In Burgundy, with its swathes of forest, meandering rivers, medieval villages and monasteries and world-renowned vineyards stretching for miles, it’s easy to escape into the outdoors and replenish your mind, body and soul.
Throughout this glorious corner of France, you can explore a maze of hiking and cycling trails, or undertake more restful pursuits that include cruising its tranquil waterways, or drifting over the beautiful landscapes in a balloon.
Walking in Burgundy
Burgundy (Bourgogne, in French) has walking opportunities for any level of fitness or travel schedule. Some 3,700 miles (6000km) of marked trails fan out across the verdant countryside, from gentle rambles to multiday hikes, including sections of the long-distance GR (“Grande Randonnée”) routes the GR2, GR7 and GR76.
Wine lovers can follow a variety of trails through prestigious winegrowing areas ribboned with vines, among them prestigious vineyards in Chablis, the Mâconnais and the Côte d'Or ("Golden Hillside"), taking paths used by winemakers. Marked by pinot-noir-colored signs featuring bunches of grapes, the Chemin des Grands Crus runs through the Côte d'Or from Dijon to Santenay for 54 miles (87km) over three to five days, or you can just take on a small section.
Burgundy’s green heart is the Parc Naturel Régional du Morvan, which covers 700,000 acres (285,000 hectares). Walking trails crisscross its rural landscapes and wilder reaches. If you’re up for a trek a 137-mile (220km) circular route, Le Tour du Morvan, threads its way through beech and conifer forests, past lakes and granite peaks including the park’s highest, Haut-Folin (3,252 feet/991m). At the foot of Mont Beuvray (2,694 feet/821m) is a former stronghold of the ancient Gauls – Bibracte. Watch for wildlife including red deer, badgers and pine martens, along with falcons flying overhead.
Other walking itineraries follow pilgrimage routes in Burgundy. A 52-mile (84km) section of the Camino de Santiago connects the Unesco world heritage center of Vézelay via the hilltop walled town of Avallon to another Unesco-listed site Abbaye de Fontenay. Another pilgrimage route is the 50-mile (80km) Chemin des Allemands (Path of the Germans) between Burgundy wine capital Beaune and the ruins of Église Abbatiale at Cluny – once the largest abbey in Christendom.
Cycling in Burgundy
More than 1,800 miles (2900km) of marked cycling trails spread across Burgundy. Road, mountain, electric and kids’ biking experiences are widely available, and many companies can arrange one-way rentals. For an excellent local resource, check out France Vélo Tourisme, which has itineraries and maps.
The Parc Naturel Régional du Morvan is a paradise for cyclists, offering exhilarating downhill mountain biking – MTB Guide Morvan has details on routes, rentals and shuttle bus connections.
Or take a spin through the best of Burgundy’s vineyards, medieval villages and churches, incorporating greenways and canal towpaths – all found on the regional loop Tour de Bourgogne à vélo, which covers some 500 miles (800km).
An idyllic ride along the Canal de Bourgogne is along the chemin de halage (towpath) from Dijon to Migennes, a distance of 140 miles (225km). Between Montbard and Tonnerre (40 miles/65km) you’ll ride by Renaissance-style Château d'Ancy-le-Franc and Château de Tanlay. Along the section from Montbard to Pouilly-en-Auxois (36 miles/58km), you can take spur roads to Abbaye de Fontenay and Semur-en-Auxois, one of France’s prettiest medieval villages. Flat, family-friendly paths also border the Canal du Centre (70 miles/112km) and Canal du Nivernais (108 miles/174km).
Boating in Burgundy
Getting out on a boat is one of the loveliest ways to explore Burgundy’s 745 miles (1,200km) of waterways, which include the Rivers Yonne, Saône and Seille and a large network of canals.
As a taste, there are some lovely short cruises in the warmer months. From Pouilly-en-Auxois, west of Dijon, Bateau La Billebaude runs a range of trips, including a two-hour ride that takes you through the vaulted stone tunnel Voûte de Pouilly–en-Auxois that runs beneath the town. In high summer, you can take the boat one way and return by tourist train. At Auxerre, Bateaux Touristiques de l'Auxerrois has a two-hour trip that takes in the Yonne and tree-lined Canal du Nivernais. As you glide the waters, you may see swans, herons, kingfishers and woodpeckers, as well as otters.
For a truly serene way to travel, hire a houseboat and spend a few days exploring. Rental companies such as Locaboat, Le Boat and Les Canalous offer boats from late March to mid-November (canals close for repairs in winter). No boat license is required, and you’ll be given instruction on navigation and operating the vessels and locks (many are automated). Rates include everything you need to travel in comfort (linen, towels, dishes etc); fuel and mooring fees are extra. It’s well worth hiring bicycles to take on board for side trips along the way.
Ballooning above Burgundy
Floating above the waterways wending past vineyards, fields, forests, and hilltop medieval villages, churches and castles aboard a montgolfière (hot-air balloon), is an uplifting, impossibly romantic way to survey Burgundy’s landscapes.
Companies operating balloon rides include including Air Escargot, near Beaune, and France Montgolfières, near both Beaune and Vézelay. Baskets hold up to 16 people; you can share the experience with other groups, or opt for a private journey. In total, the experience generally takes around three hours, including return transport, an hour’s flying time, and a glass of Burgundy’s famous wine upon landing.