From Glorious Vezelay to Charming Varzy & A Lot of Nowhere in Between

Nave, St. Madeleine Vezelay

So, do you want the bad news first or last?

Let’s assume you’re the type of person that likes to save the best part for last, in which case I’ll get the good news out of the way and save the juicy stuff for later. The good news is I saw Vezelay yesterday, just as the sun was shining directly for a brief period of time.

The contrast between light and dark,

Tiers of Light, St. Madeleine Vezelay

the lateral thrust of the barrel vaulting,

Light and Dark, St. Madeleine Vezelay

and the impressive, relatively pristine Romanesque sculpture program

Tympanum, St. Madeleine Vezelay

More Demons, St. Madeleine Vezelay

will leave lasting memories.

I’m really, really happy that I decided to start my Camino here, and hope to return again someday.

Before I get to the bad news, let me interrupt this post to say IT’S OK MOM AND DAD, I’M NOT HURT. Alright then.

When I left my hostel in Vezelay, I was told by the caretaker that the next town I needed to stop in was Tannay. He told this to me in Spanish, so I have no doubt I misheard him. Keep Tannay in the back of your head, yeah?

As I was heading out of Vezelay, I noticed a sign for Fontenay. Unless you’re obsessed with Medieval architecture like I am, that name probably doesn’t mean anything to you, but there is a legendary Cistercian abbey there and the sign said it was only 6 km away. I figured why not take a little detour if it meant visiting such a beautiful place?

Onward to Fontenay I went, but after encountering multiple forks in the road it became clear that I didn’t know where I was going anymore.

Road to Fontenay

Luckily for me, the scenery made for a pleasant diversion, so I didn’t mind too much that I was somewhat lost.

Field of Sunflowers

I passed by many fields before finally hearing some bells tolling nearby. “The abbey!” I thought to myself excitedly. Soon after, I saw a sign pointing toward Fontenay and bounded gleefully down the road into the village.

…And that was when I found out that this was the wrong Fontenay! After wandering the village and looking very much like a confused traveler, I asked a local where the abbey was. He laughed and said I was in Fontenay-apres-Vezelay (or something like that), and that the Fontenay I was looking for was about 60 km to the north. Well, that would have been good to know before I took my detour—and got lost on it—in the first place.


I set a course for what I thought would be a point intersecting with Tannay. Somehow, I went in a giant circle, and crossed through two other small villages, Seouvres (which I no doubt misspelled) and St. Pierre-something-or-other. Eventually, a very nice barmaid in St.Pierre found a map hiding in the bar and showed me how to reconnect with the correct road.


Although I had probably walked an extra 10 km for nothing, things were finally looking up for me. I was within two hours of my destination, with plenty of light out, and decided to take a break for lunch. I had just finished eating two delicious avocados with aplomb when I looked at my backpack and noticed that my jacket, which had been fasted via bungee cord, was missing—somehow, the bungee cord was not. A bit of good news to accompany what is obviously poor news indeed: it didn’t rain at all, and since the jacket was rolled up on my backpack I wasn’t storing anything at all in there. But it was a good find and will be tough to replace.


Lamenting my loss, I marched onward, and when I reached Nuars, a small village about 10 km from Tannay, I was helped out by a really nice Portuguese-cum-Frenchman and his cougar girlfriend and given water and specific directions. About 30 minutes after leaving Nuars, I came across this stunning view and couldn’t resist taking a couple shots of the landscape:

Where the road never ends


For the morbidly curious, here is an 18 second video of what it looks like out there:

When I arrived in Tannay about two hours later with time to spare before dark, you can imagine my shock when I was told by a couple different people that there was not a single pilgrims’ hostel around. That’s kind of where things hit bottom—I asked around for a place to spend the night but the people of Tannay were unwilling to take me in. So I snuck into a park that was supposed to be closed, maneuvered a heavy picnic table next to an overlook of the valley, and curled into the fetal position in my sleeping bag for what turned out to be a windy night.

Where I slept in Tannay

This morning I woke up at Tannay around 9:30 AM, a little sore around my shoulders but otherwise relatively well-rested. After yesterday’s debacle of going in circles, I was determined to stick to the path, and once I left the town that’s exactly what I did.

Ascending out of Tannay

After a gentle, twisting ascent of about 3 km, I was completely out of sight of the town and in a narrow valley bordered by the forest and cut through with plowed fields and cow pasture.


Just past noon, I arrived in a small village and found a shady spot to post up while the sun hovered high overhead; I ate my lunch (apricots and a grapefruit) and napped for half an hour, then set off again after 2 PM.

A desert of empty fields

After ascending a small hill I came across a vast expanse of empty fields, with no shade in sight. After pausing in the shade, I decided to jog until I made it to the forested section on the other side—I didn’t have sunscreen on and didn’t want to risk a burn. So there I was, with a pack and sleeping bag flopping on my back, bouncing across the plain.

After what seemed like another few miles, I finally came to Varzy, a big town compared to Tannay but still not much more than a thousand people. I’m not sure where I’m spending the night yet, but they have a beautiful 13th century church I might check out later, and I even spotted some other hikers nearby, so at least I’m not alone. Tomorrow is going to be a very intense day as I set off for La Charite-sur-Loire, 36 km away. It will be an all-day hike, and I have packed extra food for the journey. Wherever you may be reading this from, it probably isn’t in some field in God-knows-where—unless you are, in which case, that guy with the deep tan and floppy hat you see over the ridge is me. See you on the other side.

*Note to my readers: I do apologize for taking so long to post—I would really like to have new material up every 24 hours—but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to access the internet. This post was written in a lovely pizzeria in Varzy called il Pizzaiolo. If you ever come here, I suggest you pay this place a visit! Order the La Napolitana, it’s delicious.

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27 thoughts on “From Glorious Vezelay to Charming Varzy & A Lot of Nowhere in Between

  1. I know this area well. Your shots left me smiling. Your day seems like a bit of a metaphor for the pilgrimage traveler. Lost then found. Loosing and letting go. Safe travels! PJ

    1. Glad you’ve enjoyed what I have put up so far PJ! I am starting to read the trail markers better so let’s hope I don’t get lost too often, or at least to in the middle of the woods. you wouldn’t happen to know of a placein Bourges that has free wifi, do you? I’m using an iPad in the tourism office and need to upload my pictures from the camino into La Charite.

  2. Nathan, you might have passed an abandoned Romanesque church on your way to Fontenay-sous-Vezelay. It looks like a barn now, but if you peek in, you can still see the pillars and capitals. Have a great time in La Charite. Are you going to Nevers? Saint Erienne is superb.

    1. No way, I wish I had known! And I can’t believe you know where Fontenay sous Vezelay is- you really have to look hard for it. I don’t suppose you have figured this out yet, but I’m not carrying any maps or guidebooks, just winging it as I go along

      1. Nathan, we spend a great deal of time at Vezelay. One of our favorite hotels is the Crispol across the valley in the hameau of Fontette. So we have driven and explored almost every inch of that region.

      2. Nathan, and close to Vezelay is Auxerre, Sens, Fontenay (with the abbey :), the majestic capitals at Saint Andoche in Saulieu, Montreal, and so many other wonderful places.

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