Prisse (near Macon) - biking bandits
29 Jul 2007
|I must start this entry by saying that our stay in the tiny village of Prisse and the Macon area of Burgundy in France is among our favourites on this epic travel adventure. Admittedly we've visited at the best time of year - everything is lush and green, the grapes are beginning to plump out on the vines and the weather is just beautiful.
We began our stay here with a mini freak out. We were staying at a beautiful bed and breakfast in Prisse - a tiny village about 6km from Macon where our train arrived. One of the couple who own and run the B&B - Margot kindly picked us up from the train station and proceeded to fill our minds with worry about how we would get around and feed ourselves while staying at their lovely home. She told us how it was all so hilly and without a car it would be almost impossible - even though they kindly allow guests to borrow their bicycles on their stay (which we planned to do as much as possible). She then went on to say that Prisse used to have a supermarket and used to have a restaurant but they'd all closed down. There were no useful buses to her knowledge to get further afield and the nearest town only had food options that she personally wouldn't put in her mouth.
Perspective is everything I guess because we had a brilliant time in Macon and found out that there was a suitable little supermarket an easy 15 minute bike ride up the road and that Chez Eric's (the restaurant that supposedly closed) was actually open at times - although randomly it seemed. It didn't matter to us anyway as between the mini market up the road and some great restaurants nearby up hills (earning our dinner) we ate extremely well. Not to mention the patisserie/boulangerie and butcher in town who provided the necessary ingredients for two wonderful picnics had on our private terrace - we felt like letting Margot know about some of the gems in her own village but figured why spoil her fun?
Margot and Kenneth's offer to borrow their bicycles really made all the difference on our stay - it was just wonderful. Had to feel a bit bad on the last night though when Kenneth admitted he'd been having an interesting time each morning on his ride to the boulangerie to get the morning's croissants and bread - not wanting to lower the unusually high seat position that Ian needs when riding a bike! The breakfasts were superb here - lovely food but also served on the nicest china - I managed to spill coffee all over the table cloth the second morning - a feat only accomplished by little Hannah the one year old the day before. Pity they knew where we all sat each day and I couldn't pin the blame on Hannah again!
We figure we covered 70kms in the 4 days of our stay and it was just wonderful. The main bike track through the whole area is a converted old railway line, so nice and flat. Admittedly if you want to get off the beaten track into the villages or a more adventurous exploration, the hills were quite challenging. There was one hill up to a beautiful little village called Berze la Ville which we tackled two afternoons to get to a great little family run restaurant for dinner - stunning views across the hills of vineyards, corn fields, sunflower fields, big rolls of hay and the beautiful village church and sumptuous charalois cows - but steep enough to require four or five stops for me to catch my breath! Ian I'm sure could have powered the whole way up, but I needed the breaks that's for sure! Especially the first afternoon after a pleasant wine tasting in the valley and then lugging the subsequent purchase in my bag up the hill :-)
Le Moustier was the name of the great little restaurant - husband doing the cooking and the wife our friendly waitress. The food was wonderful and Ian decided on the first visit, to expand his culinary appreciation and try frog's legs. He made me laugh in the ordering process - he really wanted to try them, but of course was a little nervous at the prospect. So he tries to ask the lady of the house who knew very little English, 'frog's legs - good?'... I laughed at him and said, 'what do you expect she will say - no - rubbish'... but he explained that minus the language barrier he was trying to ask if they were an acquired taste or something anyone could try. Anyway, she too had a little laugh at him, he ordered them up and polished the plate off quite nicely I might add. They were lightly fried and heavily flavoured with garlic and parsley, and mighty fun to play with too I even tried one tiny drumstick and was enjoying the texture and flavour somewhere between seafood and chicken (not surprising really) when the imagination started to run wild and suddenly I could swear I smelt and then tasted amphibian! So I left Ian to finish the rest.
We also met Matisse - the couple's little boy about 3 or 4 who was very keen to talk to us and show us his latest toy. But of course it's always the kids that make you feel extra dumb in the language stakes as they don't understand we're stupid Australian tourists who know little beyond oui, bonjour and merci. He was a fun kid though.
We cycled into Macon itself one day and enjoyed the wander round the streets and exploring the beautiful old churches. We also powered away on a difficult ride our last day up through the hilly villages on the 'Lamartine' way and while the hills seemed endless on the way up, the speedy descents were well worth it. I think it's the first time my inner speed demon has been let loose and I've made Ian worry (not the other way around). I figured I worked so hard to get to the top of these hills I'm going to enjoy the ride down! I'm also proud to say we trimmed ten minutes off the average expected time for the route.
This area of France of course is all about the wine. We were surrounded by vineyards and this area is particularly famous for its whites - chardonnay being the most prominent variety. There were caves all over the place offering free wine tastings and while we indulged in a few, it's amazing how after two months of travel you begin to think, better not today. Especially when facing a 5km bike ride home. So we enjoyed in moderation - especially the cold bottle of bubbles (cremant de Bourgogne... couldn't dare call it champagne here in France with the appellations and all) that we enjoyed by the pool at our B&B one afternoon while Ian beat me convincingly in chess (although I showed some early promise).
Breakfast at our B&B was served up communal style at a beautiful outdoor table. The first few days we shared with a couple from Belgium and little Hannah I mentioned earlier, plus a middle aged French couple in the area visiting their daughter who was doing a summer cheese making internship. We made easy conversation with the Belgium pair but struggled more with the French couple - she spoke some English, he very little.
Our second last morning, it was just us and the French couple and conversation wandered on to the point of our stay in Sweden and where we work etc. While trying to relate Powerlink to this couple, Ian mentioned we work for the equivalent of France's RTE back in Australia... suddenly it was like the lights went on and the grin spread from ear to ear on our friends when we discovered the gentlemen was a project manager at RTE - building transmission lines! They couldn't believe we knew who RTE was as most folk in France don't even know of them. The rest of breakfast (about an hour) was spent discussing our similarities and differences - often with the excellent translation help from his wife. We both marveled at how much English he actually knew when there was a passionate topic we could share. It was a shame they were leaving that morning because his wife could barely drag him away to finish the packing - such was his interest in knowing about the Aussie equivalent and our interest in his job too.
As you can probably tell we thoroughly enjoyed this little gem in the French countryside and especially our lovely B&B. The whole trip only had one sad incident that is so bizarre we must share it. The last morning at breakfast we were joined by a young couple from Belgium with a gorgeous one year old little bubby girl - the neighbours of the couple with Hannah the days before would you believe. Anyway we had been talking about Basco the B&B dog - a French Scotty Dog who is spoken to in German! German because Kenneth is a Swede who lived in german speaking Switzerland for 30 years, and doesn't speak French.
Anyhoo... we had mentioned he was very fun and cute but had a grumpy old man streak from our observations and they concurred that he had been a little snappy the afternoon before with bub on one occasion and we all agreed that children and dogs must be watched closely. Tragically, not more than two minutes later while Dad WAS watching bub closely, Basco, seemingly unprovoked from a foot away launched an attack on her leg! Dad reacted as one would expect pulling bubby up while screaming but Basco the little bugger held on - his front legs off the ground still holding on to poor bubby. Eventually with a kick from Dad, he let go and when bubby's drill cotton long pants were pulled down, her leg had been cut and the whole family was suitably distressed and bubby screaming.
We left 15 minutes later (we had already planned this with a train to catch) and we believe bubby had been taken to see a doctor. All very dramatic and a timely reminder about the unpredictable nature of animals I guess. Although as we commented later, we had suspected Basco had a grumpy streak! Horrible way to start the day. Bad Basco!
On a lighter note, it was a wonderful place to spend a few days - highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a bike ride and their white wines! And if you're up for a more permanent career change, we hear Kenneth and Margot want to sell the B&B in a year's time to go house-boating around France - beautiful spot if you're after a tree change :-)
P.S. stay tuned - we're a bit out of order and we still have to tell you about Avignon soon :-)