It was in September and the grapes were ripening, so for a couple of days we helped with the harvest, sleeping in a great farmhouse loft with about a dozen other helpers.
Then we explored Dijon and moved on to Beaune, where we visited the Hotel-Dieu, an hospital built in the mid 15th century. In one great room beds are set into recesses in the walls. In these, beneath heavy red blankets, the sick once lay, sometimes two to a bed, looking up at a great timbered ceiling decorated with hideous gargoyles.
I suppose they took your mind off your bed-mate’s affliction.
Back in the country we spent the night in a farmhouse and woke early to find the moonlight still shining on the mill pond. Horses clattered on the cobbles as we went over the yard to the kitchen where a large black cat purred, and bacon sizzled loudly in the pan.
As the first grey streaks of dawn edged into the sky we saddled up and rode off through fields and hedgerows. It was like riding into a Constable painting, none of the buildings we passed was less than a couple of hundred years old.
I’d never been on a horse before but managed to coax Princess along by flattering her and murmuring “ Princess, tu est tres belle” in her ear. Nijinski the horse ahead was not quite so controllable and stopped to devour what ever leafy plant took his fancy. There were a few nervous moments when at the end for our trek we rode into town and through the local market. Fortunately he didn’t choose to graze at any of the vegetable stalls so we were able to stay and join the locals for a drink at a pavement cafe.
The next day we took to the water and tried out a hire cruiser on the Canal de Burgoyne. Bicycles on board enabled us to nip into little villages and pick up bread and shopping. Pottering along peacefully we passed yet more signs with ‘wine label names’ and we were never without a good glass when we eat. At one lock the keeper asked us to wait. He ‘thought’ he could hear another boat coming in the distance and invited us to pass the time visiting his cellar. We sampled the wine and later emerged blinking into the sunlight clutching a couple of bottles and minus a little money. Surprisingly, the boat that was ‘coming’ had disappeared!
"Do you fancy Burgundy? " I was asked.
“With a piece of steak, nothing nicer,” says I, contemplating rolling the velvety red wine around the taste buds.
But I got it wrong it was the rolling green countryside of Burgundy itself that was meant. A few days later we were there wandering through byways and leafy lanes, navigating by signposts with names familiar from wine bottles and passing rustic villages where time seemed to have stood still.
The final activity in our visit to Burgundy was a balloon flight. We flew with the ‘Flying Snail’. The balloon of Air Escargot looked enormous as it was inflated next to a couple of little 2CV vans. It was a glorious evening as we lifted up over the trees chasing our long shadow over fields chateaux and farms. You could hear every word spoken on the ground and dogs barked defiantly and chased the monster in the sky.
Some wished we might stay up for ever and it looked as though we might have had to, as there were vineyards all around and scarcely a space to land without squashing a grape. The prospect of landing worried me a little for I was wedged in the basket next to a very large American lady. All would be well if we put down upright but if we were to tip over I would have either a very soft landing or be squashed to death.
In the event it was a perfect landing and as the sun went down and we drank a traditional glass of champagne. It’s what we balloonists do best!