I am sitting in a house in a small hamlet named Le Grande Tranchee, in tiny commune called Les Alleuds in West/South France. The house was built sometime in the 18th century, from stones and bricks of a ruined 11th century Abbey that dominated the countryside. Les Alleuds held a lot of power back then (around the 11th and 12th centuries) due to the Abbey, even though towns and cities around were more populated. All through the commune, the hamlets (of which there are about 6) are built of the stones from this ruined Abbey. If one looks closely at the walls, every now and then a crest or a coat of arms that is almost 1000 years old can be seen. The current church (last modernised in 1922) sits on the site where the Abbey had been originally and recently, they found the crypt of a 13th century knight buried deep under the church.
The sun is shining, warm enough to make you sleepy after a lunch of fresh mussels from La Rochelle, a fortified port city on the Atlantic Coast, about an hour away. Served hot on the table in a broth of white wine & garlic with a fresh baguette to mop the juices. The baguette was delivered this morning from the bread lady who comes 3 times a week from one of the nearby ‘towns.’
But enough of that…We’ve been in France now for 2 weeks and this is truly the first chance I’ve had to sit for an extended period to get a post together. Therefore I must apologise for those of you who have checked here regularly! So, where to start? Well, let’s start at the beginning and go from there….
Ah, Paris….City of Light. Paris is beautiful, there can be no denying that fact. The wide streets that were built by Baron Hausmann so that Napoleon III could march his armies from one side of the city to the other give rise to the archetypical Parisian townhouse rows and the ubiquitous flower boxes overflowing with red geraniums. We stayed close to the Marais district, 5 minutes walk from the Hotel de Ville (town hall) and 10 from Notre Dame. A small 1 bedroom apartment on the 2nd floor but oozing charm and character.
Arriving on a Sunday the area was still filled with people but seemed a little quiet. France, as we’ve learned, essentially shuts down on a Sunday. Very few things are open in Paris but even less out here in the country! A bike tour in the afternoon gave us our bearings and a whistle-stop tour of the big sights of Paris. A late finish; a mad dash back back to our apartment then a very quick and steep learning curve of the metro meant we missed catching up with Amanda and Glen from Ducks In A Row wines. We hoped that this wasn’t a prediction of the entire trip, but it gave us a chance to sit and soak up the fact that we were in France!
Monday’s sunshine brought new life to our area and soon enough every corner bloomed with a cafe, a bistro, a brasserie or a tabac. Each of them serving wine and usually draught beer. The French approach to wine is wonderful, there’s such a respect and it truly is the blood of the nation. Lunch here is reverential. Every retail outlet (except places that serve food) close for up to two hours. If you haven’t obtained your baguette by midday, there’s a mad rush to the nearest boulangerie and a prayer that they’ve not sold out. It takes a little while to get used to this….but soon enough you’ve acclimatised and find yourself enjoying the break in the middle of day. The lightness of a fresh baguette, the pungent aged jambon and the creaminess of the cheese.
Nadine’s birthday dinner lead us to a nearby bistro, Glou, recommended by David Lloyd. A reservation for a birthday gave us one of the best tables: upstairs, by the window overlooking a little park. Wine lists were still a little odd, but as we were next headed to the Loire Valley, I thought we’d best start there. I didn’t know at the time, but I’d managed to pick an appellation that produces classy and elegant Cabernet Franc: Saint Nicholas de Bourgueil. The wine, La Croisee 2011, was fresh and plump but still with velvety tannins showing structure.
Alcohol is relatively inexpensive in France, a decent bottle of AOC wine will only set you back 10 – 15 Euros and for quaffers (Pays D’OC), 5 Euros is about it (anything under 5 though and you’re in plastic ‘cork’ territory. Even French wine in France under plastic isn’t that good.)
4 quick days in Paris is not nearly enough, but we saw most of the big sights and I started learning a little more of the seemingly limitless detail of French wine. Wednesday saw us packed up early and on the metro once again headed across town to pick up our transport for the next 5 weeks, a Citroen C3 Picasso (immediately nicknamed Pablo).
Next stop…Vernou sur Brenne merely 4 kilometres from Vouvray in the Loire Valley….