Saone et Loire Geography and Natural Beauty

Roche de Solutre

This massive limestone escarpment rising out of the Maconnais vineyards like a ship's prow is an important pre-historic site, deservedly protected and labelled as a ‘Grand Site de France'. Nineteenth century excavations at its foot revealed remains of flints and spear heads plus hundreds of thousands of horse, reindeer and even mammoth bones. Archaeologists have deduced the area was an important Paleolithic and Solutrean hunting ground from 20,000 - 16,000 BC where the local topography would have allowed our ancestors to trap animals easily on their annual migrations. The site is still under excavation, and the local Musee Departemental de Prehistoire displays finds and gives a strikingly clear picture of pre-historic life. (See Places to Visit).

The remains of 2 Roman villas have also been discovered at the base of the rock - one giving its name to the village of Solutre.

Those walking the steep footpath to the summit will be rewarded with wonderful views across the Pouilly-Fuisse vineyards and Saone Valley as far as the Jura and Mont Blanc on a clear day. Imagine yourself one of the bandits who had a castle stronghold here in medieval times.

Parc Naturel Regional du Morvan

The 'black mountains' of Morvan Regional Natural Park extending into Southern Yonne, are actually forested hills which once supplied wood and charcoal to Paris. The park is a granite plateau covering nearly a quarter of a million hectares, providing 3,400km of marked trails including a circular 220km walk (GR13) through places of interest like Bibracte. A 3 hour archaeology and nature guided walk around Bibracte explains more about the forest's history, its rich fauna and flora and strange twisted beeches. (Details at the park centre across the border in St-Brisson). The whole park is a land of pasture, moorland, vast reservoir lakes, and gorges with river rapids for white water rafting, canoeing and fishing. Fauna and flora include wild boar and deer, mushrooms and orchids, according to the season. Increasingly popular as a place for outdoor pursuits, the park also has animal reserves, museums, crafts shops and information centres.

Grottes d'Aze

The remarkable network of Caves of Aze is part of a pre-historic site with an exceptional geological history charting the life of Cro-Magnon man and paleontology ranging from 25,000 - 10,000 BC. Recent discoveries amongst the caves' extraordinary treasures include one of the highest concentrations of bear skeletons in a public cave. Lion skeletons here include an extremely rare specimen with its skull intact. (Lions disappeared from Saone et Loire over 10,000 years ago at the time of global warming). The site has 200m of marked paths and also includes Mousterian dwellings and evidence of activities from the Stone Age and Neanderthal man. There's also an underground river with a further 800m of paths, waterfalls and a water recreational area. Artifacts in the site's museum include flints, bones, weapons, pottery, coins and cave fauna.

Grottes de Blanot

The charming little village of Blanot at the foot of Mont Saint-Romain is home to a vast network of caves reaching to a depth of more than 80m. Guided tours through this enchanted underground landscape of galleries sculptured with stalactites and stalagmites, last about an hour. On-site archeological digs have revealed pre-historic tools and bone fragments of bears, hyenas and bison which can be viewed through windows inside the caves. Temperatures underground are a constant 13ºC so do wear something warm when visiting. Open from April - September and Sunday afternoons in October. Tel: (00 33) 85 50 03 59.

Saone et Loire Rivers

Saone et Loire takes its name from the 2 rivers which cross it, linked by the Canal du Centre. The River Saone passes through the east close to the Cote Chalonnaise and Cote Maconnais vineyards as it travels south to meet the River Rhone at Lyon. Take a cruise down river to enjoy the lush Bresse countryside past fortified towns like Chalon, Tournus and Macon.

The River Loire is France's longest river, flowing north for 1,000km before it turns west towards the Atlantic Ocean. It forms most of Saone et Loire's western border. Too dangerous for navigation at this point it flows in parallel first with the Canal de Roanne at Digoin and then the Canal Lateral a la Loire. Passenger cruise boats depart from Digoin for cruises along the canals.

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