Saturday, September 9, 2017

Digoin to Pont de Vaux

Fortuitous indeed! Our next town was Paray Le Monial. So glad we missed Digoin for this gem. In the DBA (Dutch Barge Association) waterways guide someone had mentioned that this town had the most moorings they had seen for a town of this size. We certainly didn't have a problem finding one. As we were entering the tree lined canal that runs on the edge of the town we were bombarded by a thunderstorm so made the decision to tie up to the first suitable mooring. As it turned out this was a good choice given that the next few days were hot and we were mostly under the shelter of the trees.
Sacre Coeur

Once we had settled in and the rain had stopped we strolled into Paray Le Monial. What a lovely maintained town this is. Kevin commented on how prosperous it looked and I said it was probably due to the number of pilgrims who visit here. He scoffed at this idea saying that it was an old fashioned notion. Well it obviously isn't because when he enquired at the tourist office they informed him that just in July and August alone 50000 people visit to attend services at the church. There was also a huge tent area where many multi denominational services are held. I read somewhere else that about 1000000 people visit Paray Le Monial every year. A nun, Marguerite Maríe had several apparitions in 1671. These were verified as true visions of Christ, hence the reason Paray became a popular pilgrimage site and it is also a stopping point on the route to Santiago de Compostella. She was canonised in 1920.
The town had lots of people wandering the streets and the restaurants and cafes were also busy. Paray is also noted for its mosaics with classes conducted at the museum. The old church of St Nicholas also had an amazing display of mosaics by talented Italian artist Giulio Candussio and Thomas Denker.
Some of the amazing mosaics in St Nicholas

It had also been suggested that a wander into Paray once the lights came on would be a treat. So on our second night here we waited till about 9 pm before heading into town but it doesn't get dark in this part of the world in summer till about 9.30. On the dot of 9:45 the lights came on and revealed another aspect of this lovely town.
Old St Nicholas Church at dusk
Sacre Coeur by night
The rear of Sacre Coeur
While we were here we noticed a barge coming up behind us and thought it looked familiar. Out came the binoculars and we saw it was Friesland, the barge we did our ICC licence on. It has since been bought by fellow Aussies, Steve and Kim, who we met in Verdun last year. They moored behind us and once they had settled in we had drinks and caught up on their travels over the last 12 months.
After being in Paray for three days we decided it was time to move on. The canal du Centre is a pretty canal and what you expect when you first think of canal cruising - bars and restaurants along the route, picturesque small villages, pretty moorings. So we took our time cruising along this section, sometimes only doing 10 kms a day. We weren't in a hurry anyway.
Church ruin
Pretty garden at lockkeepers house
Quiet mooring
Villages make an effort to entice visitors with lovely gardens
Another quiet mooring spot with a restaurant just over the bridge
Hanging garden in a lock
When we arrived at St Leger sur Dheune we managed to get a good mooring on the Quay outside the harbour masters office but just far enough back from the turning point. Apparently 19 hotel barges come up the canal du Centre from the Saône with St Leger as their turnaround point. So boats moored here have to make sure they leave enough room for the 38m freycinet style barges to turn so that they can complete the return journey to Dijon. St Leger is another nice little town with an excellent restaurant right on the canal. "Au p'tit Kir" is run by an Englishwoman and the food was really good. 
Once again we weren't in any hurry to move on so stayed for 3 days as we knew some other barging friends, Stella and Simon,  on Grizzled Skipper were planning on staying here. When they eventually arrived they rafted up to us as by then spaces were limited. We had a very impromptu drinks and dinner in the adjacent park. It's so convenient having a park next to the boat where you can sit under the trees having dinner and watching the marathon boules game. Unfortunately I didn't get any photos but the three guys would have played for 6 hours -drinking, smoking and chatting. 
From St Leger, it wasn't too far before the deep lock that heralds the end of the Canal du Centre and entrance onto the Saône.
Inside the last lock
The guillotine type gate that you go through to get onto the Saône
Looking back at the last lock or the first depending on which way you're going
We were now on the Saône and heading south through Chalons sur Saône, Tournus and then onto a side canal to our winter destination of Pont de Vaux.
Flower beds commemorating the link between Chalons sur Saône and the USA in 1917
One of several bridges over the Saône at Chalons
Commercial lock on the Saône - we're about halfway along so it's a biggie !
The locks on the canals are mostly only designed to fit a boat of a maximum of 38m, however once you're onto the big rivers the commercial barges can be 120m long and so the locks are designed to fit at least one of these but sometimes 2 or 3 commercial barges of varying size. When there isn't much commercial traffic we can be in one of these huge locks on our own. Seems a bit of a waste of water but it's the only way to get around rapids etc.
The marina at Tournus - boats over 15m have to moor further upstream
Tournus church
Marina at Pont de Vaux - home for the boat this winter
Our first day in Pont de Vaux was market day and we were suitably impressed by the size and number of vendors and the quality of produce
Some of the specials at the markets
A large number of stalls and plenty of people
We stayed at Pont de Vaux for a couple of weeks before we picked up our car at Lyons airport so that we can explore further afield and away from the canal system. Pont de Vaux is a lovely town and quite a lot bigger than we were expecting with all the services that you need within walking distance from the port. It even has a Michelin 1 star restaurant which we have yet to try.
A lovely lake and park on the outskirts of town
Weir over La Reyssouze
Colourful bridge from town to the lake
Scattered throughout the town are these unusual water pumps
Pretty little wildflower garden in an allotment near the port

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