Sunday, September 11, 2011

Auxonne to Lyon

 What a find – a ‘normal’ marina at a beautiful old French town! Made even better by the fact that it only opened 4 months earlier and is managed by an English couple. Roy and Carole are a very knowledgeable couple. They not only hauled goods up and down the Saône/Rhone for many years, but they live on one in the marina. Port Royal, as the marina is called, is part of the ever-increasing H2O company who have a few other ‘marina’s’, including the one at the centre of the French boaters world at St Jean-de-Losne. Port Royal has all the amenities together with toilets/showers on a small barge. Auxonne is a lovely riverside town, complete with Army barracks, and has a large superstore and DIY store (Intermarché & Bricomarché) the other side of town (15 minutes walk).

Auxonne public quay with the marina further along.

On Thursday 11th August, we moved on to St Jean-de-Losne passing through Auxonne lock. The upper Saône locks are larger than those on the canal we had just left, probably four-times larger, but the drop was only 2metres or so. They operate on the same pushrod system but are manned by a dedicated lock-keeper. The passage to St Jean was 19km with one lock. I had been expecting some assistance with tide and found it was running at about 2km/hr (1 knot). Our 8km/hr in the flat water of the canals became 10km/hr on the river at the same engine revs. 15km/hr (8kn) is the speed limit in this upper section, but I am more than happy travelling at 10km/hr (5.4kn) over the ground.

The arrival at St Jean’s was greeted with a public quay lined with bars and café’s, all sporting colourful umbrellas to shade the open-air tables above the quayside. The quay was full of all types of boats but we were intending to go into the marina behind the main town. We finally found a berth in amongst the hoard of boats and tied up. 19km and 1 lock.
The H2O marina at St Jean-de-Losne

Many of the boaters we had spoken too had told us about St Jean’s, and indeed, most of them had winter berths there. It is central for the canal system and up and down the Saône making it the ideal location. The town itself has a history of being the ‘bargeman’s capital’, serving as a centre for the commercial péniches in times gone by. It is located on the junction of the Saône and Canal de Bourgogne. The entrance to the marina is off the canal and opens out into a large basin. The canal side of the basin is dominated by Blanquarts which is still a thriving péniche/boat repair business. Boats of all kinds, all sizes, in all states of repair in and out of the water. H2O have their massive marina on the town-side and a large hire-boat company ‘Le Boat’ have the northern end of the basin.

We stayed six days at St Jean, the weather was glorious (30’s again), the people friendly and helpful (many speaking English), and it was just nice to bask in the atmosphere of French working-boat history.

On Wednesday 17th August. We left St Jean and made our way downstream to a small halte at Suerre (28km and 1 lock), located a short way past the Suerre Lock. This lock marked the change not only in the increasing size but the regulation to wear life-jackets to be worn The days were continuing to be hot and as a result, that night we were treated to a wonderful thunderstorm overhead and heavy rain. Pity it didn’t clear the air as it remained hot and humid. We moved on the following day to travel the 45km (and 1 lock) to the port du plaisance at Chalon-sur-Saône. Another fascinating place as the port is situated behind a large island in the middle of the river. Beside the port was a large retail park with everything at hand, and Carrefour. Again, hot days with thunderstorms at night.

Saturday 20th August saw us travel the 30km, and 1 lock, to Tournus. The guide says there is a new 160m pontoon, so we were hoping for an easy berth, but we found it choc-a-bloc with hire boats. The alternative was the public quay, which was also full, but a kindly Dutch holiday péniche allowed us to raft alongside for the night. We moved on the following day to travel the 29km (no locks) to Macon. After the gusty and wet entrance to Auxonne, the weather for the past fortnight had been glorious but getting hotter during the day. The 30°C or so was generally bearable with the slight breeze caused by our movement, but now the temperatures were on the way up. The forecast was for 38°C for the next few days so we decided to sit it out at the large port du plaisance at Mâcon. Lucky for us we did, as the sweltering heat with no cooling wind was overbearing. It was a relief to be told that the temperatures were not normal, as the locals were suffering just as much in the heat wave. Macon was notable for another reason – our very first stern-to berth. I must admit it was not expected when we turned into the port and I had that colly-wobble you get when you have to try something for the first time. Yes, I’d read up about it and in my mind knew exactly what to do but, having to do first-hand…..mmmm! As it happens these were the type that you tie onto a buoy and go astern to the pontoon. Somehow, it went problem-free -  Sno’ Rush behaved like a perfect lady, not once but twice, as the Capitan wanted us to move berths. He took our stern lines on the second occasion and even remarked how well we moored up. A proud moment for us all, particularly when we watched the locals make complete hashes of their attempts at mooring.

On Wednesday 24th August we slipped the mooring and headed back out onto the Saône. After 43km and 1 lock we found a solitary riverside pontoon that was the halte at Jassans-Riottier. A holiday péniche and small motorboat were already moored leaving plenty of room for us to tie up. A pleasant surprise was the free electricity and water. Strange how some of the French rural areas do that, I presume it’s to attract customers to spend at the local shops. Jassans is a small town in the shadow of its neighbour on the opposite bank, the much larger Villefranch-sur-Saone. We didn’t venture over the bridge, just being content having a meal, wandering around and finding a Carrefour close-by.

The sun sets over the pontoon at Jassans-Riottier

We left the following morning to travel down the Saône and to the big city of Lyon. I must admit we enjoyed the travelling on fresh flowing water, watching the riverbank scenery and riverside life pass by, all under a warming sun and cooling breeze. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy the day. The Saône seems to have worked its magic on us both.

The widening Saône stretches out before us.

The approach to Lyon is spectacular. The Saône, which has its path blocked by Massif Central, meanders below the foothills until it finally merges with the Rhone. Lyon grew around this point way back in history and now spreads down the slopes of the hills, over the land between the two rivers and then over the plain that leads towards the Alps. The approach along the river reminded me of Paris, with its twists and turns and innumerable bridges between firstly, the residential part and then the commercial town centre. What it didn’t have was the hustle and bustle of Paris - far more enjoyable, even though we still had to dodge the odd péniche and passenger boat. In the past, there has been no official mooring places at Lyon, boaters having to risk a dubious mooring somewhere on the quayside that runs through the city, or stopping at halte’s before or after it. In recent years, Lyon have invested heavily in the Confluence, or spit where the Saône joins the Rhone, and within the water sports area is a small, but well equipped marina. After a journey of 39km and 1 lock we tied up in the midst of ultra-modern architecture, apartments one side and conference centres on the other.
The new halte at Lyon

We stayed more than a week at Lyon exploring the city. An absolutely fascinating place with its mix of historic and modern buildings. Its transport systems are incredible – a railway, tramway, metro, trolley bus and normal bus system all interlinking at various points throughout the city. I could go on and on…. But I must just add that the views are stunning, on a clear day the view from the Basilica on the hill overlooking the city is awe-inspiring – our first view of Mont Blanc and the Alps.
Lyon, with the Alps in the distance.

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