Two grand châteaux: 29/08 – 5/09

Vitry-sur-Seine – Melun – Samois-sur-Seine

Leaving the Arsenal, we headed off upstream in threatening weather.

Once again we found ourselves in a 185 m lock, all on our own. It takes a while to fill a lock that size, and the weather, which was beginning to turn, completed its preparations and a grey day transformed into a serious downpour. Can’t complain (says Ian), this was only our third rainy day of the season.

Photo taken by a (sympathetic) helmsman. (He was too distressed to take another photograph minutes later when the crew was literally soaked to the skin.)

Long before we were able to exit the lock, it was almost impossible to see anything. We were looking for a mooring that we understood was just beyond the lock gates, and which we had planned to use for the night. There are limited moorings along the Seine and we hadn’t wanted to travel too far on what was supposed to be a rainy day (torrential downpour had not been part of the forecast). We identified the spot: 100 m past the lock gates – tick; three bollards in the grass – tick; two big signs saying absolutely no mooring permitted. Ouch. In the driving rain, we continued on but we really needed to tie up somewhere to wait it out before continuing. Who says you need a designated mooring?

Feeling a little desperate now, not to say soaked through (for the one of us that was not warm and dry in the wheelhouse), we spotted a length of rusty pipe sticking up out of the ground beside a peniche loading tower. Fixing one rope to that, and another to a bit of rebar poking out of the broken concrete of the bank, we were able to hold Catharina Elisabeth steady while the rain continued to lash us and stir up the river. When no-one came to tell us we couldn’t stay so close to a loading gantry, we decided to stay put. For the night. Needless to say, this was a “mast down” mooring.

The next morning.

In fine weather, the next day, we continued up the Seine without incident. Cruising along the Seine was delightful. The scenery on both banks was always interesting, changing from pretty countryside to little villages, from sweet little stone houses to huge mansions, from battered private pontoons to fishing palaces. The locks were all huge, usually paired and in most instances, we had them to ourselves.

Melun

We arrived at Melun and tied up on the quayside of the island, unable (but not concerned) to get to the power and water points as some sort of event was being set up (a university club orientation day it turned out). The river was busy and the commercials fast at this point, so we tied up tightly with full ropes. We were quite comfortable. We did watch a smaller cruiser behind us, loosely tied, almost get swept up onto the quayside and subjected to a ferocious battering by the wash of on speeding commercial. They decided to move on.

Melun was a pretty and well-appointed town. We planned a couple of days stay in order to visit a nearby château and to pick up some guests who were making a flying visit.

On one of our cycle excursions (to the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte) we happened across a bridge with a placard announcing that it had been the subject of a painting by Cézanne at a crucial point in his development as a painter.

Our photo, of course, is much less impressive – but, again, we felt the presence of the impressionists around us.

Our route took us through the delightful town of Maincy, through which Google had mapped a path that we found ended in a very high stone wall, with a very large iron gate preventing any passage. Retracing our steps we came across a lovely old lavoir, which, if you look hard enough, are present in almost all the villages we pass through on our journey.

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

Just a short 6 km cycle from Melun was the best château we visited this season and close to the best we’ve ever visited. Simply glorious.

The story of the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is quite fascinating but to summarise briefly, between 1651 and 1658 Nicholas Fouquet, along with some 18,000 workers and at a cost of 16 million livres built the premier château of its time. He provided the inspiration for the design which was implemented by the architect Louis Le Vau,

the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun

The ‘Dining Room’ was an innovation made by Le Brun – meals used to be eaten in guest rooms.

and the landscape designer André le Nôtre.

This view hides the enormous lake just below.

Soon after its completion, he invited King Louis XIV to be entertained there (Fouquet was the finance minister) but internal political machinations and perhaps a degree of jealousy let to Fouquet being interred for the rest of his life in prison, his wife and son exiled, his château stripped of its valuables and his three designers reassigned – to create the modern Palace of Versailles.

Not much of a thank you for lunch!

The design of the buildings, their location, the opulent interior and splendid gardens rival Versailles on only a slightly smaller scale. We had to split up to even partly do justice to this edifice – Ian spent more time in the gardens, Lisette in the interior.

Le Vaux designed the château to allow an uninterrupted view through the building out to the gardens.

There was also a chance to briefly visit an extensive collection of beautifully restored carriages.

If you are anywhere nearby, Vaux-le-Vicomte is a must-see.

That evening, we did our regular copy of our photos off the camera card, onto the computer. We don’t do this every day – the consequences of which will become apparent later…

Next day we caught up with Frank and Tracey who were able to visit us for just a couple of nights. We toured the town and walked around the prison which is a feature (although not a tourist attraction) on the island on which we were moored.

Samois-sur-Seine

The next day we were off on a modest cruise, in lovely weather to the town of Samois-sur-Seine. We had a bit of messing around getting moored, with the owner of the semi-permanent hotel barge giving us strident directions. All sorted eventually and there was enough room eventually for us and a marvellously converted peniche, Noelle, to be able to moor off our bow. The mooring, in fact, was very nice and had readily available water and power at a modest cost.

Restaurant deck, then Noelle and Catharina Elisabeth behind.

Frank (along with Ian) cycled back to Melun to pick up their hire car while Lisette and Tracey walked around the very pretty town. The buildings are well kept, the streets steep and narrow and the paths along the river well tended. The town is noted as the place where Django Reinhart, considered to be the world’s greatest guitarist, died.

Each year, a jazz festival is held in his honour.

Frank and Tracey had to leave the next morning but we stayed for the rest of day just relaxing, exploring the town and enjoying drinks aboard Noelle with Sarah and Mark, marvelling at the huge space they had available and the beautiful job they had done in fitting her out.

On our third day, we took the bikes on the 8 km spin to Fontainebleau. Whether Ian was ‘châteaued-out’ or just spoilt by our visit to Vaux-le-Vicomte, he was somewhat less impressed with Fontainbleau (Lisette thought it wonderful!).

it is certainly impressive in scale and opulent in design and interior, although the gardens were not overly remarkable.

Napoleon’s throne room.

Perhaps one aspect is that, unlike Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte, Fontainebleau has accreted and depleted over the centuries rather than being built as a single, unified edifice.

However, it was a very enjoyable visit and we particularly appreciated the historical details around the time that Napoleon I made it his centre of government.

Reconstruction of the very comfortable tent that Napoleon used while campaigning.

After a very pleasant three day stay in Samois-sur-Seine, it was time to head towards one of our most anticipated destinations of the season.

< So … photos. You’ll hear in a short while that we lost/had stolen our camera at Nogent-sur-Seine. The last photos we kept from the camera were of Vaux-le-Vicomte. The photos we took with the camera after Melun and up to Nogent-sur-Seine were lost and we were not being careful to capture everything with our iPhones, so there are not as many photos for us to choose from after Melun. >

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