LA BELLE FRANCAIS
Trip Start Apr 01, 2010
25Trip End Jul 01, 2010
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Where I stayed
Amongst the grape vines
16TH June 2010
LA BELLE FRANCAIS
We drove along the edge of Lake Geneva out of Switzerland and into France… the French are a little like Aussies with their relaxed approach to camping, and so it was we overnighted on Lake Geneva with a wavering display of night lights of Lucerne upon the water.
The French don’t seem to hanker after wide open spaces like a lot of the European countries, and that’s because they have plenty of open country themselves. For the first time we have been able to pull over whenever we want to stop and admire the views… there’s plenty of laybys and road shoulders so it’s a breeze.
We aimed for Annecy, where we parked beside the sparkling lake surrounded by parklands and framed by high hills.
We cycled into the old quarter of town in glorious sunshine;
CHASING THE GRAPE
We were heading north to Beaujolais when we stopped for lunch and in the east we saw Mt Blanc towering at 4,800 metres from 70klms away.
Along the way, the little villages seemed a tad depressing.. the houses lacked any paint, the plaster was flaking off.. and everything looked unloved… a contrast to the immaculate colourful chalets of Switzerland.
The Beaujolais region was on Roger‘s hit list, he’d wanted to try real French Beaujolais and there were plenty of vineyards offering tastings. We’d joined France Passion for €28, it is a club that offers any self-sufficient motor homers a spot to camp overnight free of charge… right in the vineyards… wow! So we spent our first night at St Cyr where they immediately offered us a wine tasting. Not a bad campground, eh!
Next day saw us back of beyond in the hills of Beaujolais where the GPS didn’t even show any roads… the lanes were very narrow and occasionally we’d meet a tractor coming the other way…. It was a toss up to see who had to reverse… I was getting pretty good at it in the end ‘cause I usually lost the toss.
This region looks a lot like the pictures I’ve seen of Tuscany, with springtime green vines, terracotta roof tiles, houses in umber colours, stone-walled monastries on hilltops, winding rural roads, valley vistas and endless vineyards. I’ve always had this romantic notion of living in an old rambling renovated villa with glorious gardens and flowers, but then I remember the winter cold and the vision palls.
The vineyard of Agnes & Pierre Pegaz was a museum-like cellar, and the family has owned it since 1830. Beaujolais is made from gamay grapes and the Blanc from chardonnay… we were treated to a private tasting in their cellar and bought 2 bottles at €5 each, then they gave us a free bottle for dinner. It was interesting to notice the different pruning styles; the old vine trunks aren’t even knee high and there’s no trellising… not much activity amongst the vines either, except “War of the Worlds” inspired equipment they use for spraying.
Next night was at a Laize winery where we were entertained with another late afternoon Beaujolais tasting, this time with a good fun German couple… we laughed long and hard into the night during an extended Happy Hour. Margrit & Norbert just dashed my belief that Germans have a reduced sense of the ridiculous.
There are great value wines here, and everywhere else, so we are turning into a Rolling Cellar… Das Rollander Weinstube… only trouble is we have to drink them before we return home. Shouldn’t be too much trouble!
We visited the town of Beaujeu (where Beaujolais originated) where the vault-ceilinged cellar served as the “caves” for tastings… went to the epicure markets, bought lots of cheeses and terrines, a lengthy baguette and had ourselves a veritable “pique-nique“. Vive la France!
We stumbled upon a place founded in the 11th century called CLUNY: the Abbey was the largest in Christendom until 15th century, and we hadn‘t even heard of it. So many old stone villages steeped in history!
Autun: hosting an Afro fair, bongo drums, dancing, vibrantly coloured clothes, blacks speaking French (still can‘t come to grips with that). Impressive amphitheatre still with intact seating and underground cells, fancy cathedral built on old roman ruins. Our France Passion pass allowed us to camp just above the town with striking views of the Dom in the afternoon glow..
The Cote d’Or… paddocks of gold.. Burgundy… Bourgogne…. Splendid!
Beaune (pronounced Bone) : yet another walled city, and underneath there are cellars maturing millions of bottles of burgundy. Tightly packed streets brimming with tourists and locals at all the sidewalk cafes… $16 for 2 glasses of vin ordinaire… fields of wild bright red/orange poppies and cherry trees in full fruit, there for the picking
Vosne-Romanee: where we lucked onto Romanee-Conti, the most sacred site in the Bourgogne… where we had to pay homage to the small patch of terra prima that commands $1000 a bottle of burgundy… and pray that one day we have enough money to afford a mere sip of this most treasured drop. La Tache, La Grand Rue, Richebourge…. they were all there lovingly tended by magical hands in this most revered land of vineyards!
The wines are frightfully priced, even the great unknown labels… could only afford 2 bottles… and they can’t be that good really… after all, the cemeteries were pretty full. The vineyards and gardens are immaculately tended, the hillslopes all intensely planted to vines. The sun was shining… ah! God is good!!
Dijon/Troyes: Passed thru this region fairly quickly… the only noteworthy sight being
AHHHH… we finally arrive in Champagne: overnighted at House of Yves Jacques where a tasting session netted us 3 bottles of wonderful Methode Champagnoise for €42.
Driving into Epernay on the Marne, we arrived on the doorstep of Moet et Chandon founded in 1743. I’m now going to correct your likely mispronunciation of the name Moet; it’s not mo-et or mo-ee but Moy-et and that‘s straight from the vintner himself. If you’re going to do a champagne tour it may as well be here, so we forked out €15 for me & €27 for Rog… the difference being I got to taste their “run of the mill“ drop while the connoisseur drooled over 2 of the 2003 vintages which he says is what Moet used to taste like before they dropped their standards. There’s 28klms of cellars all housing millions of bottles and magnums underneath Moet’s Chateaux on Avenue de Champagne, along with Pol Roger, etc
Close by is the steep village of Hautvilliers where Dom Perignon was chief vintner and discovered the secret to second fermentation.
Copious quantities of bubbly were consumed in this region, along with baguettes and cheese, our favourite French Food. It was at this stage I had to drill a hole half way up Roger’s bucket to relieve the pressure… his bucket truly runneth over at this stage! Never seen a bloke so rapt in his environment.
The Tour de France passes through Epernay on July 10th… so if you want to see the region, tune into SBS, crack your own bottle of bubbly, sit back and enjoy it all without all the hard work!!
We were continuing along the route “Touristique du Champagne” to Paris when the phone rang in the middle of the night…. and so it was I heard my Mother had passed away gently and peacefully in her sleep that night.