It started as a friends' reunion 25 years ago on a whim. Now, it is "the" event to be invited to if you are anybody in the French Capital. Its location is a jealously kept secret until the last minute. You need to bring your own table, chairs, friends, tableware and white tablecloth, food, flowers and drinks and be dressed in white!
Here are some of the key rules from the website of the event:
"Le Dîner en Blanc is quite different from other evenings. Seats are allotted on site in a very specific manner. - Once confirmed, the presence of each guest thus becomes essential and mandatory, whatever happens and regardless of weather conditions; - Colour: white only; - Bring a picnic basket, white table cloth, table (between 28”x28” and 32”x32”) and foldable chairs (white); - Arrive and depart by bus or organised public transit; - Bring one’s refuse when departing and leave the place as clean as it was upon arrival."
It is a good humored event, and although technically illegal, the authorities turn a blind eye - how can they with all this white??? - or should I say have an understanding that the event is well behaved and will be more of a publicity event for the City of Lights than a disruption to civil order...
And I have to say that I am quite impressed by my daughter, as she has been in Paris for a mere five months and she managed to get an invite! And it was a lot of fun I have been told. Here are a few more photos Laetitia shared with us. Now, you will have to try your luck next year!
For the last leg of our journey, we could choose again to rush straight into Paris via the A10/A6 freeways, but it would not be that fun! Instead I am taking you on a little detour more about history, architecture and nature than food and wine for a change!
You will see the cathedral from miles away because the landscape is so flat in the Beauce plain, home of the largest cereal crops in France, but also because the Cathedral sits on a hill. Before the year 1000, 5 iterations of the original cathedral have been built and destroyed by fire of war. It is not until 1230 that a building close to its current form, but only with one spire will be consecrated, so this is probably longest lasting building site in France, as there are still various renovations and additions taking place up until now. The stained glass windows have been in renovation since 1986 and the father of my two nephews have been working on them on and off all his working life! It is obviously a very scarce skill and most of the work is governement funded and heritage listed.
Another part of the cathedral which is of interest to me (and many others..) is the famous organ inside. Again this beautiful instrument has been a work in progress for centuries and has been recently computerised to give the organist almost 9000 combinations of pipes to work with! I attended a few concerts there in the 80s before this new technology was implemented, and it was already a mighty instrument! you can listen here to one of my favourite piece, the Organ Symphony by Saint-Saens conducted by Daniel Barenboim with the very famous Gaston Litaize playing the organ. I had a chance to listen to that same piece last Friday at the Sydney Opera House conducted by Charles Dutoir and with David Drury at the organ.
Rambouillet is to Versailles what Cheverny is to Chambord, a royal hunting lodge in the middle of a well stocked forest with deers and boars at plenty. Numerous incursions and picnics there have proven the point beyond any doubts! And it can be beautiful and eerie when it comes to deers, but quite scary with boars...
Rambouilet is also famous for its "bergerie national" and its merinos, and these are very civilised indeed!
The castle of Versailles, built by and for the Sun King, Louis the 14th, is probably as famous as the Eiffel Tower!
I have had the privilege to live very near by for over 10 years of my life and it is always a special treat to go back.
Visiting the castle, or the the farm of Marie-Antoinette or just walking or cycling through the huge park always bring new surprises and new vistas. And although it is always full of tourists, you can still quite easily find pockets of calm and quiet. Obviously, if you are there over the summer, you have to attend the "Grandes Eaux" show, when all the fountains are being used as visual organs and throw their jets of water in unison with beautiful music fed to your ears through hundreds of well concealed speakers. There is also a man, quite out of the way, who sells the most amazing pistacchio ice cream, and other flavours as well, but the pistachio has to be one of the best! And then you can go and get the best food in and around the market square in the centre of town.
Welcome back to Paris
Thanks for following me along this convoluted journey to the South of France and back.
I hope you enjoyed the trip, and although I didn't quite meet my challenge of 30 posts in 30 days, we made it back to Paris in the end! I have enjoyed the research and the writing. I hope you liked the result! See you soon
Chablis to Sancerre, Menetou-Salon and Salbris
One could rush from Chablis and Auxerre back to Paris in less than two hours, but why not wander around Sologne and visit some Loire Valley castles on the way back and move from Chardonnay to Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc. So without further ado, let's go and do it!
A little further away, you will find another Appelation, far less famous than Sancerre, and often a less expensive but not necessarily less interesting, Menetou-Salon. I first discovered this wine at Le Petit Zinc in the 80s, a famous brasserie rue de Buci in Paris 6th arrondissement. Unfortunately, the place has relocated around the corner and is no longer the buyoant and "a la mode" kind of place it used to be, with waiters that have bveen there so long that they look like living furniture!
Menetou-Salon is famous for its castle that used to belong to Jacques Coeur and was built for his sweetheart Agnes Sorel. It has been in various forms of redevelopment for five centuries, hence the mix styles, and contains a library filled with over twelve thousands books - you will have ample tim,e to sample the wine during all this reading!
Salbris is the capital of the Sologne region, a sparsely populated and beautiful part of France, famous for its forests, lakes and sandy soils. The economy relies on the cultivation of grapes (obviously...) but also asparagus and big hunting lodges on vast properties, some covering hundreds of hectares, with a regal buildings or castles to suit! There is also a big ammunition factory, which facilities i used to visit regularly as part of my job in the mid-seventies at Thomson-Sodeteg, now Thales, as we had a contract to refurbish missiles for NATO!
Salbris and the nearby village of Selles-Saint-Denis are also very famous for their excellent restaurants where I had numerous and memorable long lunches and dinners after which we would drive back to Paris, with no risk of being caught for speeding or drink driving, as these polically correct terms had not been invented just yet...
(BTW, one my other client, SFIM, were busy developing the first speed radars - with no buil-in camera yet...)
In doing some research for this article, I found that Hotel de la Sauldraie does still exist, has been refurbished and is still highly regarded for its cuisine, so that will be my recommendation for either a nice lunch or a stopover.
The Auberge du Cheval Blanc is more upmarket than La sauldraie in Salbris, but also a lot more expensive!
Mur-de-Sologne, Contres and Oisly
Two villages full of old manors and and ancient castle, Mur de Sologne and Contres are on our way to Oisly, the centre of the Touraine apelation and Gamy Noir a jus blanc grapes, which make a lovely red wine, more rustic than its southern brother Beaujolais, but very nice as an everyday drinking wine. It is often "gouleillant", a term that means that it goes well in your "gueule", a term which is rude when applied to humans, but appropriate for dogs, wolves and lions alike ( the expression - se jeter dans la gueule du loupe - means going straight into some sort of danger), so "gouleyant"as it is also written means that it goes well into your mouth and generally also means that there are tiny bubbles in the wine that tickles you as it passes on your tongue: a delight in one word!
Loire Valley Castles - Cheverny and Chambord
I probably don't need to introduce you to Chambord, certainly the most decadent of all the Loire Valley castles.But Cheverny might be less known. It is a smaller castle, magnificent nevertheless, used primarily as a hunting lodge up until today. It is one of the rare castles to maintain their own "hunting dog pack" and a serious of them for sure!
Orleans - Joan of Arc first victory
Dijon to Saulieu, and then Vezelay
It is well worth getting early to drive from Dijon to Saulieu through the majectic scenery of Massif du Morvan.
It is a "haut-lieu" of the French Resistance and one President Mitterand claims to have been part of.
It is quite a wild place, crisscrossed by many small rivers, populated with wild boars and many other animals and birds. So take your time and enjoy the scenery. It is only 80 kms to Saulieu where you can stop for a lazy lunch at La Cote d'Or, the first restaurant of Bernard Loiseau's empire we discussed in a previous post. You will have plenty time to arrive in Vezelay for the night and a chance to repent (if you are so incined...) at the famous Vezelay basilica! This is one of the most famous Benedictine Abbeys. One of the reasons is because shortly after its foundation in the 9th century, the monks acquired the relics of St Mary Magdalene and since then it has been an important place of pilgrimage. Its magnificent location on a hill heped protecting it from bandits and warmongers alike. It is now listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage site. Even if you are not a believer, you will be moved by the good vibrations and the scale of the place. There is also a very nice garden behind.
Coulanges La Vineuse, Auxerre and the Canal de Bourgogne
Coulanges-la-Vineuse, the well named village of a thousand souls, is famous for its wine - bien sur - which was almost wiped out by the philloxera in the 19th century, but also for having sheltered Jeanne d'Arc in a house which still exists and bears her name.
Auxerre will charm you with its town centre still very traditional, full of typical Burgundy architecture, with the Cathedral a background in every photo opportunity. The river is obviously another attraction and is the base for renting a barge to go and explore the Canal de Bourgogne - the Burgundy Canal. travelling on the canal is a leisurely and enjoyable way to spend a week travelling in style through the French countryside!
Chablis - one of my favourite Chardonnays
The village of Chablis, like Camembert has a much bigger reputation than its size would warrant, and the name rings around the world when it comes to Chardonnay! My wife in her youth used to go and pick grapes chez Laroche and it is a tradition that I buy a bottle of this amazing wine each year for her birthday!
There are many vineyards which produce this unbaked, steely chardonnay, 149 are listed here, but only 43 are actually in Chablis itself - enough to get drunk not even leaving the village!
As I said earlier, it is a challenge! and I failed lamentably over the last few days, as I was travelling to Canberra and then Melbourne for my business. That in itself will be the subject of a future post, as it was quite a culinary adventure as well as a beautiful journey driving through the Australian bush for almost a 1,000 kms.
So, in order to regain your trust, dear readers, I thought I would feed you (!) some more lemon tart stories!
This one is probably the most beautifully presented I had a chance to taste, but was probably a bit too elaborate to deserve my score as "best in the World". It was presented to me at the end of a memorable Champagne Brunch at the Gordon Ramsay restaurant which resides at the famous London Hotel in Hollywood.
You might not be able to find or afford a room there, but at 45$, it is a very reasonable price to pay to enjoy the amzing decor and GR's food, which certainly didn't disappoint! Some more photos below to wet your appetite!
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.
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