France Fall 2012 – Week4 Recap (he said)6 Oct 2012
The 5:45am alarm Sunday morning was quite the jolt after Charline’s fun birthday party with Marianne and Jean-Pierre’s family Saturday evening. We struggled out of bed, then met JP and his son Paul downstairs for the drive to Vosne-Romanée to join the big grape harvest, described in detail in our previous post.
After the harvest we pointed our rental Peugeot 208 (turbo diesel! integrated navigation system!) south towards Mâcon, about a two hour drive, to visit Lynn and Ron of Southern Fried French. They have lived in France for the past 9 years or so, and have carved out a fabulous ex-pat existence in the rolling hills outside Cluny. As soon as we arrived we all headed to a neighbor’s house for a grand evening meal on their terrace (Sunday Enjoying!). There were eight of us total, and we all relaxed over an amazing 5-course dinner until well into the night. There was a Dutch contingent, an American contingent, and our host, the only Frenchman for the evening. An absolutely perfect end to the perfect off-boat excursion.
Monday morning we lounged with Lynn and Ron, then backtracked to Cluny for a group lunch (delicious pizza) and a visit to the famous Cluny Abbey. The Abbey has a long and very complicated history starting in 910 AD, but the short version is that the Abbey reported only to the Pope (quite unique), and not through the usual church heirarchy. As its influence grew, it attracted much attention and money, so that by the 12th century the Abbey was not only the largest church in Europe, but also the largest building, and remained so for four centuries until the reconstruction of St Peter’s in Rome. Cluny was not known for its severity or asceticism, to say the least, and the opulent lifestyle of the monks ultimately led to its downfall after the French Revolution. In the late 18th century the Abbey was torn down and the stones used to build houses in the village. There are currently only one of the smaller steeples and some walls remaining of the once enormous church.
Late afternoon we drove back to the Loire Canal where Après Ski patiently awaited our return. Tuesday morning we did a short tour (by car) a half hour downstream along the Loire River to the town of Sully-sur-Loire, site of a fortress/château in excellent shape, considering it’s over 600 years old. The castle controlled a strategic crossing point of the Loire River, and was owned by the founding family right up until the mid 20th century, when the final heir died and the estate passed to the local government. Today the building and grounds are a very nice park and historic monument in the Loiret departement of France.
That afternoon Heather moved the boat up the Loire Canal to Sury-près-Léré, while I drove the car. Having a car is nice for the excursions it allows, but is also a bit of a hassle to bring along as we move the boat. We arrived in Sury and immediately made reservations at Chez Fred, the only restaurant in town. The place is completely unassuming from the outside, but upon entering and walking past the bar, one needs to prepare for a truly delicious experience. We were a little afraid that our meal here last year was maybe part of a dream, but they did not disappoint this year, and we enjoyed a fantastic multi-course meal for less than 25 euros each, including Apéritif (pre-dinner drink) and wine.
Wednesday I returned the car in Gien, then took the train to Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire. From there I hopped on the bike (pre-positioned there earlier that morning) and rode across the river to Les Fouchards to meet Heather on the boat. We only had a few hours to relax before our friend from Colorado arrived on the train for a short visit. Fortunately all the connections from Vail/Beaver Creek worked out and Susan jumped off the train exactly when and where we expected. Our grand plans of a second dinner at Chez Fred were foiled, though – remember that much of France is usually closed – so we gave her a brief tour of the boat and then we were off on her first canal boat ride, as we needed to get to Sancerre for the evening.
As usual we parked in Ménétréol-sous-Sancerre, and because the port was packed tighter than Dutch boats at a free mooring (canal-boater inside joke), we tied up to Bruce and Yerda on Rival, whom we had met back in Montargis. They were very gracious, even letting us plug in to a socket on their boat for electricity.
Sancerre is an interesting story in cooperative marketing. Back in the 19th century, the wine growers in Sancerre started making some very good wine, but they did not have the name recognition of Bordeaux or Bourgogne. A few growers decided to load up a truck and take it to the Paris Expo (I forgot which year) to give away samples of their wine. Word got out, and they began to make a name for themselves.
They then commissioned posters showing the beautiful hilltop town with vine-covered slopes, and Sancerre became a regional tourist attraction with the advent of passenger train service, being only a few hours from Paris by train. The town got another boost after World War II, when the “bistro” scene in Paris validated Sancerre wine as an easy-drinking, “food friendly” white wine. To this day tourists flock to Sancerre to walk the streets, admire the vineyards, and taste the wine – kind of like us!
Thursday morning we took Susan on a walk up through the vineyards for a stroll through town, and then she treated us to a lunch at La Tour, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the center of town. Wow. The meal defied description, each of the three main courses and two “extra” courses were completely unique and delicious. The wine, from the local “Mount of the Damned” domain, was also wonderful. As was the service and the Champagne. It was a most fantastic start to Susan’s visit.
That afternoon we continued our wanderings, and I spent more than a few minutes taking pictures. Readers may recall that it was in Sancerre last year that my former camera began to call it quits, so I had extra work to do now that I had a new (and my first) digital SLR. Back in Ménétréol-sous-Sancerre for happy hour we lounged on deck and chatted with the folks on Rival.
Friday morning I was up early to stake out a spot on the abandoned train bridge for yet more picture-taking. The lighting didn’t cooperate too well, but it was a beautiful morning nonetheless. We again walked up the slope to town, this time to check out the Maison Sancerre, a very interesting museum dedicated to the vine growing and winemaking in and around Sancerre. For instance, did you know that the south-facing Sancerres slopes allow the cold night air to flow down into the Loire basin (thus reducing the threat of frost damage), and the vines generally run north-south to allow each row’s foliage to shade its neighbor’s grapes during the morning and afternoon sun? I sure didn’t. Who knew winemaking was so complicated?
That afternoon we continued south to Charité-sur-Loire, a very old village perched on the edge of the Loire river. Saturday morning Susan got a taste of her first French street market (which made Susan and Heather want to simultaneously eat everything at the market and cook at least 1,000 different dishes), and we wandered the medieval streets until lunchtime. Then it was back to the boat to continue the journey southward, as we needed to reach Nevers by Sunday so Susan could catch her train back to Paris Monday morning. We camped out just above the double lock at Guétin and we all enjoyed a delicious home-cooked meal to go with some of our recently purchased Sancerre white.
Sunday starts the last week of boating this year, and we have no idea where the time went, although with these weekly recaps I could actually go back and read about where the time went! This has so far been one fantastic experience in France, even better than last year.
Fall 2012 Week 4 Numbers:
- Kilometers: 82
- Locks: 18
- Engine Hours: 15
- Cost of Moorings: 6.00 euros
Fall 2012 Total Numbers:
- Kilometers: 283
- Locks: 87
- Engine Hours: 57
- Cost of Moorings: 63.00 euros