Autumn is a beautiful season in Europe.
It is spectacularly variegated. It's a period of subtle transformations. Just lovely to watch how the landscape shifts moods. Slowly it becomes picturesque and contemplative. It feels like plunging into a serene meditation. It is my favorite season. Not only the colours of the leaves are diverse but it is perfumed with many flavours ( especially the ones of the roasted chestnuts) It is interesting, how ever to observe the feelings that this season stir in us.
I was happy to discover the region Burgundy at the end of September, a month before France had to go unfortunately to its second lockdown. Maybe because the reality was doubtful and fragile, it had made my trip to this magnanimous region even more precious. As if any moment, something unexpected can happen, and I must take advantage of any second of freedom.
It was the first time I have visited Burgundy. I didn't know that it was so vast and divided by areas. I have explored this time the region Yonne. It is intense and rich, demands more than one or two visits. Not only cities to see, but so many monuments, castles, nature.
I admit that before my visit I have mostly connected Burgundy with its rich red wine as - le pinot noir.
I was entering a kingdom where not only purple grapes were growing abundantly, but other notable revelations.
It was a rainy gray day when I arrived in the city of Tonnerre. (it sounds the same as the word tonnerres, (in English- thunders.)
No, there were no thunders, nor lightning. But a continuous stubborn rain that nevertheless didn't change the plan of the visit.
In Tonnerre, there is an extraordinary place to visit. Hôtel -Dieu. This impressive building, attracts a lot of attention. It used to be in the Middle -Ages a hospital. It served not only as a gathering place for sick people or pregnant women but also a shelter for the pilgrims to Saint Jacques de Compostelle. Tonnerre was on the way to join Vezelay.
Was it the current mood, Covid-19? with its morose temper that gave another meaning to this ancient sanitarium? I felt there well protected and comforted. It was Founded by Marguerite de Bourgogne, the granddaughter of Duc de Bourgogne. Countess of Bourgogne.
The holy place is also sacred because of the imposing tomb of Marguerite de Bourgogne and the fantastic sculptures of Christ and the Saints surrounding him
On Christ, you can perceive crafted, a cluster of grapes. A clear insinuation that you are in the Wine region.
Not far from Hôtel Dieu, there is another mysterious site. La Fosse Dione. It is a karst spring which has a unique colour: dark vivid turquoise. No diver was able to reach its bottom. It is indeed an enigma. It never empties and always overflows with water. There is no proof of its source.
You will be stun to learn that although Tonnerre is a quiet, humble town, it has delivered to the world a flamboyant, notorious personality born and grown up there. Le chevalier d'eon. He was the "it boy" of the 17th century.
He was cherished by King Louis the XV. The young man went to Russia and England for a mission to spy.
Dressed as a woman for half of his life but skilled in a duel. He had conquered all his rivals-what an ambiguous character. The French singer,Mylene Farmer has dedicated to him her successful tune."Sans contrefaçon",about identity disorder.
Tonnerre has opened its sovereign hands to me and led me to discover its established properties.
Two heavenly Castles are founded in the territory of Tonnerre, that you simply can't miss when you visit the region. I was transported on a magic carpenter to the heart of the Italian art in Bourgogne. Especially now, with borders closed due to the pandemic, I appreciated even more savoring that variety of flairs and styles,all in one place.
Château de Tanlay." The art of the renaissance in all its splendor. Gradually you see all its beauty. This castle is brilliantly illuminated, charged with many art collections, allowed me to forget the grey sky and the flooding outside quickly.
In ancient cream and rose, the entrance hall was stunning to view -marble sculptures from the Roman Empire and the mythology arranged in a circle.
I have visited another castle the next day with kinder weather. (the rain has stopped)
Château Ancy le Franc. It is a jewel of the renaissance in the Dukes of Burgundy's lands.
It is a sublime creation of the Italian architect Sebastiano Serlio.
After I made a long excursion inside, walking in the different stupendous rooms. I can say that it stands insolently right by the royal league of notorious chateaux de la Loire or Versailles.
Every room has a spectacular design. It is an invitation to 16th 17th-century royalty lifestyle- A journey in time and history. The paintings and pieces of furniture are inspiration from Italian, French, Flemish architecture.
The grand palace has a few floors and various galleries. It is a sollicitation to comprehend the eccentric life style of the nobles as a journey to their private life.
Usually, it offers dynamic activities on a regularly basis: Exclusive celebrations, classical concerts, or even a day where not only do you tour the castle, but you can also make a workshop of cooking.
Gorgeous, nurtured gardens are surrounding the palace. Even on this Autumn -wintery day, it was a pure pleasure to walk in them.
Just 2 hours away from Paris, and you have this enchanting palace to visit.
It was then quite a surprise, after being exposed to all these classic aristocratic arts to meet Alain Bresson, a contemporary French artist. He sculpted different forms and shapes from tree trunks with psychological meanings.
He lives in the region, and his sculptures-"living substances," are planted in a forest. "The forest of the green giants" is planted in the woods of commune Argentenay.
After the visit of the exhibition in the forest in the massive rainfall we stopped on our way in the village Chassignelles to visit the astonishing church
"Saint-Jean Baptiste de Chassignelles."
It owns a mixture of Roman-Burgundy architecture from the 12's Century.
My next visit in Bourgogne, was the well-preserved town of Chablis from the Middle Ages.
It was just a bright autumn day. Finally, a relief from the non-stop rain. it was ideal for observing the fields with the golden touch of the sun on the implanted grapes.
I loved the village Chablis .I was amazed to discover beautiful statues inside. It possess a picturesque scenery .It was very relaxing to walk there in the after noon, enjoying the view that has appeared like an adorable drawing. In the village there is the majestic cathedral Saint Pierre, the river Serein is flowing along-decorated by various flowers. I have learned about Chablis's prospering wine industry.
The grape sort is Chardonnay. The white wine. It is pure and savory.
It was an adventure to discover the Domaine Laroche.
I am fascinated by caves with huge wine containers. You get exhilarated by the scent, and that is even before you start to taste the wine.
The Domaine Laroche is a designed, elegant museum that plunges you immediately in this particular region of Burgundy and its grapes profusion.
I left not before I had tried a few variations of Chablis wine. Delicate and aromatic.
A recommendable restaurant to complete this authentic atmosphere is Syracuse. Its decoration, blending with that atmosphere of wine caves and Middle-Ages era.
There is an expression in French."Coup de Foudre"
love from the first sight. As if lightning strikes you all of a sudden.
I was overwhelmed by Bourgogne-Yonne's beauty. I arrived later to Auxerre, such a refined city. No wonder it had attracted various personalities, quite unconventional as Cadet Roussel, a justice officer from the period of the French Revolution. Marie Noel, a delicate, yet strong-minded poet.
Or Nicolas Rétif, an erotic writer. Their statues adorn the city. Their presence tells you the hidden stories of Auxerre.
It was a revelation for me: Auxerre's patrimony. I visited two enormous Cathedrals: Saint Etienne and Abbaye Saint Germain, both hold a lot of important sculptures and paintings. They have a sacred, shielded crypt. Abbaye Saint Germain's tomb is one of the oldest in France. It is a must-see. I loved also the exhibition of the modern high figures of the sculptor François Brochet in the main hall.
Auxerre and its vineyards are a masterpiece as of an embroidery's lace.
I was lucky to discover the Domaine du Clos du Roi in the village.
Coulanges- la -Vineuse, In the heart of the vineyards.
Magali Bernard, the proprietor of the domain, welcomed me agreeably. Once you visit this place, you learn a lot about the quality of Burgundy's Wine, and the process of making it. It was very different from the visit to Domaine Laroche.
It was much more a private experience, less formal, and as the French say, gourmand, as Marie received me in their house for a delicious plate of unique cheeses and homemade ice cream. It was the first time I have eaten a tomato ice cream, and there are other choices of original flavours.
I had tasted a few of their super tasty wines- Mainly different sorts based on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
A personal tour in the domain with her was offered, and her two friendly dogs gladly accompanied us. She explained to me about the heritage of the familial domain, and how it has evolved. She and her husband skillfully took care of it over the years. It was very interesting to learn about the wine history.
I have visited their cellars and again was perfumed from the wine containers in the basement.
The walk in the pretty, flowery old preserved village on a sunny autumn day was simply a breath of vitality.
I recommend vividly to go to the village and enjoy the hospitality of the Domaine du Clos du Roi.
They say that God exists in small details. Therefore, I couldn't have renounced visiting another historical site.
Relatively nearby of the village Coulanges- la- Vineuse. It is a site of archeological excavations-The villa Galo Romaine.
It consists of Thermal baths and sculptures of different characters from Greek and Roman mythologies from the bronze age. Found by chance while digging in the ground in 1955. It has transplanted me into the Roman Empire's universe. It imposes on the viewer a calm serenity, drifting him far away from our hectic, turbulent times.
It was late afternoon when I strolled in Auxerre town center. I Had my last coffee, before leaving in a cozy coffee shop "Chez Sido" with a lovely owner. It is a Café that hosts poets and writers as art exhibitions. I have found this modest, little place, charming and warm-hearted. It was a poetic Finale to my incredible journey in this region.
The sky was enlightened with clear grey. As I was heading to the train station, I felt a pinch in my heart. I am traveling back to Paris, to an unsettled and austere reality, that brought the year 2020 at the end of September. Maybe it will take time till we will be able to travel again- I was walking with everyone on a shaky trampoline, trying to find a balance. Nothing was certain anymore. Auxerre gazed at me with a reassuring look: You'll come back again. Don't worry. plenty of other discoveries are waiting for you here!
I leaned my head on the window, in the train still immersed in the golden shiny fields and the purple grapes that I have seen on my way.
Where to stay?
Near the city Tonnerre I stayed in the very sophisticated as comfortable Gite "Le Clos du Murrier." The restaurant next to it, has mainly nice local french dishes "L'ecluse 79."
In Auxerre I was in "Hotel Maréchaux". This elegant hotel is 10 minutes walk to the town center. It is remarkably decorated. The room was cosy and warm, and breakfast was delicious with bio and fresh products. I highly recommend both places.
Photos credit rights- Château Ancy - le Franc