Auxerre – Bailly – Auxerre
We needed to be in Paris for the 8th of July, where Lisette had booked a concert for Ian’s Christmas present. With a few days to spare, we thought a short cruise and a couple of nights’ stay in Bailly would be a suitable way to use our time. So, pretty much at opening time, we headed off to the first of the of six locks separating us from our destination.
We slipped surprisingly easily into handling the smaller Freycinet écluses; Ian managed to enter and leave without scraping and Lisette was landing virtually all her ropes onto the bollards despite the fact we were travelling montant (upstream – so we enter an empty écluse and it fills).
Once we were level with the top of the lock, Ian would leave Catharina Elisabeth’s wheelhouse and walk up to the gates to help the éclusier or éclusière (feminine) open the gates and close the sluices. All the locks on the Nivernais are manually operated with a single person responsible for perhaps two or three écluses. Opening time is 9 am, déjeuner is 12-1 pm and they stop at 7 pm (during the summer season). The short morning session is a bit of a challenge to make much of an impact on the day’s cruising – shame they couldn’t slide lunch back by one hour.
This section was almost entirely on the Yonne except for the diversions to the écluses so there was plenty of room to manoeuvre on the odd occasions when another boat came towards us. On this trip, we had the écluses to ourselves – and there is really only room for one other smallish boat (less than 10 m) when we are in these locks.
A lovely spot to pause as the multi-arched bridge looks spectacular. We took a short walk across it and noted the partially submerged stone walls that were part of the system for managing the logs of wood that used to be floated down the Yonne on their approach to Paris.
After lunch, we passed through just one lock to tie up at the extensive and convenient quay at Bailly. It’s a good mooring, plenty of depth, wooden facings and good fixings but while it used to have power and water, these have been damaged and both services have been suspended for at least a few years.
No issue for us on Catharina however. There was a large rubbish bin just nearby but a constant stream of vehicles stopping to drop bags of rubbish around it indicated that the locals had decided it was for their use, not those using the mooring (grrr…).
The main attraction at Bailly is the enormous limestone caves that are used for the production and storage of wine. Visiting that was on tomorrow’s list – but today we dropped the bikes off and took the short ride to the nearby village. It was blistering hot and the small village is pressed into the steep walls of the Yonne valley. Lisette’s bike (battery) soon gave out on the hills so our range became limited but we made one of the great finds of our season in this slumbering hamlet.
We were aware there was a 13th-century chapel in the village and we dragged our bikes up the eponymous ‘Rue de l’Église’ to a small church squeezed in amongst the nearby houses. We had read that the chapel was used to house a gallery of artworks by an artist named ‘Hosotte’. We passed through the purple drape in the doorway, greeted the lady at the desk and both fell instantly in love with the paintings hanging from the ancient walls of the chapel.
Hosotte’s style was clearly inspired by impressionism and featured landscapes, many of them of local scenes, with a smattering of portraits, still-life and character studies. To our disappointment (but not surprise) the works were fabulously expensive (mostly in the thousands of euros) and we couldn’t find any prints for much less than several hundred euros. In addition, photographing the works was strictly forbidden, with cameras positioned in strategic locations to keep Ian honest. Kindly, the attendant allowed us to take a general photo of the inside of the chapel which also featured some recently restored wooden pews.
Chatting to the attendant, we established that there were other Hosotte galleries in nearby Irancy and Vézelay. The former was near the canal and the latter was already on our list for a possible side trip. We left, both excited at the prospect of visiting the other galleries during this cruising season.
Back on board Catharina, we cooled off with a swim and settled down for the evening.
The following morning we started to lay the green lawn/carpet on Catharina’s stern deck while it was still cool. We laid it roughly at first with some crude trimming and then started to fit it to the various curves and protruberances more accurately.
However, our main aim was to visit the wine cave in the early afternoon as guided tours commence at 2 pm.
Although the caves of Bailly Lapierre were only a couple of hundred metres away from the mooring, the entrance is located up a steep hill and as we planned to purchase some wine we set off on the bikes. At the top of the hill, the road continues into the caves, providing access for cars, vans and even buses to enter and drive along to an interior parking lot. And bikes, so we cycled inside.
Outside the temperature was in the high 30’s – as soon as you entered the cave, it was in the chilly teens and, where the wine is stored, it is constantly at 12ºC. We had been warned and had jackets to keep us comfortable.
The ‘cellar door’ where wine sales are made is close to the car park and tastings are either a few euros or free if you purchase at least one bottle. All the folks behind the counter had excellent English. We signed up for the next tour, a mere €6 each, which allowed for a guided tour with an English language handset, three substantial tastings at the end and you could keep the tasting glass. We felt that was pretty good value.
As we walked around the chilly caverns we learnt that the caves were originally created by the mining of high-quality stone used throughout France to support structures such as the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame de Paris, as well as Chartres Cathedral. The extraction of stone took place for over 800 years finishing at the start of the 20th Century. After that, the now extensive caves were used for about half a century for the production of mushrooms. More recently, a cooperative of some 70 winemakers was formed in 1972 to use the extensive storage and constant temperature for the production of the AOC Crémant de Bourgogne – the Burgundian equivalent of champagne. Today, there are more than 430 vignerons who utilise the facilities of Bailly Lapierre to produce Crémant. These wines use the same grapes and production techniques as champagne. The top versions of crémant are competitive with the more famous appellation but are, not surprisingly, generally cheaper.
The cave complex, some 50 metres underground stretches for more than 4 hectares.
For about 20 years after the establishment of the cave, a contest was held each year and the winning sculptor was commissioned to carve their work into the walls of the cave – which is now decorated by a panoply of stonework art mostly themed on the production and enjoyment of the wine.
After the tour and tasting, we bought a dozen bottles of different types of crémant and some Ratafia. We loaded up the bikes and walked them down to nearby Catharina where the first bottle was consumed with dinner that night.
Next day it was time to cruise back to Auxerre, this time we were travelling avalant (downwards) in the locks. This led to one significant learning for the season. As a katwijker, Catharina has a thick, strong metal band (rubbing strake) at about deck level which gives her a ‘lip’ of about 5 cm all around. When she starts to descend in an écluse, she is close to the wall and can get ‘hung up’ on this lip and the top of the wall.
We’ve not actually had this happen before, but on the second lock of the day, she hung up and rested there for only a few seconds but enough that, when she dropped off, she rolled violently from side to side. It gave us a bit of a shock but there was no damage done.
After that, and for the rest of the season, we (usually Lisette) would step off Catharina while the lock started to empty and push her away from the wall until the rubbing strake was below the top of the lock wall and then step back on board to manage the rest of the descent.
Otherwise, the return trip was pleasant and uneventful and we again moored at the park. Next day we picked up our tickets and boarded the train for Paris. The only notable feature of the trip was that a little past Joigny, Ian noticed an old building perched on the top of a hill that looked interesting.
A quick consultation of the maps on the phone indicated it was the Chapelle St-Julien-de-Vauguillain and wasn’t far from potential moorings on the Yonne. Noted for a possible future visit at the end of the season.
We made our way to our very comfortable AirBnB where our bilingual host, Christine, made us feel comfortable and welcome. Once she heard Lisette’s French, she ceased her English completely and for the rest of our stay, we were practising our Gallic conversation.
Our first stop was to have lunch at the nearby restaurant, Nicholas Flamel where we had eaten an exceptional lunch a year ago. We found the quality of the service not quite up to the standard of the last time but the meal was sensational.
Although we were only staying one night for the concert, we had planned visits to two attractions while we were in the city. So, in the afternoon we took off to the Van Gogh exposition at L’Atelier des Lumières (which presents these art expositions regularly). This was promoted as a sort of multimedia experience and had received rave reviews. It was superb. Held inside a large open ‘atelier’ (workshop) the walls, floors and ceilings were used to present a series of panels where Van Gogh’s works were displayed as moving images, parts of his paintings animated and historical material displayed.
The whole display, which extended over several bays, was synchronised to music. The excerpt below was set to our favourite piece of waterways music, Bedrich Smetana’s ‘Vltava’ (The Moldau) from his symphonic poem ‘Ma Vlast’.
A memorable event – and what is almost even better, it is to be moved next to Melbourne in 2020!
After a short rest in the late afternoon, we had a quick meal next to our concert venue, the Paris Olympia. A few years ago, we had become hooked on the Canadian group Walk off the Earth (WOTE) and had been following them on YouTube. We had also converted several of our children to follow them and they had been to one of their concerts in Melbourne – unfortunately, while we were in Europe. Having missed two concerts, for this reason, Lisette had decided that we would have to ‘come to the mountain’ and see them in Europe. So, here we were.
The concert was energetic and immersive. The crowd was enthusiastic and sang and danced along with WOTE’s performance. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and of course, it was just a bit more memorable because we had attended it in Paris. Videos of concerts never have the impact of actually being there – but here’s a short excerpt from the finale featuring ‘Rule the World‘:
Next day, after a delightful breakfast prepared by Christine, we headed off to our gallery destination for this trip – Musée Marmotan Monet. It had been high on our list to see when we were Paris last year but the building had been closed for renovations at that time.
This gallery houses the largest single collection of Monet’s works (a bequest by Monet’s son, Michael) along with other impressionist paintings, sculptures and furniture. On this visit, there was a special exposition on paintings and sculptures by French artists featuring the Orient with some absolutely stunning works. We spent four wonderful hours moving through the rooms enjoying the splendid variety of artistic works.
Again, another highlight.
Then it was off to Gare de Bercy and the train back to Auxerre where Catharina was waiting for us at her mooring, ready to carry us off south on the Nivernais and properly begin our season’s cruising.
Plans to leave the next day were interrupted when we tried to start the generator – to no avail. Checking the starter battery showed that the voltage was low and as it was pretty old, we decided not to try recharging it again but to replace it while we were in a big town rather than wait until we were somewhere remote. Next day, we located a battery supply shop and cycled there to collect a replacement.
On the way back, we stopped off for a cuppa with David on his beautiful big luxemotor, Carmen, that he lives on, alone, in a permanent mooring when not cruising. We had met him last season at Compiègne. That evening, we had a few drinks with Sue and Ian from Vlinder who dropped in on one of their walks, finishing another social day on a convivial note.