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News and events around the Burgundy region, Bourgogne Franche-Comté
Summer's coming to an end, heralding Autumn, a perfect time for walking. Marilyn Floyde joins a local group in the vineyards around Vézelay, improves her French, and samples the wine too
However small, these associations are registered legal entities with a President and other officers elected by the membership, and can be anything from a group of enthusiasts with a common passion (e.g. Photography, Fishing, Singing, etc.), or a group following a broader remit such as Local History, or Friends of. . .. Many groups include talks and social evenings as well as active participation.
Walking is enjoying a surge in popularity in France as it is everywhere else, attracting everyone from device-wearing pace-counting urbanites to families wanting some healthy fun together. There is almost bound to be a group near you either with walking, rambling or orienteering as a central activity, or with walking as a part of something broader such as mycology, local history or folklore. Exploring beautiful countryside, and allowing your senses and your thoughts to wander freely throughout the experience, is one of walking’s greatest pleasures – and Autumn is a marvellous time for walking.
On Sunday I joined a group of around 40 people for an event that had just about everything going for it. It was organised by an association called simply THAROISEAU J’AIME. I’d had no connections with this group or any of its members before then, although I knew the lovely old village of Tharoiseau which is within the Vézelay commune, part of the wider Avallonais and the Parc Naturel Régional du Morvan. On top of a hill, just below the site of a neolithic oppidum, Tharoiseau is the highest point for miles around and affords fantastic views of the Vézelay Basilica on what used to be known as the ‘Scorpion Hill’; Mont Liboeuf and possibly the site of the mythical battle of Vau Bouton mentioned in the epic C12th Chanson de Geste de Girart de Roussillon; the village of St Père where, after millennia Les Fontaines Salées still bubble with helium; the distant black hills of the Morvan celebrated for its ancient Celtic history and the supply of water, wood and wet-nurses to the populated towns and cities of the past. Looking out from Tharoiseau is like standing on the edge of history.
The event was publicised as a ‘Randonnée dans la vignoble autour de Tharoiseau’ and promised not only an instructive scenic 8km ramble amongst autumnal vineyards, but also, when we got back, a free wine tasting offered by the Viticulteurs du Vézelien with the opportunity to sample their range of AOC reds and whites, bio and non-bio, in the village’s picnic area. It sounded good on the little flier that I picked up in the pharmacy at Vézelay. In reality it was even better, and worth every cent of the €5 participation fee. I phoned the Presidente, Mme Marie-José Cebaret, who was very welcoming, and booked my place.
The walk started with a tour around the village itself, punctuated by snippets of local history including the Scottish origins of the family who founded the Château and its dedicated Chapel. We saw the Puit supplying fresh drinking water to the village which had never run dry, and the water troughs containing ornamental fish, surrounded by pots of geraniums, beside the church. We left the village and on into the hills to explore the local vineyards and paused for a while beside a small field of hybrid grape vines – one of the very few left in Burgundy – while Alain Moiron, President of the Confrèrie de Vézelay, told us the story of some of the remedies explored after the devastating Phylloxera disaster and its consequences. He handed out little bunches of cross-pollinated hybrid grapes for us all to try. Their taste and texture was quite unique. M Moiron also gave us an overview of the history of the region. On our way back to the village through Fontette we walked gently uphill on a long footpath lined with hedges of blackberries, elderberries, rosehips and escaping vine shoots heavy with fruit almost ready for the vendange, and irresistable to walkers with an eye for foraging. Back at the picnic area set out on long tables were bottles of AOC Bourgogne Vézelay wine, a relatively new region encompassing the communes of Tharoiseau, Vézelay, Asquins and St. Père, ready for the degustation.
The obvious benefit of taking part in this kind of organised activity is the social introduction to people within your community, and with it the opportunity to improve your French and learn new vocabulary in an informal and enjoyable way. It’s often quite difficult to strike up a conversation with people you’ve never met before, especially if you’re not an entirely confident French speaker. When you’re walking along, the visual context makes it much easier to find a topic you can share, and the vocabulary needn’t be too complicated either. It’s also very useful to walk with local people who know the routes and pathways and, especially at this time of year at the very beginning of the hunting season, with people who know where and when the local hunters will be gathering.
After a long hot dry summer the ground isn’t yet providing the mouldy/mulchy environment for many mushrooms - the mainstay of French foraging. As soon as it does, there will be mycological associations coming into their own all over France, as well as mushroom festivals and fairs, which are delightful. The promotion of these events isn’t always as aggressive as it could be – so keep your eyes open for little fliers dotted around, advertisements in local papers and magazines and sometimes just handwritten announcements stuck on communal notice boards.
Sharing the fruits of the earth amongst people who are sociable and welcoming, as I found the members of J’AIME THAROISEAU, is a happy experience, and Autumn in Burgundy, when the leaves are beginning to turn and the vendange is just around the corner, is a wonderfully exciting and rewarding time to take to the hills.
© Marilyn Floyde
A Fantastic picnic
the colour of art
It may seem like a relatively new idea but back in 1976, abstract artist Alexander Calder (1898-1976) transformed a Douglas DC 8 plane, painting it in an electric red, blue and yellow abstract design for Braniff Airways - a show stopper at the time.
Calder is perhaps best known for being the person who brought kinetics into art, developing moving sculptures known as 'mobiles', in 1931. He powered his sculptures first with motors and then moved on to motion from air currents. This prolific artist came from a family of artists and sculptors, trained first as a mechanical engineer, before giving in to his first love and returning to art. He was prolific during his lifetime, working in the States
Heavily inspired by Mondrian when he met him in Paris in the 1930s, Calder produced many bold works in gouache paint, particularly during the period 1953-76 when he lived mostly in France. Some 50 of these abstract pictures are now being shown at the Zervos Museum in Vézelay, many of which come from private collections.
The virtual orchestra
With the Besançon Music Festival underway, Italian composer Jacopo Baboni Schilingi has set up an invisible orchestra in the courtyard of the Palais Granvelle. There are eight column bases, each representing a group of instruments. When a person stands on the base that instrument group starts playing. All eight columns must be occupied and at the conductor's rostrum, a ninth person can control the volume of strings or percussion etc.with a gesture of the hand. Cameras, sensors and computers control the action. You can have a go at becoming a music maestro until September 23.
New evidence is emerging, reports Le Figaro, that Bibracte at Mont Beuvray was not so much a town but more a vast city stretching over 200 hectares, now forest. 150 years after the excavations began of the capital of Gaul, a huge terrace has been discovered which is believed to be linked to the fortifications. As archaeological techniques improve with technology, the discoveries are set to continue well into the future. The article in French.
Musiques en Voutes
With families living in far flung places, a once in a while get-together in a fabulous place has a lot of appeal. 'Why Do Ordinary?' asks Oliver's Travels, a top end travel company started ten years ago by two Francophiles, Ravi and Oliver. They have hand selected châteaux in Burgundy, and villas in other desirable destinations and offer top customer service to ensure that you go to the place that's right for you and your friends and family. Sleeping anything from 32 people downwards, plus a few smaller properties, plan your house party or wedding party using their free concierge service for advice on the location or to organise catering etc. Above left, the 18thC château sleeps 14, with nine bedrooms and six bathrooms, near Saulieu. Above right, also sleeping 14 with seven bed and bath, near Chalon-sur-Saône. See the listing
Hotels for Foodies
The UK Times newspaper has come up with its recommendation for the top 20 foodie hotels in France. High on the list at numbers four and five are two of Burgundy's best - L'Abbaye de la Bussière in the Ouche valley and Le Montrachet in the little wine village of Puligny Montrachet. More
a stately pile
Driving around Burgundy suddenly as you turn round a bend, you will come across a majestic château. These buildings have drawn visitors over the centuries and are undoubtedly one of the great charms of the region. Some of these vast structures have been turned into hotels, others are owned by wine domains, and then there are the stately homes, some still in private hands, and others owned by the state. Of these, we feature some of the grandest and most interesting on the historic places pages but there are more than 50 on the official list from the association which oversees them, see their website Les Châteaux de Bourgogne et de Franche-Comté.
Capture the true spirit of Burgundy by joining in on the grape harvest. Mâcon alone is looking for 2,000 helpers for the beginning of September.
The Percee du Vin Jaune is one of THE events in the calendar and next February for the first time registration is required as the places will be limited to 25,000 instead of the normal 40,000. Registration is now open.
If you would like to know more about the Jura wines, The Wine Scholar Guild is running a study trip lead by expert Wink Lorch from October 15-19, limited to just 15 guests. More information
A staggering 920 million euros was raised from speeding fines last year in France reports Connexion magazine. On this, another busy weekend on the roads, beware of the prying eyes, the radar devices.
pommard rebrands itself
The sweet smell of success
fly the flag
The task of the heraldic graphic designers was not too problematic when it came to amalgamating the Bourgogne flag (left) with that of Franche-Comté (centre) following the joining together of the two regions last year. The harmonious new look (right) was unfurled last week.
The Maison des Climats
Calling all film location scouts
Strap this mirror to your wrist as you cycle, and increase your safety on the road. This natty idea comes from revelationstore in the States and sells for just under 18 euros plus reasonably priced postage to Europe.
The USA film crew from the very popular programme Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking on PBS channel arrived for filming at Château d'Ancy le Franc on Monday as part of their culinary road trip in Italy and France. Two of the region's top English speaking chefs, Jean-Michel Lorain from the Côte St. Jacques in Joigny and Nicolas Isnard from L'Auberge de la Charme at Prenois cooked lunch for fifteen invited guests featuring some of Burgundy's favourites, escargots, Bresse chicken, and Kir. With the sumptuous setting of the Château both inside and out, the programme presented by Australian Pete Evans will be transmitted and viewed by over two million people in the autumn.
Who lays claim to King Arthur, the British or the French? As Nick Inman points out in this month's Connexion newspaper, towards the end of the 12thC, the story, which had until that time been a British narrative, was taken up by the French, particularly Chretien de Troyes, a court retainer. Several episodes of the Arthurian saga supposedly take place in the Bois de Broceliande. This mythical forest is now generally accepted to be the Fôret de Paimpont, in Brittany, Nearby there is an Arthurian Centre housed in the Château de Comper near Concort.However, our readers will know that a very convincing argument stating that King Arthur was in Burgundy has been put forward by Marilyn Floyde in her book, now in its second edition, King Arthur’s French Odyssey: Avallon in Burgundy.
The Cousin valley below the ramparts in Avallon is undeniably one of the top beauty spots in Burgundy. Back in the 18thC the valley was industrial and home to working mills, one of which processed flour, the Moulin des Ruats. The exterior of the building appears to have changed little and the working water wheel still turns but inside a transformation took place.
In 1917 a certain Mr. Pierre from Paris acquired the Moulin with pieces of gold and turned it into an hotel with 14 rooms. This was a brave move indeed - don't forget at the turn of the century there were only 3000 cars in France and the Michelin Red Guide was a free pamphlet in its infancy.
The five 'C's
In the 1930s the Berthier family really brought the place to life and its reputation for warm hospitality over two generations spread apace. Today recommendation guides are commonplace but back in 1954 the 'Route de Bonheur' was a new marketing idea. This 'route of happiness' between Paris and Nice was created by Nelly and Marcel Tilloy and it consisted of eight hotels of which the Moulin des Ruats was one. The principles of the Route de Bonheur were made up of five "Cs" - Character, Courtesy, Calm, Charm, and Cuisine. The eventual fusion of the groups Relais de Campagne, Relais Gourmands and Châteaux-Hôtels became in 1975 the prestigious hotel chain Relais & Châteaux, which today still abides by the tenets of the five "Cs".
That same year, the Châteaux & Hôtels Indépendants chain was formed, which in 1998 would be acquired by Alain Ducasse to create Châteaux Hôtels Collection, of which the Moulin des Ruats is still a member.
In 1995, Jocelyne and Jean-Pierre Rossi took over the reins at the Moulin, which today counts 25 charming bedrooms and a panoramic, gastronomic restaurant. A warm and authentic welcome still awaits travellers who come to relax and recharge their batteries in an idyllic, natural setting, which remains forever engraved in the memory.
Chill out with the locals. At Les Halles in Dijon, the market building, head for Sunday brunch. It proved so popular last year that it is being repeated from May to September with top notch food by local chefs and music from 11.00-15.00 for all to enjoy.
1. Hôtel-Dieu Beaune (425,530)
After several seasons of severe hail storms in Burgundy which destroyed some of the grapes at a crucial time in their development and resulted in low yields at harvest time, a 'hailstorm shield' is in the process of being installed across the whole region. The Telegraph reports that it consists of '125 ground generators that cause tiny particles of silver iodide to rise to the clouds above where they stop the formation of the hail stones and thus reduce the risk of damage.' The hi-tech process is called 'cloud seeding'. More....
The latest edition of Le Guide Vert at present is only in French with the English version, the Michelin Green Guide, following on this October. New in 2017, the Musée des Beaux Arts in Dijon has been awarded three star status, joining the basilica in Vézelay, the Hôtel-Dieu in Beaune, the Abbaye de Fontenay, the Abbaye de Cluny and the Puits de Moïse as must see places.
The Puits de moise
So what makes the Puits de Moïse so special? Translated the Well of Moses, this is a sculpture by the celebrated Claus Sluter, carved between 1395 and 1403 for the Carthusian monastery Chartreuse de Champmol in Dijon. Philip the Bold planned this monastery as the burial place for his dynasty but as it turns out, his tomb now lies in the Musée des Beaux Arts.
With Easter in the coming week, the Puits de Moïse takes on special significance. This highly acclaimed example of late medieval sculpture shows a crucifixion scene, a cross on a hexagonal base which was surrounded by the six prophets who had foreseen the death of Christ on the Cross (Moses, David, Jeremiah, Zachariah, Daniel and Isaiah) and standing between these prophets are six weeping angels. Only fragments of the Crucifixion survive, including the head and torso of Christ which are now housed in the Musée Archéologique in Dijon. The hexagonal base with its sculptures remains in a special building, along with the chapel in the grounds of the Hospital de la Chartreuse, now a mental institution.
The Puits de Moïse is open all year, Oct to Mar from 9.30 - 12.30 and 14.00 -16.30 and April to Sept from 9.30 - 12.30 and 14.00 - 18.00. To arrange a visit, contact the Dijon Tourist Office on site, tel: 0892700558.
Enter the dream world of Olivier Penhouet at the summer exhibition in Château d'Ancy-le-Franc. Penhouet uses a technique called peintures tissees working from pictures on his computer taken from his digital camera to get a series of black and white sketches which he then colours in by hand. With the sketches he builds a new picture, five layers at a time, to create his fantasy world. The exhibition runs from March 25 to October 15, entry f.o.c. See website for opening times.
In an attempt to control pollution in the large cities of France from March 31 foreign registered cars need to show a Crit'Air sticker when travelling through Paris, Lyon or Grenoble. (This has applied to French registered cars since January 2017) If you stay on the ring roads, this does not apply but don't let your GPS take you through the centre of these towns without getting the sticker.
Musee du Vin revitalized
After extensive renovation, the Musée du Vin in Beaune reopened on March 15. In this beautiful building dating back to the glory days of the Dukes of Burgundy, you can gain an overview of the region's most precious commodity, wine. Open from March to May and October to November from 10.00-13.00 and 14.00 to 17.00, closed Monday and Tuesday. From June to September it is open one hour later in the afternoon and only closed on Tuesdays.
Set in stone
This, his latest commission stands in Victoria Embankment Gardens and commemorates both duty and service - the bronze medallion shows the military on one side and civilians on the other. The medallion is set between two stone monoliths.
The St. Véran appellation in the south of the Mâconnais was created in 1971. Comprising of the villages of Davayé, Prissé and Solutré-Pouilly in the north and Chânes, Chasselas, Leynes, St-Amour and St-Vérand in the south, this is the land of the Chardonnay grape. In 2018, the appellation will host the St. Vincent Festival, centred around Prissé when 40,000 visitors will be expected. Preparation has begun already with their new website, at present in French only.
Low cost bus travel
Centre: On the eastern edge of the Morvan Natural Park, close to Avallon, the Moulin des Ruats hotel and restaurant lies in the beautiful Cousin Valley, a walker's treat.
Here's our pick of where to stay in Burgundy this year. Depending whether you want an action break or a relaxing getaway, there's something for everyone in all price brackets.
Above left: Château de la Resle - bursting with contemporary design ideas, chill out at this boutique bed and breakfast in northern Burgundy and visit Chablis and Vézelay.
A much improved brochure published by the BIVB, the Burgundy wine board, is now available for 2017 listing the wineries, wine areas, wine events and general tourist information associated with it. The area wine maps are particularly good. En route vers les Bourgogne is in French and English and can be found online and at tourist offices.
Cooking up a treat
Impress your friends by cooking a truly Burgundian meal. Next week, the Burgundy on a Plate cooking classes resume in English with a French chef. You will cook a three course meal of modern French cuisine with a Burgundian twist and, after you have eaten the spoils of your labour, Sue Boxell will take you to visit the famous vineyards with a cellar visit and tasting included.
New for this year, pâtisserie and bread making classes with the experts. For full details, firstname.lastname@example.org
value, quality and style
The BIB Gourmand recommendations came out on January 13, ahead of the main, always much awaited, announcement of the starred chefs on February 9. The BIB Gourmand is the Michelin Guide selection of value for money establishments where you can get a menu with starter, main course and dessert for a maximum of 32 euros a head. In Burgundy five new restaurants have been added to the list: Le Chastellux near Avallon; Le Relais de Saulx, Beaune (below right); Le Bistrot des Moines at the Abbaye de la Bussière (below left); L'Auberge des Tilleuls, Messigny-et-Vantoux; Le Soufflot, Irancy.
'Once we left Auxerre' says Katharine Norbury, 'the lock-keepers and fellow barge dwellers were the only people we saw for hours at a time, although we enjoyed the companionship of grebes, mallards, herons, swans, Canada geese, butterflies and dragonflies.' Writing in the February edition of the Lonely Planet Traveller magazine, Katharine cruised down the Canal du Nivernais on the luxury barge, the Randle, run by Edge Charter. 'Days and nights on the canal expanded, slowed down. We swam in the river below the hilltop town of Mailly-le-Château. We traced the constellations. ..I saw school children waiting for a bus, attended by a family of geese.'
For anyone thinking of a trip on the Burgundy canals this summer, this is a charming snapshot of what you can expect. The article includes tips on where to eat along the route from Auxerre to Clamecy and where to visit too. The February edition of the magazine is onsale at newsagents. Also see Barge Hotels
wallow in chocolate
It is fair to say that Bernard Dufoux has devoted his life to chocolate. He will be 80 this year but still he is expanding his business (his sixth shop opened last September in Dijon), and continues to pass on his enthusiasm for this passion from his headquarters in La Clayette. One afternoon at the beginning of each month, he or one of his team give a masterclass for four hours in the afternoon. Be prepared to wallow in the silky chocolate to make the mouth watering delights such as orangettes, griottes and ganaches. The class, Atelier Gourmand, is in French, unfortunately probably not, they say,
advisable for non-French speakers, and runs from 14.00-18.00 in La Clayette, price 80 euros. Wednesday February 1 is the first class of the year. More...
Here's a new website for visitors to Burgundy or Beaujolais who would like to visit a cellar for a tasting along the famous wine routes in the region but are not looking for a full blown guided tour. In Burgundy the wine grower may be a one man band or a family affair and as Jancis Robinson points out in her article on visiting Burgundy's wineries, it is not easy to find them in their cellars to pay them a visit, often they are out in the vineyard tending their plants. In Beaune and Chablis the tourist is well provided for with tastings on offer but drive out to Gevrey-Chambertin or Aloxe-Corton and where do you start? Now help is at hand. Rue des Vignerons is a website which tells you of the user-friendly winegrowers offering tastings and cellar visits. There is no fee for their services, book online, preferably ahead of time but a minimum of 30 minutes before you want to go. Some of the tastings are free of charge, and the website gives full details of tours on offer and the prices plus a map and directions. The domaines' wines are often available at a reduced rate too. This certainly simplifies life and assures you of a warm welcome. Above, Domaine Famille Picard, Chassagne-Montrachet.
Burgundy Today Cryptic Crossword Solutions
1. Nevers, 4. Tenant, 9. Noël, 10. Prodigious, 11. Bateau, 12&23 down Burgundy Today, 13. Kilometer, 15. Père, 16. Acts, 17. Reveillon, 21. Exported, 22. Petite, 24. A Rare Error, 25. Dope, 26. Events, 27. Troyes
1. Neo Nazi, 2. Valse, 3. Rupture, 5. Emigré, 6 .Adieu Nell, 7. Trundle, 8. Double headers, 14. Outsource, 16. Auxerre, 18. Emperor, 19. Octopus, 20. Street. 23. See 12 across