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The Grape News
Volume IX - Spring 2004 - May 1, 2004

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International Festival of Baroque Opera

In this issue:

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Salut tout le monde!

Exciting news!  The new house, La Maison de la Vieille Vigne, has now been officially purchased.  At the beginning of April Franck went over to Burgundy to sign the final purchase documents. This trip was mainly work – despite Peter Mayle’s views on the subject, dealing with truculent French notaries is not considered by most rational folks to be a leisure activity. However, to ease the pain, Franck did manage to fit in a bit of recreation. Because we're talking about Burgundy, this consisted of eating and drinking with the odd bike ride thrown in to assuage the guilt.

We’ve been pleased to receive many, many inquiries about La Maison de la Vieille Vigne. We even had some groups that were interested in renting it as early as this summer, but I couldn’t in good conscience let that happen, as we haven’t even begun renovations yet! Given what we are planning to do with the house, we have projected that it should be all fixed up, furnished, and ready to rent by December 2004 / January 2005. In any case, we’ll keep you updated via The Grape News.

We are also pleased to pass on that, as of this September, Magny-les-Villers and Villers-la-Faye will at long last join the 21st Century and finally have access to high-speed Internet. As soon as we are able, we will be installing a high-speed connection in both La Maison des Deux Clochers and the La Maison de la Vieille Vigne. If you want to use your vacation in Burgundy to forget that things such as cell phones, PDA’s, and the internet exist that’s completely your prerogative – don’t plug in, and you won’t even know the connection is there.

However, if you dream of waxing creative on your laptop, sending digital photos to your coworkers to make them jealous, or just even being in email contact with the folks at home, the possibility to get away from it all and stay connected will be yours for the asking.  

Besides, how evil can the internet be? Without the internet there would be no Grape News, after all!

Ressources:


I. Flights to Europe – Cheap, cheap, cheap!

Since Franck and I decided that we were moving the family back to France in August to start renovations on La Maison de la Vieille Vigne, I have been keeping my eyes peeled for a good deal on any of the transatlantic routes. The cheapest ticket I had found was over $2000.00 on British Airways from Vancouver to Lyon. Multiply this by a family of four and it will come as no surprise to hear that I was starting to feel like I was developing an ulcer develop an ulcer. Needless to say, I figured we needed to keep looking…

Lo and behold, our Scottish neighbours (the same ones who told us about the great seat sale British Airways had this Christmas), told us about a brand new charter company called Zoom Airlines - a bit of a ridiculous name really, but made much more palatable by their ridiculously low prices.

We checked out the company’s website (the nattily named www.FlyZoom.com ) and were very impressed with what we found. So impressed, in fact, that we booked our tickets with them that very morning.

We leave on August 7th (smack in the middle of high season for most carriers), and our price per ticket was only $499.00 CAD. The company flies 767’s on its trans-atlantic routes, and for only $179.00 we can add on a supplement to be in bigger seats at the front of the plane.

We will land in Stansted at 5:30am, and we found a great flight with EasyJet airline company flying from Stansted to Lyon at 12:30pm and which cost us only 30.00 Pounds a ticket (about $70.00 CAD or so). Because we’ll be flying out on the same day we arrive, we can avoid the grotty and ridiculously overpriced Hilton hotel at Stansted that we decried in Grape News – Volume 6.

Booking our tickets on both websites was dead easy, and we even made our seat selection right then and there. According to our rough calculations, we figured that by going the Zoom / easyJet route, we saved over $4000.00 CAD for our family’s trip to France. When an airline offers savings of this magnitude, they can call themselves any darn thing they please.

If anyone is considering a trip to France this summer (and we still have some availability at La Maison des Deux Clochers in late May to June, then again in July and August), go and visit the Zoom Airlines website – you’ll be glad you did.

II. Biking in Burgundy for the Budget-Minded

An example of the nifty bikes
to rent in Chaux

It has come to our attention that biking trips in Europe have the reputation of being accessible only by those with exceedingly deep wallets. You know - Texas oil barons, trust fund kids, ex-Microsoft employees and the like. Unfortunately, if you check out the prices of the leading tour companies, many of which run their operations out of Beaune, you’ll find little to challenge this conclusion.

I did a little internet research, and found that for a seven day biking trip in Burgundy, these companies (no names, as a humdinger of a lawsuit would be a seriously unwelcome visitor in our lives at the moment) charge an average cost of $4000.00 US, or $5400.00 for us Canucks. Oh la la! as the French would say. This includes lots of snazzy accommodation and meals, to be sure, but it does NOT include airfare.

Attendez!  Do not despair - there is an alternative out there. We just helped a group of three college students arrange a bike trip in Burgundy. They are going to use La Maison des Deux Clochers as their home base, and we set them up with a local family business located in the nearby village of Chaux which rents out both VTT and VTC bikes that are extremely well-suited to the terrain in the vineyards and on the roads around the house.  Franck checked out the bikes while he was there, and he found them to be in excellent condition.

The Chaux outfit charges a mere 81 Euros ($130.00 CDN) for the one week rental of one of their bikes, and this price includes help in consulting your maps as well as expert advice on routes and excursions.  Bikes can also be delivered directly to La Maison des Deux Clochers if desired. While he was there, Franck reserved bikes for our guests. We can do this at any time for any of our guests – all you need to do is ask.

One of the advantages of staying in a self-catering house such as La Maison des Deux Clochers is that food can be bought at the local village markets (we leave a comprehensive list of these in our information binders at the house), and meals can be cooked at home in the fully equipped kitchen of La Maison des Deux Clochers - we even have left a few of our favorite French and Burgundian cookbooks in the bookshelf in the living room for inspiration.  Or, it can be eaten picnic style at any inviting spots encountered during a days' bike route.  What’s there not to like about the idea of dining on a fresh baguette and a wedge of brie whilst perched on the ancient stone wall of a vineyard?

Heck, you can even pick the stone walls of La Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (the most expensive wine on the planet) if you like.  Here, you may just come across some of the clients of the big bike tour companies, who never miss this must-see spot.  If you do, you may want to avoid any mention of how much less you are paying for the privilege – it could give them a nasty case of indigestion - and nobody  would wish that on anybody who is touring Burgundy. 

III. International Festival of Baroque Opera - July 2 / August 1, 2004

Calling all opera buffs!  This world-renowned opera festival, held in Beaune, a mere ten minute drive from La Maison des Deux Clochers, is in its 22nd year, and the 2004 edition promises to be particularly memorable and will include the following:

  • The production of four "forgotten" opera masterpieces by Vinci, Melani, Pergolèse et Charpentie.

  • Little-known operas and oratorios by Haendel.

  • "the Magic Flute" by Mozart played on ancient musical instruments.

The operas, concerts, recitals are all performed in either the stately Basilica of Notre-Dame which dates back to the XII th Century, or the stunning courtyard of the Hospices de Beaune which dates back to the XVth Century.  Combine these magical locations with lush musical offerings and you truly have a memorable summer's evening.

If you'd like to find out more or book tickets, just contact us or go to the following site - unfortunately there is no English version of the site.:

http://www.festivalbeaune.com

IV. Two New Restaurants and Introducing our Pet Snails

When Franck was in France I gave him the onerous task of trying out one or two new restaurants for the benefit of our Grape News readers.  Even though it was (sniff) rather difficult to have him regale me about his culinary excursions while I was doling out cheerios and muffins to our kiddies back here in Canada, I think it was worth it.

The good food must have nourished Franck’s creativity, because it was after a scrumptious dinner at Le Benaton (reviewed below) that he came up with the idea of instituting a ratings system for our restaurant reviews based not on stars, but on the ubiquitous Burgundian escargot

That’s why these little red and clear snails are meandering across your computer screen below.  The Michelin guide has its stars – we have our snails.   We decided to rate each restaurant out of five, and colour the amount of “snails” that the restaurant garnered in red, and not just any red - Burgundy red, bien sûr.

Le Benaton

25 rue Faubourg-Bretonniere
21200 Beaune
--
Tel: 03.80.22.00.26
Fax: 03.80.22.51.95
--
Closed Wednesdays and Thursday at lunch.


LE BENATON

Like La Ciboulette that we reviewed in our last Grape News, Le Benaton has a long-established history as a favored restaurant of the Beaunois. In case you were wondering, un benaton in this case has nothing to do with an Italian clothing line, but is the name for a type of woven basket that was traditionally used for the grape harvest.

The restaurant is housed in one room, and as a result is very small and intimate, with its walls of exposed stone and oak beams. Franck started off the evening with a soup of scallops and escargots that he reports were absolutely divine.  Next, his parents, brother, and himself moved on to the main courses, which varied from a thick slice of veal with spring vegetables to a wedge of foie gras stuffed with jambon cru. The Germain family was unanimous that the food was stunningly presented and uniformly superb.

Before dessert came a little plate of miniature cakes and treats to mettre en appetit our intrepid food critics. The dessert, a mixture of sorbet and seasonal fruits layered most imaginatively in a miniature canning jar, garnered big-time praise.

Throughout their meal, Franck and his parents enjoyed watching the eagle eyed patronne hover in the corner of the room, ready to swoop down and intervene if she had reason to believe that one of her customers wasn’t being treated like royalty. The chef also came out of the kitchen and made the tour of the tables (and, one is to assume, receive compliments), which was a nice personal touch.

The only drawback, as far as our group could tell, was that the meal was on the pricy side. Excluding wine, the meal cost 30 Euros per person. However, such was the quality of the cuisine and the overall ambience that no-one batted an eye when it came time to pay the bill.

LE CAVEAU DES ARCHES


Le Caveau des Arches

10 boulevard Perpreuil
this is between the Place Madeleine and the Place Carnot in the "ring road" or periphique of Beaune.
--
Tel: 03.80.22.10.37
Fax: 03.80.22.76.44


We include this restaurant not because we particularly recommend it, but because we want to show you that we don’t systematically gush over every meal we’ve ever had in Burgundy. The Caveau des Arches has the reputation amongst locals as being somewhat of a tourist trap. Bus tours and organized tour groups routinely shepherd their flocks down the stairs to this restaurant.

One of the reasons for this is probably that the setting of the restaurant is undeniably beautiful and resolutely Burgundian. True to its name, it is situated below the streets of Beaune in an honest to goodness vaulted wine cave.

Everything looks great, so much so that perhaps the management think that they don’t really have to put too much effort into the food, which is pedestrian at best. According to Franck, you’ll find the same tired old repetitions of Burgundian classics such as escargots and Boeuf Bourgignon that are not singled out by either wonderful flavour or panache of presentation.  What you’ll find on your plate is on the whole quite ho-hum. In our opinion, if you care just as much about the taste of your food as the context in which it is presented, you may want to give Le Caveau des Arches a pass.

V. New additions to the French Favorites section

Below you will find our latest picks for myburgundy.com’s “French Favorites” section, where we highlight our favorite French books, music, and movies.

WINE AND WAR: THE FRENCH, THE NAZIS, AND THE BATTLE FOR FRANCE'S GREATEST TREASURE
by Don and Petie Kladstrup

Buy it from:
  [ Amazon.ca ]
  [ Amazon.com ]

"To be a Frenchman means to fight for your country and its wine."
Claude Terrail, owner, Restaurant La Tour d’Argent

I am only half way through this book, but I’ve loved it so much so far that I figure it has already merited a recommendation.

I have long been fascinated by the importance of wine in Burgundian culture – in fact, in the French culture as a whole. Liberty, equality, and fraternity are all well and good, a champion of French culture once remarked. But, he continued, what made France truly superior to its neighbors was the French passion for wine, which "contributed to the French race by giving it wit, gaiety, and good taste, qualities which set it profoundly apart from people who drink a lot of beer”.

Winemakers all over France went to great lengths to thwart the Nazis who tried to pillage their precious caves and use their vineyards for target practice. I, for one, am slurping up this tale of resistance and subterfuge. Many famous Burgundian winemakers are mentioned throughout the book, particularly Maurice Drouhins from Beaune. It is a great tale that highlights how wine can bring out the true French character; proud - at times bordering on arrogant, bound to traditions and history, and yet possessing the rebellious streak that would make an anarchist proud.

The Kladstrups fill their pages with memories of the wine war from both sides of the struggle; stories that are sometimes somber, sometimes amusing, but which all commemorate those "whose love of the grape and devotion to a way of life helped them survive and triumph over one of the darkest and most difficult chapters in French history."

VI. We’re moving (again…)

As you read above, the tickets have been bought, the suitcases are being packed, and as of August 7th we will be in Burgundy to renovate La Maison de la Vieille Vigne. There will be no interruption to the rentals of La Maison des Deux Clochers. However, we are going to have our mail redirected to my family’s business address while we are away.

From now on, could everybody sending us anything by mail please try and remember to send it to:

GRAPE RENTALS
c/o Bradbury Management Ltd.

814 Broughton Street
Victoria B.C., V8W 1E4
CANADA
--
Tel: (250) 598-5682
Fax: (250) 385-7500

We will be maintaining a voice mailbox at our current phone number (250) 598-5682 that we’ll try to check from France at least every second day.

Our email and website address will remain unchanged, and just in case you have forgotten them, here they are again:

Website: www.myburgundy.com
Email: laura@myburgundy.com

VII. Availabilities

We always marvel how every year the reservations calendar fills up completely differently. Months that are the first ones booked one year are the last ones booked in another, and this year is no exception. We are more or less booked up solid except for these dates, which are still free:

  • May 29th through to June 13th

  • June 26th through to September 2nd

We can’t quite figure out why July and August are still free, given that these have usually been the two months that fill up the fastest in the past. Maybe it was because last summer was unusually hot in Europe, or perhaps because the airlines, as I have seen for myself, don’t seem partial to giving the flying public many breaks during this season. However, with the arrival of Zoom airlines,  a trip to Europe this summer has suddenly become much less expensive.

As always, if you want to find out more about La Maison des Deux Clochers, the new La Maison de la Vieille Vigne, or if you’d like us to reserve some dates for you, don’t hesitate to give us a call or drop us an email.

We’ll be talking to you soon – and from Burgundy next time!

À Bientôt.

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