Given this rural region’s naturally dashing topography – rolling green hills, vineyards, shimmering gold mustard fields and ancient woodland crisscrossed by canals, rivers and pretty country lanes – journeys in Burgundy tend to be as memorable as the final destination.
This is some of France’s most gorgeous countryside and slow travel is the secret to navigating Burgundy’s bucolic landscapes. Walkers, hot-air balloonists and canal boaters mooching between villages, wineries and secluded abbeys at snail pace are rewarded with smolderingly romantic views straight off a Turner canvas.
Public transport links the main towns and cities, but further afield you will need your own wheels – two or four – to get around efficiently and unearth Burgundy’s bounty of unique experiences seemingly in the middle of nowhere: the Marché de Louhans, a historic poultry market overflowing with squawking chickens, capons and fattened hens, is a classic example.
Driving around Burgundy
Motoring around Burgundy is relaxed. Regional capital Dijon and ‘large’ towns like Beaune and Mâcon are still small for urban destinations, with uncomplicated traffic systems and easy parking, some gratuit or non-payant: in Dijon head to the free car park on Place Suquet, a 10-minute stroll from the old town; and in Beaune, park outside the town walls on Place Madeleine, again an easy walk to the historic heart.
The A6 highway traverses the region from north to south, providing speedy connections between Auxerre, Vézelay, Beaune, Mâcon and other towns. At Beaune, the A31 lunges north to Dijon and the A36, east into the neighboring Jura. Check tolls, fuel costs and traveling time between towns on Autoroutes.fr. Once on the road, tune into Autoroute Info (107.7MHz, Twitter @AutorouteINFO) for round-the-clock traffic information.
Car-sharing, whereby passengers help defray fuel costs, is popular. BlaBlaCar is France’s national set-up linking ride-seeking travelers with motorists driving the same way. Within the region, public transport operators Mobigo and Dijon-based Divia both run their own, hugely successful car-sharing schemes.
Getting the bus and tram in Burgundy
Getting around Burgundy by bus requires the patience of a saint and meticulous planning. Buses linking towns and villages are limited, less frequent on Sunday and during school holidays, and non-existent in some rural areas. Rely solely on buses and you will miss out on some of Burgundy’s greatest treasures.
Mobigo is a one-stop portal for bus services in the entire region, grouping together bus operators in Burgundy: Divia Mobilités runs buses and trams in the Dijon metropolis, Côte&Bus covers Beaune and around, TRéMA handles the Mâcon area, and so on. Mobigo’s trip planner, interactive network maps and schedules are handy digital tools.
Traveling by train through Burgundy
If you are a first-timer in Burgundy taking in the major urban sights over a few days, train travel works. Comfortable regional trains operated by TER Bourgogne-Franche-Comté provide a sustainable means of nipping between main towns Dijon, Beaune, Mâcon, Auxerre and a bevy of key wine villages (such as Nuits-St-Georges) in between.
Check timetables and buy tickets online, via the SNCF smartphone app Oui.SNCF, or at any train station. Bikes ride for free on regional trains. Before boarding any train, paper tickets must be validated by time-stamping them in a composteur, a yellow post located on the way to the platform. If you forget (or don't have a ticket), find a conductor on the train before they find you – or risk a fine.
Bike, e-bike and e-scooter around Burgundy
Burgundy’s drop-dead gorgeous countryside is bliss to cycle, with an extensive network of secondary and tertiary roads promising peaceful cruising with very little traffic. The region sports 3000km (1864 miles) of signposted véloroutes (cycling itineraries): the Voie des Vignes (Vineyard Way), meandering scenically for 23km (14 miles) from Beaune to Nolay; the Voie Verte (Green Way) from Chalon-sur-Saône to Mâcon via Cluny (70km/44 miles); and the riverside Voie Bleue (Blue Way) from Chalon-sur-Saône to Mâcon along the Saône via Tournus (61km/38 miles) are classic rides. Several mid-range and top-end vineyard hotels offer guided e-bike tours to wine-producing chateaux and villages. One Up Tour in Chablis organizes e-scooter vineyard tours.
Serious cyclists can tackle a tour of the entire region – a circular loop sticking to canal-side chemins de halage (towpaths), disused train tracks and dedicated cycling paths for much of its 664km (412 miles). Another trail tracks the course of the Canal de Bourgogne from Dijon to Migennes (225km). Buckets more itinerary suggestions, maps and guides feature on the comprehensive Burgundy section of the excellent France Vélo Tourisme website.
You can rent regular bicycles and e-bikes in Dijon, Beaune and other large towns. Dijon’s public-transport company Divia Mobilités operates the DiviaVélodi bike-sharing scheme, with 400 bikes ready to grab at 40 stations around town. Insert a credit card, get a passcode, choose a PIN and go. A 24-hour/7-day subscription costs €1.50/7. The first 30 minutes are free, then it's €2 for each additional 30 minutes.
Discover Burgundy on foot
Burgundy has thousands of miles of walking trails, including sections of the long-distance routes GR2, GR7 and GR76. Varied local trails take you through some of the most ravishingly beautiful wine-growing areas in France, among them the vineyards of world-renowned Côte d'Or, Chablis and the Mâconnais.
Rural footpaths crisscross the Parc Naturel Régional du Morvan (several depart from the Maison du Parc in St-Brisson). You can also pick up undemanding, family-friendly trails at blockbuster rural sights like Abbaye de Fontenay, Autun, Avallon, Cluny’s vast abbey church, Noyers-sur-Serein and hilltop Vézelay.
Canal boating through Burgundy
Transport and tranquility are usually mutually exclusive – but not if you rent a houseboat and cruise along Burgundy’s 1200km (745 miles) of serene canals and navigable rivers at a Zen pace of 6km/h (3.5mph), stopping at whim to pick up freshly baked croissants for breakfast, lunch at a village bistro or explore a chateau winery by bicycle. Navigating the efficient system of locks along the Canal de Bourgogne, Canal du Centre, Canal Latéral à la Loire and Canal du Nivernais is as energetic as it gets.
Locally based rental companies like France Afloat offer boats from March to October; canals close for repairs in winter. Boats accommodate two to 12 passengers and come fully kitted out with compact sleeping, cooking and bathroom facilities.
Accessible transportation in Burgundy
Burgundy, like the rest of France, presents constant challenges for visitors with reduced mobility – cobblestones, hilltop villages, narrow sidewalks crowded with cafe tables, budget hotels without elevators. But with careful planning, an accessible stay is eminently possible.
Safety recommendations and restrictions during a pandemic can change rapidly. Lonely Planet recommends that travelers always check with local authorities for up-to-date guidance before traveling during Covid-19.