in Vichy

Forget Claude Rains contemptuously trashing a bottle of Vichy water at the end of Casablanca and forget Maréchal Petain’s collaborationist government. Vichy (Ville de l’eau chaude) is fabulous.



Forget Claude Rains contemptuously trashing a bottle of Vichy water at the end of Casablanca and forget Maréchal Petain’s collaborationist government. Vichy (Ville de l’eau chaude) is fabulous.

With major support from Emperor Louis Napoleon III who came for the waters Vichy is an architectural delight combining the masonry and iron terraces of Haussmann with the colors of the South–bright blue railings against buff walls, pinks, greens and whites.
I had been invited by the Opéra Vichy for a get acquainted weekend in  conjunction with an upcoming presentation of Massenet’s Manon. The short walk from le gare to the Hotel Aletti took me through one of the beautiful parks that dot that this charming town of 27,000 inhabitants.

The Aletti is one of the largest of the 400 hotels built to accommodate those who flocked here for the healing thermal waters and mineral rich drinking water– a very distinct taste that reminded me of the bygone California Calso water. Built in 1908 it is a charming reminder of old time elegance and just across the street from the Opéra.

After a quick check-in I crossed the Belle Rive Bridge over le Lac d’Allier and found a seat along the river at l’Atmosphère. This restaurant offers a luncheon formule at 13.50 euros but I opted for a friture, cheese selection and ¼ de rosé while tossing breadcrumbs to the ducks.

Prior to a piano concert SOUS LES ETOILES performed on the Opéra’s cour terasse I dined with the Opéra’s artistic director Diane Polya, her husband Marc and David Abramovitz, the Brooklyn-born pianist who would be performing at a Sunday concert.

The Brasserie de Casino is Vichy’s version of Sardi’s with photographs of musical notables covering the walls. Slightly pressed for time we skipped entrées and headed directly for the main courses: rack of lamb, daurade and rouget with a bottle of Bordeaux.

LA CERISE SUR LE PIANO performance was a curiously French conception that featured two pianists alternating between straight playing and comic antics. The predominantly French audience ate it up.
Saturday was my “ day of rest” at Les Célestins. I started with a soothing Jacuzzi followed by a massage à 4 mains. Two women gently rubbed and kneaded my body with oils while an overhead system sprinkled me with warm waters from the source–I can get used to this.

By now I was far too relaxed to do much of anything so I found a park bench and read for an hour before returning to the Brasserie de Casino for lunch. Last night I had coveted Diane’s crunchy rouget and I was not disappointed today.

I went back to the Celestins for a diner gastronomique at the N3. It was a lovely night and I was seated on the decked terrace surrounded by green lawns and tall trees. I ordered from the RETOUR DU MARCHE  formuleat 43 euros plus wine.

For starters a cappuccino de pommes de terre with tiny grilled sweetbreads accompanied by a 2009 Cote Roannaise cuvée Troisgros from Domaine Robert Sénol. Next up was grilled cod with a grilled confit of leeks on an emulsion of curried chevre. My sommelier selected a 2008 white Saint-Joseph from Chapoutier.

I was tempted by the cheese chariot of regional delights but resisted and had the chef’s special dessert of slightly grilled bananas and pineapple with a crème anglaiseredolent of pineapple. I was treated to a glass of coquillon, a local favorite composed of 30% tresallier and 70% chardonnay with honey added during fermentation.

After breakfast, a leisurely walk around a very quiet town and a ride on le Petit Train, a 30-minute tour of the city with taped commentary I entered the magnificent Opera House that is larger than those in the big cities of Bordeaux and Lyon. David Abramovitz captivated the crowd with his virtuoso playing of waltzes by Chopin, Liszt, Ravel and Villa-Lobos. Afterwards 100 of us gathered in the dining room of the Aletti for a lunch of salade niçoise and magret de canard.

As I headed back to le gare and my ride home I determined to learn more about this quaint and fascinating city.



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