Tales from
the Loir

A Weekly Column

March 26, 2003 - Cluny


We decided to visit Cluny on our way back from visiting friends in Geneva, Switzerland. We take back roads out of Macon to take advantage of the scenery of southern Burgundy. The laid back sleepy atmosphere of Cluny belies is importance in French history. The monastery was substantially dismantled in the 19th century by an aggressive businessman and no longer inspires the awe that it did in the middle ages. In the 11th century it was the center of Christianity with 10,000 monks and 1,200 monasteries under its control throughout Europe. It is also called the Versailles of monasteries because the cathedral was just a couple of feet smaller than Saint Peters in Rome and was used only as the private chapel of the Benedictine monks who lived in the abbey. The abbey covered about forty acres but today there are only remnants of the original structures.

As we drive into Cluny there is very little evidence of the grandeur of the old Abbey. A sign on a small restaurant advertises a seven-dollar menu and this modest price is more impressive to me than what I can see of the Abbey. In fact, the abbey is singularly unimpressive at first sight. When I first visited Cluny fifteen years ago, it looked exactly the same as today and the bar in front of the tourist office offered the same two types of beer, serious and normal.

We walk up to the tourist office and discover that the next tour starts at two thirty in the afternoon so we look for a place to have lunch while we wait. In Geneva, we paid twenty dollars for two bowls of soup. I see a chance to get our average food costs down with the seven-dollar menu and Aprille has already run ahead to see if we can get a table. By the time I get to La Halte de L'Abbaye Restaurant, Aprille and the owner are already trading jokes like old friends. He promises us that a table will be ready in ten minute so we sit outside in the sun and look at the menu but the posted chalk board special of Blanquette de Loup has convinced us already. The jolly, round owner is sweating profusely as he pops his head out to tell us that there are only two of the Blanquette de Loup left so we claim them as a group of Brits arrive to read the chalk board. Aprille tells them that we have already claimed the last two fish. Blanquette de Loup is a sea fish cooked in a white wine sauce. The word blanquette comes from the French word for white wine, blanc.

As we are called in to claim our table it is obvious that the warm friendly atmosphere of this humble bar restaurant comes from the owners, Patrick and Michele Beletti, who are originally from Paris but have been here for years. Michele prepares the food and Patrick handles the tables. This large smiling man is obviously adored by his customers. Two men wearing the blue uniforms of workmen yell across the room "deux cotes, s'il te plait." "Un cinquante?", asks Patrick. "Pour toi, oui," answers the workman.

Aprille asks Patrick what wine he would recommend and he suggests a white Macon villages that turns out to be a perfect companion to the fish cooked in white sauce. The repartee with the customers continues through our courses of Salade frisee aux lardons, Terrine de lapin and the Blanquette de loup. The two workmen order deux excellents cafes. After dessert Aprille gets into the spirit and yells across the room for deux excellents cafes too and the room explodes in laughter. As the room quiets down, Patrick brings by a bottle of Marc de Grappa Extra and recommends that I pour a little in my warm coffee cup. He says the warm cup enhances the taste of this special eau-de-vie with the trademark of Jacoulot that is made in the Beaujolais region just south of Macon. I try a little and it is excellent. He gives us the address of the Jacoulot Estate and draws a map so we can find it. I am tempted to go just for the adventure but we still have a guided tour to attend. On my first visit to Cluny I opted for the serious beer but I skipped the tour. It was a mistake.

The guided tour is excellent and is the only way to fully appreciate the size and grandeur of Cluny. Just the small sections of the cathedral that are still standing are huge in comparison to American churches. The tour is very interesting and absolutely necessary to understand the Abbey, but for me Cluny will always mean La Halte de L'Abbaye Restaurant, Blanquette de Loup and a special shot of Jacoulot.

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March 19, 2003 - Geneva
March 12, 2003 - La Chouine
March 5, 2003 - Undercover in France

February 19, 2003 - Return to France

November 6, 2002 - Impressions of America
October 9, 2002 - William of Orange

October 2, 2002 - Catacombs of Paris

September 25, 2002 - Suburbs of Paris
September 18, 2002 - Saint James

September 11, 2002 - Le Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle

July 10, 2002 - Flintstones, meet the Flintstones

July 3, 2002 - Bugs

June 26, 2002 - Summer

June 19, 2002 - French Property News

June 5, 2002 - Emmanuel de Broglie

April 24, 2002 - Election Day in Saint Rimay

April 17, 2002 -Surprise Review

April 3, 2002 - Spring in Lavardin
March 20, 2002 - Guest Columnist /Furman Magazine/ John Roberts
March 13, 2002 - Tête de Veau
March 6, 2002 - Table Etiquette
February 27, 2002 - A Country Boy Can Survive
February 20, 2002 - Driving in France
February 13, 2002 - The Circus
February 6, 2002 - History of France
January 30, 2002 - THE BEST I EVER HAD
January 23, 2002 - Miranda This
January 16, 2002 - Charlotte Observer Interview
January 9, 2002 - Walnut Wine
January 2, 2002 - Sloe Gin
December 26, 2001 - Winter Solstice
Archive of Weekly Columns from 2001
Archive of Weekly Columns from 2000


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