Rest day: Saint-Florentin

Friday, 20 July 2018

Walking in France: Our little haven out of the rain, the Bar des Fontaines

Our little haven out of the rain, the Bar des Fontaines

We awoke to the unexpected patter of rain on the tent, feather light at first, which gave us time to close the flaps before a heavy shower suddenly hammered down.

When it stopped we heard thunder in the distance, the precursor of several more short, violent storms.

Snug in our little abode, we tried to decide what to do. Luckily we had one day more than we needed to finish our walk and get back to Paris in time for the plane, and this seemed the ideal moment to use up that day.

It would also give us a chance to visit the town of St-Florentin, high above the canal, which we had only glimpsed as we drove through it in the bus.

At about 8:30 am the rain had passed and we emerged. It was about a kilometre to the top of town, and we crossed both the river Armançon and the canal before starting to climb.

Walking in France: The view from the Bar des Fountains

The view from the Bar des Fontaines

The Armançon flanks the canal all the way from its watershed near Pouilly to its junction with the Yonne, and for most of its length it is as convoluted as a corkscrew. We could understand why it had seemed a good idea to build the canal.

There was a large port (la Capitainerie) for pleasure boats at the foot of the town, and then a series of steep lanes and staircases leading to the top, where a muddle of half-timbered buildings was presided over by the huge grey eminence of the church.

Here we discovered a boulangerie dispensing the usual pastries, plus a local delicacy called a gougère – a large, puffy éclair with a cheesy flavour.

The bar was just across the square, behind a strange fountain which consisted of a sort of narrow chapel complete with saints and a cross, but also with devil-shaped gargoyles spouting water.

Walking in France: Still life with rain capes, a gougère and other pastries

Still life with rain capes, a gougère and other pastries


All the drinkers were inside but we thought it too stuffy, and took our coffee outside, under an awning.

It was slightly cold, but preferable. Soon the barman brought out his tables and chairs, whereupon it rained again for a short time.

Walking in France: Staircase to the church

Staircase to the church


He was still wiping the chairs as people started to arrive, including one woman who got her backside soaked. Exasperatedly, he declared “ I have thirty chairs here, I’ve dried twenty-eight of them, and where do you sit? On a wet one!” Luckily she laughed and so did we all.

After a bit of a wander around the top of the town we went back to the camping ground, had more coffee there, and retired to our plot, where we had a bite of lunch – mostly chicken from my enormous portion last night. Even then we did not finish it.

Walking in France: Lunch in the sun

Lunch in the sun


The rest of the afternoon was spent sleeping and reading.

It was perfect summer weather now, the rain having moved on, and the local kids were noisily enjoying their beach again.

Walking in France: Dozing the afternoon away

Dozing the afternoon away


In the evening we returned to the outdoor café where we had dined last night, just through the railway viaduct from our tent, and were amazed that our reputation as wasp-slayers was still being talked about.

Our waiter was the same ginger-haired fellow as before, so he had the chance to practise his English again, while I continued to practise my French. We provided each other with occasional corrections, but otherwise ignored the language difference.

Walking in France: Dinner at the camping ground

Dinner at the camping ground


We started as we had last night, with a small carafe of white wine, then moved on to a simple meal of grilled meat and salad, with the obligatory red wine, and a couple of baskets of bread.

French bread does not last beyond the day, but it is a thing of wonder when fresh.

With the agreeable murmur of other diners around us, we looked at our remaining few maps, which would take us to the end of the canal and then up the Yonne to our final destination of Auxerre.