Our Life in Burgundy

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The Blog: Our life in Burgundy

September 22, 2013

Autumn Walks

Filed under: Places,Village Life,Weather — Tags: , — Mary @ 22:18


It was perfect weather today for our monthly randonnée around and about Cortambert. Chris led us on a route through the vineyards to Toury with a loop back to Cortambert again.

On the third Sunday of next month we will arrange a walk to set off from Berzé-le-Châpel. More  information nearer the time.

Meanwhile don’t forget the treasure hunt on 13th October arranged by the Amis Donzyrons.  It’s a treasure hunt with a botanic theme and will start in Donzy at 2pm.

Thanks to all for making this morning’s walk so enjoyable.

September 15, 2013

The Méchoui

Filed under: Events,Village Life — Tags: , — Mary @ 20:04


When our neighbours sent us an invitation to join their méchoui I had to look it up in the encyclopaedia. Méchoui is from an Arabic word for the roasting of a whole sheep over an open wood fire. The north African nomads used to rear male lambs especially for this, feeding them herbs for extra taste.


Apparently it is popular in France to hold a méchoui in the summer. I can’t say that it was summer weather today but the cold was countered by the warmth and hospitality of the assembled company.

As it takes about six hours to roast a sheep it was started long before we arrived. The insides had been removed and a net sack of cooked spicy couscous with pine nuts had been inserted into the cavity and the sheep sewn up with wire. It was put on the spit and constantly turned over wood embers. Old pallets were being burned nearby so when the embers cooled they could be replaced by fresh ones.


Is it done?

Meanwhile everybody had bought an astonishing array of starters and there was plenty to eat while waiting for the mutton. Plenty to drink too.


When it was deemed ready the sheep was carried to a table. The children clamoured for pieces of crispy skin. The sheep was opened with wire cutters, the couscous removed and the sheep soon dismembered with an axe. Chunks of the moist and tender meat were dished out and eaten with the couscous.


Afterwards we were entertained by an impromptu band. Two guitars and a trumpet were joined by a New Zealander on the bagpipes. A hurdy gurdy player showed us how his instrument worked. If the handle is turned you can make a continuous sound, a bit like the bagpipes, with wheel rubbing the strings. To make a tune you can press the keys with the left hand to shorten the strings.


The hurdy gurdy man


A big thankyou to our hosts, their family and friends, for an entertaining and enjoyable day. Not to mention the sheep! I’m glad his fellow sheep in the next field seemed oblivious to it all.


September 10, 2013

Gallia Narbonensis

Filed under: People,Places — Tags: , , , — Mary @ 14:01


Sitting here looking out at the rain I can’t believe that just last week we were enjoying a holiday in Narbonne, blue skies and sunshine with temperatures in the 30s, swimming in the Med…..

Blue sea, hot sun and sandy beaches

Blue sea, hot sun and sandy beaches

We had never been very far south, except for taking a flight to Nice one January. We discovered a different land. Leaving behind the bucolic lush paradise of Burgundy we entered a Cézanne-like country of dry scrubland, rocky outcrops and twisted pines.

The journey down was interesting as we had a mystery tour up and down the winding ravines of the Ardèche thanks to Kate the Satnav who didn’t take us where we had planned to go. But once on the A75 motorway we were able to cross the Millau viaduct, opened in 2004 and, with towers of 343m, the tallest bridge in the world. The road deck is 270m above the valley floor which makes it the highest in Europe.

Approaching the Millau Viaduct

You can’t appreciate you are so high as it is difficult to see below. Just as well for the acrophobics amongst us.

Then on to Narbonne, a historical city of many cultures. Narbonne was first developed by Julius Caesar and became an important crossroads in the south of France. It was situated where the Via Domitia, the road from Italy to Spain built in 1189 BC, connected with the Via Aquitania which led towards the Atlantic through Toulouse and Bordeaux.

Part of the Via Domitia unearthed in the city centre

Part of the Via Domitia unearthed in the city centre

Hence Narbonne became the capital of Gallia Narbonensis, the Roman occupied southern coast of France. Having been used to sunny climes one wonders what the Romans thought of being sent off to fight marauding savages in the bleak north of England.

Narbonne is linked to the nearby Canal du Midi and the Aude River by the Canal de la Robine, built in the 1680s, which runs through the centre of town.

Canal de la Robine with the Archbishops' Palace behind

The Canal du Midi is an artist’s paradise.  Sadly the plane trees on the banks of the canal are slowly dying of a disease and won’t be here much longer -

By the Canal du Midi
By the Canal du Midi

In the centre of Narbonne the Archbishop’s Palace, built between 12th and 14th centuries, houses the art gallery and currently the Charles Trenet exhibition. Charles Trenet was a well loved singer whose career spanned from the late 1930s to the 1990s. He wrote all his own songs, La Mer being the most famous. He lived in Narbonne, not far from where we were staying, and his house is now a small museum devoted to his life and work.

The Archbishop's Palace

The Archbishop's Palace

There is a very impressive cathedral which dates from 1272 and is the third tallest in France. On first sight it looks like part of it has been destroyed but in fact it was never built. Completion would have entailed breaching the 5th century town wall which, at that time, was useful in repelling the invading army of the Black Prince. In addition the plague swept through southern France and decimated the population.

The main attraction for us were the nearby Mediterranean beaches. The best are at Gruisson.

Approaching Gruisson

Approaching Gruisson

This ancient town is almost an island with its surrounding etangs and visitors can climb up to the ruined fortifications in the centre. Gruisson is also famous for its salt and there is an interesting visitor centre by the salt pans.

The salt pans at Gruisson

Hopefully we will be able to visit Narbonne again, next time for a bit longer so we can also visit Carcassonne and Beziers. There are 300 days of sunshine a year, perfect for a winter holiday.

September 1, 2013

The Johé Gormand Exhibition at Cortambert

Filed under: Events,People,Village Life — Tags: , , — Mary @ 21:39

This weekend saw yet another successful event in Cortambert. An art exhibition at the foyer rural marked the 50th anniversary of the death of local artist, Johé Gormand. She is famous for her art brut. I wrote about her here when we went to see an exhibition of her work at the Musée des Urselines in Mâcon.

Besides her artwork she wrote obsessively, and last night we re-enacted her story of le petit Niallé (meaning ‘the runt’ as he was small and skinny). We began by staging the marriage and dancing the Bourrée enthusiastically to the music of le Niallé’s accordian. For the full story see here.

 Guests at the village wedding

Guests at the village wedding

Then off we went in the dark through the woods where we met the wolves that had frightened le Niallé into taking refuge in a tree.

Safely back at the foyer rural we raised a toast to the newly married couple and to le Niallé who eventually reached home and was forgiven by his wife for breaking his promises to stay sober and get home early.

Thoughts turned to Johé Gormand and we went outside to sent off two Chinese lanterns which gently drifted off in the direction of Cluny.

Maude sends off a Chinese lantern

Maude sends off a Chinese lantern

Johé Gormand would have been pleased with the acclaim she received from the many visitors who came to see her work over the weekend. Alongside her paintings was exhibited the work of several of our present artists, Pascale’s painted ceramics, Guy’s sculptures, Marie Antoinette’s watercolours, and Pierre-Jean’s drawings. Maude was especially impressive with her fabulous lacquerwork. Cortambert is rife with talent, more than enough for us to hold an exhibition of our own next year.

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