Friday, 24 July 2015

Dijon: tour Philippe-le-Bon

Tour Philippe le Bon

I sometimes struggle to decide what counts as a "walk" for the purposes of this blog. This post will describe the shortest ever walk. I think it is an interesting post, but it simply describes the ascent of a 316 step stairway to the top of a tower. It is a companion piece to the walk around Dijon I described a few days ago.

The Tour Philippe le Bon is in the centre of the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy in Dijon. It was built by Philippe in the 15th century. You can only see it by a guided tour which departs every 90 minutes from the tourist office.

The staircase is in two sections. The initial section is wider and features delightful stone carvings in the corners as the staircase turns its way upwards. This one is thought to represent the architect, or at least the builder.

The first section ends after 200 or so steps with this wonderful central stone post and eight-ribbed vault.

The final hundred or so steps are narrower and unadorned. You seem to arrive suddenly at the top level and you are then rewarded with wonderful views in all directions. Perhaps the most interesting was straight down in front of the Palace to Place de la Libération, laid out between 1681 and 1686 by Jacques Hardouin-Mansart (a relative of François Mansart, inventor of the eponymous roof). The design is an elegant curved arcade with a parapet above. A modern water feature has been added in recent times.

Secondly, there was the view towards the cathedral, which highlights the beautiful Burgundian roof and spire.  The northern tip of the Cote D'Or wine growing area (Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits St Georges etc.) is visible on the horizon on the left.

I also especially liked this view of the roof of the Hôtel de Vogüé, a renaissance building which we had admired from ground level on our earlier walk.

There was additionally this wonderful gargoyle springing from the side of the tower.

Finally a word on Philippe le Bon, shown here in a portrait in the Musée des Beaux Arts, which occupies part of the Palace. Philippe was the son of Jean sans Peur (John the Fearless) and grandson of Philippe le Hardi (Philip the Bold). His own son was Charles le Temeraire (Charles the Brave), so he was in a line of warlike rulers. It seems that Philippe himself was more interested in art, culture and administrative reforms rather than territorial acquisition. He ruled from 1419 to 1467.

Conditions: sultry.

Distance: too short to measure, but at least 632 steps.

Rating: fours stars.

Thursday, 23 July 2015


The Hospices de Beaune

The third day of our trip to Burgundy and we are in Beaune. It is principally known for the wonderful Hospices de Beaune (above), but we wanted to make a fuller exploration. To this end we parked at the northern end of the town and walked around the ramparts to the south where the Hospices and the other main buildings are. We started at the Porte St Nicolas.

This arc de triomphe was erected in 1770 and replaced a medieval gate which was destroyed to create room for it. The immediately adjoining ramparts were demolished in 1866. We started the rampart walk just beyond the gate and followed a path along the top of the walls. The first notable site was the Theatre de Verdure, a now derelict public baths of 1853 (which continued in use until the end of the 1960s). The two towers were the separate entrances for men and women.

The ramparts were scattered with bastions and towers and descended every so often to street level to cross a road - presumably this was where there had once been a medieval gate. At one such point there was a house with a wonderful Burgundian roof.

A bit further on the two best towers followed each other in close proximity. The tour de Poudres (gunpowder store - below) and the Grosse Tour. 

This brought us to the Hospices de Beaune, or Hotel-Dieu, founded in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy, and his wife Guigone de Salins. It was intended to provide for the poor (of whom there were many after the Hundred Years War) and the sick. In 1460 the Pope approved the creation of a community of nursing sisters (i.e. nuns). Eventually the Hotel-Dieu functioned solely as a hospital and continued to do so in its medieval rooms until 1971.

The initial external view of the building rather defies photography, but the imposing flèche and canopy over the doorway are more amenable.

The building is rectangular, built around a large one court, the Cour d'Honneur. The first view of this courtyard is stunning. Interestingly, the incredible Burgundian roof is not original and dates only from 1902-7, the work of the architect Louis Sauvageot.

The stone building on the town side housed a single large ward, the which contained canopied beds in alcoves. The decoration of the wooden ties under the ship's keel roof is delightful. At the end is the chapel. The whole thing is the very model of a medieval hospital.

I was surprised and delighted to discover that the Hospices was home to polyptychs by the great artist Rogier van der Weyden. This one shows Chancellor Rolin and his wife with the Angel Gabriel, the Virgin Mary and saints Sebastian and Francis.

When we had enjoyed the Hospice to the full we had a mediocre lunch in nearby Place Carnot and continued our walk around the town. We walked up Rue Carnot to Place Monge to see the rather austere Hôtel de la Rochepot (1522) and the wonderful Beffroi. It dates from the late 13th century. Happily a project to demolish it in 1721 was abandoned because it would have been too expensive. 

We turned left just after the Beffroi and found ourselves facing the imposing apse of the church of Notre-Dame. Left again brought us into Rue Paradis, off which is the former Hôtel des Ducs de Bourgogne (13th and 14th century). This lovely building is now the Museum of Wine.

You can walk between the various buildings and emerge in front of Notre Dame. This is remarkable. The church dates from the 12th century and is basically pure Burgundian romanesque. Then in the 13th century the fantastic gothic porch was added, striking a dramatic but rather discordant note.

Facing the church from some distance is the renaissance Maison du Colombier (1572), now a restaurant.

We now followed the left side of the church and found our way to the rue de Lorraine, the main street which leads back to the Porte Nicolas.

Conditions: hot (26 or so).

Distance: two miles.

Rating: five stars, for the Hospices alone. Michelin's rating system strangely only awards it two stars (out of a maximum of three).

Wednesday, 22 July 2015


The nave of the basilica

Day two of our stay in Dijon and we have made a trip to Vézelay, famous for its romanesque basilica dedicated to St Mary Magdalen. When we arrived, it seemed as though we had made a terrible mistake. The narrow street through the village was completely clogged with people and we quickly realised that a procession up to the church, which is located on a high promontory above the village, was underway. It was in fact the saint's day and the procession would surely be followed by a sung High Mass. How long would we have to wait to make our visit? We followed the procession for a while and explored and quickly discounted the idea of overtaking. Recognising defeat we headed back downhill along the now quiet street.

We had noticed however that there was a walk under the ramparts of the town and a plan was quickly formed to do this first and then perhaps have an early lunch. We headed off to the left of main street and were dismayed that the walk was initially just an extension of the car park. Soon however the car park ended and we had the leafy path to ourselves. A piece of very new restoration had resulted in a new town gate in a very jarring pale coloured stone.

We passed a couple of more authentically old looking round towers jutting out from the high walls. This was the Tour des Ursulines.

Now the trees began to thin and splendid views over nearby villages and the surrounding agricultural countryside began to appear.

As we reached the apex of the walk we realised that there was a path inwards towards the church. Surely we might as well have a look at the outside of the church?

A short climb brought us to the east end of the church where restoration work was producing a remarkable change to the colour of the stone. We walked along the side and emerged at the east facade. It was quite imposing and no doubt will be more so when the restoration work gets here.

The abbey was founded in the middle of the 9th century and rebuilt in the 12th after a fire. It had already begin to decline by the end of the 13th century and was in a ruinous state by the time of the Revolution at which point the cloister was destroyed. By 1840 it was in danger of collapse and was only saved when Viollet-le-Duc was commissioned to undertake a great restoration project lasting almost 20 years. It is hard now to be sure what is original. The facade for example was completely rebuilt by Viollet-leDuc

When we arrived the predicted sung Mass was in full swing, but we were surprised and pleased to find that although the nave was completely full of worshippers,  we could enter the narthex, or pre-nave, and walk along the side aisles. The narthex contains a remarkable tympanum over the central doorway.

The nave is magnificent (see the picture at the head of this post) and the columns which separate it from the aisles have exquisite capitals.

Just as Mass was ending we concluded our visit and returned to the rampart walk. The return leg was more open with lovely views over the surrounding countryside. We specially enjoyed this little building with its terrace and security light. Was it a refuge for the wine grower whose house and vineyard could be seen below?

Conditions: warm, cloudy, threat of rain.

Distance: at most two miles.

Rating: four and a half stars.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015


Porte Guillaume

We are in Dijon, the capital of Burgundy, with our friends Merv and Pud and we are, naturally enough, starting by doing the town trail. It is known as the Owl's Trail and the whole thing is described in a nice booklet available from the Tourist Office. The route is marked out by a series of brass owl symbols set into the pavement.

We decided to walk the route from its official starting point, so first we had to walk the length of the main street, rue de la Liberté. We did however spot a nice art deco shopfront. The first landmark we see is the Porte Guillaume above. This triumphal arch was built in the 18th century and was originally set into the town walls. Beyond it lies the Jardin Darcy constructed in 1880 over a reservoir built 40 years before by Henry Darcy.

As you enter the garden there is a replica of a fine statue of a polar bear by Francois Pompon (the original is in the Musée des Beaux Arts). It reminded us of a Fox's Glacier Mint.

We retraced our steps and followed the route past the Hotel de la Cloche and the impressive main Post Office, currently being restored, to reach Place Grangier. Here, at 9 rue du Chateau there is a simply wonderful art nouveau building by Louis Perreau dating from 1906.

Three further buildings by the same architect in a similar style can be found on the opposite corner of the place.

Now we walked along to the covered market of 1873-5. It is a rectangular iron structure with identical entrances in the centre of each side.

From here we headed towards the historic centre and along rue des Forges to see the superb Hotel Aubriot. It dates from the 13th century although the main doorway is later. We loved the Burgundian tiled roof, hopefully the first of many we will see on this holiday.

A left turn at the end brought us to the 13th century church of Notre-Dame. The oblique angle of our approach highlighted the extraordinary west front with its detached arcade. This put us in mind of romanesque cathedrals we have seen in Italy. The celebrated Jacquemart clock can just be made out above the right hand side of the facade. It was brought here in 1382 from Courtrai by Philippe le Hardi (the Bold), the first Valois Duke of Burgundy, after a victory over the Flemish.

A bit further on we come to the exquisite Hotel de Vogüé, a 17th century renaissance mansion. The inner courtyard is a delight.

Soon after this our guidebook offered us a boucle or loop round the Rouseeau area. To be honest it was rather disappointing, but we did see some nice timber-framed houses.

We continued on the main route to pass the Eglise St-Michel with its lively renaissance facade (the interior is gothic) and enter Place du Théatre, dominated by the neoclassical threatre. This is the view past the theatre towards St-Michel. The church on the right is now a library.

Now we turn right to pass behind the Palais des Ducs into the Square des Ducs. We loved this small corner watch tower.

 An archway brought us to the inner court of the Musée des Beaux Arts (which is within the Palais) and a great view of the Tour de Bar (1365) and the 17th century staircase.

We emerged into the Place de la Libération to see the Palais des Dukes head on from the Place de la Libération. The tower in the centre is Tour Philippe le Bon. It is 46m high and was erected in the 15th century. Philippe was the third of the Valois Dukes of Burgundy (preceded by Philippe le Hardi, Jean sans Peur [John the Fearless] and followed by Charles le Teméraire [Charles the Brave]) who ruled during the golden age of Burgundy.

We left by the opposite side of the square and passed the Palais de Justice, designed for the Burgundian Parliament in the 16th century. From here, some quiet streets brought us to the end of the walk at the Cathedral of St-Benigne with its iron flèche and tiled roof.

The most interesting part was the wonderful circular romanesque crypt.

Conditions: very hot - about 30 degrees.

Distance: about 3 miles.

Rating: five stars.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Barbury Castle to Overton Hill (The Ridgeway 13)

View from the Ridgeway towards Avebury

Today we completed the 86.8 mile Ridgeway. We started this great walk with our friends Merv and Pud in October 2013, but made little progress in 2014. Seven sessions this year however have finished it off. A proper review will follow in a future post, for the moment I will limit myself to the final leg.

We set off from the car park at Barbury Castle in a grey mist, apparently a sea mist that had penetrated far inland. As we approached the Iran Age hill fort, we saw a couple of examples of this pretyy flower which none of us could identify.

The hill fort itself was of the familiar shape with two circular ditches and earthwork ramparts and was surprisingly large. It dates back to about 500BC. It was much too murky to take a picture. We did see a few butterflies however including some pristine Marbled Whites.

We followed the clear path, first south west and then due south. There were soon some reasonable views through the mist. At Berwick Basset Downs we came on this Dewpond. A helpful sign board explained that, despite the name, Dewponds were carefully situated and designed to be fed by rainwater with a view to providing a source of fresh water for grazing sheep. Most date from the 19th century.

Soon after this, I was very pleased to see my first Gatekeeper of the year, joining the innumerable Ringlets and Meadow Browns that we had already seen

Now we also began to see lots of Sarsen stones by the wayside and in the fields. These stones are post glacial deposits and some larger ones were used at Stonehenge and nearby Avebury. The origin of the name is a corruption of Saracen, a medieval term for a Muslim which came to mean anything non-Christian.

Then there was another good butterfly moment. I thought this was a Small Skipper, but closer inspection revealed the dark tips to the antennae which indicate an Essex Skipper (Small Skippers have orange tips). This was the first time I have definitively seen one. It was soon joined by a Large Skipper.

Shortly after this we reached a point north east of Avebury and the weather seemed to have relented enough for me to take the picture at the head of this post. Soon after this we crossed the Wessex Ridgeway - our next project - and the view south towards some rolling hills offered a delightful palate of colours.

Not long after this we reached the end of the Ridgeway at Overton Hill. It was, it must be said, underwhelming. Just a nondescript car car, no band, no finishing post, no sign even. Fortunately Merv and Pud had brought champagne, so all was well.

Conditions: Misty then cloudy, but quite warm.

Distance: 6 miles. Distance now covered 86.8 miles.

Map: Explorer 157 (Marlborough & Savernake Forest).

Rating: four stars. A lovely walk, just not an ideal day. Surprisingly good for butterflies though.