We were both feeling bright and chirpy when we woke up the next day. The chambres d’hôtes was amazing. There is a tranquil serenity that is unsurpassed. Daily breakfast is included as part of the stay, and it was no mere breakfast. There was a generous spread of local breads, pastries, cheeses, cold meats and fruits. Breakfast was a really good time to get to know the other guests. Most of the guests were from other European countries so us two Australians were a bit of a rarity and source of fascination.
Breakfast was a very enjoyable and leisurely affair. We sat and chatted with the rest of the guests. After breakfast, Jan showed us a huge selection of tourist guide and information that they had available for their guests to borrow. By the time we decided to head out, it was close to late morning.
While our initial plan was to visit Dijon in the morning, we decided to head directly to Semur-en-Auxois instead. Semur-en-Auxois is a medieval walled city complete with cobblestone streets, medieval gateways, towers and ramparts. It is known as one of the most picturesque towns in Bourgogne. It was definitely one of the most charming towns we visited throughout our entire trip.
With the magnificent fortress in the background, we wandered down the narrow lanes and found local pâtisseries, delicatessens, restaurants all tucked away in quaint little shops. The town is very easily explored on foot and we really enjoyed ambling our way down the cobble-stoned streets.
After our rather weak attempts at conversation in French yesterday, we decided my French wasn’t strong enough to attempt lunch at one of the cute restaurants in town. Besides, we had brought our trusty ham, cheese and bread supplies. We decided to press on towards L’Abbaye de Fontenay in Montbard. While the GPS was still rather hopeless, navigation wasn’t as difficult today as we just followed the signs of the major towns in the direction that we wanted to go. Driving through the Morvan region was wonderful. The scenery was so lush and green with lone farmhouses dotted along the side of the roads, accompanied by herds of cows. We got to the abbey around lunchtime and decided to have a picnic lunch in our car, underneath the shade of the trees. Very français, if I may say so. We weren’t the only one. The carpark was rather full of local tourists, all enjoying picnics in their cars.
L’Abbaye de Fontenay is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is one of the oldest Cistercian monasteries in Europe and was founded in 1118 by St. Bernard. Today, the abbey retains almost all of its original buildings, which was spared by the French Revolution, apart from the refectory, which had been demolished.
The site of the monastery was on water-logged terrain. Extensive drainage works had to be undertaken by the monks before the building of the abbey could commence. Fontanetum, the latin word of Fontenay, is translated as ‘the place that swims upon springs’.
From the 12th to 15th century, the abbey flourished. The monks managed their estates autonomously and were well known for their agricultural and stock farming. The abbey changed hands a few times after the French Revolution and was eventually bought by Édouard Aynard, a banker and notable art collector, who began the huge task of restoring the abbey to its former glory. It remains in the Aynard family to this day.
The grounds are massive, and the stark austerity of its buildings are complemented very well by the tranquility of this place. The abbey church was constructed around 1139. The style is pure romananesque and in accordance with St. Bernard’s wishes, the capitals are not adorned with sculptures to avoid unnecessary distraction while in prayer. The lighting inside the church was not very good so our photos did not turn out very well. But I personally liked this church, even more so than Notre Dame in Paris. There was an air of solemnness, tranquility and peace about the place that is hard to describe.
Most of the rooms were too dimly lit to show up well in our photos, which is a shame because there is great beauty in the simple lines and austerity of the buildings. The monastery is also home to first metallurgical factory in Europe and the birthplace of the hydraulic hammer. The monks extracted iron ore from rock quarried in a hill overlooking the monastery. The smiths who worked the forge produced tools that were then sold in the surrounding region.
At the end of our visit, we paid a quick trip to the souvenir shop. While we were there, we found a driving map in book form which we quickly purchased for 10 Euro. From then on, navigation was so much easier.
Realizing that we still had some time on our hands before dinner, we decided to visit the town of Beaune. We also figured it would be a good idea to work out where the Beaune train station is as we were meeting our guide there the following day for our wine tour.
Beaune is a lovely town – very touristy, but very friendly and easy to get around. There were lots of wonderful shops. We went into an accessories store where I purchased a lovely clutch and we went a bit crazy at the local homewares store. Everything was so wonderful and authentic, and cheap in comparison to Australia, that we wanted to buy everything to take home with us. There were copper pans and pots, and Le Creusets going for half the price here in Australia. Unfortunately, it started pouring with rain while we were there and we got caught out without an umbrella. I was really beginning to regret ignoring the advice of my French tutor. There were also some great wine stores – all of them only stocking Burgundian wine. Sadly, we felt that we didn’t know enough about Burgundy wines and did not purchase any.
Finally it was time to head out to dinner. I had booked us a table at Maison Lameloise in Chagny. The restaurant at Maison Lameloise is a 3-Michelin star restaurant, and rightly so. One has to take into consideration that this is in the country and not Paris, so the level of service was certainly not up to the same level as at Guy Savoy. However, the price was about half of that at Guy Savoy and the food was not without its own merits. There was a nice relaxed atmosphere and the wait staff were attentive. We went with the degustation menu and the food was inventive and delicious. The amuse bouche was probably one of the best we’ve had in all the restaurants we’d been to in France. The only down side was one of our lamb dishes was a bit overdone. But as soon as the mâitre d’ heard that we weren’t happy with the lamb dish, he offered to have it replaced right away. We declined as it was towards the end of the meal, and he offered us a glass of Sauternes with our dessert instead. My dessert was quite spectacular. I had crêpe suzette and the waiter flambé the Grand Marnier sauce at our table. It was delicious! We eventually rolled out of the restaurant well past midnight. The drive back to Autun was slow as it was still raining. We finally got into bed at 1am.