Lyon to Pont de Vaux via the Saone, (Autumn 2011, Part 4)

We’ve really enjoyed staying in Lyon.  When we lived in Spain we used to drive through the city eight or ten times a year on our way there and back, and hadn’t formed a very favourable impression as we hurtled through heavy traffic, in between dirty grey buildings and industrial sites,  trying to catch a glimpse of the impressive Rhone and Saone rivers as we crossed and re-crossed them.  There had also been mixed reports about mooring in the city, on some of the public quays.

Grand Lyon Marina

Then we heard about the new Grand Lyon marina, and thought we might give it a try.  It’s in the area of Lyon known as the Confluence, which is being really heavily developed into office blocks and apartments.  Some of the architecture, whilst not to my particular taste, is certainly arresting, with the blocky asymetrical look of the buildings and the different fascias that are being used.  One particular apartment has a penthouse that projects about 30 metres out into space, with no visible means of support.  Rumour had it that this apartment belonged to a famous footballer.

There is a rising bridge into the marina (turn right after the orange fretwork monstrosity of a building as you head upstream), and if you ring ahead the Capitaine will open up for you.  There are probably five or six moorings for longer boats like ours (16-17 metres) and probably twenty or so berths for smaller boats on the two pontoons.  Advisable to book in advance.

You can catch a tram from the main road at the far end of the marina which will take you to Perrache station, (two stops) and then the metro into the centre (a further three stops).  We bought day-long tickets for 4.60 euros each which will allow unlimited travel throughout the day, on both trams and metros.

Once in the city centre, as you cross Bonaparte Bridge, the funicular railway is straight

Basilica of Our Lady of Fourviere

ahead of you (you have to pay again) and the trains run very frequently up to the Basilica of Our Lady of Fourviere.  Well worth a visit, though as a 19th century construction it’s probably not the most impressive basilica we’ve seen on our travels through France.

Great views over the city though, and if you’re there in the autumn there’s a horse chestnut tree where you can stock up on your conkers for the winter on the boat.

Vieux Lyon

We meandered through the cobbled streets of Vieux Lyon, where you can find some amazing shops selling all sorts of novelties.  This is a city where there is plenty to do and see, and countless restaurants describing themselves as ‘bouchon lyonnaise’, even though Wikipedia says that there are probably only 20 or so which are officially certified as such.

Bouchon dishes revolve around roast pork, sausage and duck, all quite heavy and fatty.  ‘Bouchon’ literally means ‘cork’ and you can buy all manner of sweets in the shape of corks.  I didn’t, of course.

There is a boulangerie close to the marina. It never ceases to amaze me how varied the bread can be at each boulangerie, and here the bread was very similar to a kind of ciabatta.  There is a Lidl just around the corner.  We’re not particular fans of Lidl, finding them to be poorly stocked and badly staffed, with long queues.  This one was no exception, though we did watch with interest as a war of words broke out between two rather suspicious looking chaps, close to the check out queue.  I kept my hand firmly on my bag, as I’ve fallen victim to these diversionary tactics at the checkout queue in Spain.

A walk down the bank of the Saone offers a choice of several restaurants with outside seating, and there is a tea salon and a restaurant right on the side of the marina, with a pizza parlour opening soon.

Good value mooring, at 12 euros a night, elec and water included (internet a bit iffy, but better if you take your laptop to the capitainerie where a desk and chair have been thoughtfully provided.) Cyril (the capitaine) spoke good English and was very helpful.

(nb:  we had a less positive experience when we revisited in September 2012, and the price per night for a boat our size had risen to 20 euros.  Cyril was no longer resident here – a great shame.)

We stayed six nights (though officially there is a maximum 4 night stay).  On the last day there was some kind of water sport gathering which made for a very noisy afternoon with the music, cheering and a master of ceremonies who didn’t seem to want to stop talking. Very hot again.

A very pleasant stay.

 Monday 26 September

We set off as soon as the Capitaine (not Cyril today) arrived and opened the bridge from the marina onto the Saone.  We cruised leisurely through Lyon, which looked beautiful in the early morning September sunlight.  There was hardly any traffic on the water.

After maybe an hour and a half we arrived at Ecluse de Couzens.  There was no apparent place to tie up below the lock, though there was a pontoon  above.   (By September 2012 there was a pontoon below the lock, close to the ducs d’Albert.  )Unlike the rather placid locks of the Rhone, the Saone locks seem to generate a fair amount of movement in the lock whilst filling.  No more easy floating bollards.  The two river locks we encountered on our way upstream were my least favourite type of bollard, the inset wall mounted ones where you have to attach to one bollard, then attach to the next higher one before releasing the lower one.

We used two ropes, one on each mid-ship bit, trying not to get in each other’s way or get the two sets of ropes crossed.  Not always easy to release the lower rope at the appropriate time, particularly if the boat is moving about a lot, and you may have to pull the rope through rather than hook it off.  Of course, in the middle of it we remembered we hadn’t brought a sharp knife up from below deck, a precaution we usually take in case the rope jams.

Neville left the engine running and had to bring the bow back into the side on three or four occasions, but the locks are not particularly deep, compared to the Rhone, and the locking cycle was over fairly quickly.

There was a nice little mooring at the picturesque town of Trevoux with electricity and water at 5 euros a night (payable at the nearby campsite).  However, a notice advised that a hotel boat was arriving at 4.00pm and staying overnight.  In any case, it was too early in the day for us to stop for the day, (around noon) so we just had lunch there and continued on our way.  Definitely a must for future trips though.

Very little traffic, during the course of the morning.  One barge crossed with us and one push tug overtook us as we were mooring.

Around mid afternoon we moored up at Belville, where we had stayed on the way down the Rhone three years ago.  Three unoccupied small/medium boats were moored  there  but there was plenty of room for us and another small one.  The mooring is 1.2 km out of the town so not much to do, though there is a bar/restaurant close to the moorings.  It was closed when I wandered up there, probably because it was Monday.

During the night a hotel boat, Rembrandt, came to moor up at the dolphins about a hundred yards upstream of us, and kept their generator running for the greater part of the night.  A lot of these hotel boats like to cruise throughout dinner, and more up late or in the early hours of the morning.

Tuesday 27 September

Dawn at Belleville

We set off 8.15 as it became clear the hotel boat wasn’t leaving when a couple of coaches pulled up at the car park close to the moorings.  Obviously today was a day for ‘sightseeing’ trips out, and for the crew to be kept busy cleaning the boat.

It seemed strange to realise, as we left the moorings, that this would be the last day of cruising for this year.  We estimate that on this cruise we have covered about 650 kilometres in 7 weeks.

We reached Ecluse de Dracé around 9.00.  As with the previous day’s lock we couldn’t raise the lockie on VHF again, so I telephoned.  He said there would be a 15 minute wait, so having moored at a plaisancier pontoon below the lock, I walked up to check out the arrangements here.   Another inset bollard lock.  There appeared to be several mooring pontoons above the lock, but we thought only the first one that you come to (going downstream) would be intended for plaisanciers.

We cruised through Macon, which appeared to have changed quite a bit since the last time

Cruising through Macon

we passed through, and certainly there were more mooring opportunities than we remembered.  Another place we might like to visit from our new base at Pont de Vaux.

Shortly after lunch we came to the turn off to the Canal de Pont de Vaux.  Here there is a fairly shallow electrically self-operated lock which today seemed in fine working order.  We were later to learn from other boaters that this lock can frequently break down, and it can take a fair while for anyone to come out to see to it.

The canal here is quiet, narrow and mostly straight with passing areas, picnic benches and plenty of trees.  It runs parallel to the river Reyssouze. There is an interesting history to this stretch.  Apparently the construction of this waterway was initiated at the request of the villagers of Pont de Vaux so that the village could be connected to the Saone at Fleurville.  The local landowner (Louis Auguste Bertin) agreed to finance the construction, on the condition that the villagers paid an annual tax for 12 years so that the costs of construction could be recovered.  Construction started in 1783, but events, principally the French Revolution, intervened, and the newly enfranchised villagers refused to pay. It was not until 1844 that the French government completed the works.  The canal was taken out of service in 1954, but later reopened for leisure craft in 1994.

The Port de Plaisance of Pont de Vaux is quite large, with a number of pontoons of varying sizes.  The larger boats however tend to be located furthest away from the capitainerie and the village facilities.  There are the usual port facilities, (including an atelier) and Philippe, the capitaine speaks only a little English, and not very often.

We were directed to our winter pontoon at the far side of the basin, and I walked over to locate our berth and guide the boat in.  Naturally, as soon as a couple of boaters came to watch and help take the ropes, a strong breeze sprang up and it was a tad tricky coming in backwards.  But soon we were settled, and over the course of the next few days were able to explore our surroundings.

The village itself is very pretty with a wide variety of shops.  There are several hairdressers on the main street (one of which I visited, with quite pleasing results), and a gem of a little hardware store.  Market day is Wednesday, and has the usual run of stalls selling local produce.  There are also a number of Caves in the vicinity and we were able to stock up for our return to UK.

Our major priority on arrival though, was to plan our journey back down to the south-west of France to pick up the car from Castelnaudary.  It looked like it would involve a bus or taxi to Macon, a train to Lyon, changing there for Carcassonne, and another train for Castelnaudary, but one of our neighbours, Howie, very kindly offered to run us to the station at Macon, which took a great deal of the hassle out of the trip.

We booked our tickets on the internet, but of course when we arrived at Macon and tried to get our tickets issued by the machine in the general waiting area, it wouldn’t work.  Fortunately, we had the time to seek assistance.

The connections all worked well, though we were disappointed by the TGV train from Lyon to Carcassonne, which was quite scruffy with not very appealing toilets.  We’d had much more enjoyable train journeys through France in our ‘car collecting’ expeditions.

This time, although our seats were reserved, a large French farmer-type had taken one of our seats and refused to move, indicating that the two seats (rear facing) opposite were free.  Of course, if one of them turned out to be reserved, one of us would then have to share the very minimal amount of space available next to him, unless we were to adopt the same approach.  Fortunately neither was reserved, and we gleaned, when he held a very voluble conversation on his mobile phone (despite the sign forbidding mobile phone communications), that he would be leaving the train at Beziers.

In the seat facing us on the opposite side of the corridor was a very drunken (at 9.00am) Polish soldier on leave, who was clutching a can of very strong lager and holding a conversation with an imaginary travelling companion.  Later, having had his travel warrant questioned by the guard, he proceeded to denounce France and compare it unfavourably with Poland, to anyone who would listen.  The large farmer, (having now realised that neither of us was in a mood to pass the time of day with him), was more than happy to oblige and to remonstrate with him.

Eventually the farmer left the train, the Pole fell asleep and we transferred into the seats we had reserved.

There were no problems with the car  at Castelnaudary, (starting first time) and the journey back took about the same time as our journey down – 5 hours.

So, that was the end of cruising for this year, and on Sunday 2nd October, having ‘winterised’ the boat we set off back for England.

Next season promises to hold something new for us, after three years of cruising the Midi/Garonne, and we are looking forward to it.  There will be a much wider range of destinations, rivers and canals open to us, so we will have to do some research during the winter months.  Roll on spring next year!

About Sandra

I used to cruise the French waterways with my husband four or five months a year, and wrote fiction and poetry. Now I live on the beautiful Dorset coast, enjoying the luxury of being able to have a cat, cultivating an extensive garden and getting involved in the community. I still write fiction, but only when the spirit moves me - which isn't as often as before. I love animals, F1 motor racing, French bread and my husband, though not necessarily in that order.
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4 Responses to Lyon to Pont de Vaux via the Saone, (Autumn 2011, Part 4)

  1. Sandra says:

    This story was inspired by a visit to the Basilica of our Lady of Fourviere!


  2. Pingback: Crossing L’Etang du Thau and navigating the Rhone to Lyon, Autumn 2011 Pt 3 | castelsarrasin

  3. megan says:

    Hi, this is such great information for us as we head off for the first time for France and the canals. We will be staying in Lyon and keen to leave the boat for 4 – 6 days as we walk from Le Puy to Aumont. Pls can you provide a telephone number for Grand marina Lyon – just can’t find info anywhere on it. Thanks again for the great travel info.


  4. Sandra says:

    06 89 99 45 11 is a number I found on the French Waterways site. I don’t know whether that is current but it’s worth a try. I’m not at the boat at the moment, which is where our records are, so I can’t help other than that. If you are a member of the DBA (Dutch Barge Association) you will be able to find it on the forum on the Moorings Guide page. Hope this helps. Have a great trip.


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