Visit to Meaux: Market, Mustard and Brie!

Today we visited the small city of Meaux which is about 20 minutes drive from us, on the river Marne. It is a very historic city dating back to the Celtic Tribes, with a lot to see. We will definitely be going back on this trip to do more sightseeing.

There is a well reviewed museum there which we are saving for a rainy day: The Museum of the Great War. This is a very modern and interactive museum which brings to life the WW1 history of which Meaux is quite central.

In August 1914, the allied forces were in a great retreat as the Germans swept into France in a great arc, following the Schlieffen Plan. The French government named every city over 20,000 inhabitants as a “free city” meaning it was not to be defended. The French fell back and fell back until the Germans were nearly at the eastern outskirts of Paris. Then, at Meaux they finally turned and faced their enemy and dug in, in what became the 1st Battle of the Marne. It was so close to Paris that volunteers were being delivered by taxis to the front. The Allied forces stopped the German advance and saved Paris and thus turned the course of the war. The German plan relied on a fast war and the generals informed the Kaiser that as a result of this battle, the war was lost. Unfortunately, it did not end then. The first trenches were dug, and it settled into 4 years of stalemate and huge losses on both sides. We are looking forward to the museum and also to taking the short driving route around the main WW1 sites in the area.

We wanted to start at the farmers’ market today which is in the market area of the town, on a spit of land surrounded by a bend in the river. We got street parking easily enough having got there early at about 10am. I say early. It opened at 8am so probably all the locals buying food were there then. It was quite a big market. Stalls along the streets as well as in the two covered halls. Everyone was masked up and it wasn’t crowded so we felt pretty safe. Had a good mooch of the outside stalls and then went into the two covered bits which is where all the food was.

Meaux is famously the centre of the Brie making region of France and Brie de Meaux is obviously a big deal here. There were several stalls selling it, in great big wheels. Bigger than I’ve seen at home. They had various kinds available including one called Brie Noir which was quite dark brown and is an aged form of brie. You can see it towards the rear of a cheese stall in one of my photos.

There were also some amazing meat stalls selling roasted meats plus others selling very good butchery products. Properly skilled and dressed meat, not just plain hunks. There was a fishmongery with a huge selection of fresh fish and seafood. We looked on hungrily. Bought a few things: a big slice of Brie de Meaux, a stick of bread, some fruit. We took our haul back to the car and then walked across the river and up to the old part of the town at the top of the hill, surrounding the cathedral.

This whole part of town is very picturesque with many Seventeenth century houses, complete with shutters and inner courtyards. The pedestrianised streets were cobbled. Lots of shops too. It was pretty quiet I would say. The shops were open and there were people about but not by any means crowded. It is the law to wear masks in public at all times now but we did see people (including 2 policemen) who weren’t wearing them.

Our first stop was in the Place Charles de Gaulle next to the Cathedral. This is a small cobbled courtyard that is surrounded by medieval buildings and is what was once the Close of the Cathedral. The Bishop’s Palace is there, now a museum and art gallery. There is also the Tourist Office, a Fromagerie, The Bishop’s Garden and a wonderful old building called The Ancient Chapter.

We spent a good 30 minutes in the tourist centre talking to a most helpful young chap in there. He gave us lots of information leaflets and maps and discussed the area attractions. He was great. Gave us a lot to plan and think about. After that we walked around the little square and went through an archway behind the Palace into the Bishop’s Garden. This was a delightful place, still laid out in the original medieval style and backing onto the city ramparts (originally laid down by the Romans). The garden is believed to have been designed by Le Notre who also designed the gardens at Versailles and Chateau Vaux le Vicomte. It is shaped like a Bishop’s Mitre although you have to be on the first floor of the palace to really appreciate this. There were still some roses in bloom and once named after the Bishop was incredibly perfumed.

We also looked at the exterior of the Ancient Chapter. This was a house built for the use of the Canons in the middle ages. It had a sort of covered bridge added later to make it easier to cross to the cathedral in bad weather. You can’t go inside sadly, but it is empty.

We wanted to go inside the cathedral which looked amazing but it was closed till 2pm so we will come back to do that and combine it with a visit to the cheese factory for their tour and tasting. The Cathedral (St Etienne’s or St Stephen’s) was started in 1175 although what you see now is apparently 13th century after nearly all of the first one had to be pulled down. It is gothic architecture, like Notre Dame, and you can see the same ideas – gargoyles, rain shoots shaped like animals etc – that you see there.

We sat in the cobbled square that surrounds the Cathedral and had some fizzy water. The sun was patchy today – in and out – and it was definitely a little bit cooler. Not cold enough to wear a coat or to be out of shorts, but just a hint.

Suitably refreshed we walked on through the small streets, window gazing. Came across a most amazing fromagerie and deli so went in there. Meaux’s other famous product (apart from the brie) is Pommery mustard, the seedy, vinegary sort. It has been made here for hundreds of years. The only sort I’ve ever seen before is the classic which comes in a stone jar with a faux red wax lid on it. Well….. here in Meaux (and probably elsewhere in France) you can get different flavours!!!!! One with cognac, one with French pepper, one with honey, one called Fireman’s Pommery as it has jalapeño in it. One – and I didn’t get a chance to taste this one but it sounds bizarre – is flavoured with gingerbread. I can only assume it’s more gingery than gingerbready, but …… Bob bought a pot of the Fireman. The lady in the shop was very insistent and definitely made sure we knew that it was HOT!!!!

We were going to have lunch in Meaux but we didn’t see anywhere on our route that particularly took our fancy and it was still early enough, so we drove the short distance to Crecy La Chapelle to go back to the restaurant we’d really liked there

The headwaiter remembered us from last time which was nice. We ate in their outside courtyard area which was lovely and warm. The food there is excellent, a very good chef. It’s not particularly cheap and of course on a Saturday they are not offering a “formula menu” but it wasn’t too bad and the portions were so large it will do away with dinner tonight too. We both chose crab cakes to start. These were really succulent and came with a really delicious garlic cheese dip. Thank goodness we were both having it. Then, I had the lamb chop special. Amazing!!!! Served on a bed of pureed vegetables and with a rich meat sauce, it was perfect. Bob had the most massive pork chop ever served with a morelles cream sauce on mashed potato. Delicious! It was about £20 each for the two courses and we had a bottle of fizzy water. Of course in France service is “compris” so no tip to add. Very civilised.

We came back to our house and lay like beached whales for a siesta. Then fell asleep till 530. It was the only thing to do!

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