Two Days in Besançon, France

Gail and I have just completed another portion of the Via Francigena pilgrimage which started in Canterbury and will eventually take us to Rome. This year, we walked 575 kilometres from Tergnier to Gy in France. Although we planned to walk about 40 kilometres further to Besançon, an unfortunate fall that severely limited Gai’s ability to walk, cut our journey a tiny bit short.

However, we had also planned a post-walk holiday that would take us from Besançon and through Switzerland by train, before returning home to Winnipeg. We resolved to continue with our plans, as carefully and as slowly as Gail’s ability required, minimizing our walking and using buses, trams and trains wherever possible. Here’s a day-by-day account of our progress.   

Notes from our stay in Besançon:

Besançon would have been the last city we would walk into on this, the second stage of our pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome on the Via Francigena route. Instead, our walk fell about forty kilometres short of our goal due to Gail’s unfortunate tumble as we left Gy. Such are the possible misfortunes of long walks through strange lands. Instead, we arrive by car, with our kind host Frédéric driving us from the lovely Gîte de la Brillianne that he and his wife, Anne, operate in Geneuille. 

Many beautiful communities have dotted our pilgrimage route. I recall Chalon-en-Champagne and Bar-le-Duc as being two exceptional examples, although there were many more, both larger cities and tiny hamlets, that made our walk so enjoyable. Besançon is certainly one of best. Even with Gail’s damaged knee and limited walking ability, we still manage to soak in a small sampling of Besançon’s charms. 

It starts with our lodging at Résidence Charles Quint, an 18 C. townhouse set high above the rest of the city on a narrow lane of stone buildings. We pass through iron gates, a grand foyer and a set of heavy wood doors before entering the courtyard. A winding stone path leads us through the quiet private garden to our terrace suite, recently restored to its original finishes. That it was a place one might not want to leave came in handy as this will be Gail’s domain for most of the next two days. She could swing the garden doors open, lay on the bed or sit on the patio chair just outside and enjoy the lush garden while resting her injured leg.  I bring pastries for breakfast, pizzas and burgers for dinner. 

In between, I explore the city on my own, sussing out possible outings for Gail that would be easy on her legs. Victor Hugo’s House. Quai Vauban. The Citadel. And I discover that our charming accommodation is, in fact, at the high point of the old town which is otherwise remarkably level. It made my walks enjoyable, trundling up and down the narrow medieval streets but, for Gail, they are more obstacle than adventure. Regardless, on the second day we manage a good, slow walk down into town. We visit the astronomical clock and Cathédrale Saint-Jean, conveniently located just across the street from our suite. Further down, we pass through the 2nd century Roman gate, Porte Noire. Just beyond lies Square Castan, an archaeological garden replete with Corinthian columns, the remnants of a Roman theatre and subterranean aqueduct. Continuing down Rue Grande—a truly grand street lined with historic stone buildings, many bearing statuary set in wall niches—we stop by a pharmacy for a knee support. We walk through the  colonnaded courtyard of Palais Granvelle, a fine example of the up-and-coming Renaissance style. And, just beyond the palace, at the edge of a leafy square, we sit under the courtyard umbrellas of Brasserie Grenville to enjoy an alfresco lunch on this warm October day. It’s a fitting way to celebrate 24 days and 575 kilometres of trekking through the glorious French countryside. Over roast pork, cheese casserole and tarte au poivre, we toast the symbolic end of this year’s walk. Cheers to the Via Francigena and a promise to return next year, to continue our journey southwards, through France, Switzerland and well into northern Italy.

Buen camino!         

Read on to view the day’s photos.

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