At last we can focus on the newsletter, but time is short, so we’ve looked back on our 25 year history and compiled a selection of articles from past newsletters, with a summary of what’s new for 2016. We can no longer open the files from the nineties (the software is obsolete), so we start with June 2000 when Barbara reminisced about ‘Burgundy west of Dijon’, where we used to live. December 2001 featured a review of Chateau de Germiney’s restaurant, which now boasts a Michelin star and in June 2002 she wrote about lunch in Verdun sur le Doubs at the restaurant of Didier Dennis, who later became a good friend. I also planned to include Venice, St Jean de Luz and the Pyrenees, but not enough space, so next time …… Bien cordialement, ROBERT
2015 Draws to a Close
This year has been a difficult one for various reasons, but for us, its highlight was our trip to France in September-October. That ended with two nights in Paris, just the two of us, so lots of walking, reminiscing, a ballet performance at the Palais Garnier and an intimate dinner at Chez Monsieur. A brief but perfect stay.
Earlier we researched Normandy, visiting lots of special gardens, beach resorts, calvados producers and we saw the Bayeux tapestry for the first time! So much was new to us that it re-kindled our love of France, but alas that euphoria has been crushed by the recent events in Paris. A tragedy in every sense of the word, and so pointless. However, the Parisians, and the French people, refuse to be intimidated, so life goes on, although with much tighter security. We are continuing with our holidays in France and think the best way for you to support France is to continue with your travel plans. The canals and back roads of France should be as safe as ever and they are probably safer than some parts of NZ!
We already have bookings for 2016, from April to September, and have been encouraged by recent enquiries. They are mainly for rental boats to secure the early booking discounts, and for cycling as I’ve completed the revision of our Backroad Discovery holidays – new cycling routes in Brittany, Burgundy and Bordeaux, and a combined cycling and walking holiday in the Loire.
We would love to return to Normandy with a small private group, so we have designed a two week itinerary starting in Paris. It features the gardens of Monet, Bois des Moutiers, Angelique, Bellevue, Pays d’Auge and Chateau de Brecy, (left) plus the Bayeux tapestry, calvados tastings, a mushroom foray, two cooking classes, easy walks and lots of eating and drinking. Now all we need to make it a reality is a party of six, so please get in touch. This itinerary could be extended into Brittany to include Mont St Michel, the Emerald Coast, the remarkable Jardins de Kerdalo and a day of bread-making in the country. If the participants were get some Hybrid Bikes Under $1000, the itinerary would prove to be much more convenient.
June 2000 – BURGUNDY – WEST OF DIJON
White Charollais cattle munching lush green pasture, pockets of woodland, a line of poplars marking the curving progress of the Burgundy Canal, Romanesque village churches, markets with local cheeses, organic vegetables and crusty loaves …. please excuse any sentimental tone that creeps into this section – but this was and still feels like our “home” in France. Our little lockhouse was about 10kms from Semur-en-Auxois, one of the prettiest towns of this beautiful region. In a dramatic setting above a deep gorge, remnants of old fortifications guard the entrance to the town. A 14th century church, cobbled streets lined with old stone houses, a good choice of cafes and restaurants and a twice weekly outdoor market add up to a charming destination for a visit or a stay.
The tiny settlement of Flavigny is also popular among locals for a Sunday promenade. Many of its old houses have been restored and contain craft shops to tempt visitors who come to see the remains of the ancient abbey and the panoramic views from this hilltop village. Tins of aniseed sweets, traditionally made here by nuns, are popular souvenirs. Nearby, the chateau of Bussy-Rabutin has a charming formal garden, good views over the surrounding countryside and some fascinating decor. Roger de Bussy-Rabutin, cousin of Mme de Sevigné, spent more time here than he ever intended to; exiled from court for his satirical verses, he amused himself by filling the rooms with portraits and poetry.
In the next valley lies the Cistercian abbey of Fontenay (above), founded by St Bernard in 1118. The abbey flourished until the 16th century, but then declined and was turned into a paper mill during the Revolution. Restored by private owners, it now gives visitors a real sense of early monastic life; the kitchen, the sparse dormitory, the church, the cloisters, the gardens and two other food sources, the fish pond and dovecote. Sadly, the forge is closed to visitors.
The regional park of the Morvan is a large, dramatic wilderness area with well signed walking tracks and small scenic roads. It is dotted with small lakes, rocky outcrops and traces of early Celtic settlements. Saulieu is on the edge of the Morvan. Its big break came in 1651 when the old Paris to Lyon road was rebuilt and it became a coach stop with a reputation for fine food. Saulieu is an ideal base for exploring the Morvan and is still a gastronomic centre. Treat yourself to some excellent meals at either the Michelin 3 star Relais Bernard Loiseau, where lunch starts at 450FF (now 70 euros) and dinner at 750FF (now 150 euros), or at one of the town’s more modest establishments.
December 2001 – CHATEAU DE GERMIGNEY – Port-Lesney, Jura
It might have been a communication breakdown, absent-mindedness or something else, but here we were at Chateau de Germigney, (left) a classy country hotel & restaurant on the edge of the Jura, without a booking. Ignoring the advice we give everyone else, we hadn’t reserved a table for Sunday lunch, the meal more French people eat in a restaurant than any other. Embarrassed and contrite, we made feeble excuses, and threw ourselves on the mercy of the maitre d’. As it happened, he did still have a tiny table, so we were very lucky. It really was the last table; over the next half hour the others were steadily filled by parties with reservations. Most of the diners were French family groups, with a smattering of Swiss, the odd Anglais, and us, by the skin of our teeth.
We were in the smaller of the two dining rooms, a model of restrained elegance swagged in white, grey & black. The larger space was a leafy garden room overlooking the grounds. The 195ff menu began with an amuse bouche – a demi-tasse of mussel & mushroom soup, in case the selection of little bread rolls that came with the menus was not going to keep us going till the real food arrived. It’s one of the ironies of French dining that in order to get all the delicious little extras before and after a meal, you have to order a fairly hefty menu, which doesn’t leave you room to do them justice. The little medallions of foie gras on pain d’epices, a sliver of smoked salmon wrapped around a cylinder of soft white cheese, tiny choux pastries filled with cream and caviar, the coffee cup of soup, and later the handmade confections that arrive when the dessert has been cleared – fruit jellies, sweet pastries, all manner of chocolate delights – too fragile to take away for later, too delicious to leave untouched.
Robert began the proper courses with a rustic slice of fatty bacon with haricot and fava beans and sweet onion jam. Bacon & beans is a classic combination that always works and the onion compote added good flavour and texture to make a satisfying dish. I went for the more delicate marinated salmon with watercress jelly, and dill flavoured cream, garnished with golden trout eggs, which was a beautifully subtle mixture of flavours and textures.
Staying with hearty country style, Robert then had the beef braised in Arbois wine, with carrots and forest mushrooms. Meat & two veg of a fairly high order; the carrots were embellished with cumin, which did them a lot of good, and the mushrooms were the black and beautiful trompettes de la morte. The meat was on the dry side, but the flavours were deep and good. I maintained the fish theme with cod on aubergine puree, baked tomato and Chips de Morteau – crisp fried rounds of local sausage. (Morteau also featured in some of the introductory rolls.) The fish was perfect, given some oomph by the tomato and sausage, and a creamy contrast from the eggplant puree.
When it came to pudding, we felt that we’d had enough chocolate ones to be going on with, so, with a mixture of trepidation and excitement, we chose the Omelette Jurassienne; a version of Baked Alaska – the celebration pudding of 1960s and into the 1970s. Well, it was big round our way. The trepidation was a response to the phrase “flambée a votre table”. Remember that? Crepes suzettes, fruit flambé, steak Diane, wheeled to your table on a special flambé cart, with a spirit burner, maybe two, copper pans, and bottles of spirits. This wasn’t just dinner, this was entertainment – everyone stopped talking and turned to watch your table. Sometimes there was even applause. Fun when you were eight, excruciating at fifteen.
At the Chateau de Germigney, flaming is a very discreet business, even at Sunday lunch. The Omelette Jurassienne was a great end to a very good lunch – a log of creamy vanilla icecream beside one of grainy quince sorbet on a thin sponge liberally impregnated with the heady spirit marc de Jura, meringue piped thickly over everything, then the briefest of blasts in a hot oven and whizzed to our table to be flamed with another shot of marc. Served with a little jug of clear quince sauce, it was festive and delicious, with the same thoughtful flavour and texture combining that was a feature of the Chateau de Germigney’s cuisine.
Service was smooth, courteous and unobtrusive. The staff glided around the busy room, pouring, serving, clearing, explaining where necessary, occasionally setting fire to a pudding, but never telling us that their name was Shane, or interrupting a conversation to ask how we were enjoying our meal.
Chateau de Germigney makes a feature of local produce, traditional dishes and seasonal food. Chicken in Chateau-Chalon, a local wine wine, was a star dish, brought to the table in a huge casserole, and the autumn menu was full of game and mushrooms. The big wine list features a good range of Jura wines, and plenty of others for the unconverted; the distinctive Jura wines being something of an acquired taste – but worth the effort.
With very good food in a stylish setting, formal but friendly service, this is one of the best restaurants in the area. (Now the lunch menu is 45 euros and the dinner menus are 80 & 110 Euros. Chef Pierre Basso Moro also has a bistro in the village with a 29 euro menu).
June 2002 – HOSTELLERIE BOURGUIGNONNE – Verdun sur le Doubs, Southern Burgundy
The Hostellerie Bourguignonne is the home of celebrated chef Didier Denis, (left) who prides himself on making the best local ingredients into the best regional cuisine and serving it in a traditional setting. In his handsome old coaching inn, with a flower-filled terrace, he creates delicious Burgundian classics with care and flair.
Passing by one lunchtime last October, we stopped for the menu du jour, which at 130ff for three courses is amazing value at a restaurant of this quality. The menu isn’t displayed, you have to ask for it and there is only one dish per course – no choice. That isn’t any hardship with food as good as this though. In fact, after a couple of weeks of fairly intensive gastronomic decision-making, it’s very relaxing just to be fed.
We began with a hare, hazelnut and pistachio terrine. The intense flavours were set off nicely by the good bread, which they make on the premises. The main course was meat-and-two-veg at its best – a meltingly tender lamb knuckle in a small puddle of reduced sauce, with tiny turned carrots and turnips and buttery mashed potato. For pudding, a creme brulée, gently flavoured with lavender – just lovely. The extras were of a high order too – excellent bread rolls, tiny snail & garlic tarts and delicate gougere to nibble before the first course. Later, little almond cakes and raspberry tarts, plus chocolates & fudge with coffee.
The attention to detail in the kitchen is reflected in the dining room; in the attractive table settings with good glassware and cutlery, butter in a silver dish, and smiling, smooth service. This is a proper dining experience. (Since 2002 we have returned many times for cooking classes with Didier and enjoyed some remarkable meals. Now the lunch menu is 22 Euros and dinner is 50-80 Euros.)
BESPOKE FRANCE’s holiday roundup
Hotel barge cruising – the ultimate unwinding holiday on fully crewed barges sleeping 4-21 in air-conditioned, en suite cabins.
Private escorted tours – small group tours to your favourite places. Tours are custom-designed for people who enjoy good food and wine and the intimacy of a small, flexible tour, travelling by minibus, and/or boat, with Robert driving and Barbara guiding.
The Walking Party – fully escorted walking holidays in south-west France.
Canal Boats – self drive, self catering holidays on the extensive French waterways, plus Italy, Germany, Belgium, Ireland, UK and Holland.
Freewheeling France – unique self-drive motoring itineraries for independent travellers offering the freedom of independent travel with the security of an escorted tour.
Backroad Discovery – a choice of independent cycling & walking holidays in the Loire, Burgundy, Alsace, Champagne, Dordogne, Midi, Provence and Brittany.
Residential language and cooking courses – Study French at a charming manor house outside Roanne, or hone your cooking skills at a lovely old farmhouse near Laval.
Bonus services – Our 35 years of French experience, and included with our holidays are all sorts of useful information and tips (train connections, airport transfers, restaurants). Plus we are happy to book additional accommodation from our long list of tried and tested character hotels, and car rentals, lease vehicles, train tickets …………..