Cluny

Every so often when you’re on a road trip you come across places that are surprising in all the good ways. Unexpectedly and accidentally places that you could spend so much longer than you can there.

Chateauneuf en Auxois was like that – so was Cluny. Accidentally and unexpectedly fabulous.

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.

This menu certainly sounded nicer than what we’d had up the road in Saint-Gengoux-Le-National

Getting there…

Cluny is in Burgundy 92kms north of Lyon and about 425kms south of Paris. The closest TGV (train) station is at Macon.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.