The Saône rises at an altitude of nearly 1,300 feet near Vioménil, southwest of Épinal in the Vosges Mountains of eastern France; it flows for 300 miles before it meets the Rhône at Lyon. The 233-mile navigable portion of the Saône is a very busy route and is almost entirely “canalized” with 30 locks; it is linked through canals with the Loire, Seine, Rhine and Marne Rivers.
The Saône is called the Sona in Arpitan or Franco-Provençal, a local Romance language. Its ancient name was Arar.
In the Bronze Age (about 2000 B.C.) trade between the north and the south had already begun to develop in the Burgundy region. It increased greatly in Roman times: the Gauls had a port at Chalon-sur-Saône and in Gallo-Roman times the town was a military garrison and supply center called Cabilonnum. The Via Agrippa connected Lyon via Mâcon with Trèves.
The first paddle-wheel steamboat, built by the Marquis Claude de Jouffroy d’Abbans, was demonstrated with a 15-minute trip on the Saône in 1783. Barge traffic remains heavy along the Saône’s lower course.
In addition to being a journey through history, a trip along the Saône is also a journey through France’s legendary Burgundy wine region.