An autumn Sunday afternoon in the depths of the Yonne departement (89 Burgundy) following the route of the Canal du Nivernais south from Auxerre towards Clamecy (58 Nievre) – a quiet, peaceful landscape where life follows a gentle pace. But, what is this? Not one, but two trains within an hour – modern, sleek and quiet – serving the chain of small villages along the valley, providng a service which can take you right to the heart of Paris. And the station which initially looks deserted, is manned with an open ticket office and a helpful man who provides me with a timetable for the route.
Rural France suffers many of the same problems of rural depopulation and poverty as the UK, but the maintenance of a good, reliable and affordable local train service makes a huge difference to the viability of the local community, and provides some of the “glue” that ensures its survival. And this is not a second-rate service, with delapidated rolling stock and surly staff.
French railways (state owned SNCF) has three levels – TGV which provides the impressive network of high speed trains between major cities, SNCF which provides the main inter-city and inter-departmental routes, and then the TER, the local network of lines.
And that elusive “joined-up thinking” seems to have been employed too, as the Region Bourgogne and the Departement of the Yonne, have also invested in the development of a tarmac cycle track alongside the Canal du Nivernais from Auxerre to Clamecy (almost complete), which being flat is a joy to ride. And you can put your bike on the TER train service which generally follows the canal.
From the hillsides of the Auxerre to the Vales of the Yonne, Clamecy-Auxerre is a wonderful route of some 62 kilometres along the Valley of the Yonne. Because it runs for the most part along the tow path of the Nivernais Canal, there are not too many hills to climb, making it ideal for a quiet family bike ride.
The Nivernais Canal, built at the end of the 18th and the start of the 19th century, runs from Auxerre to Decize, linking the Seine basin to the Loire basin. Like all the smaller canals, it has been deserted by commercial barges, which have given way to pleasure cruisers from around the world who are attracted to its route through the beautiful countryside, the quality of its engineering work and the charm of the towns and villages it runs through.
For more info on trains see TER BOURGOGNE (in French)
For more info on the Yonne and the Canal du Nivernais see YONNE TOURISME
If you are looking for a house to stay in the region we can recommend the English-owned The French House at Vincelottes