Monday, May 7, 2018

Finishing Up In Cremieu, Part 2

  Like last year, we finished our trip in the town of Cremieu, not far from the Lyon airport.  We left our gite in Beaucroissant on Saturday morning, and made a couple of stops on the way to Cremieu, which is only about an hour from Beaucroissant as the crow flies, although it took us a lot longer since we're not crows..

   Our first stop was in Saint Chef, a small town with some remarkable buildings, including a beautiful church dating from the 10th century, which in this case was open to visitors.

      We had a picnic near the center of Saint Chef, and then continued our drive. This weekend was the Isere's equivalent of the Ferme en Ferme event that we went to last weekend when leaving the Rhone area.  There was a goat cheese producer on the outskirts of Cremieu, La Chevre "Ry," that we planned to visit, and on the way we stopped to get a view of a chateau.  La Chevre "Ry" is presumably a play on the word "chevrerie," which means a farm that makes goat cheese.  We stopped to visit the farm, and the goats, and bought several of their cheeses before heading towards our hotel in Cremieu.

     For our last night we stayed at the same hotel as we did on the last night of our trip in 2017 -- Auberge de la Chaite. It's a wonderful small, old hotel with a great restaurant. After checking in we walked all over Cremieu again, stopping at the brewery Les Ursilines for a beer in their outdoor courtyard.  It was a beautiful afternoon, so we took several pictures of the chateau ruin high above the town and the former medieval priory that we had visited at the beginning of our trip. We also spied a cat that was curious but safely out of reach.

     In the evening we had dinner at the Auberge, which was just as outstanding as it was last year.  The difference was that last year it was chilly and we sat in the main dining room near the fireplace, whereas this year it was warm and we sat on the outdoor terrace. The food was outstanding, and the restaurant has an excellent selection of local wines, including several producers we had visited last year.  We had a glass of sparkling wine from the Caveau Bugiste in the Bugey region, and a bottle of Altesse (Roussette grape) "Marestel" from Domaine Dupasquier in the Savoie.  After dinner we took one last stroll around Cremieu.

     On Sunday morning we had breakfast at the Auberge, then took a short walk to the great bakery we had visited several times this year and last, and picked up some croissants to bring home.  We then drove to the Lyon airport for our journey to Boston, which, with a connection in Munich, seemed to take forever.  We arrived home late last night via the bus from Boston, having been awake almost 24 hours.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The End of the Week in the Isere

  Thursday morning we took a walk into the center of the village to stop at the boucherie and pick up something to have as part of lunch. On the way we spied the friendly orange and white cat that we had seen late yesterday, but this time I had brought the camera. The cat was behind a fence and some shrubs, but she squeezed under the fence and greeted us, and I managed to get some photos. We continued on to the butcher shop, then stopped at a farm in town that sells milk, cream and cheese, and we bought some cheese.

     Afterwards we decided to visit the somewhat large town of La Cote Saint Andre, about 25 minutes from Baucroissant, driving through some small villages on the way. La Cote Saint Andre is known for being the birthplace of the composer Hector Berlioz, and the house he was born in has been converted into a museum celebrating his life and works.  We went through the museum, and took a look at the beautiful interior courtyard.

        After leaving La Cote Saint Andre we returned to the gite to have lunch.  Since we were running out of time in Beaucroissant we took a look at the map and some booklets to figure out what we wanted to see this afternoon and tomorrow. There were several towns in the mountainous Vercors Park that we wanted to see, but we decided to save them for tomorrow, since the weather looked like it would be more promising then.  Instead we decided to go to Saint Antoine l'Abbaye, a village that is another one of the classified Plus Beaux Villages, and also has a well-known former abbey.

     Saint Antoine certainly deserves its Plus Beaux Villages designation, and the abbey was impressive. We spent a couple of hours walking through the village and touring the interior of the former abbey, including the massive church and a museum which details the history of the abbey and the order of Saint Antoine.

Gate to the Abbey

Abbey Church

Church From the Lower Village
   After leaving Saint Antoine we drove back to Beaucroissant on back roads, avoiding the major roads during rush hour.  We had dinner at the gite, which included a bottle of Mondeuse Blanche from Domaine Philippe Grisard, as well as the Verdesse we had opened at lunch, as we tried to make a dent in our wine purchases.

     On Friday, our last full day in the Isere, we headed to the Vercors Regional Park to visit several villages that I had read about.  The first stop was Cognin-les-Gorges, a beautiful village which leads to the Gorges du Nan. We parked near the center of the village and walked upwards through the streets and towards the gorges, stopping to admire the turrets of an old church and a small bridge. Along the way we met a friendly cat, which we later saw down at the bottom of the village near where we were parked.

    After leaving Cognin we drove to Pont-en-Royans, a larger village on the Isere River. We parked outside the center and walked through the Grand Rue and up some small streets into the upper part of the town.  Since it was a little past noon we decided to have a picnic along the banks of the Isere with some provisions we had brought with us and some that we picked up in town. We decided to picnic on the opposite side of the river from the center of town, since from that spot there were great views of the houses perched over the Isere.

         After our picnic we stopped in the village of La Sone, which is also on the Isere River.  La Sone looked like it was a little down on its heels, but there was a charming little park next to an old tower, and an imposing church with a 12th century clock tower.

    Our last stop of the day was the village of Beauvoir-en-Royans, which is the site of the ruins of a medieval chateau, as well as a former Carmelite convent.  While not much of the chateau remains, what does exist gives one an idea of how massive the building must have been.

      After leaving Beauvoir-en-Royans we drove back to our gite and started to get things together for the return trip. Tomorrow morning we leave Beaucroissant to finish our trip where it began -- in the town of Cremieu.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

More From The Isere

Tuesday, May 1, was a holiday in France, roughly equivalent to Labor Day in the United States. While most things are closed, we had planned to go to a festival in the town of Condrieu. That town is known for having two AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protege√©) products – Condrieu wine and a small disk of goat cheese called Rigotte de Condrieu – and both products have been celebrated for 31 years at the annual May 1 Fete des Vin et de Rigotte de Condrieu.  There were a couple of dozen producers of Rigotte de Condrieu at stalls in the center of town, and we tasted a lot of their cheeses and bought a fair amount. The wine producers were set up in a nearby hall, and with the purchase of a glass one could taste any of the wines, mostly Condrieu, Cote Rotie, and Saint Joseph, that were being poured by about 20 producers. We tasted a number of wines, but since we had stocked up on so many wines yesterday, we didn’t buy any here.  After the wine tasting we wandered a little more through the center of town, where additional food vendors had set up stands.

We then headed back towards Beaucroissant with plans to make a few stops on the way.  Our first stop was in Chatenay to view the church that was supposed to have a beautiful interior. However, like so many churches we stopped at on this trip, the door was locked. We then continued to the town of Bressieux to take a look at the 13th century Chateau de Bressieux, which was high above the town looking over the plains below. The chateau is mostly a ruin now, but two corners of the structure have been well preserved, as well as vestiges of the walls. There is also a large church in the lower part of the village, but alas, the door was also locked.

After leaving Bressieux we drove to the town of Vinay, which we had passed through the day we arrived in the area and thought it was worth going back to. We parked at the entrance to the center of town and took a brief walk. There were some interesting buildings in and around the center, including a modest chateau that was for sale.

Chateau for Sale
We then drove back to our gite in Beaucroissant for aperitifs and then dinner. For dinner, Ann made tartiflette, a Savoie specialty made with Rebluchon cheese, potatoes (using Ghislaine’s father’s potatoes), cream (using cream from the farm in Guegnon), and lardons (thick cubes of smoked bacon), baked in the oven. It was fantastic, and went well with one of the Mondeuse wines from Maison Phlippe Grisard.  After dinner we took a walk through the quiet village.

     On Wednesday we had two appointments at wineries in an obscure wine region to the north of Grenoble.  The first was Domaine des Rutissons in the town of Le Touvet, where we were to meet up with co-owner/winemaker Wilfrid Debroize. To say that the winery was unpretentious would be an understatement. After a little trouble we found the building that houses the winery, and were ushered into the cellar down steep, unlit stairs. But the wines we tasted more than made up for the surroundings. Domaine des Rutissons, like the winery we were to visit later in the day, and indeed like many wineries in the Isere and Savoie, emphasizes indigenous gape varieties that are unique to this region, some of which were almost extinct before being revived fairly recently.  Among those varieities, Rutissons makes a red from the almost-unknown Etraire de la Dhui grape, and a white Verdesse.  The wines were outstanding, and despite the fact that we had more wines than we could handle, we bought 4 bottles.

    After leaving Domaine des Rutissons we drove to the next village, Crolles, to have lunch at a restaurant that Wink Lorch had mentioned. Crolles was very suburban and congested, but it did have an impressive church.

   After lunch we headed towards Bernin, where we had an appointment with Thomas Finot at Domaine Finot. We had a very difficult time finding the winery, having stopped at 2 different places to ask for directions. Fortunately, Thomas Finot seems to be well known in the town, and we finally found the "winery." I put that in quotes, because the "winery" was in an industrial area consisting of a lot of small warehouses, car repair places, and similar buildings, and Domaine Finot was an even smaller facility than Domaine des Rutissons. But like Rutissons, they make superb wines. We were greeted by Audrey, Thomas Finot's partner, who said that Thomas was busy working in the vineyards, and that she would be giving us a tasting and tour.  Like at Rutissons they make a wine from the Etraire de la Dhui grape variety, and while they had sold all of the small 2016 vintage, Audrey poured us the 2017 out of the barrel.  We also tried their late harvest Verdesse, and a Persan (another indigenous grape variety), both of which were outstanding, so we bought both of them. Audrey also told us about a couple of other virtually unknown varieties that Thomas had planted and which they hoped to be able to harvest and make wine from in a few years.

    From Domaine Finot we drove through the outskirts of Grenoble towards the town of Vizille to see the Chateau de Vizille.  The chateau is quite impressive, as is the huge park surrounding it. The chateau is now simply a museum, which we skipped, but we took a long walk through the park, whose grounds contained a long canal with lots of waterfowl, including a family of ducklings, and an extensive fenced in area with dozens of deer.  We had parked a long distance from the chateau, on the edge of the center of town, so we got to see a good part of the town in addition to the chateau.

    We then drove back to our gite in rush hour traffic, and made it back in time to take a walk to the boucherie (butcher shop) in the village to pick up some provisions for dinner. We also encountered several scared cats on the walk, but also a friendly cat that looked remarkably like our late cat Tavel. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring the camera.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

On To The Isere

After leaving our chambre d’hote in Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez on Saturday morning, our first stop on the Ferme en Ferme circuit was right in the village, at La Ferme du Moulin des Chartreux. The farm is located just outside the walls of the old monastery, and raises several kinds of animals for meat and for cheese.  After looking around the farm, we bought several goat cheeses, a meat tourte, and a fresh pintade (guinea hen) for roasting, complete with the head.  One of the owners took some pictures of us at their stand, and asked for my email address. Two days later I got an email from her with the two photos.
Pintade Before Being Roasted

We then drove out of Sainte-Croix towards the village of Pelussin, where we found Le Potager d’Olivier, a small organic farm growing a number of kinds of vegetables, as well as mushrooms in their darkened cave.  We were given a tour of some of the vegetable plots, and shown the mushroom growing operation. They had several of their vegetables for sale, and since we needed some food items for the coming week, we picked up some things, including the first asparagus of the season.

After leaving Pelussin, we headed up towards the village of Chavannay, high above the Rhone River. We saw signs for numerous Northern Rhone wine producers, some of whom I was familiar with, but the only one that was participating in Ferme en Ferme was Vignobles Verzier. We stopped there, and were given a tasting by one of the winemakers. The wines were superb, and we bought several bottles, including a Condrieu (a white made entirely from Viognier), a Saint Joseph blanc (a Marsanne/Roussane blend), and a Saint Joseph rouge (all Syrah).

We then crossed the Rhone and headed towards Beaucroissant in the Isere departement, where we were going to be spending the next week at a gite (basically a restored farmhouse), with a stop in Chatte to check out two shops we had read about. One of them is a cooperative of local farmers, including vegetable, meat and cheese producers; the other is the retail store of the adjacent factory that makes raviolis that are a local specialty called Raviolis de Royans.  We bought a number of items at each store, the continued on to Beaucroissant.

We arrived in Beaucroissant in the late afternoon, and were greeted by the woman who runs the gite with her husband. They live next door to the gite, and the woman told us that the property was originally owned by her grandparents, and that she grew up in what is now the gite. She also told us that we were the first Americans to stay in the gite. A chance encounter later that afternoon made us wonder whether we were in fact the first Americans to have stayed anywhere in Beaucroissant. While we were walking back from the center of the village we met a man who was walking his very friendly dog. As he started to walk away he asked us where we were from. When we said “the United States,” he was taken aback, and said, in English, “the United States, and you’re staying in Beaucroissant? Why, do you have family here?” We told him no, we were just on vacation. He seemed surprised that a couple of Americans would be spending a week of their vacation in Beaucroissant.

That night we roasted the pintade we had bought earlier in the day at the farm in Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez, and drank the Ladoix red Burgundy we had bought on our excursion to the Cote d’Or last Tuesday.  With the pintade we had the asparagus from the vegetable farm we had visited that morning, and some of the potatoes from Ghislaine’s father.

On Sunday morning we drove to Morestel, about 45 minutes from here, for their weekly outdoor market.  It’s one of the largest and best markets in this part of France, and we had gone there last year when we stayed in the Bugey region. We had planned to just get a few things there, since we had quite a lot of food already, but everything looked so good that we wound up getting far too much.  We spent a fair amount of time walking through the market and throughout the center of town, and then drove back to Beaucroissant for lunch, which consisted of cheese (we have a lot of that) plus some olives and tapenade we had picked up in Morestel.
Fishmonger in Moretsel

In the late afternoon we took a short drive to the village of Virieu to visit the Chateau de Vireu. The chateau was originally a fortification built around the 12th century, and was later added on to in several stages and renovated about 100 years ago. Part of it now houses five families descended from the Virieu family line. An interesting part of the tour concerned the role that the Virieu family played in the French Resistance during World War II, including their efforts at hiding some families, including Jewish families, which earned them a commemorative award from Israel.

Chateau de Virieu
That night our dinner included a Saucisse Lyonnaise, a specialty of the nearby city of Lyon, which we had picked up in Morestel.  For the wine, I opened the Saint Joseph rouge from Vignoble Verzier, which was a great match for the sausage; not surprising, since Lyon and the St. Joseph wine region are so close.

Monday morning we headed off to the Savoie departement to visit some wineries. The first one was Domaine Grisard in Freterive, which we had visited last year and a couple of years before that.  We’ve both become big fans of Savoie wines, which can be difficult to find in the United States. One thing that’s interesting about Savoie wines is the number of indigenous grapes grown here, many of which are not grown anywhere else, and some of which had almost become extinct before being revived by some grape growers in the area.  Domaine Grisard has been a pioneer in keeping some of the ancient varieties alive, and they are also a pepiniste (fruit tree seller), selling grape vines to other vineyards.  We tried a number of their wines, and bought several of them.

After leaving Domaine Grisard we stopped at Domaine Philippe Grisard, another branch of the family.  We were given a spectacular tasting by Philippe himself, who poured us about a dozen different wines, including 4 or 5 different red Mondeuse Noire wines, and wines from the rare Mondeuse Blanche and Persan grape varieties. We had hoped to keep our purchases to a reasonable number, and had planned to visit a third winery afterward (down from the 5 I had originally planned to visit in this area), but the wines here were so good we bought 9 bottles (plus we were given 1 by Philippe), and cancelled our next planned visit.  Instead, we went to lunch at a restaurant on a small lake, La Carouge, which had been recommended to me by the wine writer Wink Lorch.  After lunch we took a walk around the lake, which has great views of the surrounding mountains.

Tasting Room at Domaine Philippe Grisard

Lac Carouge

On our drive back to Beaucroissant we took a route through the mountainous Chartreuse Park, rather than taking the fast autoroute that we had driven on in the morning. We passed through some charming villages and had some great views of the hills. We made one brief stop in Saint Laurent du Pont and took a stroll through the town. We then drove through the congested town of Voiron during rush hour, and eventually returned to Beaucroissant for aperitifs and then dinner.

Saint Laurent du Pont

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Leaving Burgundy And On To Beaujolais And Beyond

We left Burgundy last Wednesday, and on our drive to the Beaujolais region, Ann remembered that there was a great boulangerie in Saint Bonnet where we had stopped on our drive to Ghislaine’s last year, and we managed to find the town, and the bakery, without any trouble.  The bakery looked and smelled as good as I remembered, and we picked up some breads and pastries there.  We then found a picnic spot in the nearby village of Beaubery, and stopped to have lunch. The picnic area had a great view of the surrounding countryside, including an impressive church.

We then continued our drive to the town of Le Bois d’Oingt in the southern Beaujolais, and met up with the woman whose apartment we had rented for the next 2 nights. After installing ourselves in the apartment, we went back out and took a drive to the nearby village of Chamelet, which is one of a series of old villages in the Pierres Dor√©es (Golden Stones) region of Beaujolais. We had a difficult time driving through the village and finding parking, which we thought was due to tourism, but which turned out to be due to a funeral at the church in the village.  We finally found a place to park, and took a stroll around the village, which was quite beautiful.

We then drove back to Le Bois d’Oingt for aperitifs and dinner on the apartment’s terrace.  With our aperitifs we had a bottle of Beaujolais that the owner of the apartment had given us, and then with dinner, which consisted of a huge cheese board and a salad, we had a bottle of a Premier Cru Puligny-Montrachet that Ghislaine had given us that morning. It’s been very difficult to make a dent in our wine supply when people keep giving us wines.

Thursday morning I took a walk to the boulangerie down the street, which was less than 2 minutes on foot.  After we finished breakfast we headed off to visit several villages that are part of a circuit of medieval villages in the Pierres Dorees.  Our first stop was the village of Chatillon d’Azeergues, and from where we parked there was an amazing view of the church and the 12th century Roman chapel of Notre-Dame de Bon Secours high above the village. We took a walk through the village, all the way to the chateau and chapel at the top.  Chatillon is a spectacular, beautiful village, and although it isn’t officially classified as a Plus Beaux Village, I thought it deserved to be. Especially because of the cat.

The next village was Chessy-les-Mines, which has a much smaller medieval area than Chatillon, but nevertheless has some beautiful old buildings, including a 10th century chateau. Our last stop for the morning before heading to the town of Oingt for lunch was Ternand, which has some beautiful medieval buildings, including a 12th century chateau, and a church and chapel that also date from the 12th century.



We left Ternand a little after noon, since we had a lunch reservation in the town of Oingt at 12:30, at La Table du Donjon. The restaurant had been highly recommended by the apartment owner; she told us that there really were not any worthwhile restaurants in Le Bois d’Oingt, and that La Table du Donjon was superb.  The village of Oingt, which is another classified Plus Beaux Village, is situated high above the surrounding countryside, and the restaurant has a fantastic view of the vineyards, hills, and nearby villages. We sat outside on the terrace and had a leisurely 2+ hour meal, which was outstanding.  The restaurant also has a fantastic wine list, which, not surprisingly, emphasizes Beaujolais wines, especially the wines of the Pierres Dorees. We each started with a glass of excellent rose from a local producer, and then I ordered a bottle of a red Beaujolais from a producer in Oingt.  Wines from the Pierres Dorees can only be labeled simply “Beaujolais,” as opposed to the more prestigious appellations of Beaujolais-Villages and the well-known Crus to the north, such as Julienas, Morgon, and Fleurie.  However, the 2 Beaujolais from the Pierres Dorees that we had last night and with lunch today were superb, and fruitier and more enjoyable than many of the more highly regarded Cru Beaujolais I’ve had in the United States.

After lunch we spent some time walking around Oingt, which is a lovely village with beautiful houses made of golden stone. We had visited Oingt 8 years ago while spending one night at a chambre d’hote just outside town, but we didn’t see much of the village then.  This time we walked through the entire village, and stopped at a pottery shop where we bought some lovely small table pieces.

Afterwards we went back to our apartment in Le Bois d’Oingt and had a quiet evening. Since we had eaten a large lunch our dinner consisted of just a salad and several cheeses. Since we had been so impressed with the Beaujolais wines from the Pierres Dorees that we had, I walked to a shop in town and picked up a bottle from the same cooperative as the wine the apartment owner had given us the first day. It too was excellent.

On Friday morning, we left the apartment and headed out towards our next location, the village of Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez. But first we stopped in Saint-Roman-en-Gaul and spent a couple of hours visiting the archeological museum.  Saint Roman was the site of a Roman settlement over 2,000 years ago, and in 1968 the vestiges of that settlement were discovered.  A museum was eventually created on that site, which opened in 1996.  The interior of the museum has numerous artifacts and exhibits illustrating the history of the Roman settlement, and the exterior has extensive ruins and explanations of the settlement.  After touring the museum we crossed the Rhone River to the city of Vienne, which has a number of Roman and medieval buildings, and we walked through the old part of the town before heading back to our car.


After leaving Saint-Roman-en-Gaul we drove to Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez, where we were spending the night in a chambres d’hotes. Saint-Croix-en-Jarez is another of the classified Plus Beaux Villages, and it’s fascinating because it was formerly a Carthusian monastery that was turned into a village. The Carthusian order was founded in 1084, and the monastery in Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez was built in the late 13th century and remained a monastery until the order was driven out during the French Revolution. What once were the Carthusian order’s rooms for the brothers (freres) and fathers (peres) are now schoolrooms, shops, and homes. We took a fascinating tour of the parts of the monastery that have been preserved in their original state. Afterwards we had dinner at Le Carthusian, a restaurant across from the monastery that is owned by the woman who also owns the chambre d’hote that we were staying at that night. The chambre d’hote is on a road that is just above the village, and there’s a great view of the monastery/village from that road.

Village Cat

Monastery/Village From Chambre d'Hote
      Saturday morning we had breakfast at the chambre d’hote with Josee.  The night before the restaurant and bar had been very busy, especially the bar given that it was a weekend and there was a big soccer match on TV, so Josee hadn't  gotten home until 4 a.m., and then got up before 8 a.m. to get our breakfast together. She said that is often her kind of schedule, since she runs the restaurant, the bar, and the chambre d'hote, with some help from her family.

    After breakfast we left the chambre d'hote, this time being given not a bottle of wine, but a jam that Josee had made, and a bottle of tomato sauce that one of her family members had made from an old Sicilian family recipe.  This weekend was Ferme en Ferme weekend (roughly equivalent to Maine's Open Farm Day) in this part of France, so the bulk of our day was spent touring a couple of farms and a winery before heading to our next stop.