Torrential rain thundered on the roof of the caravan and we were surrounded by wet laundry. It was supposed to be sunny! Nevertheless, our view across the rolling hills of Bourgogne was shrouded with mist and we felt surprisingly relaxed; comfy, cosy and snuggled up with a coffee and four warm, sleepy puppies.
The internet was dead. On the road, we tether our laptops to our mobiles to go online. The signal had been poor yesterday, but the rain ensured that both phones had zero service and the campsite’s free WiFi was completely dead. The tragedy of being cut off like this on a rainy Thursday was that I was unable to find a launderette to address our mountain of steaming laundry.
In the spirit of ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather – only the wrong clothing’ we embarked on an exploration of Noyers-sur-Serein. A medieval village, considered one of the ‘Most Beautiful Villages in France’, Noyers is reputedly also the inspiration behind the setting for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Vacating the caravan for the day also meant that I could crank up the heating in the hope that at least some of the laundry might dry. (Away for a year and with a few extras, like winter wheels and three boxes of ski equipment, we had been forced to leave behind our awning.)
Satnav roulette is always an interesting way to travel. Choosing different route options can lead to fantastic journeys of discovery. ‘Most Direct Route’ avoided all the main roads and took us through gorgeous countryside and magical villages. The Bourgogne is a great wine area, well known for its red and white Burgundy, made from either the Pinot Noir or Chardonnay grape varieties. The famous wine town of Chablis was close by and continually passing signs for Avallon prompted no let up in my Roxy Music ear worm. However, The Cure valley did lend a little post-punk variety. As did my razor sharp wit.
“If Isla St Clair married Barry White, then divorced him and married Brian Ferry, she’d be called Isla White Ferry.”
Mark gave me one of his looks.
Deciphering a sign in French, I hoped that we were allowed to park just outside the imposing gates of the village. A bee line for the Tourist Office yielded the first joyful surprise of our visit; it was hosting an exhibition of textiles by Marie-Therese Rjewsky.
A small, grey-haired lady with the kindest of faces, Marie-Therese talked us through her art. All of her tapestries were made from recycled fabrics, quilted together into bright yet meaningful montages. Like any great artwork, you could stare at them for hours and still tease out something new in the shapes, colours or tiny, hidden patterns in the fabric. She showed us Le Oiseau Rare, made from a 50-year old Danish scarf. The Rare Bird, she told us, represented her husband; smaller versions of the same bird featured in many of her works.
With information leaflets in hand, we stepped out into the town square. Ancient, timber-framed houses lined the streets and were almost cartoon-like in their leaning, higgledy-piggledy arrangements. I could just imagine them in Beauty and the Beast!
The River Serein encircles the town in a watery embrace. A damp walk along its banks lent us a different view. Since the road was open only to residents, it was quiet enough to let the dogs off their leads. Although it is only a small community, Noyers has no fewer than seventy-eight classified historic monuments.
Three-hundred steps climb steeply through a forest to reach the ruined castle, which overlooks the village. We puffed uphill as clean, fresh rain dripped off leaves and the woodland fizzed with moisture. The ruins themselves were concealed by mist and mossy, gnarly oaks. We had it entirely to ourselves.
A sign proclaimed three marked walks around the remains of the castle. We followed Le Rond des Miles, in which Georges, the cartoon guardian of the castle gave us an insight into its history via a series of information boards. The route seemed to follow the perimeter of the site, which was huge; it covered eight hectares – approximately eight football fields. Even in the gloom, views back to the village were stupendous.
In its heyday, the castle had twenty-seven towers and five drawbridges. Its downfall, however, had not come in battle. Owning one of the most powerful and impregnable castles in France led its final incumbent, Baron Antoine Duprat, to get a bit too big for his boots. In 1599, to protect the realm, King Henry IV ordered the castle to be dismantled. Fed up with the Baron’s abuse of his powers, locals were willing helpers. Stone and tiles from the castle were plundered for use in the village.
Outlandish faces began to loom through the mist. We had stumbled upon another of the marked routes; Le Cour d’Artistes – The Artist’s Court. Sculptors from all over France gather here annually for Gargouillosium – a three day challenge to create a gargoyle from your given block of stone.
The path passed by several monumental pieces of their work. Gargoyles were seen as guardians. The purpose of their grotesque features was to dispel evil. However, their secondary function was to expel dirty water, seen as a symbol of purification. This sets them apart from purely decorative ‘chimera’. The word ‘gargoyle’ derives from the old French word gargoule, meaning ‘throat’. The sound of water gurgling from their mouths probably gave them their name.
The pups were wet and Lani was cold. Hot drinks and a warm surround beckoned. After looking around some of the workshops to the front of a few re-constructed towers, we decided to leave the third route, L’Arbour & Sens – a sensory route through the old castle gardens, for another time. We descended the three-hundred steps, which for me resulted in a severe attack of ‘disco leg’!
My shaking shanks got me to the interim stop of the butcher’s shop, which was an absolute cornucopia of deliciousness. Counters overflowing with temptation in the form of patisserie, charcuterie and preserves tantalised from all sides, although I decided to forgo the snails. I bought some Limousin steak and through the open door, Mark urged me to add some casserole steak.
“There’s none on display and I don’t know how to ask for it!”
“Casserole is a French word!”
I solved the problem by asking for “du boeuf pour le boeuf Bourgignone.”
It was well past lunchtime and besides barracking my language skills from outside the butcher’s, Mark urged me to, “get some pies in case the café goes wrong.”
The café did indeed go wrong. We repaired to La Faubourg, which the Tourist Office assured us was dog friendly. In the warm, steamy interior, we asked if we could have a sandwich.
Scanning the menu suggested that we would be good for snails, but not much else, so we opted just for coffee.
We chatted with a French lady on the next table who had lived all over the world. Reading between the lines, we suspected that her hubby was possibly a diplomat. She had just moved to Sengal, but had lived in London, Ireland and Sweden to name a few.
“We had planned to settle in London, but with Brexit that looks unlikely.”
Since we’re in a wine region of the repute of Burgundy, with more AOCs (Appelations d’Origine Contrôlée) than any other French region, there was only one way to finish off the day; the campsite receptionist gave us the key to a tumble dryer.
Oh, and we shared a bottle of Pinot Noir with our tasty and succulent Limousin steak…
The perfect end to a perfect day!
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Our first year of travels in France are now immortalised in print! Fur Babies in France – From Wage Slaves to Living the Dream.
I know it’s a bit early, being November, but with Christmas on the horizon, it will make a great gift to the travel / caravan / dog lover in your life!