Sunday, June 8, 2014

Like God in France....

After my first week of vacation, spent in Rome with my son, my Lady and I retreated to a somewhat remote but VERY comfortable chambre d'hote in the middle of the Morvan in France. The Morvan is a big natural park laying somewhat North of the middle of France and forms the Western part of Burgundy. It is rich with history, both modern as well as ancient.

We started our trip with a visit to Mont Beuvray, the site of the ancient Aedui capital Bibracte. Bibracte was an Oppidum, a fortified town. Here Julius Caesar reputedly wrote his De Bello Gallico and the site offers a beautiful walk, a fine museum, numerous archaeological dig sites and a terrific view from the terrace of the mountain overlooking the lands beyond.

The restored main gate of Bibracte. Massive rock walls, fronted by a deep ditch and topped with palisades. It grows some respect on you for the Roman legions that attacked places like this. 

The next day we visited Autun. This city dominated the area from late Ancient times onward and was actually founded by the Aedui after leaving Bibracte. It is a pretty town with a large and beautiful cathedral, famous for its sculptures.

It only makes you wonder how illiterate medieval peasants, coming into town for Mass, must have experienced such an awesome structure. Even knowing it is made of tons and tons of stone, the roof seems to float weightlessly above the pillars.

 Walking around we found this lovely patchwork house, taken straight from a wargaming table and very similar to the houses I built myself for gaming, like the Tavern. To our surprise the house had a history to match its appearance: it was a notorious gambling den in 17th century!!
When in Autun, visit the Musee Rollin with its eclectic collection that ranges from ancient times to the French impressionists and Moderns. 

In the meantime I even got some painting done and finished the final section of the Walmington-on-Sea Homeguard platoon. Painting pad was graciously donated by le patron Ed. 

The following day we treated ourselves to a visit to the town of Vezelay. This is the archetypal medieval town. Copy it on the gaming table and you have the perfect background for fantasy or medieval gaming. It is Mordheim in the flesh, or the stone, to be more accurate. 

Vezelay traditionally is a starting point for the pilgrimage to Santiago. The shells of St. Jacques figure everywhere in roads, walls, doors and what not.

We visited the basilique of Vezelay, a much more austere church than its counterpart in Autun. Built in the 12th century this might easily have been the oldest standing Christian building  I ever visited. Entering the 900 years old crypt beneath the church is an impressive experience.

Vezelay looks for all the world like a 1:1 scale Elastolin castle. Mazelike streets wind uphill toward the cathedral and everywhere there is charming and ancient detail to be seen. We took loads of pictures to serve as inspiration for future projects!

The monument for the fallen in Vezelay. The poppies form a poignant background 100 years after the start of the Great War and 70 years after D-Day.

On Friday we drove into the heart of the Morvan over narrow and winding roads that took us way up into the hills (driving a car there is NEVER boring I can tell you!) and visited the Musee de la Resistance in St. Brisson. It seemed like a fitting way to commemorate D-Day. It is a small, but pretty museum with a lovely collection of WW2 memorabilia on the Maquis. Because of the rugged terrain, there were a lot of French resistance cells active in the Morvan and the Germans were loath to enter the dense woods and mazelike hills to chase them. The museum has an excellent audio tour in all main languages and expands on the Maquis, the history of the WW2 in France, the Vichy regime and what it meant to live in occupied France under the Germans. Weapons and equipment are exhibited as well as documents and maps. 

 A paratrooper of the SAS.

Numerous sites remained unexplored for next visits, like the castle at Bazoches where Vauban wrote important works and built defenses. Hopefully we will be able to return next year and visit more. In the meantime, I hope to have shown you a bit of one of the most fascinating and enjoyable areas of France. We visited in early summer, which seems the perfect season to us. But if you don't mind a little sun and heat, the summer months are spectacular as well! Remember, Burgundy is a wine region, so it features lots of sun. 

The title of this blog refers to a Dutch saying: "living like God in France" which is supposedly living REALLY well. Well, we did. We stayed at Les Hirondelles, a fine establishment run by José and Ed, which is really recommended for couples who like comfort, spectacular views and excellent food and wine.