SOPHIE WALKING TOURS OF JOIGNY
~ Morning Walk ~
A Sophie walking tour of Joigny must surely start where it all began: chez Sophie! Today, her home is part of a beautiful retreat center called the Centre Sophie Barat, located at 11 rue Davier in the medieval section of town. With any luck you are staying there when you begin your walk.
Let’s start by walking out the front door, turning right, and following Sophie’s own first journey: to the church of St Thibault to be baptized. As you walk down the rue Davier, imagine the smell of smoke and charred wood still lingering in the air after the fire that almost destroyed the Barat home. Imagine for a moment that you are Louis, only eleven years old, hurrying down the hill with an hours-old preemie in his arms, fairly certain that she (and probably their mother) will soon die.
The church, a gothic-style structure that has undergone many changes over the centuries, honors the 11th-century saint Thibault (1039-1066); an equestrian sculpture of the French saint embellishes the side entry. When you enter the church and look to the right, you will see a stained glass window depicting her baptism; it was donated in the late 19th century by descendants of Sophie’s sister, Marie-Louise Dussaussoy. One can easily imagine Sophie here at early morning mass, gazing at the two large Madonna statues (one of them smiling!).
To reach St. Jean, the other church Sophie would have known well, walk out the side door, turn right (Place du Pilori), and continue along the rue Montant au Palais. This walk will take you past several of the lovely old half-timbered structures that give this neighborhood much of its charm, including the famous Tree of the House of Jesse.
Arriving at the intersection of the rue des Fossés Saint Jean, you will see a walkway leading through the arch and up to the church. Follow it up the hill, and enter this lovely 16th-century church, built after the great fire of 1530. This is the church that became the Temple of Reason during the French Revolution.
When you leave Saint Jean, walk back down the cobblestone path (don’t miss the splendid Maison du Bailli as you’re coming back through the arch!), and turn right onto the rue Montant au Palais. Backtrack until you reach the rue Gabriel Cortel, the main shopping area in the neighborhood, and turn left. Along this gracefully descending pedestrian route you will find shops of all kinds, including a grocery store on the left toward the bottom. Pick up a picnic lunch along the way, and continue down to the river.
Cross the bridge, turn left and walk along the river (chemin des Pontons) for a mile or two until you reach the lock. Find a spot to lay out your picnic, and watch the boats being lowered into the next phase of their trip down the Yonne. Imagine Sophie sitting here in 1795 with her four-year-old nephew in “Butterfly.” Listen for cows. (If possible, make part of your picnic a fresh baguette and the époisse cheese mentioned in this chapter. Or try the even more local Joigny cheese.)
BICYCLE OPTION: Turn right when you cross over the bridge from your food shopping, and—if the season is right—you should find a bike rental station along the left bank. You can ride for a while downriver, then back up to the lock for your picnic.
~ Late Afternoon Walk ~
When you’ve had a restorative nap, go visit the source of your lovely glass of vin gris: the vineyards where Sophie loved to play as a child, and where we see her in several chapters of the novel: most notably in “Vendange” (Part 1). Walk out the door of her house, turn left, and continue through the medieval arch and outside the old city wall; continue up the stairs to the boulevard du Nord. Turn left on the avenue de la Forêt d’Othe, and when this road splits (about 500 feet further), bear to the right along the chemin de la Collinnière; turn left almost immediately onto the chemin de la Voie Graisse.
You are now in the Côte Saint Jacques, surrounded by pinot vines. If you look carefully, you will find the allée of linden trees down which Célestine and Sophie, aged eleven, rush joyfully in the fall of 1791. Enjoy the views up and down the Yonne, breathe in the vines, and if possible, watch the sunset, and imagine Sophie imagining a world beyond her little town. When you return to rue Davier, don’t miss the street sign as you approach Sophie’s home.
If you like fine dining, raid your piggy bank and walk down to La Côte Saint Jacques for an unforgettable (albeit pricey) 3-star Michelin meal. Walk down the hill until rue Davier ends at rue Saint-Jacques. Turn right, continue four blocks; the street now becomes Faubourg Sain-Jacques. When this road arrives at the quai, you are almost there. Bear to your right along Faubourg Paris until you arrive, 14 Faubourg Paris.
From Joigny, you are within easy reach of many travel destinations, including the greater Burgundy and Champagne wine regions; the abbey of Vézelay; and the beautiful cathedral at Sens.
For information about the retreat center at Sophie’s home, visit http://centre.barat.free.fr/
For more information on the town of Joigny and its environs, visit http://www.tourisme-joigny.fr/anglais_fr_11_01.html
For more information on the Cote Saint Jacques restaurant, hotel and spa, visit http://cotesaintjacques.com/en/