Cluny, Chalon-sur-Saône, Tournus, Oh my!

So, it appears as though with the flip of the calendar page, the weather in Mâcon has done a 180 – and I’m not complaining! Last year, without fail, it rained every weekend. Now, we have had two sunny weekends in a row! It’s hard to believe it is the middle of January when daytime temperatures are pushing 13-15oC! I took advantage of the beautiful weather and took a walk around Mâcon Saturday afternoon; I covered about half of the town in two hours… yes, it’s that small! While on my walk, I came across what is perhaps the best street sign name ever! Rue du 19 mars 1962 – this street knew it would be awesome 26 years before it actually was!

Without further ado, details of my day trips to Cluny, Chalon-sur-Saône, and Tournus!


There is an inter-departmental bus network in the Saône-et-Loire called the Buscéphale. For 1,50 € (one-way), one can travel to any of the several small towns and cities located within the region. My roommates and I decided to take advantage of this service and grace several communities with our presence. Besides, other than the Saturday morning markets, there really isn’t much to do in Mâcon on the weekends, and we had to wait for our work visas to be validated by French Immigration before we could make any serious travel plans…

Cluny, FRANCE //  Saturday October 23, 2010

Cluny is located about 25 km northwest of Mâcon. It is a small town with just under 5,000 residents. Why visit Cluny? While there really isn’t much to see or do here, what draws people to Cluny is the Abbey of Cluny, which celebrated its 1100th anniversary in 2010! Founded in 910 AD, this Benedictine Abbey was one of the most important monastic institutions in Europe. It was the largest Christian church until St. Peter’s Basilica was built in Vatican City. Unfortunately, during the French Revolution, most of the Abbey was destroyed and today only sections from the original structure remain, including a transept from the 12th century, 15th century abbots’ residences and 18th century convent buildings. We toured the Abbey and evidence of its long and impressive history is marked by its Romanesque and Renaissance architecture.

Cluny is also home to the Quebec Burger restaurant! While the name sounded very appealing, we decided to have lunch at the Café du Centre Brasserie. There, I ordered a croque-madame, which is essentially a fancy name for a ham and cheese grilled sandwich served with a fried or poached egg on top – and it was delish! Corina and Jenny, two of my roommates, opted to try the plat du jour: Tête de Veau – translation: calf’s brains, and this dish is often served with tongue and potatoes. When ordering, the waiter asked them twice (in French and English) if they were sure that is what they wanted to order, as if it was the first time he had heard a group of foreigners wanting to try a traditional French dish! In case you were wondering, they both finished and enjoyed their meal. Kudos to them, because I don’t think I could have stomached it, a European delicacy or not!

Café du Centre Brasserie

L’Abbaye de Cluny

Chalon-sur-Saône, FRANCE // Monday October 25, 2010

Located 60 km from Mâcon is Chalon-sur-Saône, and with a population of approximately 50,000, it is the largest city in the Saône-et-Loire department of Burgundy. Chalon also happens to be the birthplace of photography. French inventor and Chalon native, Nicéphore Niépce is famous for having produced the world’s first known photograph in 1825! Visitors can find Niépce’s first camera at the musée Nicéphore Niépce on the Quai des Messageries. Chalon’s other famous resident is Dominique Vivant, Baron de Denon, who was a French writer, archaeologist, diplomat and author. Responsible for converting the former Palais du Louvre into a museum after the French Revolution, Denon was appointed by Napoleon to the post of director-general of museums and head of the new Musée Napoleon, the precursor to today’s Louvre. The musée Denon in the place de l’Hôtel de Ville pays homage to Denon’s appreciation for the arts.

Niépce’s first camera

It was particularly cool and windy that day, so for a few minutes we sought refuge in the Cathédrale Saint-Vincent. Built between 1090 and 1520, this former cathedral is located in the heart of Chalon. For the most part, the cathedral follows the Roman and Gothic styles of architecture. Its façade however, was destroyed during the French Revolution and in 1827, it was rebuilt in the Neo-Gothic style. The Square in which the church is located, is (so far) my favourite in France. The Place is lined with quaint cafés and restaurants which are housed in colourful timber-framed buildings. In front of the cathedral is the rather interesting “le Chemin” fountain. I can only imagine what the Place Saint-Vincent looks like in the middle of the summer with the patio furniture all set up! We cozied up to a cup of hot chocolate at the Grand Café la Cathédrale before bracing the elements on our way to the train station to return to Mâcon.

Place St-Vincent

Place St-Vincent

Tournus, FRANCE // Friday October 29, 2010

Like Cluny, Tournus is much smaller than Mâcon. Also like Cluny, Tournus is famous for its abbey, l`Abbaye Saint-Philibert, parts of which date back to the 10th century. Apparently, it is the only surviving group of 12th century monastic buildings in Europe. Our tour of Tournus started at the abbey: we explored its crypt and a 12th century floor mosaic that was only discovered in 2002 under 30cm of flooring by electricians when restoration work was being done! It’s amazing how each day relics from the past – things once forgotten – are discovered and put on display for all to see.

A section of the floor mosaic

We continued our tour of Tournus down the marked path (there are arrows in the road which guide tourists to the town’s main sites) which lead us to goats! In front of a cheese store was a doe and her two kids! We continued walking until we reached a fork in the road – thanks Tournus, which way are we to go now?!

Feeling slightly rebellious, we decided to walk straight ahead, taking neither path! Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see other than the Saône river (guess that’s why the arrows don’t point straight). So, we returned to the fork in the road and decided to head right, which took us to the end of town. There, we found a bicycle museum (it was closed) and a milk vending machine! It’s the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in France yet! Basically, one buys a glass bottle, presses the ‘start’ button, and milk pours out of a spout and into the bottle. I don’t know why no one has thought of bringing these machines into Canada?! Hmmm…..

Once again we walked back in the direction of the fork in the road when we realized that if we remained on our current path, we would end up back in Mâcon; the left arrow thankfully kept us within Tournus’ town limits. Back in town, we decided to visit the Hôtel Dieu-Musée Greuze, partly because it was very windy and partly because there really wasn’t much left to do or see in Tournus. A Hôtel Dieu is not God’s Hotel, as a direct translation would suggest. Rather, it is the old name given to the principal hospital in French towns. This particular Hôtel Dieu dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries and had three wards: one for men, one for soldiers, and one for women. Finally, we visited the art museum housed in the adjoining building. The museum features many paintings by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, a resident of Tournus for whom the museum is aptly named.

Before walking back to the bus stop, we stopped inside the Petit Casino – no, not to gamble – despite what its name might suggest, it is actually the name of a mini grocery store chain in France. Inside the grocery store I made the best discovery of all time:Amanda water! Yes, the French have dedicated bottled water to me – by the way France, I’m still waiting for my royalty cheque! Obviously I bought a bottle, after all, it was calling my name, literally!

Shouldn't I be collecting royalties off this?!?


Chalon-sur-Saône Pt. II // Saturday November 6, 2010

We learned that there would be a Soup Festival in Chalon, and with nothing better to do, we decided to check it out. We probably should have researched it a little more because the Festival was only scheduled to start at 2pm and we had arrived at around 11am! Needless to say, we had a tonne of time to kill! We walked around Chalon (again!) until the market and Soup Festival started. To our disappointment, there weren’t many soups to taste as they were all being made by the various competitors for the contest that would take place. A contest we had to miss because the last bus back to Mâcon left only hours after the Festival started. However, we did take home many soup recipes so I guess we’ll just have to have our own little Soup Festival in Mâcon!


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