Beaune was a shock to the system; it was damply and bone-shakingly cold. We ventured out into the weak evening light on the advice of the camp attendant to walk the one kilometre (which turned out to be a nearly four mile round trip) to a supermarket to stock up on some food and good, local wine.
Even on the middle shelves, the €20 price tag put us off buying a bottle of Burgundy, which in the morning we would discover in town sold for a hefty €68.
I had a nasty head cold taking root when we ventured out into the pretty sand stone streets of Beaune. Despite near freezing temperatures the winding streets were full of American and Japanese tour groups. We’ve encountered many of these on our trip across the more popular points of Europe this year and wouldn’t remark upon it, except for one circumstance.
Whilst I was trying not to bring the bustling main street to a horrified standstill with a ghastly Black Death-sounding cough, Simon escaped into a nearby wine sellers. A group of bored Americans followed him, commenting on the need to ‘get outta the cold’. Inside the shop one of them asked about the plain glass decanters positioned amongst the shelves of wine. On hearing they were for sale at €79 each and able to be ‘shipped at cost’ to America, he ordered three.
Whilst we’ve encountered American tour groups on river cruises and in tourist hubs in Europe the serious money being spent has been by Russians, Arabs and Asians. This spontaneous and flashy purchase by a casually attired elderly American, to justify his need to feel warm in a French wine shop on a cold day, felt quite nostalgic – in a twentieth century way.
Beaune has a gorgeous Musée du Vin de Bourgogne in which you can learn about the region’s historical production of wines. We didn’t, but paced around the back streets of the town, its ramparts and the Hotel de Ville.
It was simply too cold to linger and gladly getting back to Bertha we marked Beaune down as another destination to return to, weather permitting.
The next day we headed west and reached the banks of the wide and green-flowing river Yonne. Parked alongside local salmon fisherman at Gurgy we enjoyed the late afternoon just watching river life.
Small birds, preening swans and a characterful but unidentifiable gangly duck floated up and down alongside us whilst tour groups of ‘le boat’ hirers (last seen on the canal du midi) toughed it out against more confident local day trippers.
Simon went off for a lone cycle ride and came back 10 miles later in time for us to wander into the village to visit the delicatessen, now open for the evening.
A charming if ‘mincey’ chap, in impossibly tight jeans and a trim beard, tried to interest us in a bagful of cooked snails and a €70 bottle of local wine. We settled on a familiar bottle of red for €5 and cheerfully ignored his remarks to Simon about whether he ‘liked a hard shell.’
With the weather as miserable as my cold, we continued north west the next day to a campsite in the forest outside pretty Grez-sur-Loing. The village of stone houses with colourful shuttered windows, last-of-summer climbing roses and autumnal red creepers was charming.
We weren’t surprised to learn it was home to such notables as Frederick Delius and Carl Larsson and where Robert Louis Stevenson met and fell in love with Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. It is a very romantic place set above a gentle curve of the river that is crossed by an ancient stone bridge and bordered with weeping willows.
In contrast, the campsite was not looking its best. However, its location on the doorstep of Grez meant we got to see the village and enjoyed a peaceful night before packing up and setting off on Sunday morning onto a surprisingly busy drive 90 miles north west to a favourite stop for Paris.