A hop, skip, and a jump (or a simple stroll across the Pont Saint-Laurent) from the better-known, albeit still off the beaten path, City of Mâcon, Saint-Laurent-Sur-Saône lies in Bress-en-Bourgogne, to the north of Lyon. And though it may not seem it today, this village is steeped in history. Here’s a quick guide to the best things to do in Saint-Laurent-Sur-Saône.
With little by way of attractions, the village merits little more than an hour exploration, notably in conjunction with a visit to the much larger nearby city of Mâcon, which in turn requires a fair bit more time to fully enjoy. With that being said, you can’t go wrong by dedicating some time to enjoying the cityscape of Mâcon across the river, the many riverside cafés that St Laurent has to offer, and of course, Saint-Laurent-Sur-Saône’s rather beautiful church.
A brief history of Saint-Laurent-sur-Saône
Once known as Saint-Laurent-lès-Mâcon, today St Laurent Sur Saône is the smallest town in l’Ain. Other names for the village over the years include Saint-Lorent oultre le Pont, Saint-Laurent de l’Ain, and Port inférieur de Saône. It wasn’t until 1958 that the village was bestowed its current name.
Excavations in the 1980s suggest that where the village now lies was inhabited as far back as Neolithic times and was continuously inhabited up to the Gallo-Roman period. By the time the Romans arrived in the region in the 1st Century BCE, the land was inhabited by the Ambarri.
In nearby Mâcon, evidence of Roman inhabitation of the area can be seen, notably along the Passage des Amphores, where several amphorae are displayed on the side of the street. During the 4th-century, the roots of what is now Saint-Laurent-sur-Saône were finally formed, with a village springing up around the construction of an abbey.
By the 13th-century the village rose to true prominence when the region came into the possession of the Dukes of Savoy, who went on to rule the area for the centuries to come. By the beginning of the 17th-century, the village was in the possession of France, a fact that is still true to this day.
Le Pont Saint Laurent
Dating all the way back to medieval times, the rather impressive Saint Laurent bridge spans the Saône and links the L’Ain department to that of Saône-et-Loire. There’s likely been a bridge in the area since the Middle Ages, with boats or perhaps a ford being the only way to cross the river prior to that point.
Up until the 17th-century, it’s likely that people would have had to pay a toll to cross the bridge (and even boats wanting to cross the river would have had to pay the fine). During 2017 and 2018, major renovations were undertaken on the bridge, meaning that the river crossing is picture perfect today!
Eglise Saint Laurent (Parish Church)
Truth be told, the most striking building of the village is easily that of the Neo-Gothic Parish church. Easy to spot from Mâcon, from the St Laurent Bridge, and from various viewpoints throughout the village, the history of the church dates back to the 14th-century.
The ecclesiastical building was constructed on the site of the former abbey that gave rise to the village in the first instance. And while the abbey had been all but destroyed by the 11th-century, a small Roman-style chapel remained onsite for generations.
Unfortunately, the chapel was badly destroyed during the French Revolution and was then used for several purposes during the century that followed; as a communal hall, and even as a grain warehouse! In the 19th-century, following a fire, the decision was taken to all but rebuild the church and it is this construction that can be admired now.
Unfortunately, if my visit is anything to go by (in the middle of the day, mid-week) then the church is closed during the week, with the exception of a weekly mass held on a Sunday. Worth noting is that the best view of the church of St Laurent Sur Saone can be found if you head towards the Quay and look back towards the ecclesiastical building.
Walk over the river to Mâcon
If you’re looking for a city with all the attractions but the charm of a small town, then you need only walk the few hundred metres along the medieval bridge and over the Saône to reach Mâcon. Once there, you’ll soon discover delights such as many ancient churches, several Roman ruins, and the kind of pastel houses and architecture that’s reminiscent of Provence.
Tips for visiting St Laurent Sur Saone
If it’s your first time outside of the bright lights of Paris, or away from the glittering sea of Provence, then you should know that while some people speak English, you’ll need to know some French. From ordering food in restaurants to managing train tickets, it’s a lot harder to find English speakers in more rural areas of France. As such, I highly recommend bringing a simple French phrasebook like this one.
While Saint Laurent Sur Saone has several accommodation options (you can check them here), I highly recommend crossing the river and staying in Mâcon instead. This way, you’ll have access to the many bars, cafés, and restaurants in the city. For those who are looking for a luxurious stay in Mâcon, I can’t recommend Panorama 360 enough. They even have a rooftop bar where you can sip on cocktails as the sun goes down.