River Saone (Grande Saône)
Information about the 208km long river Saône
The high-capacity (grand gabarit) waterway from Saint-Jean-de-Losne to Lyon amply justifies this separate entry, not just for the character of the river and dimensions of its locks and channels, but also as an itinerary. All the canals of northern, central and north-eastern France, including the ‘Petite-Saône’, to become the sole route funnelling boats south to the Mediterranean. The division between the two sections of the Saône used to be Saint-Symphorien, but that was at the time when the new Rhône-Rhine canal was to be dug from this point, but undeniably the important junction of Saint-Jean-de-Losne is the more logical ‘hub’. Downstream from Auxonne, the Saône becomes wider and loses the quiet charm of the upper reaches. It has been developed as a high-capacity waterway navigable by barges carrying up to 3000 tonnes, as well as the increasingly popular 110m long river cruising ships. It is along this section that two important routes from the Seine basin join the Saône. The Canal de Bourgogne connects with the Saône at the Canal du Centre enters the river at Chalon-sur-Saône. On the left bank is the junction with the Canal du Rhône au Rhin. The 3.5km-long Mâcon bypass was built to allow commercial traffic to avoid the low and historically significant Saint-Laurent bridge at Mâcon, but boats continue to use the Saône to reach the town centre, and the route description here follows the natural course of the river.
History – The Saône has always been the most navigable of French rivers, with a very gentle gradient and regular flow, albeit subject to floods which can make the broad valley look like an inland sea. The Roman general Vetus envisaged a canal from the Saône to the Moselle. Natural navigability made merchants an easy prey for local lords and tax collectors, and chains were laid across the river in many locations, to collect tolls. Colbert declared them illegal in 1664, but it seemed to Delalande – writing in 1778 – that ‘the easier the navigation, the more its natural advantages have been abused by exactions of all sorts’. Navigability in the industrial era was introduced, as on the other major rivers, after the movable weir was invented by Poirée. By 1847 there were five weirs and locks on the Saône. The canalisation as completed above Auxonne has not changed, while development of the high-capacity waterway downstream meant the replacement of 12 early weirs and locks by only five in the 215 km. The last, at Seurre, was completed in 1980. The entire waterway remains in the national priority network, and may one day be adapted to form the high-capacity Saône-Moselle waterway (Vetus’ dream!)
Key Waterway Dimensions
- Max Beam: 5.45m
- Max Height: 3.30m
- Max Draught: 1.50m
Whilst the River Saône carries some commercial traffic – for example, making the south-north passage from Lyon (and the Mediterranean) to the Rhine and locally, moving grain, limestone aggregate and cement – you will probably not be unduly affected except towards to Lyon where its intensity is more noticeable. Large push-tows go up as far as the ‘europort’ harbour at Pagny above Seurre.
Larger ships/barges go as far as the commercial harbour below Macon town, sometimes up to Chalon. You may possibly meet even larger container vessels near Lyon and there is now a dedicated VHF frequency (18) for Lyon and environs, where the many bridges are the trickiest ‘pinch points’. Normally, commercial traffic uses VHF 10 and a listening watch on that channel can provide useful warnings. There are a number of places to refuel alongside the river itself, as well as various service stations nearby. And, in addition to the various places detailed below, there are many other places to moor, although the river is shallow in some places, alongside some banks.
Locks – There are five locks over the 216km of high-capacity waterway (originally nine before the modernisation works started). Seurre is the first of the new locks and is situated at the end of a 10km long diversion canal which cuts almost 11km from the natural length of the Saône. The other modern locks are at Écuelles, Ormes, Dracé and Couzon (adjacent to the former lock). All the new locks measure 185 by 12m and are controlled by lights. Boats are locked through after a maximum wait of 20 minutes if no commercial barge has appeared in the meantime. There are several mooring dolphins on the approach to each lock, some of which have gangways for access to the bank. However, these were designed for vessels exceeding 38m, making mooring awkward for a cruiser. Otherwise there is no difficulty in negotiating these big locks, which have step bollards set into the chamber walls.
Draught – Following completion of the dredging works between Chalon and Saint-Jean-de-Losne, the authorised draught is 3.00m throughout this section.
Headroom – The lowest bridge in this section is the Pont Saint-Laurent, at Mâcon, a listed public monument, with a headroom of 7.20m (over a width of 10m) above the normal level and 3.70m above the highest navigable water level. As noted above, the 3km long bypass at Mâcon allows commercial traffic to avoid this bridge. All other bridges offer a minimum headroom of 6.00m.
Towpath – There is no continuous length, but between Auxonne and Corre the lock-cuts all have service roads, and rough tracks are available along many intermediate reaches of the river.
PK 208.9 Junction with Canal du Rhône au Rhin, l/b, mooring to stone quay d/s l/b
PK 207.7 Saint-Symphorien, village 400m l/b (no shops)
PK 205.1 Camp site and small pontoon r/b
PK 206.4 Effective u/s limit of high-capacity waterway
PK 204.9 Saint-Jean-de-Losne bridge, moorings on both banks, small town r/b, Losne l/b
PK 204.7 Junction with Canal de Bourgogne, r/b, large basin (Gare d’Eau) entered at junction, Le Boat hire base, H2O and Blanquart boatyards, night from €10, new fuelling dock at entrance (replaces former barge), water, electricity, shower, crane, slipway, pump-out, repairs, chandlery, restaurant, wifi
The Gare d’Eau (a large harbour) lies off the river, adjacent to the first lock on the Canal de Bourgogne. Within the basin there are three potential moorings, divided by small islands: firstly Blanquart’s pontoons immediately on the left, then H2O’s pontoons in the central section, then Le Boat’s hire boat basin in the furthermost. There is a signed route to follow around the harbour basin. Blanquart is often reckoned the ‘best’ and has the best security but is also often full; H2O is the most popular and the largest; le Boat‘s pontoon is the least hemmed-in but is not available at weekends or change-over days when it is full of returning hire boats.
In addition to the quay and the Gare d’Eau, tree-lined bank-side mooring is possible a short way along the Canal du Bourgogne at Saint-Usage. Private peniches can berth at the ‘Old Lock’ PK211 by arrangement with H2O.
Saint-Jean is a popular over-wintering place with a lively and sociable international community.
Both Blanquart and H2O have excellent chandleries. There are three boatyards for repairs and maintenance, located around the Bourgogne basin above the ecluse. H2O is on the west side. Blanquart to the north and Atelier Fluvial immediately by the lock-keeper’s house. H2O and Blanquart can lift out for work to be done ‘on the hard’. Atelier Fluvial is a professional (commercial and private) peniche yard, with a large dry dock. In addition, Atelier Fluvial has another repair yard on the river upstream from the quays, with a sideways ramped haul-out.
Shops in the village including Casino supermarket. Intermarché, Bricomarché and a building materials yard (all excellent) a short distance at Saint-Usage. Bars and restaurants including the authentically tatty and very friendly PMU bar opposite the cannon-strewn monument to Saint-Jean’s brave defenders of 1636. Pastis (Ricard) is the drink.
Railway station about 1km away westwards along the river, safe parking, regular trains to Dijon (thence very fast TGV trains to Paris)
PK 203.6 Railway viaduct (Saint-Usage)
PK 203.3 Commercial quays, r/b
PK 203.3 Former entrance to Saint-Jean-de-Losne lock-cut, replaced by a new meander cutoff
PK 202.7 End of meander cutoff (river dammed), H2O residential barge moorings in lock-cut r/b
PK 196.6 Entrance to Seurre diversion canal, l/b (difference = 1.3km, river PK 199.2) (Pagny dam)
PK 194.2 Bridge (Pagny)
PK 192.5 Entrance to Port de Pagny, multimodal port and industrial platform, l/b
Large new commercial harbour, upstream limit of navigation for the biggest barges.
PK 192.1 Bridge (Labruyère)
PK 190.9 Motorway bridge (A36)
PK 189.4 Bridge (Chamblanc)
PK 187.3 Seurre lock, lift 3.75m, VHF 22, bridge, water on mooring pile d/s
PK 186.8 End of diversion canal, junction with Lechâtelet arm, r/b, port de plaisance in basin d/s l/b, capacity 20 boats, night €11.50, water, electricity, showers, slipway, pump-out, larger vessels moor 100m d/s to bollards and rings in stone wall l/b
PK 186.4 Seurre bridge, small town l/b
A lovely riverside village with a number of possible mooring places. Pontoons by the island (above), nearer the ecluse and in a basin off the river itself; all good. Excellent showers in the marina capitainerie. It is possible to cruise 10km along the by-passed river from Seurre and moor at Le Châtelet – there are a couple of areas of shallows to be avoided on the way.
PK 186.3 Island (Île aux Princes), new channel on r/b side,
PK 184.6 Former entrance to Seurre lock-cut l/b
PK 183.6 Seurre lock (disused), l/b, and end of lock-cut
PK 182.2 Chivres viaduct (railway converted to road), D35d
PK 181.0 Chazelles, l/b, quay, restaurant
PK 176.7 Entrance to new lock-cut, r/b (difference = 1.3km, river PK 178) (Charnay-les-Chalon 700m l/b)
PK 175.5 Écuelles lock, lift 3.20m, VHF 20, bridge, water on dolphins u/s and d/s, vessels and push-tows longer than 90m report here to arrange passage through tight bends u/s
PK 175.2 End of lock-cut
PK 174.5 Écuelles quay and village r/b
PK 167.8 Former Verdun lock, r/b
This old Saône lock above the village has ‘no entry’ and ‘no mooring’ signs prominently displayed from all angles. This is unfortunate, because other old locks on the Saône have been made into ideal moorings.
PK 167.0 Confluence of Doubs, l/b, access to Verdun-sur- le-Doubs, port de plaisance
Another lovely riverside village, just off the Saône on the River Doubs (which is fearsome in winter spate, otherwise benign). Limited pontoon space with water and electricity. It is possible to cruise up the Doubs for 14km to Navilly; good depth and width but bank-side mooring difficult.
PK 166.8 Bragny bridge
PK 165.2 Chauvort, r/b, (bridge destroyed)
PK 164.8 Chauvort viaduct
PK 159.5 Gergy bridge, moorings u/s r/b, showers in camp site, slipway
Halte by a café/restaurant and 3-star camp-site. Services are in the camp site only, not on the waterside, and there are no mooring bollards.
PK 157.0 Former oil depot, quay r/b
PK 150.7 Alleriot, l/b, restaurants, anchor only (shoal)
PK 144.9 Junction with Canal du Centre, r/b, commercial boatyard and slipway d/s r/b
A commercial peniche repair yard able to haul (slide) out sideways and repair the biggest barges. Opposite, the sailing club basin does not welcome visiting plaisanciers.
PK 144.1 Boat club moorings (Yacht Club de Chalon) in rowing regata basin l/b, night €18, water, electricity, showers, crane, slipway, repairs, visitors’ berths
PK 143.0 Chalon-sur-Saône commercial port, r/b
PK 142.0 Bridge (Bourgogne, Chalon ring road)
PK 141.9 Chalon-sur-Saône bridge (Saint-Laurent), town centre r/b
Chalon is a great small city, with plenty to see and do, including fast rail links. It was the birthplace of photography – the Brothers Niepce museum by the river is thoroughly recommended. It marked the boundary between Occupied and Vichy France during WWII.
PK 223.5 Chalon port de plaisance in Génise arm l/b, 155 berths, night €16.05, fuel, water, electricity, showers, crane 5t, slipway, restaurant 100m
This port is more like a marina, with lots of boats and pontoons as well as showers, etc. From the river one must approach from the south side of the island that it is to one side of (and leave to the north) . Excellent big supermarket and brico very near the port de plaisance. It is deservedly popular – we have been turned away ‘full’ – so phone ahead and/or get there before mid-afternoon. Fuel and a lift-out crane, both of which have an expensive reputation. This is not a cheap stay, but it is a convenient one. It is also possible to moor on the city quayside, above the Saint-Laurent bridge, north bank. Other river moorings are reserved for the cruise ships that dock here each day – don’t chance your arm!
PK 141.4 Bridge (Jean Richard), moorings u/s and d/s r/b to steps and wall
PK 140.8 Chalon railway viaduct
PK 138.7 Road bridge (Pont Sud de Chalon), N80
PK 137.6 New port of Chalon, commercial basin 1500 by 350m, l/b
PK 129.9 Port d’Ouroux, l/b
PK 129.8 Ouroux bridge, quay at campsite d/s l/b, restaurant
PK 128.6 Confluence of Grosne, r/b
PK 124.8 Thorey bridge
PK 123.2 Gigny port de plaisance and Saône Bateaux hire base in former lock, r/b, 25 berths, night €10, diesel, water, electricity, shower, slipway, repairs, restaurant
A delightful harbour in a disused lock. Very small supermarket not far, a boulangerie van turns up every morning at 8:30. The capitaine is friendly, and dog-walking along the river bank is idyllic (for both parties).
PK 119.2 Ormes lock (in short lock-cut on l/b), lift 2.90m, VHF 22, bridge
PK 112.7 Tournus boat, club moorings, r/b
PK 112.2 Tournus bridge, quay u/s r/b, 150 m pontoon d/s r/b, Pavillon Saône hire base, water, electricity, town centre r/b
An ancient town, the abbey of St Philibert was founded in AD1000 and is well worth a visit. A long stretch of pontoons by the river, water and electricity.
PK 111.9 Hôtel de Saône pontoon l/b
PK 111.2 Tournus bridge (D975)
PK 106.7 Confluence of river Seille, l/b
The River Seille is navigable for 39km from its junction with the Saône, through Cuisery to Louhans (see separate entry).
PK 103.2 Uchizy bridge
PK 97.7 Fleurville bridge
PK 97.7 Junction with Canal de Pont-de-Vaux l/b, quay d/s r/b reserved for commercial and passenger boats, restaurant, village 1500m
See separate entry for this short branch leading to an excellent modern port de plaisance.
PK 97.2 Confluence of Reyssouze, l/b
PK 90.2 Asnières-sur-Saône, restaurant with landing stage, l/b, water
A good pontoon, with water but depth limited to 1.2m.
PK 89.1 Saint-Martin-Belle-Roche, restaurant, r/b
PK 87.7 Vésines, restaurant with landing stage (little water), l/b, water, slipway
Less attractive mooring than Asnières, and only 1m depth.
PK 84.7 Motorway bridge (A40), tip of island (Île Palme), channel in l/b arm
PK 83.3 Mâcon port de plaisance, entrance to basin, r/b, 150 berths, night €14.20, fuel, water, electricity €2.50, showers, crane 5t, slipway, restaurant 100m
Mâcon is a fine and historic town with a number of potential mooring places. This is the marina basin (Mâcon marina/port de plaisance website), off the river and a little distant from the town centre, but in a pleasant parkland setting and with fuel. It was significantly enlarged and modernised in 2013.
PK 82.4 U/s entrance to diversion canal, l/b (commercial traffic only, boats continue on Saône)
PK 80.9 Saint-Laurent boat moorings on 40m pontoon l/b, restaurants on quay
Just by the bridge on the island is this welcoming little pontoon, but beware of the shallows that lie immediately to the north; they are clearly marked in the chart-guides. On the opposite (town) bank, good new pontoons with water and electricity. Do not moor at the cruise ship pontoon!
PK 80.6 Mâcon bridge (Saint-Laurent), mooring d/s r/b
PK 79.7 Bridge (Pont Urbain Sud)
PK 79.0 D/s entrance to diversion canal, l/b
PK 78.6 Port of Mâcon, commercial basin r/b
PK 78.4 Mâcon railway viaduct
PK 77.4 New port of Mâcon, commercial basin r/b
PK 76.7 Motorway bridge (A406)
PK 75.6 Island (Damprun), channel in l/b arm
PK 75.2 Railway viaduct (TGV Paris-Lyon)
PK 72.9 Arciat bridge, quay and pontoon at camp-site d/s r/b, & 03 85 36 57 90 night €7.50, water, electricity, shower, restaurant, Crèches-sur-Saône 1500m r/b
Good pontoons at a camping site. All facilities, including access to a watersports lake.
PK 66.4 Saint-Romain-des-Îles bridge, small port de plaisance (Port Jean Savoyet) d/s r/b, water
Small basin for smaller boats only.
PK 63.3 Thoissey bridge, mooring d/s l/b for 4 boats, water, electricity
Halte for shallow draft boats only.
PK 62.4 Dracé lock, r/b, lift 2.90m, bridge, VHF 20
PK 61.4 Former Thoissey lock (disused), l/b
PK 57.4 Islands (buoyed channel)
PK 56.0 Belleville island
PK 55.3 Belleville-sur-Saône bridge, mooring for hotel boats d/s r/b (dolphins) and pontoon boat moorings, water, electricity, slipway, restaurant (town with all services 800m r/b)
In the middle of the Beaujolais terroir, a good new halte. Bustling small town, with a hospital museum.
PK 54.7 Northern tip of Montmerle island (channel on l/b side)
PK 52.7 Southern tip of Montmerle island
PK 52.4 Montmerle-sur-Saône bridge, quay d/s l/b for 6 boats, night €10, water, electricity, showers at camp site, slipway, small town and restaurant l/b
This is an ideal halte by the village square, with a small supermarket. Approaching the adjacent bridge, when heading downstream (i.e. on the west side), it is important to keep well away from the bank. There is a shallow spit that extends beyond the two red port-hand marker poles.
PK 47.7 Port Rivière, r/b
PK 43.4 Fareins quai l/b, restaurant
PK 42.6 Beauregard bridge
PK 41.9 New road bridge (Villefranche, D131)
PK 41.6 Villefranche-sur-Saône industrial port, r/b
PK 40.9 Jassans-Riottier municipal boat harbour l/b, night €10, water, electricity, village 400m
PK 40.6 Frans bridge, commercial quays (sand) d/s r/b
New pontoon with electricity, but reported not have water.
PK 35.3 Saint-Bernard bridge, castle l/b
Another new pontoon here
PK 31.3 Trévoux suspension bridge, pontoon mooring u/s l/b for 8 boats, night €5, water, electricity, showers at camp site
Historic and very pretty, Trévoux was once capital of its own small principality of the Dombes. Good moorings by the campsite, grass, trees, walks along the river.
PK 30.9 New bridge (Général de Gaulle D87), boatyard and moorings u/s r/b
PK 26.5 Former Bernalin lock l/b, boat harbour, 46 berths, night €10, water, electricity, showers, slipway, Parcieux 1500m
PK 25.4 Motorway bridge (A46)
PK 24.1 Nautic Auto port de plaisance l/b, 40 berths, night €10, water, electricity, showers, crane 20t, slipway, repairs
PK 22.9 Saint-Germain-au-Mont d’Or boat harbour r/b, 99 berths, night €10, water, electricity, shower, crane, repairs
PK 20.9 Neuville-sur-Saône bridge, quay d/s l/b for 3 boats, water, electricity (on demand)
PK 18.3 Albigny boat harbour in basin r/b, 60 berths, visitor berths, night €10, water €5, electricity, showers €2, crane 14t, slipway, repairs, restaurant
PK 17.5 Couzon lock, l/b, lift 4.00m, VHF 22
Just below the écluse, east bank, a quay very close to a service station and convenience store. Opposite a stretch of private moorings on the west bank.
PK 17.3 Couzon suspension bridge
PK 15.0 Fontaines-sur-Saône bridge
PK 14.4 Tip of island (Île Roy), d/s-bound boats take l/b channel
PK 13.4 Tip of island, upstream-bound boats take r/b channel
PK 12.4 Collonges railway viaduct
PK 12.3 Collonges bridge, Bocuse restaurant r/b
A good small pontoon between piles. The famous five-star Paul Bocuse restaurant is close by.
PK 10.4 Island (Île Barbe), channel in l/b arm
PK 10.0 Bridge (Île Barbe)
PK 9.8 Former Île Barbe lock, l/b
PK 7.3 Lyon bridge (Mazaryk), beginning of alternating one-way navigation in time of flood
Lyon is France’s second city; fine buildings, old buildings, public squares and a long history dating back before the Roman city, which was itself very important. We thoroughly recommend the walking tour of La Fourvière (as in almost every French city, town or village, go to the Tourist Office) that includes visiting the ‘secret’ houses, their courts and passages or traboules. Also the modern and engrossing archeological museum near the Fourvière basilica that dominates the skyline.
Visiting by boat is an equally memorable experience. From the river perspective, the city falls into three sections. Firstly, the Mont d’Or northern approach, roughly up to PK 355, the picturesque Île Barbe, where there is a disused lock (it supposedly offers moorings but always seems to be full).
Secondly, the city itself, 5km of the river filled with twists and turns, many bridges and almost continuous public quaysides. Keep a visual (and VHF 18 listening) watch for large commercial vessels and cruise ships, especially approaching the bridges. Plenty of mooring possibilities, but selecting a location that is completely ‘safe’ might be a problem. Thirdly, the 2km southern tip. Formerly a huge railway depot south of Perrache railway station, it has been comprehensively redeveloped as the ‘Lyon Confluence‘ district, with a newly excavated basin and port de plaisance at its centre.
PK 6.9 Bridge (Clemenceau)
PK 6.3 Bridge (Maréchal Kœnig)
PK 5.5 Footbridge (Homme de la Roche)
PK 5.0 Footbridge (Saint-Vincent)
PK 4.8 Bridge (La Feuillée)
PK 4.5 Bridge (Maréchal Juin)
PK 4.3 Footbridge (Palais de Justice)
PK 4.1 Quay l/b boat harbour, mooring possible in the heart of Lyon, l/b
PK 3.9 Bridge (Bonaparte)
PK 3.6 Footbridge (Saint-Georges)
PK 2.9 Bridge (Kitchener-Marchand)
PK 2.8 Motorway bridge (A6)
PK 2.7 Railway viaduct (Quarantaine)
PK 2.4 Navig’Inter boat harbour l/b, 10 annual berths, water, electricity, subject to space available
PK 1.9 Port Rambaud, former commercial quays l/b
PK 1.6 Lyon-Confluence harbour entrance l/b, halte nautique with services on the northern quay, due to open autumn 2010
PK 0.3 Motorway bridge (A7) and railway viaduct (de la Mulatière)
PK 0.0 Lyon-La Mulatière, former lock, r/b, confluence with Rhône
PK 0.0 Junction with through route at Seurre (PK 186)
PK 0.3 D/s tip of island, channel in l/b arm
PK 1.2 U/s tip of island (Boileau)
PK 7.2 Motorway bridge (A36)
PK 11.3 Lechâtelet former lock, head of navigation, moorings
PK 0.0 Confluence with Saône (PK 198)
PK 0.5 Verdun-sur-le-Doubs, port de plaisance, 22 berths, night €12, water, electricity, showers €2.50, slipway, wifi, restaurants
PK 0.8 Bridge
PK 6.0 Bridge
PK 13.1 Railway bridge
PK 13.7 Navilly bridge (N73), head of navigation
Cruises, holidays and vacations on the River Saone
HOTEL BARGE CRUISES
Hotel barges are elegant and supremely comfortable, converted from traditional vessels or created as cruising boutique hotels from new. You’ll experience the smoothest of relaxing week-long vacations in high style looked after by an expert captain, professional masterchef, knowledgeable local excursions guide and attentive English-speaking cabin staff.
- Hotel Barge “Fleur de Lys”
- Hotel Barge “Napoleon”
- Hotel Barge “Apres Tout”
- Hotel Barge “Finesse”
- Hotel Barge “Hirondelle”
- Hotel Barge “Saroche”
- Hotel Barge “Grand Victoria”
- Hotel Barge “Jeanine”
SELF-DRIVE CANAL BOAT VACATIONS
Hiring your own cruising boat is an ideal way to explore and experience the pleasures and treasures that the French waterways have to offer. Hire boats come in different sizes, to suit a couple, a family or you and your friends, and your ‘hands on the wheel’ holiday can be arranged from start to finish by any of the reputable companies to be found on french-waterways.com.
SMALL SHIP RIVER CRUISES
With a complement of just 100-200 guests on board, river cruise ships (or ‘riverboats’) offer close, friendly and personal hospitality. Their modest size means that they can moor up right in the heart of France’s world-famous historic towns and cities and cruise sedately through the sunny heart of France itself. Eight, highly experienced, river cruise companies offer an extensive choice of river cruises on France’s four major rivers.