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Standing proud on the hillside overlooking the Cure valley, the Basilique Ste Marie-Madeleine dominates the enchanting town of Vézelay. Climb to the top of the hill, past the boutiques and galleries, cafes and restaurants and there you will find pretty alleyways and courtyards bourgeoning with geraniums throughout summer. Wander around the ramparts, pass the traditional old houses and soak up the atmosphere of Burgundy at its best. The medieval town is well preserved with 15th, 16th and 17th century houses, gates and ramparts and it is classified as an UNESCO World Heritage site. On a summer’s evening at sundown, the stonework on the buildings takes on a warm golden glow which should not be missed.
Throughout history, this has been a great centre for pilgrims. It was here that in 1190 King Philippe Auguste of France and Richard the Lionheart of England, two of the most powerful sovereigns of their time, met to depart on the 3rd Crusade. Even today, it is one of the four routes across France into Spain to Santiago de Compostela, with golden scallop shells in the pavement marking the way.
The Basilique Ste.Marie-Madeleine is visible from many kilometres away, and even when there is low cloud in the valleys, the building appears regally through the mist. It is the very nucleus of Vézelay. This is a wonderful example of Romanesque architecture, with a particularly impressive tympanum forming the central doorway and beautifully sculpted capitals down the length of the nave. In the crypt, part of the relics of Mary Magdalene still exist. The nuns in the town seem particularly friendly in the shops close to the basilica where religious books and artefacts are on offer.
The basilica has a very active musical itinerary. Apart from the regular services, from June 15 to September 15 there is a free organ recital every Sunday afternoon at 16.00. There are concerts throughout the year with a music festival in August.
In the late 19th century, phyloxera wiped out the vineyards around Vézelay. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the vines were planted again and the Burgundy Vézelay appellation was eventually granted in 1997. Chardonnay, Melon and Pinot Noir are the varieties grown over hundreds of hectares taking in the villages of Asquins, St-Père, Tharoiseau as well as Vézelay itself. Several of the producers are concentrating on organic wines. Visit the Caves du Pèlerin in Rue St-Etienne, and Cave Henry de Vézelay on Route de Nanchèvres for tastings.
Take to the skies
France Montgolfières takes passengers on hot air balloon flights from Vézelay setting off just after dawn or two hours before dusk. Gaze on the world from a new perspective as you float over villages and woods before landing for a glass of bubbly. More...
Galerie d’art St-Père, Vézelay showing the work of painter Georges Hosotte.
Musée Zervos, originally the home of Romain Rolland, now beautifully restored as a contemporary art gallery, close to the Tourist Office.
Hotels & Restaurants
Places to visit nearby
English speaking estate agents in Vézelay www.burgundy4u.eu
10 Rue St. Etienne (main street) Vézelay, tel: 00 33(0) 386 33 23 69
Getting to and from Vezelay