French administration is far worse than a nightmare. As we’ve
discovered since arriving here in August, it’s much more akin to banging on the
Gates of Hell.
We thought we’d have our business set up here and
underway in no time flat. Oui, c’est cela…as the French would say with a mocking
gleam in their eye.
It is only now, in mid-January, that we are
starting to see the light at the end of the paperwork tunnel and can get to the
fun stuff such as The Grape News and our new Grape Years weblog that we are
beginning this week. To make up for our long hiatus we’re planning on sending
out one Grape News a month for the next three months. So, here goes!
I) Zoom Airlines
We weren’t quite sure what to expect when, in August, we
embarked on our first flight with Zoom Airlines. I mean, really, when you’ve
paid less than $700.00 CDN a ticket, how picky can you be?
So, you can imagine how thrilled we were to find ourselves
ensconsed in a freshly outfitted Boeing 767 and to discover that Zoom’s cabin
service was on a par with British Airways, and definitely superior to the last
few trans-Atlantic flights we’ve taken with Air Canada.
compensate for the travails of travelling with two young children under five, we
had opted to pay the supplement of $179.00 CDN to upgrade ourselves to bigger
seats, which, while falling short of Business Class sized seats on the National
Carriers, were definitely comfortable and had ample leg room. Included in the
upgrade was a little bag for each of us containing airplane goodies such night
shades, a toothbrush and toothpaste, mouthwash, earplugs, etc. as well as a
bottle of Evian on each of our seats.
The blankets were
comfortable, the food, although not spectacular, was edible, and the movies
offered (three in total) were ones that we actually wanted to see. This was
quite a contrast to our last trans-atlantic flight with Air Canada where the
films on offer were (no joke) Fantasia and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Faced
with a choice between dancing broomsticks and deranged crows, I opted for
staring mindlessly out the window on that particular flight.
we flew with Zoom in August, they were flying into London Stansted, but judging
from the most recent flight schedule posted on their website they seemed to have
changed their arrival airport to Gatwick.
If Zoom’s prices remain
as competitive as they are at the moment, we wouldn’t hesitate to fly with them
again. For more information about prices and flight schedules go to
II ) La Vie de Chateau (ou Presque…)
There are few things quite as destabilizing as the prospect of
being imminently homeless. Whenever I am in one of those limbo phases of my life
(of which there have been many since meeting Franck), where I am between
countries, between cultures, and between houses, I am always struck by how it is
the little things that create a sense of equilibrium in our lives; choosing your
clothes from a cupboard rather than digging through a suitcase, knowing in which
kitchen drawer to look to find the bread knife, being able to interpret the
mysterious symbols on the washing machine…these are the compass
points of daily lives, and without them everything feels off-kilter.
We arrived in Burgundy with the knowledge that we had Franck’s
sister’s house for the first two weeks, and that in those first two weeks,
besides dealing with small matters such as signing Charlotte and Camille up for
school, figuring out how to get us all coverage with the French Health system,
(the infamous SECU), and buying a car, we also had to find a new place to live.
La Maison des Deux Clochers wasn’t an option, as, not wanting to turn anybody
away, we rented it up until the end of October.
After touring a
few highly depressing and outrageously expensive rentals we finally settled on a
somewhat grandiose family house in Savigny–les-Beaune.
A glimpse of Savigny's castle through the
keyhole of the door.
the opulence that reigned there, there was only one toilet to service our eight rooms. Spiders seemed to
take a particular shine to this locale, which was placed down the end of a dark
and imposing corridor that made chaperoning Camille to the toilet a frequent
event during our early days in Burgundy.
On the first night in our mini-chateau Franck and I, exhausted
by the third move in as many weeks, collapsed onto our mattresses only to
discover that they…prickled.
We peeled off the mattress covers to
find stained, ancient mattresses that were stuffed with horsehair. Franck was
convinced they must have been relics from WWII. Not only were they hard as
rocks, but they must have also harboured an impressive colony of dustmites and
other critters as both Franck and I, despite our need for sleep, spent most of
our first night in our mini-chateau gasping and wheezing and passing the
package of Kleenex back and forth.
The next morning, however, we
went out and bought four new mattresses, and from then on we were in better
shape to enjoy our temporary new home in the village of Savigny-les-Beaune.
One of our favourite things here about Savigny is the chateau,
which with its four stout turrets looks like a castle right out of a Grimm’s
It dates from 1340, but is now owned by an eccentric local who
has set up both a motorcycle and fighter plane museum within its gates. We never
actually went on the paid tour of the chateau (which includes touring the
Harley-Davidson’s and Mirage 2000’s parked beside the vineyards). I think perhaps
what I liked best was seeing it from afar, popping up from behind the vineyards
that surround the village like something out of a dream.
Savigny, like many Burgundian villages, is a secretive place
where many of its treasures are hidden behind stone walls and high metal gates;
However, if you take the time to wander around on foot you’ll discover treasure
after treasure – the old communal stone bread oven in the rue Eulalie Fion, the
alley of climbing roses in the ruelle de l’église, and, time and again, the
enfilades of stone arches that have become symbolic of the village.
Another of our discoveries is that Savigny houses two wonderful
boulangeries, so living here one is assured of good bread every day of the week.
The boulangerie closest to the house we rented (the one on rue Paul Maldant)
makes a special type of loaf called a “Sarment” a lovely white loaf that it
twisted in the form a crescent. The other, located just around the corner,
reputedly makes puff pastries, which, according to Franck’s aunt Renée who used
to live in Savigny, are as big as your head, and are quite something when
stuffed with foie gras…
IV) Les Choses Changes…
It’s been five years since we started renting out La Maison des
Deux Clochers, and five years since we made up our binder of information. Not
surprisingly, we discovered after trying a few of the restaurants that we
recommended back then, that, even in Burgundy, things do not remain static.
That’s right – les choses changes.
Route de Pernand-Vergelesses
Open Thursday to Monday inclusive
For example, Le Charlemagne in
Pernand-Vergelesses, used to be a favoured family bistrot complete with a mangy
cat strolling through the restaurant and a waiter named Serge.
Five years later, it has been transformed by a dynamic young Japanese –
Burgundian couple into an upscale Fresh-Asian fusion restaurant that has
garnered inclusion in Condé Naste Traveller’s most recent “100 Best New
Restaurants in the World”.
We went there for dinner shortly after
we moved, and had an incredible meal.
The dining room is a far
cry from the old Charlemagne, with Japanese scrolls and modern art adorning the
walls. The old décor had a certain kitsche-y charm, but I’m sure the new dining
room has far better feng shui.
The service was discrete and
gracious, and the chefs have the audacity to combine ingredients such as
escargot and wasabi. The result was delicious, and far less shocking to the
taste buds that one would think. The presentation of the plates was absolutely
stunning - an art in itself.
For four of us, plus two bottles of
wine, the meal came to 228 Euros. Not cheap, but an incredibly original and
satisfying evening out.
There have been less dramatic changes too. Dying for a simple pizza in a nice
atmosphere, Franck and I returned to “Au Feu de Bois” in Montagny-Les-Beaune which we heartily
recommended for its wood-fired pizzas and delicious ice creams. Although the
lovely outdoor setting remains unchanged, pizzas have been capriciously removed
from the menu altogether, and the “Hostess” (if we could call her that), reamed
out every customer that came without a reservation. And even the ones with
reservations were treated with haughty disdain. Overall, we found the food fine,
but far too expensive. To look on the bright side, however, the boorish hostess
did provide us with an evening’s worth of free entertainment.
In any case, we plan to revisit many of our old recommendations
and try new places as well and produce a new guide that we will eventually put
online for the use of all of our guests. Look for it in the months ahead.
V) Pizza Loisy
Villers-La-Faye - Main Place
Monday Nights - From about 7:00 onwards
Although we have
removed “Au Feu de Bois” from our list of recommendations, if you’re staying in
La Maison des Deux Clochers and hankering for a pizza, we’ve got another option.
Every Monday night the “Pizza Wagon” parks itself on the main place of
Villers-La-Faye (The village that is less than 1 km away from Magny and it is
where La Maison de La Vieille Vigne is located).
The Pizza Wagon offers about 50 varieties of pizza, ranging from
the basic (La Margherita with tomatoes and cheese), to the esoteric (Le Titanic
with tomatoes, crème, tuna, capers, eggs, cheese and olives).
The Pizzas range from 6€00 to 12€00, depending on how
adventurous you are feeling. They take about a half to three quarters of an hour
to prepare and bake, so you go and place your order, and then you can either go
home and come back again later to pick it up, or nip into Jacky’s bar to lift a
glass with locals while you wait.
A summer vide-grenier in nearby
The treasures to be found at a vide-grenier
I know it’s January, but in preparation for the summer that’s
just around the corner I thought I’d touch on the subject of one of France’s
favourite summer pastimes – the vide-grenier. A vide-grenier (literally “the
empty attic”) is the French equivalent of a garage sale.
However, there are some crucial differences. For the French,
getting rid of your junk is a communal rather than an independent exercise.
Apparently, they wouldn’t dream of willingly inviting people to enter the
sanctity of their home or yard to pick through their things.
As a consequence, vide-greniers are generally a village event,
often to raise money for the petanque club to go to a sausage festival in Alsace or something
along those lines. Sometimes you have to pay a few Euros to get
in, and other times access is free.
The vendors at Vide-Greniers tend to be normal
inhabitants of the village, unlike the professionals who fill up Brocantes. As such, you’ll
find a whole panoply of stuff to buy; from antiques such as wooden butter
moulds and old coins to the new things such as kids’ toys and hair curlers.
Much to my chagrin, people here tend to be pretty enlightened
about the value of their older stuff (for example, the butter mould was going
for 60 Euros), but good deals are still to be had.
delighted to find an old newspaper from 1882 that he purchased for the princely
sum of 1€00 and I found a lovely turquoise glass vase.
There’s vide-greniers almost every weekend during
the summer, and more often or not, three or four going on in the same weekend.
They are easy to find, just look for the neon orange, green, or yellow signs
posted along the main road, La Nationale, that runs from Beaune to Dijon.
VII) La Maison de la Vieille Vigne
After months of wrangling the two-headed monster of French
bureaucracy and administration, work is finally going to begin soon on our new
rental house, La Maison de la Vieille Vigne, which is conveniently located
across the street from the village boulangerie in Villers-la-Faye.
The new house dates from 1650 or thereabouts and is perfect for a couple. It
will be freshly renovated, including brand new bathroom fixtures and kitchen
appliances, and it will be decorated with a similar mix of new furniture (i.e.
couch, mattresses, etc.) and antiques as La Maison des Deux Clochers. It also
has a private little courtyard for sunbathing, reading, and eating al fresco.
You’ll be hearing lots more about La Maison de la Vieille Vigne in the months to
VIII) The Grape Years Weblog
I've had the idea of keeping a weblog during our stay here in
Burgundy since the very beginning. But, to be honest, I just wasn’t inspired by
the endless rounds of meetings with accountants, bankers, notaries, etc. that
filled up our first few months.
Maybe Peter Mayle could spin all
of that into a hilarious tale, but in my mind it hardly qualified as edifying
reading. Moreover, I wasn’t exactly having a ball of a time living it, so I
certainly wasn’t inclined to relive it through journal entries!
However, now that we’re getting to the fun stuff, we’re launching the weblog.
It'll be illustrated by Franck's photos and updated once a week.
Click here to read the first
IX) Availability and 2005 Booking
La Maison de la Vieille Vigne
booked our first four weeks for the new house. Right now we’re only
booking from July onwards, just in order to be sure we have plenty of time to get
everything ready before the arrival of our first guests. However, if everything
goes to schedule (would be nice, but then again, not always a given in the world
of renovations) we may be able to take some last minute bookings in the Spring.
In any case, we’ll keep you updated.
If you’d like to make a
booking from July onwards, contact us and we’ll provide you with all the
La Maison des Deux Clochers
Last year was our busiest ever, and 2005 is shaping up to be much the same.
Sixteen weeks have already been booked for 2005, although big chunks of time in
June/July/August and October still remain open, as do the odd one and two week
chunks in between.
If you would like any information about either house, making a
booking, or would just like to drop us a line to ask a question about Burgundy
or let us know how you’re doing, we would love to hear from you.
As always, the best way to contact us is by email at
However, the rest of our contact info. is as follows:
Laura & Franck Germain
1 rue des chaumes
Tel (and soon, fax as well): 03.80.62.72.17
We look forward to hearing from you!