Normandy Summer Sea Festival, Veules-les-Roses

This week Paris has been drenched with April Showers in May.  Just to be confusing, in France it’s supposed to be March showers. Good for the shrubs perhaps but even greater for the travel companies, as we’ve been instead turning our thoughts to the summer holidays.

I realised that I’d forgotten to share the rest of a Normandy short break we made last summer. Remember the visit to the watercress beds in Veules-les-Roses?  It’s not surprising that this Normandy village, with the smallest river in Europe, was voted as 6th most preferred village in France by the French in 2013. The locals also host a Watercress Festival on 20 April.  It’s a date to note for 2015 but it’s not too late to mark this fun festival in your diaries for this summer.

Normandy tractors decorated for the festival

La Fête de la mer, or Festival of the Sea, takes place on 15 August. It’s a popular date as the 15 August is always a national holiday in France (and this year it falls on a Friday, making a ‘pont’ bridge for the long weekend). For those of you who prefer to take off earlier, then on 14-15 June there’s the Rose Festival for budding weekenders and on  5-7 July 2014, Veules-les-Roses will run the Linen festival for the very first time.

veules-les-roses sea carnival boats in the Normandy village

The sea festival kicks off with a religious ceremony at the Church of Saint-Martin in the village centre. Then, driven by decorated tractors and jeeps, boats carrying light-hearted, proud youngsters clad in nautical stripes and sailor’s berets form a procession through the main street.

carnival of boats in Normandy

We follow them to the beach, so popular with Russian artists at the end of the 19th Century, inspired by the likes of Monet and Eugène Boudin.

It’s a procession with a difference.  Yes, the boats are going to sea with the Mayor and a couple of priests.

mayor and priests walking on the beach, Normandy

They give their benediction to protect the boats and throw a wreath in memory of all sailors lost at sea.

blessing of the boats and benediction in Normandy, festival of the sea, Veules-les-Roses

Time for some reflection.

bonnet de marin or sailor's beret at the sea festival in Normandy

At the end of the procession, the town hall laid on a splash of Normandy cider, before most visitors headed off for their oyster picnics on the beach or grabbed a table at the numerous seafront restaurants for a plate of local fish and seafood with a view of the cliffs. We already had a super gastronomic meal at Les Galets the night before; this time we found a more light-hearted table at Le Petit Veulais crêperie.  Luckily we booked a few hours beforehand!

normandy oysters

Eye-aye, Captain.  I see their prizewinning oysters (gold medal winners 2013 and 2014 at the Concours Général Agricole) on the horizon, plus watercress beds, rosebeds, oyster beds, seabeds. For sleeping beds, we loved staying a few years before at l’Hôtel Douce France when Julie was just a baby.  This time we stayed in the neighbouring market town of St Valery-en-Caux and thoroughly recommend the Hotel du Casino which is great value.

A great dose of fresh sea air is guaranteed: overlooking the harbour with excited seagulls and tinkering boats for extra ambience, all included.

 

 

French Wine Festival of St-Vincent Tournante, Burgundy 2014

I should have split this long post up into episodes. Instead let me share with you a bumper wine edition from Burgundy.

This past weekend  the vineyards around Burgundy’s Côte d’Or were alive with the sound of visitors trying desperately to park their cars.

St Aubin vineyards January

Nearly 50,000 visitors turned up to the 70th edition of the Festival of Saint-Vincent Tournante in Burgundy this weekend, over 25-26 January.  It’s the first time the wine festival was held in the tiny village of St Aubin (with 260 habitants) in the Côte de Beaune.

Traditionally celebrated over 2 days in January, each year the wine growers around Burgundy get together to pay homage to their patron saint, St  Vincent.  It’s a festival that originated in 1938 but not until 1964 was it opened up to the public and, ever since, each year it has become increasingly popular.

St Aubin Burgundy

It’s as if we’re stepping back in time. Early morning at sunrise – following a glass of the white nectar with breakfast – there is the traditional red and golden robed procession of the Confréries des Chevaliers du Tastevin with the wine growers (vignerons) through the chosen village, followed by a religious ceremony – all under the protection of Saint Vincent, held high above the vignerons’ shoulders, represented as statues amongst the various wine growers’ banners.

We witnessed the St-Vincent procession four years ago in the neighbouring host village of Chassagne-Montrachet. I’ve hunted for my photos from the ceremony in vain, but for images of the religious procession in St Aubin, click here.

Confrererie des Chevaliers de Bourgogne St Vincent

We missed the ceremony this year, as an invitation to a tasting of Jean-Claude Ramonet’s legendary Chardonnay whites in Chassagne-Montrachet was one of these you-only-live-once opportunities.  The only wine bottles we saw were ones without labels, replaced with white abbreviated markings of type and year, not yet ready for the public.

Starting with Bourgogne Aligoté (the dry, even tart wine that traditionally is used in the kir apéritif), we went through young wines such as Le Montrachet (I took me years to realise not to pronounce the ‘t’) and concluded this exceptional white tasting with a monumental Bâtard-Montrachet.  The sophisticated aromas were either already full of butter and dried fruits or slightly closed, like under-ripe peaches. What’s astonishing is that a couple of minutes later after tasting, the most immense flavours of buttered toast, nuts, cream and peachy fruits start dancing in the mouth.

With these kinds of wines, you don’t use the spittoon.

Burgundy wine tasting Domaine Ramonet

Having my modestly petit wine diploma from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust a hundred years ago (the first that takes you on to the ultimate Master of Wine), it gave me a lame excuse to swirl the golden drink of the wine gods around the tasting glass. What I hadn’t learned in my student days was the traditional hand-twirling, clapping song, le ban Bourguignon: lala, lala, lalalalalèèère, lalala, lalala, la, la, la – a signature appreciation to end off the event.

Next stop, St Aubin. As you can see from the dazzling sun bouncing off my huge frozen nose (now developed into a lovely sinusitis, or is it turning into a French nose?), St Vincent also protected us with the weather. It may have been just above zero degrees but the sun made up for the numb fingers and toes.

Jill Colonna Fete de St Vincent St Aubin Burgundy

For the festival, 6 wines (cuvées) were made especially for the occasion with a 7th ticket for the day used as a glass of your chosen wine-maker. Glasses sporting Saint-Aubin logos are THE designer glasses that you’ll need for the weekend; apparently the glass idea started in 1973.  There are 130 hectares with 30 Premiers Crus in St Aubin, with reminders throughout the village.

St Aubin Burgundy 130 hectares of premier cru wine

Every house and balcony are decorated by the village residents with realistic-looking flowers, made from colourful crepe paper.

St Aubin wine festival St Vincent France Burgundy

We were so wrapped up with the convivial atmosphere, with musicians and eating stands (my idea of the perfect lunch was a bowl of oeufs de meurette, not pretty to photograph but exquisite poached eggs oozing in a red wine, garlic and bacon sauce mopped up by a crusty baguette), that it was quite easy to forget about the wine tastings themselves!  I ended up tasting only 2 whites but then, after Ramonet’s exquisite wines, it’s no surprise.

Ambience Burgundy wine festival St Vincent

 The village is traditionally decorated according to the four seasons.  Spot the tree humour and crêpe paper effects on this summery deck-chair.

burgundy wine festival St Vincent

Another reminder of St Aubin’s Premier Crus…

Do you know your Magnum (1.5l) from your Rehoboam (4.5l) or Balthazar (12l)?  Perhaps useful to have up your sleeve if you’re playing ‘Who Wants to be a Millionnaire’?

wine bottle quantities quiz burgundy France

This is when I got lost from our group members by taking photos.Suddenly there were a few people wearing red hats like our friend, Hervé.  I just happened to follow the wrong one.

st vincent wine festival burgundy france January

Hot oysters this way, red wine tasting that way, or what about this way for a wine aroma experience?

learning all the different wine aromas burgundy france

This was my girls’ favourite part. They’d already worked it out: touching the buttons below each vase circulated the air inside and the aromas wafted around in the giant glass.  Let’s face it, as French children, my girls don’t drink the wine yet but can appreciate their aromatic qualities and practise with Mum and Dad…

varied wine aromas to learn in France

Stick your nose in there. Do you get white flowers, fresh fruits, citrus, butter or cream? What about dried fruits and nuts?  Each aroma family is more powerful than meets the eye.

One of my favourite wine games is blind tasting using black glasses (sometimes you can get caught out with water!) but this was a blind aroma test.  We all debated but I’m sure this one was honey.  Time to move on, as it’s a sticky subject.

For red wines in particular, perhaps you discover the animal side: do you get the leather aromas, or wooded vanillas and spices such as cardamom, pepper or coriander?

My daughter, Julie, pushed the button on the sous-bois jar.  How many times have you had an earthy red wine, recognising the natural wafts  of the leafy, moussy undergrowth?  It was so realistic.

Now, repeat after me, ‘Empyreumatic‘.  Fancy, eh?  This is a family of aromas that cover anything burnt, smoked or grilled, which includes coffee and chocolate.  It’s a sign that wines were aged in wooden barrels rather than just inbox cylinders.  Do you get that toast, reminiscent of a white Burgundy, like Mersault?  Hm. Try and pronounce that at a wine tasting.

The red fruits and candied fruits were definitely to be sniffed at.  Again; and again; and again.  Who feels a lightly toasted strawberry gratin coming on?

Before night was upon us already, we headed back to our gîte at the Pavillon de Chasse, or hunting lodge.  The only hunting we were doing was checking out the rest of our wine friends next door at the Château de Tailly, where dinner was laid on by our chef à domicile friend, Thomas Le Courbe aka Toma, who has worked with chefs including Pierre Gagnaire.

Best gites in Mersault Burgundy

The glasses on the table were preparing themselves to be thrilled with our friend, Jean-Pierre Guyon‘s nectar for the evening. Another legendary wine-maker in Vosne Romanée – covering the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune – he took us through his delicate feminine wines from whites such as Savigny-les-Beaune, Nuits-Saint-Georges (pinot blanc) to the purest reds such as Chorey-les-Beaune, Gevrey Chambertain and Vosne Romanée Premier Cru. All tasting samples, you understand.

By the end of it all, who could forget the customary appreciation of such an epicurean weekend by singing le Ban Bourguignon? My Cod, it was wonderful, Jean-Claude Ramonet, Jean-Pierre Guyon and Toma. With special thanks to our good friend, Hervé, the prince of organisation!  I give you vin sur vin (20/20). Just next time, please don’t wear a red hat.

Before I ask you to sing it and wave your hands in the air, what kind of wine would you prefer to go with this cod dish?  It has a touch of chorizo, saffron, butter, potato, mussels?

I’d thoroughly recommend where we stayed. It’s a 3 hour drive from Paris, 1h30 from Lyon and 35 minutes from Dijon.  For more information, contact info@chateaudetailly.com.

Château de Tailly
Gîtes and Chambre d’hôtes
Tailly
21190 Meursault
France

A New Year Kir Royal from Normandy

Happy, bubbly New Year to you! It’s good to be back.

Do you have resolutions for 2014? I don’t, but this morning I realised the need to resolve the online photo chaos before I move up to the new attic office when it’s ready.  Making a start – trying to cut out the distracting but fun cacophony of sawing, whistling and drilling interspersed with some singing hilarity of French-Romanian renditions of Amazing Grace upstairs- I discovered a number of photos I’d completely forgotten about, taken on a long weekend in Normandy last August.

As the sawdust flies around my nest, this is a welcome impression of fresh air on a desktop – although I can imagine with the ferocious winds this week that it’s not quite the same serene scene along the French coasts!

This shot reminds me of a typical Normandy beach scene by Eugène Boudin, where the sky dominates the canvas. Eugène Boudin was one of the first French landscape painters to paint outdoors – Claude Monet was his biggest fan. I picked that up at the Boudin exhibition in Paris last May at the Jacquemart André museum, before devouring a magnificent fraisier in the museum café, which inspired my strawberry and pistachio tart. But I digress.

Taken from his hidden grotto, this was Victor Hugo’s last view of the sea in 1884, according to a tourist information sign nearby.

This grotto was made towards the end of his life, as he often visited his friend, Paul Meurice, to work and contemplate the sea at his house, just metres away in Veules-les-Roses. I bet they supped plenty of watercress soup together, as this is also where the watercress beds are plentiful at the source of France’s smallest river.

Normandy beach huts

Mid-morning, the row of beach huts in Veules-les-Roses nestled into the cliff’s terrace like a drowsy audience before the sea show. By midday, the ambience flipped to bubbling.

Their weekend occupants had opened the shutters, brushed down the canvas chairs inside and laid out platters of local oysters on picnic tables while sipping on a Kir Normand apéritif: a cocktail drink of local Normandy brut cider mixed with crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur). In some restaurants they also add a touch of Calvados liqueur. While I tried the Kir Normand, I prefer Normandy cidre on its own, to let the flavour of the apples shine through. However, what about just the cider and Calvados?

blackberries Normandy coast

The hedgerows of wild blackberries (or brambles) that line the coastal path in Veules-les-Roses best echo my kir sentiments; my favourite is a kir à la mûre (made with blackberry liqueur), which has something warming and festive about it at this time of year, whatever extreme, crazy weather we’re having.

(Psst: most people call them blackberries, I know, but we call them brambles in Scotland – that way there’s no confusion with the other Blackberry, or hubby’s ‘ex-mistress’ – I always had this strong desire to accidentally drop his Blackberry in the swimming pool as he answered emails on holiday!)

When I first arrived in Paris – as lost as French francs were to finding my purse – I was amazed at the rows of enticing-looking cheap bottles of wine at our local Leader Price supermarket. The wines, however, were just as dry and acidic as the smile-less faces at the cash desk.

As I’d discovered the fabulous classic French kir apéritif made with Bourgogne Aligoté and crème de cassis, it was the happiest solution to disguise the rather sour-tasting white wines. Then, as I started to work, I was introduced to the cassis’ fruity cousins in Paris bars and restaurants: I could mix Aligoté or Chablis wine with framboise (raspberry), pêche (peach) or mûre (bramble).

The best ratio of crème de mûre (or cassis, pêche or framboise) to white wine in a kir is about 1:5, as it’s just enough to give a hint of fruit without overpowering the flavour of the wine.  Let’s face it: you don’t want something overly sweet for an apéritif before a meal. In Burgundy, I was surprised to be served at least double the dose by our friends from Dijon – so it’s just a matter of personal taste.

For festive occasions, the kir’s decadent big, bubbly sister is the Kir Royal made with Champagne, but traditionally and best served with a Crémant de Bourgogne, dry sparkling wine from Burgundy. When I followed Georges Lepré’s wine conferences in Le Vésinet last year, he told us that while he was chef sommelier at the Ritz until 1993, he was asked by Joan Collins for a Kir Royal with Roederer Champagne. Say no more. Don’t ruin fabulously expensive Champagne; enjoy it with a good dry brut without too much character – unless your character is stronger than the wine.


Laughter is sunshine that drives winter from the human face”

– Victor Hugo, Les Misérables.

CHEERS!

to
laughter, health and sunshine in 2014!

A Gourmet Weekend in Lyon

Well that took forever to post something: my kids are suddenly using this computer so much for their homework that my minutes are counted! Where was I?  Ah yes, my weekend in Lyon: it was a real treat. After experiencing Chez Hugon, a fabulously friendly Lyonnais bouchon with its traditional sausages, poulet au vinaigre and quenelles de brochet, it was time to venture out next day to discover Lyon’s sweet side.

market in Lyon

No trip to Lyon is complete without visiting Sebastien Bouillet.  I’d already seen his chocolate and macaron artistry at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris and had previously heard of his ‘MacaLyon‘, which provided inspiration for a half-dipped macaron in chocolate which is in the book.

Silk museum in Lyon

First – since we wanted a girlie weekend with a bit of culture thrown in too – we headed to La Maison des Canuts. The Canuts were the Lyonnais silk weavers who mainly worked in this hilly area of the Croix Rousse. The museum takes about 50 minutes to visit (if you do the guided tour in French) otherwise you can stroll around willy nilly while you’re left imagining the poor conditions these weavers had to work in, as if out of a scene of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.

Sebastien Bouillet is only a ten minute walk away from the museum to the market square, at Place de la Croix-Rousse.

Sebastien Bouillet Patisserie Lyon

With the bellowing of an accordion nearby to get us into the French pâtisserie spirit, the boutique’s front was more like a make-up stand in a Parfumerie.

Chocolate lipstick by Sebastian Bouillet Lyon

Don’t be fooled: these are chocolate lipsticks from his ‘Chokola’ collection! What about some lip-smacking milk chocolate and passion fruit to hide in a handbag along with some chocolate lips, chocolate caviar… and some candied chestnuts (perhaps the latter would be messy)?

best chocolate and patisserie Sebastien Bouillet Lyon

His pastries were so inviting and at a fraction of the cost of the same kind of elegant, creative combinations you find in Paris. With only a 2 hour ride from Paris Gare de Lyon (surprise!),  I need to pop on that TGV train more often. He also runs a prestigious pastry school, Gâteau Ecole.

Best pastries at Sebastien Bouillet Lyon

His colourful array of macarons are just as tempting with inspiring flavours such as quince, chestnut, gianduja with green tea, chocolate, praline, salted caramel…. what would you choose?

macarons Sebastien Bouillet Lyon

Another culture break down the hill is well worth the visit to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, the second biggest art gallery in France after the Louvre. I love seeing the impressionists paintings of scenes taken along the river Seine.  This Sisley landscape is just up the road from us, in Marly-le-Roi. Nothing much has changed.

Alfred Sisley Marly le Roi France painting

Just next door to the Gallery is a welcome sweet neighbour, Chocolatier Voisin. Léon Voisin’s chocolate shop’s doors have been open since 1897. He created the Lyon speciality, Le Coussin de Lyon: a bright green cushion of chocolate ganache, almond paste and a hint of Curaçao. If you love marzipan like I do, this is a must!

Voisin chocolate shop in Lyon

The friendly staff at the art gallery told us to try Voisin’s delicious praline quenellesThey’re officially classed as a national delicacy as the patrimoine nationale de la confiserie.  Again nutty, they’re made with grilled hazelnuts and almonds and covered in white chocolate.

Les Coussins chocolates speciality from Lyon

I felt like a bit of Opera coming on but we’d missed the guided tour (Saturdays at 1pm) so instead we headed to rue de la République.  Or rather, we tried to.  What is it with these Smartphone map apps?  I always get lost with them.

Lyon Opera House

Instead, we found it the old-fashioned way by asking a friendly Lyonnaise the direction. Walking in Lyon is like being in Glasgow but chatting in French: the Lyonnais are so friendly they even ask where you’re heading and how they can help. It’s a long way from Paris!

Lyon pastry shops and tea salons

At 4 o’clock, it was time for another kind of Opéra, with a cup of tea. Bingo! We found our recommended Salon de Thé or tea salon at La Maison Debeaux. 

best Tea salon Maison Debaux Lyon

Their traditional pink praline tart and brioches were tempting enough but I surprised even myself by pouncing on a giant coffee macaron with mascarpone cream, the ‘Maccarpone‘. Well, macarons are gluten free, after all.

Our particularly adorable server, on the other hand, wasn’t quite in agreement with my tea order: I’d asked for one of their gastronomic teas with a petit nuage or cloud of milk. But Madame, this kind of tea shouldn’t be taken with milk. Instead he brought me some Earl Grey, or Thé à la Bergamote, and offered me the most dinkiest looking teapots filled with blue flower and jasmine tea, just for me to try.  Now that was class in a glass teapot. I missed my milk, though!

Maison Debaux best Tea Salon Lyon

When most gastronomes think of Lyon, they think of Paul Bocuse.  This time around I wanted to try the Tetedoie restaurant, run by the brilliant chef and President of the Maîtres Cuisiners de France, Christian Tetedoie. His menu, Découverte et Gourmandise, merits a post by itself but a glimpse of his sweet treats will hopefully give you an idea why I’d love to return.  This sublime dessert, caramelised pastry with green apple compôte and Granny Smith sorbet was light enough to enjoy his surprise plate of mignardises to finish off the evening – all with the most spectacular views of Lyon.

Christian Tetedoie restaurant Lyon

It was the cherry on the cake – or meringue on the macaron? – of the weekend.  Soon it’s Lyon’s annual festival, la Fête des Lumières (5-9 December – check out their fun video on this site).  Next year we’ll need to organise another trip and discover more of Lyon’s sweet side. What do you think?

 


 

Disclaimer: All tastings and financial indulgences were purely my own. Ridiculous!

Mastering the Art of French Eating in Lyon: Chez Hugon

When I met my journalist friend, Ann Mah, for a chocolat chaud and macarons in Paris this summer, she was radiant with the prospect of ‘twins’ on the horizon: a baby girl soon to be born in New York and her new book, Mastering the Art of French Eating, which has just recently been published by Penguin Viking. Had I known Ann at the time, all alone in Paris for a year as a diplomat’s wife – not unlike Julia Child, as the title suggests – while her husband was assigned a post in Iraq, I would have loved to have joined her. You see, in order to combat loneliness in the City of Light (and I know what that’s like at first – not easy), she embarked on a gastronomic adventure around Paris and the rest of France.

As David Lebovitz says on the back cover, “Her personal culinary tale will have you packing your bags”. I didn’t think that before I’d even got to the Salade Lyonnaise recipe at the end of Chapter 4, I would have booked a weekend in Lyon! It was about time, after a long haul of being stuck in the house with back problems and builders. Besides, in over twenty years I’ve lived here, I’ve only passed through Lyon en route to visit my French parents-in-law in Provence. As France’s gastronomic capital, how could I have just gone through its tunnels under the Saône and Rhône?

One of Ann’s favourite addresses in Lyon is a typical bouchon eatery, Chez Hugon. I’m not going to give you all the gastronomic history here, as she beautifully documents it in her book but, as a first introduction to Lyon, I can tell you the ambience was contagiously uplifting.

chez Hugon Lyon

Opening the Bouchon door and seeing the long, communal packed tables with diners in full conversational swing, one diner must have seen my panic-stricken face at the lack of space. ‘Mais, you’re too late – there are no seats left’, he teased. Sensing the Lyonnais sense of humour, just as his friend got up to go to the toilet, I grabbed his seat.  Luckily, two wooden chairs were waiting for my friend and I at the end of a table, just cosily next to the kitchen, so we could relish the lively banter from both sides of the restaurant.

As an ex-vegetarian, I didn’t quite make it to the traditional Andouillette tripe sausage but instead went for the lentils with bacon and a Quenelle de brochet, just as Ann had tasted, “served in a puddle of langoustine sauce”.

Just as we were studying the traditional dessert menu, glistening in the fluorescent lights that Ann had mentioned, a couple entered with guitars. My first reaction was, och – there are really no tables left but they took their coats off, opened their cases and started strumming and humming until there was a marked crescendo with Brassens’ songs; to Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie en Rose‘; to Renaud’s ‘Tel qu’il est’…Ce qui n’est pas marrant c’est qu’il ronfle, on dirait un pneu qui se dégonfle…. (Trans: It’s not funny but when he snores, it sounds like a deflating tyre’.) 

Chez Hugon Bouchon Lyonnais

Suddenly the chef, Eric, joined his mother in the front and burst into full song, with “Mexico, M – e – x – i – c – o….!” As I downed another glass of Fleury wine (one of my preferred Beaujolais Crus which I prefer on a day like today) accompanied by pears in wine (when in Lyon…), the neighbour at my table was handed the key to the toilet; on a marrow bone.

Chez Hugon Lyon Bouchon

Ann hopes that readers of her book feel encouraged to travel and explore, to ask lots of questions, to embrace their curiosity and be flexible and open to new experiences. Well, Ann, chapeau to you! I’ll definitely be returning to Lyon to discover more traditional bouchon eateries and join in the friendly banter. With ten chapter/regions in the book, from Paris to l’Aveyron, you’ll be ready to pack your bags for a delicious adventure, too.

Don’t forget to devour a copy of Ann Mah’s book, Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris. As a companion to her book, Ann is currently posting a series on her blog, ‘Where to Eat in France‘.

Traditionally today, on the third Thursday of November, let’s give a toast to Beaujolais Nouveau Day!  Chez Hugon is usually open Mondays to Fridays but, exceptionally this weekend, they’re open to celebrate with a few pots of Beaujolais Nouveau.


P.S. Have you tried my favourite caramelised red onion tarte tatin recipe yet?

Silence on Remembrance Sunday