Saturday, 1 September 2012

Wrapped in a forgotten corner of France

bowl of vyds below chateau-chalon home to vin jaune
On the last day of my fabulous holiday I drove up from the rocky outcrops of the Jura onto the bucolic plateau of the Hauts Doubs, 800 metres above sea-level. Less dramatic than the wooded craggy magnificence of Vin Jaune country, the plateau is a natural place for the Gentian bitter herb, one of the ingredients in vermouth and, notoriously, absinth: the exact length of Gentian's stem is said to foretell how harsh the next winter will be. On this glorious morning, the benign landscape was dotted with the red-spotted Montbeliard cows, whose milk makes fine Morbier and great Comte cheese. It's also a good place for horse riding and, come January, cross-country skiing. And if you like things simple, a gentle art de vivre thrives in a land of wine, aperitifs and Morteau sausage.
Pont de l'Ain en route for Pontarlier

Passing through a quiet village called (I kid you not) Pisseenvache, hunger pains made me look at my watch: 1.15pm and time for lunch! Five minutes later, I fell on my feet in a neat little resto with a board advertising menu du jour 13 euros. It turned out to be exceptional value for honest food of true flavours: a super tranche of tete de cochon made by the butcher/livestock farmer & father of the young patron; paupiette de porc with spaghetti: a great wedge of Comte, a demi-pichet of vin de pays de Vaucluse; apricot tart &coffee, all in. Vive la Vieille France ! And to add a modern twist, the pretty blonde patronne and a subtle voice for her husband looked as if she would feel as much as home in Paris's rue du Cherche Midi as in the Doubs.

Engagingly, she confessed she much preferred Burgundy to Jura wines: if one was forced to make the choice, who wouldn't! Jeune Madame also told me that the nearby town Pontarlier was a rich place, as many of the inhabitants worked across the border in Switzerland, where they could earn four times what they would in France. I drove on to Pontarlier, sizzling in 34 C degree heat, slaked my thirst with a cold beer, then more comfortably crossed the border into a heavenly green fir valley and descended to the Lake of Neufchatel & Swiss Pinot country. Another story for another day.

great local hostelry, Bevier, Lake Neufchatel

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