About Undiscovered Burgundy – The Morvan
Edged by the rolling pastures and sunny vineyards of bucolic Burgundy, the granite Morvan plateau borders the Nivernais. Together these regions comprise the poorest corner of an otherwise wealthy area.
Morvan has nonetheless had its moments. It was a great centre of Ancient Gaul – witness the fortified camp of Bibracte – that faded with the Roman occupation and the founding of Augustodunum (Autun). Later came the golden age of the basilica at Vézelay, which heard St Bernard preach the Second Crusade in 1146, and launched thousands of pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela, until the Revolution saw the end of the pilgrims, and most of the buildings.
The name Morvan is thought to come from the Celtic for ‘Black Mountain’. Its hilly, forested countryside is scoured by rivers and dotted with lakes, small farms and weathered stone villages. The main towns are modest and unsophisticated, villages really, that cater for a small and usually budget-orientated summer following. And this is the Morvan’s chief charm: it remains largely undiscovered.
A great chunk of the region is protected by the 195,647-hectare Parc Naturel Régional du Morvan which offers numerous outdoor activities such as riding, kayaking, climbing and fishing as well as hiking opportunities. The GR13 long-distance footpath wends its way from Vézelay to Autun, and the Maison du Parc sells a series of easy-to-follow petites randonnés postcards with a map and directions.
The best places to visit are equally low-key. Take the hamlet of Pierre-Perthuis, with its namesake, a hollow rock, its hump-backed 18thC bridge over the Cure, and a presbytery once owned by Louis XIV’s military architect, Maréchal de Vauban. (The great man was buried nearby at Bazoches.) Or Quarré-les-Tombes, a hill-top village where 112 stone sarcophagi lids lie crammed around the tiny churchyard. They date from the 7th-10thC, but history does not relate how they got there.
To the south, the reservoirs of Pannesière-Chaumard and the Lac des Settons offer beaches, sailing boat and pedalo hire. Another peaceful oasis is the Saut de Gouloux, a little waterfall lined by boulders and trees off the D977b, 7 km north of Montsauche. This is an ideal place to relax and recharge, perhaps in one of the plentiful, affordable country auberges.
By train, the gateway towns are Autun (bus connections to Château-Chinon), Avallon (buses to Vézelay) and Saulieu, but public transport within the park is practically non-existent.