Like the melting ice on the River Neva in Russia, the travel log-jamb caused by…
The middle of July is not a good time to arrive in France, as the gaderene swine of France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany hurtle down the motorways to the South of France. How clever we were therefore to be heading in the opposite direction!
As the Guest Speaker on the new NOBLE-CALEDONIA cruise from Avignon to Dijon we were inured from the pandemonium of the Côte D’Azur and heard only the swish of water against the bow and the sighing of the gentle breeze in the trees along the bank. Having boarded our vessel at Avignon, where we explored the Papal Palace, admittedly amidst the milling throng of the Festival, we headed northwards flanked on either side by towns of beguiling beauty, Roman remains, vineyards and abundant bird-life.
Pont du Gard
After the hurly-burly of Avignon the spectacular Roman remains of Arles and its vicinity come as a vivid indication of the sophistication and engineering skills of the Roman Empire. Not least of these is the PONT DU GARD, which after 2000 years still leaps effortlessly over its river. Other remains are scattered all along the river banks, most unusual of all being the mosaics encased in a somewhat brutalist museum at VIENNE. The lovely unspoiled town of UZES, stands high above the surrounding countryside with a château of operetta-like charm complete with Renaissance wing clamped on to a much earlier fortress. Châteaux abound all along the banks, vying in their bulk with the nuclear power-stations, which somewhat unexpectedly and unnervingly also adorn the sides of the river.
Uzès: Renaissance Wing of the Château
LYONS is a city not to be missed. Not only the gastronomic capital of France, perhaps even the world, but also a vibrant university town with splendid Art Gallery, and most pertinently a Textile Museum containing not only the silks that have made the town famous world-wide but also, in this instance, a travelling exhibition relating to the couturier, Frank Sorbier. Not heard of him? To look at his work one realises that clothes of immaculate workmanship and ingenuity are still to be found, if you are, Madam, very rich, very thin and have wondrous places to be seen in!
Northwards we travelled into the verdant landscape of Burgundy. Its very greenness evoking England on the best of summer days, and, of course, filled with ripening vines. The wines were sampled, as you might expect, and the Château de Vougeot visited. Home of the Fraternity of Tastevins, this ancient building concealed wine presses dating from the 12th century able to exert a pressure of 20 tons on the hapless grape.
Dijon: Palais des Ducs
Finally our destination of DIJON was reached; only to discover that the mustard for which it is so renowned is imported from Canada!
With that illusion shattered we were still able to enjoy the beauties of this elegant city with its many churches, medieval houses, and the handsome Palais des Ducs (now down-graded to a Town Hall) with its façade partly designed by the architect Hardouin-Mansard. This is the man who worked for Louis XIV at Versailles. So we were able to find a little of that great palace, and a whiff of metropolitan sophistication on the Eastern borders of France.
Back home via Geneva to face the rigours of the English summer, after a serene journey through some of the most alluring countryside in Europe.
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