Monday, May 2, 2022

The Vosges Mountains - 47° 59' 58" N 07° 05' 53" E

In the high mountain pastures of the Vosges above the town of Munster, there is a tradition of cattle grazing and cheese making.  On these high, steep pastures, the cows would graze on the lush grass, they would be milked and the cheese immediately processed and ripened. This was done in a marcairie. The macairie comprises of two buildings. One where the milking and cheese processing was done with a space for the storage of the ripening cheese, and one smaller cottage for the farmer to live. 

While the tradition of Munster cheese continues, the old macairies are being converted into mountain weekenders.  With huge thanks to Marie-Claude and Hervé, we stayed for the weekend at their beautifully restored marcairie 'Kaltwasser', high above Munster. 

Originally for the cows to be milked and the cheese to be made, 
it is now the main building.
The cornerstone is marked "1881"

Originally where the shepherd (or cowherd) slept,
this is now a secondary guest house. 

The tiny cabins are wonderfully renovated into cosy accommodation, off the grid with solar power, a natural spring for water and no phone coverage.  It's a perfect place to relax. Access is via a narrow, winding mountain road. When this became impassable to the valiant Saxo, we hiked up the last four kilometres lugging our wine and food on our backs. 

Hiking in the last 4 km

Common room and kitchen in the main cabin

Perfect place to laze and watch the rain

Marie-Claude, Flo's Mum

Kaltwasser is a wonderful base from which to explore the hiking trails of Petit Ballon, the highest peak of the area.  We snugged up in front of the wood stove watching the rain, hiked over the spongy trails enjoying the breathtaking views and, being France, drank and ate and drank.  


The fences have little turnstiles to allow you through

Steep hiking but the views are worth the effort

Well marked trails

Spongy underfoot - like hiking on pillows!

We made it! 

Blossoms and daffodils abound

The view from the Loo!

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Au Fond de la Cour - 48° 27' 43" N 07° 29' 02" E

It is always fun to discover multiple connections with people.

In 2018, we had decided to spend the summer in Europe.  Kate and her sisters were meeting their mother for a milestone birthday and the four of them were going to go to Norway to see as many fjords as they could.  As Sean didn't want to be left behind in Canada, he decided to create a base camp in France - nice and central for European visitors and very handy to the bike paths that spider-webbed the region.  The total time in Europe would be ten weeks - too long to be a house guest ... and with Susan, Wendy and Nancy all planning to spend time there, we couldn't take over Florence's place in Bischoffsheim.

Sean found a place in Obernai (a 4 kilometre walk from Florence's home) that was central in town and had extra room for visitors.  The owner seemed quite pleased that we were renting her spare apartment for the whole summer and she wouldn't be required to move guests in and out as they changed over.  

When we arrived in June, we found the owner, Véronique, to be a lovely, bubbly soul.  She was happy to have us.  When we mentioned her name to Florence, it turned out they had worked together years ago.  Hooray!  A connection!

On this visit, four years later, we decided to revisit Veronique's home.  She has now opened a café and serves coffee, tea and desserts from the house and courtyard where she lives.  It's a beautiful space and being over 400 years old, full of history.

Sean and Florence at Véronique's café

Inside the café

When Véronique spotted us, she came over and chatted and briefly explained how the café had been built and opened.  She also invited us for aperitifs in a few days when she would have more time to visit (the café was quite busy).  Her cousins "from America" were coming and we could meet them.  We happily accepted the invitation on the spot.

On the night of the invite, we arrived after 7:30 (as requested).  We had drinks and met Mike and Rob from Ohio.  They were indeed (second) cousins and were visiting for a week.  After an hour, Véronique sheepishly admitted that she still had some café business to attend to - she needed to prepare a large order of samosas.  We all immediately decided to volunteer at the café for the night.

Work parties bring a sense of camaraderie to a group - we are all focused on a task, it gives our mind that little bit extra to do while we drink and visit. The kitchen in the café was modern, well laid out, bright and easy to work in. There was room for everyone.  We learned the fine art of making Au Fond de la Cour Samosas - luckily, the fillings were waiting in large bowls in the commercial fridge.  We folded, drank and laughed our way through the evening.

A well laid out kitchen - great space!

Folding lessons ... with wine

One tray, ready for the fridge

Samosa filling and lots of chatter

 We filled and folded and filled and folded and filled and folded and ... what do you mean we are out of filling?  What do you mean it is nearly one o'clock in the morning?  It was such fun, I can't wait to go back and work for free again.

Time to go!  Florence, Véronique, Mike, Rob and Véronique's sister and husband
Kate, too.

Thanks, Veronique, for a lovely evening.  Bonsoir!

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Le Perréon - 46° 03' 43" N 04° 36' 07" E

With kids around, the passing of time is much more obvious.  

A week ago, we landed in Bischoffsheim at the home of with our friend, Florence, and her not-so-little-anymore kids, Thibaud and Lou.  Thibaud is a year away from finishing his studies at a communications and media college, and Lou is in her tenth year of Lyceé.  They've both transformed greatly from the original waist-high French waifs that Sean met on his first visit in 2015.

While we are alllllll the way over in France looking at boats, we thought Florence would enjoy a visit from us.  When we come, we don't come for the weekend - we are planning to be here at least a month.  As we were with them for such a long time, we encouraged them to do as they normally do, and we would see them between work, school, scheduled activities and time with friends.  The Theron-Bouvier family decided to treat us as part of the mob and we were to be included in all their extracurricular fun.  They had planned a get-together in the Beaujolais region with old friends from Florence's home town.  We were invited, so of course we came along.

The model is called "Saxo", which means "cavernous".

When Florence's red Megane station wagon succumbed to fatal engine trouble a few years ago, an uncle offered to sell his car to her.  As it was just Florence, tiny little Lou and a-bit-bigger Thibaud (who was away at school and no longer in need of daily rides), she pronounced the 2001 Citroen Saxo a perfect car for her.  A small diesel engine meant reliability and good fuel economy, and a small wheelbase would be handy on the narrow roads and small spaces of the region where she drove.  Little did she realize at the time that in a few years she would be loading her family, bedding, food for the weekend, two old friends with long legs, her VERY TALL teenagers and enough wine to see us through a long Easter weekend into this wee workhorse for a six-hour drive to Vaux-en-Beaujolais.

Room to spare!

A six hour drive from Bischoffsheim took us as far as Lyon, where we took the afternoon to look around (Sean had never been).  We sent a few hours tromping through the old city and across to La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviére.   

Bridge across the Saône River to the Lyon Courthouse,
with the basilica on the hill

Narrow, winding streets shared by vehicles and pedestrians

Beautiful, abandoned bits - an old, no-longer-used fountain

Great spot for a late lunch!  Looks authentic.

Sadly, no time for a proper look around this shop

Up the stairs to the basilica.
Good thing we live where there is lots of uphill!

Great view of the red roofs of Lyon

We arrived in Le Perréon in Vaux-en-Beaujolais on Friday night to discover that we were staying at a scenic and grand Gîte Mairie Le Perréon, opposite the church/town centre.  There were flags and bunting criss-crossing the main street -  this weekend was host to the Fête du Conscrit!

A lovely outdoor space at the Mairie Le Perréon

Originally a chance for one last kick-up of the heels before the young men of the town did their obligatory military service, Fête du Conscrit had morphed into a evening (which flowed into the whole weekend) of a parade around the town themed around colours.  There were floats themed in yellow, orange, blue, black, purple and finally a multicoloured float.  Each float had an oversized music system blaring the theme song of their "colour." The float was festooned with local rowdies who had concocted a mixed drink that they encouraged the adults in the crowd to imbibe and had bonbons to give out to (and confetti throw at) those that chose not to drink.  Add to that liberal use of firecrackers and actual fireworks - launched from and around the floats - and you've got a recipe for a party.

The aperitifs for the First Night Frenzy

The French don't mess around when they serve cheese.

This was right outside our Gîte.

We had our own celebration going on, as group after group arrived at the gîte and were properly welcomed by those already there.  A large table of aperitifs had been prepared and bottles of wine were quickly produced out of the arriving luggage.  

Outside, the parade continued.  What we thought was a parade running from one end of the tiny village to the other turned out to be a loop ... right around the block where our Gîte was.  'Round and 'round it went, into the night.  After much merriment, music, young hoons revving their engines and just when you thought things were calming down ... CRACK CRACK of some previously-unexploded ordinance ... we managed to get to sleep.  Lucky thing, as a vineyard tour and hike had been planned for the next day.

The french word for cellar is "cave" - very appropriate!

The tasting area

The group for the vineyard tour

Bounty from the tour

Organizing this many people takes time.  After getting everyone up, organized and fed (lunch, by this time), we were only able to do the vineyard tour.  The hike would have to wait until tomorrow.  As all the old friends had booked out the Gîte in Le Perréon, Kate and Sean relocated down the road to their own gîte.

Our own Gîte!

The next day, we reconvened at the Mairie, had breakfast and started off on our hike.  Every time we reached a crossroads, an ad hoc committee was formed to decide which way to go.  The consensus was usually "up."

Just feet from the main road were these type of houses.  How scenic!

Fairly steep uphills, but great views all around.

The vines are quite gnarled and dry at this time of year
and give the fields a desolate look.

Trails through some bush between the
open rows of vines.

Farm equipment tracks at harvest, hiking trails the rest of the year

Friends for a long time

What great timing - the flowers were in bloom!

Enjoying time together

A junction - time for a committee meeting

The best part - lunch at the top!

Post-hiking stretch in the courtyard of the Gîte Mairie

Gil and Sean bring post-hike refreshments!

Each evening, everyone would gather for a communal dinner that went on for hours.  Kate and Sean didn't always follow the fast, accented conversation amongst this close-knit group that had known each other since before they had had and raised their children, but we could see that this annual reunion had been sorely missed during the last two years of COVID.  We felt privileged to be part of the fun, good-natured jokes and camaraderie that bubbled forth.  

True joie de vie!