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French countryside fertile ground for fine cuisine
Bed and board abound along the fertile fields and in historic French towns and villages, ancient castles and abbeys of Burgundy and Champagne.
The food is outstanding. Snails, foie gras, cheese and beef are the regional specialties. Gougeres, little cheese puffs, are traditional accompaniment to terrific aperitif wines and champagne. You can’t go wrong anywhere, but here are a few suggestions for wining, dining and spending the night.
Signposts along the roads in Burgundy point to the Route des Grand Crus (road of great growths), or the Route du Champagne in the Champagne region, where 80 of the approximately 5,000 family champagne producers have signed up for one of the five champagne circuits. In the three tiny villages that make up Les Riceys, for example, for a small fee, visitors can sip the bubbly in nine cellars, including its famous pink (rose) champagne.
Beaune is a high point in the road of great growths. The Hotel le Cep (hotel-cep-beaune.com) includes one of the best dining rooms, and its wine “library” offers dozens of outstanding wines by the glass, a recent novelty in France.
The Chateau de Chamirey (www.domaines-devillard.com) in Mercurey, is actually a mansion, not a castle. The winery is a family enterprise run by siblings Amaury and Aurore Devillard. The 17th century winery produces first growth whites and reds, available for tasting.
Two excellent inn-restaurants satisfy discriminating visitors in the village of Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, where you can raise a glass to the 141-foot tall Cross of Lorraine, a memorial to Gen. Charles de Gaulle. There’s also a de Gaulle Memorial Museum and the general’s home. Jean-Baptiste Natali, chef-owner of the Hostellerie la Montagne (www.hostellerielamlontagne.com), offers diners traditional and original dishes, such as a memorable mushroom soup with red cabbage ice cream. La Grange du Relais (www.lagrangedurelais.fr) is the country inn of everyone’s French fantasy.
The Chateau de Besseuil in the village of Clesse (www.chateaudebesseuil.com), offers a unique arrangement for guests: two or three-bedroom apartments with a large living room and fully equipped kitchen. The comfort is contemporary, the surroundings of another time, the price reasonable.
The Chateau de la Barge (www.chateaudelabarge.fr) in Creche-sur-Saone is an elegant 19th-century manor house, now a hotel-restaurant in a lovely garden. It offers guests cooking classes as well as well-appointed public rooms and guest rooms.
The 19th century Chateau de Citeaux in Meursault is a hotel-restaurant and spa specializing in red fruit therapy. The chateau is surrounded by vineyards planted by the Cistercian monks at the end of the 11th century. The estate wines can be sampled, with a very French country picnic at Les Terrasses de Citeaux (www.lesterrassesdeciteaux.com), a cafe and shop overlooking the chateau and the vineyards.
The stunning 12th century Abbey of la Bussiere-sur-Ouche (abbaye-dela-bussiere.com) is close to Beaune and to Dijon. The British hotelier Clive Cummings and his wife Tanith acquired the abbey in 2005 and turned it into an elegant English-style country hotel with food that is pure French haute cuisine.
CHEESE PUFFS (Gougeres)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
6 tablespoon butter
1 cup sifted flour
By Mangosuthu Buthelezi
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