22-23 August: We get moving in Morvan

Author: Mrs A

Location: Morvan Regional Natural Park, Ousoux-en-Morvan, Bourgogne, France

Thursday: When we saw a green patch on the map not far from us we couldn’t resist heading there to visit to hopefully do some hiking. We succeeded in our mission… In fact over the last two days we have walked more than 32 kilometres (or 20 miles in old measurements)….and our legs are feeling it too! These have not been flat kilometres either – we are staying on top of a hill, which means around half a kilometre of ascent and descent each day too!

Morvan Regional Natural Park (RNP) is a designated rural area with a strong identity derived from a rich natural and cultural heritage. The goal of an RNP is to encourage sustainability in development while preserving the natural and cultural environment. It’s a large area, so we picked a random campsite with good reviews and drove on over. It turned out that the village we picked, Ouroux-en-Morvan, is the official centre of the Eurozone (the 19 countries adopting the Euro as legal tender)…not that we saw much evidence of that.

We arrived around lunchtime, and were not long set up when we headed out for a hike. Given my broken toe, we have avoided hiking for the past month and a half , but the pain has now dulled to feeling just like a bruise… we’re not used to hiking!

Appreciating the change in scenery, looking very dry in late summer
Trees lush with seeds, nuts and fruit
A butterfly enjoys the last of the summer flowers
These legs were made for walking….

The scenery is very rural, rolling hills, fields of cattle, corn and hay, forestry evident everywhere. The walking paths are mostly old farm tracks, been around for so many centuries they are even marked on Google Maps.

Setting off down one of many criss-crossing lanes
Beautiful woodland pathways
A gorgeous fox hunting field mice and lizards in a field, we watched him for about 20 minutes as he got closer and closer to us

We hiked over to the Chapel of Banquets, a small church built in the mid 1800s on the grounds of a Château. It had commanding views over the countryside and was a great spot to rest and have a cup of tea.

The Chapelle de Banquet – so named because of the feasts local villagers used to enjoy on this hill with a view
It looks like there have been pagan visitors recently…
Mr A sitting in the shade pouring us a herbal tea…
Enjoying the view…already feeling the walk after only 6km

The circuit walk then proceeded to follow trails through beautiful woodland, across streams and passing via tiny sleepy villages.

Beech trees filtering the sunlight
Loving the scenery
Guard geese make a welcome change from yapping farm dogs

We concluded our walk at our campground after 15km (9 miles), where we ordered two plates of fish and chips, enjoyed with a bottle of wine purchased at a cave in our nearby village of Ousoux-en-Morvan. Yes…we combined hiking with wine tasting, not something we do every day!

Friday: After that successful walk, we decided to repeat our efforts the following day. This time the circuit took us down to a reservoir and back up – a 17km hike. The day was even warmer, topping out at 31°C, so the final kilometres uphill were pretty exhausting.

Every little village has a well with one of these pumps
Beautiful colours of the countryside
We are eyed with suspicion by the bovine locals everywhere we go
Countryside views
Reservoir Panniciere-Chaumord
An elf
Climbing up and and up on our return hike
Dwarfed by giant pine plantations…
Relishing the shade
We enjoyed a cup of tea here while watching a pair of swamp harriers hunting in the field below

After showers and lots of rehydrating we still managed to go out to dinner in our local village. In the main, Ouroux-en-Morvan looks fairly run down and abandoned, weeds in the gutter and a general feeling of neglect. It was pretty quiet on our visit despite being peak holiday season in Europe, with plenty of room on our campsite for spontaneous visitors. We can imagine it would be fairly bleak during the winter months. That said, our dinner at Le Lion d’Or was delicious, and their excellent reviews well deserved.

Pastis as an aperitif for Mr A
House red for Mrs A

We had four courses for €25 (AU$41/£23) plus a carafe of house red (which was really good). Despite dairy being an issue for me, I was able to eat something from every course (other than the local cheeses – this is cow country), including a marvellous poached pear and home made blueberry sorbet. A fabulous end to our visit in the region.

The village lit up as the sun sets
Heading home
Goodbye Morvan

19-20 August: On retourne en France!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Hirtzbach, Alsace, and Pommard, Côte-d’Or, France

Monday morning was cool, grey and drizzling as we departed from Zurich and continued our journey west…or ‘drizzerable’ as Mr A described it. There was again no sign of the magnificent alpine scenery Switzerland is so famous for.

Before long we were back into France and aiming for a little village in Alsace where we were to roughly plan our next couple weeks as we work our way over to Dieppe to catch a ferry across to the UK. First though, we called in at a supermarket for some shopping. I’m ashamed to say it was the absolute highlight of our day!

This was the best supermarket we have seen this whole trip! Not only did they stock all the Asian food ingredients I had on my list (very rare for France!), but Mr A was delighted by the extensive deli offering fresh quiche, pâté, a wide selection of meats and cheeses. We took our time!

And so on to Hirtzbach. When selecting this location we did so because it is on a rail-trail cycle route, and the village sounded picturesque and pretty, winning prizes for its flowers, historical buildings and fruit growing. Sadly in the wet weather it didn’t look as lovely as it could have done and we didnt get the bikes out.

Our site for the night…in its favour, it was absolutely free of charge

We did have a stroll around the village though.

Many houses had dates carved into the wood, 1570, 1580 and so on…
Definitely a unique look to these homes
Plenty of flowers as expected, and nice bright colours
A village of gardeners it seems
Fruit trees on every corner – ripening apples, limes, lemons, tubs of tomatoes and other herbs and vegetables

Along with many colourful houses dating back to the mid-late 1500s, there was a park in which sat one of the last remaining ice-houses in Alsace.

Used prior to the invention of the refrigerator, ice houses used to store ice for preserving food

We decided some wine tasting might be in order as we make our way through France, and so made our way across to the Burgundy region come Tuesday morning.

Our night in Hirtzbach was not as peaceful as we would have liked, with the village church bells peeling every hour, and every fifteen minute increment – including all through the night. It was a little bit like sleep torture as you drifted off after the quarter-to bells, only to find yourself waking enough to count the chimes on the hour “Oh, only four o’clock…I can still sleep a bit longer…”. Ugh! If we were residents we would definitely be requesting they stop between 10pm and 7am!

We chose to visit the village of Pommard, not far from Beaune, the ‘capital’ of Burgundy wine country. There we had another free night on the private driveway of a vineyard and tasting room in the middle of the village. This is part of the France Passion scheme we belong to.

Truffy’s cosy courtyard surrounded by 16th century farmhouse
(Photo from the following morning, sunshine!) – spot Truffy hiding!

We first joined France Passion when we hired a motorhome and travelled through France three years ago, and were so impressed with the scheme, we decided to do it again this year. Once signed up (about AU$50/£27) there are no further costs. The scheme is made up of a range of farms, vineyards, olive groves, castles, mansions and other businesses with some space for self contained motorhomes and a desire to share their wares or services with visitors. For us, its a great opportunity to get off the beaten track and see some areas we would probably neither find nor hear about on our own.

What we especially liked about this location was that there was space for only two motorhomes, making it very private. We were first to arrive, and not long after we had set up a Dutch couple turned up too, and together we went into the tasting room to sample some wine.

‘Our’ vineyard was run by Patrick Virely-Rougeot with wines produced in the Burgundy tradition on just 9 hectares of vineyard. The quality was excellent though, sharing with us samples of Burgundy (Pinot Noir), Pommard, Pommard premier cru and Meursault. We purchased one bottle of premier cru to take back to the UK and share with friends.

We decided to explore the village, with many tempting signs pointing towards tasting rooms leading to firmly locked and closed doors. We were nearly back at Truffy when I spotted the sign I had been looking for: ‘Cave ouvert – degustation’.

Very ‘rustic’ looking streets, a little scruffy and run down…and yet making it feel more authentic and not too touristy
Why is nobody open?
Burgundy gates contrast with thick ivy…
Beautiful roses

We wandered into the courtyard and spotted some cellar doors opening to a dark stairwell leading under the 17th century house. Out popped the head of the sommelier, who grinned and said he’d be back with some glasses, indicating for us to head down the stairs.

Heading down into the cellar (cave)
Wines for tasting lined up on the stairs, our sommelier easily moving from French to English in his presentation

The cellars were full of old musty barrels, and about 8 other people – a range of Dutch (speaking English) and French visitors, already ahead of us on the tasting front.

Looking down into the cellar
A great location for some tasting

We tried samples of seven wines, starting with white and moving on to red, but I have to say none impressed us any more than the delicious wine where we are staying. We didn’t end up buying any there.

The well in the courtyard of our wine tasting – completed in 1641

Our final stop for the afternoon was the ‘famous’ winery of Pommard, Chateau Pommard. We popped our head into the very swish reception, all glass and chrome (in stark contrast to the musty rustic cellars) to be told we couldn’t do a tasting until tomorrow morning, and it would be €35 a head (that’s AU$114/ £64 for the two of us!)…we laughed and said we’d be back…with no intention of course. We’d rather spend that money on wine thank you very much!

The grand entranceway to Chateau Pommard
Beautiful lilies in the pond at Chateau Pommard

We finished off our evening cooking up a Thai prawn Panang curry, accompanied by one of our Italian reds, making space in Truffy’s wine cellar for some more French tipples in our future!

9 – 11 May: A dash through France – Champagne to Provence

Author: Mr A

Location: Beaune, Mirmande and Bagnols-en-Forêt, France

We had three days to travel just under a 1,000km through the centre of France in order to reach our next get together with friends in Provence. That meant the freeways – expensive, boring and fast would be my summary. We spent around €100 on tolls, but arrived early enough at our stopovers to at least see something of the country.

Thursday: The first night we returned to the town of Beaune, the wine capital of Burgandy. We had been here a few years ago and loved it, staying at a great free parking spot within walking distance of the town centre.

The old hospital from the 1400s

Mr A strolling through the wet cobbled streets

Basilique Notre-Dame de Beaune – 13th century church

Founding date of the hospital for the poor

The most magnificent cheese shop

It rained on and off but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for ogling the amazing selection of food and wine shops that cram into the tiny centre. A very classy place is Beaune. We escaped with our wallets intact, only giving way to our desires with a round of washed rind sheep’s cheese, a type of cheese Catherine can tolerate small amounts of with her dairy intolerance.

Friday: We were up and off in the morning and hitting the freeways again. We managed to get to Mirmande, our stop over, early enough to have a good explore on the bikes.

Camping in a meadow full of daisies – we’ve been in worse locations!

Around 4km from our delightful little campsite (La Poche camping) was a village a friend had recommended as it is in the category of “one of the most beautiful in France” – along with hundreds of others I think, as there seems so many. In fact I looked it up, there’s 156 that an association formed in the early 80’s recognises as Les Plus Beaux Villages de France“. There’s some criteria they need to meet and a branding they can use. All very noble.

Our trusty little e-bikes powered us up right to the 12th century church at the top of the village, with outstanding in views right down to the Rhone river.

Built in the 12th century, the church of Saint Foy – now hosts an art exhibition rather than a congregation

A wall with a view

Magnificent 360 degree views across the countryside

A fabulous art exhibition space within the old church

Beautiful views around every corner

Lots of reminders of the ancient past

The village is as famous for its gardens which complement the views

Ivy covered buildings with fabulous views

Passing the old ramparts on our slow passage down through the village

It’s the little details that count

The village also has an award for the best roofs in France

Riding up to the Church, we can hardly believe the residents bring cars up here

Mr & Mrs A in front of the village

After snapping away for a while I dragged Mrs A away and we headed down to the Rhône through some lovely countryside.

The Rhône – a strong current and a very long river

The climb back up to our camp was 4km straight up – thankyou Mr Bosch we love your pedal assist technology!

Saturday: The final day of the drive into Provence was completed without incident. There was no tailgating, or middle lane hogs, drivers are almost all respectful to others on the road. A pleasure to experience, coming from Australia and New Zealand. So we finally reached our destination at our friends’ place just outside a small village called Bagnols-en-Forêt in the hills behind Cannes and St Tropez. And what a place it is! They have created this private oasis of a garden, and a house of eclectic, exquisite taste. Colin is an awesome master of his domain, the kitchen, and dinner a sumptuous affair. The rest of the mob arrive tomorrow, so we enjoy the time to ourselves catching up with these guys.

It’s fascinating to get their perspective on French life, as Australians who moved out here 8 years ago. I think the best phrase I heard them use was that the French life in a “bubble”, where the world in some ways doesn’t seem to touch them too deeply. Traditions are maintained, micro-agriculture common, family life still central to their lives it seems. The finer and often simpler moments in life are still treasured. A long lunch with friends (where mobiles seems less prevalent than at home), a walk through the woods, choosing the weekly shop undertaken with such care at the local market. These are the things we observe and love about France.

Rescued dog Genie is slowly getting used to us

Blue skies and a tempting looking pool (though at less than 20 degrees, not ‘that’ tempting!)