Amissville column for Aug. 16

A dream comes true in Burgundy

Bev Hunter takes a break from biking in a vineyard near Beaune, France.
Bev Hunter takes a break from biking in a vineyard near Beaune, France. Courtesy photo

There’s nothing better than dreaming about the perfect vacation destination, enlivened by the chance that one day you might go. Thanks to a winning bid last year on a stay at a farmhouse in France, Amissville residents Hal and Beverly Hunter did just that.

They recently returned from their magical trip, made possible by the generosity of county resident Enders Wimbush, who donated the week-long stay at his five-bedroom farmhouse for last year’s Taste of Rappahannock charity event.

“Almost as soon as we won the trip, we decided to make it a family vacation,” explained Bev. They invited their son Shawn and his wife and their three children, aged 11, 9 and 6, plus their 16-year-old cousin, Robert. An excited Facebook posting by Bev brought a final member to the merry band of travelers,  when Rappahannock’s own French gourmet gardener and chef Sylvie Rowand responded to Bev’s post by offering to “carry the luggage.”

“We don’t need you to carry the luggage. But why don’t you just come?” Bev replied. So Sylvie did.

After a quick visit to Paris, they traveled the 100 miles southeast to Burgundy, the medieval stronghold of the notorious dukes of Burgundy, whose restless ambition as the number-two guys in France upended the kingdom with some regularity. Their destination was Morvan, a hilly region which lies in the heart of former duchy between the Loire and Seine river valleys. They soon arrived at the 200-year-old farmhouse which certainly had been a dependency of the stately manoir located nearby. Sylvie said it seemed to have been two residences originally, and she described the 18-inch-thick exterior walls and substantial tile roof.

From left, the Hunters’ granddaughter Annie, son Shawn and Bev Hunter head down a vineyard bike trail toward a typical village near Beaune.
From left, the Hunters’ granddaughter Annie, son Shawn and Bev Hunter head down a vineyard bike trail toward a typical village near Beaune. Courtesy photo

Bev’s first impression of Morvan was how much the area looked like Rappahannock County. “These are rolling hills, and there are lots of vineyards on the hillsides. As you drive you see pastures dotted with grazing Charolais cattle and miles of sunflowers, yellow and glowing in the sun,” she said.

In addition, forests cover many of the hills and valleys. They are mostly privately owned and often planted in rows. For centuries, hardwoods from the region’s forests provided the firewood and charcoal to heat Paris during the winter. Now, many of the hardwoods are being replaced by fast-growing conifers to satisfy a growing market in China for Christmas trees. During the last century, a half-million acres of the region were designated a national park in an effort to preserve the area’s agricultural way of life, and the entire area where they stayed was part of the enormous reserve.

 “Unlike our parks, they did not kick out the people. The medieval villages have been protected and people continue to live in their homes,” Bev said.

The group soon settled into a relaxed rhythm of a daily trip to the nearby hamlet, where local farmers live in stone houses which were three-quarters barn and one quarter dwelling. First, they visited the boulangerie for fresh croissants and baguettes. Next, they went to the boucherie for choice grass-fed boeuf and to the market for fresh fruits and vegetables. Bev was enchanted by the duck confit, and she still raves about the cheeses and fresh bread. Sylvie fondly remembers the fresh melons, which she called “out of this world.” The adults shared food preparation duties, resulting in diverse menus and free time for all.

Meanwhile, the extended family which owns the nearby manoir came for their annual summer holiday, complete with 15 children between the ages of 10 and 20. The Hunter grandchildren soon joined them in playing tennis, swimming in the lake and playing the guitar.

“This was the first overseas trip for the grandkids, and they were enchanted,” Bev said. “They were immersed in the French language, and Robert, who had studied some French in school, made great strides with Sylvie’s help.”

The 80-degree temperatures and low humidity made outdoor activities pleasant. For Bev, a highlight of the week was a bicycle ride through the Beaune, an important winemaking area. With a gentle breeze on her face, accompanied by her loved ones, she pedaled her bike up into the hills and between centuries-old stone walls and rows of grapes.

“This has been a dream of mine for a long time, and I was able to do it,” Bev said, her eyes shining.

 The 2012 Taste of Rappahannock event will be held Sept. 8 at Belle Meade School. Get dreaming and get bidding. And don’t forget your toothbrush.