On the edge of the Avallonais, the charming hilltop village of Vézelay is a major site of pilgrimage on the Santiago de Compostela route that has inspired scores of artists and writers over the centuries. In the 12th century the village laid claim to the relics of Mary Magdalene and, at its height, it had a population of nearly 10,000, including pilgrims from all over Europe. Its cellars, with their tall pillars, provided shelter for more people than the houses could hold.
Clinging to the hillside, lovely medieval houses line the main street. Romain Rolland, Max-Pol-Fouchet, Georges Bataille, Jules Roy... as you wander, pause to read the plaques outside the houses where these academics once stayed. Halfway up the hill, the Zervos museum has been recently refurbished and displays works by Calder, Miro and Max Ernst. The basilica of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was restored by Viollet-le-Duc – take the time to admire its imposing façade before entering the great nave, flooded with light. The basilica puts on a programme of sacred music concerts from June to September, the most popular as part of the Rencontres de Vézelay festival.