As I mentioned in the last post, here in Paris, it’s the first ‘les vacances’ or holiday, (when all the kids are out of school for 2 weeks) and though we hung out the first week and had some nice get-togethers here at home the second week, we were, in the end, able to pull together a short trip and so last Friday at 6am, we stumble out of bed, shoulder our backpacks and catch the 87 bus to the Gare du Lyon, where we grab a few coffees and croissants and find our 6:59am TGV train to Montbard amongst the platforms of big waiting trains. We step on, the doors close and the train pulls out of the station. Good timing.
If you’ve ever ridden the fast trains in France, you’ll know the hushed quiet of the cars and the pleasing feeling of floating through the landscape to your destination. Montbard 8am, only a few people get off at the station, it’s quiet outside, but there are a few cab men talking around their taxis, we interrupt to get one to drive us to the garage where the owners are just opening. A few minutes later, in our little Peugot, we’re zipping along narrow winding roads, green fields on either side, medieval villages atop hills in the distance. Yeah, this is what we were looking for – cows sipping green grasses, misty air, and nobody around. Except for some monks walking the dirt lanes with their dogs. We follow signs to Flavigny-sur-oisne, our destination and get out to smell clean crisp licorice air. My youngest cannot believe it.
Flavigny is the town, population 301, where said monks make my favorite mints. Well, really licorice ‘mints’ but they come in lavendar, rose and other flavors too. If you know me, you know I like to have mints around. This particular habit dates back to the Nashville years when I would buy these, ‘les Anis de Flavigny’ at the little upscale Jewish sandwich shop in Belle Meade. They were $3.00 and I was a sucker for the oval tins decorated in pretty colors with little scenes of village life on the lid. When you opened them, you always wanted to see how many you had left. As the girls got older, they’d been coveting these tins for years. The day I gave my youngest a few of the ‘Mommy mints,’ as she had long ago dubbed them, was the awakening of another McQueen mint girl.
She says as she pops some into her mouth. Turns out the town looks just as picturesque as it’s portrayed on those tins. I guess that’s why the girls don’t seem to mind roaming around on foot for hours. We call it to their attention that they ARE hiking. (and not just suggesting it after looking at pastoral paintings in the d’Orsay) They ignore us and keep walking along the puddle-y road we’ve found that goes along the Oisne river down in the valley. We’ve met some horses and some sheep, which our dog Skye is highly skeptical about. She’s off leash and to our surprise, she listens to us, turning her head back every now and again to see if she’s going the right way. And when in a village, make friends. One of her friends hikes with us and waits by the door of our gite in case we go again. We hike these farm roads and follow medieval walls and ramparts and we all get pretty muddy, but we get a good sense of the countryside around Flavigny.
The next day is sunny and warmish so we set out and visit a myriad of other little hill towns, other medieval castles, and wander through quiet streets and since at night I’m reading a historical novel set in Burgundy, I keep imagining characters from the book and since the girls are still reading the series about cats and clans in forests, the landscape triggers our imaginations all the while we’re munching on mints. We get back to Paris late Sunday night. It’s raining and Gare du Lyon is packed with people rolling suitcases and strapped with bags. We grab a cab on the boulevard.
* Recommends –
The Chateau du Bussy-Rabutin, a lesser known castle, sitting in a very small village on a hill, with a long entertaining corridor filled with paintings of the Dukes of Burgundy all wearing a variety of fancy collars and a variety of dour expressions. The gardens are great too. Plus there is a maze that took a while to walk through! The girls love mazes.
The Abbaye de Fontenay – Andrew’s favorite. Set in a peaceful small valley with a winding brook.