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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

La Vie en...Burgundy

Some of you may wonder how it is that I can eat and drink in the outrageous quantities that I have been detailing -- for five months, nonstop -- without consequences. Well, the answer is, I can't. Morocco comes back to haunt my digestion every now and then, and after our amazing meal at La Cimentelle on our first night, I was...somewhat indisposed. But that did not keep me from continuing to indulge.

We've been driving from wine cave to chateau to cave to abbey to cave, through sun-soaked countryside thick with white butterflies. We visited Vezelay yesterday, a Unesco World Heritage site, perched on a hilltop and crowned with a medieval Romanesque basilica. It was founded by Bernard of Clairveaux, the originator of the Cistercian order who is responsible for building many abbeys throughout Burgundy.

The church is plain, pale, and austere, as the Cistercians wanted (they had broken away from those over-the-top, worldly Benedictines) and holds bones of Mary Magdelene. As a result it was an important pilgrimage site on the route to Santiago de Compostela. It was also the embarkation point for two crusades.

The town is beautiful too. In the home of pacifist writer Roman Roland, there is a collection of modern masterworks of art. It includes paintings and sculptures by Calder, Leger, Picasso, and others.

From there we headed to the medieval village of Noyers-sur-Serein, a picture-perfect, quiet little town with half-timbered houses and dwellings built into the towers that surround it.

Then it was time for wine tasting. We concentrated on Chablis, one of my favorites, stopping at a little cave where we tasted an amazingly affordable Petit Chablis, a regular Chablis, and a Premier Cru Chablis. Guess which was better? Guess which we bought?

After that we went to the Chateau de Tanlay, a sixteenth-century manor house with a wide moat and carved outbuildings. It has two remarkable features.

One is the Grand Gallery, whose walls and ceiling are completely covered with griseille painted trompe-l'oeil. The other is a secret tower room where the Hugenots met. Its walls are painted with a satirical scene in which all the political figures of the day are featured as gods and goddesses, some quite unclothed.

From Tanlay, we drove on through vineyards and fields of grain to Chablis, a pretty little town, where we tasted still more white wine at another cave. It was so good we had to get another bottle. (We have maybe enough room in our luggage for one.) And we saw the synagogue, which for some reason had tiny, Hobbit-sized doors.

We returned to our hotel, took a quick swim, and went into the nearby town of Avallon for dinner (I could not face another 4+ course dinner quite yet). We ate al fresco. The food was not as spectacular as at the hotel, but the quantities were human-sized.

So we are LOVING Burgundy. Stunning abbeys and chateaux without the crowds of the Loire Valley. Incredible food without Paris prices. Great wines without Bordeaux snobbery. Please, can we stay?

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