France 2017

We love France. Since I was a wee boy we went to France for holidays, breaking the cycle only to try various places like Greece (squirty bum), Spain (heat stroke), Mallaga (almost drowned) and Devon. Now that we’re parents, it’s difficult to get enough finances together to travel to these nice places, so take every opportunity to go if we’re invited! Sounds a bit cheap, but there you go. Needs must, and I’ll do anything to get back to France whenever I can.

So it was, in the daybreak of January 2017, that we were asked to go to France for Mrs’ mum’s 60th. Oh yes please. Driving to North Shields to catch a ferry to Amsterdam, driving down through Belgium via a museum (see Hergé), continuing down through a quarter of France all in one day? Yes please. Where do I sign.

Mrs’ parents have been regulars to a wee place called Vézelay for over 10 years now. And I mean every year, bar a couple. It’s a small town built on top of a hill, a long and steep hill with shops and cafés and restaurants flanking either side of the main road upwards. The further you get up, the more steep it gets until you arrive at the Abbey, perched right at the very top. We stay in a smaller hamlet down at the base of the hill called Asquins.

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View up from Asquins to Vézelay where the Abbey stands proud.

Luckily for us, Vézelay is just up the road, albeit a very very steep road. It also resides slightly north of the middle of France, in the region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. Also inside this lovely region is a place called Chablis, where some of the tastiest wines originate from. The shops that line the high street are all filled with beautiful produce from Vézelay itself, and surrounding wine regions; there’s no shortage of phenomenal wines. Even better are the local towns which host the Augen’s and Supermarché’s and Carrefours of this world. Only in these wonderful places will you find the nicest produce alongside cycling pumps, digital cameras and hoop earrings. They also happen to have some cracking wines at €4+ and in every conceivable variety.

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One of the many, many bottles of beautiful wine.

So we spent most of our time wandering the various places; mostly Vézelay and surrounding towns, but sometimes further afield like Auxerre and Charny. There’s so much history in and around Vézelay that we didn’t feel we needed to venture far and wide. The Abbey in particular has ties to the Templar Knights and Mary Magdalene and some paths around town have small brass inlays within the tarmac, leading all the way up to the top of the hill; the pilgrims trail.

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Pilgrims Trail

Towards the end of our holiday me and Mrs would walk up to sit at the Abbey in the evening, once Miss was asleep, and look out over the countryside. It’s a lofty position and gives beautiful, almost 360° views. Coupled with the warm air wafting up the steep sides of the hill, the nearby restaurants lending a very small hint of delicious food, and the trees blowing…it’s a serene and contemplative atmosphere. One evening we watched as a far off thunder and lightening storm approached us, and made quick-time when we realised it was heading straight for us!

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The Abbey at the top of Vézelay, as seen from the main drag.

We enjoyed some cracking weather over the 2 weeks, including a couple of days right in the middle where we crested 30°c. For some reason I decided that soaking up these rays was just the ticket and I perched myself underneath that burning sphere until I was sweaty blob. Usually I spend most of my time on holiday in the shade. I don’t know why this time I embraced the pulse of the sun’s heat, but I tell you what, I am very much looking forward to hopefully repeating it.

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The rather tall walls of the Abbey border – don’t know why it’s so fortified.

There’s something utterly compelling about wandering French streets around 8pm. The windows high above us were open, revealing the lively discussions within; the clinking of wine glasses; the sharp crack of plates being handed out; the laughter. As we wandered, Mrs and I, we were greeted by an older lady opening her window above us. Bonsoir rang out and we returned the greeting. It’s just so welcoming when people say hello, and at that point in the day when work is done and it’s time for friends and food, it’s electric. You can feel it.

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Vézelay Abbey

Vézelay and the surrounding area is mostly farming and vineyards, so at night we would watch the farmers sorting out their fields. I think we arrived just at harvest and met a few combines as we toddled about the place in the evening. Then in the morning we would eat our breakfast outside, listen to the birds, think about our day ahead. We drank some great wines and ate some beautiful food; we didn’t eat out that much because of Miss and her demanding schedules (and mood)…but we did celebrate her 2nd Birthday during the holiday, as well as Grandma’s 60th. Cakes aplenty.

We visited a bunch of cool places and then on the return journey headed upwards to a stop-off point just outside Reims, where we would bunk up in a genuine Templar church, and buy a shiteload of Champagne.

It was just a brilliant holiday and, as luck would have it, we are returning next year too!

See you then, you beautiful place.