Friday, 29 June 2012

Bourges Old Town Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 4.8 km (3 miles)

For more running routes, see the Route List

Here's a route that combines the medieval charm of Bourges' old town plus the green paradise of the Marais ("swamp" or "bog") east of town.

If you're lucky enough to find yourself in ancient Bourges, then there's no getting around its medieval character: the narrow streets lined with half-timbered houses and stone palaces, then the gigantic cathedral with its dozens of 800-year-old stained-glass windows, one of the greatest gothic cathedrals ever built, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Half-timbered house in Bourges
On summer evenings, the town has a running light-and-sound show of medieval music and images playing off the walls and courtyards of several palaces.

This route starts with a circle through the old town and cathedral, but that can be done in just a few minutes. So, to make it a real run, we'll then head east through the Marais, along a trail beside a peaceful little river, the l'Yèvre. Those are the kinds of runs I like best.

The run starts in one of the nicest squares in town, Place Jacques Coeur, in front of his palace. Jacques Coeur was a fabulously rich merchant who made a fortune trading with the middle east, and came back to his hometown to build his dream palace back in the 15th century. It is considered one of the greatest medieval palaces in all of France. If you look at the round towers and the foundations around back, you'll see the Roman origins of the base: the old Roman layered stone and brick castle remains.
Palais Jacques Coeur
Standing there next to the statue of Jacques Coeur, turn your back to the palace and run east down the little alley, which turns north.

At the next intersection, on Rue Coursarlon, turn left and run for two blocks, first crossing Rue Moyenne, the main street of town, then turning right on Rue Porte Jaune (yellow-gate street). You are now heading north, towards the cathedral, passing more ancient homes.
Heading up Rue Porte Jaune
You'll come out in the square facing the cathedral's front entrance, with its five porticos. Now run past the front side and turn left to run along the south side of the church, with its delicate flying buttresses supporting the main structure. Make sure to take time later to come back and visit the church from within. When the sun is shining through the three levels of stained glass, the bright colors are beautiful.
The cathedral portals: one for each aisle of the church
To the right is the town hall, and the entrance-way to a nice park, the Jardin de Archevechè. Run into the park and loop through it and come back to this entrance again.
View towards cathedral from the park
When you're back, turn right and run down the steps to the street behind the cathedral, Avenue Eugène Brisson. Just cross that street and run east for one block on tree-lined Boulevard de Strasbourg.

After a block, turn left and continue on Rue de l'Alchimie, with its old houses. The name recalls the times when Bourges was one of the French centers of alchemy, the attempt to turn base metals into expensive ones.

The street ends by merging into the Place Devoucoux.

Turn right onto Rue Chalet, where you run until the first street crossing, where you turn left. On the right side the street is called Rue de Brives. On the left side, where we are running, the street is called Chemin des Prébendes.

Now the run turns into a very different one: instead of the close-built old town, you are now amid little plots of land used as vegetable- and flower-gardens. The air is sweet-smelling and the only sound is the singing of birds.

The street turns to the right then crosses a stream. Right after the stream, turn left into a dusty parking lot for the plot owners. Run through the parking lot and over the pedestrian bridge over the l'Yèvre River, where you turn right and start running along the riverside trail, with the water to your right.
Along the river trail in the Marais
This is where the scenery really gets idyllic, with willows hanging over the water, and flower-bushes adding color.

Run along the river for 400 meters, past the first turnoff to the let, the Rue de Babylone, and continue until it hits the first crossing street, Les Grandes Chenus. Turn around here and follow your way back to Place Devoucoux.

But this time continue straight along Rue Geoffroy Tory. The street then becomes Rue Joyeuse, then runs into Rue Bourbonnoux, where you keep to the right.

After a few steps you come to the nicest square in town, Place Gordaine, a shaded plaza with a fountain, surrounded by restaurants in half-timbered houses.
Place Gordaine
But turn left here, on Rue Coursarlon again, and run just past Rue Porte Jaune, to turn diagonally to the right on Rue des Beaux Arts.

This street comes to an intersection of the main street, Rue Moyenne, again, where you turn left on Rue Jacques Coeur and run back to the palace where you started.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Breda Old Town Running Route

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Length 2.1 km (1.3 miles)

For more running routes, see the Route List!

Breda is one of those typical Dutch towns: beautiful old houses, inviting cafés, and amazing churches that make you jealous of the people who get to live there. And, if you ended up there for a trip, like I have a few times, you'll want to explore the area.

This route is more of a morning jog, one of the shortest routes that I've written up, but hopefully will guide you through the most interesting sights of this pleasant little town.

We'll start in the heart of town, at the old market square and loop around the old town, with its moated fortress and park.
The Grote Markt with the church in the background
Let's start at the Grote Markt, the main market square, with the beautifully worked stone church at the north end. The square is lined with restaurants and pubs in historical houses, and the town hall sits on the east side.

Turn south, with your back to the church and run the one block past the tree-lined north end of the square, then turn left on Sint Janstraat. There is a Georgian-era church on the right, and more pubs and restaurants.

In about 150 meters you'll run into a triangular square with a great bookstore on the left. Run straight through  square on Veemarktstraat (cattle market street).

The Vemarkt
It soon curves to the left, running into Catharinastraat, where you turn left and curve more towards the left. You'll pass fascinating antique clock stores on the left (clocks in windmills?) and then pass the Begjnhof, a sort of nunnery for protestant women, with the little Wallon church out front, where Peter Stuyvesant got married (he invented cigarettes).

If the front door to the Begjnhof is open run through its beautiful little courtyard with its cottages surrounding a vegetable garden.
In the Begjnhof
Now continue west on Catharinastraat for a few steps until you see the opening for Valkenberg Park on the right side. Run into the park and do a counter-clockwise loop through the park. You'll reach the far side of the park, then turn left to go past the fountain and go past the west edge of the park.
In Valkenberg Park
The park is bordered here by a moat for Breda Castle lying just west of it. The castle is now used as a Dutch officers' training college.
View of the military academy from the park
When you reach the southwest corner of the park, turn right to continue running past the front side of the castle, and its draw-bridge. 
Across the draw-bridge to the castle: hmm does it really draw?
Keep running west along Cingelstraat and Kraanstraat, where you come to the canal of Breda Harbor. Turn left and run the 100 meters to the bridge that crosses the canal to take a look in both directions.
View from the harbor bridge
Now turn eastwards from the bridge and run east along Fismarktstraat (Fishmarket Street). You'll see the old fishmarket on your right, near the water.
View up Vismarkt
Run the one block to the church, then turn south on Torenstraat to run past the front of the church, then turn left to follow the south side of the church to run back to Grote Markt and your starting point. The church is beautiful on the inside, so make time to visit it and its exquisitely carved grave-monuments to the Dutch kings.
The church tower

Wow, that's a lot of impressions for such a short route! Maybe it's time to head up a few of the other old streets from the Grote Markt and discover more of beautiful Breda!