I arrived in the small town of Sancerre, France on a sunny Sunday morning. I had arrived in Paris from Portugal the night before, and after an overnight at an airport hotel, took an early train to the town of Cosne-sur-Loire, which has the nearest train station to Sancerre.
Many people are familiar with Sancerre for its namesake wine, and while I was subconsciously planning to indulge in a fair share of wine during my stay, the primary reason for my visit was to take a 2-week French course at Couer de France School of Language. I took a semester of French in college, and had the opportunity to practice the basics: bonjour, merci, au revoir, etc. on subsequent visits to France, but other than that, my retention of the language was meager at best. I was looking forward to going back to school and improving my skills.
After settling into my little apartment near the town center, my broken toe and I took off (with the aid of our trés fashionable walking stick) to hobble around the town and see what we could see.
I quickly learned that Sunday was a very quiet day in Sancerre, with no open shops (no groceries pour moi) and only a couple of open restaurants. I would learn during my 2 weeks in Sancerre that Sundays were not significantly different from every other day. It’s a very quiet town, with very interesting store hours: most everything closed on Sundays and Mondays, and also closed every day from noon to 3pm. Some shops weren’t even open during their posted hours, so one had to be very flexible with their shopping habits.
That said, Sancerre is a lovely place…a medieval hilltop town overlooking the vineyards of the Loire River Valley that gives one the sense of having stepped back in time. Sancerre has a population of less than 2,000 people, many of whom seem to be engaged in some way with the wine industry. I became a fan of Sancerre wine during my visit and learned that 80% of Sancerre is white, made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes which are grown in the local chalky soil that contribute to the dry, mineral quality of the wine. The remaining 20% of the area production is Pinot Noir, which creates light reds (Sancerre Rouge) and rosés.
The region is also known for “Crottin de Chavignol”, the best goat cheese (chèvre) you will ever taste. It is produced by local farms in the tiny village of Chavignol (just outside of Sancerre) using traditional methods and is one of the rare cheeses that can be eaten at various stages of maturity, each with its own unique flavor and texture. Yum!
I was able to experience the local delicacies through “field trips” arranged by Couer de France during our off-time. Class was held Monday-Friday for half days, and generally there was some sort of outside activity also offered each day (wine tastings, cheese tastings, historical walks around the town, cooking classes).
My class was very small and intimate, with only 4 students and a very patient and good-humored teacher, Laurie. It was a great experience, with lots of laughs, and though I didn’t come away able to speak French fluently (in hindsight, I think that was an unreasonable expectation ;)), I feel that I have a good foundation for whatever “next steps” I choose to take. Thanks to my classmates Sibyl, Andy, Arthur, Angie and Liz (and our instructor, Laurie) for helping to make class such a fun and positive experience.