Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The End of the Trip

We’re now home in the U.S. I had thought that my post at the end of the week in Ornans would be the last one for this trip, but we made a couple of unplanned stops on our last full day when we drove from Ornans to Cremieu, where we had started our vacation, so I thought I’d write something brief with some photos.  The first stop was the village of Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne, which we knew nothing about, but as we drove through it it looked charming, so we stopped and took a walk around the village. The village contains the source of the Lizon River, and there is a shop in the village run by a milk and cheese producer named after that: Le Laiterie de la Source du Lizon.  We made a brief stop there and picked up some of their cheese.

After leaving Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne we continued on towards Cremieu, driving through the Jura Departement. As we were driving through we saw a sign for the village of Chateau-Chalon, which is one of Les Plus Beaux Villages (Most Beautiful Villages) de France. We had visited there about 9 years ago when we stayed in that part of the Jura, and decided to make another stop, since we had plenty of time.  The village is high on a hill top, and not only does it have a Plus Beaux Village designation, but it has its own wine appellation, Chateau-Chalon, one of the appellations of the Jura region.

We then drove from Chateau-Chalon to Cremieu and checked into our AirBnB, where we had stayed last year. It’s a great place, and is right in the center of town. We took a walk around Cremieu and made another visit to the brew pub in town, Les Ursulines, which was bustling.  Before dinner we took another walk, and came upon a very friendly cat on a window sill. Unfortunately, the cat was in constant motion, and we couldn’t get any pictures that were in focus. We then went to dinner at Le Castor Gourmand, a restaurant that we had passed by many times but never ate at.  The meal was fantastic, with an excellent, but not pricey, wine list, and entertainment was provided by neighborhood cats who paraded by the window next to our table, presumably dining at the 4 little plates of food we had seen laid out for them next to the restaurant.
Cremieu at Night

On Sunday morning, after breakfast we took a short walk to our favorite boulangerie in Cremieu and picked up some things for the trip home and for the next day’s breakfast. We then made the short drive to the Lyon airport to return our car and begin the journey home. It was uneventful, but long. By the time we finally arrived home it was 10 p.m. here, or 4 a.m. French time.

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Last Half of the Week in Ornans

Wednesday was May 1, a French holiday roughly equivalent to Labor Day in the United States. Most shops were closed, but the boulangerie in town has had a sign up all week stating that they would be open on May 1, so that morning I took my usual walk there to pick up provisions for breakfast. It really is an outstanding bakery, with a terrific selection of breads, breakfast items like croissants and brioche, and cakes and pastries.

It was the first beautiful day in almost a week, so we decided to take a drive to visit several villages to the north of Ornans. The first stop was Rougement, another of the Cités de Caractere of the Franche Comté region.  Like so many villages in this region, it has an impressive church.  We also saw a sign indicating that one of the buildings was once a winemaker’s house. This part of the Franche-Comté once had a thriving wine industry, until phylloxera virtually wiped out the vineyards in the late 1800's, after which improved transportation brought lower priced wine from the Midi that finished off the wine trade here. Now, there are essentially no vineyards in the area, although I’ve read that a couple of growers are trying to revive vineyards and winemaking near Ornans.

After leaving Rougement we made a short excursion to Montbozon, a small village on the Ognon River with, once again, a lovely church.

We then drove to the larger town of Beaume-les-Dame, which we had driven through a couple of days ago on our way back from the Chateau de Belvoir. Being a holiday, pretty much everything was closed, but that meant that there were few people and very little traffic. We took a walk through the center of town, viewing the church and some beautiful old buildings.

We then headed back to Ornans by way of the village of Mouthier-Haute-Pierre. Mouthier is on the Loue River, and while it is not far from Ornans, we hadn’t stopped there when we were in the area 2 years ago.  It’s another Cité de Caractere, and was one of the most impressive we’ve seen. We parked at the bottom of the village and then walked up though the center to the top. Not surprisingly, there was an impressive church in the village.

Back in Ornans we had aperitifs in the courtyard of our gite, as it was finally sunny and warm. Later on we had dinner outside, the first time we had done that here. We were joined for dinner by the gite owner’s cat. The cat had appeared the first day we arrived, but as soon as he saw us he ran; the owner said he’s very afraid of strangers. However, while we were having dinner he appeared in the gateway between our gite and the owner’s house, sniffing the air and walking towards us. We were having veal chops, so I guess that’s what he smelled. He came over, and happily joined us for some veal.  After dinner we took our usual nighttime walk down to the center of Ornans and the pedestrian bridge over the Loue River.

Thursday was supposed to be a rainy day, so we had planned to drive into the nearby city of Besancon and go to a museum and otherwise spend some time indoors.  However, the day started off with some sun, so we changed our plans and instead drove to the village of Nancray to visit the Musée des Maisons Comtoises, an open air museum of old buildings of the Franche-Comté. It was a sprawling museum divided into different regions of the Franche-Comté, each containing several houses that had been moved from their original locations.  The buildings were furnished in their original styles, with explanations of their functions (such as the cheesemaker’s house and the bread baker’s house) and of the lives of the people who lived there.  It was a fascinating museum, and we spent several hours there.

After driving back to our gite in Ornans we had a late lunch with various cheeses and a rabbit terrine we had picked up at a boucherie in Rougemont the day before. After lunch we took another walk through the town, checking to see the progress the goats had made in clearing their land.  Back at the gite we had dinner, without the cat. Ann made tariflette, a baked dish from the Savoie region made with Rebluchon cheese and lardons (similar to bacon), and with it we had a Petite Arvine wine from the winery we had visited in Sierre, Switzerland.

Friday was our last full day in Ornans and the Doubs department, and in the morning we decided to visit Besancon, the largest city in the Doubs with a population of around 120,000. We had spent some time here a few years ago, principally visiting the magnificent old Citadel high above the Doubs River, which now houses a large zoo, gardens, and several museums. This time we parked in the same area as before and walked through the center of town to the indoor food market, which is one of the finest in France.  We spent some time wandering through the market, and although we were near the end of our trip and therefore couldn’t buy too much, we did pick up some items for lunch and dinner.  We then walked back to our car along the banks of the Doubs and drove back to our gite for lunch.

After lunch we decided to drive up to the chateau ruins high above Ornans.  We had seen lights there at night, and walkers heading up that way, but I wasn’t up for what was apparently a 2 ½ hour walk. However, I saw the Rue du Chateau on the map which looked like it was a driving route up to the chateau, and we decided to drive up there. I had read that the chateau had been destroyed on the orders of Louis XIV, and only the chapel remained. When we arrived at the top, we discovered that the ruins of the chateau was now a little village with several houses and a great view of the Loue River and Ornans.  The chapel, Chapelle St. Georges, was originally built in 1289 by the Count of Burgundy, and after being destroyed, was rebuilt in 1500. It is still in very good condition. Before leaving we took a walk even further up the hill, and got a great view of the chapel and the chateau ruins from above.
Ornans Church From Chateau Ruins

Chapelle St. Georges

Chapel and Chateau Ruins From Above

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Next Few Days in the Doubs

On Monday morning I walked to the further of the two boulangeries in Ornans now that the closer one was closed for vacation. Despite having to cross the river, it still only took 4 minutes to get there. The place was busy, and had lots of choices. I picked up a couple of different croissants and a baguette, which turned out to be every bit as good as those at the first bakery.

After breakfast we decided to take a drive to La Ferme du Rondeau in the village of Lavans-Vuillafans. The farm grows and makes a large array of products, including goat and cow cheeses, and also has a ferme auberge (basically a farm restaurant) and a gite for rent. It’s in a beautiful setting high up in the hills, and we picked up a few goat cheeses before heading down to the valley for a visit to the village of Vuillafans.  On the way to the farm we had spotted this impressive church in the middle of the coutryside.

Like Ornans, Vuillafans is on the Loue River. We spent a little time wandering through the village, crossing the river, and visiting the beautiful old church, which dates from the 14th century.

And if you find yourself in Vuillafans and crave cheese, you can get some any time of the day or night at this machine that dispenses Comte and Morbier in several sizes, produced by the fruitiere (cheese cooperative) up in the hills.

We then returned to Ornans and had lunch at our gite. In the afternoon we decided to stay in Ornans and do some walking.  We had a brochure put together by the tourist office that directs you on a historical walking tour in the vicinity of the Loue River on both banks. The walk was fantastic, with many great views of the river and the town from different angles, as well as numerous historic buildings. It’s easy to see why Gustave Courbet was inspired in his painting by the Loue Valley.

Towards the end of the walk heading back towards our gite we came across these two hard working goats that were employed at clearing the grass on the hillside. They were much quieter than the man on the other side of the road doing clearing with a weed whacker.

After our walk we stopped at the boulangerie to pick up some pastries for dessert, then headed back to our gite for aperitifs and then dinner. After dinner we took a walk down to the river and the center of town; the daylight lasts quite long now even though it’s only the end of April.

Tuesday morning I again walked to the boulangerie and picked up breakfast items. After breakfast we headed off to visit some sites a little to the west of Ornans, first stopping at the fromagerie in town to pick up some aged Comté and Morbier. We then made a brief stop to view Chateau de Cleron, a private chateau on the Loue River that we had passed by a few years ago when we were in the area. The chateau is only open during the Summer, so we just stopped to get a view and take some pictures.

We then stopped in the village of Quingey, which is one of the Cités de Caractere of the Franche Comté region.  It has a lovely old church in the center, Eglise St. Martin, some well-preserved old houses, and was the birthplace of Pope Calixte II, born in the 11th Century and elected Pope in 1119.

After leaving Quingey we drove to the village of Arc-et-Senans to visit the Salins Royal (Royal Saltworks). Several years ago we had visited the saltworks in Salins-les-Bains, which had been the principal saltworks in the area.  However, it became increasingly costly to buy and transport the wood needed to be burned in order to evaporate salt from the salt water that ran through the region.  To ameliorate the problem, the owners of the saltworks in Salins decided that instead of bringing the wood to Salins, they would build a massive saltworks in Arc-et-Senans, where there was plenty of wood, and bring the water from Salins-les-Bains via piping to produce salt at the Royal Saltworks in Arc-et-Senans.  It worked for a number of years, but eventually problems with the water source in Salins and economic factors caused the closure of both saltworks. However, the buildings still exist in both places, and there are museums which include explanations of the saltworks.
Main Entrance to Royal Saltworks

After leaving Arc-et-Senans we drove back to Ornans for a late lunch, followed by another walk up above the town. We saw that the goats were still hard at work clearing their field.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Returning to France

On Saturday morning we left Sierre for the drive to Ornans in the Doubs region in France, where we were spending our last week. Before leaving we gave Christine and her husband a bottle of wine from one of the wineries she took us to the day before, and also a bottle of St. Veran from the Maconnais producer Domaine de Corsin that we stopped at at the beginning of our trip.  And in return, Carlo gave us a bottle of his red wine. He normally doesn’t put a label on his wines, but he does have a bunch of generic labels that he uses when necessary.

On the drive to Ornans we stopped at Chateau Chillon on the shore of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva), and took a tour of the chateau, which dates from the 1500's.  The chateau owns some vineyards, which apparently had been cultivated for many years and are now taken care of and have wine made from their grapes by a local producer. The wines are only sold at the chateau, and the proceeds go towards a major renovation project at the chateau. I decided to buy a bottle of their white, which is made from the Chasselas grape.

Old Wine Barrels in Chateau Cellar

After leaving Chateau Chillon we headed towards France, and while there was a long line of cars at Customs going into Switzerland, the crossing into France was a breeze.  As we had advised the gite owner, we arrived right around 4 p.m., and she was waiting for us.  She showed us around the gite, which is really fantastic.  We then took a walk into the center of town and stopped at the boulangerie, a small grocery store (an epicerie), and a butcher shop (boucherie) to pick up provisions for the next couple of days. We had stopped at this boucherie 2 years ago when we were staying in the Jura, and was impressed with what they had, and were happy to go back there.  We then went back to the gite where we first had some aperitifs, and then had dinner of white truffle tortolini and asparagus that we had bought at the market in Sion in Switzerland.

The next morning I walked to the boulangerie to pick up croissants for breakfast. It was all of a 3 minute walk, maybe 4 minutes coming back uphill. The croissants were outstanding, as were the pastries we had bought there the night before [Addendum: we stopped there on the way out of town and picked up some pastries before they closed; we had them after dinner, and they were fantastic]. Unfortunately, they had a sign posted prominently in their window informing their customers that starting the next day, they would be closed for vacation for 2 weeks. So tomorrow morning I’ll have to walk to the further bakery, which is probably twice as far.

After breakfast we took a short drive to the large grocery store outside of town to pick up some things we hadn’t been able to get the day before in town.  Afterwards we returned to the gite and walked to the Gustave Courbet Museum in town. Courbet was born nearby in 1819, and lived in Ornans as a child. When he was 20, he went to Paris to live with a relative who was a law professor, and Gustave’s father hoped he’d become a lawyer. However, he wasn’t interested, and decided to study painting instead. He eventually became one of the most famous painters of his time, and helped put Ornans on the map. What was once the Courbet family home in Ornans is now the Gustave Courbet Museum, and this year, in honor of the 200th anniversary of Courbet’s birth, there are numerous special events and exhibits at the museum. We arrived during the last 2 days of the exhibition of Courbet’s sketches, so we got to see that exhibit, as well as some of the permanent collection that we had seen 2 years before.

In the afternoon we drove through a downpour to Chateau de Belvoir, about an hour north of Ornans. Except for the summer, the chateau is only open on Sundays and holidays, so we decided to go there on Sunday.  It was an impressive place inside and out, and there were amazing views from the chateau to the valley below, as well as from the road below to the chateau.  The first chateau was built here in the 12th century, and after it was destroyed it was rebuilt in the 15th century. At the end of our visit I asked the woman who had sold us our tickets and guided us on part of our visit if she lived in the chateau, and she said yes, and she gave me the same answer when I asked if she owned the chateau. There had been a horrible fire in 1968 that destroyed a large part of the interior of the chateau, and she said her parents had done the reconstruction of the chateau.  Later research indicated that there were some famous artists in her family, including one who was good friends with Gustave Courbet in the 1800's. That would probably account for the presence of several Courbet paintings we saw in the chateau.
View from the Chateau

Chateau from the Road

After we left the chateau we drove back to Ornans in a circuitous route to see some towns and villages we hadn’t been to. It rained a good part of the way on the drive, but had pretty much stopped when we got back to the gite. With dinner we had one of the Cornalin wines we bought in Switzerland. Switzerland has a number of indigenous wine grapes, and Cornalin may be the best of the reds.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Four Days In Switzerland

On Tuesday morning we left Chateauneuf-en-Auxois and drove towards Switzerland, where we would be spending the next 4 days. We made a brief stop across the road from Chateau de Joux, and had a picnic at the same spot we had done so 3 or 4 years ago. I hadn’t realized that we were going to pass the same way we did then, but Chateau de Joux is near the Swiss-French border, and it overlooks the pass from Italy to France via Switzerland.
Chateau de Joux
The border crossing took no time, as France and Switzerland are part of the Schengen zone, with no passport control, and while there is Customs because Switzerland is not part of the EU, we were waved through. We then drove on towards the city of Bern, where we were spending 2 nights at an apartment. We left our car at a park and ride on the outskirts, and took a bus and walked to our apartment. It was in a building that borders the Aare River, which meanders through Bern. After checking in, we took a walk across the river into the center of Bern, and made several stops, including a wine bar and a grocery store to pick up some provisions for dinner and breakfast. We also walked by the famous clock tower, which has figurines that parade in a circle and also clang the bells on the hour.  That evening we had dinner outside in the courtyard of our apartment.

View of Bern from Above
The next morning we first headed out to the Bear Park, which was only about a 10 minute walk from our apartment.  Bern has a long historical connection with bears, and the Bear Park is a big tourist attraction, being home to 3 bears at the moment who have free reign over a good  amount of territory near the Aare River.  After seeing the bears, we took a long walk to the Bern Zoo, where we spent a couple of hours.

We then took a bus from the zoo to the center, and stopped at an outdoor market and picked up some local cheese and air-dried beef, which is a specialty of this area.  We also stopped at a shop that stocked wine, and we picked up a bottle of Swiss white wine to have with lunch at our apartment. We then walked back to our place, and since the weather was so nice we had lunch in the courtyard.

In the afternoon we did a lot of walking, spending some time at the huge cathedral that dominates the Bern skyline. While the cathedral dates from the medieval period, it was only in the last couple of hundred years that it was extended upward to tower over the city. Afterwards we walked around the center of Bern again, then wound up stopping in the wine bar section of a Spanish restaurant along the Aare River. We had a few glasses of Swiss white wines, along with a huge tapas platter that became our dinner.

The next day we left Bern and headed towards the canton of Valais, Switzerland’s premier wine region, where we were staying in the town of Sierre. But first we stopped in the village of La Gruyeres, a medieval village with a spectacular chateau that was built in the 13th century. We spent quite a bit of time touring the chateau, then stopped at La Maison de Gruyeres and picked up some Gruyeres cheese, which we had as part of a picnic lunch.

We arrived in Sierre in the late afternoon, and Christine, the owner of the B&B, was there to greet us.  She and her husband live next door to the B&B, which used to be part of their home. It’s all part of a small complex on the outskirts of Sierre, looking towards the mountains.  They also have a small farm in the mountains where, among other things, they make wine from grapes they grow in Sierre and around the farm. We joined them for one of their white wines, an unlabelled Johannisberg (AKA Sylvaner), which was superb.
Chateau Mercier
In the early evening we went to the nearby Chateau de Villa, which has a restaurant as well as a wine bar. The wine bar opens early, and at 6 p.m. it was already very busy. The main room was full, but we sat at a table in one of the adjoining rooms, which was stacked with hundreds of Swiss wines for sale. The list of wines by the glass changes every week, and normally has about 8-10 wines, split between red and white.  We tried all 4 whites, which were made from the Chasselas, Johannisberg, Petite Arvine, and Muscat grapes respectively, and one red, a Syrah. All were good, but I preferred the whites.  With the wines we ordered a small platter of 5 different cheeses from the Valais, and a large platter of air-dried meat from 3 different local producers. It was very interesting to taste the differences in the cheeses and between the meats.

The next morning we walked towards the center of Sierre and to the train station, about a 15 minute walk. We had read about a large weekly market in nearby Sion, and decided to go there by train rather than driving. The train runs very frequently, and only took around 10-15 minutes to get to Sion.  We walked towards the center of Sion and easily found the market, which stretched throughout the center of town. We bought some food items for the next leg of our trip, including asparagus, which had just come into season in the Valais.  We also made a brief stop at a wine bar next to the market, and tried 2 more white wines from the Valais.

After leaving the market we walked back towards the train station and returned to Sierre.  We had a light lunch on the patio, then I went to ask Christine if she would mind calling the winemaker down the road and see about setting up a visit for us at his small winery. It turned out that he was away for the day, so she then called another winery she knew well in a nearby town, Salgesch, and said she would drive us there for a visit.  Salgesch is a village of winegrowers about 10 minutes from Sierre, and our first stop was at Cave St. Philippe, a small family run operation. The husband and wife who run the winery were away in Bern at a wine show, but their daughter was filling in for them, and she gave us a brief tour and then poured several wines for us to try. The wines were very good, especially the whites, and we bought a couple of bottles.  Christine then asked if we wanted to visit a larger operation just down the road, which she said was very good. Of course we couldn’t turn down her offer, so we all went to Cave Nouveau Salquenen, which has a beautiful set up for tasting and makes an amazing array of wines. We tried about 10 wines, and most of them were superb.  Among the wines we tried were ones made from several unique Swiss grape varieties, including Amigne de Vetroz, Humagne Blanche, Petite Arvine, Humagne Rouge, and Cornalin. We bought half a dozen different wines to fortify us during the next week.
Barrels and Wine Press at Cave St. Philippe

That night we walked to the Chateau de Villa again, this time to go to their restaurant. The restaurant is actually a pretty low-key place, which specializes in Raclette.  Like us, most of the people there ordered the Raclette special, which consists of Raclette from 5 different producers in the Valais, brought to your table on a plate by the Raclette Master, one cheese at a time. It’s all you can eat, but the best I could do was have 2 more cheeses after the first round. It was a superb way to spend our last night in Sierre.