Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Final few pictures from Provence

As I did with the Barcelona part of our trip, I'm going to do one final catch-all post to try to finish up our Provence trip stories.  

On Saturday, after we finished poking around the market in Arles, we walked around the town a bit.  While it was chilly and windy, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day.  

Place de Forum 

Arles was beautiful and one of my favorite towns that we visited.  It's definitely a must see.

One of the main things to see while in Arles is the Van Gogh tour.  We had the Rick Steves' Provence book on our iPad, and were able to follow his suggested tours around town.

Van Gogh lived in Arles for many years, and some of his most famous paintings are of different scenes around town.  You can do the walking tour, and see 10 different paintings along the way.  It was really neat to see literally the spaces that appear in the paintings that we all know so well.  In the one below, you can see the tall building on the left that's behind the little yellow house in the painting.  He lived in the yellow house, which has since burned down.  You can also see the bridge in the background if you look closely...

The easel below is showing the painting Cafe Terrace at Night in the Place de Forum.  Today it's been renamed the Cafe Van Gogh.  This is one of my favorite Van Gogh paintings, and to be standing in the very spot that inspired it was really cool.

This one is the gardens of the hospital that he was in after he cut off his ear.  There are 10 total throughout the town that you can see, including Starry Night over the Rhone.  Being a Van Gogh fan, this was a really interesting thing to do, we both really enjoyed it.

Of the towns we visited, Lacoste was one of the prettier ones but very quiet...we were practically the only people out and about!

This was the only place open!  And there were about 10 people there, including the bartender.  We stopped for a beer and espresso and to enjoy the amazing view...

(note that the trees behind me are in focus and not me...thanks to my personal photographer for that one.)
Lourmarin was one of our other favorites of the small towns that we visited.  It was busier with shops and restaurants around town.  We found a fantastic cafe for lunch - La Place de Delices.  The menu de jour was again just delicious.  

We ordered one of each and shared the dishes, which is totally the way to go because you get to try it all!  Everything was fantastic - and we really loved the concept of a long, filling and leisurely lunch.

We love rose, and really took advantage of it's popularity in Provence.  It was fantastic how much 'house wine' was around.  It's very afordable, and they just serve it in carafes. 

One afternoon we took some time to do a nice hike and get some exercise - we had to work off all the food we ate! We hiked up to see Fort Buoux, which was built in the 13th century.  The ruins and views were great...and the 'steep staircase' was very steep!

So many of the towns were up high on the side of a mountain, which provided amazing views of the valley and the Rhone river.

We drove to the top of Mont Ventoux one morning - it was beautiful and so clear, it seemed like you could see for days.  You could even see the Alps in the distance!

Gigondas was a quiet but beautiful town.  We had another big lunch at L'Oustalet, which was just amazing.  We really didn't have a bad meal while we were in France.  Their mushroom risotto was possibly the best dish we had the entire time we were there.  

The town of Apt was very nice, and where we had our apartment.  It was much larger and more vibrant than some of the other smaller mountain towns.  It was pretty dead in the evenings after about 7pm, but when we took the time to explore the shops during the day, it was lovely.  The streets were just wide enough for our car...

The main street had lots of beautiful stores, including these two that I wanted to buy everything from!

Our apartment was fantastic - it was on the first floor of this building.  It was part of the La Madone Inn, which was just stunning.  

The other apartments within the inn were a couple of blocks away across the canal in the main building, but we were right in the center of the town.  It was very reasonably priced, and we had a full kitchen.  We bought a bunch of vegetables and other food so we were able to make our own dinners.  It was great to have a light salad at night, relax, and not eat too much after our big lunches.

The owner invited us over one night to have an aperitif of pastis and rose.  She invited everyone staying in the inn that week.  The other groups included a mother-son pair from Canada and 2 older couples from Australia.  I'm not sure she and her husband expected us to stay so long, but we got along so well with the Australians that we were there all night!  The evening concluded with a tour of the apartments in the house - and each was just so different and stunning.

We had an absolutely fantastic time in Provence, and in Barcelona.  I tried to share some of my favorite things and places, but that turned into a month of posts!  I didn't even cover it all.  If you're planning a trip to either, please let me know - I'd love to talk to you about your trip!  

And now back to your regularly scheduled program!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dinner on a Provencal farm

One of my favorite things we did was dinner on our last night.  We went up the mountain to Le Castelas in Sivergues.  The drive was a little hairy, but definitely worth it once we were there.  It was just getting dark as we got to the farm, which is a working goat farm.  

While the 2 men working didn't speak much English, we made it work ok.  We were greeted with a pitcher of sangria to enjoy outside while the sun set - that translates into any language!

For a long time, there was just 2 other couples there and us.  We all retreated inside with a beautiful fire.  

They just have a set menu each night, based on what's fresh in the markets and on the farm.  We started with all of this food!!  Pate, proscuitto, wonderful rustic bread, roasted red peppers, roasted fennel, and a pitcher of house wine. 

Dinner was roasted lamb.  It was amazing - the setting and the food were both fantastic.  Then they brought this huge platter of different goat cheeses, served with herbs and lavendar honey.

As we were enjoying the cheese, we got to talking with the 2 other couples who were there, and a big group of about 15 people came in for dinner.  They also have guest accommodations at the farm, and the big group was staying the night.  They were old college friends who get together a couple of times from all over Europe a year with their spouses and children - what a fun tradition! 

Desert was a simple apple tart, and the remainder of our house wine.   

The simplicity and authenticity of this restaurant was fantastic.  It's definitely an adventure to find, and very small and special. It was a fantastic last night in Provence! 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Richmond Thanksgiving

We traveled to Richmond to spend Thanksgiving with my parents again this year.  Mom hosts the big dinner on Thursday with our family.  This year, we had 15 people join us, including my aunt, uncle, 2 cousins, 2 cousin-in-laws, 4 kids and my mother in law.

The food as usual was amazing!  Such great cooks in this family!

We made a 18lb turkey for the group.  We also had mashed potato casserole, corn pudding, inside and outside stuffing, green beans, pretzel salad, sweet potato casserole, cranberry turkeys and both corn and pumpkin muffins.  We all sit at the same table, which is getting more challenging as our family continues to grow, but we make it work!

Then for desert we had 2 pumpkin pies from my aunt and then I made a pecan pie, apple pie, and Nutella pound cake.  All completed with some homemade whip cream!

I love Thanksgiving - it is really one of my favorite days of the year.  Being at home with my parents and our family, continuing traditions that we have shared for years with wonderful food - it doesn't get much better! 
We have so much to be thankful for this year!  I hope you had a great holiday weekend with your friends and families.

Avignon wine tour

As many times as we've done wine travel, we've never signed up for a formal tour.  As I mentioned before, French wine is intimidating to us - so we knew we wanted to schedule a tour while we were in Provence.

Wednesday was our big winery tour with Avignon Wine Tours.   We met them right in the town of Avignon and joined up with 2 other couples from Canada.  David was our guide, and had been a sommelier for 16 years.  He was absolutely fantastic - we can't say enough good things about him.  He lead the whole tour, even in the wineries.  He gave us so many great tips on tasting wine.

This tour was solely of the Chatneaunuf de Pape AOC, which is one of the more popular ones in the Rhone Valley.  We started the tour in the vineyards, looking at how rocky the soil was.  The rocky terroir is one of the factors that really sets Chateaunuf de Pape apart from the others.  

Our first winery was at Domaine de Beaurenard.  It was one of our favorites of the day.

David was fantastic - you can see him way ahead in the white shirt.  He was very patient with everyone's questions and photo taking.  He really took time to explain so many details to us, and we really learned a lot.  Even with as much traveling as we've done, he taught us so much about making and tasting wine.  We learned how to look at the color of the wine and tell the age, smell it before swirling and then after and tell the difference, and to determine the climate of the vintage by the legs.

After Beaurenard, we went to Brotte.  It was right next door.  They have a big tour of the history of wine in the area, which was interesting.  But the wines were our least favorite of the day, for the whole group.

Then it was lunch time with some amazing views - some of the prettiest of the whole trip.

Lunch was amazing - another fantastic one!  It was another set menu, and everyone really raved over it.  It was a lamb stew, and the second one of the week we'd had - really incredible. 

We stopped back in the vineyards afterwards to see a better example of the rocky soil - it was just amazing.  The stones were everywhere.  They are heated by the sun and then keep the ground and roots warm, even when the air temperature is cool and windy.

Next stop was Roger Sabon, which we all loved as well.  Walking through the halls they have storage of very old bottles - it was really cool to see them aging wines from before we were born!

They also had lots of concrete tanks, as well as huge wooded ones.

The final stop was Clos Saint Michel.  It was just lovely!  Since we've returned we've been able to find several of their wines in Total Wine, which is really exciting!  

We went to a few others the next day, including Moulin de Gardette, in the Gigondas AOC, which we loved.  They have a tasting room set up in the town of Gigondas. The girl who we met with was really knowledgable and her English was very good.  We really enjoyed meeting with her.  

We also went to a tasting room that has the current vintage of each of the wines that are in the Gigondas AOC.  It's a great idea, and would be perfect replicated here in Virginia, or areas that wineries are spread all over.  They had these little bottles to do the tastings, and then you could purchase anything that you had tasted.  They could have had a lot more information about the different wines, and in different languages - the girl working wasn't allowed to sway us or tell us anything about the different wines.  Plus she didn't speak any English, which was a little tricky. 

Then we headed up to Domaine de Mourchon.  Located in the small, picturesque town of Seguret at the base of Mount Ventoux, Domaine de Mourchon is owned by the McKinlays, a Scottish family.  They bought the property in 1998.  We met with the owner of the winery, Walter McKinlay.  It was nice after a week of French to talk with someone who'd native language was English!

The facilities were beautiful, and adjacent to the tasting room.  The wines were lovely - we greatly enjoyed our time with Walter and tasting the wine.

The Tavel area is very well known for it's roses, and since we love roses, we visited a few of those wineries.  It was lovely, but kind of a rushed visit.  If we go back, I would love to spend more time in the Tavel region.  But I am very much looking forward to finding some Tavel roses here in the states and trying them!

I am so glad that we took some time to get to know the Rhone Valley and learn about French wines.  I am still completely intimidated by Burgundy and Bordeaux, but I feel that I have learned so much already.  I feel that it's so much more tangible, and look forward to exploring French wine even more!