Author Archives: debbie

Alba, Italy

I was sad to say good-bye to beautiful Aix-en-Provence but excited for our next stop, Alba, located in the Piedmont area of Italy.  Alba is most famous for its Barolo and Nebbiolo wines and white truffles. The drive through the Alps was stunning, taking us into the clouds and by Turino, Italy, site of the 2006 Winter Olympics. Even though we had been driving through beautiful countryside all day, the beautiful hillside vineyards surrounding Luna di Langa, our Alba home for the next two days immediately captivated us.

B&B host Gianfranco, his son Alberto and adorable dog Layla were waiting for us as we drove into Luna di Langa.

We were excited to walk through the beautiful vineyards.

All of the grapes in the region are picked by hand. Harvesters picked the white grapes last week and begin picking the red grapes this week. Beautiful,  lush bunches of grapes hung low on the vines.

Gianfranco, who is also a wine expert and gourmet cook, prepared traditional dishes of the Alba region for our dinner. I am not sure what we enjoyed more-his wonderful meal or entertaining company. He is a fantastic cook and even shared one of his recipes with me. Now I just need to find someone to translate it from Italian to English.

Tairrin, pasta Gianfranco had made earlier in the day

Dessert was a moist cake that was his mother’s recipe accompanied by apricots that he had preserved himself in sugar and alcohol and Moscato wine.

Bunet

 

 

 

 

 

Chateauneuf du Pape

Ever since I shared a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape with three good friends when I was just starting to enjoy wine, it has been my favorite red wine. Enjoying wine involves both the senses and the emotions, and our fabulous wine tour covered both. Thanks to our wonderful guide/sommelier, Pierre Fernandez owner of wineprestigetour.com, we experienced one of our best wine tours ever.

We took the TGV train to Avignon where Pierre picked us up. While waiting for the other four people in our group to arrive, we visited an art exhibition in an old chapel. I got to practice my French with a charming French woman in the chapel.

Pierre was born in Chatueaneuf du Pape to a family that has been making wine for 600 years. The local winemakers trust him so much they literally give him the keys to their cellars. He took us to three wineries, and at each one he unlocked the door, got out the wine and glasses and told us about the winery. He provided amazing tasting notes for each wine we tasted.

Before the tastings, he took us into the vineyards and explained the importance of terroir (the soil and climate that affect the taste of the wine) and the unique terroir of the Chateauneuf du Pape region.  The French believe that terroir is more important than the grape in making wine. The Chateauneuf du Pape region is unique because the soil changes frequently from sand to clay to limestone to river rock.

We were surprised that river rock entirely covered some of the vineyards. As a result of geological forces millions of years ago, Chateauneuf du Pape is the only place in the world where river rock covers the fields as it does here. Who would think to plant anything in an area covered with rock? The winemakers did because they knew the rock kept moisture and heat in the ground and provided an ideal setting for the grapes.

I noticed that most of the vines were bushier than the usual trellised vines I had seen before . Pierre explained that because all of the grapes are handpicked (required for all Chateauneuf du Pape wines) there is no need for space between the rows for machines.

Chateauneuf du Pape means “new palace of the Pope.” During the 14th century the Pope lived in a palace in Avignon and built a summer palace in a village 18 km away. That village became known as Chateauneuf du Pape.

Our last tasting was at Chateau de La Gardine winery in the family tasting room  that is not open to the public. Once again, Pierre’s relationship to the winemaker’s opened the doors to a very special experience.

We were very happy wine tasters at the end of the day. We had learned a lot, enjoyed a great lunch, tasted great wine, and of course, ordered some wine to be shipped home.

 

Chateau La Coste

Wow! What a day. Fabulous art, beautiful nature, great wine and a wonderful lunch-who could ask for more in one place. We got all of that and more when we drove about fifteen minutes north from Aix-en-Provence this morning to the beautiful Chateau La Coste.

Centre’d’Art, 2007-11 by Tadao Ando and Crouching Spider, 2003 by Louise Bourgeois

Opened in 2011, Chateau La Coste is a vineyard, winery, center of contemporary art, luxury hotel and gourmet restaurant. We started our visit with a two-mile sculpture walk through the vineyard and beautiful hillside. If we weren’t looking at amazing sculpture, we were looking at the beautiful views.

Some of my favorites sculptures:

Psicopompos, 2011 by Tunga from Brazil

La Chapelle, 2011 by Tadao Ando from Japan

Pavillon de Musique, 2008 by Frank O. Gehry, Canadian-American

It was heavenly to combine a lovely walk in the woods with finding wonderful sculpture along the way.

After being totally inspired by the amazing art, we toured the winery and tasted their wonderful wine. I thought we would be there too early for the harvest, but lucky for us the harvest had started the week before.

Chateau La Coste uses the latest technology to produce consistent wine and ensure that their wine meets the requirements of their Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence appellation, one of the appellations in the Aix region.

The best part of the tour was the tasting. We tasted a sparkling rose, two roses, two whites and three reds.

Lunch in the winery’s restaurant ended our day. I had read about the delicious tarte a l’onignon, so we all decided to try it, and it lived up to its reputation.

Aix Walking Tour

Richard, our Aix-en-Provence walking tour guide, gave us a wonderful overview of Aix history and culture this morning. Even though I wasn’t sure how a Brit who had lived in Aix for two years would do as a tour guide, he received all five-star reviews, so I decided to book his tour. His tour was amazing, and we all felt that we had learned so much.

He began our tour at the Cours Mirabeau where a festival of local activities and clubs provided all kinds of entertainment.

We learned about the golden age of Aix from 1650-1800, when prosperous residents built beautiful homes in an effort to demonstrate how successful they were. One businessman showed how powerful and successful he was by putting statues that included pubic hair on the front of his house, a move that created quite a scandal at the time. I don’t think most people passing by now would notice unless a guide pointed it out to them.

Aix has more statues than any other city in France. During the plague large gatherings were banned to prevent the spread of disease, so small statues were placed around the city to provide places to worship.

Paul Cezanne, one of France’s most famous painters, and Emile Zola, one of France’s most famous writers, became life-long friends when they met at the present-day Mignet school in Aix when they were thirteen. Later in life they had a falling out but continued to influence each other.

We walked through one of the markets in Aix that is open every day.

In addition to learning interesting history, one of my favorite parts of the tour was discovering beautiful little side streets.

After lunch, we visited the Hotel de Caumont-Centre d’Art. Opened in 2015, the center is located in one of the most beautiful 18th Century homes in Aix. Our visit gave us a chance to see a beautiful home, lovely gardens and an amazing exhibit on loan from the Guggenheim in New York City.

The exhibit included works by Cezanne, Monet and Picasso that traveled for the first time from the Guggenheim collection to Aix-en-Provence to be seen by the general public in Europe. Our walking tour guide described it as the perfect art exhibit-great art that you can see in about an hour.

We ended our evening with a lovely dinner at Le Petit Bistrot. We weren’t able to get a reservation at any of the restaurants we had researched, so we walked around and looked at menus until we found something that looked appealing. That approach has not always worked well for us, but tonight we lucked out and had a wonderful meal with friendly servers.

Arrived in Provence

Our drive from Monaco to Aix-en-Provence was a great learning experience. By the time we went through the second of at least ten toll stations, we had figured out what the lane headings meant. We only needed to use the call for assistance the first time. Between toll station two and three I found a great web site, “How to Pay Highway Tolls in France”, that explained everything we needed to know and greatly reduced our stress level.

Julie, our Aix-en-Provence hostess, met us at our apartment. Our location is perfect, right off the Cours Mirabeau, the Champs Elysees of Aix and across from the  beautiful Fountaine de la Rotonde.

The view from our apartment window

We are also in a great place to observe life on the street below us. Before we finished unpacking Paul noticed policemen gathering on the plaza below our window. Stepping out on our little balcony, we noticed a parade of yellow-vest protesters walking down the street. It all seemed quite peaceful until we heard a loud sound and saw the police running in to the Apple store. They evacuated the store and closed for a few hours. We still don’t know the whole story, but it was interesting to watch it unfold right below our apartment.

Off to the airport to pick up our friend Scott, and we were ready for our first night in Provence. Paul found a great restaurant with wonderful karma. Incontournable, a short walk from our apartment.

Perfect weather,friendly staff,  a beautiful setting,

and fabulous food equaled a lovely start to our week in Provence.

 

 

Monaco

Our experiment was a success! We loved flying non-stop from Miami to Milan, even factoring in the three-hour drive from our home to the Miami airport. Our plane arrived on time, but a broken jet-way delayed our deplaning by thirty minutes. We did not worry about a missed connection.  All we had to do was get our rental car and drive to Monaco. Although getting to Monaco was a little longer and chaotic than we planned due to major traffic congestion and winding roads, we were instantly charmed by the beauty of this little country of only 499 acres. Buildings in densely populated Monaco stretch from the Mediterranean Sea up the sides of surrounding mountains.

We enjoyed the balcony off our hotel room that offered a partial view of the marina.

We did not have a lot of time to explore Monaco, but we loved looking at the beautiful boats in the marina and felt lucky to be here when they were celebrating the 14th Monaco Classic Week. Organized by the Monaco Yacht club, the event is the first in the world to showcase sailing and motorboats from the past.

The sailboats were especially beautiful.

Exploring Monaco felt like being in a movie. Members of the Monaco Yacht Club were walking around the marina in their ivory pants and blue blazers and offering champagne toasts. Paul said seeing the famous Monte Carlo Casino made him think of James Bond. And beautiful people in beautiful clothes were everywhere.

Three Weeks, Three Countries (with one night in a fourth)

Aix-en-Provence, France

We are experimenting on this trip to determine if driving farther to the airport for a non-stop flight is worth the extra driving time. Many of our trips start with where we can get good airfare on ScottsCheapFlights.  When a non-stop flight at a good price to an area we were considering from a close-enough airport appeared on this site, we decided to try it. So in a few hours we are driving three hours to Miami International Airport for a non-stop flight to Milan, Italy.

In Milan, we pick up our rental car and head to Aix-en-Provence in southern France with a one-night stay in Monaco along the way.  We thought it would be fun to combine a break from the six-hour drive to Aix with a visit to a new country.

Our friend Scott is meeting us in Aix for six days and  then we all go to Alba and Verona, Italy. After we bid Scott farewell, Paul and I go to Ljubljana, Slovenia. I was in Aix fourteen years ago on the way to visit my daughter who was doing a study-abroad in Toledo, Spain, but every other destination is new for me and all of them are new for Paul and Scott.

Southern France and northern Italy were easy choices, but we wanted to try something more off the beaten path for our final week.  We chose Ljubljana, Slovenia after Paul listened to an Extra Pack of Peanuts podcast that raved about the appeal of Slovenia, a place that had never been on our travel radar.

Lake Bled. Slovenia

We are looking forward to great wine tasting, fabulous food, beautiful sights, invigorating hikes and interesting people and culture.

Lac du Bourget

Last stop before going home-visiting our dear friend Aurelie and her adorable family in the Savoie region in southeastern France. Aurelie was a Rotary Youth Exchange student when I coordinated the program for our Rotary club in Bemidji, MN and we enjoy chances to connect with each other. She lives in Chambery, an Alpine city surrounded by beautiful mountains. Her home overlooks beautiful  Lac du Bourget, the largest natural lake  in France.

We were disappointed that Jeremy, Aurelie’s husband, was away, but we had a wonderful time touring the area with her two daughters. We drove to a ski area atop the highest peak on the other side of the lake.

The area attracts outdoor enthusiasts year round.  It is a popular spot for boaters in the summer and skiers in the winter.

We enjoyed watching the para gliders taking off over the valley and saw a young woman going on her first glide with an instructor.

We ended our lovely day with a delightful dinner at Beaurivage, one of Chambery’s oldest gastronmique (gourmet) restaurants.

Paul put together a little video of our last few days in France.

 

Chateau de Beynac

We spent our final day in Sarlat at the impressive Chateau de Beynac, a 12th century castle about ten miles southwest of Sarlat. Exploring the amazingly well-preserved 900 year-old building and grounds was one of our favorite Sarlat experiences.

Originally designed to be a fortress, the castle sits against rock cliffs looking out over the Dordogne river and provides amazing views of the beautiful surrounding countryside.

The audio guide information about the castle and life in the 12th century was so compelling that I listened to all the supplemental segments before returning the guide.

Like many of the places we have visited on this trip, there were surprisingly few people around. It was great to tour the inside of the castle and have it almost to ourselves. The kitchen was added during a renovation in the 13th century.

After our visit to the castle, we hiked a little trail that led down the hill away from the castle.

On a whim, we decided to drive through the nearby town of Beynac on our way home. I am so happy we did not miss seeing this charming town with its narrow streets  and hilltop-hugging buildings.

We like to buy a piece of artwork from our trips but we hadn’t seen anything we wanted on this trip-until today. While on a little before-dinner walk we passed a gallery and found a water color of Sarlat that we loved. The only downside was that we found the gallery at the beginning of our walk, so the picture went on our walk with us.

As we left our apartment for dinner I noticed the rising moon and a beautiful blue sky.

Our last dinner in Sarlat at Le Presidial was one of the best of our trip. I had salmon in sorrel sauce with perfectly prepared vegetables.

The beautiful and delicious profiteroles were a perfect ending to our delightful stay in Serlat.

 

 

 

Sarlat Market, Gardens and Walnut Oil

Wednesday is one of two market days in Sarlat, and we went to the market with a mission-find the best bread, cheese, vegetables and fruit to make dinner at home.

It was fun to look at all the beautiful products.

Our favorite encounter was with the cheese vendor who told us cheese made by his grandparents tasted like new love. Who could resist that?

The friendly baker selling walnut bread made buying his bread fun.

Carrots, green beans, olives, melon and apples completed our dinner shopping. Our fruit vendor asked if we wanted to eat our melon today or tomorrow and chose the best melon accordingly.

After a quick trip home to stow our purchases, we drove about fifteen miles east of Sarlat to visit the lovely Eyrignanc et ses Jardins, billed as the most beautiful gardens in the Perigord region of France.

The same family has owned these gardens for 500 years.

It was another hot day in Sarlat, and the loveliest part of the visit may have been relaxing in comfortable chairs on a cool and shady hill.

On the way back to Sarlat, we visited Moulin de la Tour, a 16th century mill producing natural walnut oil in their ancestral way. The ancient mill is powered solely by the L’Enea river.

A charming couple own and operate the mill along with their daughter and son-in-law. The husband, who gave the tour, spoke only French, but prior to the tour his wife gave us an information sheet in English, and I could translate a little bit of the tour for Paul.

They purchase walnuts shelled by hand and then grind and process them.

In spite of the wife’s limited English and my limited French, we had a delightful conversation about walnut oil, family, Florida and hurricanes.

After a lovely day in the Perigord countryside, we returned to our apartment and made our market dinner. Phillipe, our host, had to come over and show us how to turn on the gas oven so I could roast the vegetables. And then we couldn’t turn off the oven because the knob was broken. With a little phone guidance from Phillipe, Paul figured out a hack to turn off the oven and all was good.

A lovely walnut tartlette was the perfect finishing touch to our market dinner.