In Burgundy lies the Morvan, a beautiful nature reserve in a rolling landscape with the most beautiful views. Charolais cows graze peacefully in the meadows. In the distance lie sleepy villages, where time seems to have stood still. The unspoilt nature invites you to take lovely walks along rivers, waterfalls, forests and lakes. Many people have a second home in the Morvan for good reason, or even live there permanently. For them, living in the Morvan means enjoying nature and tranquillity. But besides the expansive natural beauty, there are also historical cities with numerous sights. This makes the Morvan an ideal holiday destination in France.
Cultural highlights of the Morvan
We have already spent several days in the Morvan and were never bored for a moment. There are so many beautiful things to see and do that you’d be far from finding it dull. So, we will definitely return to this peaceful part of France. For us, these are the main cultural highlights of the Morvan:
In the north of the Morvan lies the medieval town of Vézelay. For centuries, the town has been an important pilgrimage site on the route to Santiago de Compostela. A visit to the Basilica Sainte- Madeleine is the highlight of the stop in Vézelay for pilgrims. But we too thoroughly enjoyed the magnificent church with its beautiful light. It is also great to walk through the cosy centre with its narrow streets, beautiful buildings, and quaint shops. You really imagine yourself in the Middle Ages. You really shouldn’t miss the small museum Zervos either. The museum holds several works by Pablo Picasso.
We explored the town and the basilica together with a guide from the Maison du Visiteur. This made our visit to Vézelay even more meaningful. For that reason, there will soon be another extensive blog about our visit to this town. Because as far as we were concerned, Vézelay was one of the main highlights of the Morvan.
Bibracte was an important trading town over 2,000 years ago with an estimated 12,000 inhabitants. The Celtic tribe Haedui traded with the Celtic part of Europe, as well as with Greeks and Romans. The inhabitants themselves were skilled in metallurgy. Bibracte was overpowered by the Romans during the Gallic War. Julius Caesar is said to have started writing his famous report ‘Commentarii rerum in Gallia gestarum’, on the course of this war, in the city. Around the beginning of our era, most of the inhabitants left Bibracte. They settled in nearby Augustodunum, today’s Autun.
We spent a whole day at Bibracte. First, we took a walk around the excavated city. Then, with a guide, we viewed the main excavations in Bibracte. Finally, we visited the museum. An interesting day, during which we learnt a lot about life in this city over 2,000 years ago. As such, we will write another detailed blog about Bibracte.
Chateau de Bazoches
Above the small town of Bazoches towers the castle of the same name. For us, this castle was one of the highlights of the Morvan. That has everything to do with its occupant: Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban. He was the master builder of defences in France at the time of King Louis XIV. Among others, the Besançon citadel, along with 11 more fortifications, is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
In gratitude for his services to the country, King Louis XIV donated this 12th-century castle to Vauban. We tour the castle, getting an insight into his life and work. The sumptuously decorated rooms are all beautiful to behold. Of course, the castle also pays attention to the fortifications designed by Vauban.
Vauban was a native of the Morvan. He was born in Saint-Léger-de-Fougeret. In the 19th century, the village was named Saint-Léger-Vauban as a tribute to the master builder. The village is home to a small museum, Maison Vauban. Vauban’s tomb is in the church of Bazoches. His heart was moved to the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris in 1808 by order of Napoleon. This is the final resting place for many important French soldiers.
The castle is the starting point of a beautiful walk through the area. We will write a detailed blog about this beautiful walk later.
Driving into the Morvan from the north, Avallon is the first major town in the region and definitely worth a visit. Avallon has a long and turbulent history. The Gauls lived there before the beginning of our era. Later, because of its location on the Via Agrippa, the city was important to the Romans. In the early Middle Ages, the city was plundered many times, including by the Vikings.
Nevertheless, Avallon’s historic centre offers a rich variety of beautiful buildings. The old town is walled and you can still admire several special city gates. For example, the gate Tour de l’Horloge is very beautiful. Be sure to walk through the main street of the old town and its charming side streets. You will enjoy the quaint shops, cafés, and restaurants.
In the south-east of the Morvan lies Autun. This is the region’s very largest city and one of the highlights of the Morvan for several reasons. The city of Autun was founded in the first century BC by the Haedui, a Celtic tribe. It became their new capital after they left Bibracte. The Romans conquered the city and renamed it Augustodunum. To show the power of the Romans, several impressive buildings sprang up in the city. Some of them can still be visited today: two city gates, the ramparts, the theatre, and the remarkable temple of Janus.
The medieval centre around Saint-Lazare cathedral is lovely to stroll through. The cathedral dates from the 12th century. The church possesses many fine Romanesque carvings. The streets near the church are atmospheric with beautiful buildings and half-timbered houses. You will also find nice shops and excellent restaurants. For a unique view of the city, go to the Croix de la Libération. From this point you have a fantastic view of the cathedral, the city centre, and the Roman remains. We will write another extensive blog on Autun’s sights soon.
Natural highlights of the Morvan
The tranquillity, unspoilt nature and wide views in the rolling countryside are the natural highlights of the Morvan. After every turn, the panorama is different, but unabatedly captivating. This is the ultimate setting for peace-seekers and hikers. Don’t expect huge mountain peaks with jagged rock faces. The landscape is friendly because of the rolling hills and the views you have everywhere.
The lakes of the Morvan
The Morvan is home to six lakes. They are all man-made. The two largest are Lac de Pannecière and Lac de Settons. They are both located in the heart of the Morvan. The lakes are popular with water sports enthusiasts, anglers, swimmers, hikers, and cyclists. The other lakes are smaller and quieter.
Waterfall Le Saut de Gouloux
Not far from the village of Gouloux, the waterfall Le Saut de Gouloux is hidden in the forest. Water crashes down from a height of 10 metres. Near the waterfall are ruins of two mills. The place used to be used as a small port to transport logs to Paris. For the Morvan provided firewood for the capital at the time.
Everywhere, you will come across beautiful viewpoints in the Morvan. If you take a drive along the deserted farm roads, you will come across many of them. We liked the views at the following spots:
- Vézelay. The town sits high on a hill. If you walk behind the church to the northeast, you look out over a vast area.
- Mont Beuvray. This is the mountain on which the Celts founded their city of Bibracte. From its summits, you have phenomenal views of the surrounding area.
- Signal d’Uchon. Near the village of Uchon, you will find these rock formations with large. It is a perfect place to enjoy the view.
- Dessey. In the quiet village of Dessey, there is a nice viewpoint near the church.
- Panorama du Calvaire near the town of Chateau-Chinon. On the spot where a castle used to stand, you now have a fantastic panorama over the Morvan. Chateau-Chinon is the capital of the Morvan. We didn’t find the town itself very interesting.
- Croix de la Libération near Autun. From this spot you have a great view of the city of Autun and the wider area.
At around 900 metres, Mount Haut-Folin is the highest mountain in the Morvan. However, do not visit the summit if you want to enjoy the view there. It is a wooded area, so you can’t see very far. The road to it does provide beautiful panoramas.
Hiking along the highlights of the Morvan
Its tranquillity, nature and unspoilt landscape make the region an ideal hiking area. Do not expect steep climbs along rock faces. But gentle walks through wooded areas, along quiet paths and past meadows with cows and hedges. In the process, you’ll pass small villages where time seems to stand still. Occasional small climbs, but generally relaxed walking in the Morvan. The beautiful views make every trip special. On the walks we took in the Morvan, we never met anyone else, except when we walked into a village.
If you want to explore the Morvan completely, the GR-13 is ideal. This marked long-distance walk crosses the region from north to south. This will take you several days on the road. So this route is perfect for a walking holiday in the Morvan.
Around every town in the Morvan, you can do several walks of different lengths and levels of difficulty. You will find a complete overview on the website randomorvan.fr. Using search filters, you can easily find a walk that suits your condition. Once you have found a suitable one, you can download a gpx file for navigation.
Biking along the highlights of the Morvan
The Morvan has no steep mountains. The rolling hills are therefore ideal for sporty cyclists or mountain bikers. Nevertheless, there are occasional steep climbs. Fortunately, these don’t last long and when you get to the top you notice again how beautiful the panorama of the Morvan is.
Between the many small villages, there are many roads. A large network of routes is therefore possible. Fortunately, there is little traffic on these roads. That makes cycling very relaxing. Of course, this also applies if you have an e-bike. Every hill will then be a breeze for you. Keep in mind that you will not find many charging points.
A nice cycling route at not too many metres up is a lap around the large Lac de Pannecière. The route is just over 50 kilometres long in total. The altitude difference is just over 200 metres.
Along the lake you will enjoy beautiful views. In addition, at several spots you can have a picnic by the water or go in for a refreshing dip.
If you want to explore the Morvan by mountain bike, over 2,000 kilometres of marked trails await you. From the beautiful Croix de la Libération viewpoint, for example, you can choose some mountain bike routes that will take you to Autun. The routes range from easy to difficult.
Frequently asked questions about the Morvan
The Morvan is part of the Burgundy-Franche-Comté region. The area consists of four departments: Yonne, Nièvre, Côte-d'Or and Saône-et-Loire.
The Morvan is eminently a region to visit by car. The distance from Paris to Avallon, located in the north of the Morvan, is 225 kilometres. Some of the route involves toll roads in France.
By train is also possible. You can take the TGV to Le Creusot, located east of Autun on the southern side of the region. Another option is to take the TGV to Dijon. From there, travel further by train to Luzy, in the south of the Morvan. However, it is convenient to take a hire car to explore the Morvan further.
The Morvan is sometimes called the ‘green lung of Burgundy’. It is a beautiful natural area with rolling hills, meadows with Charolais cattle, vast forests, lakes, and picturesque villages. As the Morvan is mainly an agricultural area, there is no industry. Therefore, you have clean air in the Morvan. Evenings are beautiful with the many stars in the sky. Because light pollution is hardly present in the Morvan.
For active holidaymakers, the Morvan offers excellent hiking and cycling. Many water sports are possible in the various lakes. Horse lovers can even explore the Morvan on horseback. Nature lovers looking for peace and quiet will be in their element in the Morvan.
Besides its many natural beauties, the Morvan also offers great opportunities for culture lovers. For example, the medieval town of Vézelay with its beautiful basilica is a place not to be missed. On Mont Beuvray you will find the excavations of the city of Bibracte. In Celtic times, this was an important trading town. A unique place to visit, partly because of its beautiful museum. At the edge of the Morvan is Autun. This city has several remains from Roman times. In addition, its medieval centre is of unparalleled beauty. But above all, the Morvan is a region to enjoy the beautiful views of nature.
Every town in the Morvan, however small, has a restaurant. Even in Uchon, with about 100 inhabitants, you will find an eatery. Lunch is an important meal for the French. By one o'clock, the restaurants fill up with local visitors. They feast on delicious dishes accompanied by a good glass of wine.
- We really enjoyed eating out at the restaurant of hotel SY La Terrasse in Vézelay: excellent dishes, delicious wine and personal service made the evening a delight. Booking is wise, as it is almost always completely full.
- In the village of Semelay, we had an excellent lunch on the terrace of Le Clos de la Bussiere. The friendly couple served us superb meals. The house wine was of excellent quality.
- You get a special lunch experience at Le Chaudron restaurant near the Bibracte museum. It is eaten what the pot holds. The dishes are based on the meals of the Gauls. Crockery and cutlery are also derived from that era.
- In Autun, La Trattoria comes highly recommended. Delicious Italian food at a good price. The friendly service goes out of its way to make you happy.
- In Autun, Le Cathédral is also a good choice. A lovely spot next to the church, refined local dishes, friendly service, and a cosy ambiance.
If you are a lover of Tolkien's books, you really should spend the night in a hobbit house. The Village Fantastique du Domaine de la Pierre Ronde campsite offers that unique opportunity.
You will find several gites in the region. Like Haute Dône, a gîte for four people in a beautiful house in the middle of nature.
If you want to stay in Vézelay, hotel Sy La Terrasse is the best choice. On the square near the Basilica, you have a great view of the church from your room. The room is excellent.
Autun is an ideal base if you want to combine the pleasures of a cosy city with nature in the surrounding area. These are good choices in Autun:
- B&B Maison Sainte Barbe
- Aparthotel Pied à Terre
- B&B Augustodun'Home
The Morvan is a beautiful natural area. Surely, then, you want to stay in the midst of nature? These are the most beautiful nature cottages in the Morvan.
If you like camping, the nature reserve has several options. The Burgundy Tourist Office has already selected the five best campsites in the Morvan for you.
This is the total offer of accommodation in the Morvan.