AN EVENTFUL TOUR OF THE MORVAN, FRANCE
After a blissful Indian summer in the Champagne Ardennes, we’re headed south towards what we hope will be another dose of sun and comfortable temperatures. That’s sort of the whole point of traveling south for winter, right?
Boy, were we wrong…
We gave up our original plan of traveling France’s west coast because 1) we are simply not through with mountains and forests yet (are we EVER?!!!) and 2) it saves us a significant amount of diesel. Trust me, there’s tons of places we would love to go; the list simply never ends. And although the natural FOMO on that part can be a b*tch to control, we still feel this whole adventure is not as much about the “going places” as it is about exploring them and making this a minimalistic and sustainable lifestyle.
That being said, we never regretted a second of choosing the Morvan over the coastline. Because holy (fluffy white) cow, this is a national park we wouldn’t want to have missed out on! Anyone say FOMO?
Rolling hills with alternating pine and deciduous forest, wide views over the countryside filled with horses and said fluffy cows, beautiful medieval villages where time appears to have stood still… Creeks running through the forest and narrow bridges that to our surprise are capable to hold Brutus time and time again. Apparently there used to be a bunch of lakes here, too, but climate change has ruined that for us. (Please watch this documentary, that we think everyone should have seen at least once! Not only to save France’s lakes but well, you know, planet Earth.)
BILLY LE GRAND – The mystery of the disappearing starlings
Rewinding just a little bit; after exiting the Champagne Ardennes and before entering the Morvan we make a stop at Billy le Grand. Haven’t you heard of it? No? Well that’s probably because it’s just a farmers’ town in the middle of nowhere but those often prove to be the most fun to explore! We stop here only because we simply don’t feel like driving any more for the day. Our visit is rewarded with a brand-new stash of (insanely large!) walnuts that we gather by searching the floor, the well-tried method of stick-throwing, and trespassing into the garden of an abandoned house.
If you’re a fan of urbex – which really is just a fancy word for trespassing into abandoned buildings – you should definitely visit France! The country is loaded with them, and nobody really gives a rat’s ass about people entering. At least, I hope so, cause that’s what we’ve been doing whenever we walk by an interesting old shed or haphazardly closed off other kind of dwelling. This particular beauty is for sale, collapsed first floor and all. Naturally, after robbing the garden of four kilos of walnuts, we go in to explore. Finds of the day: a creepy old crib and a collection of peacock butterfly wings. We’re quite sure some kind of owl is inhabiting the ceiling but it doesn’t show itself.
Speaking of birds, we do witness several ridiculously large flocks of starlings gathering on an electricity pole! I mean, seriously, RIDICULOUSLY large. Tens of thousands -large. Our best guess is they are gathering to migrate south for winter; which they decide to put into action JUST as we grab our bikes and camera to get closer and capture their mesmerizing shapes in flight.
Pics or it didn’t happen, right? But we swear it did!
LUSIGNY-SUR-BARSE – Life at the Great Lakes
We continue our journey with yet another tiny-adventure in not-yet-the-Morvan. Yes, I know, we’re cheating majorly on this blog title. But I promise the reasons for incorporating this place into our story are valid. Because, look!
A foggy morning makes for mysterious views over a partially dried up Lac d’Orient, surrounded by blue and white herons, cranes, several types of ducks, gulls and a variety of other water birds. A truly magnificent sight.
Seeing the habitat of so many birds being subjected to such dramatic shrinkage makes us worry, though. We know the summer has been unusually dry, but this dramatic change in size is clearly caused by more than just a lack of rainfall over the summer. And sadly, the Great Lakes of the Orient are only the beginning of our eye-to-eye with Climate Change in the Morvan area.
PONT-SUR-CURE – Pilgrimage through the countryside
Finally, we are officially entering the Morvan. Our first stop in this national park is at the picturesque Pont-sur-Cure – an ancient Roman bridge accompanied by a modern big brother uniting the wooded banks of the river Cure. Getting here, we passed through a multitude of very cozy-looking medieval villages. Pierre-Perthuis, closest to our camp spot, certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to charm. Narrow streets connect a somewhat chaotic collection of old stone houses and an even older church with a tiny but overpopulated graveyard. (We still haven’t quite figured out whether we find it cool or gruesome that we found a substantially large bone aboveground that almost certainly appeared to be human.) We also meet the #1 cutest cat in the world in the streets of this cute little town. Sssshht, don’t tell! I’m pretty sure ours can’t read.
A stroll into the woods takes us onto the pilgrimage route of Santiago de Compostella – a track that apparently does not necessarily start at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port right before the Pyrenees like we used to think, but stretches out through many European countries. All leading to the same place and most of them connected to the Camino Francés, the most famous part of the route crossing Spain from Pamplona to its final destination Santiago de Compostella. As we travel further south through the Morvan we will spot the familiar blue and yellow scallop sign more and more often. It’s definitely cool to experience tiny shreds of this centuries old journey!
This time around we don’t finish the camino all the way. But understandably, that’s only because we need to be back in time to feed the cats.
It’s at the bank of the Cure that autumn finally sets in for real, with sudden dropping temperatures and grey clouds heavy with rain. A perfect day to start a fire and create a painting. Well, maybe not really for the latter but this place is just too pretty to leave undocumented! Plus, that fire is a very effective cure for icy hands. (Yep – we’re big on cheesy word jokes. We hope this one’s not a bridge too far. We’re just trying to paint a picture here. Oh man, I’m on fire!
Sorry about that. No, really. Sorry. Adult-mode ON).
LAC DES SETTONS – Christmas in October
Driving through lanes of trees that light up in all the possible colors of the autumnal spectrum, we resume our way through alternating forest and countryside. Cows shoot us surprised looks from under their fluffy eyebrows, like our rolling big white appearance makes them think we are some bald relative on steroids. We enjoy views over outstretched fields and hills speckled with small farms. And of course, la buse is never far away.
We make stops at Quarre les Tombes and Moux-en-Morvan (seriously though, France? Do you ever name your cities with just one word?), to fill up on water and electricity. Needing to plug in for electricity is a first for us since we hit the road five months ago, but these autumnal grey skies and shortening days prove somewhat of a challenge for our trustworthy solar panels. After crossing the Morvan East to West TWICE, hitting three closed off service stations in one afternoon, we give up and plug into the wall of a public toilet at night. If it works, it works.
And then, after at least six whole days of fall, winter arrives in a blaze of snow and ice and mass destruction right after we park at our wooded camp spot at the bank of the Lac des Settons. We wake up at 3:00AM to the sound of creaking trees and snapping branches. Venturing into a white world under a black sky, Bas clears the road of fallen wood and we make our way to safety before Mother Nature gets a chance to crush us or lock us in. We like it here, but we don’t wish to stay indefinitely and surely appreciate to be alive and in one piece.
Come morning, we witness the scale of the destruction caused by twenty centimeters of snow collecting on still leafy branches. Oak and beech have been hit the hardest. Forest and street are littered with fallen branches and every couple of minutes there’s the sound of another tree collapsing under the weight of ice and snow. We feel a little bit like storm chasers, going out into this dramatic landscape. But the contrast of red and yellow leaves on a snowy white carpet makes for a beautiful sight, and the raw force of sturdy trees snapping like twigs under the weight of their own branches is a rather primal experience. However, after we escape getting hit in the head by a meter or two, we decide it might be a good idea to return to the RV. And listen to Christmas songs. Cause, why not.
BIBRACTE – A glimpse back in time
Even though we wait for the snow to melt before continuing our travels, our speed is dramatically pressed by swerving left and right to avoid branches blocking the road. There are places where we have to move dangerously close to a muddy slope and points where we have to get out and hold aside branches that are dangling above the road – holding on for dear life to a stem that is no longer able to support them. By some miraculous power we make it to ancient Gaulish city of Bibracte without a scratch or having to take any real detours.
This Celtic fortified city, located at Mont Beuvray and now a famous archeological site with ongoing excavations, was one of the most important hillforts in Gaul. It housed several thousands of people from as early as 3 B.C. and covered an area of 135 hectares. Large parts of the city are made visible through excavations that started in the 19th century and are still in operation every summer.
Taking a walk here is like going back in time… We can easily envision stone pillared buildings rising from the structures that are clearly visible underneath the dug-out earth. Pieces of ceramics are scattered on the floor of where once a family sat at their dinner table. Surrounded by snow and foggy forest, we have a glimpse into a very different life, long, long ago.
It’s at the peak of Mont Beuvray, overlooking an area stretching as far as the French Alps, that we end our journey of the Morvan. If it were not for winter catching up with us we may have stayed here a while longer, wandering through bright colored forests and road tripping the countryside. But another adventure awaits; we’re crossing the Limousin and are heading into soft flowing hills of the Dordogne that both have their own unique feel.
South – always moving south. Like birds migrating to sunnier places.