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One of my favourite things to do in France is to stop on the side of the road and pick fruit. It’s everywhere. Today we had the pleasure of picking blackberries and blueberries. It will be absolute heaven if we can come across some raspberries some time as well. When berries at home are so expensive, it’s simply a guilty pleasure to be able to freely pick them on a country road. It would also be useful if I occasionally remembered that they have thorns instead of thrusting my hands straight into the bush.
Does Dijon still have it’s flags?
I was keen to get to Dijon to see if my memory was serving me correctly. We last visited here (also in a motorhome ) with my parents, in 2005. I was fairly certain I remembered that Dijon had a heap of flags in the city streets. I’m unsure why that would stick in my head, but it was a fairly strong recollection.
I had to wait a little while to validate that as it took us about an hour to find a park. Some cities are made for motorhome parking and others are most definitely not. Dijon is one of those.
Whilst all the parking is quite well signed, none of it is really acceptable for parking big rigs that are 6.5m long, 2.5m wide and 3.5m high. Round and round we went until finally, over the canal we found a spot.
After picking the safest park, we were on our way. But then we had a moment of ‘oh my god are we allowed to park here’? After driving around for an hour we had been conditioned to the difficulty of finding a park, and now suddenly this appeared all too easy. Being the do gooders that we are, we then walked back and forth for the next 10 minutes trying to work out if the car park was for residents only. Finally a man arrived to get his car so I was able to practice my French on him too to find out if we were ok to park here. Finally satisfied that we were not going to be fined or towed, we were off.
Soon we were in the centre of this beautiful city. Maybe it was just good luck, but the road we took into the city lead us straight into one of the gourmet food store streets of Rue de Bousset. Here foodie places were plentiful but my favourite of the day was Moulet et Petitjean. On the outside, the building was a typical Dijonaise, medieval half timbered style building. Inside, it was stunning. Only the photos here can show how architecturally beautiful this building is. Even the floor tiles were incredible.
All types of pain e’spices, a local speciality of gingerbread, were on offer. There were also vinegars, liqueurs and other condiments flavoured with another local speciality – cassis (blackcurrant). We tried a sample of Nonnettes de Dijon with a chocolate filling which was so delicious we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to buy one to take home. Only difference with our purchase was that we bought the gingerbread roll with a caramel filling. I know this one won’t be making the long journey back to Australia.
At the intersection of Rue de las Liberte and Rue de Bourg, my memories were validated. Here, in the true centre of Dijon, a largely pedestrianised area, the huge flags move in the breeze. I just stood there and smiled. It was a wonderful moment and I was glad I was here. The old town is comprised of incredibly old and beautiful buildings, now containing modern and fancy retail stores in their lower levels. And there were boots. Boots everywhere. I have such a weakness for all things boot that I could quite easily get carried away here. Red boots, green boots and even blue. A boot of every size, every colour, for every person. I’d better keep walking!
A unique trail
Dijon is of course known best for it’s mustard and the well known brand of Maille. It is also home to many historic buildings, which are best represented by the Owl Trail. A walking tour, made easier by a map you can obtain from the tourist office, or these days, via an app. The walking tour uses brass plates on the footpath with an owl embossed into them to let you know where the path is. When the brass plates get larger, you know you have arrived at a particular building of significance.
Overlooking the Les Halles Market, that we had wandered through, looking once more at the amazing fresh produce that the growers have on offer, we pulled up for lunch at Cafe Cossi. We chose this one as it looked popular, always a good sign. Inside this cafe was ultra modern and not at all like the average French bistro. What it had in aesthetics, it didn’t have in service. I’m not sure if it was just because they were busy or whether this is the usual service, but if I was back home, it would be one of those places where I wouldn’t bother coming again. I was ready to pour my own drink and cook my own food just to get served a little quicker.
By the time we ordered, the three options for lunch had been reduced to just one. Fortunately the food was ok, without it being exceptional, and it was nice just to sit down and take in the surroundings. My husband’s entree of foie gras crumbed in the local pain d’espices arrived looming as rich as I know it to be. My salad of crumbed chèvre was delicious. Our plat (main) of fish – the only option – was ok although a little on the under flavoured side despite the citron sauce and my husband had a mouthful of bones with every bite.
On the wine trail
As we left Dijon, we took the Route des Grand Cru. If you are travelling down this way, DON’T take the motorway, take the smaller roads that will take you down through this trail of vineyards and through some of the most sensational French countryside I have seen. My husband and I both mentioned that it is quite possible that it rivals the trails through the Champagne region.
Vineyard after vineyard join together, almost as though they are happily holding hands, creating stunning images of vines, and rock walls, and houses that represent the label. Every now and then, you can see the history of the owners, with large and grandiose houses sitting in the heart of the vineyards, whilst in other areas, more modest buildings are the front to the winery. Either way, it makes for glorious scenery and the feeling that you need to stop at every one, just in case you never see another one!
When you are in a motorhome there are always special moments that stick with you forever. Either because you have been part of something great, or done something completely stupid, or just had one of those moments where you think, could this possibly be happening, or did I just do that ? I had one of these today. It was quite literally like a scene out of Fawlty Towers.
We had arrived at the town of Nuits Saint Georges, one of the larger towns along this wine trail. I had seen a sign for an Intermarche, one of the more well known supermarket chains in France. As we turned right into a small street off the main highway, an ambulance bore down on us, lights flashing, sirens screaming. We were in a two way street but it was quite narrow and there was nowhere for us to go but backward.
Holding up the traffic
The ambulance continued it’s race towards us, on the wrong side of the road. The only option for us was to reverse, and given we had just turned off the main road, it was time for me to jump out of the van very quickly and get behind it so that I could direct my husband back out onto the road.
Just as I got to the corner, another motorhome came around. Arms up in the air and asking them to stop, I had to take command of the road! The occupants of this motorhome weren’t at all sure of what was going on, but then they heard the sirens and it all started to make some sort of sense to them.
Then, as I was expecting my husband to reverse backwards, he suddenly starts going forward again. I’m calling to him to come back and continuing to hold up all the traffic on the main road, not at all understanding what he is doing. I race back to the van to find that the ambulance had completely disappeared. Did I imagine it? No, apparently it had taken a side street. Great, now I looked like a complete lunatic to our fellow motorhomers.
Back inside we continued on our original path to the Intermarche. Pulling in, we then realised it was a brand new store being built, that wasn’t yet open. So, the van got kicked into reverse once more, and yes, you guessed it, our fellow motorhomers were right behind us, and had to wait once again for us to complete our turnaround. Time for us to get out of this town !
France Passion sites aplenty
Back on the main road, we were heading for Chory, and our France Passion stop for the night. At Madame Dupont’s we were expecting a vineyard and another chance to try some different local wines. It wasn’t to be however, with Madame Dupont’s site seemingly closed up when we arrived.
Consulting our trusty France Passion guide once more, we had a couple of options back near the town of Nuits Saint Georges. Perhaps a few more vehicle reversals as well !
Our first attempt for another site also proved fruitless but this was because we were being a little fussy. This France Passion site, tucked away in the hills was known as a fermiere (a shop selling products from the farm) however the parking site for us was not near the beautiful building near their shop, nor the vineyard, but rather further up the hill and tucked in next to the big tractor shed. If this had been our only option for the night then it would have more than sufficed, but for now, it was time to cast the net wider.
And our net found something super cool. Chateaux de Premeaux, a building held by the same family of winemakers for five generations welcomed us. We were warmly greeted upon our arrival as we poked our head into the side building to the chateau, where a woman was hand packing bottles coming off the conveyor belt.
The groundsman, cutting and dragging large trees up the main road of the chateau onto a stockpile stopped for a chat and happily offered up his son’s English speaking skills should we need them.
We found our motorhome a prime spot for the night, taking pride of place in front of the large pond, where in peak times, five or more motorhomes a night squeeze in. Once again, we are thankful for the lack of competition. A drink by the pond or by the chateau tonight. Hmmm, it would be hard to choose.
We returned to the chateau to partake in yet another wine tasting. We seem to be getting into the whole France Passion process quite well I think. Park, taste wine, chat, buy wine, return to motorhome. Couldn’t be easier !
The lady that had welcomed us told us to go down to the cellar for our wine tasting. Soon we were joined by another lady who had all her tasting bottles ready to go. Turned out that she was the wife of the 5th generation winemaker, so we were in very good company tonight and we enjoyed a great chat about their wines and the general wine making area, along with some good serves (not tastes ) of their label.
The Pinot Noirs here are well regarded and grown up the hills, where the soil profile contained more rocks and more minerals. They are light but very drinkable, and it’s good to see my husband, who normally enjoys the more hearty reds, enjoy these ones too.
The Aligoté white wine is also a Burgundy grape, grown on the flat alluvial plains and tasting like a Pinot Grigio if you are looking for a comparison. I quite liked this one too. And then there’s the bubbles. A sucker for bubbles, especially anything made in France, I wanted to try this one out but there were no bottles open. Thinking that she might not want to open one just for us, I told her not to worry about it. But it appeared it was no trouble at all and she raced upstairs to grab a bottle of her Crémant.
I soon realised why she didn’t mind opening a bottle, she wanted a drink too! So we sat there in the cave, around the keg, having a glass of bubbles made on the white juice of the purple Pinot Noir grape. Her family, three generations of it, live in the chateau and work in the winery during the day. And here we are pulled up in their back garden for the night. Truly amazing and I am starting to see the true value of this France Passion network.
Walking through the chateau winery
As we talked about the wines, she offered us a tour. Would we like to walk through the operational area? Would we ? Absolutely ! Soon we were in their caves where they store the wines. Nothing as elaborate or large as the caves that run underneath cities like Epernay in the Champagne region, but performing the same function all the same. Humidity controlled and cool, it’s the perfect place for storing those vintage wines, covered in years of dust, and telling the stories of their year of harvest with the way they taste when they are eventually opened.
Could we take photos ? Of course you can. Nothing was too much trouble here. Next we were in the main processing area with the tanks, big aluminium ones, and big solid concrete ones. The grape harvesting season is mostly over in this region, with only a small number of wineries still with people in the fields doing the final pick. For the Premeaux label, they had a bumper crop and all of their product was filling every tank to the brim.
We walked up the stairs to the tops of the concrete tanks, taking the lids off and peeking in at the millions and millions of tiny Pinot Noir grapes which had now taken on reddish tinge to their purple skins having been pressed and squished by many feet.
Our host was soon grabbing my arm and telling me she had to go to pick up her daughter from school, but we could stay as long as we liked and go wherever we wanted to. Such hospitality and friendliness to strangers is heartwarming and it just continues to show that people respond to those who treat them well in return and who show that they are interested in learning or supporting their business.
Having seen enough, and not really feeling comfortable just roaming around their factory, we took our bottles of Aligoté and Crémant that we had purchased back to the motorhome, stopping to pick some pears first. And later, as the sun set behind the chateau, we wished the family a happy weekend as they closed up their operations for the week, and took the cork off a bottle of their finest.
Kerri now travels regularly with her husband, Stirling, where eating great food, drinking quality beer and wine, and cooking international foods are integral to their adventures.