We were looking for a real recharge on this holiday and that means finding a location where we didn’t have to try too hard to do anything. Half a day travel from home, walking, cycling, sightseeing, great food and wine easily accessible and not too many other tourists to fight.
The region of choice ended up as Burgundy in France, but the real bonus was to end up in the delightful medieval town of Semur-en-Auxois, which could, (and probably should) be one of the tourism hot spots of the region but actually seems to share our wish to stay away from the hustle and bustle of pushier locations.
We were surfing accommodation web sites looking for a place to rent for the week and my eye kept coming back to this little house which was described as “underneath the ramparts” in Semur, a Burgundy town I couldn’t identify. A few searches later and I was seeing an array of stunning pictures from a medieval walled city that would be worth of front-page billing on any tourist board web site, yet quite understated by comparison to other places. It didn’t even prompt dozens of pop-up adverts for “escapes” “adventures” or wine tours on the various web sites we visited, which in 2019 is decidedly odd.
What I can say after a week in Semur-en-Auxois is “thank you”, you have been everything we hoped for. This is a wonderful small town with an interesting view on every corner. High medieval ramparts are built on a granite outcrop above a loop in the River Amancon and around the walls tumbling terraces fall down to the waterside.
A maze of narrow streets preserve much of the medieval character and have created a popular backdrop for numerous French films including at least one version of the “Three Musketeers”.
We walked around the various levels every day for a week and found something new every day, despite the actual area of the old city being quite small. And then we inevitably ended up the town centre for a drink and some people-watching outside one of the cafes.
From my photos I hope I can illustrate some of the many images we will take away from Semur-en-Auxois and encourage a few more people to make it part of a trip to France.
But equally I can say “not too many”, because the town seems to have made a decision not to over-expose itself. It is almost a rule in France that as you enter any region there are a host of brown signs pointing to the many attractions and all around Semur there are a similar range pointing to chateaux, abbeys, parks or gardens. But the catch is that they are all pointed away from the town, to sights 10-20 kilometres away.
This has created a nice balance, because it was clear in all the shops, cafes and restaurants that the majority of clients were local, despite a good number of better-informed tourists wandering around with maps and guide books. And as you can see, none of the lovely sights was overrun by anyone. Perhaps the town needs a bit more of a boost because there were quite a lot of closed shops in the old town, but it didn’t lack character and energy and there were enough people to fill the excellent restaurants every night.
By contrast the much better-known town of Vezelay in the same area has a need for large car and coach parks, felt crowded and exuded that slightly tacky feel that comes with an excess of shops aimed purely at tourists, leaving me feeling that Semur-en-Auxois is much more attractive.
A brilliant backdrop to a relaxing and restoring holiday after a very busy first half of 2019. We will be back!
Oh and that little house? It is really is down here, “under the ramparts”. Not a bad walk to the bakery for breakfast each day.