Enjoy lush countryside and historic towns on a Saone cruise

Monday, 2 April 2012 8:26 PM

If you're thinking of heading to France for a European short break, consider holidaying aboard a boat along the Saone waterway. The river runs through the east of the nation, taking in Burgundy's glorious countryside landscapes and colourful port towns.

Begin your cruise of the pretty watercourse at Gray, a major town along the route. The historical spot was razed by fire twice during the Middle Ages but was rebuilt and became a thriving centre for industry and commerce by the 17th century. Trade became particularly prosperous in the 19th century, when goods were transported up and down the river via barges, but this industry has now vanished, leaving Gray a tourism hotspot instead.

Before you set sail, make sure you explore the settlement; you'll discover some beautiful old buildings that are well preserved. Among these is the local church, an awe-inspiring restored theatre and the fortified chateau of Baron St Martin, which houses a museum and art gallery. Here, you can admire Italian works from the 16th century, pieces of Flemish and Dutch art from the 17th century, French Renaissance images and a series of sculptures and paintings featuring the European Middle Ages.

Once you've taken a look around and made yourself at home on your boat, depart for your waterway holiday. The first location you'll pass through will be Seveux, where you can moor up briefly and restock your boat with goods from the village. As you explore, you'll come across a saboterie where a local artisan makes traditional clogs in the Franche-Comte style. You might want to pick up a pair for a souvenir or even to wear yourself if you like the style.

Back onboard, venture on towards Ray-sur-Saone, a pretty backwater village ideal for a spot of fishing, picnicking or swimming. There's an old chateau here perched atop a hillside, and it's certainly worth calling in at to admire the views of the Vosges and the Jura from the towers. Along the bank in the chateau's shadow you'll find great spots for casting a line; if you're lucky you might reel in some trout, pike, zander or bream.

Your next port of call will be the photogenic little village of Soing, where you can head ashore to one of the local restaurants and sample some lovely French cuisine. If you're travelling with youngsters, they can burn off some energy on the children's play area and you can restock the boat at a couple of small supermarkets to be found here.

Journey onwards aboard your Burgundy canal boat and you might decide to stop off at Rupt sur Saone next. Formerly one in a chain of military outposts, the charming village once protected the Saone valley from attack during the Middle Ages. The main sight to be witnessed here is the imposing fortified chateau, complete with tower. The castle - parts of which date back to the 12th century - can be toured on a Saturday and Sunday. You might also want to visit the local church to take in the sight of the ancient relics it houses.

Make your way to Traves next - a peaceful, rural village with good facilities and a leisure centre. Close by is an 18-hole parkland golf course, while the settlement is particularly well known for the rocks of Traves and Aroz. These are two megaliths that jut up from the ground and bear strange hole formations. They are thought to symbolise a place of worship for a cult, although the group has never been identified.

When you return to your vessel, you can travel through the former regional centre for cargo barges - Port-sur-Saone - before arriving in Conflandey. Little ones can hit the playground while mum and dad enjoy a brief al fresco meal on the pleasant terrace here, before you continue on to the pretty town of Jussey. There are plenty of amenities, so browse the shops and call in at the Musee du Beurre et du Fromage - which translates to the Museum of Butter and Cheese in English. There is also the lovely old church to take a look at and some very reasonably-priced restaurants to call in at before concluding your boating holiday in France.

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