The Palais Ideale

Trip Start Jun 17, 2008
Trip End Jul 15, 2008

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Where I stayed
Hotel de la Tour, Mercurol, Drome

Flag of France  ,
Friday, June 20, 2008

Today we went to Hauterives to see the Palais Ideal.  I found the Palais on a webside from PBS and became fixed on seeing it.  It was made by a retired postmaster (Facteur) so he is called Facteur Cheval.  He stumbled on a strange looking stone, a fossil, which he inhterpreted as a sculpture.  He also interpreted it as a message to build a sculpture beyone imagination.  On his postal route he would collect stones for his architecture.  Eventually, they  became too much for his pockets and even too much for a bag. So he got a wheelbarrow which was his friend for the 27 years he spent building his Palace.  It contains architectural styles from everywhere: Morocco, Algiers, Hindu, Greek, Roman, Middle Ages; cavities honoring washer women, swallows, primitive art, prehistory; tangled vines and serpents.  He educated himself by reading the Magazine Pittoresque before delivering it to his clients.  During his 27 years of labor after he retired from the Post Office, between the ages of 53 and 86, he said his only reward was honor and duty.  He died at the age of 88 in 1924.  It is touching to see what must be regarded as a mono-mania has wrought.  Anyway, in the 60's Andre Malraux called attenion to it and named it France's only na´ve work of art in architecture.  Now Unesco is considering it for a World Heritage site.
The ladies at the tourist office next to the Palais were very nice and generously gave us tips for the rest of the day, and maps, and instructions to try the St. Joseph region of the Ardeche on the other side of the Rhone for wine.  They said Crozes Hermitage is all the rage around here, but St. Joseph is better.  The French 'e' is pronounced like 'uh' as in the, but is sometimes more like a 'U', so St,. Joseph came out like Saint Josoof.
We violated our own rules by going into the restaurant next to the Palais first for drinks, then lunch.  As we sat in the shady garden and watched the place fill up, we realized that during lunch hour there is nothing to do except eat lunch.  All shops and attractions are closed, so we went with the flow.  Ed had a leafy countryman's salad with big slabs of potato and bacon, and my  salad had chicken and emmental cheese.  My only mistake of the day was in not asking for chevre, as I prefer that.
So, based on our tourist lady's instructions and the GPS, we headed for Beaumont-Montreaux, the site of the Clairmont Caves for some wine tasting.  A good thing I looked up the word for sign, as we stopped at a bar for more instructions and he directed me to the panneaux barre.  Every town has a sign announcing the town, and on leaving the town sign has a bar through it announcing you are leaving.  Sol we went on our way and had just decided we had missed it and had pulled off to turn around when we saw the place.
The first taste was from the barrel. As Ed said, Young.  The 2nd was a Syrah from a box.  This is a very handy idea as the bag inside the box keeps the wine fresh, and the Syrah was quite good.  Then we had a Viognier from a bottle which had a lovely perfumy, flowery, fruity nose and was very dry.    Unfortunately we really couldn't buy any wine, so we took advantage of the distraction of a workman who came in to test the rolling doors, and on we went.  Actually, the workman had a wee dram, so maybe the doors were also a distracton.   An old farmer arrived with his wife carrying a big jug in a basket -- the classic approach to buying wine.
In Pont-de-l'Isere we looked for the monument indicating the 45th parallel, which divides northern France from southern France.  We didn't find it.  No matter, we get the idea.
In the States, Valrhona is my favorite chocolate.  And the home of Vallrhona is Tain l'Hermitage, abolut 10 minutes from Mercurol.  We exit our car in the parking to the strong odor of chocolate.  We wander the store, taking plenty of samples and making our selections.  Quel Surprise!  With our purchase they gave us a bar of their Guanaja Chocolate and a container of their chocolate sauce!   Turns out many of their samples were on top of the display case, above eye level for me.  I want to go back!  Anyway, my backpack just went from 17.5 poiunds to 20 pounds.
Jet-lag plus driving around guided by only the disembodied voice of the GPS and my somewhat mis-leading clarifications, Ed was tired, and after sitting on the terrace having a drink tropical, reading, writing, etc, He headed in for a nap.  And what a nap.  Avis gave us a free copy of the magazine Detour, which describes a single region of France each month.  This month it was the Alps. After reading the whole magazine cover to cover,  I fell asleep at 5 and awoke with a start at 8.  I rousted Ed so we could get to dinner for once before they closed the kitchen.  Tonight's dinner was a delicious rabbit breast in a really delicious mustard sauce, served with peas and carrots and preceded by a pureed gaspacho.  Dessert was a less successful floating island, but that was made up for by the fabulous cherry tarte the night before.
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