Fortified during the Middle Ages, the town is built of mellow stone and local inhabitants take great pride in the preservation and restoration of their village. Visitors are enchanted by hearing Gregorian chants echoing in the mornings through the St. Joseph de Clairval monastery, as well as by wandering about little art galleries and crafts shops owned by artists who are a welcome addition to the population of 400 villagers.
Rejoining the road that ultimately leads to Paris, one finds the turn-off into Vezelay, sitting high on its hilltop above the surrounding countryside. For many people, Vezelay—laced with narrow streets and old houses with sculptured doorways and mullioned windows—is the highlight of a visit to Burgundy. All paths lead up to the 12th century Basilica Sainte Madeleine, a jewel of Romanesque architecture, and a masterpiece of light and space. Back when religious pilgrimages were in fashion, this extraordinarily long church with its soaring columns was an important rest-stop on the route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
The Vezelay village is a charmer, with delicious little restaurants, tempting boutiques and little hotels fitted into historic buildings and tucked behind walls, with gorgeous gardens and magnificent vistas of the surrounding countryside. There’s no doubt that the high-season traveler will need a room reservation in advance. Residence Hotel le Pontot (closed during our recent visit) has the reputation of being the village’s most luxurious inn. Occupying a 17th century residence right next to the hilltop basilica, it offers five recently refurbished rooms, each uniquely decorated and with modern baths.
Le Pontot serves breakfast only, but for the most upscale eatery, head out of town a couple to miles to the two-star Michelin restaurant L’Esperance, in its own right a modern-day pilgrimage for gourmands. Of course, this elegant, antiques-filled country manor house/hotel—a member of Relais & Chateaux—is also a grand place to spend the night. The finest of the 34 rooms and six suites overlook the beautiful garden and the Cure River. Rates start at $170 dbl, suites at $300.
On the other hand, in this editor’s opinion staying right in Vezelay—a good choice is the comfy and welcoming Hotel de la Poste et Lion d’Or, a smart, flower-bedecked former coaching inn whose best rooms overlook the countryside and whose restaurant serves up excellent country dishes—is a better Bourgogne experience. Double room rates from $125.