Chapter Two: Witnessing History On The Drive To Beaune

labbaye-de-fontenay-france-1Chapter Two:  Witnessing History On The Drive To Beaune

Day Two: No Way Vézelay, Where’s Orson Welles, Please Don’t Pee In Our Photo, The Chateau Less Visited, Gosh I Didn’t See That Sign, Do You Know The Way To Fontenay, We’re On The Road To Nowhere, Dear Abbaye, Sure Now I Hit The Red Button, I Got A Beaune To Pick, B&B Heaven, An exCEPtional Hotel Bar, Meeting Friends, Dinner In The Golden Arches and Nightcaps With Paco

Ostensibly, after a good night’s sleep, my plan was to head down early to a UNESCO World Heritage site, Abbaye Sainte-Marie-Madeleine de Vézelay, to start a busy driving day. My heart had been set on visiting this abbey, but dropping dead early on Day Two seemed like a foolish idea (although Tracy had wisely purchased trip insurance, so the flight home would have been taken care of). I awoke at 7 (after falling asleep about 2:30), but I reset the iPhone alarm (much to my wife’s later delight and surprise) to a little before 9.

We had a hearty, caloric breakfast of rolls, jam, sweets, cheese and coffee at the Hôtel Normandie (it was €9 apiece, and although I don’t usually go for these hotel breakfasts, we made an exception so we didn’t waste time looking for a place to eat). We were on the road about 10. It wasn’t long until we found ourselves enveloped by the rolling, picturesque vineyards of Chablis.

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For some reason, whenever I think of Chablis, I hark back to Orson Welles and Paul Masson. “We will sell no wine before its time.”

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Looking for a turnout to take a photo of the lovely countryside, we found a spot to jump out and snap a few photos. As I was about ready to take the picture of the little house on the prairie (vineyard) I noticed something moving in the foreground. It seemed someone had to take a time out a for a quick pee break (no, I didn’t take the picture with him in it). Hey, when you gotta go.

p1080882He finally found relief, we finally took our photos and headed for the little town of Ancy-le-Franc to check out an historic chateau.

About 45 minutes from Auxerre is the Château d’Ancy-le-Franc, which was constructed in the mid 16th century.  According to its literature, Château d’Ancy-le-Franc contains “the biggest collection of Renaissance murals in France.”  It’s also situated inside a vast park.  We parked and walked toward the chateau, once again without another soul in sight (where is everybody?).

img_5374A quick bit of history: “Château d’Ancy-le-Franc was the masterpiece of Serlio, Italian architect to King François I. The Marquis de Louvois, War Minister to Louis XIV, acquired the château in the late 17th century, and would make its his own Versailles. The château’s curator, in the service of King François I and then his son Henri II, was a great lover and patron of art. He would invite the great Italian and Flemish masters from the Fontainebleau School to carry out the decoration of the apartments.”  Our mini history lesson complete, we moved on.

p1080884The chateau included five apartments, three galleries, a chapel, guard room, bedrooms and offices.   Price of admission was €8 with a €4 charge for the worthwhile audioguide, and off we rambled to visit this chateau located off the beaten path…and it turned out to be a pretty cool tour.

Some of the highlights (not in any particular order):

We walked through the 16th century La Chapelle,which is a beautifully restored 16th-century private chapel.

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La Salle des Gardes was originally decorated for arrival of Roi Henri III (I wonder if he ever said, “You can call me Roi?”), and was the main portion of the apartment of the king.

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La Salle á Manger formerly served as the anteroom of the king (is that where they play poker?) and was later converted to a dining room in the 19th century.

p1080892Le Salon Louvois, decorated with gold leaf commemorating when Louis XIV visited, was named after the Marquis de Louvois who accompanied the Sun King on his visit in 1674.

p1080893Le Salon Mauve contains a gorgeous Florentine cabinet.  It really was quite an intricate piece.

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Although it sounds like a room for a religious canine, Le Cabinet Pastor Fido was a favorite place for guests to relax.  It was a tough room to photograph due to the lighting, but here are some of the many paintings and a glimpse of its coffered ceiling.

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Although I’m not into animal sacrifices, La Galerie de Sacrifices contains some interesting monochrome mural paintings of men and women taking animals to the altar to be slaughtered (these people really needed some different hobbies).

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There is also an intriguing and beautiful desk that opens up to become a miniature theater that contains secret drawers. Only small plays were performed there, I assumed.

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Le Chambre de Judith is where Françoise de Poitiers stayed…I don’t understand the name either.  By now, I was ready for a nap, but we pressed on.

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We stopped to smell (well, see) the flowers in the La Chambre de Fleurs.

p1080920La Galerie de Pharsale contains a French masterpiece of painting depicting the battle of Pharsulus in 49 BC between the armies of Pompeii and Caesar.  Ouch!

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Hey, who stole the pockets out of this pool table in the Balcony Room?

le-salon-du-balcon-chateau-dancy-1Warning: People were a tad smaller in the old days…watch your head entering some of the rooms!

img_5657In Le Galerie de Medée we looked at a painting that depicted a story where a woman killed and ate children.  And we thought the animal sacrifices were bad.

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Finally, we made it to La Salon Jaune (Diane’s Room), redecorated in the 16th century for the ever-present Diane de Poitiers (that girl got around), the sister-in-law of the benefactor of the chateau.  The beautiful mural paintings were restored between 2002 and 2013.

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The ceilings throughout the chateau were also pretty remarkable.

ceiling-chateau-dancy-1We had wanted to tour the lush grounds, but at 12:30 they promptly closed the chateau and gardens for 90 minutes. At least we had taken a picture from inside the chateau, so that would have to suffice.

view-chateau-dancy-1As we were leaving, out of the corner of her eye, Tracy saw a sign that read, “Please no photography.” Oops, too late, but I will remember if we ever visit again.

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Now it was time to get our UNESCO card stamped (why don’t they incorporate this idea after all these years?). On our half hour drive to l’Abbaye de Fontenay, we passed village after village that were shuttered. “We certainly are on the road less traveled,” Tracy observed.

The narrow roads wound through the forest…

p1080957…and took us to one of the best sites we viewed on our entire trip, the 12th-century l’Abbaye de Fontenay.

labbaye-de-fontenay-4-france-1l’Abbaye de Fontenay is one of the oldest Cistercian abbeys in the world, founded in 1118 by Saint Bernard. I guess every dog has his day. Actually Saint Bernard of Clairvaux is a bigwig among French Saints.

labbaye-de-fontenay-france-1Although the monks left after the French Revolution, those that utilized it for industrial purposes preserved all the Romanesque buildings that stand here today. It was purchased by Elie de Mongolfier, the nephew of the inventors of the hot air balloon, in 1820, and the property was turned into a paper mill.

labbaye-de-fontenay-3-france-1The paper factory went under in 1905 (too much red ink I presume), and the following year it was purchased by Edouard Aynard, a banker and art aficionado from Lyon (who also happened to be married to a Mongolfier).  He started restoration work, which was completed by 1911. The family continues his efforts today.

Autumn colors were beginning to turn.  We peered inside the gate onto the gorgeous grounds, bought our €10 billet to enter (no audioguide available) and started on our self-guided tour.

labbaye-de-fontenay-2-france-1We were quiet as a monk as we strolled around on a picture-perfect afternoon. With the drought we’ve been suffering through in Southern California, it was nice to see some green grass again.

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We lingered for some photos.

abbaye-fontenayThe Abbey Church, consecrated in the 15th century, is the first stop along the way.

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It never ceases to amaze me on all our trips to walk through structures built nearly 1,000 years ago.

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Climbing a small set of stairs, we quickly walked through the Dormitory, which dates back to the 15th century.  The ceiling’s frameworklooks similar to an upside-down hull of a ship.

labbaye-de-fontenay-dormitory-france-1The heart of the monastery is the Cloisters…

labbaye-de-fontenay-cloisters-france-1…where you can catch a glimpse of the bell tower.

p1080984After visiting the Chapter House…

labbaye-de-fontenay-5-france-1…we forged our way into The Forge, built by the monks in the early 13th century.  Fontenay’s monks were quite adept at producing tools.

labbaye-de-fontenay-forge-france-1The water wheel powered large hydraulic hammers that helped them make these tools.

labbaye-de-fontenay-water-wheel-france-1Back outside we just wandered for about 20 minutes…

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…in very peaceful surroundings. You see, I can relax.

abbeye-fontenay-8-1I love traveling in autumn when the crowds are so sparse.  I doubt there were 25 people here when we visited.

abbeye-fontenay-11-1We said goodbye to some nearby cows and mooved on.

labbaye-de-fontenay-cows-france-1Now it was time to set sail for Beaune. Back on a larger road, the next toll booth appeared. Always the dutiful husband, I heeded Tracy’s advice from yesterday and avoided the big red button like the plague, and pressed the black button. Nothing happened. Then I heard Tracy say, “Oh no, you have to push the red button at this one.”  Marriage and toll booths are complicated.

Speaking of complicated, as we drove into Beaune, suddenly our GPS decided to take a mini-siesta, its pointer pointed directly in between two streets we could take to get us to our B&B. I decided to head toward Beaune’s town center. Well that move woke her up. “Turn left. Turn right. Make an immediate U-Turn. You’re an idiot!”    On second thought, that last one might have been uttered by Tracy.

With our GPS freaking out, for the better part of ten minutes I drove virtually every street in Beaune. “Hey look,” Tracy said, “there’s the Hôtel Le Cep (the place where our friends were staying). I wonder if we are nearby.”  Within five seconds, we got the answer.  Our GPS proudly stated, “You have arrived at your destination.” I hate it when she’s right, but there, directly on the other side of the ring road, stood what would become one of the best lodging choices we have ever made.

p1080939Les Jardins de Loïs is a large house encompassing four rooms and overlooking an expansive enclosed garden (perfect for afternoon wine sipping).

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The location could not be beat (only five minutes to the Hospices and ten minutes to all our restaurant choices).  We walked through the lovely breakfast area on the way to our great room.

les-jardins-des-lois-dining-room-france-1It had a large bathroom with a glorious walk-in shower (no death shower here). Our host, Phillipe (he and his wife, Anne-Marie, are the owners of this wonderful property), explained that he has traveled a lot, and he finds it tiring to wake up and having to hassle with an undersized shower. A man after my own heart. He also explained we wouldn’t see too much of him because the wine harvest was starting the following day, and he owns four hectares.

Tracy and I had plans to meet our friends Greg and Gloria over at the Hôtel Le Cep bar, so after a short nap and a long shower, we walked the five minutes to their beautiful hotel for pre-dinner cocktails. If you’re willing to spend a few more dollars than me, this would be an excellent choice in Beaune, as well (photo below is from hotel web site).

3cepbar122012hd-1575x1050It was just about a ten-minute walk to our restaurant for the first night in Beaune, Caveau de Arches. The nondescript exterior opened into a really cool interior.

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We dined in the caves without having to dodge stalactites or stalagmites.

caveau-de-arches-beaune-france-4-1More than the food, what set this restaurant apart was the excellent and friendly service, plus the ambiance couldn’t be beat.

caveau-de-arches-beaune-france-3-1Best dishes of the night were the escargot, the steak and the crepes Suzette. They also had a delectable selection of cheese from the region. Coupled with two bottles of wine, it was a great evening (yes, I was feeling good).

caveau-de-arches-beaune-france-5-1Not sufficiently lubricated, we all headed back to the hotel for a nightcap…or two. As many of you know, we usually travel to Europe with friends Kim and Mary, and invariably Mary might mix up a name or two along the way.  Since they were not here, fortunately Gloria stepped up to the plate.

After our first nightcap (yes, we would have a doubleheader), Gloria wanted to introduce me to our bartender, who was originally from Poland. “I’d like you to meet Paco,” she said.  I could tell by the bartender’s perplexed look that Paco, not a common Polish name, probably had his name lost in translation by Gloria the evening before. Of course, after a couple of nightcaps, now I don’t even remember his real name, although he was a heck of a bartender.  One of his sidekick’s name we all remember. “I am Elvis,” he stated, which had us all shook up (like my martini).

hotel-le-cep-bar-beaune-france-1An ill-advised Rusty Nail to end the evening assured that I would have no trouble sleeping on this night, although walking back to the B&B might be another challenge.

Since it was way past my bed time, we decided to say, “Au revoir,” and vowed to meet at the hospital in the morning.  For us, it just isn’t a trip to Europe if we don’t visit at least one hospital.


Next: Chapter Three: MaiTai and The Amazing Technicolor Dream Roof, Second To Nun, Our Man Rogier, Woman Of The Cloths, It’s All About The Tapestries, The “Elevator List” Revisited, Historic Cellars, Wine In Our Spacious Backyard & Dinner At The God Of The Grape Harvest


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