Do you love France? So do I. I think we’ll get on.
France receives more tourists per year than any other country – close to 85 million in 2013 alone with the graph trending towards 100 million. Mon dieu – one may gasp. There must be people bumping baguettes everywhere and serpentine lines of tourist buses snaking across every arterial road in the land. Pleasingly that actually isn’t the case.
Approximately 80% of France is classified as ‘countryside’ and it is very much possible to hide ones self away from the tourist crush. But like anywhere you do need to know where to go. A car is preferable as your getaway vehicle although you can still do a fine job utilising trains in combination with foot and/or pedal power.
One of France’s most visited regions is beautiful Bourgogne (Burgundy). Millions upon millions descend each year by plane, train & automobile to devour its icons. However this article is not about Beaune, Dijon or Pommard it’s about a tiny, sleepy Burgundian hamlet many hundreds of kilometres away. The village is not surrounded by lauded terroir and rock star vines but rather by undulating hills and Charolais cattle. It is the softly spoken cousin of its more northerly superstars. It’s name is Brancion and you have probably never heard of it. And that’s why I love it.
Brancion France. A subtle star.
Brancion is located in the department of Saone-et-Loire and lies west of Tournus amidst land that is undulating and pastural. Here you will drive on narrow winding roads bisecting ancient villages and pass grazing cattle, abandoned châteaux and stands of verdant forests. It is the epitome of bucolic and more Dorset than Dijon if you ask me.
I first happened upon Brancion in 2007 when I was designing European Walking & Cycling holidays. I don’t do that ‘job’ any more. Don’t worry I miss it more than you hate me for having done it so no need to be jealous.
During my time in France I was looking for off-the-beaten-path villages, landscapes and castles to include as part of a week long ‘walking tour’. It was for these ‘R & D’ purposes that I had come to Brancion in the late autumn. A time of year featuring crisp, bracing mornings and spectacular autumnal colours
I parked my car and began to amble the five minutes or so from the carpark to the gates of the village and was struck by the silence, calm and serenity. My car was the only one in the carpark and through-out my late afternoon reconnoitre in the village I was alone. Alone with history.
Records for settlement at Brancion date back as far as the 6th century AD and like many other villages in France the ensuing centuries have borne witness to feuds, battles & intrigue. More than a millennia ago Brancion was positioned defensively atop a strategic hillock. This lofty locale now affords todays visitor peerless views across a green patchwork of forests, meadows and textured fields.
In the 19th century the village was abandoned and lay in ghostly ruins, all but forgotten until a decision was made at the turn of this century to restore the crumbling vestiges.
The key ‘attractions’ in Brancion are:
- Brancion Castle. Dating back to the 10th Century
- The Church of Saint-Pierre. Dating back to at least the 12th Century.
- The main Market Hall. 14th C
- The view from Eglise Saint-Pierre over the Grosne valley and the Burgundy countryside below.
Most of the architecture has been, or is, being restored. Slowly, very slowly. Things in this restful part of France don’t happen quickly and that’s good news. For me I love the original walls and ruins more than the carefully recreated and reconstructed. That said without loving restoration much will disappear due to neglect and the wear of time such as the magnificent frescoes in Saint-Pierre. Their pigments fading away due to the elements and breath of onlookers. There are restorative plans in place for these historic medieval artworks.
It is also fair to say that even in the eight years since I first visited Brancion it is becoming more well known and visitation is increasing. All the more reason to visit in a shoulder season like early spring or take advantage of the delightful autumnal colours of late September/ early October.
There are many accommodation options nearby if you want to stay in the region overnight. In particular La Montagne de Brancion **** is within walking distance of the village itself. It would be a great base to best ensure you could visit when others are not. You can actually see the carpark from the hotel. You could just toggle your vision occasionally up and over your holiday novel from beside the swimming pool and when you see le parking sans voitures (no cars in the carpark) meander over.
Brancion France is a place where you can dream of yesteryear as you touch its ancient walls. It’s a locale to sit and stare out over a green patchwork below. And for me it is a village like Brancion that fuels my passion for travel.
All photography © Saxon Templeton