Thursday 2nd April 2015, Champagne–sur-Loue
Today has been wet and horrid from start to finish. We’ve done very little though we braved the rain this morning for an icy walk to discover whether the Loue had finally broken its banks and to climb up on the clos above the village to see whether there was any activity amongst the vines. We saw nobody and even the cattle couldn’t be bothered to leave the shelter of the trees to follow us as they usually do. The river is lapping the road and when we drove to Salins after lunch we decided it was safer to take the longer route round via Buffard rather than risk running into flood water on the narrow road beside the river where we had no hope of turning round if the road became impassable.
Friday 3rd April 2015, Champagne–sur-Loue
Well we’ve had a delightful day today and this evening I’m likely to fall asleep at the kitchen table as I try to recall everything before it becomes a blur. It wasn’t actually raining for most of the day though definitely still very chilly. This evening we are back to the usual cold drizzle and puddles in Roland’s courtyard but for most of the day the weather has been quite pleasant.
We’ve not set eyes on our hosts all day. They were up and away before us this morning and when we returned home around 7pm there was lots of noise and chatter from upstairs where they were presumably entertaining friends. As I said before, Susanne says she gets lonely, and it’s certainly true that Roland needs to rest every afternoon but they always seem to have something happening.
Today we drove to Arbois for the weekly market. It’s only small but it’s a social event as everyone gathers on the square to buy replacement undies, housecoats, socks and slippers. Sometimes they may need a new blade for their pruning knife or some sulphur for the vines but really it’s a chance to chat to anyone who will listen – and that includes us. I’ve even been given a demonstration of an electric powered folding bike – I wish they’d existed when we bought Hinge and Bracket! We’ve also sampled goat’s cheese flavoured with rum and figs – I was as underwhelmed as our French friends were when we once offered them Wensleydale with apricots. Apparently this particular French goat’s cheese was invented in France’s overseas territory of Guadeloupe where they have a surfeit of rum, figs and goats!
Despite being so far from the sea the fishmonger had fresh Scottish salmon and mackerel selling more cheaply than we can find it in Devon while the butcher had a considerable queue of housewives wanting his trays of brains, bowels and bollocks! Why don’t the French just eat the normal cuts of meat rather than specialising in all the bits we in Britain turn into dog food?
The town hall was advertised as holding a free local history conference but inside we found nobody at all so instead we took a walk along a footpath beside the overflowing river where the famed vines that produce the vin jaune d’Arbois were dripping from their tips as the new sap started to rise.
On someone’s door Ian discovered a sign which roughly translates as “Do you have a lovely little dog? And are you very fond of him? So why don’t you teach him to go and shit somewhere else?”
Sometimes in the past, we have lunched on market day at the “Cuisance”. Last year we found it closed for renovation and this year it has reopened under new management with higher prices. Nearby is another place where we’ve never managed to get a table before as local workmen tend to flock there, leaving a trail of sawdust across the room, spanners on the tablecloth and flecks of paint from their overalls on the chairs. Today though, being Good Friday, there were less workmen around and they found us a table. There is no choice. It’s the menu du jour at 11 euros and includes a starter, a main course and either cheese or desert followed by coffee. We started with the hors d’oeuvre of tête-de-veau in aspic followed by filet of cod with stuffed tomatoes and lemon rice. To finish we had charlotte de mandarine, Chantilly cream and a fruit coulis. We even had a tablecloth and proper cloth serviettes.
Waddling from over-indulgence we went for a stroll beside the river Cuisance to admire yet again the overhanging houses and narrow footbridge across near the Tour de la Gloriette.
Here we discovered it is no longer a ruin, having been recently restored by the mairie and now occupied by a young and wildly enthusiastic lithographic printmaker. We were almost dragged inside and conducted around his current exhibition – a collection of lithographs depicting water. Mainly scenes from the Jura countryside there were also a few of seascapes. His theme last year had been trees and before that animals, including the pelican, the symbolic bird of Arbois. He soon realised we actually knew something about print making and invited us upstairs so he could show us his press, made in Paris in the 1850s, and some of his litho plates. Apparently most of his plates are recycled, having been bought by him from printmakers when they ceased working. They mainly come from Bavaria where the process was invented by Senefelder in the 1790s but a few originate from the limestone cliffs around Arbois. Not surprisingly he knew all about the lithographer whose closed business we discovered in Ornans last year. Nowadays there are fewer and fewer lithographers still active. Because he is young he is in demand to give talks and guided visits to school children and to run lithographic print-making courses. For him at least the future looks promising. He explained how the surface of old lithographic printing stones can be ground down by rubbing two of the limestone slabs together using sand between them to wear away the surface where it had been originally impregnated with the waxy paint. The stone is finally cleaned with acid and can then be reused. This was all new to us.
So interesting was our conversation that by the time we left we were running short on time and had to drive, rather than walk, the several kilometres up to the Reculée des Planches to see the waterfall at the resurgence of the Cuisance. Here we parked and walked up into the woods. Soon we could hear the rushing waterfall which guided us easily through the woods to where the water comes thundered down in a wide fantail, regardless of possible trees in its path. We’ve seen the waterfall before, in summer, but after the recent rains it is truly spectacular! Over the centuries a whole series of travertine pools have developed in the riverbed below the cascade - today though they were largely hidden beneath the flood of water. Some people we once met there told us with awe that it was “un des mystères de la Nature”. It is indeed a mysterious place, hemmed in by huge cliffs of bare Jurassic limestone at the head of a blind valley, known as a Baume, from where the river emerges from the rocks, having travelled who knows how many kilometres underground, through cliffs riddled with as many caves and tunnels as there are holes in the local Gruyère cheese!
Leaving the woods we returned to Modestine across a green mountain pasture edged by tall dark sapins and sprinked with purple violets.
The river, calmer here but still gushing and swirling along its bed, flows down the few kilometres into Arbois to again crash in a foaming white torrent right through the centre of the town.
Our haste was to ensure we reached Salins by 5.30pm. Yesterday I chanced to discover that on Fridays I could use the salt water pool at the Thermes for half price during the early evening. This is a World Heritage site attached to the Saline and I’ve never used it before. Reception showed me a corner where I could safely park Ian with a cup of coffee and I changed and followed local swimmers down the stairs to the pool, beneath the treatment rooms where patients wandering around in white towelling robes. At first I thought the pool was wonderful and eagerly swam off up the deep end. I soon realised however just how vile the salt tasted. A poster assured me a saline pool was good for de-stressing. Maybe, but the concentrated salt content must have sent my blood pressure rocketing! Around the pool were white plastic sun-loungers. Just what you need deep underground in a naturally saline pool! People were actually lying there watching others swimming! At one end was a communal Jacuzzi crowded with people being pummelled by the water. I tried this but quickly became bored - being on my own and surrounded by French chatter on all sides. The obligatory swimming cap covering my ears didn’t help! Eventually thirst drove me back upstairs where after a shower to rid me of the salt I rejoined Ian who’d discovered a drinking fountain – thank Heavens, I was desperate for a drink!
So it was an interesting experience but I won’t rush to do it again. I don’t drink the stuff but swimming under water it inevitably gets in. My eye actually felt relieved by the salt. Maybe I should return and ask them to sell me a bottle of the stuff! It’s far more salt than is sea water.
By the time we emerged back into the streets it was raining yet again. So we returned home, stopping down near the river Loue to admire another tiny foal who’d presumably been born sometime today.
Back in the flat we settled for a light supper in the kitchen - neither of us was hungry after our big lunch – and watched the French news about the English elections on TV. The swim has made me so sleepy I’m now off to bed. G’night.
Saturday 4th April 2015, Champagne–sur-Loue
Today the rain returned with a vengeance. It hasn’t stopped all day. We were invited to visit Martin and Maggie, the English people who came to see us in Champagne a few days ago. This morning we’d intended visiting Champagnole and Nozeroy, before arriving in Ivrey mid- afternoon as arranged. With the weather so awful however, we lingered upstairs chatting with Susanne and by the time we’d driven to Salins and finished our supermarket shopping we found we’d be rushed to fit everything in and anyway the weather was by now absolutely horrid. So we returned to the Tourist Office and threw ourselves on the mercy of the friendly lady on duty begging to be given internet access. She allowed us an hour rather than the usual 15 minutes as nobody else was daft enough to be sploshing around in such awful weather and we looked as if we needed time to dry out. It’s amazing how much more cheerful a message from a friend, a Jacqui Lawson Easter card and a family photo can make one feel! We were also cheered to discover that we should be able to afford the fare to take Modestine on the train through the tunnel under the Alps into Italy rather than climbing over the Simplon Pass in awful rain and probably snow. It looks to be cheaper than we expected.
It’s not far to Ivrey as the crow flies but to get there we needed to drive along beside the appropriately named river Furieuse from Salins before turning off down a tiny narrow road that contoured Mont Poupée from an angle we’d never seen before. The village is very remote, the road cut into the rock without any chance for passing places. Okay for horses and carts as in days of old but not for current day transport. Luckily we met no traffic as passing would have been almost impossible. Once in the village we braved the rain searching for the house which we’d seen previously on Google maps. I think it did have an address but nobody uses them out here in the wild.
We greatly admire those English we have met who are courageous enough to buy a second home or even move out here permanently. Martin came house hunting a decade ago. He found a place he liked but when he went to the notaire’s office to buy it he discovered this one, twenty miles away and, on the spur of the moment, bought it instead. It was only later he realised he’d also bought a very large area of orchards and meadowland and a huge barn as well! The house itself, when we saw it today, was full of potential and rural charm but it will require a huge amount of work to fully renovate it. It is though, a wonderful hide-away for summer holidays and hopefully, now that Martin and Maggie are both retired, they will have more time to spend here working on the property. Martin is skilled at woodwork and DIY. Unlike us, he’s not daunted at the thought of spending his every waking moment out here chopping wood, heaving stone, knocking down barns and outbuildings and preventing the stove from smoking. Today water was flooding past the door of the old cattle shed which opens into the kitchen where family life exists around a wood-burning range. Maggie had cooked a cake on this amazing contraption which came with the property. It was delicious. How did she know Ian was addicted to coffee and walnut cake? She generously packed him up a large wedge to bring back with him when we left.
First though we were given a fascinating tour of the old farmhouse with its huge rooms, still very much as it had been when they purchased it, though they have added loos and a bathroom. Almost all the contents have come from vide greniers for almost nothing. My favourite was an ornate cast-iron wood-burner in their lounge which they bought for 20euros and installed themselves. Maggie’s favourite is a gilt baroque bevelled mirror. Martin’s current bargain is a huge pile of rocks delivered by a neighbour this morning, dumped in the middle of the orchard awaiting a future visit from England to be turned into a wall to separate the garden from the orchard. They will shortly be returning to England until later in the summer. Maggie is amazing, trusting Martin’s judgement when popping off to France to return saying he’d purchased a huge farmhouse, cowshed and barn in the depths of rural France in an inaccessible village surrounded by mountains of Jurassic limestone! Plans to show us around the village came to nothing as it was throwing it down when we came out of the old wooden milking shed attached to the kitchen to start our walk. We returned inside again and settled around the big old kitchen table, which together with the chairs, had come as part of the purchase package. At least they won’t want for wood. They have a barn full of it and an orchard that needs constant pruning.
Thank you both for a fascinating afternoon and please do let us visit you again if our paths cross on a future stay in this area. It’s a delight for us to meet people who have become as fond of this stunningly beautiful area as we have done. Good luck with the renovation. It should keep you happily occupied for years to come!
Friday 10th April 2015, Lake Maggiori, Italy
It was Easter last weekend so we decided not to move on from Champagne until the Tuesday. On Sunday we drove up the valley of the Loue to Ornans, a pretty little town sheltering beneath the towering cliffs that border the Loue at this point It was here that Jura’s celebrated 19th century painter, Gustav Courbet lived and worked. There is an excellent museum of his work in the town and being the first Sunday of the month we worked out that it should be free.
After an exploratory stroll around the town in the biting cold we eagerly joined the small crowd waiting at the doors of the museum for afternoon opening. Here we found not only a very representative collection of Courbet’s works but also much about the significant event in his life. He was involved in the Paris Commune of 1870 and was held responsible for the damage caused to the Vendome Column when it was smashed during the riots. He fled to Switzerland after his release from prison, and his property and assets were seized. He eventually died in Switzerland, where he was befriended by fellow artists. Now he is regarded as one of France’s leading painters of the 19th century and the country is only too eager to claim him as their own.
As we were about to leave the museum we bumped into Martin and Maggie, also eager to benefit from the monthly jour du partimoine.
On our final day the sun decided to shine, tiny signs of green hazed the tips of the branches and we set off for a sunny hike through the woodland above the valley to Port Lesney. It was a beautiful though tiring walk and made us realise the toll the last decade of travelling has taken. Hopefully we will harden up after the indolence of winter.
In Port Lesney we found the Café Edgar open. With a sunny terrace to seduce us we asked for a couple of glasses of chilled local white wine and a pizza to share with it. We were advised we’d do better to have the menu which included the pizza but also a mixed salad, a desert and coffee for an extra three euros. It was indeed very pleasant and we lingered over our shared meal enjoying the sunshine before setting out on the 6 km walk back home. This time we took the easy, level walk along beside the river, discovering one of the special houses built along the line of the 18th century saumoduct carrying the brine from the Saline at Salins-les-Bains to the treatment centre at Arc-et-Senans. Checks were made to ensure the concentration of the brine. Back then salt was a highly valuable commodity and frequently it was siphoned off to be treated and sold on the black market.
That evening Roland invited us upstairs for an apero of his wines before our departure. Next morning we left early with our usual regrets but also eager to return to Italy with its warm sunshine.