The Charolais takes its name from the pretty little water-enclosed market town of Charolles, with its 32 bridges, on the main N79 road. In turn, it gives its name to one of the world’s most illustrious breeds of cattle: the white, curly-haired, stocky Charolais, bred for its lean meat. Throughout this region, scattered across the rich farmland, are dozens of small villages, all with Romanesque churches, the offspring of Cluny’s vigorous youth.
Some 14km west of Charolles, across countryside that becomes ever gentler and flatter as you approach the broad valley of the Loire, is Paray-le-Monial, whose major attraction is its Basilique du Sacré-Coeur. Not only is it an exquisite building in its own right, with a marvellously satisfying arrangement of apses and chapels stacking up in sturdy symmetry to a fine octagonal belfry, it’s the best place to get an idea of what the abbey of Cluny looked like, as it was built shortly afterwards in devoted imitation of the mother church.