There’s nothing better than riding your bike along the banks of the Berry Canal between Saint-Amand-Montrond and Épineuil-le-Fleuriel. It’s accessible all year round, whether for a few hours or a whole day. Take your time and recharge your batteries riding on the cycle paths along the banks, by yourself or with your family. You will be captivated by the untouched nature surrounding you. Don’t hesitate to stop at any time, to listen to the song of birds nesting in the hedges or watch a heron fishing at the water’s edge. Discover how the locks work, cross the canal aqueducts and choose whichever picnic spot you like, surrounded by nature.
You can also take this route, which is well signposted and safe, to various remarkable sites in the region.
From Saint-Amand-Montrond to Aqueduct of La Tranchasse (8 km)
On a beautiful sunny day last autumn, I was motivated to head out on a bike ride to enjoy the tranquil landscapes and new cycle path along the Berry Canal. I had already ridden along part of it a few times, but, encouraged by the purchase of my new electric bike, this time I challenged myself to go to the end of the new cycle path developed by Berry Canal Group. This would mean going 24 kilometres from my house in Saint-Amand-Montrond to Épineuil-le-Fleuriel.
I left home on my bike in the early afternoon, but if you don't live locally, you can safely leave your car in the big parking lot next to the Berry Canal (Quai Pluviôse).
Continuing along the Berry Canal
After passing La Roche Campsite, ideally located on the banks of the canal, I headed along the right bank, on an easy path above a spillway. Soon, I had left the town behind. There started to be big poplars along the edge of the cycle path, which make it very shady all summer long. I soon found myself completely surrounded by nature, riding along freely. I was on one of the three arms of the Berry Canal, the one that connects Montluçon to Fontblisse. Canal construction was finished in 1840, clocking in at 7 metres wide and 1.5 metres deep. In 1955, it stopped being used for its original purpose, and over the years, it has become an important tourism asset for the region.
I crossed to the other bank using the Marigny Drawbridge, which has been identically reconstructed. A few minutes of pedalling later, Drevant, “Small City of Character”, came into view, with its little flower-filled streets and vestiges of the Gallo-Roman era. I took a short break in front of the ancient theatre to admire the progress of the restoration works undertaken by the government. The quay then took me to the little port where, at that time of year, electric boats were tranquilly moored, waiting for the next season to calmly show people the flora and fauna of the Berry Canal.
I then easily rode along the two kilometres that separated me from the Canal Aqueduct of La Tranchasse. As is my habit, I parked my bike a few hundred metres from the structures to admire the remains of the Gallo-Roman aqueduct. You can get there by taking a small, signposted path, shaded by tall trees. After walking for 30 metres, you have to look up high to see what remains of the ancient aqueduct, which used to funnel water towards the Drevant thermal baths.
When I jumped on my bike once more, I was surprised, as I always am, by the canal which suddenly seemed so empty. Water no longer runs there, as the canal aqueduct cannot support the weight anymore. So, the water supply has been shut off at various points to avoid any danger. What a shame…
Canal Aqueduct of La Tranchasse
This breath-taking monument, featuring eight arches across its 96-metre span, appears in the middle of a verdant setting. To further admire the Canal Aqueduct of La Tranchasse, I headed down the small path on the right towards the river, walking through tall grass that tickled my legs. There, I sat comfortably on a sandbank and contemplated the stones of the aqueduct, with the sunlight playing across them.Pont-canal de la Tranchasse
From the Aqueduct of La Tranchasse to Épineuil-le-Fleuriel (14 km)
After this little break, I got back in the saddle to continue my route. And suddenly, the landscape changed – I crossed a wild, wooded hedge with a wide range of fauna and flora, with birdsong accompanying me. There was less than 2 kilometres between me and the junction to get to the village of Ainay-le-Vieil, with the remarkable château and gardens.
But I had not yet reached my destination...
Upon arriving at the village of Perche, the canal surprised me once again – this time, it was completely filled and replaced by a sand quarry that's still operating, except on Sundays! Heading up to the village, the hilly path showed me that I still have some half-decent calf muscles... as well as a practical little motor to help me out! Fortunately, I could relax on the big descent heading back down to the canal. After crossing the Perche lake, with large spaces perfect for resting, the magical landscapes took me to a whole other world. I was arriving in the far south of the Cher department, and of the region as well.
The Berry Canal's only double lock
The next stage was the only double lock along the Berry Canal, in Queugne, a hamlet located in the commune of Épineuil-le-Fleuriel. This double lock used to be necessary to cross a 5-metre rise in the water level. It has been redeveloped and now you can enter inside the lock with your bike. There is an information desk on site, which offers various services during the season. Then, it was only 2 kilometres to get to the village of Épineuil-le-Fleuriel and Schoolhouse of Grand Meaulnes, which is available for visits.
The sunshine kept me pedalling along happily. I even went 3 kilometres further than planned, to the village of Vallon-en-Sully. Here is where the Allier department green lane begins, which takes you to Montluçon, still following the Berry Canal. After one more well-deserved break on the terrace of a cafe in Vallon, I turned back to head home. At that time of year, the days are quickly getting shorter, and I got home just before nightfall, clocking in 60 kilometres of cycling in total. Tired, but very happy after this lovely bike ride. Next time I’ll go all the way to Montluçon, promise!
Lieselotte, 58 years old, lover of bike excursions and holidays.Discover the experiences