Toodle-loo to the Loue

Wednesday 19th October 2005, Champagne-sur-Loue
The weather is beginning to break-up. That’s to say this morning we woke to rain. However, by the time we returned from our final visit to Salins and the internet shop the sun had chased it away though the sky looked a lot more interesting with a few threatening clouds instead of the perpetual blue. This afternoon we followed the “Route des Vins” through the little villages around Arbois, through unending hectares of orange and red vines with village after village offering free wine tastings. We have never felt comfortable about these. They look exciting. Those we have tried in the past have been an interesting experience, but as we would be unlikely to buy more than the odd bottle, we lacked the courage to knock at a door and ask for a free tasting! Our palettes are not sufficiently discriminating to know a grand cru from a vin de table, and those costing a euro or two in the local supermarket seem pretty good to us. However, it was good to soak up the atmosphere and the people we passed were disposed to be friendly as they busied themselves with stacking bottles, packing boxes and cleaning their harvesting machinery. The villages were very pretty with flowers still blooming in every corner and in front of every house. At Montigny-lès-Arsures, at the heart of the Trousseau vineyards, the village fountain had a warning that it’s “eau potable” (drinking water) should only be drunk in moderation!

Above Arbois we found the pretty village of Pupillin where the wines are considered amongst the best in the region. The local motto is “Du vin d’Arbois, Plus on en boit, plus on va droit”. (The more you drink, the straighter you go.) A theory the local gendarmes do not happily tolerate.

A sense of humour among the winegrowers

Typical winegrower’s houses in Montigny-lès-Arsures

The late afternoon was glorious. Travelling the little back lanes we stopped for tea by the deserted roadside with wide views over the surrounding vines and the plain of Bresse stretching to the horizon. It was only our concern to reach home before dark that finally dragged us away from this warm golden afternoon in the empty autumn countryside.

Thursday 20th October 2005, Champagne-sur-Loue
This has been our last opportunity to investigate the surroundings of Champagne before we pack our whole world up into Modestine and move on. So this morning we decided we would visit Dijon, the capital of the province of Burgundy and drove off through the mist which hovered just above the meadows by the Loue. Dijon lies about fifty five miles to the west of here and until now we have so much to fill our time in the local countryside we have delayed visiting such a major town.

We also needed to stop at a camping car specialist on the way for a minor repair job on one of Modestine’s cupboards. Susanne’s nephew works there and after his initial amusement at how small Modestine looked compared to the dozens of huge vehicles around her, he efficiently carried out the repair and we continued on our way.

Leaving Modestine in a side road just outside the city centre, we walked in and spent the entire day discovering what Dijon has to offer. And it has a great deal! On the gastronomic front it is famed for its mustard and for the blackcurrant liqueur known as cassis - which can be mixed with chilled white wine to produce the aperitif known as Kir. It also produces honey gingerbread which looked really good.

We followed a town trail designed to take in the most important of the many beautiful buildings. We discovered whole streets of timber-framed houses that have changed little since the fifteenth century. Perhaps the most remarkable of these is the Rue Verrerie.

Rue Verrerie

There are many beautiful hôtels or town houses from medieval and Renaissance times. Some of the best of these are in the Rue des Forges. The Hôtel Aubriot dates back as far as the 13th century and once housed the monetary reserves of the Dukes of Burgundy. Next door the Maison Maillard, built in 1560 has heavy Renaissance decoration. The courtyard behind has a series of giant stone figures supporting one of the walls

Hôtel Aubriot and Maison Maillard

The giants in the courtyard

A few doors along the Hôtel Chambellan is perhaps the gem of them all. Built in 1490, it is in flamboyant Gothic style, in a mixture of wood and stone. The carved stone figure of a gardener, the vaulting sprouting like a sheaf of corn from the basket that he carries on his back, tops the pillar of the spiral staircase.

Hôtel Chambellan

Hôtel Chambellan, the top of the staircase

A perfect Renaissance contrast is provided by the Hôtel de Vogüé in the Rue de la Chouette, a gem of restrained classical decoration in warm coloured stone.

Hôtel de Vogüé

Of course Dijon has its share of impressive churches and monastic foundations, some of them converted to other uses such as St Etienne in the theatre square, which now houses the Chamber of Commerce. Similarly the extensive covered market was erected on the site of the cloisters of the Jacobins.

The covered market

We watched a man at the top of an extending ladder examining the façade of the Eglise St. Michel – so many historic buildings require constant attention. The most remarkable of the churches is the 13th century Notre-Dame with its arcaded west front, each column supported by a grotesque gargoyle. They are in fact mostly 19th century replacements. It is said that the originals were removed when one of them fell and crushed a usurer who was getting married there in medieval times. Another wedding was taking place as we arrived. Guests seemed to be mainly American and one was even wearing a kilt! We hoped the bridegroom was not a Scottish usurer and to be on the safe side, we kept well clear of the gargoyles!

Façade of Notre-Dame

Close-up of the gargoyles

On the edge of town there is a pleasant garden, the Jardin Darcy with fountains created on the site of a reservoir in 1880.

Jardin Darcy

Facing it is the Hotel de la Cloche, which had been host over the years to such names as Grace Kelly, Maurice Chevalier, the sculptor Rodin, Napoleon III and the composer Saint-Saëns. Both the garden and hotel face onto a square where an eighteenth century triumphal arch, (2027) the Porte Guillaume leads into the Rue de la Liberté, Dijon’s main shopping thoroughfare, lined with flags.

Porte Guillaume

The heart of the town however is formed by the Ducal Palace and the Palais des Etats. The Tour de Bar dating from 1365 is one of the oldest sections and the tallest is the tower of Philippe le Bon, 46 metres high and erected in the mid-15th century.

Tour de Bar

Philippe le Bon and his tower

In the 14th and 15th centuries Burgundy was in effect an independent kingdom, until it was annexed to France on the death of Charles the Bold in 1477. With dukes bearing names such as Philip the Bold and John the Fearless it was indeed a proud city and the is reflected by the palace complex, which now houses a museum which had FREE ENTRY and has got to be the best bargain in Burgundy! There is a wonderful collection of paintings, and sculptures and other works of art, concentrating on French artists but also many Flemish works, reflecting the Burgundian territories in the Low Countries. Many had been placed there after the Revolution, but there were 19th century works of art including several works in stone and Bronze by Dijon’s own François Rude responsible for the bas relief sculpted on Paris’s Arc de Triumph. He is commemorated in the Place Francois Rude. But the highlight of the collections is the impressive tombs of the Dukes of Burgundy (2045) moved to the guard room of the palace from the Chartreuse de Champmol.

The Salle de Garde

Of the two, the better is the tomb of Philip the Bold sculpted 1385-1411 by Claus Sluter and his associates with many delicate figures of hooded mourners below the effigy of the Duke.

The sculptures of the mourners

The palace was rebuilt in the 17th century and a particularly impressive view of the Palais des Etats is afforded from across the Place de la Liberation, designed by Mansart in 1685.

Palais des Etats

We left Dijon exhausted after a very full and enjoyable day. By the time we reached home darkness had long since fallen.

(Note from Jill - I took a break this evening and much of the above has been written by Ian – as if you couldn’t tell!)

Friday 21st October 2005, Champagne-sur-Loue
The day had been mainly spent packing, cleaning and preparing to move on. It has been hot and sunny enabling us to enjoy lunch in the garden watching the lizards for the last time as they basked on the warm stone wall. We noted that Susanne had just prepared the old stone trough near the front gate for some winter plants, so during the afternoon we drove to Salins to buy a selection of pretty pansies as a leaving gift. In French, “pansies” are “pensées” meaning “thoughts”. Pansies to remember the English. We hoped it would be a good surprise for them.

Mission accomplished we briefly explored a tiny steep route up the side of the reculée at the far end of the town leading up to a little village on the plateau above. On the way down again we were delighted to discover a wonderful view directly through the steep gorge with the forts on either side, and the Plaine de Bresse stretching to the horizon between.

In the evening we were invited upstairs for an apéro of the usual ratafia plus kir, with Dijon blackcurrant liqueur – made from the buds of the flowers, not from the berries. We said our farewells with very mixed feelings. We have great regrets to be leaving. The six weeks we have spent here have been wonderful and the warmth of friendship immeasurable. However, there is also the excitement common to addictive travellers at the prospect of moving on and making new discoveries