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Exploring the Senses of Burgundy 2005

Sully-sur-Loire & Montargis, 10th November

Thursday 10th November Here we go again. Visibility is around 25 metres as we head up along the Loire. Actually it’s “up” because we are travelling north, but “down” because it is going down the Loire. In this fog, we could have been going either “up” or “down”. We are off to visit Chateau de Sully-sur-Loire and Montargis (well north of the Loire and Sully-sur-Loire).

We took the same route as we did last week to Gian. We arrived in Gian, I think! The chateau and town across the river that I took 25 photographs of last week could have still been on the other side of the river, but we couldn’t even see the river.

At this rate, what would we find at Sully-sur-Loire? As we approached the town, the fog was thinning. I mused that being lunchtime, we might be in luck. We could stop to eat our packed lunch (baguettes we had made up this morning) and wait for the fog to clear …… perhaps. It was midday and the town was shutting down and emptying. Traffic going in every direction, fog, direction signs on every corner, and Ches shrieked that I should have stopped and that now we were committed to crossing the bridge over the Loire and the chateau was somewhere on this side of the river. I pointed to my right (her side) and said “look”. She did and said, “It says St. Piere-sur-Loire”. I said, “No, Look”. She said, “The sign says St. Piere-sur-Loire”. I said, “NO, LOOK!”, She looked, and there not 25 metres from us was this massive chateau. It filled your entire field of vision. Well it did if you looked beyond a street sign. It was sitting surrounded by a moat and shrouded in fog. The car park, beside the Loire was just 25 metres on and just before the bridge, so we swung in, stopped and gasped at how stunning this chateau is.

Nineteen photographs later, most with mirror image reflections of the chateau in the moat, we decided on a “pit stop” and crossed a bridge with a drawbridge into the town. As usual, we look for a bar and have a hot chocolate/coffee and use their toilets. We found the smokiest bar in France and ordered, while Ches went in search of the loo. As I stood at the bar, I noticed that most of the men were drinking small liqueur glasses of a light red wine coloured liquid. What could it be? I scanned the spirits shelf above the bar but couldn’t see anything that looked like it. No bottles on the bar to give me a clue. I did notice a bottle of Calvados and had always wanted to try it, so decided now was as good a time as any. Like most spirits, the best quality can be sensational while the cheapest rather fiery. This stripped my throat. I still don’t know what Calvados should be like.

As in Australia, many French bars have a gambling license and this bar seemed to operate a horse betting and lotto service. The woman in charge stood at the side door swinging it back and forward to try to clear the tobacco smoke. Just as she felt she had cleared the air enough, the place was swamped by a half dozen women who had just got off work and came in to check tickets and lay bets, and the smoke level came down to the floor again.

We left and found that the fog had completely cleared. Across the moat bridge and into the gardens and the chateau stood gleaming, with a background of clear blue sky. Another 25 photographs of the chateau and the schools of fish in the moat. Two schools of a hundred or so 10cm fish and one school of 40cm+ fish. Big round yellow mouths and short whiskers. Haven’t a clue what they were, but I suspect we have had them on various menus.

We ate our lunch sitting on the wall of the moat and then set out up country to Montargis. We should have called it quits after the chateau. Montargis is in “The Most Beautiful Towns of Burgundy”. It’s listed in numerous guide books as “the Venice of …”. Who’s kidding who? O.K. it has over a hundred bridges with narrow canals criss-crossing the town, but apart from the fact that there was road works and building everywhere, many of the streets were pretty plain and grotty. The town could do with an entire steam clean and a fresh coat of paint. Some towns are attractive when rustic and weathered, but Montargis had the odd attractive canal street and the odd grand building and a metal bridge designed by Eifel, but for the most part was just an old, tired looking town.

We tried hard, we really did. We desperately wanted to find an element that would stick in our memory. O.K., perhaps some of the building were architecturally unique and some of the half timbered building leaning out over narrow canals were appealing, but we were stuck with the memory of a vast rubble car park, dusty road works, roads that appear on the map but no longer exist (replaced by half built gardens and paved public space), one way streets that try to deny you any opportunity to get out of town and an ugly surrounding urban sprawl that eats too far into a fairly attractive countryside. I mean, we spent some hours searching for the “beauty”. We really tried hard to like the town.

We headed home for a scratch meal. Another candied shallots with walnuts and this time real Roquefort cheese. We discover that if you crumble the cheese into the candied shallots, it provides little flavour bursts rather than spreading it on the toast which tends to dominate the flavour of the dish. We also bought a tub of Fi Fi’s “tabouli” It is really couscous with diced red and green capsicum, sultanas and a tangy lemon/oil/vinegar dressing. Also tried Fi Fi’s gougere, which Ches decided were better than any others we had tried. She suspects that instead of baking on a tray, he cooks his in fat or oil. We also tried a new goats cheese. This was a supermarket bought cheese from “Drome”, which I suspect is in the Dordogne or nearby.


Chateau Sully-sur-Loire
Bue and Chauvignol Restaurants, 11th November

Today is Armistice day and the start of what we are told is a four day long weekend. As it transpires, some towns don’t seem to take the Monday, but certainly the schools were closed for the four days.

Because we hadn’t been to any local restaurants, and only three restaurants in the last two weeks, we decided to try out the two most recommended local restaurants for local specialties. If we had lunch at 12.00 noon and dinner at 8.00, that should be doable!

First however was the morning walk, but this time an hour, including taking the road down the eastern side outside the wall and back up the steep road around to the west. Apart from finding new photo opportunities (but without my camera) I also discovered a “church cemetery”. Despite a sign that indicated that only in the past thirty years have they discovered the foundations and remains of three separate churches built (all at different angles to each other) between 800 and 1700, two parties of hikers read the sign and walk on. I climb the embankment into scrub and weeds and vines. One clump of vines was 7 metres or so high. Of course it was using the last remaining wall and stone columns of one of the churches to support its growth toward the sun. There were numerous other clumps of overgrown stone and traces of foundations but otherwise it was just a jungle. I decided to come this way again tomorrow with my camera.

Back home we changed for lunch and walked up to the village war memorial at 11.00. In true French fashion, or perhaps they don’t necessarily observe 11.00am on the 11th of the 11th, the ceremony didn’t begin till around 11.20. A number of locals with children stood around the outside of the hedge that forms a square around the monument. At the gate to the square, various older members of the community assembled (maybe 10 or so). None appeared old enough to be veterans. Inside the square, an airforce unit of 20 or so were formed in ranks but joking and stamping feet and slapping arms and rubbing hands (it was cold).

Eventually the mayor arrived and several other citizens. Then the sound of a band approached, getting closer and closer and coming from the direction of the old town market square. Around the corner swung the local municipal car. Unwashed and small, it was fitted with two speakers; and the band played on. Behind marched a group of teenagers in blue, white and red uniforms (red caps). Some of the group appeared to be in their twenties and wore bronze coloured helmets (strange shaped helmets).

Everyone marched into the memorial square and formed up. The band/car had assembled behind the cenotaph and played appropriate fanfares at various points in the service. The mayor read a speech, five locals came forward to have medals pinned to their chests, the mayor read another speech, the airforce, mayor and someone else placed wreaths and everyone filed out.

We stood there with tears in our eyes, as we reflected on our own grand adventures in Europe and the contrast with the WW1 Australians. Their only chance to see Europe was to embark on what is still described as “The Grand Adventure”. The signed up with such enthusiasm to set off for Europe without any idea that they would either be pinned down at Galipoli for months or dug into muddy, murderous trenches for years. We returned later in the afternoon and left a Koala clutching a rose bud on the steps of the monument.

At noon, we set off for Neuvy-Deux-Clochers. Patricia highly recommended La Voivre. Closed. In the low season, they only open from Thursday to Sunday. Bugger. As we haded back toward Sancerre with the idea that we might try Restaurant Des Monts Damne at Chavignol, Ches noticed a hotel restaurant on the main road at Bue. No one had ever recommended let alone mentioned it even existed. A L’Esterville. By the time I braked a hundred meters down the road, did a u-turn and drove back, two guys that had been checking the menu at the front door had returned to their wives in their car and were about to drive off. We checked the menu and went inside. They had a change of mind and came in as well. We assume they didn’t like the idea of eating in an empty restaurant. So that made two tables. Another couple came in 15 minutes later and at 1.40 a party of eight that had a table reserved. What! 1.40? Who did they think they were?

This was a husband and wife operation (with Mr. Precocious Four Y.O. making his presence felt in the background). Thank god the husband doesn’t cook because as a maitre d’ he was totally humourless. More to the point, thank god he married well. His wife turned out a fabulous meal. The best value for money and best “traditional” meal we have had in France, anywhere.

Ches had pumpkin soup with a chevre quenelle in the centre while I had a warm fig and chevre plate (thin slices of each fanned around the 2cm deep plate and slowly baked to heat.). For mains, we both had “perche with beurre blanc” (perch in a white wine and butter sauce) served with mushrooms, carrots and potato dauphinoise. Hold everything. Let’s have a fanfare. I can’t stand seafood swamped in sauces. This was about the best seafood I have ever eaten. Wonderfully moist large flakes of flesh in a sauce that was so simple and light that it enhanced rather than overpowered the fish. Just as I was about to declare that vegetables should never be served with seafood, I took a bite of the carrots. Does anyone remember what carrots used to taste like fifty years ago? I didn’t even realise that they had lost their flavour or what they used to taste like. A carrots a carrot! Amazing sweet deep rich flavour that suddenly registered on the brain that that’s what a carrot really tastes like. I also realised that my pureed carrot and fennel from last week tasted as magnificent as it did because it was made with carrots we had bought from a village market. Then there were the mushrooms (garlic and parsley). Potatoes in a cream sauce. Just fantastic.

I needed more fat in my diet so I opted for the Fromage Chaud (warm cheese). Ches sat out a course. Two chevre (goats cheese) rounds grilled on croutes with a green salad (dressed with a light mustard dressing). Ches re-entered the lists with a tarte tatin (apple baked to the point it was caramelised, in a puff pastry) served with vanilla ice cream and I had a fig tart (baked in the same way) with white chocolate ice cream. Both were served with slices of kiwi fruit, star fruit and for the first time in 50 years, a fresh gooseberry (still attached to its flower).

All this cost the ridiculous amount of 22euros for mine and 19euros for Ches. That’s $AUD36.00 for four courses. Four amazingly good courses. Each one better than any other course we have had at any traditional restaurant. Had we discovered it in our first week, there was a good chance we would have eaten there three or four times to work our way through the menu.

All this in a cosy restaurant with a wood fire burning in the lounge area. Just a wonderful experience. As we left, we again experienced a common French custom. The other diners bid you farewell. They also say hello and goodbye to every other customer in a shop when entering and leaving. The table that had arrived at 1.40 were particularly enthusiastic in their “au revoirs”.

We decided to stop off at the brewery in Sancerre, to buy a range of the boutique beers for sampling and run out to Chavignol to book for the evening meal at “Restaurant Mount Damne’s”. Bloody hell, they are fully booked. What with the shortening of their operating hours (Thursday to Sunday), the locals book the place out. Patricia had warned us. O.K., let’s salvage something. We dropped in to the goats cheese factory. We were followed in by several car loads of eager goats cheese fanatics, and the woman serving was on the phone calling for backup. We selected six cheeses ranging from fresh to around 3-4 weeks old. You can see the difference in the growth of mould and the shrinkage. They start out at 60gm when fresh and loose half their weight by the time they are eight weeks old.

A little further down the street is Le Fin Chauvignol, a rustic restaurant. We booked for tonight.

Back home, we packed for tomorrows move to Chateau De Creancey, and were back at Le Fin Chauvignol by 8.00. There were around 14 people already there and we were offered the table next to the fire. Perfect atmosphere.

We both had the grilled goats cheese on toast with slices of smoked ducks breast and a green salad and walnuts with mustard/oil/vinegar dressing. For these we were fairly certain they use the fresh cheeses so they go creamy when warmed. Ches then had the lamb brochette. Grilled on a skewer, it was amazingly juicy and tender. I had the jugged hare. Very gamey in a rich red wine based sauce. The crème caramel and tarte tartin were pretty ordinary. We also had a bottle of the owners red wine “Pascal Thomas, Les Bellrtins”.

At around 9.15 a rowdy group of people at the door begged to be admitted. Madam Thomas eventually relented an let them in. Guess who? The same two couples from the late lunch at A L’Esterville, plus three extra guys. All in their mid thirties and probably steadily drinking all day. They were in good spirits. Seated, madam Thomas didn’t muck around. She sat down at the table with them and took their order. We got the impression that she pretty much dictated what it suited the kitchen to prepare at such a late hour. Unfortunately the waitress had to handle the delivery of meals and beat off the advances of the single guys (as did the partner of one of the couples, as her neighbour nuzzled her neck). We decided to retreat to the foyer to pay. There, was Pascal and Madam Thomas having a drink with a couple and their 10 y.o. son. They offered us a drink and the other guest looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and said “that’s the way French men are!”. He turned out to be Portuguese. We chatted for a while and Pascal told us that their son was currently in Brisbane for three months and would be down in Sydney after that. We gave them our phone number to pass on to their son. It also occurred to me that the name “Thomas” can’t be particularly French in origin, and I had noticed that three of the 50 odd names on the WW1 memorial were Thomas. Probably antecedents of theirs.

Off back up the hill in a thickening fog.


Chauvignol Cheese
Driving Sancerre to Creancey, 12th November

I repeated the walk down the hill outside the walls with Ches and we photographed the “church graveyard” and also some better photographs of the “Why a Duck” (viaduct). This was built last century to link the south of France with the north, but hasn’t carried traffic for thirty years or so.

We did our final shop with Fi Fi. He went and put on his bowler hat to the chorus of “chapeau” from the other customers, and returned for a farewell photograph. We also revisited the Chateau’s cave only to find it still closed, so we have now lost the opportunity to buy their Grand Marnier and Armagnac.

We loaded the car and loitered till noon and then drove back down to the dentist. He took and x-ray and asked Ches to come back at 4.00 pm. She explained that he should either fill the tooth or she would wait till she returned to Sydney. He thought it best to check with and x-ray before either filling or pulling, so wouldn’t charge her for two visits, and sent us on our way. In the U.S., they would have had her credit card details before she even sat down in the waiting room and in Australia, would have at least charged a consultation fee.

So, by 1.00 p.m. we were off across country in the general direction of Dijon. We had decided against using the major roads and going the long way via. Auxaire in favour of across country, the Morvan national park, Vezelay and Avallon. It was misty and occasionally drizzly, but a pretty drive. We had made up baguettes for lunch, so stopped on the banks of the canal at Clamecy to eat them. Clamecy is at the base of the Morvan and the Fumet du Morvan canal was primarily built to carry timber. A statue of Napoleon above the lock, but an even bigger statue of a Flotteur on the bridge. These were the guys that used long poles with spikes on the end to turn the logs and get them aligned and roped together etc.

On to Vezalay, where we will dine next Thursday for my birthday. Stopped for some photographs of the cathedral from the western approach. It was a spectacular view of the cathedral on the peak of the ridge with the village spilling down the slopes and all shrouded in a light mist and brilliant green fields in the foreground. Sometimes you just get lucky in seeing a famous site under special conditions.

As the light was getting dimmer, we couldn’t afford any more stops and pressed on for Chateau de Creancey. We hopped on the motorway, headed south, took the Dijon turnoff and missed the Chateau turnoff. Not to worry, it gave us the chance to approach the village via a short cross country drive that was better than the main road anyway (as we discovered later). Bruno welcomed us to the chateau, which really is grand, set in acres of lawns and gardens and well protected by trees.

Out cottage was even better than we had expected, with a large fireplace and a fire laid ready to light, and two very comfortable arm chairs in front of the fire. Bruno and Fiona initially restored the cottage and lived here for three years as they restored the Chateau. They now rent the cottage (two bedrooms), and also five rooms within the chateau as B&B’s.

And the smell for today is:

Absolutely no contest, it’s the smell of our open wood fire at Chateau Creance, which as I wrote was blazing away and lighting up the metal back plate in the fireplace with an eagle with wings spread between to columns and the date over the top of 1741. Just to draw attention to itself, the fire was giving off gun shot “cracks” and firing sparks at the screen.


Dijon, Sunday 13th November

We had a quiet morning at the cottage with a quick trip in to Pouilly-en-Auxois for baguette. A wholemeal baguette we bought by mistake proved to be wonderful. We also bought a brioche which was pretty ordinary, and a St Christun (a plaited pastry with choc. chips and custard) for breakfast.

After an early lunch, we headed for Dijon to collect Jenny. She had decided to join us for the week, and was arriving in Dijon by train at 6.00 pm. We drove via Vanderness to see if the restaurant that had been well reviewed by a number of former visitors to the chateau, was open. Fiona later told us that she didn’t particularly like the restaurant and couldn’t understand why people liked it. We never discovered either because while it was absolutely packed to the gunnels at lunchtime, it wasn’t opening for dinner and didn’t open any days the rest of the week. The sign said open from Tuesdays to Sunday lunch, but we never found it open.

Dijon was an easy 30 minute drive and we couldn’t believe our luck when we found that the road from Pouilly-en-Auxois actually entered beside the main railway station and the tourist office was two streets away. Being Sunday, there were no parking fees or restrictions, so we parked out front of the tourist office, gathered maps and directions and walked the two hundred metres to the town gate.

We spent the afternoon wandering the streets of this very elegant town. All the Christmas decorations were up and being cold, everyone well rugged up. Being Sunday, most shops were closed. That didn’t detract from several hours of window shopping and generally getting the lay of the land for a return trip to Dijon for later in the week. Many wonderful streets of half timbered houses and the patterned tiled roofs.

Eventually we took refuge from the cold in a café/bar. Unbelievably, dozens of people were sitting out in the main square with waiters trekking across the street to the café. Inside was a special treat. We would have been the only tourists. Here were older women gathering for a drink and a chat, couples of all ages, two women working together on a crossword, groups of young men, a complete cross section of the citizens of Dijon. Almost everyone smoking.

Around 5.30, we wandered down to the station, had another coffee and then began greeting every train from Paris for and hour and a half. It was freezing on the platforms, as we dashed back and forward between six of them, every 10 minutes for the 1 1/2 hours. We had guessed correctly, Jenny had missed her connection in Paris, and had to arrange a change in trains. The fact that university students and others were returning from their long weekend, made for congestion on all lines. She had witnessed women brawling for access to a carriage in Paris.

To celebrate Jenny’s birthday, we had planned on taking her to a restaurant, but being late, we had to settle for a Bistro near the station for their Moules (mussels) and Frites. Unfortunately they turned out to be basic steamed mussels rather than in a wine and onion broth, but a nice leisurely meal nevertheless.

Back home to light a fire.

And the smell for today is:

Wood smoke. Suffocating wood smoke because the flu wasn’t open and the smoke filled the entire cottage and required every window to be opened in the freezing cold of the evening.


Epoisse, Lantilly and Semur-en-Auxois, 14th November

This was the morning we discovered that there were otters in the canal beside our cottage. We discovered one with a massive bunch of grasses or plants over near the pigeonaire. With them clamped in his mouth, he took off across the grass and dived back into the canal. We waited patiently and he reappeared 15 metres up the canal, and made across to the far bank to his den.

Upstairs at a window, I trained my camera on the canal and eventually either he returned, or his/her partner returned. I fired away with my camera and he/she tolerated my flash for only so long and eventually decided it was getting too late to stay out and longer and risk being caught by Bob.

At dawn we set out to walk to Vanderness. I had figured that it would be a more scenic walk than the one toward Pouilly. It was. We walked past herds of cattle and sheep and all the while, Chateauneuf sat high on the hillside to the south. After a half hours walking we headed back and I drove over to Pouilly for the morning baguette and a couple of croissants. To be honest, I can’t say we have had many croissants on this trip, but none of them were particularly memorable.

Eventually at 11.15 we set off for an afternoons driving to Chateau de Epoisse, Chateau de Lantilly and Semur-en-Auxois.

Chateau de Epoisse was closed for the winter but the gardens open, so we could walk around the chateau and photograph to our/my hearts content. The chateau was surrounded by a very deep moat (now dry), and was being restored. In the U formed by the building are extensive rose gardens. The chateau was then surrounded by gardens and lawns and was walled. Inside the walls, stood numerous buildings including the current school. These buildings were unique in that this was one of the few chateau where the lord allowed the villagers to build inside the walls. In return they had to serve in defending the chateau if it came under attack and provide assistance in maintaining the estate.

The pigeonnaire used to house 3,000 birds. The rule of thumb was that it requires an acre to support each bird, so they must have been quite powerful.

The cheese factory was closed as well. Remember? This was the cheese forbidden from public transport. I don’t understand why? Fantastic cheese and not nearly as smelly as a ripe Gorganzola. It’s not a blue cheese, just a very strong cheese.

On our drive from Epoisse to Lantilly we came across a fox stalking a herd of sheep. In broad daylight, it would run forward a couple of metres and then crouch in the long grass, rush again and crouch again. We finally pulled the car up a hundred metres down the road and did a U-ey. When we pulled up and I got out to photograph, he took off across the field to the bemusement of the sheep. They barely paused grazing.

We passed through a number of small villages, and all were either fully restored or in the process of being restored. I don’t know that they apply the same principles to building in the countryside as they do in many Italian provinces. There, you can only build on the foundations of a previous building and only in the traditional style. It ensures that there is continuity in the countryside. Here in France, we have noticed modern houses built or being built almost everywhere, and often new estates on the outskirts of some small towns. In the countryside between Epoisse and Lantilly, the villages appear to be being restored as a distinct unit. It’s not a wine producing area, so I’m not sure what crops are supporting them.

Chateau de Lantilly (like Epoisse) is privately owned and also closed for winter. We ate our lunch standing beside the wall in the sun. This was around the back of the chateau on a dirt road used to access the fields, where the wall was very low and we could look across the gardens at the chateau and at the woodpeckers at work in the trees. Again the chateau was beside the town itself, on the high side with views down the valley to the north east. With extensive gardens, it must be wonderful in summer.

Finally, we spent the rest of the afternoon at Semur-en-Auxois. This is my favourite town in this part of Burgundy. It is a walled town in the bend of the river with four towers still intact, but severe cracks in the main one above the bridge and the wall shored up by massive timber scaffolding. If I have my topography correct, the town was built on the edge of a plateau, but because the river forms a loop, the town was only joined to the plateau by a narrow strip of land. They would only have had to build a wall across this gap to defend it from attack across the plateau. For the rest of the town, the river cuts so deeply around the town that the cliff face with walls and towers built above them, must have been pretty well impregnable. Unfortunately, only four of the original towers remain and one of those has a major crack, and the wall between two of them was shored up with massive timber beams.

We found the tourist office for a map and fortuitously a “salon de the” that was open. Every other shop in town was closed except this little gem. Apart from excellent coffee, she had some wondrous pastries etc. and an amazing white chocolate concoction called “Dome”. White chocolate with a centre of pistacio, caramel, etc.

One thing you can always count on; the maps provided by the local tourism office are very light on detail. We headed out toward the end of the town inside the loop of the river. We were looking for the path to take us down outside the walls to the river and then walk around the town. Missed it by a mile. We found ourselves at a lovely lookout with views to the terraced gardens and houses on the other side of the river. Here was a new path leading down to the river at the base of the walls, so we oriented the map again and headed down and around the town to the main towers and the old stone bridge. At this point, Ches and Jenny were considering hanging me from the bridge as a warning to men who claim to be able to read maps.

We climbed the very steep streets and found ourselves back where the path down to the river on the other side of town was supposed to be. Not only was it supposed to be there, it was. O.K., no sign post and it is just a narrow lane. Easy to miss. Anyone could have missed it. I did the first time. It took us down to the river on the eastern side. Here we had views of the walls and one of the towers, and the old stone bridge on this side. Much smaller than on the western side. We decided that as we had already walked the western section of the river, we would save ourselves walking around there again and just climb back up the staircase.

There was a purpose in differentiating between this eastern and western side of the town and the river. The guidebook tells me that this town is stunning at sunset when photographed from the western side. The light strikes the towers and walls, and the pink stone glows. I suspect I have worn out Jenny and Ches and would be pushing my luck to drag out the stay much longer. We retrieved the car and drove out across the main large stone bridge on the western side and lo and behold, a parking spot on the road up out of town. I left the girls to build their case against me, and took camera and tripod to a small lookout to photograph the towers, walls, bridge etc.

I returned to the car a happy man. The girls even let me stop on the outskirts of town when I discovered another vantage point from which to photograph. I have just reviewed all my photographs, and I have to say, this is the most stunningly photogenic of towns.


Beaune, 15th November

Up at 7.30 to photograph Otter out gathering clumps of “?”. He/she would sniff around the grass in the half light and then dig out a small clump of something and then dive back into the canal and take to his/her den. Either he/she made the trip three or four times, or a family took it in turns. Later in the week, Fional told us that they have to cull them because they breed to fast and cause a lot of damage to the banks of the canal. Either they do, or the dogs do trying to get to their den.

We spent the day in Beaune. The capital of the burgundy wine industry. The site of Hotel Dieu. We had seen the odd photograph and read about it, but nothing prepared us for this magnificent building. Not only magnificent in appearance, but magnificent in it’s origin, its functions and its present. There’s the patterned roof from all the photographs (it’s even more magnificent than any photo portrays). There is the origin; as a hospital for the poor established by a self-made man in 1443 and financed by his bequest of a saltworks and numerous vineyards. Its function; to provide medical care for the poor in amazingly luxurious/comfortable surroundings and with state of the art medical care. Medical care is now provided in a modern hospital, but it still provides retirement/nursing home care and is still financed by the annual wine auction of the wines from its vineyards. We missed the auction by two days. It’s the next weekend.

We spent several hours at Hotel Dieu. We could have spent several more.

We had a very late lunch and wandered the streets, following the usual tourist map. Ches and Jenny were well and truly in to shopping mode, so after a full tourist walk of the sights of Beaune, they spent several hours shopping with little result. Ches had lists of things to buy in Beaune, gleaned from various books, but came away quite disappointed.

For my actual birthday dinner, we couldn’t find anything open, so eventually drove into Pouilly-en-Auxois and Hotel du Commerce. We had a wonderful dinner. One of the highlights; a bottle of Gevrey Chambertin 2002. This might be one of the most enjoyable wines I have ever drunk. Sometimes the very expensive, big name wines just don’t compare with a reasonably priced wine that just suits the food, the atmosphere and the mood and is close to perfect.

The highlights were “Croustillant Epoisses”, epoisses cheese encased in thin pastry and fried and lamb skewers grilled over the openen fire in the corner of the dining room. All grilled meat was cooked over the fire, which made me wonder what they do in summer.

And the smell for today is:

The smell of wood smoke released by my bath towel when it became wet. Proof that smell is more intense when the moisture content is higher.

The bouquet of our bottle of Burgundy over dinner. Also the smell of cooking meat in the streets of Berne (chacuterie about to reopen??)


Dijon, 16th November

A wet, misty, foggy, drizzly day, so we changed our plans and returned for a shopping day in Dijon. We drove quite slowly in the heavy fog and it was late morning before we arrived in Dijon. In fact, by the time we worked our way up town, the shops were closing.

I still don’t understand how the rest of the day unfolded in the way in which it did. As we window shopped for the two hours the shops were closed, I identified shop after shop that looked to stock gift ideas that appealed to both Ches and Jenny. We spent the final hour or so, revisiting these shops and loading up with really appropriate gifts to take home.

The highlight however were the roasted chestnuts we bought when returning to our car. We have never been enormous fans of chestnuts and had therefore always avoided buying roasted chestnuts all over Europe in the last five years. I don’t even know why we suddenly impulsively decided to buy a paper cone of roasted chestnuts near the carousel. What an amazing surprise. They weren’t overly sweet like I remembered from various previous recipes I have cooked. We should have bought two cones.

For dinner, I cooked:

Fricassee de Canard aux Haricot Blancs
  • Duck Breasts (600 gm)
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 tablespoon Flour
  • 1/4 onion chopped
  • 1/2 medium carrot thinly sliced
  • Bouquet Garni
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • salt and pepper
Prick the skin of the duck with a fork. Over medium high heat brown in olive oil till golden brown on all sides. Remove duck, drain all but a teaspoon of oil/fat, return duck and sprinkle with the flour and stir till coated.

Add onions and carrot, bouquet garni, wine, salt and pepper, bring to boil, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 1 hour (or to 1 1/4 hours if cooking larger quantities with bones in them).

Haricots Blancs
  • 1/4 cup dried beans soaked overnight
  • A couple of grams of pork (speck or pork rind)
  • Pinch of dried thyme.
Drain beans and then cover with water, add pork and thyme, cover and simmer over medium/low heat for 1 hour. Drain before adding to duck.

Skim any fat from the duck pan, add the beans and adjust seasoning and heat for 10 minutes.



L'Esperance and Vezelay, 17th November

This was our penultimate day in Burgundy and a day that we had been anticipating for several months. In winter L’Esperance at Saint Pere sous Vezelay is only open from Thursday to Sunday. We had wanted to have my birthday lunch here on Tuesday but had had to settle for Thursday.

Our booking was for 12.00 noon. Ches and Jenny insisted we remain in the car out front till 12.15. While they claimed it was because we shouldn’t appear too eager, I think it was because they didn’t want to set the precedent for actually arriving anywhere on time.

Marc Meneau has had his restaurant here for over thirty years and by some accounts now owns most of the village. He has L’Esperance, his flagship restaurant and hotel, a more modest restaurant and in recent years has planted his own vineyards. I understand he lost one of his three Michelin hats a year or so ago but wouldn’t be surprised if he has since won it back. As one critic of Michelin said, he could have lost a hat for having a smudge on a window the day they dined there and taking away a hat seemed petulant.

Only a couple of months ago, Neil Perry of Rockpool in Sydney lost a hat and the majority of other major restaurateurs came to his defence and attacked the reviewers. I suspect that the loss of a hat could devastate some businesses, but the likes of Marc Meneau have such a long standing reputation that they rise above it. Going on our three and a half hour ten mains and ten deserts lunch, this must still be among the top five restaurants in France/The World???

Who would be so bold as to attempt to “review” such a restaurant? Not I. I will post a description of our meal at the Restaurant Review section of Slow Travel, but would be completely inadequate trying to review it.

We had an amazing ten savoury courses and ten deserts in a magnificent setting in a glass dining room looking out on the vast walled garden with stream and bridges and statuary. The service was as professional as it gets and yet not distracting.

I had great difficulty in convincing Cheryl and Jenny that we just couldn’t leave without actually visiting Vezelay. I think they just wanted to have a long doze after such a large leisurely meal. I coaxed them out of the car near the town gate and we set off up the steadily climbing main street. As it turned out, we could have parked up at the cathedral but fortunately made the longish walk. It walked off the lethargy.

This has to be about the most expensive tourist town in the region. The prices for clothing and homewares were astronomical. I assume that they bank of clients from L’Esperance who are well healed.

We probably didn’t do our visit to the cathedral justice. Without a guide book, we probably missed out on many significant features. The three things that struck me most, were the massive internal doors, the sunlight streaming in on the elevated side aisles and their columns and the carvings on the tops of the columns. In particular the carving of a swordsman beheading a prisoner. The whole time I was in the cathedral and the town itself, I was overwhelmed with memories of my favourite childhood novel “The Red Keep”. Set in Burgundy in the middle ages, the stone masons of Vezelay featured prominently, and while fiction, I still felt the presence of these humble craftsmen who created this magnificent UNESCO listed cathedral.

Ever since our visit to Semur-en-Auxois, Ches had been lamenting that she hadn’t been able to buy one of the little “Cute Charolais Cows”. In particular one that had a door on the back to insert a tea candle. The shop had been closed on the Sunday afternoon. I decided that we would try to return to Semur on our way home.

We missed the turnoff to the motorway at Avallon, and as the sun set found ourselves on a minor road heading across country. We figured that the shops might stay open till 7.00pm and provided I didn’t take another wrong time, we might just make it. I still don’t understand why some businesses remain open so late in small towns out of tourist season. We made it.

Apart form Ches making it worthwhile by buying three of the cows, I managed to photograph the town again. This time the towers and walls were lit up with golden light. This is the town that you could photograph for a week and never tire of interesting images.

We arrived home far to late to take advantage of Fiona’s offer of a guided tour of the chateau.


Autun, 18th November

We awoke to a frost like we have never seen in our lives. I guess there are rural areas of Australia that get frost, but we have never seen anything like it with the leaves of shrubs rimmed with ice and crystals formed on barbed wire fences.

We decided to stick to the original plan to drive to Autun. This town in the centre of Burgundy was a major Roman town. It was the centre of learning in Gaul with at one time, more philosophers than Rome and the largest theatre outside Italy.

The fog was so thick and with my need to stop and photograph “frost” scenes, we didn’t arrive in Autun till around 11.30 and caught the tail end of the Friday “market.” While much more clothing and fewer food stalls than most other town markets, we didn’t feel compelled to buy anything. Come midday, we found a bar for a hot drink to thaw out.

We then set out for the theatre. On the way, we stumbled on the military academy. I still don’t know much about it, but my memory is suggesting that I should check further. I am sure that Napoleon attended school here and that it was still a major educational and administrative centre in the middle ages. This was the home town of Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor of Burgundy in the mid 1400’s who built the hospital in Beaune.

At this point I finally appreciate that even a “slow traveller” needs to become even slower. This town deserves a day or so, not just five hours.

The military academy has the patterned tiled rooves that distinguish the major towns of Burgundy and is quite extensive. On its flank is the Roman theatre. It has been partially restored. Well, the seating has, not the entry staircases or the stage. A portable stage is still in place and it is obviously still used in summer with seating for 12,000. The amazing feature is that I could stand on the stage area and speak to Ches and Jenny who were way up in the back rows and they could hear me so clearly. With little more than clear projection, the voice carries to an audience of 12,000.

As we headed back into town, we found a hotel open with a sign advertising a set lunch menu including a glass of the new seasons Beaujolais which had only been released the day before. What a contrast between Beaujolais and Burgundy and yet with a plate of fish in white sauce with potatoes and baby beans it was perfect. We sat in the warmth of the hotel and watched the golden leaves showering down in the park opposite as the sun broke through and a magical blue sky appeared.

Back in town, the stores were reopening, and with a little encouragement from Ches and Jenny I cut loose. I emerged with three new shirts, and we set off to retrieve our car and drive the walls. We had barely travelled a kilometre before Ches needed a loo stop. How fortuitous. As we searched, we stumbled on the cathedral and the home of Nicolas Rolin which is now a museum. The only toilets were inside the museum. If we hadn’t gone in search of the toilet we would have missed out on a magnificent collection of Roman artefacts and the original medieval statuary from the cathedral. This is an absolute gem of a museum. We emerged some hours later and the sun was dropping behind the pine clad hills the surround the western side of the town.

It was quite sobering as we drove back to Creancey as I realised that our holiday was at an end. We were home to pack and scratch a meal together from the bits and pieces left in the refrigerator.

Goats Cheese with Cherry on toasted Baguette

With such sensational cheese such as Chavignol, I decided to adapt this Italian recipe.
  • 150 gm fresh cherries (It’s late autumn, so I used tinned)
  • Splash of good balsamic vinegar
  • 1cm thick rounds of baguette toasted.
  • 200gm Chavignol goats cheese
  • basil
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
Remove stones from cherries, splash very lightly with balsamic and crush with the back of spoon, add some black pepper and stir.

Toast the bread, spread with cheese, spoon cherries over and add shredded basil leaves and drizzle of olive oil. Salt probably not necessary with salty goats cheese.

And the smell for today is:

“Two branched 8-carbon fatty acids (4-ethyl-octanoic, 4-methyl-octanoic)”

This is what gives goats milk/cheese its distinctive smell.


Chateau de Creancey: website gone
Chez Langley: www.chezlangleysancerre.co.uk/



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