When you disembark at Chalon-sur-Saône — a bustling town one hour south of Dijon — you’re in the heart of the Burgundy wine region. You'll find a lively and charming historic center, a Gothic cathedral, and a rather major contribution to world history that has nothing to do with wine: Chalon-sur-Saône claims the distinction of being the first place ever photographed — not just in France, but in the world. Nicéphore Niépce, widely credited as the inventor of photography, was born here and took his first shots locally in 1827.
What We Love
Exploring the Place: Using the French definition of place — that is, the public square. Brush shoulders with locals and French visitors day-tripping by boat in the town's outdoor cafés and bustling markets. The surroundings are full of charm: half-timbered houses with perfectly painted facades, and tiny shops selling antiques and local delicacies.
Walking or Bicycle Touring: Strolling along the riverfront is always a pleasure, but biking is also a popular modern pastime in Chalon-sur-Saône, which is a key point on the cycle route network that crisscrosses southern Burgundy. You can enjoy a ride alongside the canals or through wine country following the “voies vertes” (green ways).
Best Known For
Cathedrale Saint-Vincent de Chalon-sur-Saône: Casually known as Chalon Cathedral, this Roman church is an imposing presence looming over the town’s main square. Its bones are Romanesque, but the dominant architectural style is Gothic, with a neo-Gothic 19th-century facade.
The Invention of Photography: This is by far this town’s biggest claim to fame — and you can get the full scoop on the man who snapped the first photo (it was not a selfie) at Musée Nicéphore Niépce.
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Who It's Best For
Slice of Life Lovers: Because it’s an access point for Canal du Centre, Chalon-sur-Saône sees many “plaisanciers Français” — French boaters. In fact, small personal craft far outnumber river cruise ships here.
Wine Aficionados: This is the first or last stop for many river cruise itineraries in Burgundy. If you’re a fan of French wine, it’s a no-brainer to extend your trip and visit the legendary wine regions just to the south. If you only have a day, visit the Maison des Vins and taste your way through the appellations.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
No Guarantees: If the water level of the Saône is too low to permit safe passage, commercial cruise lines will cancel this port stop and remain in Lyon.
Lena Katz is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Brides.