Monday, April 22, 2013

The End of the Voyage

The Saturday morning of our last full day in France we had about a 3 ½ hour drive from our gite in Tanlay to our chambre d’hotes in the village of Plailly, not far from Charles de Gaulle airport.  Having stayed in Plailly before, we knew there wasn’t really anything to see there, so we figured we’d try to stop some place on the way that might be worth spending an hour or two.  The town of Provins was about halfway, and while we didn’t know much about it, we thought it might be worth stopping at.  It turned out to be far more interesting than we had imagined.

Provins was a fortified village and an important trading center in the Middle Ages, and has a fabulously well-preserved medieval center in the upper part of the town, which is entered through several stone gates.  While the medieval part is clearly a place where people live and go about their daily lives, because of its history and its beauty it clearly must attract a lot of tourists, as it has huge parking lots just outside the medieval part and a lot of people were visiting the village the day we were there.  We never walked down to the lower part, which is the modern commercial center, but spent an hour or two walking through the old part.  The ramparts surrounding the center are quite impressive, as is the church, but the most spectacular part of the village is the ornate 12th century tower (Tour Cesar) high on the hill above the town.

After leaving Provins we drove to Plailly, where we spent the night in a beautiful chambre d’hotes, La Chasse Royal, that we had stayed at about 15 years before.  We also had dinner in what is now the only restaurant in Plailly, La Gentilhommiere, where we had also dined 15 years ago.  La Gentilhommiere is a small restaurant (about 8 or 9 tables), offers just 2 four-course set menus with 3 choices for each course, and is still run by the same couple that ran it 15 years ago.  It was a great way to end our vacation, and it was far and away the best restaurant we ate at on the trip.  One of the highlights was the cheese course, which consisted of a trolley carrying about a dozen regional cheeses being wheeled to our table.  We had been eating a lot of goat cheese over the last few weeks, so we decided to sample several cow cheeses, including Livarot, Pont Leveque, and Brie de Melun.  While Plailly is just a sleepy suburban town containing some nice old buildings (at least until the ongoing development demolishes or ruins them), it’s worth staying there for La Chasse Royal, La Gentilhommiere, and its proximity to the airport.

And speaking of airports, on Sunday we flew back home and suffered through the chaos of both Charles de Gaulle airport and the Philadelphia airport.  I guess that’s the price one has to pay to fly internationally these days.

Friday, April 19, 2013


     On Thursday morning we returned to Ancy-le-Franc, which has its weekly market just outside the gates of the chateau. Although we were nearing the end of our trip, we still needed some provisions for meals over the next 2 days, and also bought several goat cheeses, some to eat here and some to bring home.

    After lunch at our gite we drove about an hour to Semur-en-Auxois, a town we had visited with our niece and her husband 17 years ago. The town has a medieval center high above the Armancon River, a church first built in the 13th century and restored in the 19th century, a 15th century gate at the entrance to the town, and several towers that are the remains of a 13th century fortified castle. Semur was as magnificent as we remembered, with amazing views of the old ramparts from just outside the town. We took a walk along the river, and then up into the center of town. Semur-en-Auxois is not one of France's Plus Beaux Villages, but that may be only because it is just a little too large, with a population of around 4,000, to receive that designation.

    On Friday, our last full day in Burgundy, we spent the morning at Domaine Alain Geoffroy, a Chablis producer in the town of Beine, just outside the town of Chablis.  Not only is Geoffroy a top Chablis producer (the gite owner had pronounced him the best producer in the appellation), but there is also a fascinating museum at the domaine -- Le Musee de la Vigne et du Tire-Buchon (vineyard and corkscrew museum).  We first visited the museum, which features a collection of several hundred corkscrews, both ancient and modern, of all shapes and sizes.  We then tasted the Premier Cru and Grand Cru Chablis of the domaine, and bought a bottle of their 2010 Beauroy Premier Cru, which we drank at lunch at the gite.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Chateaus, herons, and roast ducks

    Tuesday was a fairly relaxing day, which we spent mostly in the Tanlay area. In the morning we drove to the nearby village of Ancy le Franc and visited the massive Renaissance chateau there.

    We then had lunch at our gite on the patio. The big excitement after lunch was the arrival of a couple of boats through the canal lock and a heron landing on the canal path across from us.

    Later that afternoon we took a short drive through several nearby villages, making a brief stop to view the Chateau de Maulnes, which is high on a hill in the middle of a field. It is officially the only pentagonal chateau in France, and unofficially the least attractive chateau in France, at least with the scaffolding all around it.

    After we returned to Tanlay we took a long walk along the canal to the adjacent hamlet of Commissey. We also walked past the unofficial Maison des Chats in Tanlay.

     Following our walk, we had an aperitif on our patio with some sparkling Cerdon, followed by dinner. While I was reading on the patio I heard a splash, and when I looked up I saw that the heron had returned and had caught a fish in the canal for dinner. It then continued to patiently fish, and caught another fish, which it promptly ate.

     Wednesday morning we headed towards the village of Givry, where we had been invited to have lunch at the house of Giselle and Michel, an older couple whom we had met about 17 years ago when we rented their gite. We had seen them a few times since then, but it had been around 13 years since we last visited them. On the way we stopped in the village of L'Isle sur Sereine, where there was a small weekly market. We also stopped in Montreal, a gorgeous village with a 12th century church, which would probably be designated as one of the Plus Beaux Villages if the village applied for it.

    Lunch in Givry lasted about 3 hours, and included roast wild duck that had been caught by Michel with help from his hunting dog, Cesar. We returned to Tanlay in the late afternoon; the heron returned to the canal across from our gite to catch its dinner.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

More from Burgundy

 Sunday morning is market day in Chablis, which has the largest weekly market in this part of Burgundy, so we drove there our first morning in Tanlay. We picked up some more goat cheese, vegetables, butter and milk products from a couple of farms, and a pintade fermiere (farm-raised guinea hen). Then we headed back to our gite for lunch, where we had, among other things, an omlette made with eggs we had been given by Ghislaine the day before, which came from chickens raised by her father. All washed down with some white Rully.

    This was the first mild, sunny day in quite awhile, and definitely the warmest day of our trip. That afternoon Ann visited the chateau in Tanlay while I took a walk in and around the village and along the canal. I tried to find some cats to photograph, but the ones I saw were all lying around far back in their courtyard to escape the heat and strangers.

    In the evening we sat out on the patio, and it was so mild we had dinner outside for the first time on our trip. The days are getting longer; the photo below was taken at around 8 p.m., and it didn't get dark until after 9:00.

   The next morning we drove to Noyers-sur-Serein, another of the Plus Beaux Villages of France. We had first visited the town over 15 years ago with our niece and her husband when we spent a week in the area. Noyers has a beautiful medieval center with lots of half timbered buildings, and a great location on the Serein River.

     That afternoon, our French friend Ghislaine arrived at our gite with her grandson Enzo and Guy, an old friend whom they were staying with in nearby Epineuil. Guy drove us into Epineuil and we visited a few winemakers he knew. Besides Chablis wines, we tasted Bourgogne Epineuil reds and roses. Guy then drove us into the hillside vineyards in his town, Ann, Ghislaine and I took a walk through the vineyards surrounding Guy's house, and we all then spent the evening having aperitifs and dinner with Guy and his wife, Jacqueline.
Epineuil and Tonnerre

Epineuil vineyards

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Into Burgundy

    On Friday morning we left Lyon and took a tram to the airport to pick up our rental car. We headed towards Burgundy, where we were going to spend the night in the town of Gueugnon with Ghislaine, the French friend of the Baxters who had been staying with them while we were there. We took a detour to the Bugey wine region, which is principally known for its sparkling Cerdon wines. The Cerdon appellation is centered around the village of Cerdon, and the wines must be made by the Methode Ancestrale, which involves stopping the fermentation before the sugars in the grapes have been fully converted to alcohol. The result is a slightly sweet wine with a low alcohol content (around 8%). We stopped at Domaine Lingot-Martin in the town of Poncin, and after trying several Cerdons, we bought 6 bottles of 2 different cuvees.

      We also drove through the beautiful Cerdon countryside, making a brief stop at the Chateau de Varey.

     We then headed towards Gueugnon, and arrived in the late afternoon. That evening we had a fantastic dinner with Ghislaine's extended family, including her parents, a sister, and 2 of her children with their spouses and children. Ghislaine made a great Pot a Feu, a classic French dish with meat and vegetables slow cooked in broth, with all of the vegetables coming from her parents' farm. We also added a number of appellations to our wine consumption, including the Cerdon and Jurancon we supplied, plus white Chassagne-Montrachet and Montagny Premier Cru, and red Givry and Morgon.

     The next morning we left Ghislaine's for the drive to our last gite, in Tanlay in the Chablis region of northern Burgundy. We made a few stops along the way, including visits to wine producers in the Cote Chalonnaise part of Burgundy. In Rully we stopped at Domaine Jean Baptiste Ponsot, and in Mercurey we visited Domaine Michel Juillot, tasting and buying several white and red Burgundies at each. We also got a great view of the magnificent chateau in Rully, as well as a scared cat who ran behind the grates for protection.

Domaine Michel Juillot

Rully vineyards

   After stopping in Rully and Mercurey we continued on to Tanlay, passing by a beautiful turretted chateau in La Rochepot.

    We arrived at our gite in Tanlay around 4 p.m., and met the owner and an English friend of his who had been brought in to help in case we didn't speak French, since the owner spoke no English. The gite is located right on the Canal de Bourgogne, and we have a great view of the canal from the terrace, as well as from all of the front rooms, including the kitchen, dining room, and our bedroom. The little town has a few restaurants, plus a really good boulangerie and a little grocery store that has a terrific butcher shop in it. We had planned to drive to the nearby large town of Tonnerre to pick up provisions, but we managed to get everything we needed in Tanlay. We had Charollais beef for dinner with one of the Mercureys we had picked up, preceded by a glass of Cerdon on the patio and followed by several goat cheeses from earlier parts of the trip.
Gite from opposite bank

View from terrace

View from bedroom

Thursday, April 11, 2013

From the Loire to the Auvergne to Lyon

  Now that we're in Lyon we have Internet access where we're staying (the McDonald's in Vichy wasn't really the best place to post from), so I'm posting a rundown of our past 6 days.

   Last Friday, our last full day in Ancenis, the weather was pretty miserable and Ann wasn't feeling that great, so I took the train into Nantes, a short 20 minute ride. Nantes is one of France's largest cities, and was the capital of the old duchy of Brittany before France conquered Brittany in 1488. I spent a few hours wandering around Nantes, visiting the massive chateau palace of the Dukes of Brittany.

     On Saturday we left Ancenis for the fairly short drive to Bourgueil in the Touraine region of the Loire Valley. On the way we stopped at the beautiful medieval village of Candes Saint-Martin on the Vienne River.

     After checking into our hotel in Bourgueil (La Promenade) and having lunch there, which consisted of a large plate of charcuterie that had been made by Ludo, one of the proprietors, we took a drive to visit Domaine de la Chevalerie. Chevalerie is one of the finest wine producers in Bourgueil, making 5 or 6 different cuvees of Cabernet Franc wines from separate vineyard parcels. The wines we tasted were really magnificent, as was their ancient stone cellar beneath the property. In addition to visiting Chevalerie, we made a brief stop to get a view of the chateau in Ussé.

      That night we had dinner at La Promenade, which is a hangout for local vintners and wine lovers. The next morning we headed for the Allier department in the Auvergne, where we were going to spend 2 nights with Cathy and Jim Baxter, British friends who have a house in Chantelle. On the way we made a few stops, including Langeais and Azay-le-Rideau, both of which have magnificent chateaus.



The weather was iffy during our stay in Chantelle, and we spent a fair amount of the time just sitting around with the Baxters and their French friend Ghislaine, eating and drinking various wines from the Loire, Saint Pourcain (the local AOC), and Burgundy, where Ghislane lives. We also took a walk into the center of Chantelle and visited the ancient Abbey of Chantelle, which is still in use.

After leaving Chantelle on Tuesday morning we drove to the nearby city of Roanne, where we planned to stay one night and return our car. On the way we passed through magnificent countryside and stopped at a couple of beautiful villages, including Ambierle and St. Haon le Chatel.

Curious (and safe) cat in Ambierle

St. Haon le Chatel

     We then checked into our hotel in Roanne, returned the car, and took a walk around the center of the city. Roanne isn't a city geared to tourism, with few hotels and restaurants, but there are some beautiful old buildings in the center. The short time we spent there was sufficient, but it was interesting to see a city that is basically a working town. Unfortunately, our one chance to try a Cote Roannaise wine (100% Gamay) was a major disappointment, as our dinner wine was barely drinkable.
Rainbow over Roanne

     Wednesday morning we walked across the street from our hotel to the train station and took the train to Lyon, a one hour trip through some beautiful countryside. In Lyon we were staying at an apartment near the center of the city which we rented from Corinne, whom we had rented from several years ago. One of the big attractions of the apartment, in addition to its location, is the view of the basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere from the balcony of our 8th floor apartment. In addition, Corinne's cat, Neko, reluctantly agreed to pose for my blog.
Fourviere from our terrace

Fourviere from the river