Touring France

July 19, 2005By Owen McGowanFarther Afield

Making Sens of Burgundy

The very first bridge over the mighty Seine, just a trickle at its source.

There are umpteen options for a weekend getaway from Paris, but how many take you to places nobody goes to, French or foreigner? Consider Sens, less than an hour from the Gare de Lyon. You’re in Burgundy, yet far from the madding crowd. This is not wine country at all: to the west of the city, you’ll see forests as you approach the Loire (have lunch in Châteaurenard), and to the east and south, lovely rolling hills with grain, sunflower and rape-oil fields, and white Charolais cattle munching away in Burgundian heaven.

You won’t have to go far to taste the fruit of the grape, however: Chablis is only 70 kilometers to the southeast, and the Champagne Ardenne, the little-known southern part of bona fide Champagne country, is less than an hour to the east. While the bubbly from this area doesn’t have the prestigious names of the wineries around Reims, it can be just as good and offers better value for the money.

If you feel like being active and want to take in a great deal of Burgundy in one day, drive southeast to the source of the Seine, 10 kilometers from the pretty town of Saint-Seine l’Abbaye. Pack a picnic to take to this charming, park-like spot, where the river is no more than a trickle that even a child could straddle. Owned by the city of Paris, the property boasts the first bridge (a lovely little stone arch) over the Seine and a fountain with a statue of the river nymph.

In Sens, the Hôtel de Paris & de la Poste, a pleasant lodging in a town with no touristy infrastructure, has a restaurant that’s above the norm. The Place de la République in front of the impressive 12th-century Gothic Saint Etienne Cathedral offers several cafés and restaurants, and on market days, the gorgeous 19th-century indoor market will

remind you of and make you weep for the Baltard-designed Les Halles market that Paris demolished.

Other nearby points of interest include Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, whose 12th-century Gothic church has notable stained-glass windows, and the exquisite fortified hilltop Chapelle de Vauguillain in Saint Julien-du-Sault.

If you wish to rent a car in Sens, Avis has a tie-in with the SNCF (French railway), and the agent at any ticket window can locate your reservation for you. Its river, the Yonne, attracts rowers from as far away as Germany.

The city hasn’t completely lacked for visitors in its long history: Joan of Arc passed through and Thomas à Becket spent years in exile in Sens – he must have known he was on to something.
Article by Owen McGowan

Hôtel de Paris & de la Poste: 97, rue de la République, 89100 Sens. Tel.: 03 86 65 17 43. Fax: 03 86 64 48 45. E-mail:

More outings.

© 2005 Paris Update

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