In Homage to Our Favourite Chef 

Besançon – 10-11 April 2017

Monday dawned, another beautiful morning. Love saying that. Said goodbye to our German friends who have a very long journey ahead of them to get back home to Dusseldorf – nearly 600km.

Left mid-morning, heading back to Fellering where we took the left fork onto the N66, climbing quickly through some very sharp hairpins to the Col de Bussang. Lovely views again then we descended gently through Bussang, picking up the young Moselle river and staying with it along the valley floor through pretty little village like St Maurice de Moselle and Fresse sur Moselle. At Remirement we left the Moselle again and picked up the N57 towards Vesoul, although the satnav had a bit of a funny fit which needed navigating around.

Our destination was Besancon, simply because Raymond Blanc was from a nearby village and had had his first job as a chef there. Weird, I know, particularly given that as far as we know he is largely unknown and uncelebrated in France.

With Besancon 105km away and the road much improved now we had descended from the mountains, Kate took over the wheel at a parking lot (watched by police officers in an unmarked car) and did her first driving in the van on the “wrong” side of the road. The girl did good and Danny was relaxed by the time we pulled into the site.

Although it didn’t re-open from lunch till 3pm, the nice groundsman let us in to take our pick of plots. Pretty view of the hills behind Besancon and lots of fieldfare about. Had a wander round and to our amazement, the dismal-looking 1960’s style shower blocks had been completely redone and had lovely, extensive, heated uni-sex facilities.

Checked out the tram arrangements for getting into Besancon the next day which seemed simple enough, with the first stop 500m from our site.

Tuesday 11 April

Impressed with our timelines we caught the 09.24 tram to Besancon, capital of Franche-Comte, and got off at the first stop over the river in the old town. We walked up towards the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Citadelle which we could see on the hill -in the distance. On the way we saw some ruined Roman columns in a gated garden type area and had a look round – these were the the Roman remains of a theatre, a triumphal arch and an aqueduct jumbled together in a garden. Pretty and peaceful until the road cleaners came along so we moved on, up the hill amongst the old buildings till we saw the Cathedral St Jean. We really wanted to see the astronomical clock within the cathedral, said to be a mechanical marvel with over 30,000 parts, but unfortunately not open on Tuesdays! So we took a quick look round the 12th century building – high, vaulted medieval ceilings, stained glass windows, and some attractive old painting in some of the side chapels. Enough.

Then on up to the Citadel – a lot of steps, as it is 100m above the town. Warmed us beautifully. Paid our entry fee and walked in to admire the view from the first set of ramparts.

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Built by Vauban in the 17th century at the direction of the Sun King, the Citadel is apparently  a “remarkable example of military architecture”. So we were a bit surprised  to see some Llamas and young ostrich in a paddock between the walls. Till we realised there is a zoo within the walls. We wanted the fortress though. Our first stop was an exhibition with a really interesting 10-minute film explaining the construction of the citadel. Then an excellent exhibition telling  the history of the local people including a rather bizarre film about puppetry, in French, and a lot of puppets.

The last museum in the Citadel took the longest and was the most thought provoking. Issued with audio handsets we did the 20 room exhibition of the Museum of French Resistance & Deportation. So poignant and heartbreaking. From room to room, the narrator took us through the rise of Nazi-ism, the start of the war, the invasion of France, the surrender, the occupation, the resistance, and the treatment by the Third Reich and Vichy France of the French resistance, jews and other minorities. Photographs and relics of the time. Forgers equipment, weapons, clothing, one of the actual posts complete with bullet holes against which suspected resistance fighters were shot in the courtyard of the fortress.

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Posts used to execute resistance fighters

Worst of course was the material on the concentration camps and the french internment camps. It was, however, good to see a large group of school-kids in their teens being taken round by their teacher, listening with respect. It all seems particularly relevant with the rise of Marie Le Pen.

A walk round the ramparts in the sun, looking down at the river below, and it was definitely time for lunch. We decided to walk into town and try an authentic french brasserie. Which we did, in Rue Grande at a little bar brasserie next to Restaurant Victor Hugo. No name visible, but packed with locals. It was 1.40 and we waited for 10 minutes for a table to become clear. I had the Salad Chèvre followed by coffee. Danny went for the Formule – Plat du jour (which turned out to be a lamb mince, aubergine and couscous thing, a bit like moussaka without the becamel, topped with a lovely tomato sauce.), dessert & coffee. We also had  a carafe of Jura red wine. Total 35.10 euros. Excellent.

We then wandered around the old town for an hour or so, located the hotel now called Brasserie 1805 where Raymond Blanc started his career and took a photo just for the hell of it. We didn’t even go in.

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Just for the record, walking round the old town Danny read the map completely wrong and eventually conceded this – least said…..

It was now after 4 and definitely time for the tram back. This time instead of being virtually empty it was packed with schoolkids and commuters which was good entertainment.

At the terminus we headed across to the biggest Carrefour we’d ever seen and couldn’t get a single chilli. So we crossed to the Lidl where we couldn’t get them loose so ended up buying a whole plant to travel with us. Absolutely necessary for our Chicken Jalfrezi. Sometimes only a curry will do.