French Round - a hidden world among the châteaux of Burgundy
Magny-Cours, France.The famous Circuit de Nevers will host the eleventh race of the top division for production motorcycles from 30 September to 2 October.
The French track will be the setting for the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship for the fifteenth time in its history and the fourteenth time in a row, following its 1991 debut: in that year both races were won by the America Doug Polen (Ducati) in front of Raymond Roche. The last place on the podium went to Stèphane Mertens in race one and Fred Merkel in the second.
4,411 metres long, Magny-Cours is notable for its bends, which retain certain traits recalling those of other circuits whose names they bear, including Estoril, Nürburgring and Imola.
Built in 1960 at the behest of the mayor at the time, Jean Bernigaud, the track was enlarged and restructured several times before reaching its current configuration, which dates back to 2003: in that year Neil Hodgson (Ducati Fila) got the victory in race one with only a 348 thousands of a second lead over Ruben Xaus, Chris Walker finishing third. The first over the finish line in race two was the Spaniard Ruben Xaus, with a lead of more than ten seconds over James Toseland and Chris Walker.
The Circuit de Nevers has been the property of the department of Nevers for thirty years, the Burgundy district which hosts the sinuous bends of the track.
It is the ideal place to discover the splendours of this part of France by motorcycle, riding through the past among ruins, fortresses and châteaux, possibly in the saddle of your own touring bike.
The starting point is Nevers, a town whose land encompasses the circuit itself: its symbol, the Ducal Palace, was built in the late fourteenth century with a Gothic-inspired style and a façade dominated by regularity and symmetry. The cathedral also has a Gothic influence, well visible from its austere and imposing front. An interesting example of how the past can blend perfectly with the modern is the Institute of Automotive and Transport Engineering, a former monastery of Capuchin monks, renovated according to a rather more modern canon.
Burgundy - and in particular Nevers - is known throughout the world as the land of châteaux: there are a lot, a huge amount, and they are hidden away here, there and everywhere. A nice trip outside the gates can easily be transformed into a treasure hunt, in search of the most stunning and unusual castle in the area.
After leaving Nevers you can head towards the Château de Chevenon, which maintains its severe charm despite the ravages of time, before continuing for a short while until you arrive at the Vieu Château de Moulins-Englibert, once a great attraction, now a ruin which lies hanging in the middle of the lush vegetation of the surrounding park. You can admire the load-bearing walls of the castle from your motorbike, a remnant of a far distant past: and even its neighbour the Château de Chatillon brings a taste of creative culture, thanks to the splendid art collection found within. While from the outside you can marvel at the glorious botanic garden, a real joy for all lovers of life en plein air!
On the banks of the Nivers channel lies the Parc Naturel Regional du Morvan, where the rural character of the region is readily apparent, thanks largely to its strong, resolute local identity, which continues to protect the surrounding area - châteaux included - and its heritage.
For a journey back to the Renaissance, a visit to the Manoir de Giverdy is not to be missed: it was founded in the 15th century by Grégoire de Paillard and is an attraction for any tourists interested in modern art. On the road between Corbigny and Vézelay is the Château de Lantilly, and old fortification built in the 18th century and famous for the surrounding moat, created to protect the inhabitants in case of attack.
The journey continues by moving from Nevres to the neighbouring department of Yonne, reaching the marvellous town of Vézelay, positioned on an isolated hill in the middle of a verdant plain in the Parc Naturel Regional du Morvan. Vézelay is a tiny village, with barely more than 400 inhabitants, founded along a road travelled by pilgrims heading for Santiago de Compostela, chosen as a world heritage sites by UNSECO for its great religious and historical importance.
The imposing Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, better known as Vézelay Abbey, is one of the supreme masterpieces of Romanesque art in France: you can stop here to admire its outer walls, which unfortunately had to be reworked over the years after the destruction caused by the French Revolution. Despite this, the abbey still retains a large amount of its original splendour: a short walk around the building allows you to appreciate this majestic work from every perspective.
Returning towards the Circuit de Nevers you will find the Château d'Arthel, revered by both the French and tourists from around the world for its splendid gardens enriched with well-kept interweaving mazes: something you can also see in the park of the Château des Granges, built in the 15th and 16th centuries and containing an unusual and intriguing cubic chapelwithin.
Riding your motorbike in Burgundy is a unique experience, enabling you to enjoy close up one of the special aspects of the landscape: it is a land of green expanses, interspersed with long rows of carefully-tended vineyards, thanks to the particular climatic conditions which have helped create some of the most exquisite and well known wines of the transalpine regions.
Between one vineyard and another you can also see Passy-les-Tours, a huge fortress with four circular towers at its four corners, the height of which enabled effective control of the surrounding area: over the years its enviable strategic position made it a strong point of contention between the local lords, and is still a site of interest for groups of motorcyclists attracted by its unusual structure.
Upon re-entering Nevers, it is a must to stop off at one of the many shops in the little town to buy one of their famous Negus chocolate sweets, covered with melted sugar: a real treat to enjoy throughout the day for its meltingly-soft centre, just like the landscape of Burgundy. And then finally it is time to return to the Magny-Cours track, only now with your vision overflowing with pictures gathered from a wonderful two-wheeled adventure.