Categories: Biking, France, Travel - Tags: Beaujolais, Burgundy, chocolate, Dijon, gourmet, Lyon, Michelin star, nouvelle cuisine, Restaurant Bocuse, wine
Day Five dawns beautifully again finding us further down the Soane River Valley in Macon, halfway between Dijon and Lyon, where the richer Burgundy vineyards give way to the fresher taste of Beaujolais. It’s pretty magical to sink, exhausted from the days ride, into our bunks aboard the ship and awaken down river docked in a new village. Today we climb above the valley to reach Julienas, a village as pretty as its name and wines.
Pedaling along a ridge, sweaty and out of breath from the climb, Jim and I come upon a cemetery, I tug on his shirt to signal for a welcome rest stop. Clearly this is a wealthy region of long-established vintner families. The tombstones are polished marble and granite and bear family names going back from the early 1800s to the present. What is amazing is to see the plethora of fresh flowers on so many of the plots. They speak volumes about the deep sense of family pride, rootedness and connection these folks in these villages have. After snapping photos of some of the more remarkable tombstones (i.e.: one with a marble motorcycle inscribed next to a marble photograph of the handsome youth lying therein; the one with bunches and bunches of fresh flowers next to the only one gone to weeds), we climb back on the tandem.
Eventually we descend into another tiny village to see the centuries old wind-powered mill that gave its name to the famous Moulin a Vent wines that often show the windmill on their label. With wise restraint, we pass on the chance for “degustation” after seeing the hairpin turns ahead of us on the route back down to the Soane. Not a good idea to have been wine-tasting! In the early afternoon we safely arrive at our ship docked in the small village of Collonges.
It’s a classically windy hot summer afternoon so after lunch on the boat we each decide to take a nap. I stake out a place on the upper deck amongst the myriad tandems lying on their side to take a sunbath nap before tonight’s special gourmet dining event.
I’ve signed up to dine at Restaurant Bocuse at Auberge du Pont de Collonges,the trois etoilles (three Michelin star) birthplace of Nouvelle Cuisine. Jim, having lost his sense of smell and taste in one of his worst bike accidents (Would “face plant into a mountain” during the Senior Olympics then airlifted to a trauma center tell you something?), passes on the exorbitant extra expense. I, on the other hand, decide to splurge since we saved a lot of Euros opting for the practically below water line rooms on this boat. And five courses later, hands down it was a great trade off. On special occasions like this, especially having pedaled up a few steep hills today, “when in France….” in the name of cultural exchange, I must allow myself certain leeway from my vegetarian and no-alcohol vows.
[ ]First after a little mouth tickling “amuse bouche,” Bocuse and his army of white-coated culinary minions served the most heavenly something I can imagine having ever tasted. Disquieted when I learn it was fois gras, I quietly send my deep gratitude and regret to the goose who offered her liver to this gourmet indulgence, for fois gras is beyond indulgent and not particularly morally defensible. (I do this sotto vocce because gourmands do not like their gustatory pleasure rained on the least bit by Buddhist mindfulness vows.)
This gourmet excess is followed by a soupcon of transcendent lobster bisque served in a delicate ramekin, and then a pink juicy rack of lamb (more gratitude and regret to the animals who, having no choice in this menu, have given their last full measure of devotion) with exquisitely carved carrots, parsnips and fingerling potatoes (more gratitude but thankfully no regret). The finale is an airy cream puff with crème anglais atop a slippery dollop of delicate warm chocolate.
Did I mention the delightful company I enjoyed at this intimae dinner for about thirty-six devoted foodies on the trip? On my right sat a gracious English techie transplant to Silicon Valley and his wife, full of good stories about their shared cycling adventures. On my left sat a Canadian orthodontist and his psychologist wife who not only love tandeming but also race antique cars all over the world. Imagine, while on this trip, they are shopping for the car they will buy and outfit to race from Peking to Paris! Careening down switchbacks on a tandem begins to sound like petite pommes de terre (small potatoes) compared to the wild and woolly racing they do—roll bars, padding, safety harnesses, padded gloves, body armor, ejection seats, etc., all having saved their necks in one race or another. Life lesson? Just being a psychologist in no way guarantees sanity.
By the time we all stroll back in the midnight moonlight along the Soane to our boat, sated, I collapse onto our bed. Jim has been fast asleep for probably two hours.