Today we headed off on an all-day road trip, exploring an area to the south of us, beyond Fontainebleau: the Pays de Nemours and the Val de Loing. This is a very rural area comprising huge deciduous forests giving way to huge fields of maize and sunflowers. It is also a landscape defined by rivers: The Seine, the Yonne and the Loing. And dotted around lots of small towns and villages, many designated “Village de Caractere”!! We picked a circular route that would take in 7 stops and allow us to explore the area.
It is always surprising to the British eye that there are so many seemingly deserted villages in France, even so close to Paris. We once drove across northern France, keeping to the back roads and we literally saw no one either on the street, in another car, working in the fields…. no one…. Bob actually said to me at one point, “Do you think something’s happened and we don’t know about it?” i.e. the end of the world, I think! They are not actually deserted, but I think many of them are now mainly holiday homes or second homes for city dwellers, or even foreigners. Many do not even have a shop or a bar any more which I think is a sign of that. It’s interesting. We don’t have that in the UK. We have small villages and hamlets yes but they are still inhabited by people who actually live there all the time. I guess it is a mark that our island is small and we need all that housing. Anyway, the point is, once you’re off the main roads and onto the D roads or less, you scarcely see another car.
Anyway, back to our lovely road trip. The weather was perfect – sunny and about 20/21C again. Really nice day.
Our first stop was Grez Sur Loing, a small village on the river Loing. Very old, very quaint. Lots of old houses with coloured shutters and an ancient bridge. We parked up and walked down to the bridge and the little park, set in an old apple orchard that was beside it. The river was so clear! Looked very inviting to boat on it but sadly no boats were available at the moment. In normal times you can have all sorts of boat trips, self driven or skippered, day trips or for longer. You can row, paddle, pedalo…… Must be lovely. It was extremely pretty and also backed by the Ganne Tower, the remnants of an old defensive tower/dungeon, part of a castle no longer there. You can see why the village is a favourite with artists.
On we went, next stop Nemours, one of the larger centres in this area, set on an island in the Loing, surrounded by it really. We parked by the castle/chateau on one of the river banks. It’s now the town museum. Had a walk about looking for a cafe with outside seating but no luck. It looked a nice little town though, if very quiet. In the end we got our picnic bag and took it to the river and ate lunch there by the castle. There were swans on the river and it was good to sit in the sun. Yes.. I know you’re wondering…… there were wasps too.
Our route took us away from the river to the village of Boulancourt, home to two mysterious towers. To be honest we couldn’t find them at first and had given up, contenting ourselves with the pretty village, when we stumbled across them. Hmmm, possibly not worth the detour.
Beaumont du Gatinais was a charming little place with an ancient, ancient church and a surrounding square that included a lovely market hall dating from the 1600s. And – heavens be praised – a cafe/bar that was open! We sat at a table under the market hall and drank our coffee. Madame, the owner, was very pleased to see us! She gave us two biscuits!!!! I bought a Snickers bar for Bob. His favourite.
We made a longer stop in Chateau Landon, a rather spectacular small town. It is perched right on the edge of a high ridge overlooking the Fusain valley, literally hanging on the edge…. Another very old town with a little square, a church, a war memorial and an amazing view. There is a working Abbaye here – the Abbaye St. Severin – and that just adds to the charm. It reminded me of one of the mountain villages more common in the south of France. We visited the village church and said a prayer and lit a candle for friends and family not with us anymore.
Egreville called us on. A proper little market town, although barely a town. There was a lovely square with seventeenth century buildings clustered around it and a massive market hall in the middle dating from the 1500s. Must be great on market day. Plus the old, old church of course. There was a little bar in the corner and we stopped there for more coffee. No biscuits this time.
Our seventh and last stop (well….. not actually a stop, we just drove through ) was Montereau Sur Yonne. Quite a big place and situated where the Yonne and the Seine converge. It’s main claim to fame is that it was here in 1814 that Napoleon fought and won his last battle before he was forced into abdication at Fontainebleau fifteen days later. There is a battlefield to visit, a museum, the old ramparts and belvedere and a statue of the Emperor himself on horseback on the bridge across the Yonne. He is reported to have encouraged his demoralised and outnumbered men at the battle with the words “”Fear nothing my friends, the ball that must kill me, is not yet melted.” Rather Maximus-like, I thought.
We headed home from here and got back at 5pm, having left at 0920. A really good day and we thoroughly enjoyed it. No great monument sightseeing today just a constant journey through beautiful ageless villages and alongside the rivers. Road trips are not everyone’s idea of a great day but we thoroughly enjoy them, especially on empty, quiet roads like this.