The forecast rains pelted us and we stopped overnight at Beaune, the jewel of Burgundy, and the previous scene of a dismal stay in near zero temperatures with me nursing a wretched lingering cold.
We wandered out in morning drizzle at 8.30am, through the sandstone walls and into a near empty centre. A trio of Bourgogne cremant drinkers perched at a wet table on plastic chairs outside the tabac. From their busy talk we understood that the much-anticipated day had arrived and the French Presidential Election was on!
In the pretty stone-columned church the designated greeters were setting out prayer cards and lighting candles. A few early arrivals, battered and bleary people, caught our attention and our sympathy.
It must be hard to be left behind Beaune’s moneyed elite and, even more moneyed visitors, an example of which we’d encountered on our previous visit.
At 9am on a Sunday, ahead of (yet another) French bank holiday Monday, the owners of the expensive wine cellars, artist agencies and antiquities shops were washing their windows, opening their doors, and in one case, visibly rubbing their hands in anticipation of another day of heady sales.
We sneaked a look at the gorgeously tiled rooves of the town’s famous hospice by entering its small and peaceful gardens.
We headed further south to the Roman castrum of Tournus. Perched above the banks of the wide green Saône the ancient town was in two parts, the Roman riverside quarter and a medieval episcopal centre on higher ground.
The Abbey wasn’t open until after the French lunch ended at 2pm so in the meantime we wandered through the town’s winding streets.
We passed centuries-old drainage systems and peeling plaster frontages, squeezing through narrow traboules (or passageways) to the riverside, where some cold and bored bric-a-brac sellers had set up their stalls beneath brutally pollarded plane trees.
Crossing the river, we admired a view of possibly Mediterranean terraced houses in shades of pink and grey, but cramped and cold-looking under the bleak grey skies.
Returning to the Abbey we enjoyed a peaceful meander through its pink-stoned and Roman columned interior and cloisters. Its circular crypt held silent painted chapels, stone carved stations of the cross and a Roman sarcophagi.
Nearby was church of Saint Valerian, an austere and squat Roman bricked hall which we couldn’t enter but which sported a fabulously large bolt on its crumbling and enormous fortified wooden door.
The relatively modern abbey of St Philibert, was in contrast, built in the 1500s although itself sited upon an earlier Roman temple.
Just across the river a colonnaded and crumbling brick villa had us imagining the town’s procurator demanding to be taxied in a flame-lit flat-bottomed boat across the wide water to the heart of the castrum, a Roman garrison which managed the logistics of supplying the local legions.
Back at the aire we met charming neighbours Manfred and Helmi and swapped itineraries. They were returning home to Germany after a three-month trip to Spain. We enjoyed some jovial conversation by the riverside and a peaceful night before heading our separate ways in the morning, in opposite directions across France.