Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 06.21.16
Just Outside Washington

All photos courtesy the author and Kathy Cavanaugh

Lyon and Beaujolais

LYON | It was time to leave Paris for Lyon, so we dutifully showed up at the Viking desk in the hotel lobby at 8 a.m. to be told that, due to the strike over the labor laws, we would not take the high speed train, the TGV. Bummer.

We were going to be flown to Lyon; in fact, Ruth and Ron had been in the group whose plane left at 7 a.m. so they were awakened at 3 a.m. Our plane was to take off about noon from Orley Airport, about 15 miles south of Paris.--The drill was: on to the coach, unload, check in at the computer terminal, check baggage, security, on to the plane, disembark, get bags, walk -- it seemed miles -- to the coach and ride to the boat. Again, we saw combat-ready troops in both airports.

Our boat, the Viking Heimdal, was docked at the Quai Claude Bernard on the Rhône River in Lyon. At this point, Viking was back in control; they handled our luggage, checked us in, and got us settled in our cabins. The strike made us late for the wine tasting, so we just relaxed and had a nice dinner in the boat dining room.

We were to cruise that evening up the Saône River to Macon, but high water, which later caused so much trouble in Paris, prevented this 100-mile round trip on the rivers. Therefore, the Heimdal stayed in Lyon.

Breakfast on the boat offered a cornucopia of food: breads, pastries, cheese, cold meats, smoked salmon, granola, omelets, bacon, as well as choosing from a breakfast menu. Champagne is open and on the buffet. This all presented a challenge to will power.

After breakfast we went by coach north to the Beaujolais region, which produces one of France's most famous wines. The vineyards stretch for ten miles along the Saône River and up the rolling hills. Wine was first produced here by the Romans; and then through the Middle Ages, winemaking was done by the Benedictine monks. Our goal was the Chateau Ravatys (see below) for a tour of the vineyard and the cellar followed by a wine tasting.



Beaujolais is a French Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wine, which means the wine must come from only this region. It is generally made of the Gamay grape, which has a thin skin and is low in tannins resulting in a light red wine. A surprise for us was that the vines are not really vines but short bushes and not supported by trellises, as shown in the picture.

At harvest time the vines are about two feet tall, which we thought would be murder to pick. After harvesting the grapes are crushed, then fermented in tanks and aged in oak barrels. The aging cellar made a great place to taste a few of the wines of Chateau Ravatys.



I could have lingered longer, but we were off to the village of Beaujeu, the capital of Beaujolais province, for a chance to purchase products from the region. The village only has 2000 inhabitants and the Church of St. Nicolas, consecrated in 1132.

The province was initially the semi-autonomous fiefdom of the Lords of Beaujeu -- hence the name -- until the 15th century when it was ceded to the Duchy of Burgundy. This was just one event in a series of wars in Burgundy until Charles the Bold lost and the province came under the rule of Louis XI, the king of France. < p> From the fall of the Roman Empire to WWII, there have been innumerable -- that is, a whole lot -- wars to unify Europe under one administration, all of which failed. On June 23 we will see how the European Union fares with Brexit.



After our break to support the economy, we were off to lunch at Le Potin Gourmand in Cluny. The building is 500 years old or so and looked its age at first glance; and the pruned plane trees looked desolate because they had not yet sprouted new growth.


The inside was historic and quaint and the hotel's rooms, which we checked out, were very modern. The enclosed patio/garden was lovely with a variety of modern sculptures.


Because we were a large group of about 40, we did not get to choose from the menu; however the chicken, served on local handmade pottery with ample vin de pays, was terrific.

Cluny is a town of about 5000 people and is noted for being the home to the Cluny Abbey. After lunch we had a guided walking tour of the town; it was raining lightly. Some of the Romanesque houses in Cluny, which date from the 10th Century, have been renovated and are occupied with carriage ways converted into garages. (Very little of the abbey survives, as discussed below.) However, there is enough to get a good idea of its size; it was HUGE. Only one tower survives and some other fragments, which can be seen in the right picture. In the courtyard between the two buildings, in the picture, some stubs of the columns of the original nave can be seen.



The basilica of the Cluny Abbey was the world's largest church until Saint Peter's Basilica was built in Rome. The Cluny Abbey was founded by William I, Duke of Aquitaine in 910 and set up so it was independent of oversight even by the pope. This made it rich and powerful. The abbey adhered to the Rule of St. Benedict and became the leader of western monasticism with satellites throughout Europe and in England.

The Abbots of Cluny were statesmen on the international stage; and the monastery was considered the grandest, most prestigious, and best endowed monastic institution in Europe. The Hundred Years War and the Papal Schism of 1378 to 1409, during which time there were three popes, including one in Avignon, led to the abbey losing its independence and its decline.

During the religious conflicts of 1562, the protestant Huguenots sacked the abbey, destroying or dispersing its library. In 1790, during the French Revolution, the abbey was sacked and mostly destroyed, with only a small part surviving. As with many Roman and medieval buildings in France, it was mined for stone to build new buildings.

In the museum was a model of the Cluny Abbey and the surrounding town during the height of its power in the 11th Century. The surviving basilica tower (shown above) can be seen in the model; it is the rightmost tower of the three making up the transept. As the model shows, the design of a basilica or cathedral (home to a Bishop) was in the form of a cross. The nave formed the base and the transept formed the arms.


After our tour we walked out of the medieval portion of Cluny to where our coach was parked. We were in the more modern area of town and passed a horse show area with jumping field, dressage arena, and stables. A couple of riders were practicing in the rain.

And life goes on. The coach took us back to the boat in Lyon for cocktail hour and dinner.

The Journey Continues