Canals and Waterways of Burgundy

Information on the canals and inland waterways in Burgundy; the Burgundy Canal, the River Yonne, the Nivernais Canal, the Briare Canal and more...

There are approximately 1,000 Km (620 miles) of canals and inland waterways spanning the length and breadth of the four departments of Burgundy.

The most prominent of the interlaced waterways running through Burgundy is the Canal de Bourgogne (Burgundy Canal). The canal is 242 Km long, has 209 locks and traverses the departments of the Yonne and Côte-d'Or.

The Burgundy canal connects two of Burgundy’s great rivers, in the north it joins the Yonne at Migennes and in the south the Saône at Saint Jean. The canal, at one point, after meandering through the valley of Armançon passes through a 3 Km long tunnel near Pouilly-en-Auxois, where it is at its highest point of 378m above sea level.

The Burgundy Canal was built over a period of about one hundred years between 1727 and 1832. Its construction shaped the social and economic future of Burgundy making it a key transport and trading route between northern Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. It is possible to navigate from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea thanks to the Burgundy canal connecting the Yonne and Seine to the Saône and Rhône respectively.

There are a great many attractions adorning the banks of this canal as it winds its way through the towns, villages, valleys and beyond of Burgundy. Some of the most beautiful are Châteauneuf, a well-known mediaeval village, the Château de Tanlay, the Abbey of Fontenay and the Côte d'Or region capital, Dijon.

The Burgundy Canal is one of the many waterways coursing through Burgundy, below is an introduction to some of the other waterways of Burgundy.

The River Yonne

The River gives its name to the most northerly department of Burgundy; however its source is in the Nièvre department in the Morvan hills. The River Yonne passes through Auxerre, the Yonne’s departmental capital.

Some other towns of note on the banks of the river are: Migennes where the Burgundy canal joins the Yonne, Joigny and Villeneuve-sur-Yonne a 12th century town founded by King Louis the VII of France.

The Nivernais Canal

The Nivernais Canal was originally built to transport firewood from the Morvan forests to Paris. The Nivernais canal essentially connects the Seine and Loire for commercial transport. However, it is now nearly only used for pleasure cruising. The canal is well known for a splendid series of climbing locks moving south towards the canals source Lake Baye.

The Central Canal

The Central canal runs through the famous vineyards of Burgundy, through the luscious grazing lands of the Charollais and on to Paray-le-Monial. The central canal tends to carry the main commercial barge activity of the Burgundy canals.

The Saône

The Saône, a beautiful meandering river, runs in a southerly direction through the north east of Burgundy traversing the departments of Côte d'Or and Saône-et-Loire. The river was once the border between the old Austrian empire and France. It runs through many towns of historical and architectural note such as Auxonne and Tournus.

The Canal Latéral à la Loire

The Canal lateral à la Loire was built between 1827 and 1838 to connect the Canal de Briare and the Canal du Centre. It follows the path of the Loire, as it was built to take the traffic from the river during periods of either drought or flood, when the river was difficult to navigate. Aqueducts were built to cross the River Allier at Le Guétin and the River Loire at Digoin, but because of the extreme length required, one was not built to cross the Loire at Belleau until 1896 when the Briare aqueduct was constructed.

The Briare Canal

The Briare canal, one of the oldest canals in France, was built between 1604 and 1642 to transport grain in an effort to reduce food shortages. The canal runs through the north of the Nièvre department connecting the river Loire and the river Seine.

Boat restrictions

  • Draft = 1.8 metres
  • Beam = 5 metres
  • Height = 3.5 metres
  • Boat length = 38 metres