The River Saone or Grande Saone is a 208km long river that connects
Saint-Jean-de-Losne to Lyon in France. The river rises at an altitude of nearly 1,300 ft near Viomenil which is southwest of Epinal in the Vosges Mountains.
This river is the perfect location to enjoy a paddling adventure on your next holiday.
There are so many different river activities to be enjoyed along the River Saone that you won’t want to miss out on this unforgettable opportunity.
Why not head out in a canoe or kayak and experience the river as you’ve never seen before. Whether it’s just for a one day jaunt on the water or a multi-day canoe or kayak adventure. There is truly a river activity to suit everyone’s desires.
History of the Saone River
The River Saone has always been one of the most navigable rivers in France. With a gentle gradient and regular flow, this river is easy to navigate. The river has supported trade and commerce since prehistoric times. It was a Roman general, Vetus who envisaged a canal connecting Saone to Moselle.
Unfortunately, the easy navigability of the river made the merchants easy victims for local lords and tax collectors. Chains were laid across the river in many locations to collect tolls. These tolls were made illegal in 1664. By 1847 there were five weirs and locks on the Saone. In the early 19th century the river was alive with fishermen, warehouses and gravel dredgers.
In the late 19th century the river was starting to be used by pleasure boaters. The entire waterway is a national priority network and may still be adapted in the Saone to Moselle waterway which was Vetus’s dream back in the day!
About the River Saone
The River Saone is typically a placid river and passes through the beautiful french countryside with a calm and constant flow. Everyone who is travelling on the river is
able to enjoy the landscape of wide meadows with grazing cattle, multi-coloured roofs and poplar lining the banks.
The river does carry some commercial traffic. Often it will be on the south to north passage from Lyon to the Rhine. This is commonly used to move grain, limestone and cement. Larger ships or barges will go as far as the commercial harbour below the town of Macon. There is a chance that you may meet larger vessels near Lyon.
There are five locks over the entire waterway. Seuree is the first lock and is situated at the end of a 10km long diversion canal that cuts off almost 11km from the natural length of the river. The other locks are at Ecuelles, Ormes, Drace and Couzon. All of the locks are controlled by lights. You may be locked through after a maximum wait
Towns and Villages On The River Saone
With so many great towns to visit on the River Saone we have hand-selected a few of our favourites.
This town sits at the juncture of the Saone with the canal de Bourgogne. A large marina is used as a port for mooring boats; it is one of the largest in France. If you are travelling the entire river to Lyon this will most likely be your starting point.
Is a lovely little port town with shops and cute alleyways to explore. Local cuisine specialises in seafood from the river including trout and crayfish. A local classic dish is frogs legs and snails in a creamy garlic sauce. From Seurre as you continue south the river widens and reaches a width of 650 feet.
Some say that this town has the finest waterfront quay on the entire Saone. The town square even overlooks the river and the waterfront is lined with little shops. The local dish of pochouse is made from different types of river fish cooked with a dry Burgundy white wine and cream sauce. The most picturesque part of the town is the quarter adjacent to the church of St-Jean.
This ancient port city was even a winter headquarters for Julias Caesar at one point. The town is more famously the birthplace of Nicéphore Niépce who invented photography. There is even a museum honouring him and displays a collection of cameras.
Ogon is one of the best swimming locations on the River Saone. The water is of great quality and during the summertime, the beach is even patrolled by lifeguards.
This is France’s third-largest city and was originally founded by the Romans. Lyon is on the banks of two rivers, the Saone and the Rhone. A local guiding company, Lyon Canoe offers canoe and kayak trips along the Saone. The tours end at La Confluence which is the tip of the peninsula where the Rhone and Saone rivers meet.
Tips for Paddling on a canal
When paddling on the canals in France it is sometimes necessary to connect different rivers together as part of a larger trip. If you are wanting to paddle on the rivers Lore, Saone and Rhine then you will have to paddle on the canals at some points. Unfortunately one of the downsides of paddling on the canals is the multiple portages that are required in the locks.
One of the great things about paddling on a canal is that you don’t need a map. This is because the canals are designed for boats and have maps marking everything that you need along the journey. If you want to purchase a map then we recommend Navicart maps. You can buy these online for the canal you want. Alternatively, you can visit a captinere which is a little shop that sells boating goods at the start of each canal. The maps will show you mooring points, water filling stations, the location of the locks and the distances between them.
When canoeing or kayaking on the canals you don’t need a river permit. If you have a motorised boat then you will need a permit. However, the downside of paddling is that you don’t get access to a lock key. This means that at every lock you need to unload
your canoe or kayak, lift it out of the water and then carry it back to the other side of the lock. This can be tiring work!
When navigating the locks be careful of stinging nettle and steep banks on either side. Once you are up on the bank there is a towpath running alongside the canal that you can portage your vessel on. However getting your canoe in and out of the water requires patience, determination, creativity and strength.
If you manage to get to a lock at the same time as a boat you may be able to accompany the boat through the passage. This is only if the lock keeper is not a stickler for the rules and doesn’t kick you out of the water first.
If you are wanting to head into a town or village on the way then we recommend bringing a large bike lock with you. This is to lock your canoe or kayak to something fixed so you can head off to see the sights or pick up supplies. Depending on how much stuff you are paddling with will depend if you leave someone to wait with the boat or carry some of your items with you. It is all up to how comfortable you feel leaving your belongings on the side of the river. If you are near to where people have moored, why not ask them to keep an eye on your canoe while you head into town.
What to pack for a canoe, kayak or paddling day trip
This is our go-to list of what you need to pack for a day trip paddling on the Saone River
- Vessel – Kayak, canoe or whatever you would like to paddle
- Paddle for each person plus an extra
- Repair kit including sealant and duct tape
- Lifejacket or PFD with a whistle attached
- Water bottle
- Hat and sunglasses
- Pump and paddle float
In a dry bag:
- First aid kit, including personal medications
- Head torch and spare batteries
- Food for the day plus extra snacks
- Anti-bacterial gel
- Waterproof jacket
- Map and/or guidebook
- Powerbank and backup battery to charge your phone
- Identification, a small amount of cash and a credit card
What to pack for a canoe, kayak or paddling multi-day trip
If you are planning to camp along your journey then camping and cooking equipment will need to be included in your packing list. However, if you are choosing to stay in accommodation on your journey then you will be able to travel with significantly less gear.
Clothing for warm weather or water
- Shorts or convertible pants
- Neoprene footwear
- Rashguard top or moisture-wicking t-shirt or long-sleeved shirt
- Bandana or buff
- Paddling gloves (weather dependent)
- Fleece jacket (weather dependent)
- Rain jacket or spray jacket and pants (weather dependent)
Additional clothing need for cold weather or water
- Drysuit for very cold water
- Wetsuit neoprene top for cold water
- Long underwear (not required if wearing a neoprene wetsuit)
- Wool socks to wear under booties
- Warm hat
- Tent or emergency shelter
- Sleeping mat
- Sleeping bag (choose the correct temperature rating for the climate)
- Matches/lighter/fire starter kept in a waterproof container
- Cooking equipment
- Water treatment and purification items
- Toilet paper, sanitary wipes
- Fishing gear
- Large bike lock to lock vessel if wanting to leave it on the side of the river
- Any luxury items you want to pack. Remember that with a canoe or kayak you can often carry quite a lot of gear so why not pack from luxury items. For inspiration, these could include a book, portable speaker, camp pillow, binoculars, camp chairs and games.
There are so many different reasons why you would want to go on a paddling holiday. The liberating freedom of life on the water is what attracts most paddlers. Seeing the Saone River from a new vantage point will give you a whole new perspective that you won’t find on dry land.
You will feel closer to nature as you paddle past beautiful fields and quaint small french villages. Canoeing and kayaking trips are among the most sustainable and environmentally friendly ways to travel. This is a great way to lower your carbon footprint while still experiencing a holiday you will never forget.
Paddling also has a huge list of health benefits. We know that you will be eating your body weight in delicious french patisseries and bread but don’t worry about the carbs because you will be working for it. Canoeing and kayaking are great activities to improve your fitness. This is because they are considered low impact activities so will not put a huge strain on your body.
Paddling will improve your strength, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness all at the same time! Other health benefits include reduced risk of wear and tear in joints, improved mental health, increased core strength, and weight loss.