Noyers by Terri Loewenthal
Nestled within an elegant curve of the Serein river, the medieval cité of Noyers sur Serein sits in a pastoral northern Burgundy landscape of cherry trees, wheat fields, rolling meadows, forests and world-renowned vineyards. Deer, wild boar, pheasants and foxes roam the countryside, which is dotted with storied châteaux, quaint market towns and centuries-old stone abbeys. The UNESCO heritage site Vezelay is 30 minutes away.
Within a traditional agricultural milieu, Noyers sur Serein has long attracted entrepreneurs, artists and craftspeople from other parts of France and abroad. The result is a truly cosmopolitan hybrid population that contributes to the vitality of the place. The village boasts three very good restaurants, several cafés, a top-notch bakery, a superb delicatessen and butcher, and a lively weekly market. During the month of July, Noyers sur Serein hosts musical masterclasses for Les Rencontres Musicales, drawing accomplished young musicians who come from far and wide to study with such luminaries as cellist Gary Hoffman and pianist Anne Queffélec.
Because the village has retained its medieval architectural integrity, it is appealing to filmmakers. Among the movies made in Noyers are the 60s comedy La Grande Vadrouille, featuring the building that is now La Porte Peinte, and Laurent Tirard’s 2007 Molière. TF1 produced a 2011 documentary on the village for its series on the 100 most beautiful villages of France, and in 2012 Tony Bourdain ate, drank, and made merry in Noyers for No Reservations. Only an hour and 40 minutes from Paris, the place has somehow remained unspoilt – there are no souvenir shops, no mass tourism. Wandering Noyers’ crooked, cobblestoned streets, discovering an alley just wide enough for one, a tiny sun-drenched courtyard, purple irises bursting from the top of a 15th-century wall, a walled herb garden, time seems to slow down and stop altogether. The limestone buildings with their arcades, towers and oak beams are witnesses to history, to the lost grandeur of the time when the Dukes of Burgundy ruled this part of France all the way up into Flanders and beyond. The Order of the Golden Fleece met here in a mysterious building adorned with esoteric stone carvings. Much later, the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson spent his childhood summers here, undoubtedly enjoying the same kind of old-fashioned pursuits children find here today: cycling through wheat fields, paddling at the swimming hole, fishing. Life in Noyers sur Serein mirrors the small-scale urban density of the architecture; with houses close together and often even entertwined, this is a place that creates and maintains community, and beyond the dreamy fairy-tale enchantment that first seduces the visitor, it is perhaps this sense of authentic community that leads so many people to want to stay for a while, whether a week, a month, or a lifetime.
Click here for a brochure on Noyers created by the tourist office.