Noyers and Semur-en-Auxois

Earlier in the year I had bought a book from a charity stall promising ‘100 beautiful small towns in France’.

The book became a well-thumbed treat as I pored over pictures of smart Provencal towns, squat Alpine hamlets, prosperous Loire valley wine-making villages and little-known and out of the way historical centres. Noyers, on page 29, is one such place.

The Old Mill

Arriving outside of its circular stone walls we found free overnight parking under fresh green lime trees, busy with noisy rookeries, and next to two petanque pitches.

The cobbled and winding streets of the medieval hill side village were quiet, it being lunch time, and we admired the ornate signs that showed the trades of the original purposes of the ochre, yellow and green half-timbered buildings – butcher, brewer, miller, cobbler, inn keeper.

It was a steep climb up roughly hewn steps along a muddy hillside to the top of a mound that described itself as the ‘chateau’. Circling along its edges we saw stone ramparts under reconstruction and archaeologists’ empty tents.

No one was about bar a few small and jumpy geckoes which we disturbed napping amongst the white rocks.

Noyers view from the Belvedere

Clambering back down the steep hillside to the sleepy banks of a quiet river and looking out onto open fields of buttercups and grazing cows, we stopped to photograph dreamlike secret homes built into the thick curtain walls of the town.

Swifts and swallows spun in chattering circles overhead.

Houses in the old fortress walls

The idyllic ambience was shattered by the monotonous cawing of the rooks above the town so abandoning our plans to stay for the night we headed further south to the end of the Auxerrois.

A chance glimpse of a fortress town on a high bluff saw us veer off the main road to cross a cobbled and stone-arched bridge up and into the heart of Semur-en-Auxois.

Semur en Auxois

A fabulous medieval town encircled by the river and gated at each entry point by enormous and buttressed stone walls, it was getting ready for its annual festival and was jauntily decked out in bunting and draped in gigantic flags in the colours of its historical families’ heraldry.

Tracing the path of the town walls alongside the river Auxois and admiring the enormous five-metre-thick defensive walls we passed four huge towers, one of which sported a top to tail gaping crack that dated from 1602, when the fortress walls were begun to be demolished.

Pont Pinard view of Semur en Auxois

At river level the old laundry buildings and mills were still visible alongside pretty bijou pads planted with wisteria and heavily-scented lilac trees.

Marching up and through narrow alleyways darkened by overhanging timbered buildings we emerged at the magnificent Notre Dame and an Italian-style theatre, a pretty pepper-pot roofed and delicate tower facing the former keep.

It was a surprising and enjoyable meander back home through a long alley of flowering and candled chestnut trees, stopping gratefully at a nearside Intermarché for a sack of fresh mussels, to savour the end of a wonderful day in Auxerrois.