Thursday, November 17, 2016

Ancient Gensac

The village of Gensac in the Gironde department claims the official distinction of un village ancien. I am unsuccessful in my attempts to find out more about this classification, but I certainly agree that Gensac is old.

Ancient walls and cobbled streets in Gensac

On a recent day trip to the Entre-deux-Mers region, primarily known for growing grapes, we decide to stop in this village. It's kind of an afterthought. We've been driving all morning and are eager to find a village with an open boulangerie to satisfy my husband's craving for something savory, and mine for something sweet.

Gensac's main square in front of the Mairie

The weekly Friday morning market is over, and we find a convenient place to park in front of the Mairie. The town center has a few amenities, most notably the sought-after bakery. With croque monsieur and a slice of gâteau aux amandes in hand, we check out this area of town. I see a sign that says museé and I make a beeline for it.

Maison de Boulanger in Gensac

The museum, la Maison de Boulanger á Gensac, is dedicated to the art of bread-baking. It seems quaint and kind of quirky — my type of museum, but it is closed at the moment. Posted hours are Tuesday through Friday at 3:30 p.m. and Saturday at 4:30 p.m. If you go, call ahead,

Maison de Boulanger in Gensac

Cat gargoyle in Gensac
My husbands points out something that he knows will tickle my (cat) fancy: un gargouille de chat. I can't help but think of another village, la Romieu in the Gers department. Click here to read that blog post.

The corner of a building in Gensac

On the day of our visit, the autumn colors are just starting, and I take some pictures of the turning leaves and the valley views before we head to the old part of town.

Une petite ruelle in Gensac

View from downtown Gensac

With its position overlooking two valleys, the Dordogne and the Durèze, the views from Gensac are quite pretty.

View from the other side of Gensac

The belltower of l'église Notre-Dame as seen from
behind the Mairie in Gensac.

A few blocks from away (in fact we nearly miss this part of the village, as we see the sign as we are driving out of town) is the ancient part of Gensac. We stay awhile longer to admire the medieval architecture and the exterior of L'église Notre Dame. The church's foundations date back to Roman times; the building itself is from the 19th century.

L'église Notre-Dame in Gensac

Gensac hosts numerous activities in the summer months, but it's quiet here this time of year. However, the town is worth exploring if you happen to be in the neighborhood. Gensac is located about halfway between (and a little south of) Sainte-Foy-la Grande and Castillon-la-Bataille, and 20 km north of Duras. Contact the Gensac tourism office to arrange a guided visit of the village,

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Visit Rauzan, but phone ahead

A recent visit to the village of Rauzan in the Entre-deux-Mers area of the Gironde department teaches me a valuable lesson: Phone ahead. The town boasts two attractions — ruins of a large castle and cave leading to an underground river. Before we head out the door, I check the websites for both sites and they seem to be open year-round, but I should have read the fine print.

Entrance to Grotte Célestine in Rauzan

Grotte Célestine is the only underground river in the Gironde. The cave was discovered in 1845, then it was basically forgotten about for 60 years. Now, it is maintained and run by the village of Rauzan. Visitors to the cave are equipped with spelunking equipment including boots, helmets and headlamps. The 45-minute cave stroll includes stalactites, stalagmites and other underground splendors. We score a parking space right in front of Grotte Célestine, but it's closed and the sign on the door tells us that we should have indeed called ahead. No worries. There's more to explore in this pleasant little village.

Rauzan's Hôtel de Ville

We walk a few blocks to the center of town passing the Hôtel de Ville, a stately house built around 1862 by Arnaud Gillet. The village school is located just behind. Both the school and the town hall were inaugurated in 1895. A belltower was added in 1911.

Two blocks on, just pass Rauzan's center, we come to the tourism office, which, despite its posted hours, is closed. Hmmm ... I'm sensing a pattern. Just around the corner is the château. It too is closed, and we can see by the scaffolding, is undergoing extensive renovations. At least we can walk its periphery.

Château de Rauzan

Château de Rauzan was built by the English in the 13th century under the orders of King John Lackland and named for a knight, Bernard de Rauzan. In 1377 it was seized by Du Guesclin, and was transformed from fortress to castle in the 15th century by Bernard Angevin. Its dungeon served as the family residence until the 14th-century. The Tour of Honor houses the principle staircase and is built in the Gothic style. The view from the top offers a spectacular 360-degree view of this wine-growing area.

Château de Rauzan

Plants drape down an exterior wall of Château de Rauzan.

Ground floor window of Château de Rauzan

A bit of fall color at Château de Rauzan

From the edge of the château's grounds we spy L'église Saint-Pierre. The church was built in the 11th century and contains Gothic elements that were added in the 1400s.

L'église Saint-Pierre in Rauzan

Despite our disappointment at finding Rauzan to be pretty much closed for business on the day of our visit, we can envision its charms. The village hosts large antique markets twice a year (in April and October) and a return visit is already on my calendar for the spring.

Birds perched in Rauzan

If you go

Rauzan is located in the Entre-deux-Mers region of the Gironde, 37 km from Bordeaux and 13 km from Saint-Emilion.

Grotte Célestine, 8 rue Lansade, is open all year round by appointment. Call at least 24 hours in advance, or Admission is 6.50€ adults, 5€ children. Children must be at least 1m20 tall.

Château de Rauzan, 12 rue Chapelle, is scheduled to be open each day except Mondays, but call ahead to make sure, Admission is 3€ general, 4€ for a guided tour. Children under age 8 are free.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

An all-too-brief stop in Saratoga Springs

Saratoga Springs, New York, is known for its health and horses, but my one evening here leaves time only for a walk up and down Broadway and a delicious dinner.

Saratoga Springs's heritage is rich with history and horses.

My sister and I decide to spend the night in Saratoga Springs after visiting our aunt at our grandparents' farm nearby. As a child growing up in Upstate New York, we spent countless weekends and summers at the farm, but we rarely visited the charming town of Saratoga Springs.

My grandparents' pre-Revolution farm house near Saratoga, NY  

The city's crown jewel of the arts, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, was new when I was a kid, and I remember seeing Peter, Paul & Mary, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass and the New York City Ballet here. (SPAC is the ballet company's summer home and that of the Philadelphia Orchestra too). We'd sit on the lawn and listen to the music, and we'd drink from the water fountains, which offer up real Saratoga Springs mineral water.

Sculpture entitled 'Believe in Yourself' by Jenny McShan
reminds visitors that Saratoga is the site of
the National Museum of Dance & Hall of Fame and
the summer home of the New York City Ballet.

SPAC's first headliner was Harry Belafonte (June 27, 1967); the Grateful Dead drew SPAC's largest crowd (40,231 on June 27, 1985); the most sold-out performances were garnered by the Dave Matthews Band (10); and James Taylor has appeared here the most times (19).

Racehorse sculpture in Saratoga Springs

Racehorse sculpture in Saratoga Springs

Entrance to the historical Saratoga Race Course

The first horse race in Saratoga took place in 1863, starting a tradition that makes the race course America's oldest sports facility.

Saint Peter's Church in Saratoga Springs, founded in 1839

Saratoga is steeped in the history of America. A major battle of the Revolutionary War was fought here; I remember visiting the battlefield when I was a child. "Twelve Years a Slave" author Solomon Northup was kidnapped in Saratoga and sold into slavery. During the second half of the 19th century, Saratoga Springs was the playground of the wealthy who flocked here for its spas, ponies and gambling. The streets here are lined with large Victorian homes from this era.

Fountain in Congress Park in Saratoga Springs

Congress Park in Saratoga Springs

In recent years, Saratoga has renewed its focus on on tourism, and its main street, Broadway, is overflowing with inns, shops and restaurants.

Sign in front of The Wine Bar in Saratoga Springs

We are enticed to dine at The Wine Bar because of its endless Monday happy hour. I order magret de canard, even though I can eat duck back whenever I want at home. Steeling myself to be let down, I am instead delighted by my dinner. There aren't many places in the U.S. where I could envision living, but the wine warms me to imagine calling Saratoga Springs home. But then I remember what winters are like in this part of the world. Snow, lots of snow, has its charms, but I think I'll stick to France.