This was my favourite of the chateaux we visited. Built in the 16th century by Francis I, It’s not the biggest or the most opulent. It is, however, in my humble opinion, the most romantic. Perhaps it’s because it’s been built on an island, perhaps it’s the water mirrors (a fancy pants name for cool reflections) or the wisteria. Perhaps it’s the lovely little village of Azay le Rideau that’s built around the chateau.
Whatever it is, I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.
The water mirror – and some wisteria
Of all the chateaux we visited, this was also the most sumptuously furnished – although the furnishing owes more to the residents after the revolution than Frank the first.
Azay-le-Rideau, the village
Quite a bit of the village of Azay-le-Rideau was destroyed in the 15th century because the villagers were supporting the Burgundians. What this means is that the architecture is more recent and more modest than you see in some of the other villages. The Church of Saint-Symphorien is the most historic monument in the town and worth ducking in for a look.
The village itself has some seriously cute little interiors shops, art galleries and bistros. I had to lock my wallet away and remind myself that I couldn’t get the garden decorations that I adored home.
Details make perfection and perfection isn’t just a detail.
Leonardo Da Vinci
Chateau du Clos Lucé was Leonard Da Vinci’s home in Amboise. Francois I (who I will from now refer to as Frank the first) set him up here for the last three years of his life. Frank gave him a pension and a title, Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect of the King. Impressive, hey?
Frank even had a tunnel built between Clos Lucé and Amboise Castle so neither of them had to walk the 400 odd metres in order to have a chat. There is quite a steep hill to climb from Amboise to Clos Lucé, so maybe that’s why.
Anyways, Leo’s main role at this point in time was to design, invent and generally impress Frank – which he seemed to do successfully.
There are rooms here devoted to his designs. He envisaged the helicopter, parachute and car jack, but was also consumed by designs for weapons of mass destruction like the catapult, the cross-bow, the machine gun, the armoured tank and the fortress. He even formed opinions on health and medicine. This guy seriously was smarter than anyone else at everything he turned his hand to.
The gardens outside were just as interesting and we spent ages wandering around.
Scattered throughout the gardens are replicas of his drawings and designs brought to life.
After we finished with Leo’s house we wandered down the hill into Amboise, the town.
Along the way we passed a number of troglodytes – houses cut into the slopes and rock faces.
We’d seen a lot of these from the road – some really elaborate. Many are open for tourists to visit.
The chateau here is so big that you have to go a reasonable way down the street in order to fit it into the frame. So we stopped for beers instead – which were also huge.
Day 2 and Chateau No. 3 – the other chateau on most tourist’s must-do lists. And this one is truly beautiful – even if we did visit on a Sunday morning on the first rainy day we’d had all trip.
Henry II bought this place for his long-time mistress Diane De Poitiers. At 20 years his senior she was apparently the love of his life.
Diane created the fabulous gardens here and also built the bridge across the river so she could go hunting on the other side.
When Henry died his wife, Catherine de Medici took back the chateau – even though she had apparently no legal right to it. It was all part of a revenge that she’d waited a long time – her whole marriage – to take.
It was Catherine who built the gallery over the bridge – creating a long ballroom that needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. I tried to picture it full of fabulous people in fabulous finery instead of the rabble of tourists – it didn’t work.
Inside the chateau, it’s a sumptuous as any chateau has a right to be and much more richly furnished than Chambord was.
As for the flowers…oh, the flowers…
The grounds are also beautiful – and more extensive than we were able to cover in the rain.
We visited on a wet Sunday morning in May and it was absolutely packed. I’d hate to think how busy it gets in the summertime!
Lyon has such a strong food tradition that it’s often referred to as the stomach of France. There’s an irony in this in that very often stomach is on the menu…more on that below.
Although Lyon has more Michelin starred restaurants than most other places in Europe, it’s not just about fine dining. In fact, in the bouchons, it’s very much the opposite; and yet, that’s what most people come to try – the food of the Bouchons.
The term “bouchon” is used to refer to a plug or a stopper – like a cork. It’s also used in reference to traffic jams. In the case of Lyon, the Bouchon is a bistro style restaurant serving Lyonnaise cuisine.
These were originally places where silk merchants stopped to have a meal, clean their horses and maybe stay the night. The term Bouchon was used then to describe the twisted straw brushes used to clean the horses. Don’t say you don’t learn anything from this blog.
Most of these Bouchons were run by women – Mere Lyonnaises (the Mothers of Lyon) who left their positions as cooks in middle-class households to start their own businesses.
The food of the Bouchon is heavily meat-based and does, shall we say, use the whole of the animal. A whole tradition has been built around pork products and charcuterie. As they say tout est bon dans le cochon – all is good in the pig and nothing is wasted.
Although some of the names of the dishes sound quite fabulous, there’s nothing flash about the ingredients or the way they’re put together. Even though Lyon’s silk weavers, or canuts, couldn’t afford expensive ingredients, they still wanted to show the wealthy middle class that they too had refined tastes so gave their dishes names that gave the impression of luxury and richness – when the reality was very different.
Take the rather beautifully named Le Caviar de la Croix Rousse for example which is, in fact, lentil salad seasoned with cream and cervelas (dried sausage) or smoky lardons (bacon). As an aside, this is quite tasty.
Then there’s the Sabodet – a (wait for it) sausage comprised of ground pork head – the whole head – seasoned with red wine, garlic and nutmeg. Yeah…nah.
Or Le Tablier de Sapeur – or sapper’s apron prepared from…you know what? I’m not going there. Suffice to say I had an entire list – which I’m happy to share with you another time – of things we absolutely weren’t going to mistakenly order…although that didn’t stop hubby from willingly ordering andouillette.
Conversely, there are other dishes with names that would normally turn you off that are actually pretty nice – like Groins d’âne salad which translates to donkey snout salad but has no donkey parts anywhere near it. It is instead dandelion leaves with egg and lardons.
Sure, some of these dishes sound revolting – and not for the faint of heart – but they’re only part of the story. There’s plenty to love about Lyonnaise food. The charcuterie and cheese for a start. Then there’s Coq Au Vin – which comes from this region, well, just up the road in Burgundy; Salade Lyonnaise – a caesar salad on steroids; the famous Bresse Chicken – which is as good as it was promised to be; and Poulet Sauté au Vinaigre – which I made last night…and very yummy it was indeed. If you want the recipe, you’ll find it here.
One of the foodie highlights of our time in Lyon was Cervelle de Canut. This dish is named after the silk workers and translates loosely to silk workers brains. No brains were (thankfully) used in it. The meaning is instead a derogatory one – meaning that it’s soft. It was, perhaps, an indication of the dubious esteem that the silk workers were held in by the more affluent in society.
In any case, the silk workers – or canuts – would start work at stupid o’clock and by mid-morning would be needing a snack. This snack was known as machons (there’s a little upside-down v over the a) and consisted of something like this herby cream cheese, probably some charcuterie and all bits porky served with pots of Beaujolais in a Bouchon in the early morning. My kind of breakfast. And yes, they’d be back for lunch.
We had this herb-flecked cheese dip served over boiled potatoes in Lyon, like in the photo below, but it’s also good on baked potatoes or slices of toasted baguette.
If you want to be really authentic have it with a glass of red wine or, better still, a communard – a Lyonnaise classic – red wine with blackcurrant liqueur (creme de cassis).
What you need
250g cottage cheese or quark. Choose the full-fat version.
50ml creme fraiche. You can also use non-sweetened greek style yoghurt if you like.
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1tbsp red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
3 tbsp chives, finely sliced
2 tbsp continental parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
To serve: boiled peeled baby potatoes or potatoes baked in their skin, or sliced and toasted baguette
What you do with it
Place the cottage cheese and creme fraiche in a bowl and mix together.
Whisk in the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper
Stir through the shallot, chives and parsley.
Cover with cling film and pop it in the fridge for an hour
When we arrived there was a horse thing on. Some very accomplished looking riders prancing around – ok, they weren’t prancing, the horses they were on were prancing – around a dressage ring. Cluny is big on horses – Haras National, the national stud farm, was founded here by Napoleon in 1806 and houses some of France’s finest thoroughbreds. Well might they prance. You can do tours of it, but we didn’t have that long.
We were there for the Abbey.
Cluny’s abbey, dating back to the 11th and 12th century, was the largest in all of Christendom when it was built. St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican took that title when it was constructed.
Back in the 12th century though, it was all about Cluny. The abbey, answering only to the Pope, had such great wealth and political power that it controlled over 1100 priories and monasteries not just across France, but as far afield as Portugal and Poland.
Of course, there are only ruins here now, but you can still get a fair idea of the scale and, if you close your eyes, it’s possible to picture what it must have been like.
As always, I was drawn to the gardens.
Just outside the abbey, we found an artisan glacier or home-made ice cream shop – the blood orange gelato finally took away the taste of the andouillette hubby had taken a bite of at lunch.
This town isn’t, however, just about the abbey. Full of restaurants, art galleries and cute little boutiques, this is one of those towns that you couldan wander for more hours than we had.
Each of the neighbourhoods in Vieux or Old Lyon are named after the churches in those neighbourhoods. We have St-Georges to the south, St-Jean in the middle and St-Paul to the north. The area we stayed in was St-Jean, one of the traditionally more wealthy of the neighbourhoods.
Cathedrale St-Jean is, as many churches we looked at seemed to be, in a state of almost constant scaffold and renovation. It was built between the 11th and 16th century, with the facade completed in 1480. I was drawn – as you’d probably expect me to be – to the astronomical and astrological clock.
I told you last week about the traboules and how these alleys were used by the silk traders as a convenient shortcut, keeping their precious fabrics dry as they went from the workshops to the river. The traboules have, however, been in Lyon at least since the 4th century.
Back in the day, Lyon was a bit of a poster child for the Roman Empire. Lugdunum as they called it – which doesn’t have quite the same ring as Lyon – was important partly because it was a handy stop-over point, but mostly because it has two rivers. The Rhone curves through the centre of Lyon as does the Saone. It was, for many years, the capital of the Gaulish Roman Territories.
Anyways, once the Romans reluctantly left town, the aqueducts bringing water to the city started to fail – a little like an iPhone at the end of its warranty. People started building closer to the river and the first traboules were built around this time to allow people to get from their homes to the water quicker.
Which brings me back to Fourviere. The Romans built Lugdunum on the slopes of Fourviere more than 2000 years ago. Yes, we’re talking BC – but when we’re talking millennia, do the exact details really matter? It’s still very well preserved and well worth visiting – although it’s far better to catch the funicular up here than it is to walk.
The Roman Theatre – Théâtre Romain – was capable of holding an audience of up to 10,000 people. The day we visited we watched a school group rehearse.
There’s a museum you can go look at, but we were entranced by what we found here in the ruins and didn’t bother.
Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere
As far as French churches go, this one isn’t that old – it is, however magnificent and stands high on the hill with the whole of Lyon below it.
The day that we visited the funicular station at the Basilica was closed so we walked up from the Roman ruins. Even if we hadn’t, stepping into this grand space would have taken our breath away.
There’s part of me that is offended – although I don’t know if offended is the right word – by this outrageous display of wealth and power, and I feel quite hypocritical to be marvelling at it, but it’s impossible to turn away from. I read somewhere (can’t remember where) that all of this opulence could possibly have been to make up for the fact that the Basilica had no real political clout with the powers that be in Rome. Whatever the reason, the mosaics are absolute works of art.
The views from the terrace down to old Lyon and across the river are also pretty spectacular.
Our apartment is on the street so we’re woken by the noise and bustle of a city waking up. It feels almost Italian rather than French – although the accents tell us otherwise.
In fact, the whole area feels Italian – the restaurants, the architecture, the colours, the sounds. I suppose that it makes sense seeing as though the heritage of this city is a Roman one, and the architecture and food culture comes largely from the Italian workers in the silk trade.
Food Walking Tour
Lyon is regarded as the gastronomic capital of France – and for good reason. There are over 4000 restaurants in this city – and it’s the 4th most Michelin rated city in Europe. It’s the bouchons, though, that we were most interested in. These were originally places where silk merchants stopped to have a meal, clean their horses and maybe stay the night. The term Bouchon was used then to describe the twisted straw brushes used to clean the horses. It’s also the term for a cork or a traffic jam. Don’t say you don’t learn anything from this blog.
Most of these Bouchons were run by women – Mere Lyonnaises (the Mothers of Lyon) who left their positions as cooks in middle-class households to start their own businesses.
To learn more about it, we took a foodie walking tour through Vieux, or old, Lyon.
Our first stop was for fromage, ie cheese. The extremely passionate owner had organised his cheese by region, source (ie cow, goat, sheep) and whether raw or pasteurised.
We tried a number of cheeses and heard about where each came from and who made it.
Next up was charcuterie. By now we’re feeling glad that we didn’t have breakfast.
We tried chaud saucisson en brochette, an assortment of salamis whose names I didn’t write down, andouilette (tripe sausage) mixed with creme fraiche and spread onto bread and not at all like the biology lesson it was when hubby tried it the day before in Saint-Gengoux-Le-National. Having said that, I still didn’t like it. Apparently, the Lyonnaise use veal “bits” rather than pork “bits” so it’s not as stinky…whatevs. The red wine took the taste away nicely.
As we walked off some of what we’d eaten we ventured in and out of traboules.
I told you about these before we left for France. They are, in essence, a series of shortcuts through houses and courtyards and private passageways that the silk workers used to get their precious cargo between the river and the city and vice versa.
Silk weaving was painstaking work with some fabrics taking months to weave at between 5-20 cm a day – depending on the design. It’s no wonder they wanted to make sure it didn’t get wet once they had finished it!
The workers and their families lived where they worked – often in just a couple of cramped rooms.
Interestingly, the pitchers that they use for wine in the bouchons take just 450mls when they look like they’d hold more. They have a misleading false bottom. As the silk workers were often paid in wine, these false-bottomed pitchers actually represented a pay cut. These pitchers were the cause of some of the strikes and unrest in the late 19th century.
In a Bouchon we sampled cervelles de canuts, or silk workers brains – although it’s not really brains, just a very yummy fromage blanc based cheese dip that I’ll tell you more about another time. We also had jambon perseille – ham in aspic with parsley – and oeufs meurette – eggs in a red wine sauce. We accompanied this with another Lyonnaise classic, a communard – red wine with cassis, framboise and fraise liqueur.
Next up was an ice cream tasting. Pauline, our guide, asked us to try and guess the flavours. The first was easy – passionfruit – although the Canadian couple also on the tour had never tried passionfruit before. The things we take for granted. The second flavour we sampled was a date with orange blossom water.
Our final tasting (phew) was a praline tart that I’m sure was the inspiration for the decor in the apartment we were staying in. It was pinker than anything edible has the right to be – and just as sweet as you’d imagine.
Speaking of pink, if there was a colour that defines Lyon, it’s pink. It sounds lovely, but the colour originally came from the oxblood that they used to paint the bricks with. It doesn’t sound quite as romantic now, does it? In many cases the colour has faded away, but in our building and others the pale pink remains.
If you want more info about this Food Tour, here’s the link. We did the 4 hour Vieux Lyon at 70E per head.
Where we ate
Le Nord, by Paul Bocuse
I was so looking forward to this and although the food was good, the service was disappointing. The waiter delivering our food didn’t know who had ordered what and it was the first restaurant we’d been in at night where we weren’t offered an amuse bouche. It was all less than we’d been expecting from a Bocuse restaurant. Perhaps it was a tourist thing, although it was something we hadn’t encountered elsewhere.
I had chaud saucisson – essentially sausage within a brioche; a Lyonnaise classic- and Bresse Chicken in a tarragon sauce. Bresse Chicken had been on my list to try and it didn’t disappoint. It was like no other chicken I’d had before – a dark, firm meat, almost gamey in flavour.
The streets at night are full of people out eating. It’s vibrant, noisy and a really great vibe.
The second night we were so footsore that we ate in a Bouchon downstairs. We each had a bowl of onion soup and shared a serve of cervelles de canuts with steamed potatoes and salad, and a charcuterie plate, with plenty of red wine. It was simple food cooked well – and we loved it.
Where we stayed
le XVI de la Rose, 16 Rue du Boeuf
Our apartment was in the Rose Tower and had it all – a steep spiral staircase to reach it, super stylish fittings, the fluffiest of fluffy rugs, and recessed lighting in the toilet – because that’s what you really need in a toilet. It was, on the whole, drop dead gorgeous.
Sharing the ground floor was a UNESCO listed courtyard, art gallery and one of the oldest silk works in Lyon. In the sought after Saint-Jean part of the old town, we had our choice of museums and bouchons just outside the front door.
The reference to rose in the apartment’s title wasn’t just the name of the building – it was also in the interior. This apartment was pink – from the mural on the wall to the figures in the foosball game to the toilet paper. Yes, the toilet paper matched the rest of the apartment. There was even a tree in the bathroom. I didn’t attempt to hang a towel on it.
There was nothing in this apartment that wasn’t styled to within an inch of its life – except perhaps for us. Although my toenails did match the rug – as did my kir royale.
Like most apartments in this part of town, there was no parking in or around the premises so we had to park in the parking station down the road and wheel our bags over the cobbles and then carry them up the stairs. It’s seriously no wonder that everyone in this town is in amazing shape.
Next time – Lyon Part 2: The Basilica and Roman Ruins
*My friend Jan has also penned some reasons to visit Lyon. You can find her post here.
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?
and…just because I can’t help myself…
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…
Full disclosure – I have enough pictures of wisteria and lilacs to fill multiple posts…here are just a few.
We had to stop for photos every time I saw it.
Yes, I happened upon some bluebells too… If you’ve read Wish You Were Here you’ll know about my fascination with bluebells.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
If you want to know more about cooking with Alex Miles in Dijon, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his website here.