Our Photo Journal From Vézelay, France
Not many tourists have heard of Vézelay, actually, not many French people have either. If you’ve been following our England to India cycling expedition you’ll know that we’ve spent most of our time with local families, as well as locals we’ve met walking along the street and fellow travellers. Everyone has been curious as to where we’re going and why we are cycling with all our worldly possessions attached to our bikes. When we tell them of our route, and visiting Vézelay, we would always be met with the same puzzled expression, even from locals.
This is quite shocking as this stunning little town really is spectacular. After visiting Vézelay we were in awe of its charm and its looming position perched upon a big hill (it’s a bloody steep hill). Many French people have never heard of it and tourists presume it must be missable if it’s not mentioned in their guide books. But boy oh boy are they wrong.
This enchanted, cobbled town is not to be missed. Sure if you’re into flash bars and late night clubbing then Vézelay won’t tickle your pickle. If however you’re into stunning panoramic views, quaint lanes, 12th century Gothic churches, fine wine, good food, and sunset walks then Vézelay is just the place for you.
Upon first arriving we walked around the base of the town about half-way up the hill. Along this circular walk you can take in the views of the surrounding rolling countryside but be warned with benches and views every few meters you may find it takes longer than you anticipated.
In the trees you can see hand-made garlands draped over the branches. The contrast of the pretty flowers hanging from the bare trees made them stand out even more. It seemed they were of religious significance, as the whole town had a very spiritual feel to it, however we weren’t sure exactly what significance. Do you know what these garlands symbolise? let us know in the comments if you do as we are intrigued to know!
Vineyards are dotted around the hillsides of the town and the surrounding slopes. Although they didn’t have any grapes when we visited on account of it being too cold (it got to -4°c!) they were still beautiful to see just as the buds were making an appearance.
The building work in Vézelay began in the 9th century which is a pretty long time ago, and since then nature has encroached its way back over the ancient structures. The combination of nature and concrete seem to compliment each other and gives the whole town a very naturally rustic feel as you wander about.
Despite the towns history and spiritual feel there was also a lot of creativity. Plodding about you come across galleries and workshops for all types of crafts.
We stumbled upon a basement gallery owned by an artist who had travelled to India back in the 60’s on the Magic Bus. Having been fascinated about tales of the Magic Bus it was very exciting to hear some first-hand tales. He was also very interested in our cycle tour so we all exchanged stories about travels past and future plans to come.
As well as being very traditional, from the architecture to the art work, there is also a lot of contemporary art. The contrast between the two styles dotted about gives the town a really quirky feel and it’s always cool when something new catches your eye.
Most of the buildings had such a different character and feel to them which meant there was always something different around every corner to feast your eyes on. Some of the buildings are older than others and the vintage run-down look of crumbling stone walls and washed out shutters has a real homely feel.
In contrast some of the more modern buildings have quite a ornate presence, feeling a little too grand for some of the crumbling cobbled lanes. I know these aren’t exactly “modern” in today’s world but definitely are compared with the surrounding buildings. We spent a long time absorbing all of the striking distinctions between the different periods reflected in the architecture.
In between sights it’s always a good idea to wet your whistle at one of the many bars and cafes nestled around the town. All of them are very traditional, serving coffee, beer, wine and an abundance of French cuisine. This means if you’re wanting some vegan grub alongside your drink you’re limited to fries and… fries as French food is really not very vegan friendly. Personally we always fancied the idea of just making our way through the wine menu instead, liquid lunch anyone?
As well as bars and cafes there are two local wine shops where you can sample some of the regional delights. We were warmly welcomed in by a generous lady who offered us glass after glass of some of the area’s finest wines for a mid-morning, impromptu wine-tasting.
At night the town is sublimely peaceful, as the gentle hustle and bustle of the day comes to a halt. As you wander the cobbled lanes there are a few dimly lit shops that light your way, and on a clear night you can see starts dotted all over the night’s sky.
There’s an almost spooky feel to the town as you potter about the alleys under the moonlight. The Basilica towers over everything and the gloomy glow of the sparse street lights makes the town look very mysterious.
The 12th Century Gothic Basilica Church, perched at the peek of the town, is the star of the show and sitting in its crypt was an amazing experience. The alter is so grand yet silent you almost feel the need to tip-toe around so as not to disturb the tranquillity.
Some parts have been renovated due to destruction over the years but the remaining original areas have an unquestionably holy feel. For any faith it’s sublimely peaceful just to sit in the aisles and take in the atmosphere.
Outside, the grounds of the Basilica are an attraction in their own right, with ornate gardens full of foliage. With the panoramic views of neighbouring hills and villages it makes this the perfect spot for a picnic.
The surrounding area has much to explore, from vineyards and museums to hiking paths that lead down from the town and into the the local villages. The whole area isn’t very developed with just a few stone villages so wandering through the fields is a very peaceful way to spend the afternoon.
By chance we stumbled upon a brewery with a whole host of ales, lagers and stouts to sample. Much like the wine-tasting we’re not ones to say no to a beverage in the afternoon sun and it was a great way to take the load off before having to make the journey back up the hill.
Strolling back towards the city as the sun sets. This may look like a walk in the park but as I mentioned Vézelay is perched up a rather steep hill so the first section of the walk back in to the town wasn’t so leisurely. Don’t be put off though as the walk is beautiful and you’ll have incredible views the whole way back that will mean you completely forget about your heart pumping from the outside of your clothes.
We really think this rustic town is worth a visit and the fact it’s often over-looked means it’s not too busy and adds to the unique feel of it. The combination of ancient spiritual significance alongside the creativity and contemporary twists gives the whole town a quirky feel with so much to explore for such a small place. Plus the ancient structures that are gradually being enveloped by nature makes it feel like the two are harmoniously existing in this beautiful part of the country.
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Our Photo Journal From Vézelay, France