Monday, May 11, 2015

The Final Day of Our Trip

My prior post was going to be my last from this France trip, but on our final day I took a few photos that I thought some people might appreciate (and others might not), so I decided to write one more brief post, from home.

On our last full day in France, we drove from our gite in Saligney to the town of Segny, near Geneva, where we were spending the final night.  On the way, we made a few stops, the first one being Chateau de Joux.  The construction of Chateau de Joux began about 1,000 years ago, and it was rebuilt, added to, and remodeled numerous times over almost 1,000 years. The chateau, together with Fort Mahler, are located high above a mountain pass that was an important commercial route and later a strategic military route from northern Italy through Switzerland into what later became France.  We stopped along the road to have a picnic and take some photos from down below, then drove up towards the chateau and walked up from the lower parking lot.
Chateau de Joux From Below

At the Chateau

Chateau de Joux and Fort Mahler on Opposite Sides of the Pass

After leaving Chateau de Joux we continued our drive through numerous mountain villages.  We made one stop, in Les Rousses, where we parked and walked through  the town.  There was a terrific-looking cheese shop in the center, which we passed up because we had another cheese shop in mind for later on, and there was also a not-so-appetizing looking restaurant whose menu included Wings de Poulet (Chicken Wings).

Finally, we drove from Les Rousses up into the Jura Mountains and then down into the valley where Geneva and Lac Leman are situated.  We checked in at La Bonne Auberge in Segny, where we had stayed 5 years previously.  Segny is a small suburban town just off the major road heading towards Geneva, but there are several things to recommend it as a place to stay.  La Bonne Auberge is a charming small hotel that used to be a large farmhouse, and it has been beautifully remodeled. And just across the road is a fantastic bakery, a cheese vendor, Fromagerie Michelin, that may be the best cheese shop I’ve ever been in, and a lovely restaurant, Chez Arno, where we had lunch 5 years ago.  We patronized all three establishments on this visit: at Fromagerie Michelin we bought a lot of cheese, which now resides in our house; we had dinner that night at Chez Arno, which was outstanding (including sweetbreads and stuffed fillet of rabbit, and one more Seyssel wine); and we bought croissants and bread the next morning at the boulangerie to bring home.

Since we had a little time before dinner, we drove to the nearby commercial center of Ferney-Voltaire, which is right by the Swiss border.  We parked and took a stroll through the town, and had a glass of wine at an outdoor café.  We also spied a sleeping cat at the beginning of our walk, which was still sleeping, albeit on a different step than she had been on, when we walked by again 45 minutes later.  Just then the cat’s owner drove up, and the cat came to life. Talking to her (the owner, not the cat), we found out why the cat probably was so tired: she often accompanies her owner on 3-hour walks in the Jura Mountains!

Before leaving Ferney-Voltaire, we also saw this fascinating sight, which made us realize that one never needs to go hungry in Ferney-Voltaire, no matter what the time of day or night.  There, in a tiny side street, was a pizza machine that supposedly operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Just put in your Euros or credit card, and 4 minutes later you have a finished pizza.  We skipped it, though, since we had dinner reservations at Chez Arno.

Sunday morning we had breakfast at La Bonne Auberge, walked across to the boulangerie to pick up some things to bring home, then drove to Geneva Airport to drop off our car and fly home. The less said about the return voyage the better.  Now we’re home, and the cheese and wine (and everything else) made it back safely.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Last Half of the Week in the Franche-Comte Region

    Early Wednesday morning I again drove to the boulangerie in nearby Ougney, and after breakfast we headed towards the Loue Valley to stop at some villages along the Loue River. Our first stop was the bustling town of Ornans. The big draw in Ornans is the Gustave Courbet Museum. Courbet was a French painter born in Ornans who was kind of a bridge between classical French painters and the Impressionists. He became quite well-known at an early age and lived in Paris for many years, where he disappointed his father, who wanted him to study law. Unfortunately for him, his political allegiance in the mid-1800's cost him a lot of support, as well as his freedom and nearly his life, and his artistic career as well as his life went into decline in the 1870's before he died in 1877. Eventually his childhood home in Ornans became a museum dedicated to his works, and we spent some time touring the museum. He was an incredibly prolific painter, and the museum in Ornans has an amazing collection of his paintings.

     After leaving Ornans we drove to Lods, another village on the Loue River,  Lods is classified as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France (Most Beautiful Villages in France), and we stopped there and had a picnic along the Loue River and then took a walk into the center of the village high above the river.
                                   VIEWS OF ORNANS AND LODS

Coat of Arms of Lods

     We then left Lods and headed towards the Saugeais Valley and the Republic of Saugeais.  The Republic of Sugeais is an independent country, comprising 11 villages, which is recognized by no one except maybe some local residents. It was created as a joke by Georges Pourchet, a hotel owner in the village of Montbenoit, which became the political capital of the Republic, in 1947. Pourchet became its first President, and after his death in 1972, his wife, Gabrielle, was elected President for life by means of an applause meter. We first drove through Montbenoit, which looked pretty dead, and then drove to the economic capital of the Saugeais Republic, the town of Gilley, which was marginally more alive. After leaving the Saugeais Republic, without having been asked to show our passports, we drove to the large town of Morteau. The towns of Morteau and Montebeliard give their names to two types of sausages, which are widely sold in this part of France and known throughout the country. Earlier in the week we had picked up both Morteau and Montbeliard sausages from a butcher in the Besancon market hall, and had them as part of dinner. We didn't buy any Morteau sausages in Morteau, but we did buy a lot of chocolate at the outlet store next to the Klaus chocolate factory in the center of town. Klaus chocolates may be factory-made, but they are very good.

      Morteau was our last tourist stop for the day, although on the drive back to our gite we did stop in Ornans again and picked up something to cook for dinner. The gite has an electric barbeque grill which I used for the first time that night, to grill veal chops. With dinner we had a bottle of the Domaine Pigneret Mercurey Rouge that we had picked up at the beginning of our trip.

     The next morning, Thursday, we drove to Besancon, where we spent the entire day. Besancon is the largest city in this region, with about 120,000 residents, and the Doubs River runs through and around the city in a loop. We spent the morning just wandering around the center of town, and had lunch at a small restaurant. We then headed for what is undoubtedly the biggest attraction in Besancon – the Citadelle, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This old fortification, high above the river, is now run by the city, and is home to several museums, a large zoo, an aquarium, and an insectarium. We spent all afternoon in the Citadelle; the insectarium was especially fascinating, and the zoo has an incredibly diverse collection of animals, particularly primates.

                                    VIEWS OF BESANCON

Besancon and Doubs River from the Citadelle

      After leaving the Citadelle we made a detour to the market hall before heading to our car, which was parked just outside the old part of the town. We stocked up on cheese from a great fromagerie, and bought more veal chops to grill. We also found a vendor that had great-looking marinated anchovies, which we bought to have before dinner with a Cremant de Jura from Domaine Desiree Petit.

     On Friday morning, our last full day at the gite, we decided to take a short drive back through some towns we had passed through earlier in the week. We first stopped in Offlanges, which we had visited at the beginning of the week, because I wanted to check out Domaine de la Bougarde, the only wine producer in the northern Jura. In the mid-1800's, this area was covered in vines and well-known for its wines; three quarters of the wine production was sold outside the region. However, phylloxera wiped out the vineyards in the 1870's, and it was only when Domaine de la Bougarde was established in the 1970's and vineyards were replanted that wine production returned. The winery produces mostly vartietal wines with the appellation Vin de Pays de France-Comte from chardonnay, pinot gris, pinot blanc, and savignin grapes for the whites; and pinot noir and gamay for the reds. We just tasted the savignin, since it's a classic grape of the Jura, and liked it quite a bit. Since we had done a good job of whittling down our stock of wines, we bought a bottle to have with dinner.

     After leaving Offlanges we headed towards the village of Montmirey-la-Ville, which we had passed through earlier in the week and which has a chateau that we wanted to try to get a look at. We parked in a small lot on the road into the village across from the chateau, and walked in through the open gates. From the grounds we were able to get a much better view of the chateau than we did from the road the other day.  
Chateau in Montmirey
Friendly Chat (Cat) in Montmirey

        We left Montmirey-la-Ville after taking a stroll around the village, and returned to the gite for lunch.  On the way, we stopped to take a photo from the road of Chateau de Rocherambert, which we had seen on our drive the day we arrived at our gite.

     Among the wines we had left were 2 vintages of a Premier Cru Mercurey Blanc from Domaine Michel Juillot, where we had stopped the day we arrived in France, and I opened one of them to have with lunch. Later in the afternoon we took a leisurely drive through some nearby villages that we had not been to yet. Today is a war memorial holiday in France, so most shops were closed and things were generally quiet in most villages.  We passed through one village that had a charming small chateau that we stopped to photograph.

      At the end of the day we returned to our gite for dinner.  We finished off the Royal Seyssel sparkling wine from Domaine Lambert before dinner, and then with dinner we had the Domaine de la Bougarde Savignin we had bought earlier in the day.  Tomorrow is clean up morning at the gite, then it's off to a chambre d'hote (bed and breakfast) outside Geneva for our last night.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

More From The Jura

      On Monday morning we drove to the town of Salins-les-Bains to visit the salt works museum. The production of salt was a major industry in this area for hundreds of years, and while the salt works in Salins-les-Bains (Les Grande Salines) has been closed for over 50 years, the facility has been preserved and partly renovated, and is now a museum where one can see what the salt works looked like and how it functioned. We took a self-guided tour, and it was fascinating. Unlike salt production done by mining salt or letting sea water evaporate, the production at Salins-les-Bains involved evaporation by heating underground salt water that was pumped up from the ground. The area was once covered by sea water, and when the water eventually dispersed, there was still salt water left underground.

                       VIEWS OF THE TOWN OF SALINS-LES-BAINS

       After leaving the salt works, we took a stroll around the town. Monday is closing day for most shops, so we just walked through the town admiring the buildings and taking a few photos. Salins-les-Bains is situated in a narrow valley with the Furieuse River running through it, and there are two forts located high above the town.

        We then drove from Salins-les-Bains to the town of Arbois, which is the center of the Jura wine region. We had spent a lot of time there 5 years ago when we stayed for a week a week at a gite nearby, but his time we just took a brief stroll around the town, which is as charming as I remembered. We also drove to the wine village of Pupillin just outside Arbois, since we wanted to visit Domaine Desiree Petit, a producer we had stopped at 5 years ago and really enjoyed. We tried a few wines and bought a couple of their sparkling Cremant de Jura wines.
Arbois and Cuisance River

      After leaving Pupillin we went back to our gite and had a late lunch. In the afternoon we took a drive through several nearby villages and stopped at a couple of them to take a stroll and some photos.

       On Tuesday morning we broke with our breakfast routine, which had involved picking up croissants and/or bread at a boulangerie the day before, since our first gite was a bit of a hike to the nearest bakery. However, we realized that the bakery in Ougney, the next town over from where we were staying this week was only a 4-5 minute drive, so after showering I drove to Ougney and picked up several croissants and a loaf of bread.

      After breakfast we drove to Gray, a modest-sized town in the Haute-Saone departement on the Sane River, where there was supposed to be a weekly market on Tuesday morning. However, it was clear that there was no such market, so we spent some time walking around town, and picked up some provisions at an epicirie (small grocery store) and a butcher shop. We also made friends with a cat who came down from his roof to say hello. The center of Gray was quite attractive, but one thing that was noticeable was that there were lots of vacant storefronts for sale or rent, which might indicate that the town has fallen on hard times. There is a large Intermarche supermarket just outside the center of town, which might account for some of the failed shops in the center.
Cat on the Roof

Swans on the Saone

Hotel de Ville

      We then went back to our gite and had a lunch which included some of the provisions we had picked up in Gray plus the cheeses that the gite owners had given us. We also opened one of the Burgundy wines we had picked up at Domaine Pigneret at the beginning of our trip, a white Montagny 1er Cru, which was outstanding. After lunch we took a walk on a road leading out from our village, and passed a snail crossing the road. We waited until it had finished crossing (which took awhile, as you can imagine) to make sure no cars ran it over.

      After our walk we decided to go back to the town of Rochefort sur Neron, which we had passed through on our way to our gite the first day and which looked like it was worth a visit. We first took a walk through the town center and then walked down to the Canal du Rhin et du Rhone, which connects the Rhone River with the Rhine River. The walking path along the canal led to the Doubs River, and we continued until we reached the next town before turning around. We then headed back to our gite for the evening.
Tower in Rochefort sur Neron

Canal in Rochefort
Sign at a House Along the Doubs River

Monday, May 4, 2015

From Bugey Into The Jura

      On Saturday morning, after cleaning our gite we left Ambleon and drove to the big weekly market in Belley. It was a very large, busy market through the streets of the center of town, and we checked out all the vendors. We bought goat cheese from 3 different local producers, including one that we had visited on De Ferme en Ferme weekend and one that we had bought cheese from the prior Sunday at the fete in Lhuis.
Au Revoir Bugey
       After leaving the Belley market we drove straight to our next gite, in the village of Saligney in the Jura departement. We had spent a week in the Jura 5 years ago, in the more southerly, wine-producing area, but this time we were staying in the far northern part of the departement. Unlike the southern part of the Jura and the area we stayed in the first week of this trip, the northern Jura and surrounding regions have little or no wine production, although it's only about a one hour drive to the heart of the Jura wine area. Plus, we bought so much wine the first week that it's just as well we're not tempted by nearby wine producers. This way we can try to drink up a lot of the Savoie and Bugey wines we brought with us.

     While this area isn't known for wine production, there\s certainly plenty of cheese made here, mostly cow cheese. When we arrived at our gite, the owners presented us with a bottle of Jura wine, plus huge wedges of two well-known two local cheeses -- Comte and Morbier. Suddenly, our cheese supply had reached the level of our wine supply.

     After unpacking, we decided to take a short drive to the village of Pesmes, classified among Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (Most Beautiful Villages of France). It started raining when we got there, but we nevertheless took a short stroll around the village. We managed to take a few pictures despite the rain, but decided to come back another day and take a more leisurely walk around town. Back at the gite we continued to try to make our way through the wines we had brought from the last region. A particularly outstanding wine was a sparkling Montagnieu that we had picked up at Domaine Peillot in the Bugey. Made from Chardonnay, Mondeuse and Roussette, the wine could have been mistaken for a Champagne, except that it was better than half the Champagnes I've had and a fraction of their price.
View of Ognon River From Pesmes
Alley in Pesmes

      On Sunday morning we decided to go to the city of Besancon in the Doubs departement. We needed to pick up some provisions, and while there were no weekly markets nearby, Bescancon has an indoor market hall that is open every day except Monday. While Bescancon is quite large, since it was Sunday, navigating the roads into town was not a problem, and we parked outside the center and walked into the central part of the city. The market hall was quite amazing. There were butchers, vegetable vendors, breads and other baked good, a couple of fishmongers, and 3 cheese vendors, each of which probably had a better selection than any cheese shop I've been to in the U.S. While we held off on buying cheese until later in the week when we plan to return, we bought a number of other things, including the regional Morteau smoked sausages, and three types of ravioli – eggplant, ham, and mushroom.

     After leaving Bescanson we drove back to our gite and had a simple lunch on the outdoor terrace. We had several cheeses and a salad, and a bottle of white Jongieux from Domaine Chevallier Bernard in the Savoie. White Jongieux is made from the Jacquere grape, which can make a very bland wine, but when done properly it can be superb. This wine was outstanding, with a floral nose and a lot of flavor. As a bonus, it was 11% alcohol, which helps when you're having it at lunch.

    Later in the afternoon we drove back to Pesmes, and this time the weather was more cooperative. We again took a walk around the village, but this time we could take more photos.


Friday, May 1, 2015

Portes Ouvertes in Jongieux and a Fete du Four

      Friday morning we headed off towards the town of Jongieux, where several wine producers who are Vignerons Independants were having their Portes Ouvertes during the long weekend. The association of Vignerons Independants is a group of producers throughout France that have agreed to follow certain rules in the production of their wine. Although I'm not positive, I believe a couple of the key rules are that all grapes must be hand harvested, and all wines must be made from grapes grown by the producer. While not a guarantee of quality, it at least means that the producer cares enough about their wines to agree to certain standards. I've found that the Vigneron Independant mark on a bottle of wine (a drawing of a man carrying a cask on his shoulder) is usually a good indication that the wine is worth drinking.

    We visited 2 wineries in Jongieux that morning. The first was Le Cave du Prieure/Domaine Raymond Barlet etFils. We tried mostly white wines from the Jacquere and Altesse grapes, including a Marestel, a small cru made from Altesse. We then walked up the hill to Domaine Chevallier Bernard, where the wife of the winemaker poured us most of their wines to try. She also brought out some local cheeses and salamis, and a sliced cured meat made by her and her daughter from the meat from a pig's head. The wines were outstanding, and we bought a white Jongiuex made from the Jacquere varietal, a Marestel, a red Jongieux from Mondeuse, and a late harvest wine made from Altesse. Unfortunately, it was raining, so we couldn't take any decent photos.

     On our way to Jongieux we had noticed a sign for a Fete du Four (Festival of the Oven) that morning in the small town of Murs et Gélignieux, so we decided to stop there after leaving Jongieux. The communal oven has a long history in this area, and while the tradition has died out, villages still celebrate it with festivals such as this one. When we arrived shortly before noon, cars were parked on the road at the entrance to the village, so we parked there and walked down the road to the small fete. There was a large wood burning oven in use, and a tent where freshly baked tarts and pizzas were for sale, We bought a crusty tart made with sauteed onions, thick cream, and walnuts, and brought it back to the gite to have for lunch with a bottle of local Rousette.

     In the afternoon we drove to the town of Morestel, on the other side of the Rhone in the Isere departement. Before we left Burgundy, our friend Ghislaine said that Morestel was a very pretty town, and she was right. While the commercial center of Morestel is on the main road running through town, the medieval part, which used to be the center of the town, is perched high above the new town. We walked up to the top and through the medieval part to the tower above the town. Morestel is known as the city of painters, and there are a number of art galleries in the old section. There was also an exhibition of local contemporary artists in the tower.


     After we left Morestel we took a leisurely drive back to our gite. We made a detour to try to find a goat cheese producer whose cheese we had bought last Sunday, and while we finally found it, no one was there. We continued on to our gite and finished off the sparkling Seyssel from Domaine Gallic that we had opened the day before.