Saone et Loire Places to Visit on Holiday

Cluny and its Abbey

The little town of present day Cluny grew up around the remains of its great Benedictine abbey founded in Saone et Loire in 910. Cluny Abbey was the largest in Christendom until torn apart after the French Revolution. Later, the remains were auctioned, dynamited and sold for building materials and now only a tenth of the building remains. Monastic orders became important in Burgundy in the Middle Ages and Cluny's abbots were second only to the Pope in power for hundreds of years. A visit to what remains of the Abbey is a must including the Musee Ochier in the abbey palace. A tour of the region's Romanesque churches - there's one in almost every village - shows the extent of Cluny's influence. The eleventh century basilica at the pilgrim site of Paray-le-Monial will help you to visualise in miniature how Cluny Abbey must have looked.

Cluny is also home to one of France's national stud farms (Haras de Cluny). Phone to book a guided visit to the nineteenth century stables housing stallions used to sire champion racehorses. Thoroughbred ponys and dray horses are here from mid-July to March but most are returned to their own farms during the other months. Tel: (00 33) 6 22 94 52 69.

Bibracte

Bibracte on the summit of Mont-Beuvray (820m) is an important archaeological site in the beautiful setting of the Morvan Regional Natural Park. The hill fort built 2,000 years ago was a famous battlefield in the Gallic wars and capital of one of Gaul's most powerful tribes, the Eduens. The tribe finally succumbed to Roman domination after a defeat by Caesar in 52BC.

Learn more about Bibracte's history and folk tales of the Morvan forests at the Bibracte Museum of Celtic Civilisation in St-Leger-sous-Beuvray (open mid-March to 31 December). There are audio visuals, models and artefacts, craft workshops and even a restaurant based on Gallic cuisine; plus guided tours and schedule of events including an outdoor evening programme. www.bibracte.fr Visits to the archaeological digs from June to October can often be arranged. Take your own 6½km walk back in time around the 200 hectare site by following yellow signs starting at the museum car park. The route follows Bibracte's re-built double ramparts, entrance to the Gallic town and on past the legendary Wivre stone to the summit of Mont-Beuvray for fantastic views of the Morvan hills.

Autun and its Cathedral

Autun was founded by Emperor Augustus in 10BC and the Roman legacy is strong in this 'City of Art and History'. Gallo-Roman monuments include the arcaded and sculpted town gates of Porte St Andre and Porte d'Arroux - both of which are still in use – as well as the Janus Temple and Couhard Stone. Each August, 600 townspeople take over the site of the largest Roman theatre in Gaul seating 15,000 people to perform a play about Autun's past, involving fireworks and chariot races. Visit Musee Rolin to see Gallo-Roman sculptures, bronzes and mosaics, a twelfth century sculpture of Eve by Gislebertus and other fifteenth - twentieth century works of art. Autun displays its medieval heritage in the streets of half-timbered houses of its old quarter, Ursulines tower and city ramparts built on Roman foundations. A high point, geographically as well as artistically, is the twelfth century Romanesque Cathedrale St-Lazare. Don't miss the carvings here by Gislebertus (one of the greatest Romanesque sculptors) including his signed tympanum of the Last Judgement over the west door.

In 1779, a young Corsican, Napoleon Bonaparte, and his brother Joseph studied and learned French in what is now Autun's Lycee Bonaparte. Visit the town's busy Wednesday and Friday morning street markets on Champs du Mars: the place to buy delicious Morvan ham and autumn chanterelle mushrooms. Enjoy days out hiking and horse riding from this gateway to the Morvan hills.

St Philibert Abbey, Tournus

The Abbey of St-Philibert is Europe's only example of a completely intact monastic structure from the twelfth century. The austere majesty of this pink and ochre stone abbey and its wonderful collection of buildings relating to monastic life, is enhanced by purely functional decoration. Buildings include a refectory, twelfth century Romanesque cloister, chapter room, thirteenth century cellar and fifteenth century abbatial residence. Open every day all year for free visits. Mass is at 1030 on Sundays.

Tournus itself is a maze of narrow streets, still with their medieval shop fronts and secret passages known as traboules. Fine galleried mansions like Hotel de Sagy and Hotel d'Escargot hide interior courtyards with glimpses of winding wooden staircases. Tournus Tourist Office organises guided tours but if you prefer to go independently, do include the churches of St-Valerian, St-Laurent and la Madeline; historic Hotel-Dieu hospital and museums.

Romanesque Churches, Charolais-Brionnais, Taize

The Charolais-Brionnais countryside has a hundred Romanesque churches and chapels inspired by the basilica at Paray-le-Monial and Cluny. There are 3 Romanesque Trails spreading out across the lush pastures of Southern Burgundy from Paray-le-Monial. (Tourist Office, tel: (00 33) 3 85 81 10 92). Departmental Tourist Offices should also have details of these heritage routes, including information on monuments and landscapes. Find more from the Association of 'Resonance Romane' in Southern Burgundy at Macon, tel: (00 33) 3 85 39 45 71.

The Christian community at Taize was founded in 1940 by Brother Roger around the idea of promoting peace and reconciliation through prayer and silence.

Taize now has a worldwide reputation as a pilgrimage site attracting thousands of visitors each year. Young people in particular are drawn there at Easter and during the summer. At dusk each evening, the serenely simple Taize chants, which have travelled the world translated into many languages, rise up from the Church of the Reconciliation on the hill. The100 Catholic brothers who run the centre raise money through the sale of pottery, paintings and cds at the gift shop which you can visit. Those wishing to participate more fully should look at www.taize.fr

Chalon

Like Autun, Chalon-sur-Saone is also a 'City of Art and History'. This busy riverside town is still a port where you can take to the river on a sightseeing trip lasting 1½hrs. Cathedrale St-Vincent was built between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries in a variety of architectural styles. Inside are sixteenth century stained glass windows and fine statues. The cathedral fronts onto a thriving square hosting a twice weekly market, surrounded by half-timbered houses, speciality shops and lively cafes. Wander around the old town to see more timbered facades, houses with corbels, towers and Renaissance staircases. Maison des Vins in Promenade St-Marie is the place to sample Cote Chalonnaise wines like Mercury, Givry and Montagny. The inventor of photography, Niaphore Niepce was born here and a museum honours his discovery. The Denon Museum and Saint-Nicholas Rose Garden are also worth a visit. Ask at the Tourist Office about Chalon's huge carnival and summer festivals.

Macon

The Cote Maconnais takes it name from this most southerly town of the Burgundy wine region producing red, white and rose wines and the 10 day French National Wine Fair is held in Macon each year – in 2011 this will be on 16 April. Maison des Vins on avenue le Lattre-de-Tassigny is open daily and can tell you all about tours and gives tastings. Take a glass of local wine with lunch in the most striking building in town. The restaurant, timber framed fifteenth century Maison de Bois in place des Herbes, is covered with ornate carvings of monsters and suggestive figures. There's plenty to enjoy in the departmental capital including colourful buildings, riverside cafes along the River Saone, eleventh century St-Laurent Bridge and pedestrianised areas of the old town. Summer brings free outdoor jazz concerts and a vegetable market every day but Monday in place des Herbes. Parts of the old Cathedral St-Vincent remain although all 14 of Macon's Romanesque churches in this sixteenth century Huguenot stronghold were destroyed. If you like museums, there's an apothecary museum in Hotel-Dieu hospital and medieval art and archaeology in the old seventeenth century convent now Musee des Ursulines.

It is said Queen Victoria once stayed in the Hotel d'Europe et d'Angleterre. You can still see the house on rue Lamartine where nineteenth century French Romantic poet and political activist, Alphonse Lamartine was born. Musee Lamartine in Hotel Senece houses documents and memorabilia recording his life and there's also a Lamartine heritage trail.

Solutre Pre-history Museum

This museum, rich in pre-historic finds, is cut into the hillside at the foot of the huge Rocher du Solutre limestone outcrop where the bones of hundreds of thousands of pre-historic horses and reindeer have been found. Discover the daily life of hunters from the Upper Palaeolithic period (35,000 - 10,000 BC) aided by models, animations and audio-visual technology. Follow the marked path around the museum's archeological and botanic garden with 8 observation points focusing on local geology, pre-historic landscapes and hunting techniques, past and recent digs and unearthed finds. Open every day except 1 Jan, 1 May and all December. For more, tel: (00 33) 3 85 35 85 24.

St-Gengoux-le-National

Explore the medieval city of St-Gengoux-le-National which still has the remains of its castle and city wall. The twelfth century church was restored in the sixteenth century. Ancient houses and shops line narrow side streets with fascinating names like rue de Moulin-a-Cheval and place du Pilori.

Charolles

Charolles comes from an ancient name for a fortress surrounded by water and indeed the Rivers Arconce and Semence feature so strongly here the town is sometimes known as the 'Little Venice of Burgundy'. Over 30 flower-decked bridges for vehicles and pedestrians are scattered between alleys, and streets bright with blooms and red roofed-houses throughout the town.

Places of interest include the fifteenth century tower of Charles-le-Temeraire, the Diamond Tower, tenth century Ste-Madeleine priory house, Sacre-Coeur Church and St-Roch Chapel. You'll find many shops selling a type of earthenware known as Faience de Charolles which has been made here since 1844. This pretty market town is surrounded by lush green pastures ideal for high quality sheep and cattle rearing and Charolles is probably best known for giving its name to the pale stocky Charollais breed of cattle. (See Culture and Events for market dates). It's fitting perhaps that a place dedicated to fine produce should also be the birthplace of the famous Michelin-starred Roux brothers, Michel and Albert, who moved to England in 1971 to practice their culinary skills.

Chateauneuf

A medieval village known for its antique shops, Chateauneuf also has a stained glass arts and crafts workshop, Romanesque church and Roman bridge.

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