Hotel Dieu, Beaune
We’ve just had a glorious week with several days of wall-to-wall sunshine. Temperatures have been in the low 20s but it has felt very warm in the sun.
To take advantage of this lovely weather we took a trip out to Dijon. We followed the route des Grands Crus tourist route through the vineyards and stopped off to visit Beaune. This is considered the most beautiful town in the Burgundian wine region and it used to be the home of the Dukes of Burgundy before they moved to Dijon. Beaune is noted for its Hotel Dieu which is the medieval hospital built in 1443. The roof is spectacular with its multi-coloured tiles and a wooden gallery encloses a cobbled courtyard. There are of course numerous caves where you can taste the wines. Some caves are worth visiting for their location alone, such as the one in the 13th century church basement in the Marché aux Vins.
Between Beaune and Dijon lie the most famous vineyards and villages with names synonymous with great wines. This area is the Côte-d’Or, so called because of the glorious gold of the vines in the sunshine later in the autumn. Just now though the pickers are still busy harvesting the grapes. We stopped and watched for a while at the Clos Vougeot vineyard. In these prestigious vineyards picking is still done entirely by hand to ensure the high quality of the wine. The pretty villages have narrow streets and half timbered houses and you see names that you know from the labels on wine bottles – Nuit St Georges, Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault Volnay, Pommard. Each vineyard has its chateau perched on the rocky cliff above the slopes of the vineyards. Rochepot Chateau could have come straight out of a fairy tale.
Dijon is famous of course for its mustard and it is the best preserved medieval town in France, a magical place of glazed roofs and half-timbered houses. The Cathedral has a crypt with the relics of Saint-Benigne, the patron saint of Dijon. The crypt is the oldest Christian sanctuary that can still be visited. Of course the Dukes of Burgundy built a splendid palace which now houses various museums and the Mairie.
This trip proved to be a most interesting sightseeing experience. Even though we live here we still need to faire le tourist now and again.
The Chateau at Azé
Throughout France the third weekend in September heralds the ‘Journées du Patrimoine’ which is a directive by the French Government whereby French history and culture is made available to all. It is more or less compulsory to go and visit chateaux and gardens which are specially opened for this weekend, or to take part in the re-enactment of such things as medieval wine festivals.
Cluny is always a good place to start with history and on Saturday we visited the Hotel Dieu which is the old hospital. Although perhaps not as impressive as the one in Beaune, this one is still in use today to care for the elderly. We walked through the ancient vaulted hall with rows of beds each side, each a little four poster with white cotton canopies to screen the patient. We marvelled at the roomful of historical treasures and relics given to the hospital by the Abbey.
More locally, our village hosted a cello concert in the Church last night. The performer was Birgit Yew who had come all the way from Paris to play for us. In our village any occasion merits a feast and after the concert we enjoyed the local wine and a huge spread. I particularly love the puddings and expect look like one soon!
Unfortunately last night the heavens opened and rain continued until late this morning. We ventured forth after lunch to visit the Chateau at Azé. In front of the Chateau were all sorts of things for sale from healing stones and oils to bonzai trees. Inside the Chateau were exibitions of painting and craftwork, and outside were many sculptures, displayed beautifully in the grounds. Above the Chateau we walked in woods carpeted with cyclamen and looked into the caves.
With still part of this ‘ journée du patrimoine’ remaining we went back into Cluny to the Haras where we visited the stables yet again to pat the stallions and watched some beautiful Arab horses being put through their paces in the show ring. This was followed by a skilful exhibition of riding without bridles or saddles. The funniest event of the afternoon was the pony club competition where little girls on tiny ponies had to show off their handling skills by demonstrating their mounts could be boxed and shoed, then negotiating various obstacles designed to spook the ponies. Flapping coats and noisy tin cans had little effect but some ponies really did not want anything to do with crossing wooden boards or the water splash.
Medieval Fete in Cluny
I usually just post on a Sunday but there has been so much going on this week that there will have to be two episodes. This is the week of the ‘Route des Vignobles’ which features working horses from all parts of France. Amongst them are grey Percherons, Belgian horses, Norman Cobs and horses from the Ardennes, Picardy and Brittany.
Yesterday we went to Cluny to watch the carriage racing. The great horses were groomed until they shone and their manes and tails plaited. In pairs they pulled carriages around very complicated courses to show their prowess in navigating obstacles.
Today it was Medieval Day. This is part of the 1100 celebrations for Cluny Abbey. Some horses were harnessed to a variety of old carts and carriages and the rest ridden, and there was a parade all around Cluny. The people were dressed up as medieval knights and ladies, jesters, monks, vintners, prisoners and executioners, farmers and serfs, all representing life in medieval times.
The tour continues tomorrow with a ‘ploughing the vines’ competition in Mercurey which is north of us, followed by a competiton where teams of horses pull sledges with six people standing in them through obstacle courses. Other horses will set off on the route through the vineyards which stretches from Solutré Pouilly through to Beaune and Dijon. They then continue to Chablis where the trail finishes on Sunday night.
After a cold, wet start to the week the weather has been very pleasant for the horses and spectators. Although it’s only about 23 degrees it’s still quite hot in the sun.
Cluny 2010 - Human Chain
Today we took part in a great day of celebration at Cluny Abbey. The Abbey was founded 1100 years ago and this was the first in a series of events throughout the coming year to mark this important event.
In medieval times Cluny Abbey was the centre of Christendom in Europe. The Abbey was even more powerful than St Peter’s in Rome until it was destroyed in the Revolution of 1789. The idea behind today’s events was to symbolise how the message was spread to all parts of Europe.
The map of Cluny was divided into 12 segments as there are 12 ‘portes’ or gates allowing access through the ramparts. Each segment was given a different colour. Lines were drawn out from Cluny and all the local villages and towns contained within that segment were allocated that porte. For example, Cormatin to the north was contained within the white segment and the Cormatinoise gathered at the Porte de la Chanaise near the Haras. Going outwards, the white segment encompassed Holland.
So this morning thousands of people from all parts of Saône-et-Loire converged on Cluny carrying laden picnic baskets and set up camp by their porte. All were wearing their designated colour. Some of the groups brought food of the countries in their segments. For example the village of Cortambert brought food from the Baltic States. After a warm welcome by the Maire of Cluny and his counterpart from Tournus, the lunch began. All the food was shared and a good time was had by all. The French really know how to have a picnic. Some villagers had dressed up in the ancient costume of their region and kept us entertained with old folk dances and songs passed down the generations.
After lunch we were treated to a exhibition of stunt riding at the Haras. Also we visited the splendid stables, built by order of Napoleon, to see the beautiful stallions at stud. Cluny must be the best place on earth for people that enjoy seeing wonderful horses.
Two cloaked riders were then sent out of Cluny by each porte with a scroll symbolising the message of Christianity they were taking forth to all parts of Europe.
For me the most thrilling part of the day was linking hands to make a human chain that stretched 3km around the old walls of Cluny. A helicopter took photos from above and it was an incredible sight with the different bands of colour.
Time for a rest so we lay in the sun in the Abbey gardens and listened to the speeches given by all the top dignitaries of Department 71. Then came an evening of entertainment and dancing. Altogether a wonderful day out!