Vezelay and L’Esperance – Burgundy, France

A Showcase of Romanesque Architecture and Rural Hospitality

Time takes a leap back to the Middle Ages in Vezelay, whose Basilica of Ste. Madeleine attracted multitudes of pilgrims for centuries. Follow in their footsteps up the picturesque town’s steep main street. At its summit, the great Romanesque church has stood since the 11th century, when it was one of the focal points of Christendom.

Relics of St. Mary Magdalene, Christianity’s most beloved par­doned sinner, were credited with many miracles and drew an onslaught of devoted Christians, who stopped here on the way to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. After the relics were eventually declared false, Vezelay fell out of favor and the cathedral fell into ruins. It escaped demolition in 1840, was painstakingly restored, and is once again a showcase of Romanesque architecture, a mas­terpiece of light and space.

Located in the fertile heartland of one of the world’s most prestigious wine-producing regions, Vezelay can be the perfect town from which to soak up Burgundy’s magic if you have booked at the nearby 15th-century Château de Vault-de-Lugny. With just twelve sumptuous guest chambers and the personal attention of the warm owners, this is like staying at an old friend’s dream château, replete with a 13th-century dungeon. Dinner is served by candlelight in the atmospheric old kitchen, or when weather permits, out­doors near the ancient moat and a family of preening peacocks.

For a special off-site dinner, travel to St. Pere at the foot of Vezelay, birthplace of the world-lauded Marc Meneau, who modestly refers to himself as a “country chef.” At L’Esperance, an old stone farmhouse with a glass-enclosed dining room, Meneau and his wife, Francoise, have combined an ambience of rural ease with world-class sophistication and a subtle menu of local game and produce.

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