can be a great way to find out about this unique site, with its twisted, hundred-year-old beech trees, legendary rocks, and sacred streams.That is really what makes the Morvan special, you can enjoy the countryside whilst being able to discover renowned heritage sites. In Autun, a town of "art and history", you can take a stroll and explore both Roman and Romanesque architecture. On the other side of the region, you can also explore the town of Vézelay, perched on its "eternal hill", and designated a UNESCO world heritage site. A destination for pilgrimage, in the summer Vézelay comes to life as artists, painters, and musicians gather there. And let's not forget that we are in Burgundy, Fine food has as much its place! The greatest chefs are invite you to have a meal in their fine restaurants, whilst country inns and private tables with set menus serve local ham, cheeses, and trout.
You are in a Regional Natural Park
If you're into wildlife, you'll love the Morvan. Mallards, pochards, coots, crested grebes, kingfishers, and grey herons all nest by the lakes and man-made reservoirs, built for timber-rafting. The Morvan is a designated "Regional Natural Park" and is a superb habitat for wild mammals. Whilst wolves and lynx no longer roam the land, there are around fifty other species living in the undergrowth and meadows. You may well come across a deer on your travels. There is also a great diversity of wildlife in the lakes and water courses. Interested in plants? The Herbularium de la maison du Parc, in Saint-Brisson, is a herbarium which exhibits the rich flora of the Morvan - no less than 160 species. Local farmers have developed the cultivation of plants for medical use as an economic activity. And how about some blueberry picking? The village of Glux-en-Glenne holds a blueberry festival every summer. Later in the year, you could also try some large roasted chestnuts at the fête in Saint-Léger-sous-Beuvray. Traditional crafts and local goods are very important in the Morvan. As you drive around, you will inevitably pass by a cheese producer, a jam maker, and artisans working with wood, metal, or glass. Nature lovers will be curious about the peat bogs, which are rare habitats in Burgundy, and indeed in France. The peat that you find in the shops is never from the Morvan. The large areas of spongy land are a habitat to a particular range of flora and insects (including large heaths and other butterflies). These delicate and rare ecosystems must be protected from damage. But you can certainly explore them with your eyes! At the Hameau du Vernay, Saint-Brisson, and by the sources of the river Yonne, near the foot of Mont Beuvray, you can explore these surprising and precious ecosystems.
Time out under the skies
Fishermen will be delighted to know that the streams and rivers in the Morvan are brimming with life, and are great places to fish for trout. With dams to make the flow more exciting, the rivers are also home to canoeists and rafters (particularly the Cyre and Chalaux rivers). The Morvan is a region of lakes and the safe practice of a large range of water sports is permitted, as a family, or in a group. The sailing club at Settons is a haven for wind-surfers, sailors, and water skiers. The Morvan also has a lot to offer rock climbers – just as much as Fontainebleau has, or so they say. The climbing here is on granite rock faces, something special in Burgundy, where limestone is king. But the best way to discover the Morvan is to take one of its many paths. The way-marked tracks give you the opportunity to do anything from a circular, half-day walk, to a big route over the entire massif, on the GR13, from Vézelay to Mont Beuvray. You can explore the tracks on foot, horseback, or by mountain bike.
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