Exploring Burgundy from our Lucy-sur-Yonne base

Trip Start Jun 18, 2012
Trip End Jul 26, 2012

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Lucylettings, Lucy-sur-Yonne

Flag of France  , Burgundy,
Thursday, August 2, 2012

Friday 13th July 2012    (continued)    Paris – Lucy sur Yonne

We're off to spend 11 days with friends, Anne and Peter, in the house they’ve rented in Lucy-sur-Yonne, a small village (population 150) in Burgundy. The house is right on the Canal du Nivernais, and we hope to explore the Canal system during this stay.

Easyjet obviously doesn’t pay for too many facilities in Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, and we have a long tour of the airport in the plane when we arrive about midday. Park a long way out, and just as we have to get off, it starts to rain heavily, and we have to run down the open stairway and 20 metres to the bus. No umbrellas allowed. We’re pretty wet walking through the airport, and it’s hard to find way out to immigration. Pick up our bags, which have been left uncovered, and are quite wet. We’re getting the train to Chatel-Sensoir, near Lucy sur Yonne, where we’ll hopefully be picked up by Anne and Peter. We have details of the trains from Bercy, but first we have to get to Bercy, which looked pretty easy in our instructions, but we find that a few steps are missing from the instructions, which just say to take the metro to Bercy. In terminal 2 there are 7 sub-terminals and first we have to find which one the metro goes from.  Look for metro signs, but there aren’t any, but there are various signs for the RER B and the TGV. We get a metro map, which we think might help. Can see Bercy on it, but no metro connection from the airport. Decide to plot course to Gare du Nord, then change to Gare d’Orleans,and then walk to Bercy. Next comes tickets.  There are two different types of machines.  After working out which one we want, and lining up, find that we can’t use notes, only credit card or coins. We don’t have coins, and it won’t accept our Visa card. Dianne then goes and lines up for ticket seller, while Murray finds a change machine, but it’s out of service! Eventually buy two tickets for 18.5 euros, with the ticket seller, and find station, where there are two trains waiting. Get in one train which is about to leave, so don’t have time to read the signs properly. Not sure it’s right, so hop out, and change to the other one, which has gare de Nord on its route map. The train is express to gare du Nord, but takes a fair while to leave.  Get off at Gare du Nord, and transfer to Gare d’Orleans, which goes from next platform. Get out at Gare d’Orleans, but can’t find any directions to Bercy, s head for Grands Lignes, rather than the Metro. Dianne asks information, told to take route 14 to Bercy, next stop. Follow arrows, takes us in a loop down and up, back to where we started. Ask again. Find we can exit this section of the Metro and still use our ticket. Find Route 14, direction Olympias.  This line doesn’t show up on our metro map which we just got from the airport!! Apparently it’s a new line.  You think they’d spend the extra money to print correct maps to give to tourists!  Train is crowded, but we manage to get on with all our luggage. Go one stop, emerge at Bercy,  and walk to the long distance train station. Murray lines up for tickets while Dianne finally goes to loo, using the machine to pay for the men’s toilet by mistake, but talks herself into the ladies as she’s used her only change.  Murray negotiates tickets to Chatel-Sensoir (30.3 euros each). We can now relax.  There are only four direct trains a day, and the next one is 2.38pm.  If we had missed this, we’d have to wait till 4.31pm.

We sit and eat good baguettes with chicken salad. Decide to go look for train, and find it is already at the platform, though it doesn’t go for a while. Told by the conductress we can sit anywhere. Now find this is not-so easy as train is pretty full, though lots of people are spread over two seats. Try several carriages and settle for two diagonal seats at a table, but a man switches to give us two aisle seats.  The train is quite fast, but rocks around a lot -pretty rough for diary writing.  Some good views but not much to photograph.  No Eiffel tour glimpses. Rural France looks pretty good. Green trees and shrubbery, amber wheat fields, large rivers, some canals.  We are careful to track our progress.  Untie our two bags in the foyer, ready to get out as soon as the train stops at Chatel-Sensoir.  Platform is soft, wet gravel (it’s raining) making it hard to pull the bags. Peter and Anne have correctly guessed we would be on this train in spite of no communication since landing, when we sent an email through wi-fi. Drive the short trip (6kms) to Lucy sur Yonne (population 150) to the house, which Anne found over the web.  It’s the chalet on the webpage. (http://www.lucylettings.com/index.html). The house has a few idiosyncrasies, and the furnishings are a big hodgepodge, but the location is perfect, and where else would you get a place with two double bedrooms for A$63 per night.              

  Settle in during the afternoon. It’s still raining, and it’s quite cool, but this is quite pleasant after the heatwave conditions of the last month. No barges go past.  We’re told that usually there are quite a few during the day, and some tie up on the bollards opposite every night. Assume it must be because of the July 14 Bastille Day holiday tomorrow. Have a fairly early night.

Organise a kitty to pay for all expenses.  Share cost of the Peugeot car lease (half of A$33 per day total) and cost of accommodation (half of A$63 per day total), which works out incredibly cheap for four people. Our share of car and accommodation for eleven days is $A525!

Saturday 14th July    Lucy sur Yonne-Clamecy-Lucy

Rains in the morning.  It’s Saturday, and market day in Clamecy (9kms away, population 4,500), so drive to have a look and do some shopping.  The town has evolved in the typical concentric French manner, with a town centre consisting of 13th- to sixteenth-century houses (still remarkably intact), surrounded by nineteenth-century houses and buildings with 20th-century developments forming an outer ring.
Its principal building is the church of St Martin which dates chiefly from the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries Town looks good, very medieval, lots of half-timbered buildings. Walk up to the health food shop.  Lots of staples in chaff bags -spices, lentils, fruit and vegies.  Carry on to the market, right on top of the hill next to the church. Market is a restored old, multi-vaulted building with brick arches, limestone pillars and walls, new flash track lighting, new tiled floors. All very antiseptic. The display is classic French gourmand’s heaven, with some strange continuous dark grey sausages, and other sausages with either chalk or mould, or both of them.  Fair display of fish, a lot of beefy chunks, brawn etc.  Lots of fruit, including very cheap ripe apricots. Buy lots, plus 2 kg of cherries.

There is a parade forming up outside the market. Group have T-shirts with what looks like boats with oars and people jousting with long paddles and sticks on logs.  There is a local celebration of when they floated the timber all the way down the river to Paris for firewood, when the river level was high. Find the yearly celebration is next weekend, so we’ll come back for it.  Down at the car we catch the full parade at the War Memorial which is near the Port on the Nivernais Canal. Look at the Port, and take photos of lock and weir, then get caught in heavy rain. Back home to eat cherries all afternoon.

It fines up enough later to walk up the hill from Lucy, through the village with interesting well pumps, past the goats, to the fields and woods. At present Lucy doesn’t have any shops or restaurants, though they have had some in the past.  A van comes into town every morning with bread, though we never did see it.

 There is a strange dry bean crop growing in the fields, some harvested a foot above the ground. Very stiff, woody stems. (Do a lot of googling later, and pretty sure it’s canola).  Good wildflowers. Get photos over the valley and down onto Chateau de Faulin, our local chateau, which is on the way to Vezelay.  

Sunday 15th July         Lucy sur Yonne-Chatel Censoir-Lucy

Dianne, Murray and Anne gird up for a short bike ride in the morning.  Have to pump up three bikes, and set seat heights. Go as far as the first downstream lock, hoping to see them in action, but no luck, so go to the second, where we do see some action.  Look at the river, which runs close to the canal.  Ann rides back to find out what’s happened to the boat we hoped to see negotiate the lock, and finds it tied up for lunch.  Ride up the hill to look at the tiny village of La Place - half a dozen old houses, new farm sheds and machinery. Take photos of gorgeous fields of sunflowers, then back to the locks. Anne and Murray start to head for home, but Dianne wants to go on, so carry on to the Port and town at Chatel-Censoir. Up into town to look for food and drink – Village of the Damned – no movement no people. Find a bar, but the woman in charge is quick to point out they are closed. A woman was asking for cigarettes earlier, and we see her coming back from further down the street with some.  Hurry to find the small supermarket closed, but owner is in his car ,and comes back to open up.  Buy drinks and a batard (French bread) and ride back on level path with stops at the locks.  Manage to get back before it starts to rain again.  Ride about 14 kms in all. Dianne’s back, which is always very sensitive, is hurt by the bike posture, and she spends a few days being very careful, which includes not riding the bike any more.  

About 4pm Murray, Dianne and Peter drive to the Clamecy (9kms away) supermarket, but it is closed so we have a scratch tea of scrambled eggs.

About 5pm go for walk across the bridge on the canal to the rapids and island in the river.  Find there was a mill, with the inlet grid still in place.  Walk further upstream, cross a steel lattice bridge, and find an old washing shelter. These washing shelters are all over this area, and are where the local women used to do their washing by the river.  Go under the railway, and head towards Misery (1.4 kms away).  Find a large farm complex where there is a recent fire in the shed, possibly spontaneous combustion with wet hay.  Lots of hay rolls spread out on a field, smouldering. Anne gives Dianne a massage to help loosen her back muscles. Late night – to bed after midnight.

Monday 16th July    Lucy sur Yonne – Fontenay Abbey (near Montbard)-Lucy

We’re heading for Fontenay Abbey today, so set off using various methods of TomTom navigation. Go from Lucy direct to Vezelay (14kms away) on back roads, then to Avallon on D957. Come to the town of Montreal (34kms from Lucy). Because Adam (our son) lives in Montreal, Canada, we take photos of the town sign.  Notice it is quite a special village, so park and walk to the top. It’s perched on a hill overlooking the Serein valley, with great views all round. You pass through the medieval gateway, up the steep main street, with beautifully preserved houses from the 14th to 16th Century - some have turrets, others, outside stone staircases and small courtyards. We find out it is a favourite haunt of Parisians who have second homes here and the pride in the village is obvious. Right at the top, overlooking a 180 degree view, is the Church of Notre Dame, a big but plain church The second of the old gateways is here too, a reminder of the turbulent times that this fortified village has seen.

Consider having lunch here, but the only place open, a café on the man road, only sells crepes, so have drinks and carry on to Saint Remy along various back roads till will get to the D905, then through Montbard to Marmagne where we turn off towards the Cistercian Abbey de Fontenay, which looks pretty good from outside, and is UNESCO World Heritage listed. We had intended to have lunch here, but the cafeteria turns out to be a food dispensing machine, so back to the subtly signed Aldi at Montbard for lunch provisions and general shopping, at incredibly cheap prices. No bread, so up the road to the boulangerie, braving road-works traffic lights, then back to the Abbey for a picnic lunch.  Our first lunch spot is invaded by thousands of ants, so try again right in front of the cafeteria. Entrance is 9.5 euros each, well worth it.  The Abbey of Fontenay is a former Cistercian abbey. It was founded by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux in 1118, and built in the Romanesque style. It is one of the oldest and most complete Cistercian abbeys in Europe. Of the original complex comprising church, dormitory, cloister, chapter house, caldarium, refectory, dovecote and forge, all remain intact except the refectory. The gardens are beautiful, with magnificent trees and well-maintained lawns. The church is large but plain, with a gravel floor, and the cloisters and vaulted refectory are good.  The long monks’ dormitory has a curved truss timber roof like a ship.  This was a mine and workshop for a long time. There is a university project to restore iron making and blacksmithing with a working water mill and disengaged trip hammer.

 On the way back home see a lot of Montbard looking for the Canal Port, which is on the Bourgogne Canal. The French network of waterways includes 100 canals and rivers, totalling over 8,000 kilometres. You can travel along a single canal or into other inter-connected waterways. Boats (within size limits) can pass through from the English Channel to the Mediterranean. We’ve previously seen the Canal du Midi in the South, but not the canals around Burgundy, so are finding them very interesting.

Pass some sort of flash nuclear-related factory. Return home by a more southern minor route, so that we pass through Epoisses, which is famous for its cheese, which is one of the last cheeses involving milk coagulation in France. The milk comes from cows which have grazed for three months in the meadows of Burgundy. Epoisses is first washed with salty water. The cheese is kept in a humid cellar. After one month, Epoisses is washed again with a mix of rainwater and Marc de Bourgogne's spirit, two to three times a week. It is described as having a powerful rich flavour, salty and creamy with a pungent smell.  We’ve been buying it (from Aldi for a very cheap price), and quite like it, and haven’t particularly noticed the smell.

 It’s after 6pm by the time we get to Epoisses, and the cheese place is closed, as is the chateau. However we can see the outside of it, and the gardens, which are very attractive.  Rudely stopped at the motorway crossing by a crane doing work on the bridge, but find another route, with the aid of the TomTom and the Michelin map book, without losing much distance.  Return through Avallon, and the direct route on minor roads to Chatel-Sensoir, then Lucy.

Have dinner on the deck, as the rain has gone, and it’s actually quite warm.

About 9 PM out for a late walk on tow path to see canal boats. We meet an Australian couple from Perth with two kids on one boat, and a flash US couple alone on Randle,  a classically styled river boat, which we thought was quite old till we googled it and found it was built in 2001.  You can charter it for a week (up to 4 people) for $11,550, which includes pickup from France, and breakfast and lunch). They had just been to dinner at Marc Meneau’s restaurant L'Espérance (Michelin two star) in St. Père-en-Vézelay.

Tuesday 17th July     Lucy sur Yonne –Courson-Les-Carrieres- Vezelay-Lucy

We set out after 1pm to go to lunch via Crain (3kms from Lucy) and Festigny, to Courson-Les-Carrieres, on the N151. Stop in the square opposite the handsome Mairie and the ecole.  We lunch at the tiny "le mini-resto" with two tables outside, and about four inside. Good 3-course lunch for 10 euros each, plus good vin de table. Back to Lucy, stopping in Misery to take photos of an enormous old house. Call into our place for a short while, then travel cross country to Vezelay.  The town and the abbey are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.  We want to look at them, and listen to the Vespers singing at 6pm. The village, founded in the 12th century, is more or less one long, steep street that rises up to the Abbey of St Mary Magdalene at the top of the hill, which was historically the departure point for pilgrims to Santigago de Compostela. The most notable event in the history of the abbey took place when Richard the Lionheart and Phillippe Auguste embarked on the 3rd crusade from this abbey.

We skirt around the slopes of the hill, a bit like Cortona in Italy, and right to the top next to the Abbey. We pay 4 Euros for four hours parking.  The abbey is massive, very long, with flying buttresses, two towers, but no dome.  Inside it is fairly plain, but good use is made of two-colour stonework. There is different vaulting over the altar, fine detail in columns, and vaulting in the aisles. There are chatty, informal French prayers to saints in the chapels in the apse (behind the altar). We were hustled out of this area just before 6pm by a monk, so they could prepare for vespers. Walk down the pretty main street to the clock tower, all that is remaining of  the old parish church built in the 17th century. See notice advertising free concert at the singing school at the Orthodox Church. We last about a quarter of the vespers, then walk around the park, take photos of the great vistas, then listen to the free Operatic concert.  Get the last ice-cream of the day, and wait for Peter and Anne. We walk down the main street, over the brass Compostela pilgrimage shells set into the paving. The four main pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela in France began at Paris, Vezelay, Le Puy and Arles. We’re particularly interested in this as we did the last 150kms of the route in 2005. See two pilgrims in the pharmacy buying blister controls, when we’re buying Deep Heat pads for Dianne’s injured back.  Anne drives the car down while we walk. Back home via a short route to Clamecy, but petrol and supermarkets are closed (again).  The small supermarket at Coulanges-sur-Yonne on way home is caught just before closing.  Get provisions for a scratch meal, no bread so get half-baked (sic) mini baguettes, and finish them in the oven, not bad.  Quiet night writing up diary.

Wednesday 18th July                Lucy sur Yonne-Auxerre-Lucy

Another late start. Weather has definitely warmed up, and is now +30C . Go to Clamecy (9 kms away) for a visit to the petrol station, and then carry on through our lunching town of yesterday towards Auxerre (31 kms from Lucy).  Stop at sign advertising cherry sales, but obviously old as no cherries.  At Auxerre (population 45,000) park at first public parking we find, and walk downhill, looking for Rue de Paris, where the good restaurants are, but end up at the River Yonne. Ask directions from bar patrons, and directed back the way we came.  Pass the attractive Church St Pierre. Continue quickly back up the hill, as it’s getting to the bewitching hour for the restaurants.  Find the Mairie, the main square,the fabulous clock tower, and lots of old buildings, many half-timbered, but with timber painted all colours, not many just black.

 We look for restaurants selected from Trip Advisor, but all are on holidays, or closed for new customers at 2pm, and it’s now 2.10pm. We talk to raucous crowd at a bar, but they are too overpowering for us to stay. End up at a patisserie for quiches, sandwiches and pastries, eating them on the steps of the Mairie. How chic!

Get a booklet from the tourist office, and follow the brass arrows, dedicated to Cadet Rouselle, a local who, in the 18th century, had a song composed about him to make fun of him. This song was adopted as the marching song for soldiers during the French revolution in 1792.

The brass arrows are in the footpath,  and we stop at each one while Anne reads out the descriptions from the tourist brochure.  There are some very old houses and a Templar area where the Saulce d’Escolives Templars were established in the 12th century. Murray has a emi-successful visit to a 40 Euro-cent auto toilet, where the automatic handwash water finishes before the toilet starts.  It only accepts 10 euro-cent or 20 Euro-cent coins, and it has a 40 minute time limit – cheap accommodation.  Circle the town full of old, interesting buildings, then down to the St-Germain Abbey, then up to the massive St-Etienne Cathedral, the city’s major religious building, with some beautiful stained glass. It is now 5.30pm, and everyone is hot and tired, so track down our parking spot, and circulate around the centre-ville finding the way home via TomTom.

Decide against eating out, and settle for frittata and salad, and 4 Euro bubbly. About 9 PM go for a walk around the town and canal in the cool, as the house is still hot from the +30C day.

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