Along the Saone and the Doubs

David writing, 1st day

Our ride starts on my 77th birthday. Somewhat luckily, because my plane to Paris turned back to Dallas from Chicago, and because Tessa spent hours looking for the Dijon car return.

The first five kilometers follow major and minor streets and then we are among the Pinot Noir on a rough vineyard road.   Our hotel in Givrey-Chambertin is only 14 kilometers from Dijon, fortunately; given the rainiest year ever in Portland and my unexpected week-long trip back to the states, I’ve scarcely been in the saddle.

For my Birthday dinner, we go to Chez Lucien. The meal is beyond extraordinary: The burgundy-soaked beef jowl is the best ever, and the restaurant’s own Rosignol-Trapet wine, which was one of the three choices by the glass, was for me, the best wine ever. (I’ve tasted a lot of good wine.). By bike the next morning we rode back to Chez Lucien and ordered six bottles. Hopefully it will ship well.

Les Deux Chevres

Tessa writing, 1st day
The weather has turned tropical, unseasonably hot and humid. I drip my way into Les Deux Chevres in Givrey-Chambertin, a pretty inn clad in pale ochre Burgundy stone with a small parking lot full of Jaguars and Porsches, and wish the friendly girl giving us a tour of the ground floor would hurry up so I can jump into a shower.

The French meteo has been warning of storms the whole week but the next day is blue skied and after an ample breakfast cooked by the inn keeper we start cycling through the vineyards of the Cote d’ Or and the villages of the Grands Crus, Morey St. Denis, Vougeot etc. Its trellis fixing time and the vineyards are full of workers. One merry crew are joshing each other, “He’s a donkey!” shouts one roaring with laughter. I wonder where they are from as they speak English.

Chateau de Vougeot

In Nuits St. Georges we turn east leaving the vineyards.  After a quick visit to the Cistercian Abbey of Citeaux we head towards St. Jean de Losne on the banks of the Saone.  The little town is familiar. In 1972 Bill and I emerged from the Canal du Burgogne in our newly purchased sailboat onto the river on our way south to the Mediterranean. This time I will be heading northeast.

Part of a series of flag stones that describe the history of the Abbey.










Siesta outside the Abbey










St. Jean de Losne
Our unprofessional waitress in St. Jean de Losne

David writing, 2nd – 5th day
Our itinerary, after the 30 km cross-country from the vineyards, follows rivers upstream to the northeast, first the Saone, a major river that begins far in the north-east of France and joins the Rhone at Lyon. Then, after our second night in St.Jean de Losne, it follows a canal that runs south for twenty kilometers to the Doubs River (pronounced “Doue”) that flows from the east. The river is large, meandering and navigable, since a series of weirs tame each section of the river.  At each weir, the water drops about 10 feet, while an adjacent canal leads to a lock, or at times the canal bypasses a large loop in the river. We passed ten or twenty locks each day, and thus the altitude change from Burgundy to Montbéliard, where I am writing, is from 500 to 1000 feet. As you can see in the photos, the Doubs passes through flat lands, then through mountains, highest near Besancon, and then back to flat lands. Here in flat Montbéliard, Peugot has its headquarters and main factory.

View of bike path along a typical stretch of canal.
Weir with bypass lock on river Doubs.

It has been remarkable how many different types of food and restaurants we have had during these four days. On our second night, the service was the weirdest ever. First our middle-aged waitress, the daughter-in-law of the elderly owner, spilled a lemon covered with salad oil on my only pair of long pants (and laughed it off). Then she made several serving errors at other tables, laughing, then leaned through the window to an interior table to get salt and pepper shakers; then started laughing at and with clients and putting her arm around their shoulders.The third evening, the new owner who recently took over our inn in the tiny town of Ranchot, professionally served me a delicious whole trout, perfectly cooked, though Tessa thought her perch was only fair. After dinner we walked along the narrow canal in the moonlight, watching endless overlapping circles of ripples made by tiny fish feeding on insects.

In Besançon luncheon the next day featured most-everything in pink (and organic): pink water bottles, pink flowers, pink restroom, pink shrimp, pink grapefruit, and carrots galore.

The “pink” meal in Besancon










The waiter at the “pink” restaurant.

That evening we stayed at the only farm-inn (ferme-auberge), see below, on our trip. Everything but the flour and bread came from the couple’s farm and was prepared there, as Tessa details below. The bread came from a local bakery, and like all the bread we consumed for dinner and breakfast, since Dijon, it had a slightly brown flour leavened by a mixture of commercial and wild yeasts; it tasted delicious, and felt soft on the palate.

Montbéliard – well, all the restaurants were closed save one crèperie, mobbed with clients.   The mother cooked, the father washed the dishes, served the wine, and welcomed the clients, the 12 year old son and 8 year old daughter served.  We each had a galette, that is a very thin pancake of serassin wheat, formed into a magazine-sized square, with the rounded parts folded over, and filled in my case with gruyere cheese, ham, and fried egg, while Tessa’s contained Montbéliard sausage, comté cheese, and a special cheese only found in the region.

Tessa writing, 2nd – 5th day
Today we follow waterways on the “impeccable” (a favorite French word) bike paths; smooth tarmac with mown verges and no litter, they are a joy to ride. The Saone is a languid river wending its way through hay meadows, its surface occasionally roiled by large fish (carp?) that splash under the water lilies. The continuous avian opera of loudly trilling sopranos and contraltos is joined by the baritones and bassos of hidden amphibians; no need for iPod music in deep France. We arrive in Dole, a pretty town on a riverside hill dominated by a large cathedral. There is a confluence of waterways here and we have difficulty finding our way which includes crossing a rugby field twice but someone sets us right and we are soon rolling along under a magnificent avenue of sycamores next to the Doubs. This river has a different character to the Saone; cleaner and more urgent aided by the numerous weirs it tumbles over.

Town of Dole
Sculpture in main square of Dole



















The avenue of sycamores outside of Dole.
Dejeuner sur l’herbe on the Doubs.

The next day dawns clear but the air is heavier. We have seen few cyclists but today is Saturday and as we near Besancon the bike path is more crowded, not only with the lean bronzed would-be Tour de France types who whiz by at speed but kids on skateboards and scooters, inline skaters, and walkers. Besancon is large, hot and steep. We sweat our way on foot up a small cobbled mountain only to find the cathedral closed. Overhead thunderheads are gathering so a quick lunch and back to the Doubs. The downpour that ensues a couple of hours later precipitates a large fly hatch and after a couple of them lodge in my throat I make a note to self: keep mouth closed when cycling through a fly hatch. Finally we reach our destination of La Baume les Dames but then David discovers that the Ferme-Auberge where we are staying is 2.7 km up a steep hill off a very busy national highway … I am NOT happy! After an hour of pushing our bikes we arrive, drenched, but a hot shower and a large meal of pork pie, veal chop and compté cheese (this area of France is big on protein) washed down with a pleasant local pinot restores my mood. We both sleep soundly.

On the way to Besancon.
Vauban’s fortress guarding the approaches to Besancon.
The Thoraise canal tunnel built in 1810.
The rain finally caught up with us.

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