The River Yonne rises in the Morvan hills near Chateau-Chinon and lends its name to the department through which it flows, north and westwards en route to join the Seine and Paris. The Yonne was the traditional waterway to the capital transporting logs for firewood, passing vine-clad hillsides and fields of wheat. Today the river is mainly used by pleasure craft and lends a watery magic to the landscapes of towns and villages along its journey, like beautiful Auxerre (once an important wine port), the winding terraced streets and half-timbered houses of Joigny and thirteenth century Villeneuve-sur-Yonne. Hire a boat and moor on the quay at Sens, close to the mighty cathedral of Saint-Etienne or take a cruise through the peaceful countryside of the Upper Yonne Valley.
The Burgundy Canal and peaceful Canal du Nivernais form part of Burgundy's 1,200 km of rivers and canals and are some of France's prettiest waterways. Drift past vineyards, spotting grey herons, kingfishers and many nesting breeds. Skipper yourself, or join barges and cruises operating from river ports such as Vermenton. The Burgundy Canal linking the Saone and Yonne rivers has a total of 190 locks along its 242km length. Watch an ever-changing panorama of green pastures and wooded hillsides. Cycle and picnic along tree-lined tow paths stopping at villages and historic sites such as the chateau at Ancey-le-Franc.
The 180km long Canal du Nivernais was built in the late eighteenth century to facilitate transport of 'log trains' from the Morvan forests to Paris. Beginning in neighbouring Nivernais, the canal closely follows the path of the River Yonne ending at Auxerre. Rail transport developed in the nineteenth century ended the commercial importance of the canal which is now a delight for leisure craft. Hire boats at Auxerre and cruise through pretty villages like Vincelles, Mailly-le-Chateau and Coulanges-sur-Yonne. Have your camera at the ready to snap the amazing natural limestone Arche du Saussois as you pass below the magnificent 50m limestone cliffs of Le Saussois.
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. It's a land of pasture, moorland, vast reservoir lakes, and gorges with river rapids for white water rafting, canoeing and fishing. Increasingly popular as a place for outdoor pursuits, the park also has animal reserves, museums, crafts shops and information centres. Visit the Eco-museum in St-Leger-Vauban celebrating the work of France's great architect and town planner, Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban. Born in St-Leger-Vauban in 1633, this famous economist, politician and philosopher was very attached to the town and the museum displays fascinating information on his fortifications and technical works.
165 hectare Lake Crescent was created artificially in 1933 by damming the Rivers Cure and Chalaux where they flow into the River Yonne. Straddling the borders of Yonne and Nieve in the Morvan Regional Natural Park the reservoir enables waters of the River Yonne to be regulated as it flows into the Seine, preventing flooding in Paris. Lake Crescent makes a wonderful fishing venue and is great for sailing.
The Bourdon reservoir set amongst woodland close to St-Fargeau is just the place to hire a boat or pedalo and fish or swim from its man-made beach.