Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Exploring Chablis

On Thursday (7/15), we explored a bit of the Chablis region.  First we went to Noyers-sur-Serein, a medieval town with timber-framed houses, picturesque streets and tiny squares.  

We saw 14th and 15th century houses as we strolled along the quiet streets, all of which had cellars opening directly on to the street, a reminder that this was wine country before the phylloxera crises.  

We followed the river walk up to the remains of a 12th century chateau, which was in the process of being restored.  

We then found some wooden stairs that wound up the hillside and decided to follow them.
This is where our adventure really began.

The stairs went on and on and we were going higher and higher up the mountain side.  It was quite the workout!  We finally arrived at a sign pointing us in the direction of the chateau.  Here, we found the base towers of the 12th century chateau, with workers working on restoration.  They were rebuilding the chateau towers, from the ground up.  Unlike Guedelon, they were not employing 12th century techniques, so their work appeared to be a bit easier (but not much...the site was remote and they still had to lug heavy stones quite a distance).

At this point, we realized James was not with us.  He had taken his time coming up the long stairs and had gotten separated from us.  At one point, I looked up and saw him walking along the top of the tower walls.  I called to him, but he didn’t hear me.  We all decided to go up the trail to find him.  But instead of finding him, we found these wonderful view points.

Basically, trails had been cut in in the middle of the woods, on the mountainside below the chateau, to get to these beautiful vistas.  After finding the various outlooks, we decided we’d better start looking for James in earnest.  We hiked back to the chateau, hoping he would be at the trail head, but he wasn’t.  We called his name several times, but got no response.  After waiting about 10 minutes, we decided to send Kerry, Katie & Ethan down the long stairs to see if he was waiting for us at the bottom.  

I decided to stay at the top, thinking he was probably just exploring and wouldn’t have gone down the long hike without us.  I wrote a note on a napkin with a pencil that Ethan had just bought in a little shop in the town, telling James that we were at the bottom of the stairs and put the note on a sign post at the trail junction (just in case.)  After another 10 - 15 minutes, I heard Ethan calling my name.  He had run back up the stairs...as he was calling my name, I thought he said they found James at the bottom.  So I started down the stairs (I was a little slow because my calf still does not like going down hills or stairs that much).  When I arrived at the bottom, Kerry said “did you find him?”  I said “No, Ethan said he was down here with you guys.”  Ethan said “No, I said he WASN’T at the bottom.”  Something had obviously gotten lost in the yelling (you know that old telephone game!!!)
Now, I felt terrible.  I never would have left the top of the mountain without James, as I knew he wouldn’t leave without me.  But, I had a dilemma.  I could go all the way back to the top, but I’m wasn’t sure I could actually make it.  My legs were hurting and I thought I might get stuck at the top because I wouldn’t be able to handle the stairs back down.
The kids needed something to eat and drink (as we’d now been at this hiking thing for about 2 hours and were unprepared with water and snacks, as we’d left them all in the car).  James had the keys of course.  Kerry took the kids back into town to get them a drink and we agreed they’d then wait at the car.  If they found James, he would need to come back to the start of the trail to get me.  So, off they went and I sat on a step waiting for James.  Every few minutes, I would call his name loudly into the woods...but never heard anything.  After awhile, I started walking back up the stairs, slowly!  I just felt like he was probably at the top waiting for us.  Back at the top, there was no sign of him.  I started the long trip back down, calling his name the whole way down.  At the bottom of the trail was the river and there were kids swinging on a rope, jumping into the river.  I could hear them, but not see them.  As I was calling James’ name, which seemed to echo across the valley, they started calling his name back to me.  Perhaps if I hadn’t just hiked up all those damn stairs again, I would have thought it was funny.
At the bottom of the stairs, I sat and started to get a little worried.  What if he’d tripped on one of the side trails, what if he was hurt.  What if a crazy French hermit had abducted him (ok, I didn’t really think about that one at all!)    The really sad part of that was we still had phones that didn’t work (for a variety of reasons).  I realized that once we found him, we would need to remedy that!
After a few more minutes, I looked up and there was James, walking down the river path from town.  Turns out nature had called, he couldn’t find us so he went down the mountain and into town.  So much for my “I’d never leave you at the top” thoughts!  Now I knew the truth.  When you gotta go, you gotta go...doesn’t matter if your family is in a remote French Forest!!
I have to say that I was so relieved to see him that I wasn’t irritated in the least (this is a new one for me...the pre-France Steph would have given him an earful).  I had this strange calmness and was just happy to see him.  Could it be that France is working a little magic on my demeanor?  Only time will tell. 
We had a small snack to revitalize us.  We all had some gelato.  I had Violet gelato.  It tasted like soap, but in a nice way.  I was the only one who liked it.  Of course, I didn’t think to take a picture until I’d eaten almost all of it.

We also stopped at this chacuterie and got the most fabulous tart...made with potatoes, ham, bacon & epoisse cheese, wrap in a pastry shell.  When we ate it that night at dinner, it was incredible!!!

We then decided to head to the town of Chablis, since there were many wineries to visit.  

We visited two large wineries: Domaine Regnard, a 150 year old winery which has been owned for the last 25 years by Baron Patrick de Ladoucette, a major player in the Loire and Champagne regions.  We sampled the Petit Chablis, the Chablis, the Chablis Premier Cru and the Chablis Grand Crus.  We enjoyed them all and purchased the Petit and the Grand Crus (the Petit is the cheapest, but very crisp and ready to drink now and the Grand Crus is the best and can be cellared for another 10-20 years if we like).

We then visited Domain de la Moutonne Albert Bichon and tried several more types of Chablis.  We ended up purchasing a few Cremants...since they were a good price.  Cremants are sparkling wines and taste very much like Champagne...without the outrageous price tag.  The setting for the winery was quite impressive!

After two wineries, it was time to head home; with the promise that we would return to Chablis to explore more of the town and see the old church.  With all the adventure and exploration, it had turned into another great day in France!


Andrew said...

C'mon, Steph, you must have known James would come home when he got hungry...
Despite the pain, that calf must be getting pretty strong to make that climb twice.
"It tasted like soap, in a nice way"?!?!

Anonymous said...

I bet somebody at the top told James that they sold Mountain Dew in that town below. Of all the people to get lost...too funny!

Steph said...

Andrew, yes the calf is getting much better, although the day after this adventure it was unhappy with me! And yes, it's odd but it was in a nice way.
Anon...Yep, he probably got an anonymous tip about the Mt Dew. I'm pretty sure if you asked James, he wasn't lost...he knew where he was the whole time!!!!