Day 7: Venarey-les-Laumes to Montbard

Walking in France: A nourishing start to the day
A nourishing start to the day

Wednesday, 24 June 2015
Distance 18 km
Duration 3 hours 45 minutes
Ascent 20 m, descent 16 m
Map 129 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

This morning we were able to follow our new golden rule (no breakfast, no walking), and by 7:30 we were in the warm interior of the café with the green umbrellas, together with some weather-beaten, overall-clad stall holders from the market that was setting up in the adjoining vacant lot.

As we knew that there would be no refreshments along the way today, we had a double breakfast – two rounds of coffee with a big jug of hot milk, three croissants and a pain aux raisins. A pleasant start.

Thus armed, we set off, back past the camping ground to the canal. The water was like a mirror reflecting the boats in the port under a flawless blue sky.

Walking in France: The canal port at Venarey
The canal port at Venarey
Walking in France: Courcelles-lès-Montbard

Further along it reflected bridges, lock-keepers’ cottages, woods and the occasional fisherman sitting comfortably, watching his rods.

At the village of Courcelles-lès-Montbard, we stopped at a bench on the towpath, where the sturdy little houses were  reflected in the canal. for a rest and a swig of water.

Another fine sight was a herd of creamy white cattle grazing on a meadow across the canal, their upside-down counterparts ruffled only slightly.

Walking in France: Charolais cattle
Charolais cattle

They were the breed called Charolais, whose flesh we had enjoyed many times adorned with green peppercorn sauce, shallot sauce, or even Roquefort sauce.

If we felt slightly uneasy about this, we told ourselves that ignorance was bliss, at least for the cows.

It was beautiful summery weather, not too hot at this time of day.

We met no-one on the towpath as we swung along, but we startled some ducks and later a pair of otters, who flung themselves into the water and made for the opposite bank as if in an Olympic final.

Walking in France: A lock on the Canal of Burgundy
A lock on the canal
Walking in France: Coffee of arrival, Montbard
Coffee of arrival, Montbard

Despite our leisurely start, we got to Montbard before midday (it was less than 20 kilometres) and before entering the town we crossed a little bridge to a bar with a pleasant outlook along the canal.

After this we walked over into the town proper, and at the bar called le Bon Coin we turned uphill.

We discovered later that if we had turned left parallel to the canal, we would have found a couple of nice restaurants and an easy way to the camping ground, but having made this initial slight mistake, it turned out to be harder than we expected to get to our destination.

The town is centred around a block-like hill (now the beautiful Parc Buffon), site of a thousand-year-old fortress and church, of which little remains except some ramparts and a couple of relatively recent fourteenth-century towers. The streets of the old town twist awkwardly around this hill and we got a bit lost before we made it to the ring road (the D980) on the other side.

Walking in France: Arrived, but not fully installed, at the Montbard camping ground
Arrived, but not fully installed, at the Montbard camping ground

Along the way we saw only one bar and one hotel-restaurant, so we took the precaution of confirming that the restaurant would be open in the evening.

Once on the ring road, we had no trouble finding the camping ground. It was just next to the municipal swimming pool, where lessons were being conducted through a megaphone – “UN! DEUX! TROIS!…”

The camping ground (Les Treilles) was also municipal and it looked inviting. Flower beds adorned the front of the reception building (which was naturally closed at this hour), and beyond that was a snack bar and then the trim hedges and lawns of the camping places themselves, shaded by rows of mature trees.

Walking in France: An enjoyable lunch
An enjoyable lunch

At the back, the forested escarpment of the valley rose abruptly. We were still in the valley of the Brenne, first encountered at Vitteaux and then again at Venarey, but this little river was about to be swallowed up by the Armançon, which the canal would run beside until its end.

By the time we had finished our ablutions and settled down on the grass in our clean clothes, it was about 1:30 pm, not too late for lunch.

We still had salad and mayonnaise from Bligny which, combined with the bread and cheese from last night, made a lovely little meal, especially with the addition of the remaining wine from Bligny. We sipped this daintily from plastic supermarket containers.

Walking in France: The bar next to a hump-backed bridge over the Brenne
The bar next to a hump-backed bridge over the Brenne

The weather had turned warm at last and we spent the afternoon resting in the shade.

Later we marched back along the ring road to the bar that we had seen earlier. It was on a corner next to a hump-backed bridge over the Brenne, and looked pleasant except that the hot afternoon sun was boring down on the outdoor tables.

We decided to go indoors, but it turned out to be a bad idea – it was dreary and depressing inside. At the table beside ours was a bedraggled crone who looked like a beggar, but was actually the wife of the barman.

When we emerged after our drinks, the shade of the buildings opposite had fallen over the outside tables, so we knew we had made the wrong choice. Moving down the street to the restaurant, we proceeded to make another wrong choice.

Walking in France: To start, a mise-en-bouche
To start, a mise-en-bouche

The dining room, although entirely indoors, was divided into an “outside, with cheery striped tablecloths and pot plants, and an “inside” with conservative white linen and a hushed atmosphere.

As there were fellow human beings in the hushed section, I wanted to eat there, as I do not like solitary dining. But later several talkative groups arrived in the cheery section, while our company consisted of a silent elderly couple and two lone businessmen studying their mobile phones.

Walking in France: First course
First course

The menu was €21 and we ordered one menu plus an extra main dish.

We began with a mise-en-bouche, a little pot of mushroom soup crowned with a pretty tangle of chives. Then the first course, which we shared, was a cold consommé with toast and cream cheese, extremely elegantly presented.

For our main dishes, Keith had steak bourgignon, very similar to what we had enjoyed last night, and I had rabbit by way of a change.

Walking in France: Elegant main dishes
Elegant main dishes

The vegetables accompanying them were little works of art and the whole perfect platefuls were covered by two long crossed chives, as if in blessing.

A restaurant like this did not lower itself to house wine, so we got a half-bottle of Beaujolais for €10. All in all it was a fine meal.

As we were leaving we asked the manageress of the hotel if we could use her phone (there were no longer any public phones in Montbard) to ring the hotel at the nearby village of Buffon. We needed to make sure that they could provide us with breakfast in the morning.

On the outside wall of the hotel there was an impressive sight that we had missed on the way in – the high-water mark of the flood of 1866, which was as high as Keith’s head.

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