Hello, Sancerre…

We had a good night’s sleep in our Lyon hotel, grabbed a quick breakfast in the Place Carnot, and set off north, west then north again.  The sad truth is that we are setting off homewards, just two nights left in France… but we are making the most of them.  So it took us a while to extricate ourselves from Lyon, what with Miss Google throwing a minor wobbly when she lost 3G and the maps not quite including all the roads we needed, but we were soon on the right road and heading towards tonight’s destination of Donzy, in the Burgundy area near Sancerre.

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We drummed on across the A89 then up the old N7 for a change from the motorway, and we stopped for an early picnic lunch in the small “ville étape”, or stop-off town, of Lapalisse.  We came past a quarry of pink stone as we drove in, similar to the colour of Toulouse stone, and all the town seemed to built of it.  It was pretty, although a little
deserted, and we moved on because Julia and I wanted to re-visit the small town of Moulins that we had been to a few years ago and loved.

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So Moulins was the next stop, about an hour further on, and it lived up to – actually, slightly exceeded – expectations.  The town was extremely important in the middle ages, being the seat of the Dukes of Bourbon but once they became kings of France they moved on and Moulins fell into decline for a few hundred years.  They left a cathedral, the remains of a castle or two, many ducal houses and everything from that era involved creative use of brickwork.

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However it had obviously also had a reflowering at the end of the 19th century and at that time the marvellous Café du Centre had been established on the newer side of town.  This café is my favourite in France, and although the medieval part of town is amazing, the mirrors and mouldings of this fabulous turn-of-the-century café just have to be seen.  We had a thoroughly enjoyable grand crème there, taking far too many photographs to include in this blog.

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Everyone should see this café, it is so beautifully preserved!  Unfortunately, we had to move on, but we will go back.

There is so much in Moulins to photograph, far too much to include here, but I have to include a picture of the top of the old Nouvelles Galeries building, also in that turn-of-the-century style.  It must have been cleaned up, as the interior of the Cafe du Centre must have been, but it is thoughtful and clever of the local authority to have retained it when so many towns have allowed such things to fall into such disrepair that they have to be removed.

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We had already been told by the hotel Le Grand Monarque at Donzy that they would be closed until 5.30pm, and since it was close to Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé our plan was to do some tasting, er, to ahem kill time until we could check in, so once the trusty N7 took us up to the right area, we veered off towards the village of Sancerre.  We started outside Sancerre, in Chevignol at Serge Laporte’s vineyard, that Tim and Julia knew from the Lille wine fair, and M.Laporte’s daughter kindly allowed us to taste both white and – this was news to me – RED sancerre.  Interesting – Julia bought 3 of the younger white and 3 of the red.

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Then we moved back towards Sancerre and found another producer, Thomas Labaille, that we just dropped in on to see what it was like.  Madame let us in and gave us various wines to taste, and we met Monsieur – what’s more we noticed a picture on the wall, an, um, interesting rendition of a man (it turned out to me Monsieur) posing with a rugby ball.  It was very funny, and they were both obviously very proud of the picture!  (Have a look at the picture on the wall behind Tim and Julia.)  Their white Sancerre was nice, and both Tim and Julia bought a little.

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Finally, we went in to Sancerre to find the Cave des Vignerons, for a little more variety, and got there just before they were about to close.  This time we were given 4 different ones to try, and Julia and Tim again both bought a little.  It was all such fun, and one has such interesting conversations with people in these places – everyone is passionate about their product, and so knowledgeable and every time you go in to one you learn a little more too.  I didn’t buy any wine myself, but I know so much more now than I did before this afternoon.

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Anyway, we then made our way over to Donzy and our hotel.  And what a fantastic surprise this town has turned out to be – it is medieval, with medieval houses mostly still standing, some of which have been renovated, others of which are collapsing.

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There is a ramshackle old mill on a tiny island in the middle of the little river, and the mill is the location of one of TEN walnut oil producers in this small town.

Oh and I have found my perfect house.  I was about to photograph it when – CHEEK – someone came and parked in front of it, so here it is with a stupid car ruining its looks.  You will just have to try and see through the car…

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The hotel is old and full of character, the owners/managers are delightful, and tonight’s Menu du Terroir, at €20.90 each was excellent.  I had one of my most favourite starters, a Burgundian speciality, oeufs en meurette (poached eggs in a red wine reduction with finely chopped mushrooms and lardons) YUM.  Then came filet mignon of pork with potatoes roasted in duck fat, and finally a delicious mousse of fromage blanc with purée of (I think) kiwi fruit.  Very delicious, though looking round the dining room we saw the same as we had in the hotel in Tournon – several single men, presumably sales representatives, reading books or ipads as they ate.  I’m glad they at least get to stay somewhere nice, I suppose paid for by their companies.  But why are there not crowds of people making their way to this lovely restaurant in this lovely hotel in this lovely town??  The world is strange sometimes.

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Tomorrow we move on – slowly – to our last night in Senonches, near Chartres, before heading back to Caen for the ferry to Portsmouth, and we must build in some supermarket time in case there is anything that needs topping up.  (That will be my moment, when I buy the silly things like chestnut puddings from Danone and French exercise books with that gorgeous silky paper with all the extra lines and Le Parfait jars and lots of things that often other people find odd that I should like!)

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