Sunday, 26 November 2017

Mediaeval Day Out

Robinette Hood - look at that leatherwork
When Cees suggested that we could go to a mediaeval event with a Christmas market, I wasn’t too impressed with the idea. We have been to so many of these things and they are always, without exception, a let down. Besides Les Oiseaux Rares (the local artists group) were exhibiting in Cormatin, so why would we go to some unknown quantity?

Then he said that it would be held in the chateau of Varennes (near Mâcon) and I jumped at the chance even though there was an entry fee.

So why the change of mind?

Little robin there to welcome us
This particular castle is never open to the public and we have gazed at it over the walls of the neighbouring churchyard, wishing we could get in. We have tried to take photos of it by jumping up and down and when you are my height, that doesn’t get you very good pictures. So even with 3 Euros to get into a market we didn’t want to see, it got us into the castle, so mediaeval event here we come!

These events attract a big public and so we decided to go first thing this morning. We arrived as it was opening at 10.00 and even at that time, it was a bit tricky to park.

Fearsome looking drawbridge
I was very surprised at the mediaeval bit of the event, the costumes were exceptional, they hadn’t been taken from children’s dressing up boxes like the usual offerings and I was very impressed with the leatherwork of the young lady who was a female Robin Hood. The blacksmith was doing a tremendous job with a huge pair of bellows stoking up his charcoal fire and we spent some time watching him and the archers who very skilfully hit the target every time.

Entry into the Christmas market
The Christmas market was also well worth the visit, the exhibiters were of a very high quality. There was some beautiful calligraphy, leatherwork, horseshoe decorations, jewellery and wooden carvings just to name a few. At the far end of the market there was also a guy selling some very interesting “mediaeval” snacks, but as we had just had breakfast I skipped the delicious looking potato and cheese fritters - did they have potatoes in those days?

The castle was not at all what I had expected in two ways, firstly the part you can see from the churchyard is not as old as we thought and not that photogenic, but secondly, the other side of the castle was rather “mediaeval” looking (although I am tempted to say it wasn’t), it had a drawbridge that led into a little courtyard and it was truly charming.

All in all a great morning out, I would not hesitate to go again even if it is for the market this time!

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Wine tastings galore

Decorations leading the way to the tasting
It is that time of year again when all the local winegrowers start to show off their latest wines, just in time for you to stock up for Christmas. This weekend it was the turn of Christophe Perrin who has his wine cellar literally just down the road from us. It is always a must to go there, he has some excellent food producers giving tastings and selling their wares and he and his staff are just so friendly and knowledgeable about the wines they have on offer.

This year it was the chance to taste the 2016 vintage, which has turned out to be a very good year. We tasted his rosé, 3 reds and four whites, good job he is just down the road!

They range from €6.50 for the rosé up to €10.00 for the top end red and white. The two cheaper reds are made from Gamay grapes which is very much frowned upon by Burgundy aficionados, hence the lack of information on the label as to which grapes are used. We only heard massive compliments on the wine and it was amusing to see the look on some people’s faces when they told what variety of grape had been used. Bravo to Christophe for having the guts to try it.

The four whites are all made from Chardonnay grapes, but two have been “matured” in standard tanks and two have been matured in oak casks. In my mind there is no comparison, the ones that had been in oak casks had so much more flavour and had had all the sharp tastes rounded off.

White wine tatsers
As Cees doesn’t really appreciate white wine, I decided it was a bit too extravagant to buy a case just for myself so we settled for a couple of cases of the Chapaize red made from the Gamay and will certainly enjoy sharing it with friends and getting their opinion on the grapes.

We were very generously give a bottle of rosé as a gift and, after cooling it off in the fridge, it went down nicely with the cheese we bought from the La Truffière stand.

Just an after thought, for those interested in the white wine, the Chapaize will no longer be on sale after today because it has proved so popular, he is now down to minimum stock. So happily business is booming for our local producers.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Changes in our eating habits

Café du Centre
a traditional French café
As you all know we are creatures of habit and we eat out regularly in Cluny. One of favourites is Café du Centre and we were dismayed when we learned from a slip of paper on the door, that it was closing down. We asked what was going on, only to be told that due to a lack of agreement on the purchase price, the new owner (who had been in there for just over 4 years by the way) was obliged to sell the café back to the previous owner for the price he had paid. How the heck that works is beyond me, but it meant that one of our Saturday lunch venues was changing. Not good for the likes of us stick-in-the-muds.

Sure enough on the allotted day, the café shut down, we said our farewells to the staff all of whom had resigned and would not be working for the new owner even though most of them had worked for him before. So, due to a lack of staff, the café stayed stubbornly closed for several weeks. Finally at the beginning of June it re-opened.

We went along even though our loyalty to the previous owner made me feel rather guilty. The restaurant had a rather restricted menu on a scrappy paper booklet. The service was chaotic, but as all the staff were new and obviously many of them had never worked in a bar or restaurant before, so we forgave them and we assumed it was just teething troubles. I must say that the steak was excellent, so that made up for everything.

La Nation, huge terrace in the main street
(screen dump from Google Street View)
We have been going back periodically since the reopening and the chaotic staff and restricted menu are still the order of the day. The place is clearly less well liked than before and so you do not really need to book a table for market day, which was an absolute must under the old regime. Whether the restaurant will ever get back into its old swing, I do not know, but I hope so for both the owner’s sake and for ours.

While Café du Centre restaurant was closed we decided (very reluctantly on my part) to try La Nation again. There was something about the atmosphere of that place, that we really didn’t like, but things can change can’t they?

I have to admit it, we were very impressed. The service is slick and the food is excellent.

The vineyards of one of the best white wines in this area
(photo from
I have only one complaint and that is their rather pushy way of trying to get you to buy more than you want. For example, when I asked for a glass of white Mâcon, the response was “Viré-Clessé? It’s a very nice wine.” I know that Viré-Clessé is a very nice wine and that it is from the Mâconnais but you wouldn’t call it a Mâcon white for goodness sake. I am not a wine expert, but I sure know that Viré-Clessé ain’t cheap, so I said no very quickly and then I had to fumble with the menu to find the Mâcon I wanted which for future reference is Azé, but also I noted that the Viré-Clessé was quite rightly not classified as a Mâcon white and was nearly 5 Euros a glass. The other trick they pull is when you order coffee “do you want coffee gourmand?” is the response. Well if you don’t know what that is, it is a cup of coffee with some delicious small desserts surrounding it, very nice I have to admit if you want it, but if you just want a cup of coffee, as some tourists we saw obviously did, the extra on the bill could be a bit unwelcome.

All that said, La Nation is rightly packed for lunch every day and it is almost impossible to get a table on market day. Members of the staff are getting to know us now with the accompanying handshake and “how are you?” when you arrive and “see you soon” when you leave. So they have well and truly won us over.

We now have a serious problem every time we eat out in Cluny, where should we go? There are just so many good options these days.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Journey by train

The 241P17 at full steam
taken from a bridge last year
To celebrate 50 years of friendship between Cees and one of his oldest friends who lives in Amsterdam, they decided to go on a train journey – graciously his wife and I were allowed to go along too. That may not sound too exciting, but Cees’ friend is a train fiend and this was no ordinary train. We were taking one of the fastest steam trains ever built, the 241P17, from Le Creusot to Mulhouse in the Alsace.

I love steam trains. I have mentioned before that I used to live in one of the cottages at Horsted Keynes Station in Sussex, the home to the Bluebell steam train line. Every weekend during the whole year and most days during the summer, steam trains passed by my front garden, their sound and smell, bring back many happy memories. I have taken the train from Horsted Keynes to Sheffield Park a number of times, it was always enjoyable but as it goes at a rather leisurely pace it is not a truly exciting experience, so to be honest, I wasn’t so sure what it would be like to travel in this particular train for the best part of a day up to Mulhouse and the best part of the next day to get back.

The fire brigade came to refill the water tanks
It was fantastic!

The train got up to a very respectable 125 km per hour, only restricted by the carriages it was towing as they were not allowed to go any faster. The sound and the rhythm, the smell and the smoke and all the happy smiling faces of the waving spectators along the track and at the stations was an experience well worth every penny of the cost.

Don't often get the opportunity to travel 1st class
We decide to splash out and travel first class, that put us in a comfortable coupé for 6 people which we shared with a Hungarian/French couple who lived near Lyon. We had our lunches delivered to the carriage, which were simple but very tasty and in the evening we dined at the Railway Museum in Mulhouse amongst the trains. The following morning we had a visit to the museum and then back on to the train.

Cees enjoying the view
I can safely say that I enjoyed every single minute of the weekend - well maybe not the getting up at 6 am to drive to the station, but every other minute. I must admit it was a bit expensive, but for such a special occasion it was well worth it, the organisation was superb and if you look at what you got for your money, it was certainly not overpriced.

We will be looking at the trips for next year - who knows maybe will be on that particular train again.
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