Nothing makes you want to come home more than not being able to return. After many months confined to a small Parisian apartment due to pandemic travel restrictions, I had managed a quick trip back to Toronto this summer, but the brief return only increased my desire for it. Canada, a desire amplified by the enticing fall scenes filling my social media stream.
But before I booked an expensive last-minute flight to Pearson, an idea crossed my mind: I didn’t have to jump on a plane to get a taste of home. A few hours’ drive would take me to “little Canada”, the Regional Natural Parks of Morvan.
Located 220 kilometers south-east of Paris, this lesser-known corner of Burgundy in 1970 became one of the first Regional Natural Parks in France, a protected rural area of exceptional natural beauty, comprising both land private and public.
The 2,999 square kilometers of the Morvan encompass crystal-clear lakes, pristine rivers, rolling fields and dense forests – known to be particularly radiant in autumn. Add a wooden cabin overlooking one of these serene lakes and you get the perfect image the French have of Canada. It is their Canadian dream. The Morvan comes closest to it, which has earned it the nickname “Little Canada”. Could I satisfy my appetite for the house there?
At the end of October, I embarked on my quest, accompanied by a friend in love with nature, where many others had done for centuries: at the gates of the park and its most famous site, Vézelay. The beautiful village and its 870-year-old Sainte-Marie-Madeleine basilica sit on the Eternal Hill, the Eternal Hill. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, since the 12th century it has been a starting point for the pilgrimage route of the Chemin de Saint-Jacques.
“This place was considered sacred from the Gauls”, explains Christopher Kelly, guide at the Visitor’s House, a reception center in Vézelay. “The Morvan is just an energy, an invitation to be who you are.
His words echo in my head as I stand on the panoramic terrace behind the basilica, my eyes riveted on the threshold of the Morvan. I’m starting to wonder if my trip isn’t just about admiring pretty leaves.
Over the next few days, as we cruise (very slowly) along the park’s winding country roads, fringed with bright yellow and rusty orange trees, we experience the special energy of the Morvan – and its Canadian character – a delightful opportunity. after another.
Hiking some of the park’s 1,500 kilometers of trails, the crackle of fallen leaves and the soft autumn light cascading through the trees, soothes our spirits and plunges us into unspoiled forests since the inception of the park, perhaps not as dense as those of the deep Canadian North, but close.
We realize the underestimated importance of the peatlands of a protected reserve on the shores of Lake Saint-Agnan, like the marshes bordering the country roads of Ontario. It is even more emphasized at the Maison du Parc and its nature discovery trails, which we meander under the gaze of Limousine cows in the pasture.
After an arduous ascent to the Rocher de la Pérouse, culminating at 556 meters, what remains of our breath is swept away by a grandiose panorama of the misty hills of the park, reminiscent of the Ottawa Valley. We soak up more sensational views – and a lesson in French history – as we visit the 2,000-year-old remains of Bibracte, once the capital of the Gallic Aedui tribe.
Although the drizzle prevented us from taking the canoe trip I was hoping for, we discovered the famous lakes of the park and made the “Canadian dream” of a lakeside chalet come true by staying at the Domaine de la Cabane Verte. Set above Lac des Settons, the largest of the six Morvan lakes, the small resort features 42 wooden cabins and Vardo-style caravans as well as a range of outdoor activities, from classic water sports to forest baths.
“We have created a place where people can meet, reconnect with the cosmos,” explains founder Marc Halévy. Sitting on the deck of our cabin, with a framed view of trees across the lake and raindrops crackling above my head, the serene setting brings me closer to nature and reminds me of the restorative properties that Canadian cabins also offer.
Discovering the nature of the Morvan is not only done through the eyes and the feet. We are in France after all, where the local produce of a region is essential to what makes it unique. The protection of endangered environmental spaces and cultural heritage is a fundamental mission of regional natural parks. To promote this, sustainable products can obtain the “Valeurs Parc” label. We look for them during our stay, from the wine of the Vignerons de la Colline Éternelle, a cooperative cellar at the foot of Vézelay, to a new cheese, Cabrache, invented in part by the Ferme du Rebout near Bibracte.
The culinary heritage of the Morvan is especially celebrated at the Relais Bernard Loiseau. A historic post office revitalized in the 1980s by the late innovative chef Bernard Loiseau, Patrick Bertron has been running his famous two-starred restaurant, La Côte d’Or, since his death in 2003.
“Each dish on the menu has a Morvan side”, Bertron tells us before tasting his gastronomic vision of the region’s terroir. “There are many more surprising things in nature than in a vegetable patch. ”
Bertron sources as much as possible of local products, some of which are picked from the forests of the park. The Relais’s links with local nature continue in its five-star hotel, with its Morvandian wooden beams, traditional Burgundy tiles and stone fireplaces. After our days of outdoor explorations, our tired bones enjoy its award-winning spa.
“People come here to recharge their batteries,” says Dominique Loiseau, Bernard’s widow, who runs the Bernard Loiseau Group with their children. She bought land a short drive from the Relais, where they plan to expand with an ecolodge and nature experiences. With its ponds, fields and forests, this is its “little corner of Canada”.
Have I discovered my little piece of Canada in the Morvan? Not a replica, but instead I get the best of both worlds: a place where the red maple leaf is exchanged for yellow sycamore and cheddar for cabrache; a place where natural beauty is accompanied by generous portions of cuisine and culture.
Accommodation and travel assistance was provided to writer Lily Heise by Le Relais Bernard Loiseau, La Cabane Verte and Maison du Parc, who have not reviewed or approved this article. Travelers are reminded to check for public health restrictions that may affect their plans.