Druyes Les Belles Fontaines. Or, “Druyes, the town of beautiful fountains”. Not the fountains we imagine – fish or ducks vomiting l’aqua, cupids peeing it, greek gods writihng in it. No. Natural fountains. Water springing from the earth, washed clean by underground stone from a time before history. Cold water, even in Summer. Continuous, sweet, mineral rich waters, that paint the surrounds green. It’s one of the greenest places I’ve ever seen. The hills are green – thick with medieval forest, or carpeted in fragrant wild herbs and moss. The water is green – each stone shrouded in emerald algae. As the streams move, they wash the weed with it, serpentine hairs of river grass, swirling and ballooning with the current. Even the houses are green. Plant life is primary here, and it defeats both man and stone alike.
Our house is rented from an artist. It has both pretty and raunchy sketches by the dozen, pet ducks (3), fleas (too many), and the most incredible garden I have ever seen. An acre of heavy fruit trees, sweeping lawn and rambling outbuildings covered in vines. It borders the river, with shallow steps down to the cool water. The ducks come to steal our lunch from the gazebo, then waddle through the gate at the waters edge and plop themselves in, fat and contented. Two swans reside on a small vacant block nearby, waist height with crispy summer grass. They patrol the still river to and fro like statuesque gendarmes, occasionally posing for photographs with their long necks joined in a heart shape.
Over the shallow water is a playground. We walk there every day over a narrow lane of stepping stones. There is a kiosk next to the swings so parents can enjoy a glass of wine while supervising their children after 4pm. A man, quiet and harmless, a French Rex Harrison, watches the children play from his gate, propped on his cane. Occasionally his old dog pokes his nose out to check on proceedings.
Walkers tramp up the nearby hill, laden with camping kits. There is an 12th century fort atop it in the midst of renovation. It holds occasional concerts, plays and stargazing nights, small in scale – the town population is 301 and counting. The gift shop sells medieval wooden toys. Lion convinces me that a bow and arrow is educational. Then educates me in sibling rivalry as he attempts to harpoon his brother.
You may wonder how we found this little commune of only 301 people… It’s all about the wine. Druyes is in the Department of Yonne, which is also home to Chablis, a wine as steely-perfect as the quiet waters that spring from Druye’s fountains. The Chardonnay that even “ABCs” (the Anything but Chardonnay crowd) seem to love (information on the wine here). A wine who’s discovery through my prompting to my husband may have enforced the power of love.
We can drive to Chablis in 40 minutes, past abandoned castles and fields strewn with wild flowers. We do our own form of nature walk through the degustation rooms and cooperatives of the main street. At each tasting, we learn something new about the wine, the standards of production, the crus, the changes in technology.
We amble down Rue Auxerrois, ducking into every open door to sample wares. Some stores are large, dusty, creaking and full of barrels, others slick and clinical. One is simply a garage, opening onto an inner courtyard full of tudor style woodwork. The winemaker flirts outrageously. Bottles are hand labeled upon purchase.
We bang on the door at William Fevre at closing time, and they happily allow us in while we wait for our word-of-mouth recommendation Le Bistrot des Grand Crus to open. We try Les Clos for the first time – a petit Grand Crus that’s usually out of budget. My companions don’t need converting, but these, and the wines of charm both rustic and pure from the main street have possibly convinced us there is no better white wine on earth.
We return to Druyes, to our preciously adorned ramshackle house. We play 500 in the gazebo, and when the mosquitoes arrive, the parlour. We drink our purchases simply with bread and cheese. No dinner is needed – we have all we want. (Except maybe a flea collar)
There are many other places to base oneself in the Yonne (tourist info here), and many places to visit apart from the two mentioned above. Try:
- Auxerre – a pretty, hilly town with good restaurants – the capital of the region
- Avallon– situated on the edge of the Morvan Forest, and known for it’s Saturday market
- Joigny – The beginning of the Canal de Bourgogne, another good market (Wed/Sat) and fab local apples
- Montreal – an ancient fortified town, and the 6th C home of Queen Brunhild. Beautiful countryside
- Pontigny – Famouns Pontigny Abbey was the refuge of Sir Thomas Becket in 1165
- Saint Fargeau – Incredible chateau with attics to explore
- Sens – Gothic cathedral and the lovely Restaurant La Madeleine
- Tonnere – Gorgeous village with Vauclusian spring and medieval hospice
- Vezelay – Perhaps the prettiest of the lot (one of the official “Most beautiful villages in France“) – a hilled town with abbey, boutique shops and galleries, and nearby the 2 Michelin Star L’Esperance (or you can try the bistro at La Poste for a little less, closer to the centre of town)
You can also drove south for about 2 hours to Beaune to try some red (and do so much more).