A few days ago, I had written that I was somewhat underwhelmed by Semur. It has this glorious, romantic look to the place, especially from a slight distance. When you visit during the day, the overall impression in the village center is of tour bus refugees milling around the few gift shops, patisseries, and cafes in the tiny streets inside the old town gates.
But when you return, it's another story. I think I've changed my mind.
It took me a few visits to appreciate Semur. I was visiting it like the tour bus folks, hopping out of the car, sniffing around, and zooming off again. The advantage of living temporarily a few miles down the road is that your visits can layer over each other, giving a more textured view. Here's what I learned by taking several walks.
Yes, people do live in the fairy-tale town. There are streets winding out of the ancient center, filled with houses, shops, and people going about their lives. There's a very pretty 18th-century district just past the old ramparts, and even the newer houses extending the town are attractive and look like a pleasant place to live. There are three supermarkets in town, making Semur a necessary excursion for those living in the many villages in the area without stores. We particularly like the ATAC, which has a very nice butcher who hand slices meat to order, and always has a line of people waiting for his attention. Come to think of it, I haven't seen an independent butcher's shop in Semur. I wonder if there had been one? Outside, there's a reasonably priced gas pump with a real live person who will take something other than the chip-embedded european credit card. If you arrive off-hours with only cash or your U.S.-issued card, you're out of luck at these pumps.
Within Semur's center, there's a wonderful charcuterie and traiteur right next to the pharmacy across from Notre Dame, and if you continue down the same street you'll get to a pizza and simple plat place our landlords like called Entre' Act, and a fancier place called Le Calibressan. Of the four or five patisseries in town, we like the first one you pass on the right as you leave Notre Dame, heading down rue Bufon. As I learned from Gavin, their Dome is to die for. A few doors down is the clothing store where I ran into a Tivauche neighbor, buying pants on sale.
In the evening, residents retake the cafes.
Here's an interesting detail on a corbel from the 13th century Porte Guillier, at the entrance to the old town. Squint a bit, his back is towards you. No, that's not his other leg. Yes, that is what you think it is. Hey, the Blue Guide told me to look!
Moving on, let's visit Notre Dame, just down the street from that happy guy.
It was begun in 1220, enlarged several times over the years, knocked about during the Revolution, and is now needing serious roof and drainage work. There are engineering plans for the structural repair to study (not suprisingly, Larry loved these) just past the entrance doors. Stop just outside the main door, and you'll see all the destruction done during the Revolution. Find two remaining details--an elephant and a camel, just on either side of the doors.
It's a beautiful, soaring space inside, with wonderful stained glass to brighten the stone gloom. Churches usually make me feel as if they're either places for community (shared culture, storytelling as art, pride of place and time) or of prayer (for me, simplicity and quiet). To my mind, Notre Dame is a place of both. The side chapels are interesting, I particularly like the one with 15th century glass panels detailing drapers work, donated of course by the local drapers.
After you walk around inside, head back out the door and turn right, alongside the side of the church to find the North door. Above the door is a wonderful carving, pretty much as it was carved in the 13th century. It shows the story of Doubting Thomas, with images of all the months of the year climbing over the top. Sowing, reaping, fall slaughtering...just across the street next to the garage door is a sign in French that helps you find the details. My favorites are two odd men sitting underneath just to the right. And look at the acrobat just above them.
For a great long walk (or drive if you want--but the streets are very, very narrow!) around town, first get the good map from the Tourist Office. Go down rue de Rempart, skirting the old ramparts. They're repairing the walls now, so you can't go down the old stairway, but will have to get down steep rue de la Potrene. Watch for cars, and cross the little pont des Minimes. Trun left, and follow narrow rue Baudon alongside the river, getting a turning view of the city as you travel. This was where the tanners lived back in the day, now it's prettily restored houses. We almost stayed in one of these, and I'll dig out the bookmark for future reference. Continue along, and you'll start to climb. Eventually, you'll get back to where town twists into itself at the bend of the river.
And for those of you waiting for your food porn, here's a dome. Almond merengue base, caramel mousse and apples inside, white chocolate glaze.