A Life in the Slow Lane

Cultural Enlightenment


Dirty Basil


Basil may be filthier than the winner of last year’s bog snorkling championship, but the rest of us are feeling culturally enlightened.

Today, was a sightseeing day and we managed two, yes two, UNESCO World Heritage sites!

Our first stop was at the Abbaye de Fontenay. This Burgundian Cistercian monastery, dating from the 12th century, is the most complete monastery complex we have ever visited. Even better, Mabel and Melek were allowed in – everywhere, even the church, the monks dormitories, the lot.

The benefit of visiting France at this time of year, is that you have the whole country more or less to yourself. At the Abbey, we were the only visitors. They unlocked it especially for us! The result was that we could contemplate this beautiful and peaceful place in all its glory.

One surprising fact about the Abbey is that it was the place where the hydraulic hammer was invented in the 13th century. The claim is that this invention made Fontenay the first industrial producer of iron in Europe. The huge forge building is still standing and there is a replica of a hammer powered by a waterwheel, which presumably gives demonstrations when there is more than one visitor present.

From Fontenay we pressed on to the pretty Burgundian village of Vezelay. This is situated atop a steep hill and although the village is attractive enough, the number of souvenir shops etc. indicates that it is heaving in the summer. But once again we had it more or less to ourselves.

The star attraction in Vezelay is the Basilica of Ste-Mary La Madeleine. It is a 12th century church which became a centre of pilgrimage because they possessed (so called) relics of Mary Magdelene. Irrespective of the veracity of the relics, the church is a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture and was one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites in France.

The dogs were obviously not allowed in this still active church, so we took it in turns to tour the incredibly cold interior. The relics are still present in the crypt of the church.

Finally we had to find a place to park Basil for the night. Our first attempt was thwarted when our first chosen spot was on an island in the River Loire, which was unfortunately only accessible via a bridge under renovation, which would not allow Basil’s stout frame across, even if he breathed in. We only found this out following a nail biting drive through some extremely narrow streets, including me knocking into a hanging road sign, much to the mirth of nearby pedestrians. Fortunately Basil was unscathed. I’m not sure the same can be said of the road sign.

Our next choice was too close to a casino, for our liking and so we finally ended up on a free aire in a park adjacent to the River Loire and the town of Imphy (46.921955, 3.260591). Service are available for a few euros, but we won’t be needing them.

Random Picturesque Burgundian House

Random Picturesque Burgundian House