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 DorĂ©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.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

More From Burgundy

    It's now Saturday, April 28, and we're in the Isere departement, after not having Internet access for several days, and I'll recap the past few days or so of our trip in segments.

    Last Monday morning, Ann, Giselle and I headed out to the town of Marcigny in Burgundy, which has a large outdoor weekly market. Unfortunately it was raining pretty heavily, so I wasn't able to get any good pictures, but we did spend a fair amount of time wandering through the market and the streets of the town. It was too early for lunch, so we decided to drive to the next town on our itinerary -- Semur-en-Brionnais -- and see what we could find there. Semur has a partly restored medieval chateau/fortress, and is also classified among the Plus Beaux Villages (Most Beautiful Villages) of France.

    When we arrived in Semur we parked near the chateau, and right across the street was a restaurant that was open for lunch. We spent a couple of hours having a leisurely, and good, lunch. A big surprise was the carafe of an unnamed white wine from the Maconnais that I ordered, which was incredibly inexpensive (about $10 for what would be 2/3 of  a bottle) and very good.  While we were having lunch, the rain stopped, and we went to visit the chateau after we finished lunch, and then took a stroll through the town, stopping to visit the impressive church and the priory.

      After leaving Semur, we drove to the nearby Chateau de Dree. We were too late for a visit of the interior, so we bought tickets for the gardens and toured the extensive grounds of the chateau.

     When we left Dree heading back towards Gueugon, we searched for Domaine d'Argolay, a goat cheese producer that I had found information about on a prior visit. Thanks to their excellent signage we were able to find them in their tiny village. We bought several of their goat cheeses, and then made a visit to the barn to see the goats, where I had the opportunity to help milk a couple of goats.

      The next day we made a day-long excursion to the heart of the Burgundy wine region, the Cote d'Or, with two of Ghislaine's longtime friends. One of them, Ghiselle, is related to a young winemaker in the Marsannay wine region north of Beaune.  But first we stopped in Ladoix to taste wine at Domaine Ravaut, which Ghiselle's husband was familiar with.  Their wines were outstanding, particularly their Premier Cru reds.

     We then headed off to Marsannay, where Ghiselle and her husband gave us a tour of the scattered vineyard parcels owned by Sylvain Pataille, the owner/winemaker of Domaine Sylvain Pataille.  Sylvain has developed a reputation as an outstanding young winemaker, and his wines are well-known among wine enthusiasts in New York and San Francisco, and a few other major American  cities.

      Before visiting the winery itself, we all had lunch at La Table du Rocher in Marsanny-la-Cote, an excellent old restaurant where we had a Marsannay rose from Le Chateau de Marsannay.  Ghiselle then drove us to the winery, where Sylvain's assistant, Simon, welcomed us into the cave and proceeded to open about 10 bottles of their red, white, and rose Marsannay wines. I thought we were done with trying their wines, but afterwards we all went next door, where Sylvain's parents live, and we sat outside for awhile before Sylvain arrived, followed by his young daughters coming home from school, his partner/wife, and other assorted family and friends. Sylvain then proceeded to open several more wines, including a rose sparkling wine (a pettaillent naturale, or "pet nat") that he was experimenting with. We spent about an hour there, and before we left Sylvain went and got 2 bottles of one of his red wines, which he gave to Ann and me as a gift.
Cellar at Domaine Sylvain Pataille

Ann and Sylvain
On Wednesday, our last day in Burgundy, I went out in the morning and walked to the center of Gueugnon again to pick up some croissants and bread for breakfast.  After breakfast, Ann and I drove to the nearby goat cheese producer, Mireille Naulin, to pick up some more goat cheese for the next part of the trip. We then drove back to Gueugnon, where Ghislaine was waiting to take us back to her parent’s house before we left Burgundy. Ghislaine’s father was in the middle of planting potatoes (he said that when the lilacs are in bloom, it’s time to plant potatoes), and he picked some parsley and rhubarb for us to take with us.  We then headed off to our next stop, the town of Le Bois d’Oingt in the southern Beaujolais.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

A Visit to Burgundy

  On our first full day in Burgundy, I got up fairly early and walked towards the center of Gueugnon to pick up some croissants and other breakfast items. Rather than walking to one of the bakeries right in the center, I decided to stop at the closest one, which was less than a 10 minute walk, leaving the others for another day.

  After breakfast, the three of us (actually four if you count Ghislaine's dog Max) went off for a trip to a couple of chateaus about an hour from Gueugnon: Chateau de Cormatin and Chateau de Brancion.  As you can see from the photos below, the two chateaus are like night and day. Cormatin was a luxurious house of the nobility, and Brancion was a defensive fortress.

   Chateau de Cormatin was built by the Marquises of Huxelles in the early seventeenth century, eventually went through several changes of ownership before falling into disrepair, and then began being restored starting in 1980. We had a guided tour of the interior, then took a stroll on our own through the grounds.

   After leaving Cormatin we stopped in a small village, Chapaize, and had a picnic at a rest area just outside the center of the village. We then continued on to Brancion, where we visited the restored chateau and the medieval village surrounding it.



Village Church from the Chateau
    After leaving Brancion we headed back towards Gueugnon, stopping on the way to visit Ghislaine's parents, who live about 20 minutes from Gueugnon.  They're in their 80's, but are very active. Her father tends a large garden in their backyard, and her mother cooks and bakes, among other things. Our dinner at Ghislaine's last night included potatoes that her father had grown, and at their house this afternoon we were served an apple and cherry clafoutis that her mother had baked the day before.

     That night Ghislaine was attending a celebration for a friend's 70th birthday, and we stayed at her house and Ann made dinner for the two of us. Before dinner I opened one of the Maconnais wines we had bought the day before -- a Saint Veran from Domaine de la Greffiere.  Not surprisingly it was excellent, as we had tasted all of the wines that we had bought from the two Maconnais producers we had visited.

   Sunday was kind of a lazy day. In the morning, Ann and I took a walk into the center of Guegnon while Ghislaine slept in, having gotten home at 3 a.m. from her party.  We brought home some breakfast items from a boulangerie in town, and after breakfast we all went to a goat cheese producer in the next town. We had gone there twice on our visit last year, and I thought it was the best cheese producer I had ever visited.  It was just as good as I remembered, and we're planning to go back there on Wednesday on our way out of Gueugnon.  Unfortunately, that will probably be our last visit, as the cheesemaker, Mireille Naulin, is planning to retire this year.

   In the afternoon, we reprised last year's bowling expedition, meeting Ghislaine's 3 children and their children at the same bowling alley where we all went last year. Afterwards we all gathered at the house of one of her sons for aperitifs and dinner for the children.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Beginning in Cremieu

 My last post from last year's trip was titled "Finishing Up in Cremieu." Now we're back in Cremieu, having flown in to Lyon yesterday and driven right to Cremieu.  When we left home the weather had been not-so-springlike, with temperatures in the 40's. When we arrived in Cremieu, it was sunny, in the mid-70's, and flowers were blooming everywhere.

    During last year's visit we spent our time in the center of town, and took some pictures of the medieval structures in the hills above town, including this photo of the 12th Century Priory of St. Hippolyte.

  Yesterday, since the weather was so beautiful, we took a walk up to the abandoned priory, which is in the process of being restored. We had some great views of the town below and the chateau and convent.


  After walking back down from Saint Hippolyte, we stopped at Les Ursulines, a brewery outside the Ursuline Convent that we had visited last year. We sat and had a beer in their courtyard, then headed back to the place we were staying and had dinner at a table in the garden.

  Friday morning we made a couple of stops in Cremieu to pick up some pastries and cheese, and then headed to Gueugnon in Burgundy, where we were going to spend 5 nights with a friend. On the way, we stopped at 2 wineries in the Maconnais and picked up a dozen bottles of wine. We're now in Gueugnon at our friend's place, having gone out for a long walk with her and her dog and having dinner at her house. And if anyone still thinks that the French don't like Americans (probably not anyone reading this blog), they should know that we're staying at 2 Impasse (dead end) John Kennedy, which is off Rue John Kennedy.