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Located in the southern tip of Burgundy and bordering the Monts du Beaujolais is one of Burgundy’s least know regions – the Brionnais. That’s a shame as the Brionnais has much to offer visitors. It is a region of soft green hills dotted with farms, churches and villages.
A good place to start exploring the Brionnais is by driving along the Circuit des Eglises Romanes du Brionnais, a well marked tourist road that lets you visit 13 of the region’s Romanesque churches. Highlights include the Basilica of Paray-le-Monial, the village church of Anzy-le-Duc with its octagonal bell tower and the church in Bois-Sainte-Marie with its carved capitals. Many of the churches along this route are part of the Festival Musique en Brionnais, a yearly chamber music festival in late July or early August.
Most of the villages along the Circuit des Eglises Romanes du Brionnais have hiking trails so you can get out and stretch your legs between driving.
The Brionnais is also home to three Châteaux – Château de Drée, Château de la Clayette and Château Saint-Hugues. Construction on the Château de Drée started in 1620 and the Château is best known for its gardens. In French style they are well proportioned with fountains and shrubs in pleasurable shapes. The Château de la Clayette is a private residence but the outside can be visited on May 1st, Mondays in July and August and during European Heritage Days. The Château Saint-Hugues in Semur-en-Brionnais is the oldest Château in Burgundy, construction started in the 10th century.
The Brionnais is home to good food, but here’s a surprise that doesn’t include local wine. What it does include is Charollais Cattle. A white breed of cattle that is named after the nearby town of Charolles. When driving in the Brionnais you’ll often see Charollais Cattle grazing in the fields.
Semur-en-Brionnais is in the heart of the Brionnais and is classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Close to Semur-en-Brionnais is Saint-Christophe-en-Brionnais and its Wednesday cattle market, first held in the 14th century.
The Brionnais is best accessed by car off the N79 national road between Mâcon and Charolles/Paray-le-Monial. The N79 has a junction with the A6 Autoroute that runs between Paris and Lyon. You can also take the the TGV – high speed train from Paris to Le Creusot or Mâcon and then rent a car. If you are the sporting type you could cycle the Voie Verte bike only path from Le Creusot to Paray-le-Monial. The Brionnais is an hour and a half north of Lyon by car.
The Brionnais is in the far south of Southern Burgundy. The limits are in the north the N79 road, west and south the Loire and Sornin rivers and the Beaujolais hills to the east.
Thirteen of the Romanesque Churches in the Brionnais are on a marked route – Circuit des Eglises Romanes du Brionnais. Churches on this route, in driving order starting from Paray-le-Monial are:
When starting from Paray-le-Monial exit the town direction Quartier Sud/Roanne on the D352bis road.
Château de Drée
Château de la Clayette
Jeff Steiner is the author of the Southern Burgundy Explorer, a travel app for iPhone/iPad/iPod, Android, and kindle, also as an e-book. You can find more about many of the places mentioned in this article and other things to see or do in Southern Burgundy.
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