Saone River Tours and Travel Guide
Saone River Attractions & Landmarks Guide
Flowing 294 miles through the east of France, the Saone will take you by everything from beautiful European castles to quaint villages. A lesser known destination for river cruising, it is highly worth a trip, and Stride can help you find the perfect one for you!
Top Sights Along a Saône River Cruise
- Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière - Paris isn’t the only one with a notable Notre Dame. Built in the late 19th century in Lyon, this church is lined with mosaics and offers visitors a panorama of the city from its terrace. Free tours of the basilica and the crypt are offered April through November, but visitors can buy rooftop tours if purchased in advance.
- Château de Cormatin - Built in the 17th century by the Marquises of Huxelles, this castle pulls out all the stops. With a wide moat and drawbridge, turrets, sweeping gardens, and impressively preserved and restored chambers, it is worth the short trip from your port of call. The château is located about 14 miles from Tournus and 20 miles from Mâcon. The gilded rooms and hall of mirrors are especially unique. There is a cost to enter the castle and guided tours are given in French, though pamphlets in English are provided.
- Rock of Solutré - Just west of Mâcon lies this distinct piece of geology, poking through the countryside vineyards. Known for its archeological importance, the area has been a site for prehistoric findings, some even including human bones. Visitors can learn about the rock’s history from the museum before exploring the site on their own.
- Place des Terreaux - This town square, located in Lyon between the Rhône and Saône Rivers, is a historical landmark that is alive and thriving. Home to the City Hall, Fine Arts Museum, and Bartholdi fountain, the UNESCO heritage site also offers outdoor cafés. The square is famous for its Fête des Lumières, Festival of Lights, which takes place in early December and pays tribute to the Virgin Mary and marks the beginning of the Christmas season.
- Abbey St. Philibert - Located in the small town of Tournus, this church is a former Benedictine monastery and an important example of Romanesque architecture. The preservation of the abbey’s various structures, including the cloisters, refectary, and cellars, makes this monastic sight unique. The crypt is also an interesting part of this medieval monastery.
Visiting Lyon on a Saone River Cruise
With as much as Lyon has to offer, visitors will want to spend at least two days here on their cruise. From food to museums, there is so much to explore in this city. Lyon was originally founded as a Roman colony called Lugdunum in 43 BCE, and has a rich cultural history.
Where the Saone meets the Rhone
Lyon is the meeting point of the Rhone River, flowing all the way from Switzerland, and the Saone River, which travels from the eastern region of France. Visitors to Lyon can see where these two rivers meet in the aptly named district of Confluence. This newly titled neighborhood is a result of urban renewal, turning what was once an industrial no man’s land into a business district with upscale housing and dining. This neighborhood is a great opportunity for any Saone River Cruise tour to see the economic heart of the Saone. This is also the perfect neighborhood to start your bike tour, heading along the peninsula for a beautiful view of Old Town on the other side of the river.
Experience the History of Lyon
After touring the new Lyon, take a tour of the old Lyon. Quartier Saint-Jean and Quartier Saint-Georges are the two districts that comprise Lyon’s Old Town. Here, visitors can wander through the narrow, cobblestone streets and stop at the shops and cafes that line the courtyards. This medieval neighborhood is also home to the Musée d’Histoire de Lyon and the Musée des Arts de la Marionnette (Puppet Museum).
If you want to go even further back in history, Lyon has the oldest ancient ruins in France. The Grand Théâtre dates back to 15 BC when Lyon was the capital of Gaul. An archeology museum sits close to the archeological site of the ruins and displays a variety of Gallo-Roman-era artifacts.
Lyon plays just as important of a role in modern French history. This city played an important role in the French Resistance against Nazi Germany in WWII. Although it was occupied territory, Lyon was never able to be truly controlled by the Nazis. The Resistance and Deportation History Center, housed in the same building that was used as the head of the Gestapo in Lyon, pays homage to the victims and the members of the resistance. It is a truly unique stop on your Lyon tour.
Traboules of Lyon
These passageways originally served as a means for silkweavers and other merchants to transport their goods to the waterways. Since most of the streets in Vieux Lyon (Old Town) and Croix Rousse run parallel to the Saone River, these winding passageways are a shortcut to the water. The traboules are also thought to have aided Lyon in the French Resistance during WWII. Over forty of the Traboules are free and walking tours are available.
Notre Dame (the other one)
Sitting on the top of Fourviere Hill is the Basilique Notre Dame. Although much younger and less famous than its Parisian counterpart of the same name, this Notre Dame is arguably more beautiful. This cathedral is a blend of Gothic and Byzantine styles with a beautifully decorated interior. Visitors can tour the inside of the church and head up the northeast tower, where they will be rewarded with views of Lyon and its surrounding area.
Known as the gastronomic capital of France (sorry Paris!), Lyon is known for its rustic, classically French cuisine. Think roast pork, duck pâté, and sausages served in an establishment known as a bouchon. Created by women in the 17th century to feed the silk workers who were passing through Lyon, these restaurants are more about delicious food at a (very!) reasonable price than fine cuisine. If you love food and are lucky enough to stop in Lyon on your tour, visit Les Halles de Lyon. This world renowned indoor market boasts close to fifty vendors selling the finest produce, meats, cheese and other gourmet foods. Even if you aren’t buying, your eyes will feast.
Best Foods to Try on a Saone River Cruise
- Boeuf bourguignon - This beef stew is the signature dish of Burgundy, the French region that the Saone River travels through, and those on a Saone River tour will have many chances to sample this dish. The beef is braised in Burgundy red wine and beef stock, with carrots, onions, and garlic.
- Coq au vin - Although literally translated to “rooster with wine,” this dish is now generally made with chicken. This is another wine braised dish with onion, garlic, and mushrooms (are we noticing a theme, here?). Various renditions of coq au vin exist all over France, but the Burgundy red wine is what makes the dish unique to the Saone River.
- Oeufs en meurette - The regions along the Saone River love to cook their meals in a red wine sauce. This egg dish is no different. Here, a poached egg is served with bourguignon sauce, and usually includes a piece of toasted garlic bread.
- Escargots à la Bourgogne - Visitors touring the Saone will have to approach this dish with an adventurous attitude. Snails are cooked with butter, garlic, shallot, and parsley stuffed into the shells. The butter mixture melts into the escargot until all of the flavor is infused. Traditionally, this dish is served as an appetizer. If eating snails isn’t your thing, don’t worry, there are plenty of other options on a tour of the Saone.
- Gougères - Although not typically vegetarian-friendly, a Saone River tour can offer non-meat eaters plenty of cheese. Gougères are a choux pastry, like what is used for eclairs, mixed with grated cheese and baked in an oven. The result is a puffy dough with a nice cheesy bite. Look for gougères made with local cheeses, such as Comté.
- Tarte tatin - This dessert is simple and delicious. Apples are caramelized in a pan before puff pastry is added on top and baked. The tarte is turned out onto a plate revealing the caramelized apples on top of the golden brown puff pastry, sort of like an upside down apple pie. While not exactly a regional invention, visitors are sure to see this dessert on a menu while touring the Saone River, and the opportunity to try it should not be missed.
- Cassis - Black currant, or cassis, is often used as a dessert flavoring in the Burgundy region along the Saone River. From sorbets to créme de cassis, a black currant liqueur, this flavor is distinct and fresh after a heavy meal.
Top Saone River Cruise Excursions
Morvan National Park
This protected area of woods, lakes, and traditional farmland spans across 173,000 hectares of central France. This excursion is quite the trek, about two hours by bus. Touring Morvan National Park is a great opportunity to explore the outdoors and visit quaint villages. Visitors can fish in the lakes, walk through the woods, and explore the rocky slopes. Don’t expect to see all of the park in one day. On a Saone River cruise, your best bet is to travel west from Châon-sur-Saône and explore the park from there.
Biking in Burgundy
With hundreds of kilometers of bike routes to choose from, Burgundy stands as a cyclists dream. Visitors can cruise along the Saone River in Lyon, ride through the rolling vineyards, or even bike from one town to another. Some Saone River cruises include biking tours and excursions.
Cooking Class in Lyon
Dream of mastering French cuisine á la Julia Child? Your chance awaits in Lyon. As home of the legendary chef Paul Bocuse, Lyon boasts a plethora of cooking schools, none finer than the one named after Bocuse. Visitors can book a class with their Saone River tour for a fun and informative French experience.
The Saone River passes through two major wine regions in France, Beaujolais and Burgundy. These two distinct and world-renowned wine regions offer exciting tours and tastings. Beaujolais and Burgundy wine tours offer light bodied reds, such as Pinot Noir, and full bodied whites, such as Chardonnay. Some Saone River tours offer tastings on the boat, while others offer excursions to the wine cellars and vineyards themselves.
Things to Know Before You Go
Where does the Saone River flow?
The Saone River runs 300 miles through the Lorraine region of Eastern France. Beginning near Vioménil, it flows southwest through Saône-et-Loire where it is joined by its major tributary, the Doubs River. It continues until it meets the Rhône River in Lyon.
Who will enjoy a Saone River Cruise?
No matter what the reason for traveling to the Saone River, visitors can find the right Saone River cruise for them. Senior citizens can find tours that emphasize leisurely wine tasting and easy walking tours to the sights. Tours for the under 30 take a more active approach with biking, exploring the local culture, and experiential Saone River excursions.
Wine lovers will never tire of the options the Burgundy and Beaujolais wine regions have to offer. A Saone River cruise is the perfect opportunity to sample the delicious wine of the region and visit various vineyards and caves. Sanoe RIver tours often include wine tastings right on the boat, if you’re not feeling up to the excursions.
The historical sights on the Saone River are varied and fascinating. If you love history, a cruise on this river is sure to satisfy. From the Romans to the Renaissance, the top sights along the Saone River contain architectural examples and well preserved artifacts.
Best time to take a Saone River Cruise?
Are you worried about crowds? Love the summer heat? Mindful of your budget? How you answer these questions will determine when you decide to take your Saone river cruise.
While the season generally runs from early spring to late fall, some tour companies decide to offer cruises right into December to take advantage of the holiday festivities. The weather in France can venture into the 80’s during the months of July and August, so those who struggle with the heat should take note. These summer months are also the most crowded. In order to take advantage of the best deals, look for Saone River cruises during the few weeks on either end of the season.
Saone River cruise routes
Most Saone River cruises incorporate other waterways into their tour. The Rhone River is a natural choice here, as it joins the Saone at Lyon. The Seine is also accessible from the Saone River by the Burgundy Canal. If you are traveling south on the Saone River, your starting point is St. John-de-Losne. Your cruise will continue south through Mâcon and onto Lyon. Here, some tours opt to continue onto the Rhone River toward Avignon.
Alternatively, if you are cruising northbound on the Saone River, you begin in Lyon. As you move north along the river, some tours move through the Burgundy Canal, at Chalon-sur-Saône, to reach the Seine River and eventually, Paris.
The possibilities for a unique and eventful Saone River cruise abound!
All Saone River cruises, tours, and packages. Find the best guided trips and expert planned vacation and holiday packages. Average rating of 5.0 for all Saone River trips.