Lyon – The Foodie Walking Tour

 

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.

Looking up the staircase. Pic from the apartment’s booking.com page

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.

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.


Clancy of the Campfire…

We’re about to head out on a road trip. Our destination is a locality called Eucumbene – in the south of NSW near the Snowy Mountains. It’s about a 40-minute drive from Cooma and the same from Jindabyne and in the winter that means it’s cold.

We’re meeting my brother and his family down there. When we lived in Sydney it was something that we did annually, but from South East Queensland it’s more of an expedition. We’ve decided to turn that expedition into an adventure and see some of New South Wales that neither of us has seen in years. On the way down we’ll be stopping in:

  • Narrabri
  • Cootamundra
  • Tumbarumba – to visit some of my father’s family
  • Canberra – to catch up with hubby’s mother and some friends

On the way back? We haven’t quite decided yet. Parkes, Forbes, Cowra, Dubbo are definitely on the list in some way.

We’ll be in Eucumbene for a long weekend, staying in what used to be worker’s cabins from the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme. We sleep in sleeping bags so, in a way, it feels like camping – or at least glamping – so that’s what we call it.  My brother, however, is made of tougher stuff and sleeps outside in his swag.

the swag

Although we have a kitchen inside, we cook outside. There’s a bathroom inside as well as an outside dunny with no door and a view to the bush and any passing kangaroo. We have a television for DVDs – there’s no TV reception -and aside from one point just outside the kitchen window, there’s no mobile reception.

During the day we take drives up the mountain to find snow for the kids to play in, rivers for the 4 wheel drives to do their thing in, and country to explore. We take walks with the kids to look for kangaroos, practice our whip cracking skills, pop popcorn and toast marshmallows on the fire.

the popcorn maker

Mostly though, it’s about the campfire and the cooking. Other than breakfast, everything needs to be cooked outside – even when it’s snowing. One year it was sheeting down, and we still managed to turn out excellent meals but didn’t need to walk back and forth to the fridge for our beers.

Each year we look forward to this weekend possibly more than any other thing we do. Here are some of the reasons why:

It’s an excuse to wear a real flannelette shirt…

The flanny I’m talking about is the outdoor flanny. Even if there’s no snow, it’s cold enough for beanies and gloves and lumberjackets and flannelette.

It’s a reason to visit a boating, camping and fishing type of store… 

We wander the aisles and fantasise about loading up an old landrover and heading out into the middle of nowhere with all of our super camping accessories. Of course, we rarely buy anything and would probably never do the real roughing it thing – I like a flushing toilet and a comfy bed too much – but it’s fun to dream.

Last time I picked up this enamel mug that I now drink my wine out of. I’m all class.

You get to use a jaffle iron…

Sure, you can have your electric sandwich makers, but I’m talking a real, heavy, takes ages to cook (and even longer for the contents to cool) jaffle iron. A good jaffle should:

  • be comprised of leftovers or pantry staples
  • should be able to be eaten in one hand, leaving the other free for a beer
  • need no faffing about with garnishes and pretty bits on the plate.
spag bol jaffle

This year I’m doing a variation on the jaffle with a Kiwi classic – the cheese roll. Watch this space.

Cooking in a camp oven is a challenge…

The theory is that anything you can cook in a normal oven, you can cook in one of these cast iron babies – in theory. That’s it in the pic below. The reality is different. We’ve had some roaring successes and some serious failures. I still recall the night our slow cooked beef (containing 2 bottles of very drinkable red wine) boiled dry in 20 minutes. Now we know it has something to do with the boiling qualities of alcohol, but back then? No idea – and with Jindy and Cooma so far away dinner that night was cheese and bikkies for us and 2 minute noodles for the kids.

The thing with a camp oven is that it doesn’t go on the fire as such – the temperature is controlled by it’s proximity to the fire and the coals above and below it. Yes, it’s technical. As a result, the boys spend a lot of time digging the pit for the camp oven, and much more time tending the fire.

Each year we have a culinary challenge that the bulk of our weekend is centred around. One year it was curries, another year it was the lunchtime pizza challenge and the jaffle challenge. This time around each family must plan and produce a 3-course meal prepared and cooked entirely outside. Thankfully none of us is competitive…much!

So far we’ve already produced one cookbook – Clancy of the Campfire: The Spirit of the Snowies– and anything from this year will go into a part 2. Who knows, one day we could be on the shelves in camping stores…

It’s so quiet out there…

The bush has its own noise, but it’s a different noise. It’s also more effective for the removal of stress than anything else I know – except perhaps the ocean.

There’s the wind through the trees, the rustle of leaves, the sound of a roo bounding around through the scrub, a cow somewhere nearby. The birds sound different too. Out there the magpies warble and the kookaburras really laugh. There’s the occasional flash of colour as the red or blue breast of a wren darts between branches. Even the snow that falls so softly, has all sorts of cracks and creaks associated with the melt.

if you look closely you can see a couple of roos…

As for the stars… don’t even get me started on how beautiful the stars are at night.

Do you camp? Or glamp? Any favourite jaffle or camp oven recipes you’d like to share?

This post has been adapted from one that appeared previously on my old website – and anyways…

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.


Melbourne

Yes, it’s that time of the year again – the weekend that Ms T and I do our annual weekend away in Melbourne. It’s something that we’ve been doing for years now – since she was about 10, I suppose…maybe earlier. Over that time we’ve shared it occasionally with friends and, on one occasion, with my sister and her daughter, but mostly it’s just us.

What do we do? Mostly walk and eat and talk…and talk and eat and walk. Sure, there’s a little bit of research for whatever it is that I’m writing – or intending to write – but generally, I come back with more ideas than what I’ve gone down to research.

Dumplings

Of course. Hutong is my fave purveyor of dumplings in a city that knows its dumplings, but we were after a quick snack in lieu of the lunch that we missed out on due to a delay of the Jetstar variety. Something to keep us going until dinner.

Shanghai Dragon Dumplings (at least I think that’s the name) in Russell St did the job – and for less than $20.

Pasta

Not quite in the cheap eats category,  is the Cellar Bar at Grossi Florentino in Bourke St – at the Exhibition Street end. We love it here and always – even in the middle of winter – choose to sit outside on the street.

This time we each had possibly the best plate of pasta in recent memory – Tonarelli alla Gricia, Guanciale, Pecorino. A simple Roman dish with just three ingredients – pasta, pecorino, and guanciale or pigs cheek. That’s it. Delicious.

Plus, we had room left for dessert at Om Nom.

Dessert

This was our designated splurge for the weekend – Om Nom at the Adelphi Hotel in Flinders Lane, just up from Swanston Street. We’d booked a table for dessert only.

At the reception counter

Hilariously we’d just finished raving about how fabulous three ingredients could taste and how you didn’t need to do unnecessary stuff to food. ‘Who needs foams and gels and spheres?’ I asked.

And then we walked into Om Nom. These desserts – and the cocktails – are unashamedly theatrical. All of it is unnecessary, yet at the same time, so beautiful that you can’t do anything but appreciate it.

Ms T had strawberries and meringue – that was obviously so much more than that. Liquid nitrogen was involved.

I had an apple and coconut splice – which was, in essence, an apple and coconut splice. Was the foam required? Nope, but when the syrup that was poured over by the executive chef dissolved the foam almost before I could get a good photo of it, it left behind little drops of pure coconut. Clever.

Apologies for the pic quality – the lighting wasn’t good.

Walking and Exploring

This is such a great city for exploring on foot – and we always try and throw in one destination foodie place to make the walk even more worthwhile. On this trip, we were heading up into East Brunswick via Carlton – and back via Fitzroy.

I’ve always loved it around here – the mix of student accommodation, vintage shops, Victorian-era architecture, cafe culture, and Little Italy represents Melbourne in a nutshell. All up we covered about 10kms return…which helped justify pizza!

We walked up Lygon Street past Trades Hall (where I attempted to bore Ms T with a lesson about the 8 hour day and the trade union movement in Australia – her eyes glazed over very quickly) and detoured off to have a look at Melbourne University. This was, of course, when the rain started. By the time we reached the cemetery though, there were glimpses of blue sky again.

Speaking of which, if you’re into exploring interesting cemeteries – and yes, I am – this is a fascinating one. Burke and Wills are buried here, as is Frederick Federici (said to be the phantom of the Princess Theatre), and a whole host of prime ministers and premiers.

Pizza

It wasn’t all just aimless wandering – we did have a destination in mind: 400 Gradi in Brunswick.

This place has won awards for its pizzas – proper awards – and it’s easy to see why. Stupendously good pizza – and well worth the walk.

Street Art

A Melbourne post by me wouldn’t be complete without some street art.

Hosier Lane…

And elsewhere…

and finally, an ode to spaghetti…

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.

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.


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.


Perching Bar, Verzy

Who says that tree-houses are just for kids?

What if I told you there was a champagne bar seven metres above the ground in the heart of the Regional Natural Park of the Montagne de Reims in Verzy? A bar that you could only reach by a series wooden walkways and suspension bridges?

Interested?

Yep, I was too.

The place is the Perching Bar and your admission fee includes a glass of the bubbly stuff.

All around is the whoosh of zip-lines of varying heights for zip-liners of varying ability (and courage) but up here in the trees sipping on a glass of Bollinger (bolly… sweetie) all is grand with the world.

The view’s not bad either.

I love what they do with the corks and the top thingies.

Want more info?

The Perching Bar is open from April to mid-December and as only a certain number of people can be up here at any one time, reservations are recommended.

Check out their Facebook page here.

Oh, there is a bit of a walk – don’t worry, it’s nothing too strenuous – up a hill on a dirt path, so wear shoes that are ok for walking up a hill on a dirt path.

Also, children under 12 years are not permitted.

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.