Burgundy, Day 4

9/29/10

Finally a healthy breakfast, and ‘biologique’ as well: plain yoghurt and granola, non-white bread with home-made jams (grapefruit/citron/orange was really good), and a press-pot of coffee. The hosts were really friendly too, and we regretted not being able to stay a little longer. Another couple shared breakfast with us. The lady was originally from Bourgogne and gave us some good suggestions for places to visit. As a result, we decided to go to St.Fargeau via Auxerre.

Along the way we stopped at Gis L’Eveque and visited the church. It was in ruins and not particularly remarkable, except for the large wooden crucifix. It had been discovered in the ruins some time in the 1960s and miraculously had survived essentially intact.

We drove very small farm roads most of the way to Auxerre. It was very scenic, featuring rolling fields freshly plowed, fields of sun flowers, as well as orchards of cherry and nut trees. The villages are really tiny and ancient looking – mostly they seem rather empty, though we did notice new single family homes going up in some of them. Perhaps commuters from Auxerre, seeking a more rural life-style?

IMG_2173IMG_2165Auxerre is a bigger town and located on a hill rising from the banks of the Yonne. The river is quite large and navigable, and there were a variety of commercial and pleasure craft moored to the shore. We walked up the narrow, winding streets to the bustling center of town and the large gothic cathedral. The architecture and stained glass are very impressive; but it’s most famous for the remains of Romanesque frescos in the crypt. We were also able to do a bit of shopping – Wendy found some black shoes, and I indulged myself with some pastries (the financiers were particularly delicious!).

IMG_2181 (2)IMG_2178From Auxerre we headed IMG_2197straight to St.Fargeau and soon found the Ferme du Chateau. It’s a typical old farm of the region: stables, barn, work shop, and farmhouse are all built of the local stone, all facing in towards the central courtyard. There are a lot of animals on this farm: pigs, goats, chickens, geese, rabbits, cows, horses, peacocks, Baudet the donkey (everybody’s favorite), … it’s partly a working farm and partly a museum / demonstration farm. There are a lot of things to look at, including many old pieces of farm equipment and workshops for ancient trades, such as making wooden shoes. There’s even an old wood fired bread oven that is still in use today. It was fascinating and also showed how many different jobs needed to be done on a farm that needed to be highly self-sufficient, considering how far away it is from a larger city.

IMG_2237Our final sight-seeing stop was at the Chateau St.Fargeau. It is remarkable for its unusual architecture, such as its pentagonal shape and a tower with a toroidal roof exposing an inner courtyard, and the extensive park-like grounds. We later learned that this tower had originally had a spire roof like all the others; but after a fire they rebuilt it this way to save money. Even more interesting was learning about the reconstruction work that has been going on, and taking a tour around the roof of the castle. We could actually walk the entire length of the roof top, right under the rafter construction and the slate tiling. Supposedly, the surface area of the roof is 2 hectares, comprising 750,000 slate tiles. The construction is most impressive: a network of massive interlocking oak beams and rafters. It’s hard to wrap your mind around the scale of this roof. The flip side of the immense size is that it’s impossible to properly maintain it all, and a lot of things are decaying. A drastic example was the sound of rodents behind the wood paneling and rodent droppings on the floors – actually, that was probably the case even back when the chateau was new.

IMG_2243We walked around the village exploring a bit before dinner and found that the potter was still open for business. We walked into a nice courtyard and Chrystal David came out and gave us a tour of her studio which was somewhat small, but a really nice space with a vaulted ceiling. We found that her cobalt designs were very nice and the shapes of the pitchers quite functional and attractive. So we bought two!

As usual, dinner involved a quest for an open restaurant. Only the Creperie Medievale was open – luckily it was pretty decent and we enjoyed another extended multi-course meal in the French fashion.

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