Last year as well as this January, I kept to trains and buses to explore France. It’s so convenient because you’re going from the center of one town to another, generally. Sometimes the train station is a bit away from the center, across a river or just a bit on the periphery, but all stations have been a walkable distance from the historic and touristic heart of town, and I’ve always found accommodations at a walkable distance as well. If one prefers to hop on a bus from the station, that’s usually an option without a long wait. A few towns even have free “navettes” from the station to the pedestrian center or other central points. I’ve noted those in posts about individual towns and am accumulating notes on my post “Evaluating French towns: transportation and surveys.”
But in the past, I’ve loved roaming France by car, starting with my solo car trip in 1998, from Paris through Burgundy, dropping the car in Mulhouse, till the last time – already 9 years! – in 2014, in Normandy with Kristian, the Touraine with Margaret and Burgundy with Laura. There were two wonderful trips in-between, to recount another time, in other posts.
I was looking forward to traveling at a more leisurely pace through the countryside and getting to see some of the small villages outside possibly-interesting towns. As I search online for houses, the description often reads “10 (or 15 or 20) minutes from (fill in the nearest town with commune status) with its stores and services,” leading me to wonder if said city is an interesting enough hub to settle around, and if the nearby villages show signs of life and are attractive or not so very. I had my little list of such towns I hoped to see, and my list of areas I wanted to roam around. I hoped to do this with Kristian, and fortunately he worked it out. Here is our two-week itinerary as it played out:
- Melun – first overnight, having gotten the rental car late afternoon
- Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire – with a stop in Fontainebleu on the way
- Bourges – after a quick look at Pouilly-sur-Loire and lunch in Sancerre, we stayed on the outskirts of town
- Limoges (3 nights) – stopping waterside in Vierzon and then a little tour of Argenton-sur-Creuse
- Cognac – passing through Rochechouart, stopping in La Rochefoucauld-en-Angoumois and Angoulême
- Saintes – after walks around the centers of Jonzac and Pons
- Niort – after seeing Saint-Jean-d’Angely and Saint-Maixent-l’Ecole
- Parthenay – stopping to see Fontenay-le-Comte and driving through La Châtaigneraie and Secondigny
- Thouars (3 nights) – with a day trip to Fontevraud-l’Abbaye and Saumur
- Paris – seeing towns along the Loire, including Blois, on the way
There will soon be posts and photo galleries on the stops of greatest interest, and I’ll come back to this post and update it with links. Our first overnight was a matter of convenience, not a house-hunting target, but of course we picked a spot well worth seeing!
Melun, our first morning of sightseeing
Melun, prefecture of the Seine-et-Marne department (Roman Melodunum, first mentioned in 52 BC), straddles the Seine 28 miles S-SE of Paris, on the northern edge of the Fontainebleu forest. It is renowned as the capital of the Capetian kings of France, as King Robert the Pious (King of the Franks from 996 to 1031) established a royal castle and church on the island in the Seine that is the heart of the ancient town. Another claim to fame relates to Peter Abelard who established his first school in Melun sometime before 1102, when he moved to Corbeil. He resumed the school at Melun from roughly 1108-1110. The town’s setting on the Seine is lovely, and we enjoyed our brief exploration on foot.