Cruising the Saône: Romanesque churches and French chateaus

Day 2 of our cruise dawned! After sailing overnight down the River Saône, in southern  Burgundy we found ourselves in Tournus, one of the oldest and most important monastic centres in Burgundy . The weather was a little miserable – our first really rainy day in France!  After a fabulous buffet breakfast we braved the weather, taking a walking tour to explore the town It was Sunday morning so only a few boulangeries and patisseries were open as well as the amazing Crémerie de Tournus.

As we climbed the cobbled streets to the top of the town, we passed  an early  Romanesque church, the “Ancient église, St Valerien” (1008-1028) before reaching the highlight of our  tour, the superb Abbé St-Philibert, parts of which date back to the C10th. Classed as one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture, we spent time exploring the beautiful chancel, the magnificent barrel vaulted nave supported on huge rose coloured cylindrical stone columns, l and a recently  uncovered  mosaic, dating back to the 12th century, showing  a sort of calendar of the rhythms of the year with the month of June and the zodiac sign of Cancer magnificently displayed. The church contains the tombs/relics of both local saints, St Philibert and St Valerian both of whom are honoured here.

We then moved to the cloisters of the Benedictine Abbey which was attached to the church until the 17th Century, the nearby Abbot’s house dating back to 1471,  and the chapter house.

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Having worked up an appetite and feeling a little ‘drowned’ – it’s very tricky trying to juggle an umbrella and an iPhone to take photos;) –  we returned to our ship for a delicious buffet lunch before taking an afternoon shore excursion to the magnificent Chateau de Cormatin. This required a coach trip through the magnificent Mâconnais region between Tournus and Cluny, featuring some of the most stunning Burgundian countryside, dotted with lush green vineyards, vines laden with grapes ready to be harvested. We passed through quaint villages,stopping briefly to view the ancient St Martin de Chapaize church.  We even spied an awe inspiring mediaeval castle, Berzé-le-Chatel, a 13th century fortress perched high on a cliff, dominating the Val Lamartinien below. Under Louis XI, the castle was reputed to be impregnable being equipped with an ingenious defence systems which included 13 towers.

We then reached our destination, the spectacular Chateau de Cormatin –a splendid chateau built by Antoine du Blé, the Marquis of Huxelles at the end of the 16th century. The du Blé family became highly influential members of the French Court and friends of the wealthy Italian Medici family.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the chateau was owned by  Raoul Ginsbourg, Director of the Monte Carlo Opera. He frequently hosted elaborate parties and arts events. His flamboyant style is reflected in some of the more contemporary eclectic objects and furnishings to be found in some areas of the chateau, typical of the Belle Epoque.

Since the 1980’s a small group of friends have faithfully restored the chateau to its former glory. The chateau features a drawbridge, turrets, creamy yellow stone walls , a wide moat and  a magnificent parterre garden complete with flowerbeds, box hedges, a maze, an aviary-gazebo,  fountains and water features. Inside they have carefully catalogued the paintings, rich tapestries and gilded furniture and restored the main apartments to reflect the life of  C17th nobility.

What an afternoon!  Time to return to the ship in time for Happy Hour and  about local Burgundian Cheese and Mustard presentation and tasting before another wonderful dinner. Needless to say we decided on a quiet evening in our cabin after dinner. Tonight we depart for Trevoux before cruising to Lyon later in the day.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Kathy F says:

    Spectacular! Sounds like an exhausting day, but certainly worth the juggling of iPhone and umbrella! The pictures are exquisite. Shame only a few of the stores were open in Tournus but the ones that were open look divine. The gardens in the Cloister and Chateau are like storybook gardens – I guess the rain helps, along with thousands of hours of dedication and care, no doubt.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. nsprainger says:

    The gardens at the chateau were amazing but very soggy underfoot Sadly I missed the maze;(


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