Nestled high on the fertile hills of burgundy, a little commune huddles in the skirts of
a medieval pilgrim fortress. The Franciscan nuns are gently humming as they complete their morning chores. From the church square we discretely watch them as they walk passed the window.
Its early morning and fine tendrils of cloud linger along Vezelay’s hillside and down in to the valley. The young shoots of the vine soak up the moisture before the sun peaks through the clouds. Ever shadowed by the abbey’s ramparts. Quiet cobbled streets begin to fill with the sound of pots and pans, clanging through open windows. The small B&B’s are getting ready to serve their guests. A cock crows in a abbey garden and signals the start of a new day. (click on the small images to enlarge)
The rampart walls of the abbey are thickly embedded with wild flowers attracting birds, bees and butterflies. The two grounds men shuffle past the refectory ruin and an archway of rose bushes to collect their tools. Working the gardens requires good negotiation skills, balancing along the mossy terraces and ramparts to tend to vines and flower beds.
Situated on what seem like an impossibly steep and inaccessible hill, Vezelay’s abbey and church speak of the region’s rich hinterland of religion and turmoil. From the endless procession of pilgrims seeking a glimpse of the relics of Mary Magdaleine to pillage by Protestants during the Revolution. The Basilica of Saint Mary Magdaleine is at the heart of the village and careful restoration to the right wing is underway.
We slowly walk down the aisles gazing up at the tall brown and white stone pillars. Each one crowned with scenes from the bible. We seek out the most famous scene – the mystic mill – of Moses and St Paul. To the left of the alter, stairs down in to the crypt. The cool air makes me shiver which intensifies when I see the bones of Mary Magdaleine on display. A few fragments are all that remain.
We wander back down the cobbled streets, stumbling upon across curiosity shops and one of a kind boutiques. At the entrance to the village, wooden gates swing from the stone entrance. Coffee drinkers sit outside the street cafes, nibbling freshly baked croissants and croc monsieur.. a cue its time to grab some lunch.
The country paths and walk ways around the abbey provide a perfect opportunity for a stroll. We hold hands, chat about everything and nothing whilst Mac n Tosh savour the smells of the open countryside. Swallows swoop low to wash themselves in the rain puddles. Tosh is eager to chase and tease.
We spot signs for a chapel and our curiosity takes over. In 1146, Saint Bernard preached the second crusade in the open air. Marked by a rather large cross. Opposite a small but well presented chapel offers a glimpse of pagan times. A few years later, Richard the lion heart and Philippe Auguste, king of France, stopped by before setting off on the third crusade.
Further along the lane in the village of St Pere, rich folk nibble at one of France’s best restaurants. L’Esperance and its Michelin stars attracts diners from far and wide but come with a fat wallet. You’re looking at a minimum of €160 per head for evening meal. Another cue to head back to Vin for a good old fashioned chip butty.
We park for 2 nights on the car park just outside the abbey walls. It is free to park overnight with a €5 charge for 9-7 day ticket. It is quiet with stunning views and highly recommended.
Our Bumble Paid parking at Vezelay GPS position: N047.464083, E003.740382
Along the road to the French Alps there are noisier, busier fortified villages than Vezelay and the larger, livelier towns have all the usual French flair. Semur en Auxois with its large towers and fortified historic centre caught our attention. A busy market town which in a few days time is about to celebrate the towns anniversary. A three day event with music, street theatre, fair ground and market stalls. With a hype in activities the municipal aire is full to bursting with fairground vans and wagons. All the surrounding lanes and streets are lined with vans, cars and trucks, so parking is a challenge. We wonder if to stay or movement on. But Craig has a fine nose for sniffing out a wild spot and boy can he find them. He follows his gut instinct and within minutes he finds a quiet oasis down by the river, its just perfect.
We hike up to the old town. Semur en Auxois winding streets edge along high walls bursting with flowers. The flowers fill and hide the massive and disconcerting crack that runs the full length of the tower. From the high viewpoint, the river below feels oddly within reach. Shifting floral scents embrace walkers as the fort road snakes in and around the river. The church bells chime across the old square as a group of German tourist congregate under the archway. Their guide points to the story of Doubting Thomas before she welcomes them inside.
Around the town square we notice brass arrows. We follow and enjoy a mini walking tour of the town, taking in the vistas and ruins. The two towers of the walled village are impressive but the huge crack in one of the towers is even more worrying the closer you get. Think it needs more than poly filler to fix it and the sooner, the better.
The historic centre is pretty but very quiet and despite the planned celebrations the new town is even quieter. The fair ground stands empty and abandoned, the attendants stand in wait hoping the crowds arrive soon. Police presence is felt across the town and the slightest opportunity to pull motorists to one side is evident. Just around the corner on Rue Chaude a small bakers with traditional wood fired oven. Craig can’t resist a freshly baked bread and pops in for a crisp and soft baguette plus a raisin au pan for sharing. An lady pulls up in her car and double parks outside. The police turn away. There seems an unspoken agreement that the pursuit of French bread should never result in a ticket.
We park for 2 nights on little patch by the river, its quiet and peaceful. Just a handful of people walk by and say ‘bonjour’. You can cross over the bridge for lovely walks around the countryside. Alternatively, sit by the river and sing a long with the cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo…until the tune pecks your head!
Our Bumble wild camping at Semur en Auxois GPS position: N047.497249, E004.337632
On route to Tournus we spotted a deer sign followed by a deer! Thats a first. Craig applied the breaks and we grind to a halt in a swirl of dust. A quick u-turn and there you have it, a baba deer amid the poppy field just amazing.
Our drive takes us through Cote d’Or with its famous narrow strip of Burgundy vines that produce wines like Meursault, Gevrey-Chambertin, Vougeot and Nuits-St-Georges. By mid afternoon, we arrive at our stop for the day, Tournus. We park up on a small, free aire located right on the La Saone river.
A stroll along the river and a tootle in to the village is a nice end to a lovely day. As the sunsets we sink in to our bed as tomorrow we plan for an early start as we continue our journey to Mont Blanc.