We spent last weekend in Besançon so we decided we needed to explore this weekend. There is a whole list of places that are within one hour that we want to visit, but we settled on Lac St. Point since we thought it would be too cold soon to appreciate a lake, and also since we were hoping it would be free!
It is a large and gorgeous lake –actually it is the third largest natural lake in all of France. We did our homework fast, packed a lunch and managed to get out the door by 11:00am. (Hey, that might seem late, but you try doing French and English homework with 3 kids!)
We hit the beach the first chance we got. Unfortunately the paddleboat rental was closed so we ate our picnic and spent a lovely hour or so simply admiring the water, throwing lots of rocks and getting our feet wet. It may not be the official end of summer yet, but colder temperatures have hit Besançon. It gets down in the 50’s at night and rarely goes as high as 70 in the day any longer. The lake is 2000 feet in elevation higher than Besançon so that made it chillier as well. The kids were sad they couldn’t go for a swim. The wind was very strong and the windsurfers were skidding across the 2km wide lake in about 3 minutes – then turning and racing right on back. We also saw something new – parasail surfing! (featured in the top photo above) Cousins in Utah, take note – this has got to be the coolest thing I ever saw! This guy basically used a giant kite to pull him across the lake at incredible speeds – he could even do tricks. If you think an aerial is cool, try something that is pulling you straight up! The entire time we’ve been in France, we have never seen water skiers or jet skis. I am not sure if people stopped using them because they are bad for the environment or if they never started using them at all. Maybe they are outlawed? Anyway – this parasail surfing looked just as thrilling and fast as any skiing I’ve seen – and no need for a speed boat. We then drove around the lake some more, discovering another dock area where birds abounded and (after lunch break ended at 2pm) they were still renting out paddleboats! We spent a fun hour paddling around – everyone took turns, even Griffin, pushing those paddles. André and I took over towards the end to get us back in time – thanks to Zander for the romantic photo! It was pretty chilly out on the water and I was glad I had grabbed the car blankets before we left. Of course, all that pedaling and wind and water made everyone a bit worn out – resulting in boys who were sleeping in the back by the time we returned to shore! There were lots of camping cars in the parking lot in this area – it seems to be quite a popular place to visit. We are lucky to have it in our own neighborhood – and hope to return in the summer one time to have that swim!
Before heading home, we walked over a small picturesque bridge. I was amused to see, when I looked down over the edge of the bridge, a “no diving” sign staring up at me. Most people don’t dive off bridges, do they? I’ve never seen this sign on any other bridge I can recall. I theorize that some nuts must have done it a few times – and maybe gotten hurt. Also we were really lucky to be able to get within almost touching distance to a giant swan. They are such magnificent birds! I took about 20 photos – but I am restraining myself seriously by only posting the top four…
And here is Griffin perched on top of the lonely teeter totter, lake behind him, what a cute little guy!
So, here it was, only 3:30 or so and we were headed for home. But, wait, that just can’t be all, can it? Not us, no way. We saw a sign, followed it and ended up at a Miellerie – or a Honey House!
My most loyal readers (thank you for your support) may remember that we have been trying to figure out which type of honey we like. In France, honey is serious business and there are many, many different varieties. We had tried a couple so far, and, unfortunately, hated both of them. Honey here isn’t cheap – each jar runs about 8 Euros- which is a lot to spend if you end up hating the stuff! We drove up just as a giant busload of senior citizens were leaving the premises. The grounds were filled (predictably) with beautiful flowers and buzzing bees. We hung around outside for a few minutes looking at the colorful little bee houses and then walked into the store area. It was totally scary to walk in there because the air around the door was alive with bees – I was literally bumping into them as I walked in. The only advice they had was fermer la bouche (close your mouth). Um, ok. I hope that works….
But the best part was they had about 10 different kinds of honey – and little spoons so you could try each kind! France is such a hyper contradiction in terms of sanitation. Everyone here is freaked out about the possibility of H1N1 ending the world as we know it. The schools have sent out letters to explain what will happen if the flu hits and, at André’s work, they have even forbidden hand shaking and kissing cheeks until the worst of the flu season ends. But, here we were, scooping honey up out of a communal pot with our little
spoon (OK, the spoon was disposable, but still one cough onto that honey machine would have contaminated how many hundreds of jars?). We all shared one spoon though – so germs are definitely shared in our family. So, it turns out there is quite a difference in taste between types of honeys. We found out we all LOVE one named Printemps, the first honey the bees make each spring. It is a creamy honey. I never had creamy honey growing up. I discovered it in Utah and now am hooked – it is so much less messy! I also found out that this type of honey is made when you don’t heat up the honey – which is supposed to retain some of the more natural elements (I guess it’s like, raw honey) We also really liked the clearer varieties of Sapin (bees collecting nectar in the pine trees) and Acacia (collected right after the Acacia stops blooming). Finally we bought one jar of Montagne. The hives for this type are put up on top of a mountain and the bees get the nectar from all those great wildflowers (cowslips, perhaps?). I have to say this honey is complex. It reminded me of a really good old Comté in the way that when you first taste it, it seems good, but then little other notes of flavors sort of come into play, bursting into your mouth. I would call it a gourmet honey. YUM! We also bought a couple bars of honey soap. Um… did I mention this was supposed to be the free outing? C’est la vie!
After our purchases we spent at least a half an hour being given a private tour of the place by one of the apiculturalists. He was incredibly patient and kind, answering the seemingly unending string of questions that Callie
and Zander were shooting at him. They wanted to know where the queen was, whether or not she ever leaves the hive, how long the bees live, why some of the honey comb was dark, how the bees know which kind of honey to make etc… etc….. It was so impressive to me how well they could ask what they wanted, completely in French. Such skill is far beyond me! We tried to take a video of it – but mostly it is just Callie speaking – shocking right? The man was so nice, he has visited the US before – even to see honey houses. He told us how, in the US, many honey farmers strip hives completely of all their honeycombs for each harvest, which usually destroys the hive and kills the bees. They then import new bees to start from scratch. Here, in France, they always leave back some of the honey when they collect. Man, I hate America sometimes. He said he’d never seen such inquisitive children, but I could tell he loved their avid interest in something he is clearly so passionate about. He even gave us a piece of honeycomb to take back home with us – it is super fragile, has to be kept out of the sun but it smells heavenly!
We headed for home, passing the familiar sight of the Chateau de Joux up on the hill. This castle always holds a special place in my heart because it was the first one we ever visited – right around this time last year! I love the way it just sits up on top of the hill – looking down over the phone poles and service stations. Its builders never could have imagined that!