The MEDIEVAL TREASURES of NORTHERN BURGUNDY
Fields of Gold ...Chablis...the Yonne and vineyards of Burgundy
DATES: May 27th - June 5th, 2014 ( 9 nights).
.In keeping with our determination to take you to photographic destinations that are unusual and WAY off the beaten track, our spring 2014 photo tour to Northern Burgundy will take us to an authentic and historic corner of France, largely overlooked by tourists, but rich in medieval architectural treasures, beautiful landscapes, vibrant spring colors, tiny back roads, and a succession of villages, each prettier than the last.
When I started organizing photo tours 24 years ago my first tour was to Northern Burgundy so it is fitting that we should go back to this region and re-discover the Medieval Treasures of Northern Burgundy as well as some of the famous vineyards of the Cote d'Or, south of Dijon. Years of leading photo tours to France have made it clear to me that many of the best photo locations are not to be found in famous places, but in places that no-one has heard of. These are the regions that have the richest pickings for photographers looking for “real” France. We at Europa Photogenica photo tours have built a reputation for taking our clients to places that no other photo tour has ever visited, and this region of France is the non plus ultra in this regard.
The region to the east and southeast of Paris is not the most well known or traveled these days, but in Gothic times and the Middle Ages it was THE area of France to live. During medieval times a large-scale movement towards monasticism made it possible for the great Dukes of Burgundy to establish one of the most powerful states in Europe and to encourage the building of churches and abbeys in the Romanesque style. Our paths will cross those of Philippe the Bold, John the Fearless, Charles the Bold, Philippe the Good and others. We will explore villages that have been admirably preserved and whose cobbled streets and old buildings will take us back into the distant past.
The fabulously wealthy Dukedom of Burgundy once rivaled the court of the King of France in Paris, and the roads between each region were once well traveled by Kings, Dukes, Princes, merchants and pilgrims alike as one of the main Pilgrim’s Routes to Rome passed through it. Many cities and towns of great sophistication and note were built along the way financed by the wealth of the churches, monasteries, merchants and wine growers who supplied these two great areas. Several of France’s great cathedrals can be found here: Sens, Auxerre, Troyes - and the region is dense with chateaux and manor houses now quiet and un-visited but once full of the rich and famous. Since the great Autoroute du Sud was built most of the traffic from Paris to Provence that used to meander through this region now hurtles straight through without blinking. It is for this reason that this part of Northern Burgundy a region known as the Yonne has become one of France’s hidden treasures.
The Yonne is not known for its wine (except for the famous Chablis) or indeed anything else for that matter. Thus, apart from a couple of famous towns it is not a tourist area and it has not fallen victim to modern development. It is a true example of “La France Profonde”, (deepest France). With its undulating countryside, prosperous old villages set in lush greenery, medieval castles perched on hillsides and enchanting canals, the Yonne countryside has an authentic and timeless feel to it. On a bend in narrow country road, you are very likely to encounter a herd of cows being taken for milking. You will be captivated by this tranquil region where the good life goes hand in hand with gourmet delights and the heritage of the past. There are innumerable small towns and villages of quiet charm with original buildings and an old-fashioned allure known only to tourists lucky enough to get lost.
After leaving Paris, if time peermits our first stop will be Provins, a magnificent little village 80kms south-east of Paris, that has recently been designated a World Heritage Site. The upper part of town, La Ville Haute presents a coherent vision of the medieval world. It is clustered within high 12th century ramparts complete with crenellations and defensive ditches. Its tiny streets are lined with half-timbered cottages and in May and June the whole village is covered in roses as the village is famous for these fragrant flowers. Moving southwest into the northern reaches of Burgundy we will stay five nights in a Bed and Breakfast of Charme. From here we will drive out each day to photograph the towns, villages and landscapes. We will include visits to some of the little wine villages in the Chablis regions, as well as to the wine village of Chablis itself. Surrounded by pleasant vineyards Chablis has some ugly modern outskirts but the old part of town is a lovable place with old shops of some individuality and plenty of chances to taste its fine wine, which, by the way is nothing like the low grade Californian Chablis sold in gallon jugs in American supermarkets.
Just a short drive from our B&B is Noyers-Sur-Serein (classified One of the Most Beautiful Villages of France). A delightful, dreamy little place refusing to change with the times, the people here seem to carry on with 15th century life. Around the village are ramparts and 16 round towers, and the tranquil river Serein flows through it. Along the narrow streets are many half-timbered and gable-ended houses. Architecture from the Middle Ages rubs shoulders with mullioned windows on wooden Renaissance houses. Shady arcades line the tiny central square and lead to a flamboyant Gothic church.
The Yonne river valley south of Auxerre is rich in fruit orchards and vineyards and we will drive along the river exploring the tiny little wine villages that nestle in softly folded hills, surrounded by cherry orchards and vineyards to reach one of the treasures of France and a World Heritage Site - Vezelay (One of the most Beautiful Villages of France). A lovely village sitting on top of France’s “Eternal Hill” that has attracted pilgrims for centuries. Seen from a distance it looks like a Tuscan village, and the Basilica of Mary Magdalene which sits at the top of the town has an Italian allure. This huge church once held the relics of St Mary Magdalene, and Richard the Lionhearted set off for the crusades from here.
The village has some interesting steep medieval streets lined with medieval cottages built in the region’s white limestone that catches the light and illuminates the whole town. These houses are adorned with sculptured doorways, staircase turrets, mullioned windows and some have wells with fine wrought-iron wellheads. In a tiny square next to a church, vines and hollyhocks grow by the steps of ancient wine-growers cottages.
Further south is Semur-en-Auxois. An attractive, peaceful old town of cobbled streets, ramparts and four solid, round defense towers, perched on a high rock of pink granite almost surrounded by a loop of the river Armancon. Little houses are packed on the hillside under the castle keep overlooking the old bridge across the river and the town center is full of old shop facades and ancient buildings. it is one of the most fruitful towns in the area in terms of photography.
A little further south east of Semur lies the tiny fortified hilltop village of Flavigny-sur-Ozerain (One of the Most Beautiful Villages of France), dominating the river valley below and so unspoiled that it was chosen as the location for the Oscar nominated film “Chocolat”. Most of the village’s ramparts are still intact as are the ancient fortress gates. Lining the long, narrow, winding, cobblestone alleyways are Gothic and Renaissance houses of the 13th and 16th centuries, decorated with towers, niches and gables.
After five nights in the Yonne we will move further south east to the Cote d'Or and the world famous vineyards of Burgundy. The Cote d'Or which lies between the Loire and the Saône, is a patchwork of attractive landscapes, a series of towns packed with artistic treasures and of flourishing wineries and châteaux. Because the main money earner in this region is wine, tourism does not play as big a part here as it does in some other regions of France and therefore the towns and villages have kept an authentic regional character. Burgundy is a wealthy area and this wealth is reflected in the medieval churches, palaces, grand chateaux and Romanesque masterpieces that are scattered throughout the countryside. Whether they grow grapes, make wine or farm the land, Burgundians live a Burgundian life with very few concessions to the outside world.
South of the city of Dijon, spread on a north-south axis along the gentle western slopes of the Saone valley are found some of the most famous vineyards in the world. When the sun rises above the hills and shines onto the vineyards opposite, the whole hillside is illuminated with a golden glow, giving the area its name of Cote d’Or. We will spend three nights in the village of Meursault, famous for one of the best white wines in the world. from here we will explore the surrounding villages and landscapes, and visit a chateau for a wine tasting. These are well groomed villages full of charm with cobbled lanes, stone houses and elegant church spires, exuding a sense of well being and peace. Pommard, for example, is a village of picture-postcard prettiness with flowers planted everywhere, paved streets, a fine avenue of trees leading to it. The tiny old streets of these villages nestle at the foot of gentle hills striped with vines and dotted with grand chateaux, some with the characteristic red and yellow Burgundian roof tiles.
We will dedicate most of our time to the wine villages and landscapes but there is one town that is worth visiting - Beaune. The center of the Burgundy wine producing district, Beaune is famous for its flamboyant red, yellow and blue colored tile roofs, and satisfied air of Renaissance wealth. It is a lively and prosperous old town, dedicated to the vine and a wonderful place to visit and just be in. The center of the town has hardly changed since medieval times and its buildings and streets retain their original character and charm. There is an abundance of outdoor cafes, pleasant shops, bookshop that specializes in books about wine, and everywhere the scent of wine. A fine place indeed. Burgundy is a beautiful region at any time of year, but In the spring the countryside and villages will be alive with flowers and blossoms, and the sprouting vines will be bright lime green, full of the promise of another fine vintage.
Everything was wonderful from the planning, the accommodations, locations and the surprise itinerary when we returned home - D.G. ML