Montereau-Fault-Yonne – Pont-sur-Yonne – Sens
The mooring in Montereau was quite scenic, with the church across the river Yonne bathed in the evening sun and the bridge spanning behind us. The river was busy with commercials to provide us with some entertainment and, occasionally a bit of rocking and rolling if one came around particularly fast.
With a bit of time up our sleeves before we needed to finish cruising, it was time for more work. Ian cleaned, sanded and painted the roof of the wheelhouse which was getting pretty rough. Although not visible to passers-by, it does take the brunt of winter. Meanwhile, Lisette was oiling the wooden window frames. Again.
Montereau is most well known in France as the site of the Battle of Montereau in 1814. Part of the War of the Sixth Coalition that eventually saw Napoleon defeated and exiled to Elba, this battle was one of Napoleon’s last victories. The Prussians had occupied Montereau and the French intended to oust them. The battle developed slowly as French forces gradually arrived to attack the established Prussians. Eventually, enough of the French army arrived and sufficient artillery brought to bear that the Prussians retreated, in disarray.
At one point, Napoleon was personally involved with sighting the cannons and in the thick of the fire. In response to the concerns of his men that it was too dangerous for him, he uttered one of his famous lines: “Allez mes amis, ne craignez rien, le boulet qui me tuera n’est pas encore fondu!” (Courage my friends, the bullet which is to kill me is not yet cast).
On the heights just above us is the statue created by the son of one of the generals who led a decisive charge to win the battle. It is impressive, decorated with reliefs of famous parts of the battle and the site is well covered by multilingual posters explaining the historical events.
The site had been fortified since the 11th century and the current building was being restored by what looked to be volunteers. According to information included as part of some spectacular, if rather worn, painting on the outside the building, it is being converted into a museum to commemorate the battle and Napoleon. It wasn’t clear to us when that would happen but it would make this mooring even more interesting.
The town was pleasant but not particularly touristic. The church was locked and we were utterly unable to find the tourist office. There is a museum of pottery but it is only open on Friday and Saturday. The outside of the building was pleasantly decorated so perhaps next time we’ll time our arrival better.
After two nights at Montereau, we set off at 9 am with some trepidation for Pont-sur-Yonne and the several sloping sided locks between us and our destination.
This lock design is unusual in France, most locks have vertical walls. Those on the early part of the Yonne are sloping. This makes them stronger but makes rising and particularly, descending, in them a bit tricky as you have to watch out for scraping the bottom of the hull if descending, and that you can’t get tight lines going either direction.
In the event, we had no problems. As we entered the lock, the éclusier took our bow line and put it on a bollard. We stood off from the wall and as we rose, simply adjusted our position using the motor. We were almost always alone in these locks, the fill rate was not too fast, the éclusiers were friendly and chatty and the whole experience was merely interesting.
Pont-sur-Yonne had a very long and nicely maintained set of two floating pontoons with no facilities. The town was small but nice to walk around and we dropped into a busy market on the morning after we moored.
The other highlight was a delicious layered pastry – no photos could be captured as they were devoured too quickly but the complexity of the layers was intricate and the taste and textures mouth watering. We tried to get a repeat the next day but the patisserie was closed. So, for this reason alone, we’ll make sure to stop in Pont-sur-Yonne again next time we pass.
After a single night here, we set off for the much bigger town of Sens.
It was not too much of a bother – it just restricted access to power and water, neither of which were particularly necessary for us.
Sens is a substantial town which has been important since Roman times. Before that, it was the centre for the gallic Sennonais tribe and there was an extensive exposition about these early residents and lifestyle associated with the cathedral buildings. More later.
The highlight of the city is the Cathedral of Saint-Étienne de Sens, the first Gothic church, begun in the 12th century and completed in the 16th.
Inside it features wonderful stained glass windows throughout – dating from the 13th century onwards.
The information they provided notes that most of the windows date from the 16th and 17th centruries and the Rose window is a splendid examply of this rich and flamboyant expression of colour and light.
There was so much material to see and read that we had to make two, rather substantial, visits to give some justice to the artefacts and their history.
The cathedral also houses a museum which has one of the most extensive collections of religious artefacts in France.
Thomas a Becket spent part of his time in exile from England in Sens and one of the exhibits is a cassock he wore while here.
Locked away in a large iron-gated alcove was an extensive array of reliquaries – including skulls as well as the usual bones of the hands, feet and limbs resting on red velvet cushions inside decorated caskets, with windows so you can view the remains for yourself. Rather bizarre, but nonetheless demanding ‘just one more’ glance, with the eyes slightly averted.
In yet another part of the cathedral complex was a special exposition dedicated to the Sennonais tribe who dominated the area before being suppressed by the Romans in after the conquest of Gaul.
There were beautiful illustrations along with detailed maps and explanations (unfortunately only in French).
We had to rather race through this exhibition as closing time was upon us.
In the same complex, inside the Archbishop’s Palace was the Musée de Sens which contains a range of displays of the iron age, through Roman into Medieval artefacts. There were recreations of the facades of Roman buildings created from substantial but incomplete remains that have been discovered recently.
There were also extensive sections devoted the culture of the region including burial rites and collections of torc’s (sort of necklaces) worn by the women in the pre-Christian period
And a small, but appealing section devoted to ‘Beaux Arts’ – painting and sculpture. Another museum with more interest than we had time to experience.
A great town for a longer visit which we would hope to do next season.