Saturday, 25 March 2017

Walking along the Balades Vertes

Quite recently Saône-et-Loire, South Burgundy has completed the Balades Vertes which are a large number of signposted walking routes throughout the whole of the département (71). Together with the Voie Verte (check out the article) these routes make this area a Mecca for walkers.

In the capital of our canton, St Gengoux le National, the tourist information office has a little book with details of the walks that are in the area between the rivers Grosne and Guye, rather unsurprising called "Guide les Balades Vertes entre Grosne et Guye". The book contains 26 signposted walks and costs €8.00, a little map and description of each walk can be bought separately and they cost € 2.00 each. All the signposts or markings on trees and fence posts are in yellow and are very clear.

A large number of communes along the Voie Verte have a starting point for their walks. The routes to these starting points are clearly marked with large signposts “Randonnée - Balade Verte” on the main roads. By each start point there is a carpark and a map with an overview of the routes that start and finish at that point and the route reference number, for instance the routes from Cormatin are CO1 and CO2, from Taizé TA1 etc. Click here for an album with some more pictures of the Balades Vertes.

Taking a break along the Balades Vertes
For those who want to be a bit more adventurous and make their own way around here, there are very well detailed maps from IGN in their Série Bleue (1:25000) which you can use to find all the footpaths in the area. One of the Grande Randonnées passes close to Cormatin (GR76) and Cluny is one of the starting points for the road to Santiago de Compostella.

Over and above all this, from early in the spring until late in autumn, there are organised randonnées most weekends. The routes are marked by different coloured spray paint arrows on the road or wooden arrows on temporary posts and the walks usually range from 5 to 30 km. At strategic points on the way there are refreshment stalls where wine, water, French bread, cheese and sausage are distributed. The prices vary by distance and range from €3.00 to €10.00.

We get many questions about how to walk or cycle to Taizé from here, so we have made some maps of the various routes and posted them in a photo album. Click here for those routes.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Cycling down the Voie Verte

The Voie Verte (the Green Pathway) is a walking/cycle path that runs from north to south through Saône-et-Loire (71), South Burgundy. In the nineties, the local governing bodies decided to tarmac the old railway track from Chalon-sur-Saône to Mâcon as a leisure facility. Many of the old stations have been turned into “service stations”. This concept was so successful that the original 80km of cycle path has been extended to cover 320 km and extra circuits (boucles) that go off into the surrounding countryside have been created, giving in total approximately 730 km of marked out cycle routes. La Voie Verte runs not only over the old railway tracks, it now runs over canal tow paths and also specially created cycle paths have been built to link the various sections of Voie Verte together.

A special map on the subject shows the complete Voie Verte Saône-et-Loire (71) and its boucles. The boucles all begin and end on the Voie Verte and are signposted. Each boucle is graded for difficulty from 1 being easy up to 4 which is very hard work.

At some places near Cormatin and at the campsite in Cormatin, you can rent bicycles, by the hour, day or week. Prices in Cormatin are approximately €20 per day or approximately €65 per week. Click here for an album with a few more pictures of the Voie Verte.

The Voie Verte near Chazelle

The whole Voie Verte concept has extended beyond Saône-et-Loire and there are now plans to link all the paths in Burgundy (approximately 600km) and extend them by a further 200km by linking them into the paths in Rhône giving a total of about 800km of cycle paths near here.

La Voie Verte is about 2km from La Tuilerie and boucles 10 and 10bis (the Romanesque church route) almost pass the door (200m).

The Voie Verte between Cormatin and Cluny
You don’t have to just stick to the cycle paths for safe cycling. The secondary roads around here are very quiet and the French really stick to the rules when it comes to giving cyclists plenty of room, they overtake at a safe distance of about 1.5m. When Cees cycles into Cormatin to get the bread and newspaper on the main road, no one will overtake if he cannot be given enough room. It won’t be the first time that he has entered town with a long queue of cars behind him.

At weekends there are regular “randonnées” for VTTs (mountain bikes) where routes are laid out for you to follow. They tend to be from 30 to 50km and cost between €5.00 and €10.00. For that you get regular pit-stops where water, wine, French bread and sausage amongst other goodies are available to fortify you for the rest of the journey.

For those “passive” cyclists, the Tour de France comes to a town near here almost every year. In 2007 it came to Cormatin itself, in 2006 Mâcon saw the finish of an étape, in 2010 Tournus saw the start of an étape as did Mâcon in 2012.


We get many questions about how to walk or cycle to Taizé from here, so we have made some maps of the various routes and posted them in a photo album. Click here for those routes.

Whilst this item is about cycling, we do get asked from time to time if it possible to go horseriding near here. So just because I can't think of a better place to put the information here it is! In Saint-Martin-du-Tartre, at “Le Ranch des Jacinthes” horses can be rented for trekking in the hills.

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

A day out in the Brionnais

Brionnais

The Brionnais is an area in the southwestern corner of Burgundy, more or less enclosed by Charolles and Digoin in the north and Chauffailles and Iguerande in the south. It is an area with rolling hills, forests and meadows with only on the western side the flat plane of the river Loire. We visit the Brionnais regularly, for various reasons.

Saint-Christophe-en-Brionnais - Market
One of our main reasons to organise a day out to the Brionnais is the weekly cattle market (Wednesday all day) in Saint-Christophe-en-Brionnais. Although the old fashioned market, where the farmers trade with each other on a one to one basis, is getting smaller each time we get there, it is still a very lively, very busy market. The amount of cattle that is traded under canopies diminishes in favour of selling in the auction ring, where the cows are entered, their weight and particulars are displayed on a big screen, and where the farmers can bid electronically.

Saint-Christophe-en-Brionnais - Auction
The whole auction strongly resembles a Dutch vegetable or flower auction. On market day all restaurants in the village offer a menu du marché, which consists of a main dish, a cheese platter and a desert at a very reasonable price (approx. € 15 pp). One of the charms is also that one usually is seated at the same table as the farmers, whom for obvious reasons get priority over tourists when food is to be ordered. Even though by now we know the market inside out, we still happily visit the Brionnais on a Wednesday, if only to enjoy a first class steak frites in Saint-Christophe.

Saint-Christophe-en-Brionnais - Lunch
However, it seems a bit daft to travel roughly an hour just for a good lunch. The Brionnais boasts a big number of towns and villages with very interesting Romanesque (=Norman) churches; some have a crypt, others have beautifully carved capitals, and a number of them are decorated with stunning tympanums above the entrance doors.

Anzy-le-Duc - Capital
It is virtually impossible to mention all churches that are worth a visit; below are some highlights.
Those are, amongst others: Paray-le-Monial, Anzy-le-Duc, Semur-en-Brionnais, Montceau-l'Etoile, Varenne-l'Arconce, Saint-Germain-en-Brionnais, Bois-Sainte-Marie, Saint-Laurent-en-Brionnais, Châteauneuf, Iguerande, Charlieu (42) and Neuilly-en-Donjon (03). Those who would like to make a trip past the Romanesque churches can follow the signs "Circuit des églises romanes du Brionnais", a trip which is extensively described on the site "Le site sur l'Art Roman en Bourgogne".

Neuilly-en-Donjon (03) - Tympanum

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

La Rochepot

La Rochepot
The name alone is worth a blog. The Herrschaft or Lordship La Roche de Nolay was in 1403 acquired by Régnier Pot, and his family name was suffixed to the place name. So that is where the name comes from, courtesy of Wikipedia.

La Rochepot
The village of La Rochepot is quite near Beaune, and even though Beaune certainly merits a full day, it is definitely worth to sneak an hour off this day for a visit to the Château de La Rochepot, beautifully set on a rock overlooking the village.

La Rochepot
It was originally an eleventh century castle, rebuilt in the thirteenth century, almost completely demolished in the nineteenth century and again rebuilt in fifteenth century style at the end of the nineteenth beginning of the twentieth century.

La Rochepot
The Château is privately owned, however it is partially open to the public. Not only the interior is worth the visit; the roof covered in coloured glazed Burgundian roof tiles gives the castle certainly an extra touch of distinction. From the castle one has a beautiful view over the surroundings, including a view of the cemetery with its beautiful Romanesque church Notre-Dame (in itself worth a visit as well).

La Rochepot
So those who are traveling to Beaune an cannot resist the temptation of a beautiful castle, should when nearing Nolay follow the signs to La Rochepot.

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Castles in all shapes and sizes

When using the word Château the first association of most French will not be with a Castle like Balmoral Castle, but with a place producing prestigious wine.

Château de Cormatin
Of course those sort of châteaux are galore in Burgundy, however the fortified châteaux or manor houses are certainly not unknown here.
To start near home: the Château de Cormatin is a beautiful 17th century castle with a lovely garden and a beautiful interior. Even though it is partially lived in, quite a big part of the building as well as the gardens can be visited.

Château de Cormatin
The Château de Drée is a bit further away from home, in the Brionnais, and is open to the public with beautiful Jardins à la française. Neither of those castles were ever meant to be fortresses.
For fortresses the French often use the word château fort, because château on its own is a bit ambiguous. A number of these castles have fallen into ruins, and can be seen from the outside, but cannot be entered. A few examples are: Lournand, Sigy-le-Châtel, Bissy-sur-Fley.

Château de Brancion
However, the ruins of Brancion Castle are interesting and open to the public.
Saône-et-Loire boasts also a few castles, complete and in good shape, which can be visited. Two examples of such castles near Mâcon are Berzé-le-Châtel, perched on a hill overlooking the Grosne valley and Pierreclos, which is a château fort as well as a wine castle. The castle itself can be visited, for a wine tasting one has to pay extra.

Berzé-le-Châtel
A castle, where according to legend Margaret of Burgundy died, is located near Couches. The castle is partially open to the public, partially a bed and breakfast place, and it offers wine tastings as well. And then finally there is the château de Germolles near Mellecey, once owned by the duke and duchess of Burgundy, Charles the bald and Margaret of Flanders. Originally it was the fortress of the Lords of Germolles, but Charles and his wife used it in the 15th century as a sort of holiday home.

Château de Couches
Note, that this overview does not pretend to be complete. It is only a very modest indication of what Saône-et-Loire has to offer on this subject.

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Our new website (part 2 of 2)

Re-writing the code to allow it to manage phones, tablets and PC's did not turn out to be a sinecure, however, we plodded on and got there at the end. Depending on which hardware is used to display the website, what exactly shows on the screen is quite different. The PC screen seems to be the least different, but the smaller the screen becomes, the more different it looks.

This is what the new site looks like
The concept of the top menu bar with drop-down menus had to disappear, because they work fine on mouse operated screens, but not on touch-screen devices.
And this sees an I-phone 5 user
In short: the PC-screen works until the screen becomes smaller than a tablet screen. The text stays legible because we are now using a fixed fontsize. Reducing the screens further (phone format) gets rid of menus on the right hand side of the text block. Only the most interesting links from the side menus have been transferred to the top menu on the telephones. By definition phones have now less links than PC's and/or tablets. However, the links that are skipped are less relevant: we assumed that phone users will not shed many tears because they cannot approach our personal Blogs from their phone. That seems to be more something for someone behind a PC screen.We also have shortened the Tourist Information for all versions, which gives all web pages a reasonable length without excessively long pages here and there.
However, since we know from experience that those pages were appreciated and used by some of our guests, we have incorporated this "superfluous" information in our existing Blog with Tourist information. It also gave us the opportunity the get rid of the endless stream of external links. There are nowadays search engines galore that will find the required and the most up-to-date information within no time. And with this last change my regular, and very boring checking exercises are a thing of the past.

For our own (completely overhauled) website click here.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Our new website (part 1 of 2)

The weeks around Christmas we normally reserve for patching up our own website.

This is what our website (previous version) looked like on a PC screen
Most of the time we just check out the external links which are convenient for the visitors of our site, e.g. the links to the arrival and departure times of public transport from and to our property. Those links are provided by others, and we do not have any influence on the validity of those links. It is amazing how many sites are changing URL addresses throughout the year – without providing a new link connecting the obsolete URL with the new one. And it is even more amazing how many external links we actually are providing on our own pages.
And this is what it looked like on an I-phone 5
However, before we started on our regular (2 to 3 times a year!) check of external links we thought it might be a better idea to redo the whole website. There was a good reason for that: some customers actually had made remarks in the past about the user-unfriendliness of our site for those opening the site on a mobile phone. In hindsight I must say that those people had been extremely polite in their addressing this "flaw"…
Because we are not I-phone, I-pad or tablet users ourselves, these sort of remarks were registered with us, but that was about it. Fortunately, we discovered that Chrome (among others) could provide us with an application that simulates a wide range of hardware. With this application one sees on the screen of a PC, on scale 1:1, what an I-phone or tablet user sees on his or her screen. And that gave us a scare! We chose, for checking purposes, to simulate an I-phone 5, one of the smallest available models.
To be continued.

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Laïcité

I thought I had seen it all when it comes to laïcité (separation of church and state) with the arrival of the burkini, the injunction of the same bathing suit and with the cancellation of the injunction of the burkini.

Burkini arrest (picture The Mirror)
The elimination of Sarkozy as presidential candidate during the primaries seemed to confirm that. Until…
Until a small nativity scene in the hall of the town hall in Paray-le-Monial hit the front pages of the regional press. the pictures in this blog come from the local newspaper, and from the pictures one can deduce that had not Sherlock Holmes personally been involved in the search, the stable would never have been discovered.

Nativity scene - Paray-le-Monial (picture JdS&L)
Showing or wearing of religious symbols in public spaces is more or less forbidden in France, and the LDDH, a self-appointed watchdog on the subject, has brought this "case" to court, and the mayor of Paray lost this case.
What followed was predictable: Paray is a busy place for all sorts of roman-catholic pilgrimages, evry 4th building in town is a church or chapel, the mayor is a staunch roman-catholic jurist, in a word the proverbial shit started to hit the fan.

Nativity scene - Paray-le-Monial (picture L'observatoire de la Christianophobie)
According to the mayor this decision has serious consequences for the democracy in this country.
And for the Front National, which has hardly any influence in Burgundy (yet), this is grist to the mill. In a pamphlet about this case issued by FN this is the beginning of the end: a tsunami of minarets, headscarves, terrorists, etc. is heading for Burgundy. And yes, this sounds all very familiar. Maybe I can get hold of a cheap Linguaphone course Arabic somewhere….

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Musée de la Mine - Blanzy

That the area around and west of Montceau-les-Mines and Le Creusot once was a thriving coal mining basin is only reflected in some of the place names: Montceau-les-Mines is an obvious example.

Musée de la Mine - Blanzy
Apart from those names there is not much that reminds one of the glorious days of the industrial revolution. Many towns and villages in the Charolais however had in those days such an influx of miners from Italy, Portugal and Poland (all staunch roman-catholic countries) that the old Romanesque churches soon became too small to cater for this rise in population.

Gallery
Of those original churches only the bell tower is till old; often the Romanesque nave has been demolished and replaced by a longer and/or wider edifice. The coal exploitation in the area ended between 1992 and 2000.
In Blanzy however there is something more that reminds us of those days.

Gallery
There is not much remaining of the many mines in the area, but Blanzy boasts an original mineshaft lift tower of the Puits Saint-Claude (exploitation: 1857-1882), and the area around it has been converted into a mining museum.
http://www.ecomusee-creusot-montceau.fr/spip.php?rubrique9
The museum appeared to be very interesting and is daily open in the summer months (not on Tuesdays, and only in the afternoon) and outside that period in weekends only.

Miner
The group managing the museum runs (among others) the machine room, it has an interesting collection of miner's lamps and organises very interesting guided tours through replicas of old mine galleries, including old and "modern" machinery, built just under ground level. This way the visitor gets a good impression of what life underground has been.

The lift tower
Blanzy is about half an hour's drive from here, and for those who are interested in industrial archaeology a visit to the museum is well worth its while.
For our own website click here.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Pot d'acceuil

In the period around the fifth of December, when the Dutch are dishing out sweets and candies to kids (a tradition that is threatened with extinction by over-zealous politically correct actions), Burgundy is a haven of peace and quiet.

2012 Pot d'acceuil
Burgundians do not believe in Saint-Nicholas nor in Black Peter, hence looking in street gutters for sweets that have been trampled by the crowds is a non-starter. However, in July and August there are some places in Burgundy where freebies are distributed amongst the poor and needy.


2013 Pot d'acceuil
One of those places is Saint-Gengoux-le-National, where, in front of the tourist office, during the summer months on Sundays between 11h00 and 12h00 a table loaded with local produce is placed. The goodies are supplied by local producers and shops; suppliers as well as what is on offer varies per week.

2013 Pot d'acceuil
Just a pick at random from the available products: goat's cheese, toast, sweets such as cookies and candies, savoury stuff like sausage, ham, gougères, smoked salmon, drinks like fruit juices and of course wine, etc. My partner is the one in charge of this Pot d'Acceuil, and she certainly turns the event into a success week after week. There are also always sufficient volunteers present to give information in various languages about hotels, restaurants, cycle rides, tourist attractions, etc.

2016 Pot d'acceuil
Since approx. 2010 this Pot d'Acceuil has become a yearly tradition. The tourists like the idea, and there are even families spending a 3 week holiday, year after year, in Saint-Gengoux, and during those three weeks they do not miss one single pot d'acceuil, on the contrary. I have a sneaky suspicion, from the amount of food they manage to get through in roughly half an hour, that the "snacks" they are scoffing away is their only meal that day….
For our own website click here.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

The hummingbird hawk-moth


When, on a summer's afternoon, we sit and relax in the garden near where a lavender plant is growing, we often see a lot of activity around the lavender flowers.

Hummingbird hawk-moth in action
Bumble bees are busy doing whatever bumble bees are doing, but a few weeks before the bumble bees become very active we notice some insects we had never seen before we moved to France.

Hummingbird hawk-moth
The insects I am talking about look like moths, and have brown wings with an orange edge. The animals hang stationary in mid-air in front of a lavender flower, and it seems like they are sucking some fluid from the plant. We are not equipped with any knowledge on the subject, and since we had observed that the thing could hang still by moving its wings with tremendous speed, we happily called it a humming-bird moth.

Hummingbird hawk-moth in action
Wikipedia, as in many cases, put us on the right track. The animal is called hummingbird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum), a small moth with a wing span of 2 inches and a very long tongue with which it sucks nectar from plants. Only after I started to experiment a bit with the shutter speed of my camera I managed to take some interesting pictures of the animal.

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Orient-Occident with Jordi Savall - Cluny

Cellier (ground floor) and Farinier (first floor) - Cluny
When we ordered tickets for the concert series "Les Grandes Heures de Cluny" there was a bit of confusion. According to the booklet with the program there were seven concerts; a season ticket for six concerts was € 125 for the best seats at € 25 pp, hence six concerts for the price of five. We either had to skip one concert, or pay extra (full price) for one more concert. We chose for the first option and decided to skip Mozart's Requiem. Strangely enough, when we ordered the season tickets via internet we were not given a choice of which six concerts we would like to attend.

The set of instruments - Farinier
We ordered the tickets anyway, deciding to clarify matters later. When we phoned the organisation they told us that there was a mistake in the program. One of the concerts was € 35, and not € 25 as all other concerts. On top of that, that particular concert was not part of the season ticket, hence we had to pay separately an extra € 35 for that concert. At the end of the day we had tickets for all six concerts of the series, including Mozart, as well as for the concert of Jordi Savall that was part of the series, but not quite.

Anouncement
When we arrived at the Farinier within the abbey grounds in Cluny the concert was completely sold out, which did not really surprise us. What however surprised us was the fact that the guy who was supposed to play the oud (Arab lute) played the qanûn (a sort of Arab harp) all evening. The hand-out program made it clear: the originally announced musicians had been replaced by the Turkish qanûn player Hakan Güngör and the Greek percussionist Dimitri Psonis. Savall played the rabâb (a kind of fiddle) and lire d'archet (a kind of viola da gamba).

The concert
The program consisted of a mixture of Eastern and Western (early) music, from amongst others North-Africa, Byzantium, Armenia, France, Italy, etc. It was fascinating to hear how the music of the various regions during or around the middle Ages had cross-fertilised and influenced each other. Apart from that it was simply very interesting and beautiful music, played by three virtuoso instrumentalists. It does not happen that often that a renowned musician like Jordi Savall gives a reasonably priced concert at spitting distance from our doorstep.

2016
Reason the more, as I said before, to keep a good eye on the future concerts in the series "Les Grandes Heures de Cluny"!

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

The inventor of photography – part 2 and last

Because they are accessible free of charge we decided, on a day more suitable for a museum visit than for a day lazing in the sun, to visit the two museums in Chalon-sur-Saône.

Statue of Nicéphore Niépce - Chalon-sur-Saône
We planned to see the Musée Vivant Denon first, and to do the Musée Nicéphore Niépce, like the one in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes (see the previous blog) dedicated to the inventor of photography, afterwards.

Musée Niépce : the permant collection
We had seen both museums before; Denon for the first time in 2013, Niépce in 2011. Both had undergone some changes, and for the better.
Denon, a local museum with an archaeology and a fine arts department, had a small but interesting temporary exhibition of treasures from the Near- and Middle-East, and had extended its permanent collection with antique furniture from Senncey-le-Grand.

Musée Niépce : space for temporary exhibitions
Niépce had also been renovated or re-organised in the past years. It boasts a far more interesting collection about Niépce (and Daguerre) than Saint-Loup, including a display of antique cameras and objectives, and has ample space for temporary photo exhibitions. When we visited, there were two exhibitions running simultaneously: one with black-and-white pictures of Léon Herschtritt (La fin d'une monde) and one slightly less interesting (to my taste) of contemporary photographs in colour (L'oeil de l'expert).

Musée Niépce : space for temporary exhibitions
Two museums with the same theme: that cries out for a comparison.

The Maison de Nicéphore Niépce in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes has, as the place where the first photograph was taken, mainly historical value. It pays some attention to other inventions of Niépce, but the collection (mainly replica of inventions and re-arranged rooms) is not very impressive. The 6 € entrance fee could be better used drinking something on a sunny terrace elsewhere, to my humble opinion. I will leave the welcome and the opening times out of the equation to give the museum at least some credit. On a scale of 1 to 10: a meagre 4.

The most interesting display in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes

The Musée Nicéphore Niépce in Chalon-sur-Saône has a reasonable collection, and on top of that often interesting temporary exhibitions. Besides there is no entrance fee, and once one has seen the museum there are plenty of other things to see within walking distance (cathedral Saint-Vincent, Musée Vivant Denon, mediaeval houses, markets), and the old town boasts a number of terraces which invite one to sit down and watch the world go by. On a scale of 1 to 10: a good 8.

Musée Niépce : part of the permanent collection
For our own website click here.