We bid a fond adieu to the Champagne area this morning, resuming our journey east. Landscapes change swiftly and dramatically, the endless vine plantings give way to cleared farmland on open plains.
Champagne still has a surprise left though. Driving through the relatively tiny l’Epine we come across the extraordinary Notre Dame de l’Epine, a 15th/16th century gothic masterpiece.
Building commenced in 1406 in the middle of the Hundred Years War and was completed in 1527. It was officially upgraded to a Basilica in 1914. I’m not surprised – it’s a grandly impressive structure with the most fabulous gargoyles, placed so they guide rainwater away from mortar, protecting the structure.
I love a good gargoyle, and the pagan legends that suggest they ward away evil spirits. An each way bet never hurts! Some of the gargoyles have been replaced with identical replicas – apparently quite a number were stolen during the Revolution.
There’s even an internal well, still potable, which allegedly promotes fertility. I passed…
We learn that the Basilica has played host to Napoleon and many of the French kings.
It’s a fabulous find and a fitting grand finale to Champagne.
Chris has the dial set to Verdun, where we arrive by mid afternoon, but not before we see a tiny deer zipping through a field. If you squint a bit you can see her as a tiny reddish brown dot in the centre of the photo below, just at the edge of the forest. Very exciting!
Verdun proves yet another delight. I was expecting a tiny village, but instead we find a thriving town set upon the river Le Meuse, with elegant boulevards and no end of things to see.
There’s the enormous citadel at the edge of town, yet another cathedral, many monuments to the extraordinary battle of Verdun which lasted most of 1916,
a photography display, the cafe scene set upon the river
and gorgeous architecture.
We lap the town’s left bank, hike up the war monument, visit the cathedral with its medieval frescoes,
walk though the photographic display (Australia gets a spot, Remarkable Rocks at Kangaroo Island) stop for a drink riverside, take endless photos in the afternoon light and marvel over it all.
We decide to stay a second day, there’s too much here to do it justice in an afternoon. Verdun has turned out to be a delightful surprise.