Vézelay

Tranquil VézelayFRANCE BURGUNDY YONNE Basilique de Vézelay (pop 486) sits nestled on a hilltop, heavily guarded by ancient ramparts. Home to a medieval basilica and stretches of vineyards and sunflower fields; Vézelay attracts hordes of tourists annually, thanks to its simple beauty and rich history.

History
The history of Vézelay is fuelled by its religious importance that grew significantly in the 11th and 12th centuries when the local Benedictine abbey came to house the remains of Mary Magdalene. The abbey almost instantly became a pilgrimage site upon the Pope’s confirmation of their authenticity. This abbey held such significance that it was here that Saint Bernard preached the Second Crusade. The abbey also acted as the departure point for the kings, Phillip Augustus of France and Richard the Lionheart of England who led the third crusade.

 

The Basilique Ste- Madeleine [see above photo, Place de la Basilique, +33 386333950, www.basiliquedevezelay.org/] sits in the heart of Vézalay and is the top sight in town. Founded in the 880s, this ancient structure has had a somewhat turbulent past. The Abbey of Cluny oversaw the 9th century monastery. The monastery continued expanding well into the 11th century when it was invaded and destroyed by the Normans. Rebuilding works ensued soon after; spanning across the 11th to 13th centuries. However, the Huguenots invaded the monastery yet again in the 16th century. It was destroyed once more during the Revolution and has even been a consistent target of lighting accidents! Such repeated blows threatened to being the structure down in the 1800s. Renowned architect Viollet-le-Duc then undertook the task of restoring this important structure in 1840. His hardwork paid off as the Basilique Ste-Madeleine has been standing tall ever since as a proud UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Much effort has been invested in preserving the ancient features of this old building. Hence, you can still sight architectural details like the 12th century tympanum and nave which boast the Romanesque style. The choir on the other hand, has more Gothic detailing in its transept and arches. The transept also houses a 12th century crypt that is believed to contain one of Mary Magdalene’s remains that have attracted thousands of pilgrims to the basilica, making it an important stop on the holy Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route. The basilica also houses a pretty park at the back that makes for a good walk, with great views of the Vallée de Cure.

Vézelay’s vineyards have also a faithful crowd and most of these wine stores can be found along rue St-Pierre and rue St-Étienne. The Musée Zervos [Rue St- Étienne, +33 386323926, www.musee-zervos.fr/, ad/ch €3/Free] an art museum, is on this street and features interesting works by Calder, Picasso and Mirò. A handful of art galleries have strategically sprouted around the museum as well.

St-Père-sous-Vézelay
St-Père-sous-Vézelay (pop 350) is neatly tucked away at the base of a hill, southeast of Vézelay. Surrounded by lush greenery, this village is home to a well-preserved Gothic Church- the Église Notre Dame, constructed between the 13th and 15th centuries. This tall and airy building sports a Flamboyant Gothic façade. Despite housing this ancient attraction, the village, seems to be better known amongst its visitors for the L’Espérance – a renowned French restaurant and hotel that sports two Michelin stars. If you have decided to stay put in St-Père for a day or two, check out the Fontaines Salées, which are located a few kilometres south of the village. This site is home to the atmospheric ruins of a Celtic sanctuary that dates back to the 2nd century BC; as well as Roman baths that date back to the 1st century AD.

Le Puisaye
Le Puisaye is a pleasant, rural area that is located west of Auxerre. Home to quaint villages and patches of farmlands and forests; Le Puisaye is a great place for those looking for a relaxing and picturesque hike. However, the area is perhaps best known for being the birthplace of French novelist, Colette. The author, who is best remembered for works Gigi, Chéri and Lerner and Loewe, was born in the little town of St-Saveur-en-Puisaye. The town has erected a museum in the memory of this controversial writer who led a rather public life due to her high-profile romances, in the local château. The Musée Colette [Château St-Saveur-en-Puisaye +33 386456195] provides a timeline of Colette’s life, with several photographs and her personal memorabilia.

 

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ST-SAVEUR-EN-PUISAYE:   1. Tourist office  2. Musée Colette