Alphonse de Lamartine was France’s first and most famous Romantic poet. (See the blog from September 23rd 2011). The countryside between Cluny and Mâcon is dubbed the Val Lamartien as it is the area he loved. He was brought up in Milly-Lamartine and lived in chateaux at St Point, Berzé and Pierreclos.
This afternoon it was good to get out for a walk and let the brisk northerly wind blow away the cobwebs. A twenty minute drive brought us to the start of the walk. It was to be short, only 6km, which happened to be quite enough with its tough ‘two-stick’ climb up Montsard.
We began on the voie verte near La Roche Vineuse, passing the adventure park and turning left into Milly-Lamartine. On the main street we passed Lamartine’s childhood home.
Lamartine’s childhood home at Milly-Lamartine - photo from a previous visit
A left turn at the top led us out to the vineyards and up Montsard, a hill with a fortified camp from Gallo-Roman times. Lamartine used to walk this route every day when he went to have lessons with Abbé Dumont over in Bussières. It’s a steep narrow rocky path between high hedges of box.
On the way we followed a deviation to visit the Grotte de Jocelyn. This is the cave that inspired Lamartine’s 1836 epic poem. Without a torch we did not venture far inside.
The entrance to the Grotte de Jocelyn
‘Jocelyn’ is a poem of 10,000 verses which is full of anguish and sentiment. It is about a young man, Jocelyn, whose character was based on Abbé Dumont. Although he had no calling he went to train for the priesthood in order to provide his sister with a dowry. He fled the seminary due to anti-clerical hysteria and took refuge in a cave in the hills. There a dying refugee asked him to care for his son, Laurence. The two fugatives developed a close attachment and, when the boy was injured, Jocelyn discovered that Laurence was a girl. The two fell in love in a chaste sort of way. Unfortunately Jocelyn was summoned by the Bishop of Grenoble who was about to be executed. Jocelyn had to be quickly ordained so he could hear the bishop’s last confession. Heartbroken, Jocelyn returned to become the village priest and never saw Laurence again until the day she came back to the village where he found her dying in the street.
Lamartine tells the tale much better than I, but then I don’t need 300 pages.
At the top of the hill is a table d’orientation with a splendid 360° view. To the south are the hills of Beaujolais and the distinctive outlines of Solutré and Vergisson.
The descent is easy, past the TV tower and the prairies (a protected area of grassland), passing under the TGV line by La Roche Vineuse to rejoin the voie verte.
It’s an excellent walk if you like good views but be warned, it is quite a tricky ascent. Lamartine must have been very fit to walk that path over Montsard every day.