Saint-Remy de Provence (Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur), France May 2023

So we finally made it to Saint Remy de Provence. This beautiful little town in the Alpilles hills towards the western edge of Provence sits among a mix of rolling golden wheatfields, lush green vineyards and gnarled old silvery green olive groves and has been on my “Must Visit” list for years. It proved a far prettier and more interesting place than I could ever have imagined.

Okay, this view of the Alpilles doesn’t feature wheatfields nor vineyards but they are around; believe me.

We were heading for Collioure in the south west of France and then across the border into Spain but with Saint Remy just 20 kms south of Avignon, we simply had to visit the place, not least because we wanted to stock up on some of the Alpilles wine we had previously enjoyed in Avignon. We parked up on the edge of the town alongside a small independent wine cave and, as luck would have it, there it was – the Alpilles Chardonnay produced by Domaine Valdition that we enjoyed so much in Avignon. There was no holding Vanya back.

Saint Remy de Provence is not a large town. It’s oldest and prettiest parts are concentrated inside what I can only describe as an inner ring road formed by three tree lined avenues – the Boulevard Marceau, Boulevard Victor Hugo and Boulevard Mirabeau. This compact centre, just 500 metres across, is entirely pedestrianised and oozes small town tranquility. It is a gem of narrow winding streets edged with honey hued stone townhouses and shops and numerous small shaded squares with fountains and terraced bars, cafes and restaurants. Pretty as they are (and some are striking), it is not so much the streets and the squares which catch the eye here; it is individual buildings, particularly shops such as Fiston and Le Cheval a Bascule. They are so full of character.

These are just two of many colourful and interesting shops to be found near the Hotel de Ville on Place Jules Pelissier.

One cobbled stone square, Place Favier, soon became a favourite of ours. It’s a quiet little square on Rue Carnot, filled with plane trees and a fair sized fountain but with room too for the tables and chairs of two small cafe bars; one of them being ‘Creperie Lou Planet’. We stopped at the creperie for a galette (mine was filled with Mushrooms, Roquefort Cheese and Sour Cream and was absolutely delicious) and then Vanya had one of her best ideas of the trip so far, suggesting we stay on in Saint Remy for a few days. I needed no persuading and ordered a second beer while she googled a place to stay in the area.

Creperie Lou Planet on Place Favier. Points of Interest: Planet is a Provencal word meaning ‘tiny square’ and this little square used to be known as Place aux Herbes.

We were soon parked in a campsite close to the town centre (Camping Pegomas) and, leaving Vanya to rest in the Van, I went off on an extended ‘explore’ in and around the town. We’d already seen various plaques around the town commemorating Vincent van Gogh’s time in Saint Remy and I was keen to learn more about this. I discovered that after cutting off his left ear (following an altercation with his friend Gaugin, while they were working in nearby Arles) Van Gogh admitted himself to the Saint Paul de Mausole lunatic asylum on the outskirts of Saint Remy. He tarried in the asylum for just over a year and whilst there produced well over 120 paintings (including some of his finest works). The town operates what they call the Promenade dans L’Univers de Vincent Van Gogh – a two kilometre tourist trail around Saint Remy and then out to the former monastery/asylum where the great artist stayed between 1889 and 1890. You simply follow a series of bronze studs in the road from one of twenty one information points to another, learning much about Vincent Van Gogh and his works during his time in Saint Remy, on the way.

Those are the bronze studs and that is a photo (not one of mine) of the monastery which is now a museum.

These are just two of the many plaques at the 21 information points along the route. Most serve to introduce the works he completed in Saint Remy.

I reproduce below three of the 120+ paintings Van Gogh painted during his stay in the asylum:- “Wheatfield with a Reaper” (One of Van Gogh’s first paintings after his admission into the asylum, it was painted through the window of his hospital room) and; “The Starry Night” (Regarded as one of his most beautiful works, this is another piece of work painted from a window in the asylum. The village is a figment of his imagination and bears no resemblance to Saint Remy) and; “Irises” (Painted in the asylum gardens, this is my favourite of all those he produced whilst in Saint Remy).

Wheatfield with a Reaper” is currently in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. “Starry Night” is held in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Irises” is currently held in the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Just over the road from the Saint Paul de Mausole is another interesting but much older site which is well worth visiting. This is the archaeological site of Glanum. After being overrun by Barbarians in AD260 Glanum became a source of stone and other building materials for the developing Saint Remy before it’s ruins were gradually buried by deposits washed down from the Alpilles. The town was lost until 1921 when it was discovered and unearthed. Much remains to be seen but two monuments in particular (known as Les Antiques) are in excellent condition.

Les Antiques: On the left is the Triumphal Arch of Glanum which was built towards the end of Augustus Caesar’s reign and on the right is the Mausoleum of the Julii which dates to BC40.

There’s a small museum devoted to Glanum next to the Hotel de Sade on Place Favier (the museum may even be part of the Hotel) and, before you ask, yes the Hotel de Sade was previously a home to relatives of the notorious Marquis de Sade although he never lived there.

Numerous artists, writers and musicians have lived in Saint Remy over the years but the most famous person to have been born in the town is perhaps the 16th century astronomer, apothecary and seer(?) – Nostradamus. He was born there in 1503 and it is possible to visit the house he was brought up in.

Left: The house where Nostradamus was born. Right: A fountain on the corner of Rue Carnot and Rue Nosto-Damo (Nostradamus) which was built in his honour. Surprisingly, this little fountain was full of fish.

We stayed in Saint Remy for a couple more days, more often than not using the place as a base from which to visit some pretty villages over near the Luberon Massif (notably Lourmarin and Bonnieux) but always returning for dinner.

Eating and drinking in Saint Remy is easy…

… and it’s a nice peaceful walk back to the campsite… and still very, very pretty.

One of the reasons we stayed on so long was because we wanted to enjoy the Farmers Market which is held every Wednesday morning. It is held on the Place de la Republique and across much of the old town including Place Jules Pelissier and, of course, our favourite Place Favier. Large, lively and colourful is an understatement. It is recognised as one of the best farmers market in Provence.

We ended up buying two large chunks of the local nougat from that guy on the left.

There is a great deal more I could write about Saint Remy but I’ve already written far too much by this blog’s standards. So, just three quick points about events we missed out on during this trip but will want to enjoy next time:

Firstly, just a few miles from Saint Remy is the small village of Baux de Provence where an indoor quarry has been turned into a light and sound show (Carrieres de Lumieres) where hundreds of images of great artist’s works (including Van Gogh) are projected onto quarry walls and floors in an immersive art experience that has been described as “currently, the world’s best light and sound experience”. That’s a must see for Vanya and I.

Secondly, there’s the ‘Course Camarguaise’ which is run in a number of Provence towns at various times between Spring and Autumn. It is a kind of bullfight but the bulls are unharmed. They have ribbons attached between their horns and brave, athletic men known as rasateurs compete against each other, using skill and agility, to collect as many ribbons as possible in as short a time as possible (without getting harmed).

Thirdly, Saint Remy is famous for it’s festivals. One festival which is held towards the end of May and which, I am advised, would be worth seeing is the ‘Transhumance’. It celebrates the time when sheep are taken to higher pastures for the summer and thousands of them are herded along the town’s ring road.

Next, a little bit about our trip out to Lourmarin.

Port St Louis du Rhone (Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur), France May 2023

Port Saint-Louis du Rhone is a port annex of Marseille at the mouth of the Rhone River. It has three beaches, one of which is Napoleon Beach, and Napoleon Beach has it’s own harbour (Port Napoleon) where our friends (Jonathon and Sheenagh) had moored their boat (Options) in readiness for a cruise along the Cote d’Azur. They were waiting for us as we arrived at the harbour’s entrance.

To the left is ‘Options'(nice!) and to the right is Beanie in a craft all of his own.

We were there to catch up with our friends, view their boat and share some lunch. It was a pleasant but very short trip and there is not therefore a great deal I can tell you about Port St Louis du Rhone or Port Napoleon. However, I do know that Port Louis is the last town on the Rhone Estuary and the mouth of the Rhone itself can be accessed by Napoleon Beach. Some ten kilometres of fine sand make Napoleon one of the largest beaches on the Carmargue and it is open in summer for all manner of water sports. I read that it’s harbour, Port Napoleon, has berths for as many as 250 craft of up to 40 metres in length, a dry dock which can accommodate up to 1,000 boats and (ordinarily) all the facilities and services you would expect of a small modern harbour, up to and including ship building. Unfortunately, the harbour’s restaurant (Les 3 Voiles) had suffered a fire and was closed when we visited but we were still able to sit in the shade of it’s porch and enjoy a bottle of wine and a picnic prepared by Sheenagh and, you know what? There is something very pleasing about taking wine and food in a small harbour on a sunny day with a background sound of halyards jingling against the main masts of a hundred small boats. Wonderful and thank you once again Sheenagh and Jonathon for your invitation to join you both on Options.

That’s the local Tourist Office and a final photo of ‘Options’.

I mentioned the Carmargue. It is only right that I leave you with a brief description of the Carmargue (together with my apologies for lifting and abridging it from an Alamy site):-

The Camargue is located south of Arles, France, between the Mediterranean Sea and the two arms of the Rhône River delta. The eastern arm is the Grand Rhône; the western one is the Petit Rhône. It is a designated “Wetland of International Importance”; a vast plain of large brine lagoons cut off from the sea by sandbars and encircled by reed-covered marshes. It is a haven for wild birds and has been protected as a regional park since 1927. In 2008 it was incorporated into the larger Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue (home to the Camargue Bull and the Camargue Horse) and this extended park now houses more than 400 species of birds, including the Greater Flamingo. Of course the marshes are also a prime habitat for many species of insects, notably and notoriously some of the most ferocious mosquitos to be found anywhere in France – and that last part explains why I refused to visit the Camargue and have instead relied on an Alamy description – Thank you Alamy.

On to Saint-Remy de Provence.

Avignon (Provence-Alpes-Cotes d’Azur), France May 2023

It’s not often we return to a place we have previously visited. There has to be a good reason and, more often than not, the place has to have been special for us. I visited Avignon for a couple of days early in 2018 (during Tour 1) and hadn’t felt any particular desire to return but Vanya was keen to see the city for the first time. Moreover, some friends (Matt’s parents) had berthed their sailboat at nearby Port Napoleon on the Rhone Estuary (and we thought to drop in on them) and, also, we were keen to visit one of France’s most beautiful villages just south of Avignon in the Alpilles – Saint Remy de Provence. So, all things considered it seemed an appropriate place to operate out of for a couple of days.

We parked the Van on the Ile de la Barthelasse at Camping du Pont d’Avignon and on a bright sunny afternoon I took the free ferry service from near the entrance to the campsite across the River Rhone to the Papal Palaces for a little explore. You know, I really enjoyed this second visit to Avignon. Previously, I visited during a dank cold February and the town was very quiet with few bars and restaurants open and I missed out on one of this city’s most attractive features – its cafe culture. On that occasion I had taken time to visit the city’s principal tourist sites (walking for miles inside and around the beautifully preserved city walls; focusing on the Papal Palaces and the Rocher des Doms Gardens, the Cathedrale Notre Dame, Les Halles Market, the Rue des Teinturiers and of course the Pont Saint-Benezet) and I wrote about those in the 2018 Avignon blog but I didn’t take time to properly enjoy the city. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again and one of the best moments in Avignon this trip was simply sitting outside a cafe on the Place de l’Horloge over a couple of beers listening to a wonderful violinist entertain the square with an eclectic choice of music which included a pleasing instrumental version of Leonard Cohen’s 1984 ‘Hallelujah’. Brilliant!

Left: Catching the ferry across the Rhone. Centre: Les Escaliers from Le Boulevard de la Ligne. Right: Inside the Rocher des Doms Gardens

Some almost obligatory photos taken within the Papal Palace area.

In the early evening I collected Vanya and together with the dogs took the ferry over the Rhone for dinner in the city. The fact is, French restaurants are very accommodating so far as dogs are concerned. I don’t think we have ever been refused entry into a restaurant in France because of them. The choice of restaurants around the Place de l’Horloge isn’t particularly good (touristy places all offering much the same menu) and the food itself proved even more disappointing but we were introduced to a very pleasant local white wine – a Chardonnay from Domaine de Valdition which goes by the name of Alpilles (named after the area down near Saint Remy de Provence where it is produced). We made a note to try more of the Alpilles wines over the next days.

I took this photo as Vanya and I walked back to the Van after dinner. It’s a shame the Pont Saint-Benezet was lit up so brightly with that ghastly fluorescent blue light. It would have made a great photo.

The next day was about getting up early and experiencing a small street market in the old town. The ferry wasn’t operating this early in the day and so I walked into the city via the Pont Edouard Daladier and sat outside a small cafe nursing a coffee and croissant for almost an hour while the Avignon equivalent of the Albert Square Market in Eastenders went on about me. You don’t have to be fluent in French to understand much of the banter being used. It is probably the same in farmer’s markets all over the world. After my light and lazy breakfast, I walked more of old Avignon’s streets and lanes while the city gradually came to life. It really was pleasant just soaking in the mood of Avignon and not worrying about chasing photo opportunities of monuments.

It wasn’t a big market although it stretched across two or three streets but I very much enjoyed the people watching and then exploring some of the quieter streets.

And Vanya? Well, Vanya considers Avignon a pretty place and she certainly enjoyed the Alpilles wine but she isn’t really into large towns (especially when they are so full of tourists) and she thought it rather commercial. Also, she didn’t cope that well with the walks up and down the Escalier. In fact she stayed at the campsite for much of our second day in Avignon – something about a coronation had attracted her attention.

No. That is not our Van bedecked with the coronation bunting of Charles III a. There were a couple of other English people in the campsite and this belonged to them.

The next couple of days at Port Napoleon and Saint Remy de Provence should suit her better.

Le Puy en Velay (Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes), France May 2023

We wouldn’t have come to Le Puy en Velay (it’s not Vanya’s kind of place) except that I thought there was to be a preview of the “Puy de Lumieres” (light show) while we were there. In fact, it is to be previewed in two weeks time with the main event running in July and August. The preview weekend is the best time to visit because you get to experience the full event without the large crowds which are standard during the French holidays. For the unaware, eight of the principal sites in Le Puy are lit up during the “Puy de Lumieres” in the most vivid colours for at least two hours every night and a spectacular light and music show follows. Those sites lit up include the cathedral, museum, theatre, town hall, the old bridge over the Loire and most impressive of all, the complete Rock and Chapel of St Michael.

Two sites lit up in Le Puy during a previous Puy de Lumieres

No matter, many of Le Puy’s principal sites are still worth seeing even without the light show and you can buy tickets from the local tourist office and from the sites themselves which offer discounts when visiting three or more locations. I bought such a ticket (I think it cost me 10 Euros) and this allowed access to the three locations which most interested me:-

Le Rocher et Chapelle Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe: This is Saint Michael’s Chapel built up on a volcanic rock known as the needle. You only have to look at the rock to see the association with a needle. The chapel was built in 961 upon the instructions of the local Bishop after he had completed a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela It’s a short sharp walk up a staircase to the chapel itself and well worth the effort. The views over the town are tremendous.

Two photos I took of the outside of the chapel

… and inside

Rocher Corneille et Statue Notre Dame de France: The Statue of Our Lady of France has been built on the town’s highest point (another volcanic rock, this one some 757 metres high). The statue is made from the metal of 213 Russian cannons seized during the Crimean War. You can climb up inside it and there are a few small windows. One of the advantages of visiting outside of the holiday season is that I had the place almost to myself and was able to open one of the windows..

The Statue of Our Lady

Inside the head of the Statue of Our Lady.

A couple of views from the viewing platform, one down on to the Cathedral and the other over to the needle.

The Cathedral of Our Lady: This 11th-12th century Romanesque cathedral complex (the starting point of the Via Podiensis pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela) has been a UNESCO World Heritage site 1998. It contains many interesting features including an unusual 134 staircase leading up to the front door, a statue of the Black Virgin, 12 century cedar wood doors and some quite beautiful cloisters. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to see of the Cathedral. It closed for the day as I arrived.

Walking down through the old down past the cathedral and on into the commerciual part of the town.

Vanya and I made our way back into Le Puy from our campsite on the edge of the town (almost directly underneath the Aguilhe) later that evening for a drink and even without the aforesaid Puy de Lumieres some of the sites/sights looked impressive but, overall, Le Puy didn’t really do it for either of us. It struck us as a dirty and untidy place and, having seen most of the three monuments that I wanted to see, I’m not convinced that either of us would return.

It’s 4 June 20023 as I finish writing this short entry about Le Puy en Velay and we visited the town almost a month ago. We are now back in England and, once again, I have been remiss in terms of keeping up with my blog. Needless to say, any further entries as to Tour 7 will also be more than a month out of date but, I’ll do my best to make up this record.

Beaune (Bourgogne-Franche-Comte), France May 2023

Neither Troyes nor Beaune were on our radar as places to visit until I started researching a different route down through France to Spain via Champagne. So glad we did and; nice as Troyes was, we enjoyed Beaune even more. It’s nice when things just keep getting better.

Upon arrival we reverted to our usual approach whereby I set off on an explore (leaving Vanya to chill) and then, later in the day, we go into town together and I show Vanya around. It works for us because I get to see things Vanya has absolutely no interest in and, in any event, Vanya would never walk as far as I tend to.

I entered Beaune via the Porte Saint-Nicholas and after making towards the larger church spires soon found myself very near the town centre at the Basilica Notre Dame. These old cathedral spires are very effective way-finders.

Beaune is a pretty town and most if not all of the principal tourist sites are located within the footprint of the old town walls, which makes finding them much easier. A great deal of the old town walls have been removed over time and there are none in the immediate vicinity of the Porte Saint-Nicholas but it is possible to walk those parts that are still standing.

Beaune is the capital of the Burgundy wine region and there are plenty of wine merchants operating in the town centre (although you will have to travel a few kilometres to see any vineyards). Many of the wine merchants offer wine tastings but they charge and the charge appears to be much higher than in other French towns. Although it does seem as if almost everything in France is more expensive these days. Clearly France is suffering as much as the UK in these difficult economic times.

We didn’t bother with a formal wine tour but that is not to say that we didn’t sample quite a few of the local wines during our visit – Vanya focusing on the white wines and me on the red wines.

Beaune’s reliance on wine is obvious throughout the town. There are numerous winehouses operating in the centre. The pretty turreted building in the photo above was once home to a rich wine merchant and the statue of wine bottles in the town’s main square says it all.

On a more general note, the most interesting building in the town centre is the Hospices de Beaune (often referred to as the Hotel-Dieu). It dates back to 1443 and was built as an almshouse and hospice for the poor not long after the town lost 75% of it’s population to the plague. It remained a hospital up until 1971 when it was turned into a museum although every November a wine auction is held in the building with much of the proceeds going to local charities. You have to go inside the building and through to the main courtyard to appreciate the beauty of this erstwhile hospital -a half timbered first floor gallery runs around the courtyard and this is topped by the most beautiful glazed tile roof. It is truly striking.

The Hospices de Beaune with it’s beautiful gallery and glazed tile roof.

The second most impressive building in Beaune has to be the 12th century Basilique de Notre Dame. It is a pretty enough building built in the Romanesque style but it is the inside of the church that is most interesting. There is a lovely 13th century cloister area, colourful stained glass windows (of the Troyes School, naturally), an impressive organ, 15th century wall paintings, and a range of tapestries depicting the Virgin Mary’s life.

The front entrance, inside and rear of the Basilique de Notre Dame.

Beaune is one of those towns that is simply a joy to walk. I liked walking the town’s quiet back streets almost as much as I enjoyed the town centre. I stumbled on one area with a great mural which reflected the town’s association with cinema. It goes beyond just providing beautiful settings for films; the inventor of moving pictures, Etienne-Jules Marey, was born in Beaune and the inventor of photography, Nicephore Niepce, and the inventor of the zoom, Roger Cuvilliers were also from Burgundy.

There are plenty of places to sit and chill over a glass of wine or a beer but we really were lucky when we stumbled on a great little restaurant for our evening meal – La Petite Taverne.

I tried the artisan beer during my ‘explore’. The wines followed when Vanya and I went into town together

La Petite Taverne is a bijoux little restaurant of just 12 covers. It offered a great welcome and good food. We settled on a popular local dish, Fondue Vigneronne, washed down with local Beaune red (Vanya settling for a local Chardonnay). We had an enjoyable and fairly long evening in this small friendly restaurant and were delighted when the management presented us with complementary shots of Framboise Sauvage, a raspberry liqueur which Vanya described as savage. No argument there; I politely declined a second.

In La Petite Taverne

Footnote: Vanya considered one of the white wines she tried in Beaune, a Cremant de Bourgogne, so good that we had to track it down. She discovered that it could be bought at the Cave de Bussey in a small hamlet just outside of Beaune called Bissey Sous Cruchaud. Unfortunately, the Sat-Nav (which has long had a mind of it’s own) chose to play up as we travelled to the Cave and; it sent us on a 90 kilometre detour up a motorway. We made it (back) to the Cave just as it was closing but Vanya prevailed upon the owner to let her try a few of his wines and came away with half a dozen bottles. Happy Vanya.

On to Le Puy en Velay.

Troyes (Grand Est), France May 2023

Now Troyes (pronounced Tois), capital of the Department of Aube in the Grand Est Region, is definitely worth visiting, notwithstanding it’s large population (60,000+ people). It has been described as an overlooked gem and I would concur with that statement. Our campsite was some 10 kilometres south west of the city but we were quite happy making two trips into the city during our short stay, one in the evening and one during the day.

It’s a pretty city. I have never before seen such a huge collection of colourful medieval buildings in the one place (and all in such fine condition and, more to the point, being used). This can be attributed in part to a large fire in 1524 which devastated the place and required almost the whole city to be rebuilt at the same time. It seems that the great majority of those who couldn’t afford to rebuild in stone, went for 4 storey half timbered buildings in pastel colours. I should explain that in those days, local taxes were calculated according to the size of the building’s footprint and so it made sense to build upwards – hence the four stories. The result is very impressive with numerous cobbled streets packed with similar sized leaning structures. The colours too are interesting with the predominantly peach and pistachio pastels now giving way to brighter more vivid blues, reds and yellows.

This building, the Maison du Dauphin has a particularly strong list.

A particularly quaint and picturesque street is the very small Maillard Street, now known as the Ruelle des Chats, where the upper floors of the top heavy listing buildings lean so much they have been joined by wooden beams. It was these beams that allowed resident cats to stroll from one building to another and which prompted the name change.

No surprise to learn that is the Ruelle des Chats on the right

Also of interest, to me at least, are the city’s many elaborate churches. Most prominent are La Cathedrale Saint Pierre Saint Paul (parts of which date back to the 13th century), L’Eglise Sainte Madeleine (that’s 12th century with additions in the 16th century), La Basilique Saint Urbain (13th century but significantly updated in the 19th century) and, last but not least, L’Eglise St Jean au Marche where under the 1420 Treaty of Troyes, England’s Henry V (of Agincourt fame) married Catherine of Valois and was recognised as heir to the throne of France. Sadly, I never got to see this last church.

The first of the abovementioned churches, the Gothic style Cathedral of Saint Peter & Saint Paul was built over a periof of 400 years between the 13th-17th centuries and is unusual in that it has only one spire. They spent all the money and there was nothing left for a second spire. Another unusual feature of the cathedral is the amount of stained glass in the building – there’s a staggering 1,500 square metres of glass dating from between the 13th and 19th centuries.

Cathedral of Saint Peter & Saint Paul…

with some of it’s 1,500 square metres of beautiful stained glass windows

The second of the principal churches, and without a doubt my favourite, is the 12th century Church of Sainte Madeleine, another Gothic design, with it’s intricately chiselled stone rood screen which was added early in the 16th century. This church also has the most exquisite stained glass windows which, for my part, are easier to see and understand than those in the Cathedral.

The Eglise de Sainte Madeleine (as seen from the Jardin des Innocents) and a detail of the stone rood screen inside the church…

… and the most incredible stained glass windows from the Troyes School of Stained Glass – the colours are so vivid. The window on the left features scenes from the Book of Genesis.

At the risk of boring you, stained glass windows mounted in blocks such as those in the Eglise Sainte Madeleine are generally read from left to right and from bottom to top. So, bottom left in the first of the above photos (that’s the one featuring the Book of Genesis) the world is created. In the second image from the left, the elements of sky, earth and water are being added. In the third from the left, these elements are separated and in the fourth image on the far right, stars are formed. Moving up to the second row from the bottom, the image on the left reflects the fish and the birds being added to the world and then in the second from the left, the other animals in the world are introduced. Adam is added in the third image from the left and then, on the extreme right of the second row up from the bottom, Eve is added. And so it goes on. Third image from the left in the third row up from the bottom, Cain kills Abel… it’s like reading a comic but starting at the end. Enough about stained glass.

From the outside, the Baslique Saint Urbain de Troyes is the most impressive of the big three churches. It owes its existence to Jacques Pantaleon, the son of a local cobbler, who was elected Pope Urban IV in 1261 and he chose to celebrate the life of a predecessor, Urban I, by building the church in his honour.

Saint Urbain, consecrated as a basilica in 1964, was built on the site of his father’s cobbler’s shop.

So what about the rest of the city? It has a great deal more to offer and for the most part it is all easily accessible. Most major tourist attractions, whether it is medieval buildings and churches, bars and restaurants or modern shopping opportunities are tightly packed around the city centre.

We made directly for the centre of the city where, alongside the old canal (the Canal du Trevois which is fed by no less a river than the Seine), a modern stainless steel heart designed by local artists Michele and Thierry Kayo-Houel has been fixed. At night, this heart glows a deep red and the colour begins to pulse as movement sensors pick up on any approaching people. It is very clever and can make for some excellent photo opportunities, especially if the surrounding water jets are turned on.

There are a number of other contemporary statues dotted along the canal and some these too make for ideal photo opportunities, one being a life size statue of “Lili, la dame au chapeau”. I’m surprised Vanya didn’t pose Beanie with Lili but it was the “attendez-moi”, a statue of a dog chasing geese which most interested her.

Lili, la dame au chapeau

Troyes is in the Champagne producing area. Indeed it is the historic capital of the old Champagne-Ardennes Region. It is also the capital of the Aube Department which, after the Marne Department, is the second largest producer of champagne. Having said that, we were surprised not to see a single vine during our drive down from Montreuil sur Mer to Troyes although; we did “see” a lot of champagne bars in the centre of Troyes.

I was intending to go on and write a little about some of the many interesting museum’s here and also about the city’s retail parks (there are three) but since we didn’t visit any of them and because I have been dabbling with this particular blog for over a week, I’m going to finish now. I’ll leave you with my final photo of the heart of the city.

Chalons en Champagne (Grand Est), France May 2023

We’re looking to overnight a little way further south at Troyes in the Aube Department of the Grand Est Region but Vanya wanted to sample a glass of champagne sooner rather than later. So we stopped at Chalons en Champagne.

A quick visit to the tourist office and we came away with a map identifying the principal sights of the city (there aren’t that many) and, more to the point from Vanya’s perspective, directions to a highly recommended local champagne bar – Tiffany’s.

We didn’t stay in Chalons en Champagne for very long – there is surprisingly little there to see for a city with almost 50,000 residents. It is more about the surrounding, rolling countryside and vineyards here (we’re in the middle of the champagne producing region) but, in the city centre, there is a particularly impressive church in the predominantly gothic style 12th century Collegiate Church of Notre Dame en Vaux.

The city also has a nice park (Le Jard Parc) and offers boat trips along the River Marne although for the city to be named as yet another Little Venice, as one tourist site has described the place, is really stretching the boat.

It was a nice place to pause for a glass of champagne but it offers little else. Sorry Chalons… but your Champagne is good!

On to Troyes…

Montreuil sur Mer (Hauts de France), France April 2023

We began what will be an all too brief tour of just one month (because we have to be back in the UK for a friend’s wedding early in June) by revisiting an old favourite of ours, Montreuil sur Mer. This place wasn’t without incident last time we were here (this was our last stop of Tour 5 before we returned to the UK) with us both enjoying an outstanding meal at the Michelin Star Restaurant, Anecdote, and; then, back at the campsite, locking ourselves outside of the Van (with the dogs on the inside) and my having to break into the Van and causing some £600 of damage. It could have been a lot worse.

Once again we stayed at ‘la fontaine des clercs’ campsite just outside the city walls. There were a great many more people in the town this time, no doubt due to it being a bank holiday weekend (May Day tomorrow), but while many places were closed for the holidays, we were able to get a reasonable meal and wine at Brasserie Le Caveau on the Place de General de Gaulle. There were a couple of other restaurants we wanted to try out; one situated on the town walls which specialises in light local produce (Le Pot du Clape) and the other a creperie (Creperie le Clan des Elfes) but both were closed. Next time.

It didn’t take long for Vanya and I to reacquaint ourselves with the town (Vanya even joined me for a brief stroll along part of the town ramparts – she’s getting better with heights) and soon enough we were sitting on the main square under the watchful eye of Field Marshall Douglas Haig drinking a glass of Chardonnay.

Check out the measure of Chardonnay in each glass

The last time we were here (February 2022), on the way back from dinner, we passed an old and somewhat derelict looking hotel/restaurant which was up for sale – Le Relais du Roy. We passed it again and it appears to have been sold and reopened as a restaurant without so much as a lick of paint…

The hotel as was one year ago (left); the hotel as is now (centre); and a look inside one of the windows now (right).

Whatever else may be said about “Le Relais du Roy”, it certainly isn’t lacking in character.

I’ll not repeat everything I said about Montreuil sur Mer in my last blog on the place and there’s little point me posting photos of the same sights as before (Le Relais du Roy excepted). Instead, I will leave you with a couple of photos of the area we had hoped to eat in. That’s the Pot du Clape in the first photo below…

… HOWEVER, Montreuil sur Mer really is a great little town and one we would heartily recommend especially if you are into good food and of course Les Miserables. If you want more information on the town, take a read of the previous blog I wrote on this place but, better still, visit the place yourself.

Well, that’s Day 1 of Tour 7 over. Tomorrow, we head south to Champagne. Vanya wants a drink.

Zarautz (Basque Country), Spain September 2022

We were at Gran Camping Zarautz earlier this year (February 2022) and enjoyed our stay. It’s a very comfortable campsite and there’s nothing wrong with the small town of Zarautz but we returned primarily because of the campsite’s close proximity to Bilbao. We were booked on the Bilbao to Portsmouth ferry for travel on 28 September and needed somewhere to while away the last hours of this 2022 tour.

Zarautz beach – as pretty as ever and the perfect place to finish this particular tour

To the east of Zarautz, just 20 minutes drive away, is San Sebastian (Donostia in Basque) which, amongst other things, is supposedly Spain’s culinary capital and where the Spanish monarchy used to spend their summer holidays. We had it in mind to visit San Sebastian but the one day we had left is insufficient to do the place justice and this particular tour (Tour 6) must end now. We’ll do it next year…

So ends Tour 6.

Getaria (Basque Country), Spain September 2022

We took the coast road from Zumaia to Zarautz stopping at Getaria on the way. We’d passed through Getaria the day before (after I’d missed the turn off to our campsite in Zumaia) and the small town looked most appealing … and certainly worth revisiting.

We parked on the western edge of Zumaia, just above the smaller of the town’s two beaches (Gaztetape Beach), and then walked up towards the town centre which is dominated by a monument to Juan Sebastian Elkano (1487-1526). Until then I’d never heard of Elkano but he is a most fascinating character and fully deserving of the monument. It was Elkano and not, as I once thought, Magellan who first circumnavigated the globe. Elkano was captain of one of the five ships that in 1519 formed Magellan’s fleet in the search for a western passage to the Spice Islands and it was Elkano who in 1522 brought the sole remaining ship (the Victoria) back to Spain long after Magellan was killed somewhere in the Philippines (1521). I’ve subsequently watched a Spanish TV Series, ‘Boundless’, which tells Elkano’s story in a very engrossing manner (although I couldn’t testify as to it’s historical accuracy).

The view from the Elkano Monument, eastwards over Getaria’s second beach (the Malkorbe Hondartza Beach) towards Zarautz.

Another famous son of Getaria is the fashion designer Cristobal Balenciaga (1895-1972) whom Christian Dior described as “the master of us all” and whose brand was ultimately taken over by Gucci. A museum dedicated to Balenciaga was opened in Getaria in 2011. I didn’t go in (it’s not quite my cup of tea) but it supposedly rotates some 1,000 of Balenciaga’s creations.

Having checked out the Elkano Monument, Vanya and I made our way down the main street (Nagusia Kalea) of this quaint medieval fishing and whaling village towards the Church of San Salvador. There are a number of pintxos bars on the main street where we could have taken brunch but, from the monument, I had seen a couple of bars on the harbour and thought to eat there and; besides, I wanted a look inside the church.

There’s been a church on this site since the 13th century but this particular church dates mostly from the 15th and 16th centuries (except for some 19th century restoration work to fire damage caused during the Carlist Wars). There’s an attractive upper gallery inside the church on which a choir was practising as I entered. They were seriously good and I had to tear myself away to rejoin Vanya and the dogs waiting outside on Nagusia Kalea.

The centre nave of the church with it’s raised presbytery. The church was declared a National Monument in 1895.

We followed the main street on through a narrow tunnel (the Katropana Tunnel) which goes under the church and past a small crypt to the harbour. It was time to eat.

After eating and checking out the harbour area we walked the dogs back to the Van and then I retraced my steps to the far end of the harbour and up the small mouse shaped hill grandly referred to as Mount San Anton but better known by the locals as ‘The Mouse of Getaria’. Mount San Anton was originally a small island with a lighthouse (Faro de Getaria) and a gun emplacement which was last used in earnest during the Spanish Civil War. The lighthouse is still working but the gun emplacement serves now only as a viewpoint.

Faro de Getaria
A view west from inside the gun emplacement on Mount San Anton

It occurs to me that I have not yet mentioned food and/or drink in any detail. That needs to be corrected because this area is famous for txacoli (sometimes called txakolilocal) and it’s seafood. Txacoli is a traditional Basque white wine, slightly sparkling and very dry, made with the local grape, Hondarrabi Zuri. The wine goes very well with the local fish; talking of which, the ‘Elkano’ is a Michelin Star Restaurant in Getaria which specialises in chargrilled fish. Next time.