Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Weekend In The French Countryside, Semur En Auxois to Corsaint, August 14-16, 2010

The Aperitif Hour Begins With The Cutting of Special Cheese Of The Region

In Semur En Auxois, The Table Preparation For Aperitif Hour Is As Important As The Special Wine

Tables In the Town Square in Semur, Begin to Fill For The Aperitif Hour

A Seat At A Brasserie During The Aperitif Hour, Is Difficult To Find

A Family Gathers for Dinner On The Square In Semur En Auxois

The Streets Of Semur Clear And People Head To Restaurants For Dinner

An Ancient Church Graces The Center Of This Village (Semur En Auxois)

Small Italian Bistro Up The Street From Notre Dame Cathedral, Where We dined (8:30 p.m. and still light!)

A Spectacular Fireworks Show For The Religious Holiday Of Mary, A Big Day In France

A Grand Show, Followed By Dancing To Live Bands

Shallots, Onions and Garlic Dry In The Summer Outdoor Kitchen Of This 1700's Renovated Farm

The Outdoor Kitchen View Of The Garden.  Everyone Dines Outside In Good Weather

This Wine Cellar Has Endured For Hundreds of Years

Most 18th Century Farms Have A Clos (Fenced in), Such As This

The Newer Section Of The 18th Century Stone Farm In Corsaint

To Buy Poultry, Bread and Pasteries as well as Cheese, Means A Drive On Narrow Country Roads

At This Farm A Fat 12 Pound Bio Hen Is Purchased, Geese, Ducks And Squab Is Also Available

A Trip To Epoisses For Cheese, Shows Most People Don't Venture Out In The Rain

This Church In Epoisses, Where The Most Delicious Cheese Is Made, Has A Moat Around It

In The Distance Is The Church Of Corsaint

The Entrance To Corsaint And Her 40 Families (3 are British)

A Beautiful Village With A Domaine, Montiers St. Jean,  A Diversion On The Way To Saulieu

The Entrance Into The Picturesque Village of Montiers St. Jean

The Beautiful Domaine In Montiers St. Jean

Another Aperitif Hour, This Time In The Salon Of An 18th Century Farm House, Corsaint

Homemade Cassis To Die For, Served With Cheese Pastry of the Region And Thinly Sliced Sausage, Delicious!

Apero Hour Is Formal, With All Gathered Before The Drink Is Introduced

Food, Wine, Politics and How To Hunt Truffles & Snails Are Lively Topics

Following The Apero, The Entrée, Escargot Harvested By The Hundreds And Tucked Into Ceramic Shells With Parsley, Garlic, Butter And Shallots, As Only The French Know How To Do--Served With Freshly Baked Baguettes To Dip In The Goodness, Imagine All You Can Eat!

Just Out Of The Oven, Bubbly And Smelling Like Heaven

And Yet Another French Delight: Potatoes Au Gratin (Potato, Cream, Shallots & Compte Cheese)

The Country Road Leading Into Our Clos, Corsaint, France

The Newest Addition To The Stone Farm House, Six Rooms Of Gorgeous Comfort

Even Though It's Sunday, We Drive To The Next Village For Fresh Bread

We Also Drive To Epoisses, For Freshly Made Cheese For Our Aperos Tonight

Passing Other Vehicles On This Small Country Road, Is Rare

A Drive To Saulieu For Afternoon Tea & A View Of Some Local Art

Cobblestone Streets And A Fountain In This Round-About In Front Of The Office de Touristes In Saulieu

A Sunday Gathering Of Elders Outside The Church In Saulieu

A Modern Sculpture In An Ancient Village (Saulieu)

There Was Some French Reference To Sarkozy On This Sculpture

The People Of Saulieu Honor Fallen Soldiers Of WWI & II

The Famous Saulieu Chef, Bernard L'Osieau's Restaurant/Hotel Where We Enjoyed Tea

Ramparts Of Saulieu

Sarkozy Was Here!  (Bernard L'Osieau's Tea Room Picture)

We Await Our Tea Arrival

Imaculate White Pampered Cows Make Delicious Cheese

The Great White Hunters Armed With Bags On The Snail Hunt

There's One Now (Look Closely!)

Plus L'Escargot Pour Le Diner!

The Hunt Continues

Our Beautiful Home For The Weekend

Corsaint, France

A Typical Country Stone House of 1700 Vintage

A Sunday Drive To Beautiful Vezelay, France

Sunday Showers Do Not Stop Visitors In Vezelay

And This Salmon/Asparagus Appetizer Topped With Puff Pastry Was Only A First Course!

Another Appetizer:  An Amazing Chevre In Puff Pastry Served Warm With Apricot Sauce and Salad

Pork Tenderloin With Whipped Sweet Potato And A Fruit Sauce

A Local White Fish Atop Potato & Mushroom With a Wine Sauce

Beef Steak With Potato & Mushrooms With Wine Reduction

A Pottery Shop In The Rain, Cups Brimming With Water

Even These Brightly Colored Piggy Banks Had Water In Them In The Open Air Pottery Shop

Chickens Are Very Popular In France, In Pottery Shops & Bistros!

One Of The Many Intimate Dining Spots In Vezelay

Vezelay Shopping Street Climbs To A Mesa With A Beautiful View Of The Wine Valley

A Marble Church From The 11th Century, Vezelay

Vezelay Church, Still Serving Mass

Remains Of The Old Roman City, Now Vezelay (Torched By Huguenots 16th Century)

Vezelay, France 

An Apero In Semur, Before The Rain Came

On Friday morning, we drove into Dijon and found a well-respected chocolatier where we purchased three ballotins of rich delicious chocolat to take to Laetitia and her mother and father.  We'd been invited to stay the weekend at their country home in a very small village called Corsaint.  

We picked up some fresh baguettes and came home where I prepared a traditional jambon sandwich and we sat out on the terrace in the warm sun to dine.  Then it was time to pack a small suitcase for the trip, which we anticipated would end on Saturday.  Our friends, Greg and Laetitia arrived at our exchange home so that we could follow them in their car.  The plan was to drive to Semur En Auxois where Laetitia's mother and father own a large beautiful apartment over a shop they also own and where they sell children's clothing.  The apartment is their home during the week and on the weekend they escape to the country home approximately 13 kilometers away.

This particular weekend is a big weekend in France, one in which they celebrate the Assumption of Mary the Virgin.  It is a get-away weekend for even those people who don't go on vacation on the first of August and each of the villages have big celebrations involving fireworks, dancing and partying all night.  Semur was having such a celebration and we arrived at 5:30, stopped at a brasserie for an apero, then at 7 we met at the shop/apartment of Laetitia's parents where we were treated to another aperitif hour with local cheeses, thinly sliced sausages, puffs of pastry with cheese and some of the most delicious champaign.  The table was set beautifully and we enjoyed lively conversations in French and English.  It was a delight.

Following the apero at the apartment, we walked out into Semur and a couple of blocks away where reservations had been made for us at an Italian restaurant.  We enjoyed some delicious meat, pasta and pizza along with local wine, lingering for several hours before walking up the walled city to an open area where a huge stage had been placed and live music was blasting while small children and adults danced. We danced a few dances and continued strolling to the field where fireworks were to be displayed.  A huge crowd had amassed, but it was very organized and quiet with everyone sitting or standing in a grassy bowl shaped area with the fireworks and music set up below.  Soon the lights dimmed and a spectacular fireworks show commenced.  Afterward it was more music, dancing and drinks.  We arrived at the country home in the wee hours of the morning and were grateful to lay our heads on a comfortable bed in a beautifully furnished room.  The country home was built in the 1700's but remodeled and is very nice with three bedrooms, a huge living room/dining room, huge kitchen with farm house table, one bathroom and one water closet as well as an outdoor summer kitchen.  It is surrounded by farmland and the quaint village of only 40 families, three of which are British.  It's quite nice there.

In order to buy local products, one must travel to various farms where one farm specializes in poultry, another in cheese, and another in bread.  Our friends have a large vegetable garden and before our arrival had harvested 600 snails which they prepared over the course of two weeks.  The process is quite lengthy and requires first starving the poor little guys for a week before brining them for a week, then they are cleaned and placed in a pot with carrot, celery, onion and spices and simmered over several hours.  Then a mixture of butter, shallots, parsley and garlic is mixed and each snail is placed into a ceramic snail shell which is then sealed in with the butter mixture.  When it is time to eat, they are placed into large tart pans and cooked in high heat until bubbly.  No wonder they are so expensive in stores and restaurants, but just imagine being able to have your fill and so fresh and no chance of them being anything other than organic.

The interesting story on the snails is that they can only be harvested during the three months of the summer, then they are left alone.  After a rain, it is common to see people stopped along roads or in grassy fields filling baskets and bags with snails.  We stopped as we drove to a nearby village and since it was raining, they were out and easy to find.

Our hosts went to a neighboring farm and selected a 10 pound hen, had it cleaned and brought it home to put on the Weber in their outdoor kitchen.  As it cooked, they took potatoes from the garden, sliced them into a huge baking dish and layered them with salt, pepper, shallots and Compte cheese, then topped it all off with cream.  It baked in the oven until golden and bubbly.  After the apero with local cheese pastry, sausage slices and cheese with some Cassis, we dug into the escargot followed by the chicken and potatoes and some delicious white wine from the Chablis region.  I'd be lying if I said anything other than:  Wow!  What a meal!

Throughout the meal the conversation about wine, food, politics, soccer and such, continued.  It was a lively conversation in both languages and most enjoyable.  This was our lunch, by the way!  Imagine that!

After lunch we drove to a neighboring village of Montiers St. Jean to check it out and then to Saulieu to enjoy late afternoon tea at the renound Michelin restaurant of Chef Bernard Losieau.  This place is gorgeous and it has a small hotel with several chambers as well as a superb restaurant and elegant gardens with tennis courts, boules court and swimming pool.  We had tea in a private parlor where a picture of Sarkozy, France's (currently not so popular) president who was greeted by Madame Losieau as he arrived at this establishment.

Afterward we walked around the village and then drove back to the farm.  

After such a wonderful meal during the afternoon, I never expected anything more.  However, I was surely mistaken!  For dinner Madame prepared a homemade French onion soup that was rich and delicious.  She served it piping hot over a large crouton of the morning bread that had been toasted with butter and garlic and had a heaping handful of shredded compte cheese on top.  The soup soaked into the bread and melted the cheese, each mouthful a warm relief from a cold rainy day.  We enjoyed some good burgundy wine and then a bowl of warm coconut flan that our hostess made.  Wow, again!

Michel built us a nice fire and we watched Les Miserables in a more modern French form.  It was very good and after such a full day, I was exhausted.  I kept my eyes open until midnight, then gracefully excused myself.  Everyone followed, as if nobody wanted to be the first.  Go figure!  Ha!  I could have gone at ten--but I think that's like seven in America, so I waited until I was afraid I'd drop to the floor before speaking up.

Monday followed with another drive into the country.  The French drive small cars and there are six of us, so we drive three small cars and caravan.  This time we drove through farm country and villages, finally arriving at our destination, Vezelay.  This is an old village resting high on a hill and surrounded by ramparts.  The village has many shops and, as with most villages, has a church at its center.

There are many restaurants in the vicinity but we were cold from the rain and hungry just a bit before they were to open.  Greg had been accommodated previously by the Hotel de Cheval Blanc, so he popped in to see if they wouldn't mind firing up the grills a bit early to feed us.  They were very accommodating and sat us immediately.

They had a fixe prix menu on a black board and we made our selections.  I chose the chevre in filo with a small salad for my first course.  Boy, was it fabulous.  It was warm and the cheese perfectly melted and there was a lovely sweet sauce of apricot pooled next to it and the small salad of mixed greens lightly tossed with fine olive oil and vinegar with whole tiny red pepper corns.  This really could have been my meal and I was wondering why I thought I could eat this and a plat principal!  Greg and Michel ordered the asparagus spears with salmon topped with a puff pastry hat with bernnaise sauce spilled over it all.  It looked delicious and they said it tasted wonderfully.  Then we received orders of fish, pork and beef--all beautifully presented and sauced--which we washed down with a nice bottle of wine.  We all mopped up the plate with our last bite of bread but not one of us could manage a dessert.  Don't worry, we didn't skip it entirely.  We then walked for about an hour, touring the church, going in shops, etc., before it started to really rain  hard.  We stopped in a small café where we ordered freshly made groufes (waffles) topped with chantilly cream and we enjoyed it with hot chocolate also topped with chantilly.  Ok, now you can say we were over the edge.  I swore as I waddled to the car that I was not going to eat another thing until I arrive back home in a couple of weeks.  Right.  No way!  While in France, do as the French do.  Eat, converse and drink lots of delicious wine!

We said our good byes to Marie and Michel, thanking them for such a wonderful cultural experience at their country home and promised to come back for a visit before we leave Dijon.  We hope to do so this coming Thursday.

It's nice to be back home to our exchange home.  Wednesday we have dinner with the parents of our home exchange host, and we are really looking forward to this visit as well.  

Stay tuned for more adventures in Dijon.


  1. very cool! this is covering full travel time and moments on the spots.
    this is inspiring me to move to once this place.
    thanks for nice post.

  2. I loved living the experience with you then and love your writing now :-)