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.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A Few Days in Burgundy

On Easter Sunday we left Gueugnon and headed towards Chateauneuf-en-Auxois, a small village a little over an hour to the north. But first we stopped at the ancient town of Autun. One of the most striking features of Autun is the large, magnificent church dominating the upper part of the town. We walked up to the top part of the town and spent some time viewing the church.

        After leaving Autun we stopped in Sully and visited the spectacular Chateau de Sully.  The chateau is now owned and inhabited by the Scottish-born Duchesse of Magenta. As a young woman she met the chateau owner, a member of royalty, at a party in Vienna. They fell in love and were married shortly thereafter, and she went to live at the chateau. When her husband died several years ago, she continued to live in and maintain the chateau with help from her sister, and it was probably the Duchesse herself who was running the ticket counter and gift shop when we visited.

We then made the short drive to Chateauneuf-en-Auxois, where we were spending the next 2 nights. Chateauneuf is one of Les Plus Villages de France (Most Beautiful Villages of France), and definitely deserves that designation. We had briefly stopped here over 20 years ago after spying the massive chateau high on the hill above the road we were driving on, and had often talked about coming back. The village was certainly as beautiful as we remembered.

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening wandering around Chateauneuf and visiting the chateau. The chateau was spectacular both on the inside and the outside.  When we visited here 20+ years ago we remembered how the village was swarming with cats. While there weren’t nearly as many as we remembered, we still ran into quite a few. The next night a restaurant owner said that feral cats used to run wild through Chateauneuf, but then several years ago a woman started to take care of feral cats and bring them to get neutered, so there aren’t nearly as many.

Cat seen in the window in the photo above
Our chambre d'hote

Chateau at night

On Monday morning we drove north to visit some chateaus and villages. The first stop was Chateau de Bussy-Rabutin.  The chateau is now owned by the French government, but in the 1600's it was owned by Count Roger de Bussy-Rabutin, who was exiled to his chateau after ridiculing and exposing the misdeeds of fellow members of royalty. All in all, it probably wasn’t the worst place to be exiled to, and at least he kept his head.

Our next stop was the village of Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, another of the Plus Beaux Villages. The village was beautiful, and an interesting feature was the Anis factory that has made little anise bonbons since 1561. Many years ago the company bought up the abbaye, and has made and sold their anise candies there, and now distributes them all over the world. We went into the museum and gift shop at the abbaye and bought several little packets of the candy.

After leaving Flavigny we drove the Commarin to visit the Chateau de Commarin.  This time we got to visit the interior as well as the exterior of the chateau.  The most fascinating thing about Commarin is that it has been in the same family since 1214, having survived the Wars of Religion and the French Revolution, and the current owners live there. We toured one wing and part of another wing, and were told that the owners live in the center building and in part of one of the two wings.

That night we had dinner at a restaurant in Chateauneuf that the owner of our bed and breakfast had recommended. She and her husband had gone to a big village birthday party there the night before, and she said the food there is very good. We figured her recommendation was probably good since she told us that the restaurant was owned by a couple who were originally from England, and for a French person to recommend a British-owned restaurant meant something. Dinner turned out to be excellent, and one of the owners told us a little of their background. They originally came to France to run a hotel canal barge, then opened a restaurant in Dijon, and eventually moved to Chateauneuf and bought a building that now houses their restaurant and their living quarters upstairs where they reside with 2 children, a dog, and a cat.