Monday, January 10, 2005

The Long Journey (Interlude - Bourg-En-Bresse)

The Brou monasteryTired and hungry and finally free from the infernal noises and smells of the poor little car, we set about finding food in the small market town of Bourg-En-Bresse. The hotelier was certainly proud of the location of his hotel, but we were a tough crowd, being in bad humour after the days' ordeal.

As I mentioned, like anywhere these days I guess, the outskirts of Bourg-En-Bresse don't exactly fill you with promise. A typical suburbia just off the motorway - motels, petrol stations, car parks and small businesses. However, the approach to our hotel gave us the first sign this town might be more than that. There's an enormous gothic monastery (the Brou monastery) that greets you from the bypass - a beautiful old building of great history and recently restored, it's an impressive sight. A shame we were too grumpy to appreciate its flood-lit splendour at that point in proceedings!

However, as we walked from the hotel towards the historic town centre our mood began to lighten. After a couple of streets we found ourselves following increasingly narrow passageways between beautifully kept old town houses. And by old, I don't mean Victorian. Oh no, I mean REALLY old - 15th/16th century old at a guess, with bare timbers and "wattle and daub" walls. As we walked through the little streets we were wowed by architectural feature after architectural feature. Pretty little squares, interesting roof lines, sculpture, hidden entrances, you name it, we happened across it. It's almost as though Gordon Cullen wrote his famous architectual study, The Concise Townscape (a must for all architecture students), after visiting Bourg-En-Bresse. Best of all, we were fortunate enough to wander down the streets of Bourg-En-Bresse just at the end of the Christmas season so all the decorations were still up and the festivities under way. The more we walked, the more we realised we weren't really that hungry yet and we were simply enjoying whatever the next corner had to offer.

You know what else I liked about this little town? There are lots of pretty towns in this part of the world of course, but there's something really special about a town the people are proud to live in. It shows. People care for their property, the streets are clean, there's an obvious community effort to keep the place nice. And there's an air of contentment in a happy town. That's what Bourg-En-Bresse has.

It's also obviously a town that is forward-thinking. The nice new bus station in the centre of the main square, well kept and respectful of its historic surroundings. The pretty medieval market square we happened across - with an underground car park! This isn't a place suspended in time. This is a place that understands and respects its history but doesn't let that get in the way of its development.I really liked it here. It was the perfect place for us to stop and relax.

After a while we happened across a brasserie called Chez Blanc that our hotelier had mentioned was nice. We popped in to take a look and it was much nicer than we expected, but we figured we deserved a treat so we booked a table and went for another quick poke around the town. After half an hour we came back to eat a really nice meal in cosy surroundings, with a good local wine. After settling up (it wasn't cheap, but the price was reasonable) we slowly walked back to our hotel, full and relaxed, ready to face the next day. We said goodnight to the porter and turned in. We both slept like logs!

So there you go. I thoroughly recommend Bourg-En-Bresse as a good stop-over place for any journey across the east side of France. In fact, it's well worth a weekend break as well if you live close enough to drive/fly relatively easily.

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