What we did on our holidays …… part 2

The second week of our holiday had some very changeable weather. It was often very cloudy and showers always seemed in the offing.

However, that didn’t stop us getting out and about and visiting a few more places. One place that impressed us so much that we visited it twice was Lyon.

Once you get through the virtually continuous traffic jams and negotiate the labyrinthine road systems of the city, Lyon is definitely worth visiting.

The main sites of interest are the Roman remains on the hill of Fourvière, the old city (Vieux Lyon) on the west bank of the Saône and the Presqu’île, the part between the Saône and Rhône rivers which is the real city centre and which dates to the 15th and 16th centuries.

In Roman times Lyon was known as Colonia Copia Claudia Augusta Lugdunum or simply Lugdunum. It was the capital of the province of Gallia Lugdunensis and was one of the most important cities in the Roman West.

The theatre complex is very well excavated and there is a museum on the site which contains many interesting finds.

Like on many other Roman sites, later ages used the buildings as a source of dressed stone and apparently many of the buildings in Vieux Lyon have Roman stonework incorporated into them.

The Presqu’île is probably where most people are likely to visit, it stretches from the former cloth-working district of Croix-Rousse down to the confluence of the two rivers and is centred around the Place Bellecour, with its equestrian statue of Louis XIV.

The Presqu’île is also where you will find all the fashionable shops and designers. The Rue de la Republique to the north and the Rue Victor Hugo to the south of the Place Bellecour are pedestrianised and make a pleasant window shopping expedition.

Lyon is celebrated in France for the quality of its food and the area around the Rue Mercière and the Place des Jacobins is full of bars and restaurants. Lyon is famous for its small traditional restaurants known as “Bouchons” and these serve traditional Lyonnais delicacies.

The city has some fantastic delicatessens, known as traiteurs in France. The food in these is always superb and superbly presented too.

Just to the north of Lyon, on the banks of the Saone is the small town of Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or, almosta suburb of Lyon really, where the famous 3-star Michelin chef Paul Bocuse has his restaurant.

The place is a monument to the great man, but to my eye is a bit gaudy and overblown. Anyway, judge for yourselves;

There are plenty of more photos of Lyon (and lots of other things too) on my FlickR photostream.

Summer hols are here!

At last.

Tomorrow we are off on our holidays. Two weeks of laziness and sightseeing in the Beaujolais region about 30 km north-west of Lyon and a bit west of Villefranche-sur-Saône.

We are taking the dogs with us too. They are seasoned travellers, this being their third Summer holiday in France. Because you have to leave dogs in cars if you go on a ferry, we are using the Channel Tunnel again. This is great because it means that we are with the dogs for the whole time. They just sleep anyway, but at least they won’t panic if they wake up.

We will take lots of photographs, see lovely sights, eat nice food and buy and drink lovely wines.

Hopefully we will find a Wi-Fi hotspot so I can post the occasional comment.

If not, I’ll be busy once we get back home.

Père Lachaise

The Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is the largest cemetery inside the city of Paris. It is in the east of the city, in the 20th arrondissement and is situated between the Boulevard de Ménilmontant, the Avenue Gambetta and the Boulevard de Charonne.

The cemetery was founded under Napoleon in 1804 and, at that time, was outside the city boundary.

It became a popular place for Parisians to be buried after the remains of Molière, La Fontaine and Abelard and Héloise were transferred there and re-interred.

There are many famous French people buried in the cemetery, as well as people from other countries, perhaps most notably Jim Morrison, the late singer with The Doors.

Père Lachaise is a popular place with tourists and you can buy maps of the site at the entrances and visit the graves of the many generals, politicians, artists, musicians, composers, authors and other notables who are among the more than 300,000 people buried in the cemetery.

Here are a few of the notable graves;

François Christophe Kellermann, later 1st Duc de Valmy, was a Marshal of France and one of Revolutionary France’s celebrated generals. He was the victor of The Battle of Valmy in 1792, which saved the infant Republic and showed that the Revolutionary Army could stand against the might of Prussia and Austria.

Kellerman tomb

Jim Morrison's grave

Colette's grave

Ettore Bugatti's grave

Rossini's grave

Edith Piaf's grave

There are also memorials to those victims of the Nazis who were deported to death camps during the Second World War and, a site of special importance to the French Left, the Mur des Fédérés or Communard’s Wall which is the place where 147 Communards, defenders of the district of Belleville in 1871, were shot when the Paris Commune was suppressed by the provisional government of Adolphe Thiers after the disastrous Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.

The Parisian way of doing lunch

One of the joys of spending a few days in Paris is eating out in great restaurants.

However, I also love just eating simple things too and Parisian bistros and bars all do a range of standard simple dishes that are great for lunch or a mid-afternoon snack.

One of my favourite lunchtime snacks is a Croque Madame and some frites, with a glass of Beaujolais or a beer.

A classic Croque Madame

Paris is blessed with some amazing boulangeries and Poilâne is one of the most famous. Their sourdough bread makes a fantastic alternative to the classic croque.

Croque Madame with pain Poilâne

A great alternative to a croque is a crêpe. Originally from Brittany, crêperies are common all over France. In Paris there is a concentration of crêperies and Breton restaurants clustered around the Gare de Montparnasse. Made with buckwheat flour, crêpes come with a variety of fillings; ham, cheese and mushrooms, as shown here, are popular choices. Eggs are also good.

Of course, if you fancy something a bit more formal, you could always choose the Plat du Jour, in this case a nice leg of Poulet Fermier and frites in the Bistrot d’Eustache, which I’ve written about before.

Grignan – a bit of history and something about the local wine

Grignan is a hilltop town in the department of the Drôme in the Rhône valley, just north of the border of the Vaucluse and not far from Mt Ventoux.

It is one of those Provençal towns that has a very long history of human habitation, with remains stretching back as far as the Bronze Age and with evidence of Roman settlement until the 5th century CE.

In the Mediaeval period, the castle and presumably also the town, such as it was, was known as castellum Gradignanum, evolving into castrum Grainan and later Graigna. By the middle of the 13th century, the castle had come under the lordship of the Adhémar de Monteil family, descendants of Adémar de Monteil, the bishop of Le Puy-en-Velay who accompanied Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse, on the First Crusade and was the spiritual leader of the Franks in the East.

His descendants became the lords of Montélimar and its surroundings and rose in prominence to become Dukes and eventually Counts.

In the 17th century, the castle was eventually inherited by François de Castellane-Ornano-Adhémar de Monteil de Grignan, whose third wife was Françoise-Marguerite de Sévigné, daughter of the celebrated lady of letters, Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné. François de Castellane-Adhemar had the castle, a mediaeval fortress, remodelled into a luxurious palace, which was allowed to fall into ruins after the Revolution.

Nowadays, the castle belongs to the Drôme départemental authorities and is a major tourist attraction.

One great reason to visit Grignan, apart from the beauty of the town and surrounding countryside, is the local wine. Côtes du Rhône and Côteaux du Tricastin are the two local appellations and there are also Côtes du Rhône Villages vineyards in the region too, as well as the Rasteau AOC, which produces both red and white vins doux naturels.

Grignan would be a great place for a stopover to spend time exploring the local vineyards. Rousset-les-Vignes, Saint-Pantaléon-les-Vignes and Valréas are all close by and they are entitled to use the Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC for their better wines.

All these wines are blends of the classic southern French varieties and can include Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Carignan for the red and rosé wines and the whites may include Ugni Blanc, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Picpoul, and Clairette.

In the best reds, Grenache and Syrah will predominate and this adds considerably to their depth and complexity as they age.

None of the wines have any kind of claims to greatness but they are good, fruity, full -bodied wines, full of southern sun and with a rich, mouth-filling spiciness in the best of them.

The lighter reds can be chilled and these are excellent with charcuterie and salads, while the bigger wines go well with those classic meridional dishes like daube de boeuf.

Magret de canard

Or duck breast to people who prefer their meals in English.

Magret de canard is a French classic, originally from the South-West, where the ducks are fattened for foie gras and their breasts are huge. In the UK, Gressingham duck breasts are the kind you will see most often.

It is a simple thing to do, score the skin of the duck and salt it, then sear it skin side down in a very hot cast iron pan until the fat starts to run and the skin has crisped up a bit.

Then, put the pan into a hot oven for no more than 10 minutes or so. You want the duck pink, not grey.

Leave it to rest for a few minutes while you plate up your simple green salad and frites or new potatoes and make a fairly sharp vinaigrette. I use good olive oil, red wine vinegar, a bit of salt and pepper and Dijon mustard, Maille for preference.

Slice the duck thinly and serve.

We had this last night with a bottle of 2007 Domaine des Eyssards Bergerac rouge, to keep the Sud-Ouest connection going.

We first discovered this wine when we were on holiday in the region in 2006 and we bought a couple of cases of the 2005 direct from the vigneron, Pascal Cuisset.

Luckily, his wines are available in Waitrose, so we can keep on drinking these lovely full-bodied wines for a while longer. Bergerac is a good alternative to Bordeaux, slightly cheaper to claret and a bit further inland than the Bordeaux appellations, and well worth looking out.

The Card Players

I took this photo about 10 years ago now, on FILM not digital. I used my Pentax MZ5N, which is still the best all-round SLR I have ever owned. A terrific camera and one that I’d love to see replicated as a digital model. Lovely handling and incredibly instinctive to use.

Anyway, this was a grab shot taken using the long end of an 80-200 zoom in the Jardin de la Fontaine in Nîmes.

The gardens are at the end of the Avenue Jean Jaurès and on the northern edge of the old central part of the city (where you can also see the well-preserved Maison Carrée, a Roman temple built in 16 BC which later became a Christian church and the famous Arena of Nîmes, which is also in an amazing state of repair).

The gardens were laid out in the 18th century and cover part of the old ramparts and include the ruins of an ancient sanctuary sacred to the goddess Diana and a sacred spring. The gardens are on several levels, the lowest forming the water-basins and the waterways joining them. There are also groups of life-size Baroque statues.

The gardens are a popular area for people to pass the time, have an al fresco lunch break away from the office, meet friends, play Pétanque and also, as seen here, play cards.