Introduction

Located on the banks of the Saône in the eastern reaches of Burgundy, the historic commune of Chalon-sur-Saône is a civil township rich in heritage and culture. The town itself is divided into two portions by the might of the Saône, which flows south and subsequently forms the largest tributary of the River Rhône.

Perched proudly on opposing banks of the Saône since the time of the Romans, Chalon-sur-Saône boasts a long and fascinating history — one that is marked by a number of significant events in broader French history. Perhaps most famously, Chalon is celebrated as the birthplace of contemporary photography, after its most famous resident, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, was credited with inventing the technology here in 1825.

Once a busy distribution port for the glut of wines arriving from vineyards throughout Burgundy and the Rhône Valley, Chalon is now decidedly sleepier, with innumerable bistros and cafes gracing its medieval cobbled streets and waterfront. The town is home to a sumptuous array of architectural and historic sites, from timber-fronted shops to grandiose examples of French classicism. Perhaps the most impressive instance of history in the town is St. Vincent’s Cathedral — a neo-gothic structure declared a national monument of France in 1903.

For those traveling the unwinding length of the Saône aboard a Scenic Space-Ship, Chalon proves the perfect starting point ahead of the livelier destinations of Lyon, Vienne and Avignon. Here, we provide a selection of cultural must-sees in this enchanting French township.

Maison des Vins de la Côte Chalonnaise

Given the rich wine-growing heritage of its surroundings, Chalon-sur-Saône is the perfect place to sample the crop of Burgundy’s most revered grape varieties. Popular wines in the region include Mercurey, Rully and Montagny, as well as the much-loved Côte Chalonnaise Givry. While there are several vineyards within easy reach of the town where it’s possible to sample the aforementioned wines, we’d recommend visiting Maison des Vins de la Côte Chalonnaise; a charming winery at 2 Promenade Ste-Marie.

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce Museum, Hôtel des Messageries

For those interested in photography or art more generally, a visit to Chalon’s Joseph Nicéphore Niépce Museum should be high on your to do list; after all, Niépce is the forefather of photography. A prolific inventor, Niépce developed heliography, later using this technique to create the world’s oldest known photographic product. Having been born in Chalon in 1765, the inventor is recalled with great pride among the town’s current residents, and the Hôtel des Messageries houses a small museum dedicated to Chalon’s most famous son.

Place St-Vincent Market

Its port may receive less trade than it once did, but Chalon’s quaint marketplace, Place St-Vincent, has continued to flourish since the medieval period, and now hosts some three markets a week. For those lucky enough to arrive in town on a designated market day, a world of gastronomy, culture and crafts awaits. Place St-Vincent markets are as vibrant as they are colorful, providing the opportunity to sample local delicacies and barter for handmade items from many of Burgundy’s finest vendors and craftsman.  

Chalon Cathedral

chalon stone

Chalon Cathedral, or Cathédrale Saint-Vincent de Chalon-sur-Saône as it’s known in French, is an imposing 8th century former Roman Catholic cathedral located on the eastern corner of Place St-Vincent. While parts of the cathedral were erected in the 8th century, its exquisitely crafted, neo-gothic exterior facade wasn’t constructed until the 19th century — leading the cathedral to be absorbed as a national monument of France in 1903.

Le Moulin à Café and Légendes Gourmandes

While Chalon-sur-Saône would do well to compete with Lyon in terms of retail opportunities, the town is home to a remarkably large array of independent shops for a settlement of its size. Many of Chalon’s shops are found on the narrow byways leading off Place St-Vincent, including Légendes Gourmandes. This curious little boutique sells a raft of unique gifts and confectionary, making it the perfect place to pick up a treat for yourself or loved ones back home.

If journeying the South of France sounds like the perfect getaway visit the Rhone River Cruise to peruse our selection of luxury Rhône river cruises or call us on 0808 231 1924. 

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