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November 19, 2018

France: Gray

Filed under: Europe, France, Photography, Travel, Travel, Writing — Tags: , , , , — anotherheader @ 7:59 pm

Every Gray’s a star in Gray France

Older more historic towns tend to be along rivers. The natural waterways provide water, food, and natural trading routes. This is the situation of Gray, which was founded in the 7th Century along the River Saône. Since the Middle Ages the commune, a couple of hours east of Paris, has been an important river port and trading center in Franche-Comté.

These days the locks on the upper Saône are too small for the big international scale barges to reach Gray. Limited to smaller barges, industrial river commerce is no longer the lifeblood of the commune. Now the port’s traffic comes mostly from pleasure boats, with a clutch of private and hire boats stopping at the quay each night.

Some roads lead to Gray

The Tour Saint-Pierre is known for its turning staircase that functions as a sort of door.

Gray has a population of 6,175, a relatively small town. But by French standards Gray is more than large enough to warrant a tourist office. Though it’s not clear to me that maintaining infrequently visited tourist offices has net economic value to the communes, they are very helpful if you are a tourist. And Gray’s tourist office is better than most. The agent in the office was able to arrange for a walking tour in English on short notice.

Walking tours, when you can find them, are often the best way to see a city. Sometimes, as in Gray, a tour can get you into places that are otherwise closed to the public. The tour in Gray culminated inside the village’s usually inaccessible théâtre de Gray. There’s little to suggest from the street that the inside is a smaller version of a more grand theater that you might see in a big city.


Getting ready for the big night

If you travel by car on the regional autoroutes you’d likely whiz right past Gray without even realizing that it is nearby. France has many towns like this. There are countless villages with significant history and interesting buildings but are not grand enough to be major tourist destinations. For good reason tourists who happen near Gray preferentially stop in Beaune, Dijon, Besançon, or Nancy rather than Dole or Gray. Dole and Gray are interesting but there are even more interesting places nearby. There’s more to see in the larger and more famous towns; they are bigger tourist destinations for a reason.

Nevertheless it is a shame to miss the pleasures of France’s less famous places. But unless you are committed to traveling slowly, it’s hard to take the time to stop. The places overlooked by high-speed tourists become highpoints for those who creep through the countryside.


We visited Gray in May of 2017.

Wanderlust moored in Gray on the River Saône.

Gray’s hôtel de ville or town hall

Close up of the Burgundian-style roof on the town hall in Gray


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