Les Vignes, our base for winetasting

Trip Start Apr 28, 2007
Trip End Oct 26, 2007

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Saturday, August 4, 2007

Cruising with the top down on a beautiful summer's day we headed along the backroads towards Buxy, and arrived at Les Vignes late afternoon.  Dinner was organised by our hosts, Dawn & Gary who are an English couple based in Hong Kong and for whom this French chateau is part of the bigger retirement picture.
Wills (not Brian; it was his first name) cooked for the Wills, which of course is a great conversation starter.
Our gite was all we expected from the website - a very comfortable one bedroom gate house at the chateau.  St Vallerin is a charming old village in the middle of a sea of vineyards with an extensive network of cycle lanes including a 120km circuit which goes through Buxy. This cycle track is on the old rail line so when (no, "if") you stick to that, it has gentle gradients and traverses countryside & vineyards.
There was a market day nearby at Chalon sur Saone on Sunday and we enjoyed the experience of another European market with fresh produce, on a grand scale.  We bought our own starter kit of fresh produce for our week in our gite.  We found a local specialty of honey in a jar layered with ground almonds and crunchy meringue on top. And of course more croissants des amandes, just for comparative purposes.  
To work it all off, we borrowed bikes from our hosts, and set off on a bike ride which turned into a Swiss Friday Hike. (sorry, Joy but you have established a new standard!) By the time we found the correct route we had added a few extra kms and hills - all good for the fitness, and increasingly necessary (for Jen) for the weight management programme.
We had another "Swiss Friday Hike" the next day too, on our cycle trip north out of Buxy, so by Wednesday we were due for a rest and visited Beaune. The drive along the scenic route was just that: beautiful countryside with more & more vineyards, and one charming village after another, through narrow streets lined with old stone buildings.
Beaune is a larger town which has circular roads   with the first being just outside the old town wall. Beaune is the centre of the Burgundy wine industry, and we were told by a local that it is known as "Le Fromage Gruyere" because of the honeycomb of wine cellars under the city.  He told us that in every other city you own the land below your house, but in Beaune you do not in fact own that land if there are cellars dug into that land, unless the access to that cellar is from your own home. If there is a cellar under your house, then the land under your house is owned by the person who has access to the cellar.
A highlight of Beaune was the  Hotel-Dieu; not as it implies - a hotel - at all, but built by a benefactor in 1443, as a hospice for the poor, and run by the Sisters. He endowed it with an annual income (a saltworks) and its own resources (vines) and employed well known artists to paint amazing scenes on its walls and ceilings. It is considered today to be a jewel of medieval architecture and the roof is something else with multicoloured tiles brought in from central Europe. The inside is equally impressive both as an art "gallery" (from Jen's perspective) and also as a functional hospital of its era (from Brian's perspective).
From an art perspective, it offered humour as well as religious pieces -on the ceiling of the main hall at the end of the cross beams are carved comical faces of the people of Beaune in the 1400's while alongside them are animal heads representing their respective failings. Hotel-Dieu remained as a working hospital for the poor until 1971 when the medical activities were transferred to a modern hospital, but the retirement home is still running within the complex.  It's activities are still funded by vines, and each year it runs a famous wine auction.
We also visited the Musee du Vin, and tasted some impressive burgundy wines at one of the numerous "caves". Nearby, we chose a wonderful (and appropriate) momento of our trip which was a wedding present from Jen's mum Anne -  two antique silver French wine tasting vessels, "taste vin". We will treasure them.
The rest of the week was spent biking, dining and wine-tasting. A night out at the local "restaurant gastronomique" will be memorable. We had the best dining we have ever had with each plate being a "wow", and of course had a great white burgundy. But none of the follow up that Fabrice offered us....
We checked out of Les Vignes on Saturday to drive back to Kussnacht am Rigi. We had more than a few French wines on board which we were advised to declare at the border but the immigration bloke was more interested in the Poms in front of us who had a laden stationwagon with a trailer. They had kids, so probably didn't produce any revenue or excitement for the officials, but we got through without so much as a check over.

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