The second part* of our summer starts today, 31 July 2020. We have booked a chalet at Feissons-sur-Salin, a tiny village located at an altitude of 1260m in the Savoie department in the Alps mountains for 2 weeks. Our plans were in limbo until about two weeks ago. We were initially thinking of taking a road trip to Sebes, the hometown of Silviu in Romania for our usual month-long summer escape. However, the very recent spike of new Corvid-19 cases in Romania resulted in us putting the trip on hold, and switching to a last-minute two-week stay in the French mountains.
* The first part was a 6-day chalet stay in the second week of July in Bozel, a small town in Savoie too.
Our 2-week mountain stay starts on 1 August, the first Saturday of the month, the very day when a big part of the French population departs for their summer vacation. To avoid the “chassé-croissé”— an expression describing the traffic resulting from the comings and goings of vacationers, we have decided to split our 8-hour drive into two and leave a day before.
We planned to spend the night at Beaune, a city in the Burgundy region. It’s 300km away from Orsay which would normally take us 4 hours to reach there, including a lunch break. Along the way, Silviu decided to explore the region by making a small detour at Autun, a small town 50km away from Beaune. There was no particular reason why we picked Autun, other than it was a town that we passed by each time we travelled to southeast of France. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best day for sight-seeing with temperature exceeding 40°C at times. It was the start of the weekend of heatwave or “canicule,” a climate phenomenon which is becoming more and more frequent in France the last few years.
Autun, a small city with a population of 13,500, has a history that could be traced back to the first period of the Roman Empire (27BC to 284 AD). When we reached the city centre at half-past two, there were hardly any stirrings on the streets. Only the the bravest souls would dare to venture under the scorching sun.
We parked the car and walked to the nearest square, which was shaded by trees. A signboard indicated that it was the day for the sale of handicrafts, and we saw a few stalls still opened, displaying merchandise such as ceramic crafts, necklaces stringed with colourful beads and small stones, etc, hoping to catch a few more sales before closing for the day. A handful of eateries were still receiving clients, with a few of them still lingering at the outdoor seatings placed in the shade. We found a café selling bio snacks and ordered 2 glasses of iced coffee to sooth our parched throats, and a brownie to give ourselves a bit of sugar rush. The snacks revived and heartened us enough to do a quick visit of the city centre.
The city centre seemed to be lulled to sleep by the heat — most of the shops seemed closed and only a handful of foreign tourists (not speaking French) were on the streets. We dropped by the church next to the eatery, and did a quick tour of the centre. Our interest dissipated soon after and we decided to check out a couple of other nearby landmarks including the Temple of Janus, Pyramid de Couhard and the Roman open theatre.
By the time we finished visiting Autun, it was already half past four and the heat was still relentless. We chose to take the scenic way to Beaune, and discovered that the scenic way actually led us along La Route des Grands Crus (Wine route) of the Burgundy region. Despite the glaring sun, it was an enjoyable ride as we passed through the picturesque wine villages.
We reached Beaune, the capital of the Burgundy wine region, an hour later. We were not planning to do much at Beaune except for a quick visit of the famous Hôtel-Dieu (Hospices de Beaune) for its colourful, geometric-patterned tile roof. The building was formerly a hospital in the 15th-century and it is currently the Hôtel-Dieu Museum. Unfortunately, the museum closed earlier than what we expected. It was really a pity as I really wanted to take photos of the well-known tile roof. However, we managed to have a glimpse of this type of geometric-patterned tile roof when we visited a local church, Collegial Notre Dame de Beaune. This preview would have to suffice for now until our next visit to this town.
As we still had some time before our dinner reservation at 19h00, we walked on the cobbled streets of the oldest part of this charming town (“vielle ville”), still retaining parts of its fortified walls. After spending two hours at the sleepy town of Autun, it was quite a surprise to see the streets of Beaune buzzing with life. The terraced seatings of restaurants were fully occupied with people enjoying themselves on a Friday evening, the start of the summer vacation for many.
We ended the day with a good dinner at Au Coq Bleu, a family-owned restaurant in the “vielle ville.” With a tummy well pampered, we were fortified to endure the remaining four-hour trip the following day to our holiday chalet in the mountains.