Auxerre – Vincelles
We retraced our journey to Bailly on a pleasant sunny day and carried on just a little further, through one more lock to the mooring at Vincelles. This had a long stone quay but it was a little shallow at the end where we had to moor because the other parts of the mooring were already occupied by a number of private and hire boats including two nice barges – one old and one new build. We ended up with Catharina Elisabeth’s stern standing off just a little from the edge as the skeg on the bottom of the hull was grounded on the bottom of the river.
We planned to spend a couple of days here as we were waiting for our first guests of the season and the railway that services the towns along the Yonne/Nivernais is just a modest walk from the quay. We were expecting four or five sets of guests this season – a nice number. We’ve only had two or three each season for the past few years but did have seven sets during one season – which made finding time for maintenance a bit trickier. The main challenge this year would be positioning ourselves near a train station for the arrival and departure of each set of guests as public transport services along the Nivernais peter out a bit as you continue south. Vincelles was a pretty convenient spot.
The town mooring was delightful. Power and water were available if needed (although we didn’t bother) from the restaurant that was next to the quay, which was situated in an old lavoir. The principal fare here was galettes and it always seemed to be well patronised every time it was open, but we were unsuccessful in securing a table on this visit to the town. Either it was closed, booked out or they had moved their business temporarily into town (during a vide grenier) There were two boulangeries in town, one just a couple of hundred metres away.
Across a wide reach of the river, hills covered with vines rose up gently in the distance. Trees and a couple of buildings lined the other side of the river which, itself, was crystal clear and invited a delightful opportunity for a swim, something we took up eagerly during our stay.
We made good use of the time while we waited for Catherine and Simon to join us – yes – there was some painting to be done, but that first afternoon, we trotted out the cycles and set off on a 5 km ride to the nearby town of Cravant. As we cycled beside the canal, we passed a stretch densely populated by campers obviously well settled for the summer because there were numerous washing machines dotted along the tree line behind the caravans. We weren’t sure how they were supplied by water, but we did see how they obtained their power!
Some pretty dodgy electrical connections! Cravant was a delightful town – it has a small but potentially very nice mooring however some damage to the centre of the quay resulting in large concrete blocks fallen and settled in the water beside the mooring has made it unsuitable for longer boats such as Catharina, so we had, sadly, written it off our list of places to stay. The village has an enduring connection with Scotland dating from the time of the Battle of Cravant (1423) when a combined army of Scots and French, defending Cravant, was defeated by an English and Burgundian army during which thousands of Scots were killed.
and a lovely old church, Saint Pierre – Saint Paul.
Inside two local women started to chat – and as soon as Lisette made a few polite comments in French, Ian abandoned her, taking his own tour around the interior of the church, while they talked Lisette’s head off for an hour, following her around, pointing out items of interest and regaling with tales of the past. They were very sweet and very complimentary on her command of the language.
After taking our leave, we must have walked up and down every cobbled street in Cravant, before returning to Catharina for dinner. This time we took the route on the opposite side of the canal, which took us through the town of Vincelottes, after passing through some heavily wooded areas. On the way back Lisette’s (by now very unreliable) battery died, so we did the old bike swap. Ian tries to preserve his battery as much as possible, and when Lisette’s runs out of puff, which it was beginning to do with alarmingly increasing frequency, Ian, gentleman that he is, takes Lisette’s bike so she can take advantage of the battery assist. Adding insult to injury, however, Lisette’s bike then presented Ian with a flat tire, about a kilometre or so from Catharina, so he walked the remainder of the return journey.
The next day, after some boat chores in the morning, we took the bikes off and rode back across the canal and up the hill to Irancy.
This proved to be another gorgeous old village. Occupants about 250, vignerons in the valley – 42.
although it appeared that provision was being made out the back to restock the altar wine!
Georges, now in his 80s, still lives on the edge of the village and comes into the gallery to paint for a few hours every morning, claiming he needs to paint in order to breathe. The artworks were displayed throughout the old house (we were there on a Friday, although other sources said it was only open Saturday), utilising every room from the kitchen and living quarters to the attic. Already thoroughly hooked from our visit the little chapel in Bailly, it was easy to fall a little bit deeper in love with Hosotte’s paintings as they exhibit a style that both of us appreciate. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed but we did ask to take a shot of the antique (but still used) manual lithography press and you can see some of his paintings in the background.
Well, it would be rude not to check this out, although we did limit ourselves to visiting (read ‘sampling’) just two of the vignerons’ cellar doors. The entrances seemed to be somewhat hidden down steep cobbled streets, where you were invited to ring a bell and then wait to be invited down into their cellar for a tasting.
The caves (cellars) are situated under the cobbled streets and the small spaces were very quaint, holding their barrels under low arched stone roofs. However, there was nothing quaint or unrefined about the wines on offer. They were all remarkable. The first vigneron we tried, Podor, waxed lyrical about the Irancy vineyards, the aspects of the hillside and from which plots the wine was made – a single plot for some of the wines, and a blend of grapes from different terroirs for others. We bought half a dozen bottles of their burgundy (pinot) and some of their rosé.
The second one we went into, a little further along the street, turned out the be this vigneron’s bottling room, and they were labelling a batch of rosé beside us while we tasted a selection of their vintages. The conversations were all in French, but generally easy to follow.
The vignerons we spoke to were all justifiably proud of their wine and the region, and it was a treat to feel so welcomed into their world. The owner of the second cave was so delighted with our interest that she gave us a special visit to her cellar. She took us to a low stone door in the next cobbled street, where she produced an enormous key, worthy of any fairytale,
and with a flourish, opened the old door leading down a steep flight of stone steps, literally carved out under the street itself. We might have courteously bought some of her wine. Polite to a fault.
After another solid day of painting on Catharina, it was time for Catherine and Simon to arrive.
As it turned out, this was the day of the Vide Grenier (’empty the attic’) – car boot sale. The entire village seemed to be given over to tables of the old and the new, from antique books, crockery and rusted garden tools to toys and clothing.
There is always something for everyone – even our guests stopped to make a few purchases as they rolled their luggage from the train station to the quay. Lisette found a few small items, including some antique wooden bobbins, from a guy who flirted shamelessly the whole time, complete with much winking. When she pretended she couldn’t understand his French, ‘pardon, je suis Australienne’, he whipped out a business card and said she could buy from him on eBay!
It was a fairly extended walk through Vincelles to Catharina but Catherine and Simon were on board early enough for us to have a walk through Vincelottes to the old mill across the river. Although it was Bastille Day, we had found out that there were not to be any local fireworks, so we then settled in for dinner and a chat, ready for cruising the next day.