Thursday, June 30, 2016

Dinan, Brittany

Dinan was spared bombardment during WWI and WWII and, as a result, retains a medieval quarter with interesting history and abundant charm. Wandering along these cobblestone streets feels like stumbling onto a set for a Harry Potter film. Delicious omelets and decadent ganaches, buckwheat pancakes, are common in about every dining establishment, and some of the finest are served by the popular Creperie Ahna.

In the old town center

A D-Day parade in Dinan

Seafood, however, is not to be missed, particularly the belon oysters. Righteously briny, with a crisp and lingering aftertaste, these are a treat for any lover of bivalves.

Parts of the ancient wall that surrounds Dinan are still walkable. One easy stroll, which offers a great view, is to pass through the square in front of the Church of St. Sauver, and stroll into the park behind the building. The views from the wall at that point are stellar, particularly from atop the turret where lower Dinan can be seen, sprawling along the river far below. A tourist train connects the upper and lower cities, for those disinclined to hike down--or back. After all, this is a vacation, right?

View of St. Catherine's Tower on the ramparts

                                                  The nearby Church of St. Sauveur

From Dinan, it is a short drive north to  a lazy country road that connects several oceanfront communities north of St. Malo. Even though the fog was thick the day of our drive, the views were nonetheless enchanting, particularly from Pointe du Grouin.

We ended our day at the Chateau Richelieu, a fabulous property that overlooks the bay on the outskirts of Cancale. Home to the widest tides in the world, low tide beckons fishmongers, who spend as much time as is safe on the vast mudflats and gather what they can. As the tide begins to rise, they trudge back to the safety of shore, their bicycles laden with sacks full of the day's bounty.

Chateau Richelieu

Dinner at the chateau was nearly as special as the view. We enjoyed belon oysters for a starter, progressed to lamb (a unique taste due to the salt water which permeates the region's soil), then onto a selection of cheeses and decadent desserts. All, of course, accompanied by a fine wine and excellent calvados. Oh, and a bottle of champagne, served outside, overlooking the gathering sea.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Borges and the Loire Valley

We paid a too-brief visit to Borges, on the way to the Loire Valley, but enjoyed an excellent dinner and an evening stroll through the old quarter of the city. The Petit Bourbon, the restaurant where we enjoyed our evening meal, is housed within the walls of a former abbey. Great food and a sublime setting were the perfect combination for a delightful evening.

                                                                 The Petit Bourbon

In the heart of the serpentine streets of the old quarter rests the Cathedral, the widest in all of France.

From Borge, we headed into the Loire Valley and a stay in Amboise. The Chateau Amboise, which dominates the city's skyline, is notable for its charming manor, beautifully landscaped lawn, and as the final resting place of Leonardo da Vinci.

Although many chateaus were closed due to severe flooding in the region, Chenenoux was open and we were able to enjoy the well-maintained rooms and grounds--albeit the raging Cher River had washed over large sections of the property, including the maze. Chenenoux has a fascinating history, including the fact that it straddled the border between Free and Occupied France during WWII. Many Jews and members of the French Resistance were smuggled to freedom through the chateau, despite the fact that German artillery was poised to destroy the fairy-tale like structure at any time.

We concluded our visit to Amboise by touring the  Clos de Luce, where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his extraordinary life. Interesting models of many of his inventions are on display, including one of a wall designed for defensive purposes that is strikingly similar to one we viewed near Cusco, Peru, that was erected by the Incans hundreds of years ago at Sacsayhuaman (see post of 12/13/14).

Model of "staggered" fortified wall

Monday, June 27, 2016

Provence, France

We stayed with friends in a villa on the outskirts of Maubec, a quiet, hilltop village with beautiful views of the farmland below. From our home base we visited, all too briefly, some towns in the region, including Oppede and Oppede-le-Vieux, a village abandoned more than a century ago.


Arles hosted a special exhibit of Vincent Van Gogh's works while we were in the region, so we spent time visiting what was a very nice collection and subsequently strolling the quaint, serpentine streets. Window shutters seemed to adorn nearly every facade. We unfortunately lacked the time to visit some of the city's other major attractions, but did enjoy a nice view of the expansive views over the Rhone.

                                                            Van Gogh Exhibit museum

We also visited Menerbes for a glass of wine, dessert, and beautiful views from the mountaintop.

                                                             View from Menerbes
A wine break in Menerbes