Paris, Beaune, Chablis – Spring 2002

One of my many wine and food journeys through the French countryside, this time the Burgundy region, accompanied (as often) by Michael Logan. This trip produced the Bourgogne slideshow photographs and the short food and wine article for Out & About. What follows is a rather detailed account of the trip…

MOOOOOOOOOOOOoooOOOOooooOOOOoooOOOOoooOOOOO

25 May 2002 Aboard the Thalys to Paris

Ah well, here I am once again racing towards Paris. I’m a little tired, though I went to bed early, I didn’t sleep well, waking up very early, and repeatedly. I guess I was just overly excited about the trip. So it’s nice to be underway.

We’ve reached that part of the trip where the train goes really fast —so we’ll be in Paris in no time now; this trip I think is even faster than the last time I took it; I guess they just keep trimming the travel time bit by bit.

And Paris… well, we must go to the Pompidou Centre, and the Palais de Tokyo exhibition space; There’s that funny museum in a mansion in the 3rd that is supposed to be quite nice… not sure what else Logan wants to do… the Louvre no doubt —we’ll have to go late. And we must shoot some video of Paris… and with Logan doing his turning around —perhaps at the Palais Royale. And I want to have some oysters. And some foie gras!

Natalie Merchant and her band were in my car on the train from Paris…

25 May 2002 Paris

1 am, so really, we’re back early I suppose. Watched the Eurovision song contest in a little bar/coffee shop in the Marais, with a small but enthusiastic gay crowd. Not as fun as in Amsterdam though. Latvia won… it was neck and neck with Malta. The most fun really was Slovenia —with these drag queens. Well it was fun to watch —and the interminable voting. Mad little “fairy tale” vignette films about Estonia between each song! Curious, but they grew on you and seemed rather fun by the end. Before that we had dinner at Balzar —white asparagus (good, but I agree with Nathan, slightly over cooked) and steak tartare —that could not be improved upon —and frites —the only thing they could do to make those better would be to serve more of them!! And I had a bite of Logan’s delicious chocolate eclair —the dessert of the day. We left the restaurant and it started to poor down rain —almost out of a clear blue sky; so we caught a bus over to the Marais. It cleared up quickly; walking back to the hotel there’s a big bright full moon and the city looks so beautiful.

26 May 2002 Paris

Up late today… and all day, off and on rainstorms; so we went to the Pompidou Centre. There was a big surrealist show that was actually a bit overwhelming. Magritte, Dali, Max Ernst… I like the Magrittes, but a lot of the the rest just doesn’t appeal to me. Maybe we should have gotten the audio tour… it was huge. The whole post-1960 floor of the main museum has been reinstalled —and all my favorite works are gone! That was bit disappointing. I suppose they have to rotate things, but all-in-all I did not think the current selection was nearly as impressive… the collection does have to compete with the views over Paris —and more people seemed to be looking out the windows than looking at the permanent collection. Of course the sky was beautiful —very dramatic clouds in a changing sky. At one point the Sacre Cour looked like something from a fairy tale with a backdrop of fluffy clouds… we had a coffee and tart at Georges around tea time —super expensive; and then there’s the odd and aloof fashion-model staff…

Dinner tonight at a new place —the Table d’ Aligre at the Place d’Aligre (there’s a famous covered food market there) in the 12th not far from the Bastille. A pleasantly unassuming place with really good food, and really inexpensive. Good cheap wines too. We had foie gras and this braised lamb with artichokes and olives —it was delicious, especially the fat. I had an apple thing for dessert. The waiters were really nice and then when the one found out we were Americans he wanted to know about taking the train from New York to Montreal —which oddly enough I happened to know something about; so I told Logan to tell him that it was really nice —that’s what I’ve read anyway. Dinner for three with wine and the foie gras was 108 euro’s —a great deal, and very pleasant. We had a long walk back, now it’s time for sleep.

27 May 2002 Paris

… a day of doing very little. Slept much too late, but then we walked over to the Marais for a very late breakfast around noon. I had a cup of excellent tea (Marriage Bros.) and a croissant served by the cutest teen you can imagine! Afterwards we collected Brian and went over to the sixth, around Saint Sulpice. for some shopping. We had salads for lunch at an unremarkable but decent Bistro (ubiquitously named Bistro du Metro); We stopped in Saint Sulpice to look at the Delacroix’s and the crumbling chapels. We watched some shirtless boys disassembling the market stalls. We dodged intermittent rain showers. We shopped… well Brian shopped and Logan and I looked. We walked back through the Luxembourg gardens. Logan and Brian went off together to go to a used record store (where Logan was picking up a Joni Mitchell etching he had bought on ebay!) and I walked back towards the hotel. I stopped in a church, St. Ettienne du Mont, a sort of pretty gothic/renaissance hybrid begun by Francois I. Inside they have a tiny relic of St. Geneviève; they used to have her entire corpse, but the revolutionaries burned it and threw it in the river! I came back to the hotel, and Logan came back and we were going to go to the late hours at the Louvre… but we never made it. There was a tremendous rainstorm with thunder and a deluge… when it let up a bit we just walked down the street to have a glass of wine. We had dinner at nine at the Caveau de Palais, as Brian is quite fond of it. The food was quite OK, but we were seated upstairs and it was not so festive… really so much of the fun is a lively atmosphere and getting to see what everyone else is eating. That odd woman still rules the place with authority and the little dog still runs in and out. My cod was good, and brian had a quite wonderful whole fish, and it’s not terribly expensive… just wish we had gotten a table downstairs. We strolled home after, and went to sleep…

27 May 2002 Paris

Today quite active… we managed to get up at a reasonable hour and have our breakfast downstairs at 9:30. After breakfast we got on the metro and went to visit the Catacombs. I wanted to get us there before they closed for lunch —but they’ve changed the hours again, now they don’t close for lunch but they don’t open until eleven… so we had a twenty minute walk around the neighborhood–a nice market street lined with food shops and butchers and bakers and fishmongers. Not too many people in the catacombs —one had a bit of a feeling of being all alone down there at times; It’s quite large. Well, I had just been in September, but Logan and Brian had not been in a while. It’s a pity they don’t have a nice guide to explain everything though. Afterwards, Brian was hungry so I suggested we get back on the Metro line 4 and have Lunch at Deux Palais. We had a good lunch there —it really is one of the best of these generic Bistros —good frites, a decent roast chicken, Logan had a very good steak tartare and I had a delicious fresh strawberry tart. And we had a little pot of beaujolais. And the place was all full of smartly dressed Parisians from the Palais du Justice.

After lunch, Brian went to rest and Logan and I went to check out the new exhibition space in the Palais du Tokyo. It’s a cool space —this big 30’s style Neoclassical/fascist architecture —the interior of the new space has been stripped back to the framework. But it’s all so hip… like it’s been turned over to hipster teens and they’ve run amok. A huge space with really just a few highly over-conceptualized pieces of art… Outside, in front of an arcade of impossibly tall square pillars, three French teens attempted tricks on skateboards —they seemed so much like they should have been a piece of installation art. And in the other half of the building, the more conventional old modern art museum (of the City of Paris) goes to the other extreme —way too staid and dull (they do have good temporary exhibits here —it’s where we saw Douglas Gordon several years ago —but the temporary exhibition space was closed for installation.)

Now, resting before a drink, and dinner at La Villeret. All day today it’s been gray and raining, or drizzling. No dramatic downpours but no bits of blue sky or dramatic cloudscapes either. And rather chilly for the time of year…

Later…

Had a delicious dinner at La Villeret. We set out early and stopped at that attractively modern little AOC wine bar where I had tea the day before. We had a couple glasses of wine —very economical, Chinon 3 Euro’s a glass; the same cute boy was there, and a very nice woman. We sat and chatted and drank our wine and watched the gay boys rendezvousing, while it poured down rain outside. Eventually we paid up and went to catch the (very crowded) 96 bus to dinner. At 8:20, we were among the first to arrive at La Villeret. Of course it filled up completely as we sat there and ate. For starters: Logan had a concoction of cold lentils with bits of lamb tongue and foie gras on top —it was really delicious; Brian had the white asparagus —cooked the way I like, with a bit of rigidity, and served with a delicious vinaigrette and a slab of lardons. I thought mine was least successful, a sort of a crab salad, with pastry and wild asparagus. But it did have lots of crab. My main course though, was the best I think —a big hunk of braised pork shank with the most incredibly delicious honey glazed skin and honey sauce. Mr. Logan had a beautiful hunk of fish and Brian had veal liver. For dessert I had pan fried fresh cherries with some ice cream —delicious; and Logan had rhubarb with a blanc mange. We drank a bottle of 96 Savignier from the Loire. Dinner was first rate, and really a bargain (130 for three) for such elaborate preparations; It was the fanciest meal we’ve had so far this trip, even though the room and all is quite casual and neighborhoody. After dinner we took a leisurely stroll back to the Marais —it had cleared up for the moment —and sat at the Open Cafe and had a couple of drinks and watched the boys go by. The best of the lot was our super-cute waiter, Cyril. Finally we decided to walk back to the hotel —just as it started to rain again!

29 May 2002 Paris

Today we managed to get up and down to breakfast before 10 again! After breakfast, Logan and I headed over to the Musee d’ Orsay. There was a special Mondrian exhibition —his painting before his trademark abstract style —that we wanted to see. It wasn’t crowded —no lines or delay to get in, and though there were a lot of people at the Mondrian exhibition, it wasn’t unpleasantly crowded at all. The museum is in the midst of some sort of renovation, so a number of galleries were closed, and most of the big academic paintings were off view —no loss really, except for Jesus and the Nelly Apostles. We looked at the kitchy —but fun —sculptures in the center, and of course went up to the rooms on the top to see our favorite impressionists. I hope they re-hang the whole museum once the renovations are done —there are too many fabulous little paintings stuck away in tiny, grim rooms. After, we walked along the Seine, heading for the Marais, and lunch with Brian. It was a nice day, perhaps slightly cool, but dry, with clouds that were purely decorative. We stopped at the Bouquiniste Alain Huchet —fortunately, one of the few bouquiniste open today —so Logan could look for a cookbook birthday present for June. He found something in short order —we barely spent anytime browsing; just as well I suppose, as I really didn’t need to buy anything! We met Brian back at the AOC Cafe, so we could have these delicious looking club sandwiches that we saw people eating the night before. They were good; the cute boy was there again; I think he is a member of the family that owns it. After that we went shopping —the Camper store for new shoes, the Chaise Longue just to look at silly things, and the FNAC record store at the Bastille (with a stop at the place de Vosges, just for fun). Now we’re resting up in our room and listening to a Marianne Faithfull album (her new one, released only in Europe) on the iBook cd player, before we go out to a trendy restaurant for dinner.

Later…

Dinner at Salon d’ Helene… the little downstairs place of Helene Darroze, chef-of-the-moment in Paris. Actually the bistro —well not really a bistro —is very successful; a small, elegantly modern room, spacious and comfortable, serving little tapas-like plates of things. The food’s a little bit French and a whole lot “chef”. The service is friendly and casual —the whole little room attended by one cute girl and one cute boy. (after you get through the entrance that is, shared with the upstairs restaurant, where a boy in a little cap opens the door for you and a man behind a big desk checks your name off a computerized reservation list! Anyway, the food was interesting and complicated, and fortunately also delicious. We had seven little plates to share, which they brought round in two groupings; then a round of 3 very interesting cheeses, then dessert. Let’s see, first there was a soup with asparagus and foie gras with bacon on top; fava beans with black truffle and foie gras ice-cream(!); and a piece of almost raw salmon with couscous. Then we got a little pot of sweetbreads; a big piece of pork lard with roasted potatoes and girolle mushrooms; a plate of shredded oxtail; and a big lump of roasted foie gras. Then a spanish cheese, a soft cheese and a roquefort. My dessert was ille flotant–a very tasty and light meringue floating in a soup of summer red fruits —no creme anglais —very tasty; and Logan had a really chocolatey millefiulle. Dinner was nice —lots of eating but all so small that I don’t feel at all bloated; and while you wouldn’t call it cheap, it wasn’t too expensive —considering Logan ordered a bottle of champagne as soon as he sat down, and at € 70 it was a third of our bill! There were a lot of less expensive wines to chose from, so I think you could eat there for 50-60 euros a person —a good deal for a really fancy place. I took a copy of the menu —it changes monthly with a daily special.

We were going to go to the Eiffel Tower after dinner —but of course dinner went on a bit too late. The weather was nice, so it would have been a good night. I’ve been going to go the last few times I was here… and just haven’t made it.

30 May 2002 Beaune

Our first day in the countryside and, of course, today was all about gorging ourselves! We’ve had two cheese courses today! Oh those country meals.

Getting here was pleasantly uncomplicated. We caught a bus just steps from the Agora St. Germain, which took us to the Gare de Lyon. We caught our TGV train and rode a little over an hour and a half —through incredibly picturesque countryside —to the station in Dijon. At the tiny Avis office at the train station, everything was arranged and it took about 30 seconds to get our car —a really nice VW Golf. Avis is so nice to deal with. We drove straight out of Dijon and about halfway to Beaune on the N road. I had scoped out a place for lunch the night before in the Routard Guide, in case we were hungry —and of course we were. This place was in a tiny village outside of Nuits-Saint-Georges, the Auberge du Coteau in the tiny village of Villars-Fontaine. All the meats are cooked over a wood fire in a fireplace at one end of the dining room (a bit like in the Vosges). Logan had wood-grilled lamb and I had wood-grilled beef. There was homemade terrine, and our first of many “Jambon Persille” to start. Then they left the huge groaning cheese board at our table. Very tasty, and a fine introduction to the Cotes d’Or.

It was a quick, and very scenic, drive into Beaune. We circled the town looking for the “Hotel de la Poste” and pulled up in front of this very glamourous establishment. The Logan got out his confirmation, and realized we weren’t staying at the Hotel de la Poste (rejected as part of our austerity plan) but at the Hotel de France. So we drove on, and found it —a much more basic sort of Logis across from the Beaune train station.

Beaune is still a fairly small town; the historic center enclosed by mostly surviving ramparts. We were just a block outside the center. We took a late afternoon stroll into town to check out the sights. There’s some pretty little squares (one with a miniature carrousel), a nice shopping street, the very famous Hotel Dieu —the medieval hospital —which we decided to visit later. We did stop into the Collégiale Notre-Dame, a crusty old (mostly) Romanesque church. And we scoped out various restaurants —one very beautiful place, all the tables set up in the garden of a villa. This is the Jardin de Remparts, which has an excellent reputation, and undoubtedly the prettiest location in Beaune; sadly it was already ‘complet’ during the weekend of our visit. After our exploration of the city, we stopped at a little outdoor cafe and had a kir. The kir is especially good —really good cassis made locally in Bourgonge, and proper Bourgonge Aligote wine. The weather was especially nice and summery as well.

We did find the Americans in Beaune! After being so conspicuously absent in Amsterdam, and even in Paris, Beaune was positively swarming with Americans. (On the other hand, Chablis, we would discover later, was all Brits and Australians. And in the historical sites, the Abbeys and Churches, the few visitors tended to be Germans.)

Because the weather was so pleasant in the evening, I really wanted to eat outside. All the terrace restaurants seemed rather touristy, unfortunately, but we did find one, La Grilladine, that despite being full of Americans, seemed nice. It had a nice looking menu, a good wine list, a Bottin Gourmand recommendation, and a pretty interior where some locals were eating. We got a very pleasant outdoor table, and it turned out the food was very good —and we had what turned out to be our favorite bottle of burgundy on the trip —a Fixin. I had a tasty boeuf bourguignon and the jambon persille to start; I’m afraid I don’t recall what Logan ate (probably foie gras!). It was really nice on the terrace, and entertaining as well. The Americans were typically loud and demanding, and the several waiters were young, and obviously new summer help. Well they were quite unbothered by it all, but the headwaiter was in a tizzy; he was this very ‘Basil Fawlty’ sort of character caught between the demands of the patrons and the inexperience of his staff. One thought he might at some point simply explode!

There’s not much happening in Beaune after dinner, so we returned to our room overlooking the train station. Now there’s no passenger service in Beaune after about 11pm —but apparently it sits on the main freight line between Paris and Geneva! About every 20 minutes a huge freight train would roar past the station. Strangely though, the noise didn’t really bother me.

31 May 2002 Beaune

Mr. Logan has picked out some far-flung sites for us to visit today. They don’t seem so far-flung on the map, but actually driving to them you feel the distance. We’re heading to the Southernmost part of Burgundy — almost into the Beaujolais, north of Lyon. All along the N road, (the main roadway, but still only one lane in each direction most of the route) there are the most stylishly grisly highway markers. They are life-sized black and red metal cutouts depicting a stylized, but very recognizable, dead person! There is a marker placed at every point on the road where someone has been killed! And there are, I must say, quite a lot of them. Most chilling are the little groups where 3 or 4 people have died together. Well, I told Logan. at least if we get killed driving this road, we will get little markers to commemorate the event. Perhaps they would even append a little sign: “American Rufuses”. And the way people drive it is no wonder so many die on the highway —they go so fast on these narrow, curving roads. I cannot drive fast enough for the locals, and then someone is tailgating at high speed; I frantically try to find a place to pull over so they can get past. Fortunately there is not a whole lot of traffic, and one often has the road to oneself for a while.

Our first stop is Paray-le-Monial, the most perfectly preserved of the Cluny monastic churches. It is a sober Romanesque church, said to be a smaller version of the great church at Cluny, now destroyed. The church sits facing the river and is quite impressive. There is also quite a nice garden behind. The church’s main claim to religious fame is that it is here that the cult and the doctrine of the “Sacred Heart of Jesus” originated. I don’t think I understand the Sacred Heart well enough to try to explain it… but apparently at some point in the middle ages a young nun at the convent down the street saw a vision of Jesus with a flaming heart on the outside of his chest (we also visited the little chapel where she had her vision.) This seems to have been thoroughly (and perhaps rightly) ignored until the 19th century, when in a frenzy of religious ferver it was revived, and formalized by the Vatican, and Paray-le-Monial became a pilgrimage site. Anyway, out in the garden there is this pavilion which tells the story of the visionary nun in an endless series of narrated dioramas. We started to watch, but it just went on and on, and we were shortly defeated. There was also a nice street market in town that day, and we bought a little pastry to eat.

From Paray-le Monial we had a short, but circuitous drive to Cluny —the seat of the once-powerful Cluniac Monastic Order —to see the remains of the great church. It was at one time the largest church in Christendom, but it was demolished during the Revolution, and really there is not much left. From the excavated foundations, and one remaining chapel, you can get an idea of the size… they sell you a ticket which entitles you to a tour, but we discovered that most of what is interesting to see you can see for free. The admission doesn’t get you much. The town itself is somewhat interesting; We climbed to the top of the cheese tower (no idea why it’s called that) for the panorama, and we visited the little town church, which was very cute and crusty.

From there we next stopped at the little medieval town of Tournus to see yet another Abbaye Church. The Abbaye de St. Philibert is one of the oldest romanesque churches in Burgundy. It’s a fortified structure with great thick round pillars and not many windows. There was a pretty little courtyard, and (I later read) another chapel above the gloomy narthex, which we missed. Also in the town is a preserved (or restored) medieval pharmacy, but after not finding it following a cursory stroll through the town, we gave up and headed back to Beaune. With all the driving added in it had been a long day. The scenery however —forests, vineyards, cows, canals, little stone villages —was beautiful.

Later…

We had dinner at Bénaton, a little chef-run place that is reputed to be one of Beaune’s best. It’s a small dining room, and though there is a nice garden at back, all seating was indoors. fortunately we got the table by the door, as it was quite warm. The food was good, with an amuse bouche, starter, main course, cheese and dessert. Sadly, I didn’t write down what we had, and now I can’t remember! It was on the other side of town (by the hotel de la poste) so we had a leisurely walk through the deserted town after dinner.

1 June 2002 Beaune

Today we are up for a morning visit to Autun, to see another 12th century church. We went to see the Cathedrale St. Lazare, famous for its stone carvings by Gislebertus. There’s a big last judgment over the door, and lots of smaller scenes on the capitols —Adam and Eve, things like that, all very stylishly, almost modernly, realized. We had lunch in a fancy hotel nearby —I had us seated on the terrace, as it was a very sunny day, but I roasted poor Mr. Logan. They didn’t have an umbrella for us, as this French family at the next table was hogging two. Despite the lack of umbrella, it was a nice lunch —we had just a main course and dessert —but again, I don’t really remember what we ate. Afterwards, we had a rather exhausting hike around the old ramparts —but never quite getting on the top of them, which was our intention. Then we drove to see the old Roman city gate and the remains of the Roman Amphitheater. As a Roman City in the first century, the population of Autun was four times what it is today. After that, we hurried back to Beaune, because we still had our sightseeing to do there. We took this tasting tour of the Cellars of the hotel Dieu —very touristy really, but also sort of fun —there are like 14 different wines to taste, all down in this refreshingly cold and dark cellar. And then you can buy things, but of course we couldn’t because there was no way to take them home! Then we visited the Hotel Dieu itself —The most famous sight in Burgundy, and really it is very beautiful. The courtyard is surrounded by restored medieval buildings, with those famous brightly-colored-patterned tile roofs.

Later…

It’s 11:30 pm here at the Hotel de France, across from the rail station in Beaune. It’s a funny hotel —in many way a quintessential Logis de France. Everyone is super friendly —a typical family owned hotel.

So for my food and wine of Burgundy article… aperitifs: Kir, which is really good here in its region of origin and the Cremant du Bourgonge, a cheap, but very refreshing sparkling wine. The best food of the region, I think, is the simple, basic sort of country food… the Jambon Persille; the escargot (but how on earth did they first think to eat them?!); the meats grilled over a wood fire or the classic braised dishes of boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin. Plenty of nice cheese too… and of course the red burgundies are a delight.

The scenery is wonderful… lots of forests, and rolling hillsides covered with vines… and everywhere tiny herds of white cows —the famous charolais beef (dare I say though, that I prefer the chianini beef of tuscany?). But driving along the tiny roads is really beautiful —it’s a prettier landscape even than the Loire, I think, and seems somehow more remote. That is except for Beaune —Beaune is overrun with tourists. All the American Rufuses who are not in Amsterdam and not even in Paris, seem to be here in Beaune —along with a fair number of German tourists as well. Actually, when you get out of Beaune, and visit the other towns —places more famous for history and architecture than wine —then there are no more Americans, and all the tourists are German! But really, nothing is very crowded…

… so back to our silly hotel… when Logan made the reservation, they said we had to take one dinner at the hotel, so he booked us here for Saturday night. Well fine… and we went down to dinner tonight around eight —and they had totally forgotten about us as they had booked a tour group of 45 persons into the restaurant! I thought this was very silly —so they were going to put us all alone in this sort of annex room, which seemed very depressing, but we got them to put us at one of the tables for the bar that sit out on the sidewalk facing the train station. That was perfect, the weather was quite warm, no breeze, a beautiful sunset —so really it couldn’t have worked out better. And the man running the place, and his teen son, were both really nice and really friendly. We had a very simple regional meal–snails and the jambon (delicious); a sort of flank cut of the charolais beef (inoffensive but unimpressive); a big-ass assortment of local cheese, and some cassis ice-cream. We drank a nice cote de nuits 96 burgundy; and I had a glass of marc de Bourgonge after dinner. The owner even gave me a cigarette to have with it. We watched the bus group arrive (it was dinner stop on a trip from Paris to the south of France) and we watched the people come and go from the train station. It was quite nice actually —much better than eating in the slightly stuffy, climatisee, dining room.

2 June 2002 From Beaune to Chablis

We left our hotel in Beaune and arrived in Chablis a bit after five. It’s a longer drive than one might think —although our trip today included plenty of rufusing. The first 90 minutes involved finding and visiting a ruined Abbey (Saint Margaritte) outside the town of Builland, not far really from Beaune itself. We got a bit lost finding the town, and then finding the Abbey ruins involved a bit of detective work —they are not marked by any sign, or monument marker, which is a bit unusual. We saw a picture at our hotel, and I wanted to visit. So we found them eventually (they are indicated, vaguely, on our Michelin map) up a very narrow, dead-end road above the town. It’s a nice ruin, the substantial remains of a small gothic church, and other buildings —but you can’t get too close. The ruins are privately owned and surrounded by a double fence of barbed wire. They are quite isolated, but we were not alone —there was also a family of German hikers and a bicycle tour. There was even a little parking lot, so one assumes there must have been signs to it at one time —though we were the only car to come up the tiny road. Fortunately! The drive from Beaune to there, and then on to where we picked up the bigger road to Chablis, took us through a forest, which was really pretty. Forests, fields of wildflowers, white cows in little pastures, some rugged stone cliffs, tiny villages —and all very peaceful. Very few other cars, and all quite sleepy —well it was Sunday, and everything in the villages was closed up, of course.

We made it to the bigger road, which was also quite scenic, and where we quite sped along, between the villages. We were heading to the Abbaye de Fontenay —a sight Logan picked out —halfway between Beaune and Chablis. Around 1pm though, I started to get hungry —and the towns we were passing through seemed so small as to not really have any restaurants. Logan checked the Routard and found a highly regarded place in the town nearest the Abbaye: Mirrabelles, in St. Remy next to Montbard. We located the restaurant without too much trouble —and it was complet! Well it was Sunday lunch after all, but it must be very good; it’s quite an out of the way spot —even for the town of Montbard. Well, we went into the town center and had lunch at L’Ecu, the Logis in town. It was ok, nothing special, and a little pricey. We did get to sit on a nice shaded terrace, and at least we didn’t starve. (Good thing we did not wait and try to eat at the Abbaye —it’s totally isolated and the only food there is in three vending machines!). Anyway we drove into the isolated valley and found the Abbaye. It is the oldest surviving Cistercian Abbaye. (The Cistercian order was founded by monks who found the Cluny order too luxurious. Those kooky monks.) It has all been recently restored, and is quite an intact complex from the late romanesque/early gothic period. An impressive and somber romanesque church, a beautiful cloister, gothic chapter house and scriptorium, a dormitory with a ships hull wooden roof, and a huge 13th century gothic forge —almost as big as the church. Apparently it was the first iron works with a waterwheel for power; water was also diverted for fountains on the monastery grounds. It’s all quite pretty; smaller in scale than some of the other abbayes we’ve visited, and very peaceful. A few busloads of tourists, but they were sort of easy to ignore.

A lot of the way, we drove along the canal du Burgundy —it’s long, and very tranquil —with lock houses, and with boys diving and swimming from the banks or the bridges. After Fontenay, we drove on to Chablis, a cute little town with a gothic church towering over the center. Haven’t really explored yet, just arrived at the hotel and decided to rest a bit.

Later… in Chablis

Here we are in our little room in a cute fancied-up hotel in Chablis, the Hostellerie dus Clos. The room is cute but tiny; it looks out on a nice little courtyard, where I may go to continue typing in a bit. It is supposed to have the best restaurant in Chablis, so we will see. I am a bit hot and tired from driving all day.

And Later Still…

So we had dinner at our hotel tonight —at the world’s fanciest Logis! Well actually the rooms aren’t that fancy at all, but the lobby/restaurant is totally over the top. And all kinds of waiters and waitresses in fancy dress running about —in stark contrast to the poorly dressed Brits, and even the casually attired French patrons. Anyway we had aperitifs in the courtyard, dinner in the fancy dining room and our after dinner infusion du maison in the “salon”, in big wingchairs. Dinner was delicious —fairly inexpensive ingredients, but very well —and elaborately —prepared. Only mini-pricey at 49 euros each —and with a good Chablis for 20 Euros. They have a lot of reasonably priced Chablis —and some very expensive ones for the rich foreigners, I’m sure. Anyway, we had a little amuse bouche of cold tomato soup with a bit of shrimp in it —I ate Logan’s as well; Then a salad of little white asparagus, wild asparagus, and (mostly) little mushrooms in a delicious sauce. Then I had a pike fish mouse with crayfish and crayfish sauce, and they made a delicious piece of grilled sander for Mr. Logan. Then we had veal kidneys(!) in a Chablis sauce —three little slices really, in a sauce that was just perfect for them. Then an assortment of local cheeses. We drank a 1998 La Chablissiene Vielles Vignes —the sommelier recommended it; he wouldn’t let Logan order the one he had picked out that cost twice as much —he said this one was much better. I thought it was good —but then what do I know. For dessert we had some strawberries, very fresh, very delicious, with some little syrup and a croustillant. Then our infusion de la maison —with vervienne in it and the usual plate of very tasty little sweets. We took a short walk around the deserted town after dinner, and now we are resting in our suite… there are lots of really big mosquitos out in the town… so I’m a bit apprehensive. The room is not climatisee, so we have to leave the window open —it’s quite warm tonight.

and one more thing…

Cloches! The main courses arrived covered with silver cloches, which were whipped off in unison. Lots and lots of staff actually —and we didn’t even see into the kitchen. In the morning we have the true test —the breakfast!

3 June 2002 Chablis

I will mention the excellent breakfast at the hotel. They actually set up early this morning to serve it in the courtyard —I could hear them through the window —but then it started to rain and they had to move everything inside. It was a very good country in breakfast —lots of tasty pastries; good bread for toast; jams and honey in little crocks; good yogurt in glass jars, some dried fruits, and oddly, a custard. Tasty. The inn is a bit of an odd hybrid: the rooms, and the breakfast, seem like a really good Logis; but the lobby, and the staff and restaurant are like a Leading Hotel of the World. It would almost be stuffy, except there are enough people working here who are obviously summer help —less than perfect and sort of amused by what they’re doing; it helps take the edge off. And the food is really good, and the prices not excessive for the quality of the food —and the rooms are not expensive. It could use more French people though —there is far too much English being spoken; lots of Australians and Brits. It does have a big elevator, and the whole place is wheelchair accessible —a real rarity among country inns —so there are a number of guests in wheelchairs, living it up, which is a nice touch, and probably worth mentioning in an article.

A trip to Mr. Bricolage!

We asked the woman at the desk about having our laundry done and she directed Mr. Logan to this “Pressing” in a mall outside of Auxerre —at the “Geant”. Well, I knew by the time we were halfway there that it was too far to leave our laundry —when would we get back to pick it up, next year? But we sort of followed through anyway, and found this sort of mall on the ring road around Auxerre and went into this huge K-Mart sort of store —very American, except for the French-speaking —and inquired about an electrical adapter to replace the one I left in Beaune. they didn’t have one, but the cute boy (yet another one) consulted with someone and told us to go across the road —to Mr. Bricolage. Just like in America, though we could see it across the street, it was impossible to walk to; we had to get in the car and drive there! It’s a big Home-Depot like store, and they did indeed have just what we needed; Mr. Logan loved the place, and I had to talk him out of buying pricey European light bulbs to take home! After we left Mr. Bricolage, we realized we should have just bought new t-shirts at the Geant —easier and probably cheaper than the laundry —but we didn’t drive back to do it. Instead we set off on the day’s sightseeing.

And on to the relics of Mary Magdelene…

After we left Mr. Bricolage, we drove south to Vézelay, an old monastery church and hilltop village. It was a very important pilgrimage site in the middle ages —they have a reliquary in the crypt with the bones of Mary Magdelene! We got to see them. The church is large and very handsome —rather light inside for a romanesque church, and very austere except for very nice capitols on the pillars carved with flowers, bible scenes and religious legends. On has to hike up this long, slightly steep main street —lined with galleries selling ugly paintings, and lots of restaurants —to the church. The monastery buildings were mostly pulled down, leaving the church surrounded by a large park with amazing views down on the surrounding countryside and other little villages. There were surprisingly few other visitors, and we had the place mostly to ourselves. It had been sprinkling or threatening rain on the drive down, but when we left the church the clouds had dispersed and it became a sunny, and very warm, day.

From Vézelay we drove about 15 km to the town of Avallon —an old fortified town with a funny old romanesque church —the nave descended in steps so it was on about four different levels. the town also had an old clock tower, and the old ramparts. Driving back to Auxerre to visit the Cathedral there, we stopped in a really cute little town called Cravant. We stopped because it just looked so picturesque from the side of the road —there was a stone gate leading into town. Just a little place with tiny alleys —petit rues —running behind the houses, and a pretty little gothic church with fabulous gargoyles, that was all locked up (there was a sign directing visitors to someone’s house to get the key, but we didn’t bother.) There was also this mad enclosed pool fed by a fountain from a nearby stream —no explanation as to the purpose at all —but it looked like some sort of healing waters (at least I’d like to think so); it was enclosed, so not really decorative, but didn’t really seem functional either. Logan suggested it was for watering livestock, but I pointed out that it would be rather difficult to get them in through the rather small doors! (It was and old public wash-house of course —there was one in Chablis as well, we later found.)

From there we drove on to Auxerre —it’s a rather large town or a small city. You even have to pay for parking, though it’s quite cheap. And it was lively after the other places we’d been —lots of young people, students racing around on motorbikes and having drinks in cafes. It had a big old gothic church, Cathedrale St. Etienne —quite tall, with impressive windows, and below, a romanesque crypt, leftover from the previous church, with some old frescoes still extant. The old part of town has some narrow lanes with half timbered houses; It’s built on a hill and the river runs along the edge of the old city (now the modern city sprawls across both sides of the river). There are a couple of other large churches as well, which we did not visit. And the city has a long shopping street (in addition to all the mega-stores on the outskirts), but apparently the shops in this region of France are all traditionally closed on Monday.

We didn’t have dinner at the hotel tonight, but we had aperitifs and then afters —I had their excellent infusion maison, and Logan had this mad bright green mint liqueur called Gat 27. A bit like scope on ice. We had dinner at a place down the street called Bistro de Grand Crus, a simple little place which was fine but not amazing, and not so busy on a Monday night. We probably should have driven out of town to a little country inn —there was one that sounded really good in Logan’s wine book —but I didn’t really want to drive anymore; most of the other places in Chablis were closed on Monday night. Logan did have the Jambon de Morvan —a sort of prosciutto-like ham, but served in thick slices. I had some white asparagus, and then a cuisse de canard and Logan had a nice piece of white fish. It was all fine. Pretty cheap too, except for the €30 bottle of Chablis.

Had a long walk around the totally deserted and shut-up town, our after-dinner infusion and drink at the hotel, and now to sleep. We have dinner here at the hotel tomorrow —I’m planning an easy day of looking around the town and then driving a route of nearby wine villages.

4 June 2002 Chablis

We had lunch today in this terrific little restaurant —a tiny place we just happened on. Actually it was mentioned in Logan’s wine book, but it didn’t make it sound like much. It’s one of those discoveries that one makes in the French country side that is just a very happy accident. It’s Le St. Bris, in the little village of St. Bris Le Vineux. The owner of the place is Jean Francois Pouillot, and he works mostly alone in his small restaurant. When we arrived for lunch, at about 1:45, there was just one table occupied; he emerged from the kitchen and gave us a warm welcome, seated us at a little table, and got us a half bottle of the local white burgundy from nearby Chitry. We ordered just the simple plate of the day, a grilled Andouillettes de Troyes; with an apple rhubarb tart for dessert. There were several very delicious sounding menus written on little chalkboards —but they were all four and five courses, and we really wanted a small lunch. Apparently M. Pouillot decided we had to have a starter anyway, so we brought us a little crock of 6 escargots to share. They were delicious, in garlic, butter and parsley. Then our plates with beautiful white andouilletes —usually not my favorite I must confess, though they are a specialty of this region —and it was delicious (just the slightest suggestion of that innardy smell that is sometimes so overpowering). They were flavorful and tripey but not at all gross. I hope I’m not damning with faint praise here —but it was good and nicely presented on a plate with a few little vegetables. Then we got two huge slices of the apple rhubarb tart —the rhubarb green and crisp, finely chopped and mixed with a bit of custard. After that, coffee and some special little chocolates and biscuits from the bakery in the town. All the time the owner would come out to chat (in French of course) and ask questions of us; he told Logan that he prefers to work alone; he feeds 10 to 15 people at lunch and at dinner, and he likes to be able to interact with the diners, and do everything himself. I wish we had found it earlier in the trip, as I would like to go and have his huge groaning multi-course meal. I’m sure it’s fabulous. On the menu outside it said “a true cuisine de chef still exists” —his motto for the place. I just think it is great —a real find, and a place to look forward to returning —delicious, personal, interesting and inexpensive. I get much more excited about a place like this than about the very fancy place at our hotel —even though the food is indisputably terrific, it has been featured in bunch of magazines even.

If St. Bris is full, or a large group comes by, he sends them to the Auberge des Tilleuls in Vincelottes. We actually stopped there first for lunch (this is the place I had thought about going for dinner the night before), but decided that all the set menus seemed too large for what we wanted… but it’s good, regional cooking, and a beautiful terrace, tented, on the waterfront along the tranquil river Yonne. Very pretty, and it’s a Logis as well. Still I’m glad we moved on to Le St. Bris —it’s a special place.

We explored Chablis on foot in the morning. It has a pretty little riverfront promenade, with a few little parks, a swim pool that is filled from the river in the summer months, An old riverside washing house, some mills —one of which is of course a restaurant. We tried to go in the pretty —and from a distance, imposing —little gothic church, but it is in the midst of a re-roofing, and it was all locked up. We visited the town cemetery as well —another old church, but likewise locked up. The rest of the day we spent driving around the nearby wine towns —just cute, very little towns —with interesting old churches, all of which were locked up. And we drove by the cremant caveau of Bailly, and we had our fabulous little lunch in St. Bris, and saw an old Templar church (the oldest church in the l’yonne) in Fontenay des Chablis. The highlight of the days sightseeing though was Potigny —where there is an old, very handsome Cistercian Abbey. Very little visited, compared with the more famous abbeys, but really worth it —large and imposing, beautiful light inside; we bought a little guide in the shop to tell us all about it. I think the best thing though is being able to appreciate it in complete tranquility. During most of our visit we were all alone.

Back in town we stopped at the caves of the Chablis wine growing commune, La Chablissiene. Logan bought 6 bottles of wine —which we are lugging now; I wanted to have some shipped to Amsterdam; but apparently they can’t ship outside of France. There are good things, very inexpensive, and shipping within France doesn’t amount to much —but so much for the common market I guess… at least where wine’s concerned. The only way is to bring a car so that one can drive it back —so I guess I’ll just look for some of these things in Amsterdam. After that it was back to Hostellerie du Clos, and making some notes, and then off to dinner…

Back in the hotel now, and it’s storming. A sudden rainstorm has blown up out of nowhere, and it’s dark and thundering and pouring down rain!

Later…

OK, I have to say that dinner at our fancy hotel restaurant was a bit too big. I liked the less expensive menu with the kidneys more. Everything tonight was really tasty; it was just too much, too many courses of very rich food. We had an amuse bouche of cold cantaloupe soup —delicious. then we had a salad with foie gras and girolles mushrooms. This was a replacement for the morell mushrooms stuffed with foie gras —which Logan was dying to have —but which for some reason wasn’t available. Then I had a little soup of crayfish tails and Logan had a morrel soup with green asparagus. then we had “line caught” bar, pan fried. Then we had a medallion of lamb. Then we had a cheese assortment. Then we had little fried pastries filled with rhubarb and accompanied with strawberries. Then we had our infusion maison, and the little cookie things. So you can see —it was a groaning amount of food. We drank another chablis (1998) of course, and an Irancy red Bourgonge (2000, a more robust year for this very light red) with the lamb. It stopped raining so we could have a walk after dinner, but it wasn’t enough. I feel like I’m going to have to work at losing some weight when I get back to Amsterdam.

5 June 2002 Aboard the TGV to Paris

A long, sort of exhausting day, the return to Paris. It lacks the excitement of the outbound journey, and perhaps it was a mistake to book the return in the afternoon; there’s something good about getting the travel over with early in the day. But then it took us an hour and a half to drive from Chablis back to Dijon —even using the autoroute, it’s a longer trip than I thought. Then getting the gas, and finding the train station. So around 12:30 we set off for a quick tour of the town. It’s sort of a large place —bigger than any of the other cities we’ve been to on this trip, and bigger than Tours for instance, and very grand seeming, with a huge baroque complex in the center housing government offices and a musee des Beaux Arts. This was the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, but much and often added to over the centuries. There are also a number of Churches: the Notre Dame, with a very funny gothic facade absolutely covered with protruding gargoyles; and a big gothic church with a very odd looking renaissance facade —and inside a miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary from the twelfth century. (It is believed to have saved the city from siege by the Swedes in the 16th century and from destruction by the Germans in WWII.) And Dijon has a big shopping area, with a Galleries Lafayette and H&M, and a big old iron covered food market, which was unfortunately closed for the lunch hour when we were there. So that’s it —we skipped a big lunch, as we’ve been eating far too much, and just had a hot cheese/onion/ham sandwich which we took away from a bakery. It was very oniony. Now we’re on the TGV —this one seems to have originated in Lucerne, Switzerland —and we’re racing back through the Burgundian countryside (very pretty) towards Paris. There was a storm last night, and now remnants of it all day; lots of wind, but then some sun too; and then brief bits of rain. Apparently the weather in Chablis, especially, is very unstable, and they are prone to sudden storms rising up from nowhere.

Specialties of Chablis/ the l’Yonne:

Gougères —little cheese puffs, a snack with an aperitif

Andouilletes —tripe sausages

Pain d’ Epices —gingerbread

Jambon Morvan —prosciutto like ham served in thick slices

soft cows milk cheeses —famously Époisses, a smelly, runny cheese; and chaources, a milder creamy cheese

Cherries —in springtime; asparagus in season

Escargots —from burgundy

“Terrior de l’Yonne” organization for regional products: butchers, bakers, and restaurants.

Wines:

Chablis —very dry chardonney grown in a small appellation surrounding the town on limestone soil. On of France’s best white wines, and the best of the Burgundy whites.

Cremant de Bourgonge —the best from Bailly near Chablis; this area is quite near the champagne region, and like many champagnes it is a sparkling wine made from Chardonnay grapes —but much cheaper.

Bourgonge Aligote —a cheap white wine that, with the local creme de Cassis, is the basis for a proper kir.

5 June Later… Paris

Our train arrived right on time at the Gare de Lyon and the bus trip to the hotel was super easy —it’s practically door to door service. It was nearly six by the time we got settled, and we were pretty hungry too. Logan decided he wanted to eat at Bofinger —for a very typical last meal in Paris. He called them but they wouldn’t take a reservation, but said if we got there by seven we could likely have a table. So we walked over to the Bastille and arrived at Bofinger a bit after seven. There were only a very few tables occupied at that hour of course, so it was no problem and we got a nice table on the ground floor. All was very pleasant until they seated these two very odd women at the table next to us. One was very loud, and despite a funny sort of accent, very American. She was ugly in the extreme, with unkempt hair, warty complexion, and some kind of hideous pink sleeveless hand-knit top. Her companion was none too attractive either, but at least very quiet in a mousey sort of way. Well the loud one was just complaining about everything —they were eating there on some sort of voucher given by a tour company or something, anyway they weren’t even paying for dinner, but nothing seemed to suite —“We don’t want any wine, we want coffee and tea —this coffee’s too strong! Sausages! who would eat sausages for dinner? Can we have extra vegetables? How about broccoli? Do you have broccoli? She wants a salad too… ” The waiters were so accommodating to all this, I was absolutely amazed; where the Parisians get their reputation for rudeness, I don’t know. Anyway, at first it was impossible to ignore this woman, and Logan and I both inwardly groaned —it stopped our conversation, and her voice just reverberated in the space between us. Apparently she was here to see the Louvre —that was her mission —and if she was forced to endure the city of Paris in order to do it, she was just going grit her teeth and soldier through it. Oh how I wanted to tell her to lighten up, have some wine, enjoy her free meal! Well, fortunately, the restaurant filled up quickly, the noise level rising to drown her out more-or-less, and their food came and she shut up —occasionally —to eat. And the ironic thing is they devoured the food —every bite: the onion soups, the fish, the mashed potatoes, the artichokes, the side of greenbeans; the extra salad —Logan said she commented constantly on how delicious it was, so go figure.

I enjoyed my dinner as well, but then I expected I would! We had Lillet served with a little dish of green olives and tiny pretzels. Then I had my big platter of six oysters with a glass of Chablis, while Logan had foie gras (again!). Then Logan had a fish that was the daily special, and I had braised duck. We had a nice bottle of Burgundy (a Mercurey) with it. Then Logan had a coupe colonel and I had a chocolate tart. It was all quite good —maybe it’s a little pricey, now that with the Euro one is aware of the prices —and it was great fun to watch the waiters dashing around, in and out of the kitchen, up and down the stairs, carrying trays piled with dishes and grand plateaus de fruit de mer. We stopped afterwards at the Petit Fer a Cheval for a drink —it was full of fashion-modelly drunk rufuses inside —but we sat outside so it was ok.

6 June 2002

Logan left early in the morning —before breakfast —so I had breakfast alone in the hotel, then set off dashing all around Paris on my own. And I really did dash around. First I took the Metro out to the 16th, where I’d never really been before, a sort of a well-to-do but non-touristy area, and walked several blocks to find the Foundation Le Corbousier —housed in a double villa he built in the 1920’s. One of the Villas is open to the public, and it is quite fabulous —very cubist, very stylish, probably not so easy to live in; but it’s on four levels with lots of windows, and interior spaces looking into other rooms and cool built-in bookshelves, and picture rails and light fixtures. I left there and walked all the way to the Trocodero —just to see the neighborhood, which is very residential, very typically Parisian. At the Trocodero I stopped to take in the view of the Eiffel tower, and the view of all the tourists and school kids taking in the view. Then I walked another couple blocks to the Palais du Tokyo, where I made a second visit to the hipster contemporary art space. The Wolfgang Tilmans had just opened, and I wanted to see it. Actually it was impressive and beautifully installed —this huge curving white space with a very high, sky lit ceiling; and the pictures —huge, tiny and everything in between, tacked to the walls all over the place. And some of the pictures were very affecting, especially the snapshotty portraits. But so much of his work is so banal —I know that the banality is sort of his stock in trade —but really I think it’s too much; and actually his newer work is more abstract —big photogram things and such; they don’t have much emotional appeal, but they do show some effort.

By now I was quite hungry, so on a whim I dashed to the subway and went to the Palais Royale and to Willi’s wine bar —arriving about 2:15, just in time to have a nice lunch at the bar: Asparagus and broadbean soup with a glass of Riesling, and veal liver with a cote rotie; a refreshing dessert of fresh cherries and orange slices with a slab of hard bitter chocolate. Very tasty. After lunch I had a bit of a walk around the Palais Royale, then took the metro out to the eighth and walked around looking in shop windows. Finally got back to the hotel after six; Went to the laundromat down the street at seven so I could have some clean clothes. At ten, walked over to the Marais, and had some dim sum things at that little place by St. Paul. Then sat at a sidewalk table at the Open cafe and had a few beers. Checked out the Full-metal and the QG bar —neither very busy, then checked out the Arene —busier, but as dreadful as I remember it being (thought I’d give it a second chance); and really expensive beer too.

7 June 2002

More photography… Before lunch, the show at the photo museum at the Hotel Sully —which after I paid my 5 Euros, I realized I had already seen —last year at the Van Gogh Museum. It’s this personal collection of American photographs from 1840-1940. It was interesting enough to see again though. And then, after Lunch, I went to the other photo museum in the Marais to see the much hyped Klien+Paris exhibit. Big and garish, and many funny juxtapositions; mostly crowd shots from the street, or group shots a society events. In between I walked out to the Place de l’Aligre and had lunch at the Table l’Aligre. I had the daily menu: a crab salad, a roasted codfish, and a creme brulee; it was all very tasty and included wine, and a cafe —all for 20 euros. A good deal, especially when you consider that I had just spent that morning 10 euros for two cups of coffee and a piece of toast at the AOC cafe.

It was a bit gloomy all day in Paris, but now that I’ve come back to the hotel to rest after a day of dashing around, it’s cleared up and become quite sunny. 8 pm and it’s very sunny and bright. I’d take this computer to a cafe to make my notes, but I haven’t had it plugged in and the battery is not charged.

Later…

I had a lie down in the early evening, then went out for a walk at dusk to take some photos and have a snack. I was going to stop at the Deux Palais, but it was closing, so I went to the Panis and had a croque on country bread.

8 June 2002

Out today pretending to shop. Actually I bought a summer shirt and some boxer shorts at this cheap, stylish store from Spain called Celio. Then it was just browsing around the St. Germain des Pres and San Sulpice. Then I happened by a little movie theater where they were showing the Larry Clark film “Bully”, so I decided to go see it. It was really good, I thought. Then over to the Marais for a bit more non-shopping —I tried in vain to find this one men’s clothing store that I had seen earlier in the week. Then on my way back to the hotel, I stopped at Notre Dame and caught a bit of the Saturday evening service. Lots of singing, and very nice to experience the church in use. I hadn’t a big lunch on Saturday, so I went out to dinner at Polidor. It was fun —because of the people —but it is not as cheap as I remember it. (dinner cost me as much as lunch at Willi’s.) I had a lentil soup (rather dull) and the pintade with cabbage, which was quite good, and a huge tarte tatin with creme freche. Sat with a girl from London and her two French friends; they were nice.

Dithered about where to go for a drink that night —Keller or Docks or Transfert. Decide on Transfert, but it was a mistake —it’s the tiniest bar in Paris, and was empty as well. So after taking the metro there (it’s at the far end of the Louvre) I had to walk back to the Marais, and just went to the Full Metal, and actually didn’t stay out too late.

9 June 2002 Aboard the Thalys to Amsterdam

Very tired today —too little sleeping the last three nights —so most of the trip back I’ve just been listening to music and staring out the window at the landscape. Some really beautiful cloud formations as we sped through Northern France. Holland is predictably gray.

I had an early lunch before I left Paris —a steak tartare at the Terminus Nord. It is yet another Flo group brasserie, but anyway that does assure that the food is of a high calibre. I was torn between steak tartare and oysters —I only had time for one course. Had the tartare and a half bottle of Cotes du Rhone. Anyway it is directly across the street from the station, so it is very convenient.

Now I have my article to write, but it won’t be done on the train. I finally get out the computer, and we’re racing into Schipol already —so we’ll be in Amsterdam in 15 minutes.

It’s Nice to be Wanted

France has a long history of tolerance for alternative sexuality. It’s been a refuge for homosexuals from Oscar Wilde to James Baldwin to Gertrude Stein, and a live and let live attitude regarding love and sex seems to prevail. Recently though, France has been moving beyond tolerance to a genuinely enthusiastic embrace of gay residents and visitors. The mayor of Paris is openly gay. Recent legislation extends domestic partner (essentially marriage rights) benefits to same sex couples–and this approved under a conservative national government. Gay bars, bed and breakfasts, shops, restaurants, gay organizations, saunas and discos are proliferating–not only in Paris, but in smaller cities throughout France. The national and regional tourist offices, businesses, mainstream hotels and restaurants, and individual city governments are all enthusiastically welcoming gay travelers. It’s nice to be wanted!

Pride in Gay Paree

You’ll feel especially welcome during the last weekend in June, when Paris’ puts on it’s huge annual gay pride celebration. Watch the festive, chaotic and very long parade from any point along its considerable route from Place d’ Italie to Nation (Bastille is a convenient location) or join in and march with a favorite group–every one is welcome to participate as well as watch. Afterwards, the Marais becomes a huge street party for the remainder of the evening. Naturally there are disco parties and special events the whole weekend long. And while Paris Pride is the ultimate, cities throughout France now have gay parades and events–you could spend all of June celebrating gay pride, French style.

Even on a normal day, Paris is the center of gay life in France, with a huge gay community, bars and clubs of every description, trendy gay restaurants, stores selling trendy clothes and campy doodads, and an excellent gay bookstore (Les Mots a La Bouche). Begin your exploration of Gay Paris at the Open Cafe. It seems like every gay boy in Paris eventually strolls by these sidewalk table, and you can happily linger over a coffee, beer or cocktail. Pick up free copies of the several weekly gay agendas for detailed listings of the many other bars and events. The Marais, the lively and traditionally gay quarter of Paris is so popular now that gays have begun colonizing adjacent areas as well–Rue Oberkampf, Canal St. Martin, and the slightly seedy Second Arrondissement are all worth a look. Of course you will see gay people everywhere in Paris and you should feel at home wherever you go.

Racing to embrace gays

Many visitors–and many Parisians themselves–have the impression that that gay life in France begins and ends in Paris. Now a number of regions and cities throughout the country are taking various initiatives to prove that they are just as gay friendly as the capitol. Leading the pack in the this regard is Le Mans, a Loire Valley town best known for the exciting (but not at all gay)Circuit Des 24 Heures du Mans auto race. Yet the city also boasts an organization of gay friendly businesses—Charte d’accueil et de bienvenue Lesbian and Gay Friendly—which now includes most of the hospitality industry in Le Mans. For instance, the grand old belle époqueHotel Concorde, traditional and charmingly old-fashioned, proudly displays its gay friendly charter at the front door. Restaurants are also gay friendly; try traditional cuisine of the Loire atLe Grangeraie in the center of town, or venture out to the nearby nature reserve L’ Arche de la Nature, for a simple but delicious buffet on a farm.

For something more exciting, you can practice your own racing skills on a gas powered go-cart at the very butch Circuits “Alain Prost”. The hunky staff won’t care if you are gay or even if you send your cart crashing at high-speed through the track-side barricade! Auto racing is a theme running through the town, and for aficionados there is great collection of historic vehicles in theMusée de l’Automobile. Historic Le Mans—dating back to the 13th century–is really the highlight of the city however. Vieux Le Mans, the medieval core, boasts the largest concentration of half-timbered buildings in France. And not to be missed–not that you could–is the immense Cathedral St. Julien which spans the entire range of medieval church architecture from fortress-like Romanesque to flamboyant high gothic. The gay “scene” is small town, but in addition to the gay friendly bars and cafes, you will also find a gay disco (La Limite), cabaret (Palace Cafe) and sauna (Le Nil), should you find yourself craving company.

Life in a Student Town

In Montpellier, in what is thought of as the more conservative south, perhaps it is the presence of so many students that lends a gay friendly atmosphere. Of the city’s 240,000 residents, 60,000 are students, creating an overwhelmingly youthful vibe. Add to this the relentless sunshine, and the plentiful terrace cafes that surround every square and you have one of the best cities for people watching in France! The Cafe de la Mer is the gay cafe, with tables spilling out into a popular square, and ultra-cute waiters. Grab a table and a pernod and watch the boys (and girls) go by. The nearby Rue des Teissiers is a narrow passage lined with small gay and gay friendly cafes, their sidewalk tables creating a sort of nonstop block party. For late night partying, Le Heaven and Le New THT offer boys, drinks and small dance floors once you have buzzed your way in. For sun and swimming, the Mediterranean beaches are a short drive from town and the surrounding country side is dotted with ancient villages, Languedoc wineries and ruined Templar castles.

Back in the city, the best way to see the city’s rather hidden historic sites is with the excellent three hour guided tour offered by the Office du Tourisme Montpellier. You’ll get a look into the courtyards of private renaissance houses and the 12th century Jewish ritual bath–rediscovered after seven centuries! Montpelier is home as well to some really great food; for an incredible meal don’t miss La Compagnie des Comptoirs—or their (much less expensive) sister restaurant on the beach at nearby La Grande Motte. The latter is a tent which sits directly on the beach affording incredible views of the Mediterranean and the option of a post lunch swim; the entire restaurant is dismantled in the autumn, and re-erected each spring.

Relaxing in Provence

Provence is probably the most popular holiday region in France after Paris. It’s a perfect spot for sun, scenery, wine, and lazily whiling away the days at an outdoor restaurant or a hotel swimming pool. For a real treat, L’Hotel Les Ateliers de L’Image is the sort of hotel you actually hate to leave to go sightseeing. The rooms are simple, cool and comfortable; The public areas are fashion magazine chic; but it is the large, stunningly beautiful pool and the extensive grounds that make the hotel a destination in itself. Though located in the heart of little St. Remy, the pool overlooks the open countryside–perfect for cooling off midday, or for a midnight swim. As there are only 24 rooms, it feels very exclusive, and very private. The highlight of St. Remy are the excavations of the Roman city of Glanum. You can see the foundations of the ancient buildings and the Roman street grid, yet two thirds of this sizable city remains buried. There is a short walking trail to take you there. This entire region of course was an important part of the Roman empire, and reminders of this ancient heritage are everywhere. In Arles, the Roman arena is still used for bullfights and the local variant, bull racing. In bull racing, unarmed (and apparently reckless) young men compete with bulls–the bulls are never harmed, and they, not the boys, achieve fame and status! Again, for the best look at Arles’ many Roman ruins and Medieval buildings, the Arles Office de Tourisme offers excellent guided visits in English. TheMusée de L’Arles Antique features extensive ancient artifacts from the region. Fascinating and beautifully presented, this relatively new museum should not be missed. Avignon is home to the monumental Palais du Papes, the temporary residence of the popes during the 14th century. It’s an impressive example of religious fortress architecture. The town itself is charming, retaining its old city wall and filled with sunny squares and outdoor restaurants. And with six Michelin star restaurants, Avignon offers some pretty impressive Provençal cuisine. Avignon is also the center of gay life in the region. It’s handful of gay bars (Le Cid CafeLMCafe), clubs (Le EsclaveThe Cage) and sauna (H Club) draw gays from throughout the region. Mostly though, province is more about relaxing than a pulsing nightlife–and you may be surprised to find that there are huge number of gay and specifically gay friendly hotels, bed and breakfast properties, country houses and villas–many quite luxurious–scattered throughout the region. The organization Gay Provence is an excellent source for Provence accommodation, restaurants, and information; they are very eager to offer advice and assistance and maintain an comprehensive and informative website. Spring, early summer and Autumn are the best times to visit Provence–it is warm but not so crowded. If you want to see the world famous Avignon Arts Festival though, you will have to brave the July heat and crowds–and book everything well in advance.

A Quick Jaunt from Paris

Only an hour northwest of Paris, and easily accessible by train, the charming city of Rouen is perfectly located for a weekend trip from Paris. This medieval town, where Jeanne d’Arc was burned at the stake, has much to offer–historic architecture, an impressive cathedral, a good art museum, great Norman food, and pleasant inexpensive hotels. And Rouen also boasts a lively and friendly gay scene, including two very busy lesbian bars. Reserve a room at the the gay-owned La Vieux Carre, which also has a very pleasnt restaurant. It’s very reasonably priced, centrally located and oozing with half-timbered charm. Exploring this small city is effort free–you can easily visit all the main sites on foot. While the Cathedral Notre Dame–made even more famous by Monet’s paintings–is the most impressive building in town, other nearby monuments worth seeing are the flamboyantly Gothic Palais du Justice, The Eglise St.-Ouen, the Horloge medieval clock tower, and the streets of ancient half-timbered houses. A visit to the pleasant Musée des Beaux-Arts makes a restful change from the crowds at the Paris museums. Too much culture? Rouen offers an astonishing range of shopping for its size–from incredible chocolates and pastries to handmade luxury items, and branches of the famous Paris design houses such as Hermes. In the evening, gay life beckons. The XXL has a bar on the ground floor, a small disco below, and frequent theme parties–often a decidedly sexual theme. A casual, friendly atmosphere pervades, thanks to the efforts of gregarious owner Stephane. Just down the street, Blues offers a huge cocktail menu, and a laid-back lounge atmosphere. The lesbian scene is particularly lively (because of the link to gender bending heroine Jeanne d’ Arc?) with two busy bars. Le Miss Marple–named for the famous fictional detective–andL’Insolite are both filled with friendly and attractive women.

sidebar: A Luxury Weekend in Paris

The Marais is funky, fun, and tres gay, but perhaps you dream of that chic, ultra-luxurious, and very romantic Paris you’ve seen in so many movies. Could it get any more glamorous than a weekend at the Four Seasons George V Hotel? This historic property, with huge rooms, stunning decor, staff rushing to accommodate your every whim, and every amenity you can think of, is one of the world’s great hotels. See Robbie Williams check out as the Rolling Stones check in—the hotel routinely caters to celebrities and presidents—yet Director of Marketing Jean-Pierre Soutric is enthusiastic about welcoming and accommodating gay guests. The concierge can even direct you to the current gay hotspots. It couldn’t be more luxurious and romantic, but of course all this comes at quite a price (do inquire about the many discounts and packages on offer). Still, you’ll be the envy of your friends back home. The Hyatt Regency Paris Madeleine is smaller luxury hotel, with a cool, contemporary look, stylishly comfortable rooms, friendly staff, and a relaxed atmosphere. It will appeal to artistic types (it’s Pavarotti’s hotel of choice) and again, gay guests are enthusiastically welcomed. Now, put on your best Paris suit (or pick up a stylish yet reasonably priced new one from local menswear designer Melchior) and head out for a deluxe meal at one of Paris’ famed restaurants. Try the chic, contemporaryMaison Blanche, with its stunning city views or the George V’s own 3 star Le Cinq. However, whether you opt for luxury hotels or a pension in the Marais, Michelin star restaurants or cozy bistros, an evening stroll through Paris with a special friend is as romantic as any movie, and costs nothing at all.

The List: Stay/Eat/Play/Do

PARIS

Hotel Ambassador Concorde 16 Blvd Haussmann, +33 1/4483-4040 fax +33 01/4296-1984,www.hotelambassador-paris.com, 200-500 Euros)

Hotel Four Seasons George V 31 Avenue George V, +33 1/4952-7001 fax +33 01/4952-7011,www.fourseasons.com, 565-2250 euros,

Hotel Hyatt Regency Madeleine 24 Boulevard Malesherbes, + 33 1/5527-1207 fax 33 1/5527-1210, www.paris-hyatt.com, 355-600 euros

Paris Tourist Office and Convention Bureau 127 Avenue des Champs Elysees, 33 01/49.52.53.27 Fax +33 1/4952-5330 www.paris-touristoffice.com

Open Cafe 17 rue des Archives, +33 1/4887-8025

Melchior various locations around Paris

Maison Blanche 15 avenue Montaigne, 33/1 4723-5599 fax 33/1 4720-0956

LE MANS

Hotel Concorde 16 Avenue Général Leclerc. +33 2/4324-1230, fax +33 2/4324-8574,www.concordelemans.com, 88-140 euros

Le Grangeraie 23 place de l’éperon, +33 2/4323-9306, 14-20 euros

Le Mans Tourist Office Rue de l’Etoile, +33 2/4328-1722 Fax : +33 2/4328-1214, www.ville-lemans.fr

La Limite 7 rue Saint-Honoré, +33 2/ 4324-8554

Palace Cafe 101 avenue du Général-Leclerc, +33 2/4387-0936

Le Nil 36 rue de Fluerus, +33 2/4323-2681

MONTPELLIER

La Compagnie des Comptoirs La Grand Travers, La Grande Motte, +33 4/6756-4342 fax +33 4/6756-4342, www.lacompagnedescomptoirs.com, 20-25 euros

Languedoc Roussillon Regional Tourist Board 417 rue Samuel Morse Montpellier,+33 04/6722-81.00 Fax +33 04/6722-8027,www.tourisme-languedoc-roussillon.com

Cafe de la Mer 5 place du Marché-aux-Fluers, +33/4 6760-7965

Le Heaven 1 rue Delpech, +33/4 6760-4418

Le New THT 12 rue Saint-Firmin, +33/4 6766-1252

PROVENCE

L’Hotel Les Ateliers de L’Image 36 boulevard Victor Hugo Saint Rémy de Provence, +33 4/9092-5150 fax +33 4/9092-5150, email info@hotelphoto.com

Arles Office de Tourisme 43 Bd de Craponne, +33/4 9018-4124, www.ville-arles.fr

Provence Regional Touist Board www.crt-paca.fr

Le Cid Cafe 11 pace de l’Horloge, +33/4 9082-3038

LMCafe 40 rue des Lices, +33/4 9086-1967

Le Esclave 12 rue du Limas, +33/49085-1491

The Cage Gare Routière, +33/4 9027-0084

H Club 20 rue de Paul-Manivet, +33/4 9085-0039

ROUEN

La Vieux Carre 34 rue de la Ganterie, +33/2 3571-6770 fax +33 2/3571-1917, vieux-carre@mcom.frwww.vieux-carre.fr, 60 euros

Rouen Tourist Office

25 place de la Cathédrale, +32 2/3208-3242 fax +33/2 3208-3656,

www.rouentourisme.com

XXL 25 rue de la Savonnerie, 15:00-4:00, +33/2 3588-8400

Blues 15 rue Saint Etienne des Tonneliers, +33/2 3588-8400

Le Miss Marple 35 rue de la Tour de beurre, 18:00-2:00, +33/2 3588-4732

L’Insolite 58 rue d’Amiens, 19:00-2:00, +33/2 3588-8400

RESOURCES

Maison de la France (www.franceguide.com) The French tourist offices are an invaluable resources. Before you go, make use of the website to explore options and request information. Upon arrival, local offices can provide information, maps, assistance and often excellent walking tours.

Gay Provence (www.gay-provence.org) Providing booking for gay friendly accommodation throughout Provence as well as information on bars, clubs and restaurants.

By Clay Doyle {Published in a slightly different form in Out & About, June 2004}

Tuscan Food and Wine

With an emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients and straightforward preparations, it is no wonder that Tuscan food has become a favorite around the world. Still, there is nothing like a trip to the source, and Tuscan food in Tuscany offers both familiar favorites and delicious dishes and ingredients not often seen in America. Best of all, food and wine in Tuscany is not only great, it can also be a great bargain—even in the most touristy areas.

The ultimate meal in Tuscany is Sunday lunch, and the ultimate Sunday lunch is the justly famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina—a two-inch-thick slab of beef cooked on a wood fire. This is possibly the best steak in the world, and strangely impossible to recreate outside of Tuscany. Order it at Casa al Chino (53037 San Gimignano; +0577/946022; fax +0577/946045; $8-20), an unpretentious farm restaurant in the hilly fields seven kilometers west of San Gimignano—by far and away the best place to eat near this touristy town. Start with very traditional antipasti—the crostini with chicken liver (rather like a New York chopped liver) or an assortment of cured meats. Sample the pastas, as all are good and you can share an assortment of three among the table. Then have the bistecca—though served for two persons, it can easily feed three. Skip the lackluster desserts though, and have a justly famous italian gelato later. Sunday lunch draws a festive crowd that ranges from stylish young couples to extended families with children and grandparents, but it’s a good choice for lunch or dinner any day.

Only a few restaurants serve the bistecca, but within central Florence, the lively Baldovino (Piazza Santa Croce; +055/234-7220; $10-30) offers a huge version as well as fantastic homemade pastas (try the pear and ricotta ravioli) and not to be missed desserts. The atmosphere is lively and informal.

In Siena, head for the tiny Osteria la Chiacchera (Costa di S. Antonio 4; +0577/280631; $6-9) on a steep and narrow alley by the San Domenico church. Run by a group of hip young Sienese, the atmosphere is fun (shared tables) and the food is excellent. Try the bici, a Sienese specialty that’s a thick spaghetti, and the daily specials. There’s a variety of tasty tarts to conclude your meal but, quirkily, no coffee.

In Lucca, the locals flock to the Trattoria da Leo (Via Tegrimi 1; +0583/492936; $5-8) for hearty traditional pastas and fantastic roasted meats. There’s always a lively crowd at this family-owned trattoria, drawn by the friendly staff and low prices. The nearby Giulio (Via delle Conce 45; +0583/55948; $6-9) is good choice for Lucchese specialties: try the white beans with tuna, the bread or emmer soups or the house-made maccheroni; you can skip the unexciting meat courses, but do have the traditional (and unusual) chard tart for dessert.

In Pisa, avoid the restaurants around the Duomo and its famous tower, and make the short walk into the little-visited center of this pretty university town. Have a traditional meal at the bustling Osteria dei Cavalieri (Via San Frediano 16; +050/580858; $8-12) or an elegant one at La Mescita (Via Cavalca 2; +050/544294; $10-18). The complex, original food here can be fabulous—when it works; the huge, reasonably priced wine list makes up for any excesses in the kitchen.

The best food can turn up in the most unlikely places. The hamlet of Meati, 4 km southwest of Lucca is no more than a handful of scattered buildings, and the Osteria di Meati (Meati; +0583/510373;$5-8) looks like little more than a roadside bar. But the welcome at this family restaurant is sincerely friendly and the food streaming out of the kitchen to the tables of stylish locals is unbelievably good. About half of the short menu consists of daily specials in season—mushrooms, game, tripe, eel. It’s hard to make a plate of beans topped with lard sound good, but it was amazing, as were the risotto, homemade pasta with a sauce of game birds, and the delicate meat courses duck, rabbit, and traditional, but far better than usual, dish of cinghiale (wild boar) with olives. One can hardly believe that four excellent courses and house wine cost only €20 Euros a person.

House wine is almost always quite drinkable. Nice Chianti’s, even with some age on them, are usually reasonably priced. Many excellent wines carry simply the label “Rosso” as winemakers are blending grapes in new and interesting ways; ask for recommendations. And if you want to drink a famous Montalcino or Montepulciano be prepared to pay—and don’t bother with one less than ten years old; these big reds need plenty of age. Do try the traditional dessert of cookies and a glass of Vin Santo.

Reservations are expected, and often essential, though they can often be made the same day. Meal times are rigid in Italy—do not make the mistake of thinking you can eat any old time. Plan to sit down to Lunch between 1 and 2:30 and dinner between 8 and 9:30. Go on the late side and you will have the advantage of seeing what the other diners are ordering; it’s often more informative than the menu.

By Clay Doyle {Published in Out & About, 2002}

THE RED and THE WHITE: A food and wine tour of Burgundy

One of France’s most famous wine regions, Burgundy features a picture-postcard landscape of vineyards, forests, fields, canals, medieval towns, and Romanesque monasteries; charming country inns; and of course, delicious food and wine. Easily accessible from Paris—and considerably less expensive than the French capital—Burgundy is ideal for a relaxing holiday or a romantic getaway.

The Red and The White

The Red: Beaune and the Côte d’Or

For many, Burgundy is synonymous with red wine. Red burgundies are made from pinot noir, but they will not be labeled with the grape variety, and only the least expensive will be labeled Burgundy. Most will carry the appellation of a specific, often tiny, area, such as Fixin, Mersault or Rully–the villages of the Côte d’Or, or golden hillsides—each with its own distinctive character. Many of the wineries—and there are many—offer tastings; unless you are a serious oenophile, it can be a bit hard to know where to begin. One of the best ways to experience different wines is with food—and the restaurants accommodate with a huge selection of the local product. Not surprisingly, the region’s delicious specialties are a perfect accompaniment to burgundy wines. Classic Burgundian dishes include escargot (snails in butter and garlic), jambon persillé (a terrine of ham and jellied parsley), the braised dishes of coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon, and meats (especially the famed Charolais beef) grilled over a wood fire. Beaune, the beautiful medieval town that is the spiritual center of Burgundy, boasts a selection of fine restaurants. Le Jardin des Remparts (10 Rue de l’Hôtel Dieu; +03/8024-7941; $18-25) may have Beaune’s best food, and the tables set within the walled garden of a manor house make an unbeatably romantic location. The smaller Le Bénaton (25 Faubourg Bretonnière; +03/8022-0026; $18-22) offers equally fine, creative food, if a less impressive location. Though it looks touristy, La Grilladine (19 Rue Maufoux; +03/8022-2236) around the corner from the Hotel Dieu, has good regional dishes, a great wine list, and pleasant tables along the sidewalk. There are also many country inns thoughout the region where you can eat—and drink—extraordinarily well for very little money by sticking to the menu du terrior, the regional specialties. A delicious example is the Auberge du Coteau in the tiny village of Villars-Fontaine (03/8061-1050; $8-10) near Nuits-Saint-Georges, where the meats are roasted in the dining room fireplace. And do have a Kir, the local aperitif, properly made with Bourgonge Aligote and locally produced créme de cassis.

Glass

The White: Chablis and the Yonne

Chablis, unlike Beaune, is just a village–one of many tiny, picturesque towns scattered about the quieter, less touristy, white wine region of the Yonne. Though the name Chablis has been appropriated (unfairly) by cheap wine producers around the world, the real thing is a distinctive, sophisticated dry chardonnay whose character none-the-less varies greatly with the style of the many individual producers. Start your tour of the wineries with a visit to Les Chablisienne (8 Boulevard Pasteur; +03/8642-8989) in Chablis, a wine cooperative with 280 members. In nearby Bailly you’ll also find the best of the sparkling, champange-like, Cremant du Bourgonge (the Yonne is adjacent Champagne). Try a glass while nibbling a Gougères, a little cheese puff that is a local favorite. Other regional specialties include Andouillettes (tripe sausages); Jambon Morvan ( a raw cured ham served in thick slices); soft cows-milk cheeses–famously Époisses, a smelly, runny cheese; and Chaources, a milder creamy cheese; Pain d’ Epices (gingerbread); and in springtime, fresh cherries and asparagus. Chef Michel Vignaud’s Hostellerie des Clos (Rue Jules-Rathier; +03/8642-1063; fax +03/8642-1711; $20-40), in Chablis, is the region’s best restaurant—it was created as a showcase for the local wines, and gourmet menus are excellently crafted to show them at their best. Everything is top quality, and set menus provide excellent value. A good choice for a less formal meal is the Auberge des Tilleuls (+03/8642-2214; $12-16) in Vincelottes, with al fresco dining at tables set along the picturesque river Yonne. Not to be missed is the tiny Le St. Bris (13 Rue d l’ Eglise; +03/8653-8456 $10-15) in the village of St. Bris le Vineux, where chef-owner Jean Francois Pouillot will prepare you a memorable meal of regional specialties. In addition, restaurants belonging to the Terrior de L’Yonne association are highly recommended.

Beyond Food and Wine

Of course you can’t eat and drink the whole day; but fortunately there is plenty to do between (or instead of) lunch and dinner. The gently rolling hills are popular with cyclists, and you can rent bikes for a few hours or a few days, with maps and itineraries provided: in Beaune at Bourgonge Randonnés (7, Avenue du 8 Septembre +03/8022-0603); and at the Chablis Tourist Office (1 Quai Biez; +03/8642-8080). Beaune itself has much of interest. Most famous of its historic sites is the Hôtel-Dieu, a beautifully restored medieval hospital complex. Also worth a seeing are the Romanesque church, Collégiale Notre-Dame, and the town ramparts and moat. The region was a center of the medieval monastic tradition—the powerful Cluniac and Cistercian orders were both founded here—and a wealth of surviving monasteries provides a fascinating glimpse into French history and architecture. Many of the still extant monastic sights are well worth visiting, and represent Burgundy’s main cultural attractions. The ruins of the Ancienne Abbaye de Cluny—once the largest church in christendom—give a glimpse of the power of this monastic order at its height, but the perfectly preserved church at Paray-le-Monial reveals the architectural style at its apex. Situated in an isolated valley halfway between Beaune and Chablis, the self-contained monastery of the Abbaye de Fontenay (nearest town: Marmagne) is remarkable for its completeness and tranquility. The pilgrimage church of Ste-Madeleine offers amazing views of the surrounding countryside from its location atop the picturesque, if touristy, hill town of Vézelay—as well as housing the reputed relics of Mary Magdalene. A personal favorite is the little visited Cistercian Abbaye of Pontigny, north of Chablis, for it’s tranquility and fine architecture.

Pontigny

Sleeping Around

The entire region is well provided with rooms in all price categories. For luxury accommodations, look to hotels belonging to to the association Châteaux & Hôtels de France(www.chateauxhotels.com). For simpler, and very reasonably priced, hotels, as well as restaurants with reliably good regional food, look to the inns belonging to the Logis de France(www.logis-de-france.fr). In Beaune, Le Cep (27 Rue Maufoux; +03/8022-3548) offers the towns most luxurious lodgings; the Hotel Du Poste (5, Boulevard Clémenceau; +03/8022-08 11; fax +03/8024-1971; www.hoteldelapostebeaune.com) and the Blue Marine (10-12 Boulevard Maréchal-Foch; +03/8024-0101) are also excellent full-service hotels. For a less expensive alternative, the Hotel Belle Epoque (15 Rue du Faubourg Bretonnière; +03/8024-6615; fax +03/8024-1749) offers very pleasant rooms in the town center, while the Hôtel Grillon (21 Route de Seurre, east; +03/8022-4425; fax +03/8024-9489) offers comfortable, bargiany rooms, a good restaurant and a rural ambiance, a few kilometers from the city center. In Chablis, theHostellerie des Clos (see above) offers pleasant and inexpensive rooms in the former convent that houses their luxury restaurant. Nearby, in the picturesque and tiny village of Cravant,L’Hostellerie Saint-Pierre (5 Rue de l’Église; +03/8642-3167; www.hotels-tradition.com/saintpierre/)—owned and run by a gay couple—offers tasteful, comfortable rooms and a friendly welcome to gay visitors. Some hotels close during the winter months, and all will be at their busiest in August, and during the wine festivals in November.

Getting there, getting around

You’ll definitely need a car to explore the region. You can easily drive from Paris, or take the TGV (frequent connections from the Gare d’ Lyon) to Dijon and pick up a car at the station. All the major companies are represented; expect to pay about $200 for one week. The area is well served by major French autoroutes, but it is most enjoyable to travel the smaller, scenic, departmental roads. All roads are in perfect repair and well sign-posted, though a Michelin road map is indispensable. Be aware that you can never drive fast enough for the locals—let them pass!

The (limited) gay scene

You may want to schedule a few days in Paris if it’s nightlife you crave; if you can’t wait, the best option is the Sunday night only gay disco at L’An-fer (8 rue Marceau; +03/8070-0369) in Dijon. Dijon, a university town, also has two gay bars: Caveau de l’univers (47 Rue Berbisey; +03/8030-9829) and Le Phaune (4 bis, Rue de Serrigny; +03/8050-0169) as well as a gay sauna, Le Relax (97 Rue Berbisey; +03/8030-1440). Auxerre, a mid-size, lively town 20 minutes from Chablis, also features a gay sauna, Le KLS (21 Avenue de la Tournelle, 03/8642-7687).

Resources

More information is available on the internet at from the Burgundy Tourist Office(www.burgundy-tourism.com), the Chablis Tourist Office (www.chablis.net) and theAssociation of Alsace, Burgundy and Champagne (www.abcoffrance.net). Gay listings are available online from the France Queer Resources Directory (www.france.qrd.org) and the gay magazine Têtu, available throughout France, has excellent regional agendas. The Burgundyvolume of the Touring in Wine Country series offers the most comprehensive English guide to the region’s wineries and restaurants.

Article and Photos by Clay Doyle {Published in Out & About, October, 2002}