Monthly Archives: December 2014

Burgundy to Lyon and beyond

My burgundy tasting was at the office/ tasting room of Domaine Maurice Gavignet in Nuits St. George. I put the address into Tom Tom and wound up outside someone’s house . So I decided to do a bit of exploring on foot. I went round a corner and there it was , I thought. I went in and after a difficult conversation in French, figured out that this was a different Maurice Gavignet — my Maurice was next door.  Apparently something happened within the family many years ago ——. So I went next door where they were expecting me and tasted their range. After a tasting like this I like to take away sample bottles of the wines I have liked and try them at leisure and with food. It’s amazing how different they can then taste sometimes. Anyway they were reasonably priced for what they were and a couple were outstanding.  I’ll probably bring some to Oz next year.
Then onto the Autoroute for a 2 hour thrash down to Lyon. It all went swimmingly until I got to within about 5 k of Lyon where everything just stopped.  France really has very major traffic problems in it’s big cities and you need to allow time for this in your planning.  If you are not actually going into Lyon you can bypass it on the Autoroute. But if you are going into the centre or thereabouts it is a guaranteed problem. It took me nearly an hour to do the last 5 k. Admittedly it was peak hour.  I got to the hotel Carlton and was extremely pleased to hand the car over to the wonderfully named ” voitureist” (car parker ).  The hotel is good.  Staff very pleasant and obliging and the rooms large and well appointed. About an hour after I arrived my friend Nick rang and said he was on the Autoroute 5 ks away and would see me in about 15 minutes. ” No you won’t ” I said ” try an hour”. An hour later he arrived!
Now, the next bit is about an old car event ( and some eating and drinking ) . So you may want to skip it.
At this time last year we attended  a car show in Lyon called Eurexpo. It takes place at the exhibition centre which I guess is about 15 k from the centre of Lyon. It combines car club stands and exhibits, a giant swap meet, dealers offering old and classic cars for sale, model car dealers, artists, motoring clothing, stands selling anything the keen motorist or restorer might need ( or think he might need), the inevitable auction and of course a tribute to a Marque. This year it was Facel Vega.
If you have an old French car there is a club for you. And the clubs are very specialised. There’s one for the Matra Djet owner, or the Peugeot 202, or the Sampson etc etc. an awful lot of wine gets drunk on these stands as matters of deep moment are discussed and disputed.
Our technique is to find the Hispano Suiza club stand and to use that as a base and refueling stop . We then fan out to see as much of the incredible diversity on offer as we can in the time available.
The event starts on a Friday and runs through to Sunday. Entry is cheap. This year it was €13.  I flashed my Senior’s Card, but unfortunately no cigar.  Friday is the best day to go as it is the least crowded.
The Hisso stand is legendary for the lunches which are served to the fortunate 30 or 40 who get invited into the dining area within the stand. It is all orchestrated by Modeste, ably assisted by a willing and very able coterie of club members. I have discovered that the production of a magnum of a good red helps get an invitation. The tables are communal, the food, wine and conversation are outstanding and the hospitality extraordinary — it really comes from the heart.
After lunch can be a very dangerous time if you are thinking of buying something.
On the Friday night we went to one of Lyon’s oldest eateries, Brasserie Abe.  We went last year and just had to go back. It is the quintessential French brasserie; looks just as it would have done a century ago but a bit faded, busy, noisy, fantastic simple food at really reasonable prices and a good little wine list at very fair prices.  You can only do food of this quality and simplicity by utilising the best and freshest raw materials.  And it was a walk from our hotel.  It’s worth going to Lyon just to eat there. We went to our beds very happy after a totally pleasant day.
Next morning we summoned our cars up from wherever the hotel had them parked and set off for the Show. The last 4 k to the exhibition centre took over an hour! Next year we will use the tram.
We will now return to the general stuff.
About 3pm after another splendid lunch at the Hisso stand we returned to the cars and headed for the autoroute and the south. We were going to stay with very old friends Near Apt in a tiny village called Le Grand Clement.
Next day was Sunday and I remembered that in a village on the way home called Coustellet there was a well recommended Sunday market, so I dropped in. It was so good to be back in France and at a local market where things are local, fresh and seasonal. It is autumn, so the supply of veggies is quite limited and so is the fruit, except for apples of all kinds.  At the markets it is pretty easy to figure out who has the best offerings — the stalls with the queues. I did an initial stock up and headed for Sanilhac and our house, about an hour away.
Since I arrived in France the weather has been cold, overcast and wet and it was to stay this way pretty much , for the rest of the trip.

Normandy & Burgundy

I always imagined that Normandy was quite close to Paris and that it basically comprised lots of impossibly green and lush fields chock full of contented cows. The bits I saw weren’t like that. It is undulating, the fields don’t look unduly green or lush and I didn’t see many cows.  Maybe they were in their barns for the winter.  And it’s quite a few hundred kilometers from Paris.
Normandy is of course where the D Day landings took place and there are plenty of reminders of these. The first I saw was on the ring road outside Caen, which is the largest local town/city.  I was heading for the seaside village of Arromanches, famous for being the site of the man made harbour for the invasion. Huge concrete block things were towed across the Channel and flooded to form a breakwater. A lot of them are still in position, so you can see where the harbour was. Friends of ours from Melbourne have decided on a pretty radical seachange and have sold up and moved to Arromanches where they have bought a beautiful house and grounds which they are transforming into a B+ B.  Work has been more or less proceeding for about 6 months and the end of the tunnel is approaching – they hope!
They have had all the same problems we did. Tradesmen are good, but unreliable. They have been waiting 2 months for their builder to give them a quote to put a couple of bathrooms in the attic. He is at the house most days but the quote is just not forthcoming.  In France, it seems to me that tradesmen are either hairy, bearded and unkempt or they affect the swarthy, shaven everything but their faces look.  Whatever happened to normal?  Northern France then, seems not much different to the south in terms of getting stuff done.
Arromanches is a lovely little village, very busy in summer. It has a military museum and lots of souvenir shops and eateries.  Normandy and Brittany are renowned for their seafood. We went to a local restaurant, right on the water, and the seafood was great — so fresh.  And it makes such a difference with seafood .
The next morning I left Arromanches and headed for nearby Bayeux to cross another item off my bucket list — the Bayeux Tapestry.  I also planned to do a little shopping for local produce.
Bayeux is a beautiful town — lots of old stuff.  And it has clearly been well looked after and restored because of the Cathedral and the Tapestry. I’m a bit over churches and museums and historical relics — my feet and back hurt. But the Tapestry was a must.  And it is just amazing!  It is over 70 metres long and about a metre high. It is embroidered on linen and looks as though it was done very recently , not a thousand years ago. Well worth the visit.
Then onto my shopping mission — buying some old Calvados and some cider.  I achieved my objective at a bottle shop in old Bayeux.  Both are really something!  Maybe down the track I’ll bring some in to Oz .
Then a drive across France to overnight in Orleans en route to my Burgundy tasting the next day.
My route took me through Le Mans, where I stopped for a great lunch. Like most large French towns Le Mans is awful on the outskirts, but the old part is lovely. They call it progress.
In Orleans I was aiming to stay in a place on the river which the Michelin Guide said was very pleasant with a good restaurant. I rang from Le Mans but got no reply. This could have been , I thought , because they were at lunch.  So I decided to just arrive and hope for a room.
France is always bigger than I think and I didn’t get to Orleans until near dark. This was partly my fault because I elected to do some of my trip on a Route Nationale, not the autoroute. As soon as you do that your average speed just plummits. My rule of thumb is that you can’t average more than 60 Kph off the autoroute.  But it is usually prettier.
Anyway, I digress slightly. I arrived at the chosen hotel to find it closed for renovations.  Just up the road I saw another one which looked OK. I was weary, it was getting late, so I made the cardinal error of just checking in without doing any research. The room was tiny and the bathroom tinier — with disposable plastic cups. The one chair in the room was about to collapse. And the bed had obviously done an awful lot of miles. I cleaned up and went down to the bar for a relaxing drink. There was a table of business people in the bar volubly discussing reports and spreadsheets. So I went in for dinner.  I was greeted by an extremely faded and clearly bored old gentleman who sort of led me to a table and then went back to the entrance to the dining room to wait for the next victims. For the first time in my life I think I couldn’t find any wine I wanted to drink. I consulted the menu. Almost Ditto for the food. But I love sole and they had it . It was just dreadful. Stale and badly cooked. Not a good night.
Nuits_St_Georges_(France_-_Burgundy)Next morning I skipped breakfast at the hotel and went to a little cafe instead. Much better!
I drove cross country on the autoroute to the burgundy region, marvelling at how rich and productive France is agriculturally. I think that the French are really good farmers who really make the most of the rich counryside and benign climate. I arrived in Nuits-St-George (photo from Wikipedia) at lunchtime, as luck would have it and headed for a brasserie which Michelin said was an up and comer. And it was.  A terrific meal at a very good price.
Then on to my burgundy tasting——–