Saturday, April 2, 2011

April 02, 2011: Grenoble - Marché, Cuves de Sassenage

As usual we were off to the local market this morning. We returned to the same fromagerie as last week, to buy more of the new favourite Crayeuse de Savoie, as well as another new cheese, Vieux Cantal (one of the oldest French cheese varieties, from the time of the Gauls), and a different variety of sausage, Sanglier (which I picked because I didn't know what it is - turns out it's wild boar!). After getting some farm fresh eggs, fruits, vegetables, fresh spinach and ricotta pasta and two baguettes, we were ready for home. We had an early lunch of the fresh pasta, packed some charcuterie, cheese and baguette, and we were off on our daytrip - Les Cuves de Sassenage.

I've had to wait a whole month to visit the Cuves, but it was worth it! The Cuves are the closest caves to Grenoble, just a 40 minute trip by tram and bus. They don't open to the public until April 1 because water levels through the winter are too high - the caves were originally carved out by underground rivers, and parts of the caves are still filled every year by gushing torrents of water. In fact, even today we were only able to go on an abbreviated tour of the caves, but the guide told us we can come back later on the same tickets to take the full tour after those portions of the caves are water-free. The name "cuves" comes from the bowl-like areas at the outlet of the underground river from the side of the mountain - in general, caves are referred to as "grottes".

I'm not a hard-core caver - I don't want to have to squish through spaces where I might worry about geting stuck - but I was hoping for a sense of being in an unusual space, and this was just the right cave system. There were plenty of places where we had to stoop low or carefully climb up steep narrow steps, contrasted with tall passageways and large rooms. I can't wait to go back to visit the other parts, which sound like they are even larger cathedral-like galleries. As well, those are the caves that will have stalactites and stalagmites - there weren't any in the areas we visited today, since the regular flooding washes these formations away just as they get started. Also, no cave prehistoric cave paintings, although there are plenty of other caves throughout France that do have them.

The weather today was beautiful (23 degrees Celsius and very sunny) so we were hoping to spend more time outside. As it turned out, the area around the caves was perfect for a rambling hike - we followed a river (not the same one that carved the caves out of the mountain), which rushed through gorges, tumbled over cliffs as a waterfall, and spread out in a large pool as a reservoir. I think it may be the most scenic river I've ever walked alongside.

When we'd finished exploring as much of the river as we could follow, we turned back into the historic village of Sassenage, where the old stone buildings were crowded so closely together that many of the streets were one-lane only and hardly anything more than a narrow curb for a sidewalk. The alleyways were even named as streets, with signs pointing out that only bike and motorcycle traffic are allowed along them (no room for either cars or pedestrians). Not far away was the Chateau de Sassenage, a small castle/large mansion set in a large, walled park. The house wasn't open to visitors at this time of day, but we enjoyed walking around the beautiful grounds.

After an easy transit ride home we had a hearty meal: lentils with caramelized onions, sautéed carrots and green beans, concentrated chicken stock, and a few diced slices of our new sausage. With a bottle of red French wine of course!

While waiting for our cave tour to start a woman with a ferret on a leash walked up - even from afar you could tell it was a ferret by the way it moved about

Following Mark (and our tour guide) into the depths of the caves

The Germe River - not flowing as furiously here as it was in other passages

The Germe, pouring forth at the exit from the caves

We spotted adventurers of some type heading down to the Furon River (they seemed to be in wetsuits)

Alongside the river were large, crumbling stoneworks, from a time when the source of the Sassenage village's water came from up here on the mountain

Backlit maple leaves, just starting to come forth this week (finally - it's been warm enough for spring since we got here!)

The river, flowing through a gorge

Beautiful green forest floor, with a sheer cliff face in the background

As we walked along the river we came across a group of teenagers dressed as Star Wars characters, with light sabres and a video camera. We hummed and whistled the theme music the rest of the afternoon

The Furon, as a lovely, tall waterfall

The Furon, as a series of small falls cascading over a crescent-shaped shelf of rock

A rock, entirely embedded in a tree that (for some crazy reason!) has been growing around it for years

The historic village of Sassenage, with the Furon and Germe rivers channeled in a canal

An alleyway, marked as "Chemin de la Passerelle" (which translates as "Road Bridge"), with only motorcycles and bicycles permitted

A stone lion takes a bite out of me at the historic Chateau de Sassenage

Precise topiary, in line with precise rooftop peak  - I do love symmetry

One of many huge trees in the ground of the Chateau

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