VIVE L’AUTOMNE (AUTUMN)

I love the autumn in France.

It is the time of the grape harvest which is an exciting and frenetic time in the Bordeaux region, and it means that we get to go to some great harvest lunches, which take place in the Chateaux that still hand pick rather than machine pick the grapes. You eat the same meal as the pickers, either sharing their tables, or being close by, and the menus tend to follow very traditional lines. These dishes need to be low salt and ones that don’t generate needs for loos as these are in short supply in the vineyards themselves. For us these include lunching with dear friends at Chateau Meume in Maransin and Chateau Leoville Barton in St Julien-Beychevelle, both being events that we really look forward to each year.
Even though we have lunches with these same friends at other times during the year, the harvest lunches have an ambiance that makes them unique and very special, particularly during a great vintage as both 2009 and 2010 have been.

The autumn here is also a time when most of the tourists have gone home, so the roads are not clogged up with Dutch caravans (I have never been able to understand where they park them all when they get back to Amsterdam), the German tourists are back home and have stored their Birkenstocks and short black woollen socks for another year, and our house is free from the annual winter migration of Australians and New Zealanders, who have departed leaving us with a renewed supply of Vegemite and a seriously depleted wine cellar.

SYDNEY, NSW - JANUARY 25:  A jar of Vegemite is pictured January 25, 2006 in Sydney, Australia. Vegemite, an Australian culinary specialty, is concentrated yeast extract originally made from a by-product of the beer brewing process. An estimated nine out of ten Australian pantries contain at least one jar of Vegemite, with 46% of Australians having eaten Vegemite at least once during a calendar week. The Vegemite sandwich, a staple of Australian school lunch boxes, was immortalised in the Men At Work song 'Down Under' in 1982. The nation will celebrate Australia Day on January 26.  (Photo Illustration by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

An added bonus is that everything is now actually open again. The French are serious about their holidays and love to take them in August and September, even those who service the tourist industry, despite the fact that with the crowds around at this time of year one would imagine that this should be the busiest and most lucrative time for restaurants and hotels for example. I guess that they just love to take holidays with everyone else so that they too can fight the traffic congestion and indulge in elbow fights with Parisians for the last table in the local country village bistro. Paris empties in August and the 8 residents who are still there are only there because of medical travel restrictions (visible by the zimmer frames). Paris in summer is only inhabited by overseas tourists trying to find the one open restaurant in their arrondissement, or someone who actually speaks French as a first language, so they can try out their high school French on someone who will find it painful.

The days are still pleasant with temperatures in the 20s, even though we can get a bit of rain, but by now, if the harvest is over, the rain is welcome as the gardens can do with some serious re-greening after the heat and dryness of summer. The restaurants aren’t crowded and you can drive out to Cap Ferret for a lunch on the water without having to face bumper to bumper traffic there and back, nor the hordes of Parisians who arrive in Cap Ferret in August armed only with their swimsuits, having left their good manners back in Paris together with their business clothes.

Having lived in Singapore for 6 years prior to coming to France, we also love the change of seasons, and the vibrant colours that you get as the autumn leaves appear. Last October we flew to Boston and had two weeks in New England spending time in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont just to see the “fall leaves”, and whilst they were spectacular, and we had a chance to catch up with some great friends, the colours here are pretty damn close in splendour. Nevertheless, I have found that in the same way that wherever you go there is no such thing as bad weather, only good weather that you have just missed, there is no such thing as a bad time to look at autumn leaves. It’s only that the best week for great leaf colour is always the week just before you arrived to see them.

If you want to see France at its best (rather than just at its warmest) don’t come in summer. The weather may not be as good the rest of the year, but as someone once said “There is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing”.

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8 Responses to VIVE L’AUTOMNE (AUTUMN)

  1. Frank says:

    Les, I now know that when I come over I bring a few great Aussie wines to offset those from your cellar.. 🙂
    I’ve got about a thousand in my cellar..you’re always welcome to help with a few.
    “For us these include lunching with dear friends at Chateau Leoville Barton”… hmmm heaven!
    Speaking of campervans, summer unfortunately brings the european campers to the local beaches here; they park in the streets near the beach, ignore parking restrictions and fines, and seem tio think the street is both their toilets and dining rooms as they “invade the grass strips in front of houses” (including mine at times at Bondi Beach). Loved the vision you painted of Germans and their black sox, now imagine that vision as they walk the sands at Bondi.. not pretty.
    Les, excellent fun read & informative. rgds Frank

    • leshayman says:

      Hi Frank,
      Aussie wine is always very welcome in my house (as is Vegemite).
      The Germans are amazing travelers, and I believe that they are the nation that spends the most per capita when overseas … great for the economy … be nice to them !
      Les

  2. Roisin McAuley says:

    What a lovely blog. Makes me want to be there. Enjoy the harvest lunches. O lucky man!

    • leshayman says:

      Hi Roisin,
      You can come back any time … hey, didn’t you only just leave ? 🙂
      I don’t know if it is the extra harvest lunches (or alcohol intake) but I am sure that my autumn/winter clothes shrank whilst stored over summer.
      Les

  3. martin metcalf says:

    Les, where do the French go in August and September? If they are prepared to put vacation before business their vacations must be spectacular. I am repatriating from USA to UK very soon now and will miss the fall here which is pretty much as you described. Heaven.

  4. leshayman says:

    Hi Martin,
    They spread out of Paris and head south for the water or the mountains. The rest of them just change places, for example those in the south-east of France change with those in the south-west. 🙂
    Les

  5. Simon Hopkins says:

    “There is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing”, reminds me of what my late Father-in-Law used to say “any damn fool can be uncomfortable!”.
    thanks for your hospitality earlier in the Fall
    Simon

  6. leshayman says:

    Hi Simon,
    I agree with your late F-in-Lthat you should wear the appropriate clothing and be comfortable, and also to remember that as PJ O’Rourke says “Never wear anything that panics the cat”.
    Les

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