It’s time to continue our cruise down the canals of Burgundy, France aboard La Belle Epoque, a luxury hotel barge that is part of the European Waterways fleet. So far, in a series of 8 blog posts, I’ve covered the first 3 days of the 7-day, 6-night trip. After a van ride from Paris to Tanlay, we have cruised down the canal, enjoying beautiful scenery, delicious meals, and educational stops at historic sites along the way. This map shows where we have spent some time so far.
In case you missed them, here are the links to those previous entries.
Those 3 days were wonderful, but we have 3 more to go! We awoke on Day 4 still docked at Any-le-Franc.
While we enjoyed our breakfast, the crew was hard at work. Even the Pilot, Alan Hearsey, was as busy as anyone else cleaning the ship and making sure everything was in working order.
We had a full day ahead of us. The plan was do drive to Noyers-sur-Serein, which is officially listed by the French government as a “Most Beautiful Village in France.” (There are actually around 150 “Most Beautiful” villages in France, so it is not too exclusive a title.) On the way there, we would make a stop at Argenteuil-sur-Armançon, a tiny, but scenic commune. We would return to La Belle Epoque for lunch and spend the afternoon cruising to Ravières where we would dock for the night. Along the way, we passed through the lock at Chassignelles, a small village we explored on foot in Part 8. For dinner, we would return to Noyers-sur-Serein and a delightful little restaurant there. Here’s a map of the area we will cover today.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Our first stop was Argenteuil-sur-Armançon, population 259 (as of 2006) covering an area of 11.8 sq. miles (30.5 km2). It may be small, but it is beautiful with some neat architecture and a central pond with fountains.
Even better, the pond was the home of a bevy of swans (bevy is the official name a group of swans, unless the are flying; then the become a wedge of swans).
They were obviously used to people and swam right up to where I was standing.
No zoom lens here; the swans were right at my feet! As pleasant as the sunshine, scenery and swans were, our real objective was Noyers-sur-Serein, so we were soon back in thebans and on our way.
Once Noyers-sur-Serein was in sight, it was easy to believe it was one of “The Most Beautiful Villages in France,” or anywhere else for that matter.
Passing through the gate…
…and walking down the cobblestone streets…
…made it easy to imagine you had landed in a medieval village in the 15th century.
Noyers-sur-Serein most certainly deserves its title as a beautiful village. We’ll see more of it in a minute, but first I had something even better to do. Chef Katy Jennings had invited anyone who was interested to go with her to the market in Noyers-sur-Serein to shop for lunch and dinner supplies. Since I love to cook (and eat!) I was the first in line. In fact, I was the only person in line. It seems grocery shopping is not as popular with normal people as it is with me. I love wandering through markets wherever I travel. It is usually a frustrating experience. I am inspired by all the beautiful, fresh ingredients and immediately start building menus in my head, but I have no opportunity to actually execute them when I’m staying in a hotel room. I won’t be cooking our trophies from this market, either, but I’ll get to watch Chef Katy create what we talked about as we shopped and then I’ll get to eat it!
This was a pretty big market with a bounty of foodstuffs ready to be transformed into a meal or just eaten out of hand. The fishmonger had a wide selection of fish and shellfish.
The fall harvest must have been close to it’s peak and fruits and vegetables abounded.
While my French is extremely limited, I had a great time trying to communicate with the merchants. The marchand de fruits alternated between broken English and flowing French as he explained why each of his fruits were the best to be found anywhere. You had to love this guy!
Nor was there a shortage of vegetables.
It would not be France without a large selection of cheeses.
But this cheesemonger seemed to have a mouse problem!
The boulangerie was not technically part of the market in the square, but the market was just outside of it. There are few sights more beautiful to a foodie than a French bakery.
Only a few steps farther away was the charcuterie (delicatessen) full of sausages, hams, snails and more.
There were plenty of fresh flowers to decorate the table as well.
You’ll find more photographs from the market in the slide show at the end of this article.
The old buildings, especially the iconic half-timbered structures, were magnificent.
The sky and clouds you see in the window above are exactly as they appeared; they are not Photoshopped in!
One of the landmarks in Noyers, actually classified as a historic monument, is its church, Église Notre-Dame de Noyers, or the Notre Dame (Our Lady) of Noyers.
The church was completed near the end of the 15th century and is quite well preserved. It was not open on the day we were there, unfortunately.
As in any town, there were children playing (and possibly up to no good! Look at what is in the hands of the boy on the left and the face of the boy on the right.)…
…while senior citizens walked more slowly down the street, occasionally reaching out for support on nearby objects.
Noyers is a photographer’s dream. You can stand almost anywhere, point your camera in almost any direction, and find a shot.
I have included quite a few more shots in the slideshow at the end of this post. Now, however, it is time to head back to La Belle Epoque. Chef Katy had returned earlier to transform some of the ingredients we bought at market into a lunch buffet.
Back in the 1980s, Bruce Feirstein wrote a book called “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.” It has long been out of print, but you can still buy used copies on eBay and Amazon.
It was a humorous, tongue-in-cheek look at the changing ideas of “women’s roles” and “men’s roles” in American culture. There are a lot of reasons, mainly in the form of badly made quiches, that neither men nor women should eat it, but a properly made quiche can be a delicious brunch, first course, or dinner no matter what your gender identity (to use the politically correct term of the 2010s). Quiche appears to have been created about 300 years ago in the area around what is now the Alsace-Lorraine region of northeastern France. This area has passed back and forth between Germany and France over the years, perhaps explaining why both countries claim to have invented quiche.
The quintessential quiche is Quiche Lorraine, an egg pie filled with Gruyere cheese and bacon. I will let the Master, Jacques Pepin, show you how easy it can be to make.
You can use your favorite pie crust recipe or even buy one from the store. Beat up some eggs, milk and cream, then add flavorful extras it as you wish—vegetables, meat, cheese—it’s up to you. You will find hundreds of recipes for variations online.
Chef Katy stuck with the classic and it was delicious. I mean, bacon, cheese and eggs, what’s not to like?
Next to the quiche, a lovely salad with fresh-from-the-market tomatoes and red onions with a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar.
There is nothing quite like the taste of a truly fresh, vine-ripened tomato direct from the farm. Elegant, and delicious, simplicity.
More fresh produce: roasted potatoes and onions.
If you know me or have read my Restaurant Reports, you know that no one likes fancy-shmancy gourmet cuisine more than I do. Michelin-starred restaurants with fancifully plated dishes, exotic spices and rich sauces are a slice of heaven to me. Nevertheless, as you will hear repeated over and over on the cooking shows these days, fresh, high-quality ingredients, simply, but properly, prepared make amazing dishes. This was such a dish. New potatoes, skins and all, cut up, drizzled with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, mixed with some sliced onion and roasted in the oven, it all came together beautifully. The warm earthiness of the potatoes was complimented by the slight sweetness of the onions. Yum.
Do your remember the photos of the cheese merchant and the delicatessen from earlier in this post? Chef Katy plated up some of their wares as part of our buffet.
Alas, if I wrote down the names of the sausages I can’t find my notes now. I do remember the cheeses because they are both the soft, rind-washed type that have strong aromas and flavors, which I love. Chef Katy had heated them so they can be spooned out in all their creamy goodness. One is Mont d’Or, as you can just see by the label. This is one of several unpasteurized cow’s milk cheeses known collectively as Vacherin that are made in France and Switzerland. Mont d’Or is French. It is seasonal and is produced and sold in the months between August and May. The box you see it packed in is made of Spruce and, as Chef Katy has done here, it is traditionally warmed and served in the box. As “stinky cheeses” (as cheeses of this type are often called) go, this one is relatively mild.
The second cheese was Époisses de Bourgogne usually just called Époisses. It is packaged and warmed and served in the same way as the Mont d’Or. This one often shows up on cheese carts in good restaurants. It is another cow’s milk cheese and, while it is ripening, the rind (outside) of the cheese is washed with salt water and Marc de Bourgogne, a type of brandy made in Burgundy. (Mont d’Or is washed only with salt water.) This is one of the strongest and stinkiest of the stinky cheeses, but Valeria and I both love it.
Here is the lovely Katy telling us about the charcuterie plate. I guess I was too busy taking pictures to make notes.
Did we have wine with lunch? Of course! The 2012 Louis Jadot Domaine Clair-Daü Rosé de Marsannay, Burgundy, France.
Let’s see what we can learn about this wine from the label. It was produced from grapes harvested in 2012, which was an outstanding year across the board in Burgundy. The story of Domaine Clair-Daü illustrates the best and the worst of the story of wine in France. The Domaine was founded in 1919 by Joseph Clair. He immediately established a reputation for making quality wines, but his vineyards were wiped out almost as fast by phylloxera, a small insect that attacks the roots of grape vines. It was introduced into France and the rest of Europe when grapevines from the United States were planted after World War I. North American grapevines are immune to these microscopic creatures, but European grape vines were not, so the bugs feasted and the vines died. There are a few exceptions, but almost all grapes grown in Europe today are European grape varieties that have been grafted onto North American rootstock.
At that time, Gamay and Aligoté, which are now secondary grapes in Burgundy, were more widely planted. When Clair replanted his vineyards, he replaced these grapes with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which he though (correctly) would produce superior wines. He influenced a lot of others to do the same. Modern Burgundy lovers have reason to thank Monsieur Clair.
When Joseph Clair died in 1971, French inheritance laws, which define how property is to be divided up among the family on the owner’s death, lead to a rift among the heirs and the estates were sold off. Louis Jadot, one of the oldest and largest producers in France, bought parts of the Domaine Clair-Daü. The Domaine is located in Marsannay in the northernmost part of Burgundy, just south of Dijon.
The vineyards in Marsannay are planted almost entirely in Pinot Noir. Our lunchtime rosé was made from that grape. As I have discussed in other posts, a good rosé wine is made when the juice of the freshly crushed grapes is allowed to stay in contact with the grape skins (where all the color is) for a only a short period of time (hours instead of days). This is the perfect lunch/brunch wine. It was perfectly dry, unlike many of the somewhat sweet pink wines from California. The aromas include fresh strawberry and flower notes. There was good acidity in the wine to balance the fruit flavors, making it refreshing and ideal for cleaning the palate between bites of food. Good rosés should be as much a part of your summer as baseball and hot dogs.
After all that, did we have room for dessert? No, but we ate it anyway. Chef Katy kept it light: ice cream and fruit.
She made the ice cream with raspberries which, like the plums and apricots, were fresh from the market. Two more simple recipes to let the flavors of the fruits shine through.
As we ate our lunch, La Belle Epoque was unmoored and we began a leisurely cruise from Ancy-le-Franc to Ravières, passing through the lock at Chassignelles on the way.
You may remember Chassignelles from the last entry in this series, A Barge Cruise on the Burgundy Canals, Day 3, Part 2, Ancy-le-Franc, Chassignelles. Chassignelles is where we hiked to explore the 13th Century Church of St. John the Baptist.
We also hiked through the village on our way back to the barge.
Today we just passed trough the lock, however, and continued on along the canal…
…until we reached Ravières, where we would dock for the night.
The crew ended the day as it began, constantly cleaning and maintaining the ship.
You can see the cutout on the left of canal where we pulled in to tie off.
We arrived just in time to enjoy a beautiful sunset.
Once again, you’ll find more images of Ravières in the slide show below.
The day may have been over for the sun, but it was not for us. We were going to return to Noyers-sur-Serein for dinner, which I will review for you in A Barge Cruise on the Burgundy Canals, Day 4, Part 2 Ancy-le-Franc, Dinner at Restaurant Les Millésimes, Noyers-sur-Serein.
The photo gallery contains many images not included in the text.
All images were taken with a Canon 5D Mark III camera and a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens or a Tamron AF 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di LD VC Aspherical (IF) Macro Zoom Lens (now discontinued; replaced by Tamron AFA010C700 28-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD Zoom Lens) using ambient light. Post-processing in Adobe Lightroom® and Adobe Photoshop® with Nik/Google plugins.
The author participates in the Amazon Affiliate Program, but otherwise has no affiliation with European Waterways or any of the locations and products described in this article.