Day 19: Vermenton to Chablis

Wednesday, 28 June 2006
Distance 30 km
Duration 6 hours 25 minutes
Ascent 419 m, descent 408 m
Map 28 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)

Walking in France: An early breakfast in Vermenton
An early breakfast in Vermenton

As we left at 6:40 am, a profound silence enveloped the camping ground. Only the miniature patron was up and he farewelled us with more enthusiasm than he had shown when we arrived.

With our fresh baguette sticking out of Keith’s pack, we took a steep potholed local road up from l’Esperance and over the rise, thus avoiding the abominable highway to Cravant.

Walking in France: Arriving in Cravant
Arriving in Cravant

After a pleasant walk through fields we got to the outskirts of Cravant, where the track to Chablis branches off, and we asked a frail old man whether there was a bar in the town, as we had no wish to go out of our way for nothing. He said there was, so we proceeded down into the streets, through an ancient stone portal.

Asking at the boulangerie, we were told that the bar was out on the main road, the nationale, through another portal. Even so we had to ask again before we found it.

Walking in France: Some wildlife
Some wildlife

It turned out to be a fine old inn, standing alone between the two bridges of the river and the canal, with a dim, cool bar. After an hour of heavy effort, the reviving effect of coffee was fully felt. We had a couple of croissants too.

Greatly invigorated, we threaded back through the village and tried to find the track marked as a single line on the map. We started well on a firm footpath but soon we were picking our way through thicker and thicker brambles as the track faded out.

Walking in France: A beautiful day for a walk
A beautiful day for a walk

Luckily we could see the little D139 road across the cornfield so we waded across to it and walked the rest of the way on tar, except for a stretch of farm track between Cheuilly and the A6.

We saw no sign of the missing footpath, which should have reconnected at this point, so we think it has reverted to nature.

Crossing the A6 on an overpass, we took the D2 into the oddly named Saint-Cyr-les-Colons.

Walking in France: Entering Saint-Cyr-les-Colons
Entering Saint-Cyr-les-Colons

As usual it was a pretty little place with a flowery square and a lovely decrepit church. An old chap in the road welcomed us most warmly and assured us there was bar at the top of the town.

We had a pleasant chat about Australia and the joys of walking. The old wife, leaning out the window, proudly said that she was past walking as she was 84, at which I expressed polite astonishment.

The bar was the very last building before the houses gave way to open fields. It was dilapidated but we were doing well, having two coffee pauses in one morning.

Walking in France: Préhy church surrounded by vines
Préhy church surrounded by vines

Then we were out into the vines, which covered the slopes in all directions like green corduroy. Farmers were at work trimming the rows with high, narrow tractors.

The next village, Préhy, also charming, with a famous church, sat like an island in a sea of vines.

From there we gradually descended to the bowl of Chablis, with the sun bouncing off the white stony ground between the rows of vines. I picked a few grapes to taste and Keith said they were probably worth a euro each.

Walking in France: More vines
More vines

Once we had joined the D91 in the valley, we thought our journey was over, but the centre of Chablis was still a long walk away through suburban streets. Eventually we found the centre, on the banks of the river Serein.

The camping ground was conveniently close, on an island just upstream from the bridge.

Nobody was in attendance but we set ourselves up and had lunch (with the bread from Vermenton) under a spreading tree. The ablutions block was in a sort of imposing raised chalet with the advantage of adjustable temperature in the showers.

The only drawback was that the adjustment only went from stone cold to tepid, but it was a hot day so we coped.

Walking in France: And more Chablis vineyards
And more Chablis vineyards

During our rest in the shade a woman appeared and briskly requested us to report to the reception. We had to fill in a page of information under her displeased gaze.

Presumably she did not like the fact that we had wandered in while she was away. The fee was €8.40 but she also wanted to charge us a deposit of €10 for the use of the key to the shower block. She dropped the idea when I said we were leaving at 7 am, and we remained keyless.

Walking in France: Chablis

Later we went back to the town and looked around. The old church of Saint-Martin is said to house the bones of that revered tenth-century Christianiser of the Gauls. He was evidently a great traveller, Saint Martin – we met him many times later on our walk.

We dined in the Syracuse, attracted by its gravel courtyard full of flowering tubs and market umbrellas. By the time we arrived at a bit after eight, there was only one table vacant in the courtyard, so our timing was perfect.

In recognition of the fame of Chablis, we departed from our usual half-litre of house wine and had a bottle of Petit Chablis (the lowest of the three categories of appellation-controlled wine).

Walking in France: A Chablis in Chablis
A Chablis in Chablis

At €22 it was one of the cheapest on the menu, but we loved it. We had a salade composée to begin, then some delicious steaks with bearnaise sauce.

At a nearby table, a man was having a top-level bottle (served in an ice-bucket, unlike ours) with croque monsieur and chips. We tried not to look smug. The total bill was €49.50.

Previous day: Arcy-sur-Cure to Vermenton

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