Printemps…Spring in France

Ok, I was going to write something dreadfully interesting about Cluny or Lyon, but the thing is, I was on the 6.05am train into Brisbane this morning, had a gruelling day in the office – including being a guest judge for the office bake-off (oh the pressure) – and didn’t get home until…well, you don’t need to know the details.

Suffice to say that my brain isn’t working at the moment, so I’m taking the easy way out and sharing some French spring flowers with you. What’s not to love about that?

Blossoms

and…just because I can’t help myself…

Irises

and for something a little different…

Tulips and other bulbs

Most of these pics were taken in Lille – at the beginning of our trip.

and some token daffys…

Chateau Flowers

Wisteria

Full disclosure – I have enough pictures of wisteria and lilacs to fill multiple posts…here are just a few.

Lilacs

We had to stop for photos every time I saw it.

Just because

Yes, I happened upon some bluebells too… If you’ve read Wish You Were Here you’ll know about my fascination with bluebells.

Market Flowers

and finally…

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Dijon

Last week I told you about the cooking class that we did in Dijon with Alex Miles. If you missed it, you’ll find the link here.

I ran out of time to talk about Dijon itself. To begin, it’s about more than mustard – although mustard is, of course, part of the Dijon story…as is wine.

History

The history of this part of France is mind-blowing. We’re talking all the way back to Julius Caesar, the Gauls and years ending in BC.

Slightly more recently than that – between the 11th and 15th century – Dijon was the capital of the duchy of Burgundy. There was a particularly golden age during the 14th and 15th centuries when the Duchy challenged the power of France itself. These years were full of stories of assassinations, treachery, back-hand dealings, illegitimate children and power-broking. It’s the stuff that entire mini-series could be written and produced around. Just imagine – sumptuous costumes and tapestries, tales of treachery, treason and lust.

But, I digress. There were four Dukes of Burgundy in these golden years: Phillipe-le-Hardi (Philip the Bold), Jean-sans-Peur (John the Fearless), Phillipe-le-Bon (Philip the Good) and Charles-le-Téméraire (Charles the Bold who later became known as Charles the Reckless). At this point, I’m wondering what I would be known as. I’m thinking a play on my maiden name. Joanne-le-Lion au Coeur.

Each of the Dukes married extremely well and their courts were sumptuous indeed – full of the best in tapestries, music, sculpture, gastronomy and fine arts. At least, that was until Charles the Bold managed, unbelievably, to milk dry Burgundy’s extremely wealthy coffers…but that’s another (long) story.

In any case, it’s this history that makes Dijon so interesting now. The wonderful medieval and renaissance buildings are a direct result of the golden years of the duchy as the finest painters, sculptors and architects were brought to Dijon.

The pics

This is a fabulous city for walking around – and not just for the architecture.

Don’t forget to check out the details.

We had eaten way too much to sample any of the excellent food Dijon has to offer…maybe next time.

Sadly we spent only a few hours wandering this city – we could have spent days.

We visited Dijon as part of a longer stay in the Burgundy region. If you want the details of where we stayed, check out this post.

 

 

 

 

Cooking with Alex…

When we first planned the itinerary for this road trip, a cooking class was on each of our wish lists. And preferably in Burgundy. But not a commercial cooking class, we didn’t want one of those. We were after local food, local markets, and a small group. Something personal with real stories about eating and living in France. Our day cooking with Alex Miles was all of this. And more. But I digress.

We meet Alex outside Dijon Railway Station, near some coffee shop or another. We had no idea how we’d know him, but he came straight up to us. Obviously, we looked as though we were waiting around to meet a chef for a day of cooking in Dijon…

Alex, a New York pastry chef (amongst other things) in a previous life, has called Dijon home for the past 30 years or so. Over coffee and home-made mini muffins that he produced from his bag, we chat about food and cooking, and life in Dijon.

Onto the markets – which are, as an aside, fabulous…but, of course, I’ve already told you about them, here.  Alex seems to know everyone and at every stall, after he’d made his purchases, a muffin comes out of the bag for the proprietor. Alex has a smile, a bonjour, and a muffin for everyone.

Dijon Markets

Back in Alex’s apartment, we head into the kitchen to start preparing lunch. Before I tell you about lunch, a few words about Alex’s kitchen. Aside from having my dream stove (check it out in the pic below), there is not one inch of space in this kitchen that isn’t utilised – and absolutely nothing is wasted.

I asked about the dark powder in one of the spice jars. It was, Alex told me, vanilla powder. When he’d extracted the seeds from the vanilla pods, he dried the pods and ground them into this deep, fragrant dust. In his words, the amount of garbage most of us have is insane.

The spirit of the leftover that we talked about the other week – remember when I told you about the savoury cake? – is continued here. Bones and leek tops are reserved for stocks and leftover vegetables become soups. The base of the pate we’re served with our kir (blackcurrant liqueur in white wine) is another example of nothing going to waste. The recipe is simple:

  • 1 part leftover chicken or duck
  • 1 part sausage mince
  • 1 part liver
  • 1 part veg

It’s all then bound together with eggs and flour and cooked in a loaf tin

Also on the appetiser plate is jambon persille – essentially a ham terrine with parsley. It, like the crème de cassis we have in our wine, is a Burgundian classic. The persille we’re eating was bought at the markets, but in the name of research, I’m going to have a go at making my own…but that’s for another day.

As we chop vegetables for our spring vegetable starter (I’ve already blogged the recipe – you’ll find it here) Alex prepares the rabbit in mustard sauce – Dijon mustard of course. Alex has sent me the recipes and given his permission for me to share them, so I’ll do that over the next few days. Oh, if you don’t like rabbit, this mustard sauce works really well with chicken as well.

Next, we prepare the Crème d’Amande or Almond Cream for the tart – Alex has already made the crème patisserie and the Pâte Sablée aux Amandes or sweet almond pastry. Treat the pastry as you would a woman, he says.

Finally, it’s time to eat – and drink…so we do. First, the spring vegetables…

Then the Lapin a la Moutarde, rabbit in mustard sauce…

Local cheeses,

and finally that perfect pear tart.

In order to walk off at least some of that fabulous food, Alex leads us on a walking tour around Dijon and presents us with a praline brioche – another classic of the region. It’s the perfect way to finish a fabulous day.

this photo was taken in Lyon

 

If you want to know more about cooking with Alex Miles in Dijon, you can email him at alexmiles47@gmail.com or check out his website here.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Burgundy

I adored Champagne as a region. We had some memorable meals, dranks some memorable bubbles, and had some memorable experiences. If I was pushed for my favourite of the regions that we travelled through though? It would be Burgundy.

I enjoyed Beaune and, although I haven’t yet shown you any of Dijon other than Les Halles, it’s a beautiful city.

Burgundy seems somehow greener, the hills more lush and rolling. There’s definitely more livestock, and the cheese tastes different. Not better, not worse, just different.

Chateauneuf was easily the most beautiful village we visited, and the lilacs everywhere took my breath away.

Not to forget the wisteria, of course…

As for the food? It was richer and heavier than what we’d had in Champagne – more typically French, perhaps – but full of flavour. Yes, Burgundy was everything I’d hoped for and more.

We stayed in a gite in a small village called Marigny-l’Église, in an area known as Parc Naturel Regional du Morvan. Our closest shops were about 8kms away in Quarre-les-Tombes. After a day of touring, we were happy to call in at Quarre and grab a baguette, some cheese and top up our wine supplies and eat at home.

As an aside, we did have one great meal at a restaurant in Quarre called Le Morvan. Two courses 24 euros – excellent service and fabulous food.

kir royale

Marigny-l’Église had one bar/restaurant, but it was only open limited hours and also doubled as the local post office – also open limited hours. Not that it mattered – Quarre was close and we planned ahead.

The gite itself was quite unassuming from the outside but was super clean and had a real cozy charm inside – with everything you need to be comfortable.

We loved bringing our picnic dinners back to eat in front of the log fire – and were grateful that the evenings were cool enough for us to light it.

The best part though was the garden.

Sitting outside in the late afternoon spring sunshine with a glass of wine and a book, well that was pinch-me-I’m-dreaming stuff.

The gite was across the road from the local church – whose bells chimed on the hour from (I think) 8 am until 8 pm.

We found this gite through Air BNB. The link is here.

 

Beaune

Hotel-Dieu, Beaune
Hotel-Dieu

We knew that the weather had to break sometime – and that time was on a Monday morning in Beaune.

I’d been looking forward to visiting this town – the wine capital of Burgundy in the Côte d’Or. I remembered that we stopped here on that bus trip way back in 1995 – although I don’t recall much other than the gloriously coloured tiles on the roofs. This style – known as Burgundian tile – initially covered the great cathedrals of the 13thcentury, then the royal residences in the 14thcentury, and finally became available to the waelthy urban bourgeoisie of the 15thcentury.

On this rainy Monday morning, however, their brilliance was dulled. As was that of the town. Not only was it raining, but it was also Monday – so very little was open.

Wine tasting

We couldn’t visit Beaune without a wine tasting in one of the caves. For 10 euros we got one of these little silver tasting spoons and were pretty much left to our own devices down there, ie free pours.

I loved the bottle display showing the bottle sizes. A standard 750ml bottle is the second from the left. You can imagine just how big a Balthazar is…no? It holds 12 litres or 16 bottles. I also think I might name a dog in one of my books Balthazar. Just thinking aloud.

Marche aux Vins also housed an amazing art gallery. We marvelled over the three-dimensional hand-carved wooden sculptures and the massive cow, calf and bull – the Charolais of the region.

Mostly though, I loved where the plaster had peeled to reveal some of the frescoes beneath it.

Where we lunched…

At Le Cheval Blanc – the White Horse.

We all chose the 2-course lunch menu – I can’t remember how much it was, but 17E rings a bell. F had the oeufs en meurette – essentially eggs in a red wine sauce. It’s a Burgundian specialty that I want to try for myself at home. Hubby and I chose the escargots (snails) which were fantabulous with plenty of garlic, parsley, butter sauce for mopping up afterwards. All three of us had the Boeuf Bourguignon – Beef Burgundy – when in Burgundy…

boeuf

What wowed us…

Hotel Dieu – Hospices de Beaune

If hubby is asked what the best place was that he visited on our trip to France, he says here. And not just because of the artwork and tapestries here – which are magnificent – but what it represents.

Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy, and his wife, Guigone de Salins, founded the Hotel Dieu, or hospital, in 1443 as a place where anyone – regardless of whether they were rich or poor – could come to be treated. In fact, this place was intended to be a “palace for the poor”. It was a concept way ahead of its time.

A self-guided tour took us through the Salles des Povres, with its sculpted and painted ceilings, the chapel, and through to the kitchen where meals were prepared (as an aside, apparently those who could afford it paid more for white bread rather than rye).  My personal fave, though, was the apothecary with its mortar and pestle and huge pots for mixing lotions and potions.

Hotel Dieu even has a vineyard, the product of which is still auctioned off for charity each November.

What else?

Before we left and headed off to look at Chateauneuf, we bought some cheese and rillettes from this fabulous shop to graze on around the fire back at our cottage in Marigny-l’Église.

Les Halles Dijon

One of the things we loved most when we were in France was our picnic style dinners. If we’d had a proper lunch, rather than go out to eat in the evening we’d buy a baguette, some charcuterie, a cheese or two, maybe some rillette, and of course wine. Rather than eat, we’d graze and drink wine and talk and laugh.

Where possible we’d pick up our food from markets or local stores rather than supermarkets so it would all be locally produced.

One of the best markets was this one – Les Halles in Dijon.

We visited this market as the first part of a day cooking with someone I’ll introduce you to next week – Alex Miles. Alex is an expat New Yorker who we spent a fabulous day with – but that’s for next week.

The ironwork of these markets have a touch of the familiar about them – that would be because the building is said to have been designed by Gustave Eiffel. Yes, the same Eiffel. He was born here – in Dijon. As to whether he designed it? Well, that’s less clear. I’ve read some references that state his designs were rejected or there was confusion – it all sounds very French. In any case, Gustave was soon busy designing a little tower somewhere else instead…you might have heard of it?

Was he involved with Les Halles? I’d like to think so. Of course, I could do more research, but hey, it’s been a messy week at work.

None of that takes away from the fact that this is a fabulous building – and an even better market.

French markets are a snapshot of the life and food of that region, and in Burgundy, that means dishes such as coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, jambon persillé (ham cured with parsley), oeufs en meurette (eggs poached in a red wine sauce) and, of course, escargots.

Burgundy is also famous for its blackcurrants distilled into liqueur de cassis – the essential base of the French aperitifs Kir (cassis with white wine) and Kir Royale (cassis with champagne).

All of that was at this market. We, however, were there to buy cheese, vegetables and rabbit for the lunch we’d be preparing back at Alex’s apartment

From here I’ll let the pics tell the rest of the story… There were spices and fruits…

cheeses…so many cheeses…

and other dairy – although as I think I’ve already said, the French tend not to drink milk.

Artichokes and asparagus…

and mushrooms…oh how I loved the mushrooms.

Veggies and bread in the outside stalls…

And flowers…although the dog was not for sale – he was very cute.

Then we took everything that we’d purchased back to Alex’s apartment and cooked a relatively simple veggie dish that tasted of spring on a plate.

 

Vegetables in Puff Pastry

This is more of an idea than a recipe – as, indeed, the best recipes are. Alex cut some squares of puff pastry from some he’d made earlier, brushed them with a little egg wash, and popped them in the oven pre-heated to about 200C. Cook them for about 10mins or until they puff up nice and golden.

Use any veggies you want – we used carrot, celeriac, green beans, squash, asparagus and mushrooms. To prepare the veg, peel and cut the celeriac and carrots into matchstick pieces, top and tail the beans…you know the drill.

Cook the veg in boiling salted water in order of firmness and cook until almost done eg the carrots will take about 10 minutes, then add the celeriac, then the beans. The idea is to keep the colour and some firmness.

Drain and cool the vegetables in cold water to stop the cooking process.

Clean the mushrooms. Cut them into thick pieces and place them in a non-stick pan. Cook them, with no oil or butter, under a low flame till most of the water that they release has evaporated.

Add the cold, cooked vegetables and heat through with butter. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot with the cooked puff pastry.

 

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.

French Savoury Cake

 

French food was a revelation to me. I was expecting all the cream and butter and richness that is a hallmark of French cooking – and I was wondering how my lactose challenged tummy was going to deal with it.  Avoidance for my tummy’s sake was not an option, and I ate cheese almost every day without issue. The difference being, I suspect, that the cheese I was eating in France was locally produced, fresh and, quite often, made using raw milk.

That aside, my revelation came not so much from the food itself – and the fact that I could happily indulge in local cheese without my tummy complaining – but from the attitude to food. Each region has a style of its own, but one concept each has in common is that of wastage. Very little is thrown out. I’ll tell you more about this when we get to Dijon and Alex Miles’ cooking class, but here leftovers are elevated into something new and delicious.

Take this savoury cake for example. Glenis (at Aupres de l’Eglise in Oyes) served it as an aperitif with champagne before we all sat down at the long table for dinner (see the pic above). Although she was kind enough to send me the recipe, at its heart this cake is a very clever use of leftovers. What goes in it are leftover vegetables, herbs, cheeses – whatever happens to be in the fridge. The eggs, yoghurt, oil and flour are just there to bind it all together.

I served it last weekend when we had friends staying – also with champagne as an aperitif. We’d made up a platter for lunch of produce from that morning’s market – fresh baguette, goats cheese, a washed rind cheese, some olives, capsicum, and cherry tomatoes. What we didn’t eat was wrapped up and used later in this cake – along with the last couple of rashers of bacon that I had in the fridge, and some parsley I’d bought in during the week.

The recipe is below, but you really can put anything in it. Just remember, though, if you’re using zucchini to squeeze out the liquid in a cloth first.

What you need

  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 150g unsweetened plain or Greek-style yoghurt
  • 3 eggs
  • Whatever vegetables you have to hand – chopped peppers, halved (or quartered) cherry tomatoes, a small handful of chopped (and stoned) olives, chopped fresh herbs.
  • Whatever cheeses you have to hand – a handful of grated cheddar, chopped blue or goats cheese.
  • Fried diced bacon, chorizo…if you have it. Otherwise, don’t bother with the meat.

What you do with it

Preheat the oven to 180C and generously grease a loaf tin. If you have them, sprinkle poppy seeds in – if you don’t, don’t bother.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and make a well in the centre for the wet ingredients.

Drop in the eggs, yoghurt, oil and some salt and pepper and whisk to blend – but don’t overmix. If you want, whisk the wet ingredients together in a separate bowl before stirring into the flour. Your call, but I can’t be faffed dirtying another bowl.

Gently mix in your vegetables, herbs, cheeses, bacon…whatever… and put it into your prepared loaf tin.

Bake in the oven for around 35 mins – until well risen, golden and firm to the touch. Depending on the types of veg and quantity of cheese you’ve used, you might need to pop it in for an extra 5 minutes or so.

Let it cool in its tin on a rack and then turn out onto a board to serve. It’s best cut with a bread knife and served in small slices. With champagne…it’s that special.

 

Châteauneuf…the village in the sky

Chateauneuf

You know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men? No, I can’t remember the rest of the poem either – although I do know it was written in 1786 by Robert Burns and that rather than going awry, the schemes tended to gang aft a-gley…a phrase that I think has quite a ring to it.

Where was I? Yes, about to say that very often the best plans when on holiday are the ones that you don’t make. Accidental tourism we call it. It’s those finds and experiences that are the ones you talk about for years after.

Like Châteauneuf. It was raining heavily on our way into Beaune, so we missed it, but coming back later that afternoon we saw it – sitting high above the Burgundy Canal on its rocky spur.

This pic was taken from the car window – hence the poor resolution

Of course, we had to go up for a look.

Most Beautiful Villages in France

Châteauneuf – or Châteauneuf-en-Auxois – is a member of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (The Most Beautiful Villages of France). There are 157 villages in the list, but that doesn’t take away from the sheer gorgeousness of this one. We loved it so much that we were this close to forfeiting our remaining two nights accommodation in Marigny-l’Église and finding a place to stay here.

The History

High on a hill between Dijon and Autun, Châteauneuf held a strategic position in the area. It was also ideally situated at the meeting point of three economic regions: the vineyards of the Beaune region; the timber and charcoal from the mountains; and the agriculture of the Auxois plains.

Trade flourished through the middle ages as wealthy Burgundian merchants, and members of the entourage of Philippe Pot, Governor of Flanders moved in.

The village was also a popular stop on one of the pilgrim paths took to go to Santiago de Compostela. I don’t think I would have welcomed the climb required to walk up here at the end of a long day walking – but that’s just me.

Today there are remnants of architecture dating back to the 14th century, although most of the oldest houses still intact are from the 15th century.

The Chateau

Châteauneuf is dominated by its 15th-century château. It’s one of those fairytale style castles with towers and keeps – the sort where you can imagine medieval maidens letting down their golden hair.

The Gardens

Oh, the gardens. Wisteria, lilacs, roses, tulips…everything was beautifully in bloom. There was a garden for sale, but hubby (quite unreasonably I think) said no.

Did I mention the lilacs? I decided then and there the title of my next novel The Lilac Queen – now I need to come up with a plot. That garden that was for sale, perhaps?

The Burgundy Canal

When hubby and I first came through this region 20 something years ago, we decided we’d return one day and do a canal cruise down the Burgundy Canal. Ok, so we haven’t done that yet, but we did drop in and have a look at it on our way back from Chateauneuf.

One day…

Burgundy Canal

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Sentence a Day… May

Banks of the Seine
The banks of the Seine

The first week of May saw a continuation of our France road-trip and the final stage – in Paris.

Then it was back home to work – and save for the next adventure!

What else? I got the structural notes back from my editor and somehow managed to finish the rewrite this month. This book is determined to write – and rewrite- itself.

Anyways, here is May in a sentence – sometimes two – a day.

Le Marais
Exploring the Marais district

1. It’s a public holiday here in France for May Day. F dropped us off just outside of Paris and we caught the metro in. Spent the afternoon exploring Le Marais – where we’re staying – and the banks of the Seine. Love this city.

2. Lots of ticks in boxes today: Notre Dame, Shakespeare & Co bookshop, the Left Bank, Latin Quarter, a cruise on the Seine, Galeries Lafayette.

3. A great first half of the day with the markets at the Bastille to start, a walk to and through Pere Lachaise Cemetary (with the world’s funniest accidental guide). Second half not so great – a wander from Champs Elysee through the posh part of town and down to Place de la Concorde. That part of town is really not me – too much money, too many people and too many pickpockets.

Bastille Markets
Bastille Markets

4. Paris redeemed herself today with Promenade des Plantees, the artistic viaduct, flower markets and ice creams at Ile St- Louis. I’m in love with this city again. It’s not goodbye, it’s a bientot.

5. Off to the airport at 7.30am this morning and on our way home.

6. Saturday and Sunday spent on planes. Finally walked through the front door at around 7 pm. Why does Australia have to be so far away from everywhere?

7. It’s our 24th wedding anniversary – and a public holiday for Labour Day. The two are not connected. Spent the day washing clothes.

8. Back to work – do I have to? Oh, that’s right, I have the next adventure to save for. Stood on the scales & rather than the OMFG moment, I had an OMG moment of a different sort – I’d lost half a kilo…in France! There could be something to this French paradox…

9. Mammogram this morning (all clear) followed by work.

10. Craving pho so indulged at lunchtime.

11. Hairdresser this morning (greys be gone) and a good start on the rewrite of One More Dance/HappyEver After/Book No. 5. (My editor’s notes came back last week.)

12. Markets followed by brekky at Jimmy’s. Life all back to normal.

13. Mother’s Day and lunch at Corbins – yum cha with a difference.

14. Back to work Monday and finally some blue skies for this morning’s walk.

 

15. Take yesterday and repeat.

16. Some good progress on the novel rewrite in the best office in the world.

17. Managed to sneak a walk in before work and before the rain started.

18. A stormy morning cleared to a fab Friday. Back to the Surf Club for more words.

19. Markets this morning, house-cleaning & the Royal Wedding on TV. Saturday taken slow and easy.

20. Relatives from Gloucester (UK) called in today. I made a lemon and thyme cake in the bundt tin – the recipe is a keeper and will make it into the next novel I think.

21. The day is so beautifully blue it seems a pity to be inside working.

 

22. Mum and Dad here from Sydney for the rest of the week – hoping the good weather holds.

23. Canal cruise in Mooloolaba and a drive up and down the coast to show Mum and Dad around.

24. I had to work so hubby and daughter took Mum and Dad out to the hinterland for a look around and a picnic.

25. Lunch at Sum Yung Guys for a friend’s 60th.

26. Markets this morning & then whipped up a batch of lemon lime & bitters scones (the recipe is here) for morning tea before taking Mum and Dad to the airport – we’ve had a great few days.

27. Astro club at Golden Beach followed by lunch at Woombye Pub. Parmy and rissoles – you can’t get much more old school than that.

28. Do I have to go to work?

29. I repeat, do I have to go to work?

30. Noosa to buy some gifts, lunch with hubby at Betty’s Burgers, and work on the novel this afternoon.

31. A beautiful morning with a pod of dolphins playing just offshore. Another big day in the day job. In other news, I finished the rewrite on One More Dance/ Happy Ever After/Book No. 5 tonight.

Ok, that was my May – how was yours?

Ruinart Champagne House and Reims Cathedral

Ruinart Champagne House
Ruinart Champagne House
Ruinart Champagne House

I’m continuing my travels through France. Today we’re back in Champagne. If you want to catch up on the destinations so far, you’ll find all the posts here.

Ruinart Champagne House

Ruinart, established back in 1729, was the first ever Champagne producing company. Like the Moet story, there was a monk involved. In this case, it was Dom Ruinart who learnt all about the “wine with bubbles” that was becoming popular with the young aristocrats of the time.

It was 20 years after his death that his nephew Nicolas Ruinart founded Maison Ruinart. Before this young Nicolas was in textiles – in fact, the family wealth had been built on textiles since the 15th century – but once the King (in 1728) passed a law allowing the sale and transportation of wines in bottles, Nicolas saw the potential and made the switch.

As a tasting and visiting experience, this one was very different to Moet – and also markedly more expensive. More on the cost later. The primary difference here was in the art and the crayeres – ancient tunnels dating back to the  Roman times and dug deep into the chalk under the city of Reims.

The Crayeres…

Ruinart was the first of the champagne houses to utilise these old chalk mines for wine production. There are 8kms of these galleries under Ruinart, with the largest cavern being 40 m underground. Down here it’s a constant 10C.

Aside from wine production, these old mines were a haven for the people of Reims during the 1914 German offensive. Down here the city functioned as it had above ground.

In WWII the French resistance used these tunnels to hide allied airmen and soldiers.

Ruinart and art…

From the start, Ruinart has been close to the art world. The photo above is from their very first advertising poster – one of France’s first advertising posters. The artist was unknown at the time, but his style became known as Art Nouveau.

Ruinart

Since then Ruinart has worked with artists to promote champagne and the brand. The gallery room was a highlight of the tour, and my favourite was the melted chandelier (above and below) – a chandelier which has spectacularly fallen and “melted” on the table and onto the floor.

Ruinart

Another favourite was the Ruinart fresco (below). This one is cleverly designed to show the wine-making process using balls. If you want to see it animated, check out the website.

Ruinart

The tasting…

Ok, at 70 euros a head this is an expensive 2-hour tour, but both the tour and the tasting are special.

Ruinart

Not only did we taste our chosen cuvee (non-vintage blend) – blanc or rose – but we also had a full glass of the vintage version of choice. It was the first time I’d been able to compare the difference – and yes, there is a difference.

Oh, a note on the bottles. They look different to most champagne bottles and the chardonnay or blanc is in clear bottles – something which makes the wine even more fragile – but is unique to Ruinart.

Ruinart

Reims

Aside from Ruinart, other les grandes maisons calling Reims home are Pommery, Taittinger, Mumm, Veuve Cliquot…and the list goes on.

Reims is another city that has been meticulously restored – after both WWI and WWII –  and aside from the champagne houses, the highlight is Cathedrale Notre Dame.

As well as being the third or fourth (seriously, what does it matter?) largest Gothic cathedral in France, it was here that many kings of France were crowned – including Charles VII with Joan of Arc at his side in 1429.

The history is interesting, but it was the windows I was most interested in – in particular, the windows by Marc Chagall. I could have stood in front of them for ages. And the astronomical clock – that too…although I didn’t get a pic of that.

Reims Cathedral Chagall
Stained glass windows by Chagall

Where we ate…

Anna S – La Table Amoureuse in Reims.

Hubby had smoked salmon and white asparagus in puff pastry with a lime hollandaise and I had tartare of fish with quinoa. The black lacy thing is squid ink.

Hubby also had the dessert tasting plate…I had another glass of bubbles.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.