Germany – Land of Words We Don’t Understand

The next stop on our adventure was the Moselle region of Germany. The Moselle river is a tributary of the Rhein river. It’s in a beautiful valley and is known for Riesling. It took us about 3 and a half hours to get there. We arrived early afternoon to a beautiful day.

Villa Vinum – Cochem, Germany

I booked this hotel before we left on our trip (it’s the tall building closest to the river in the photo). Phil was very concerned about it. He cross referenced the hotel with a couple of travel websites and didn’t like some of the photos of the rooms he saw. In fact, he emailed the hotel about the photos on the website and they assured him our room would be lovely. It had such good ratings and reviews in multiple languages that we booked it and I’m so glad we did. The hotel is simply beautiful.

Our room was spacious and modern in an old world elegant building. I love the clean lines, the simple use of white duvet covers, grays with a splash of color.

Huge room, high ceilings and great windows
Not only is it very comfortable after a long day on my feet but also I don’t have to fight for my share of the comforter

The bed was super comfortable which is important after a long day of hiking/walking. The breakfast was plentiful. We’d easily be able to make sandwiches and pack a lunch here.  And if you wanted, they had a great honor bar for drinks and snacks. I would along with a ton of people on trip advisor would highly recommend this hotel.

Things to Do in Cochem

On the afternoon we arrived, we walked along the river and explored the tiny streets of the old town. It’s lovely, as if it were straight out of a fairy tale.

Beautiful streets
out of the pages of a fairy tale

Just a little history…the town was originally settled in 886. Louis XIV’s troops completely destroyed the castle in 1689 by burning it down.  It was occupied by Napoleon in 1794. It remained  under French rule until 1815. At which time it became part of Prussia. The castle was a ruin for 200 years.

The Imperial Castle dominates the landscape. It is spectacular.

Phil took this shot – it shows beautifully how the castle dominates the landsape

We took the guided tour. The tour was mostly conducted in German but the tour guide provided us with a printed guide in English (and one in Dutch for the Dutch folks and one in Spanish for the Spanish folks….) and she would periodically speak to us in English when there was something particular she wanted us to see or understand. The tour was great; one of the best we’ve been on. The castle is a magnificent.

From everywhere in the town, the castle is always visible

Here’s the background on it. The castle ruins were purchased by Louis FrĂ©deric Jacques RavenĂ© in 1866. I’m not certain who one purchases runs from; especially in this case with the non-standard changes in ownership that the castle had experienced over the prior 300 years or so. But he bought it and reconstructed the exterior of the castle according to old plans and images of the castle. He changed the inside, not the façade.  Inside it is a 19th century chateau.

The castle is so photogenic – it’s hard to refrain from showing you tons of pictures
Inside is beautiful as well

In 1942, the descendants of RavenĂ© were forced “to sell” the castle to the Reich. Since 1978 the castle has belonged to the town of Cochem. There is constant restoration work going on in the castle, in fact we got to see some of the work being done.

As with any home, you’re never done
Tedious work done by hand – you need a good eye and a strong back

The restoration company also does a little Marketing….

Brochures for tour visitors to take if they need to get their castle restored….

The weather was beautiful while we were in Cochem. In fact it has been warmer than usual. We checked in with the local tourist office to see what walking/hiking circuits were in the area. Let me tell you this isn’t France, the woman was less than helpful. She did give us a map. We asked her if the trails were well marked she didn’t know. She told us where it started and was done with us. As it turns out they are marked, in fact there are markers right in front of the tourist office. Perhaps, she’s never noticed them or maybe her English isn’t all that good….Perhaps not.

Trails were marked in the town, in the hills, all around

Well enough of that, we planned to walk up the mountain to get a good view of the river valley. There’s a chair lift, but that’s not for us, we were walking up. Thank goodness we had our poles with us. The night before we left we went back and forth, do we take our poles or not? The problem with our poles (soon not to be the problem with mine as one of the handles broke in the CĂ©vennes incident) is they don’t fit in our luggage. There are newer ones that fold up smaller than ours, but until this trip ours were in perfectly good shape and I couldn’t bring myself to spend $200 each on new poles when we had perfectly good poles. So instead I spent $50 on a new duffle bag to carry them in. The path was incredibly steep and rocky. I don’t sweat a lot usually, it drives Phil crazy, I was dripping with sweat on this trek. The views were certainly worth it.

We had packed sandwiches at breakfast and ate on a big lounge chair bench.

Rolling hills for as far as we could see

After lunch we ventured a little further, to find nothing but switchbacks going down. We knew we didn’t have time (nor would Phil’s knee make it) to go to the next site, so we would basically be going down, just to go no where, turn around and come back up. That seemed crazy; we agreed and headed back in the direction we came. At the top of the chair lift was a cafĂ©, we stopped for some refreshments before taking the lift down. This is where Phil had his first Kaffe Macchiato in Germany.

The brown building on the left is Zum Onkel Willi

Restaurant Scene: Cochem, Germany

Burg-Hotel

I can’t and wouldn’t recommend the hotel. It’s a 3 star hotel and has a 2.7 rating on Google. Stay away! But for lunch it was good. We can’t complain. We ate out on the terrace overlooking the Moselle River. Phil had a bowl of soup to start. Beef soup with some knödels (dumplings). He enjoyed it. We both ordered the Salat Thunfishch. It was a huge mixed salad with tuna and it was great.   The salad was salads within a salad. It included some delicious German potato salad, a great cucumber salad (on the list and he ate most of it) and a mixed salad with lots of vegetables. The tuna was wonderful. It was an excellent choice. Phil had his first German beer of the trip and was in heaven.

A great salad – all the vegetables tasted as if they were picked that morning
View from the terrace of the Burg-Hotel

Zum Onkel Willi

Our hotel recommended this restaurant. They made reservations for us at eight. Germans tend to eat a little earlier than the French so by eight you’d expect to see the place full with people. On the walk over we passed a Mexican restaurant that was just hoppin, so we expected to see the same thing here. When we arrived, it wasn’t all that crowded I have to admit I was concerned; I was also hungry.

The server gave us our menus and proceeded to tell us that he only spoke German and Italian. He also made it pretty clear he wasn’t speaking Italian to the Americans. The menu was completely in German. I do recognize that we are in Germany and if a German were in the US they would have a snowball’s chance in hades to find a German menu, so there is no value judgment here at all.  We could sort of kind of figure out big sections, like Pork (Schweine), Beef (Rumpsteak), and Fish (Fisch) but any deeper than that it was all Greek, no German to us. We also are familiar with the word schnitzel.   The server was no help. We ordered our aperitifs – a beer and a kir and got to work with google translate. I am not kidding you, it took us 30 minutes to decipher what we wanted to eat. At this point, we’re not sure or what we are ordering in a restaurant that is practically empty and we’re using our data on the French phone. It’s so comical thinking back on it, it wasn’t at the time.

30 intensive minutes of work and we we’re totally certain of what we had ordered

We both started with soup. I had cream of white asparagus soup. It Asparagus Season: Spargelzeit and spargel menus are everywhere. My soup was great. I also didn’t need any help to translate this one – “Spargelcremesuppe”. It was terrific. I was pleased with my choice and thinking the hotel hadn’t steered us wrong.

So far so good….

Phil had a vegetable soup. It was pureed. It was good too.

It’s hard to believe that it took us 30 minutes for Phil to decide to have a steak with mushroom gravy, frites, and green beans. It came with a side green salad. His meal was terrific.

I had pork schnitzel, with potatoes (looked like McDonald’s hash browns) in a mushroom cream sauce. I didn’t come close to finishing it, but it was really good. No dessert tonight. We were stuffed. It was very good.

Huge portions…Hearty food

Neos Restaurant | Weinbar

We decided to do a little research on our restaurant the second night. Phil found Neos, it had good google and trip advisor ratings. We asked the hotel to make reservations and they told us it was new and they had heard very good things about it. Works for us. Turns out they also had cards for the restaurant on their counter.

While we were walking around we scouted out the restaurant. Phil snapped a photograph of the menu they were displaying and spent at least 45 minutes in the afternoon translating.

We arrived at 8PM and were greeted by our server who spoke remarkable English. We sat on the patio. The weather was warm. The sun was still high in the sky. The view of the river was great. The server brought us English menus. I’m still not sure if Phil was happy (he’d be sure he knew what he was eating or angry to have wasted all that time where he could have been playing his guitar). Beer and peach aperitif to start with some fresh out of the oven bread with garlic cream.

Hot out of the oven
Peach liquor from Cochem – I don’t think we will find this in California

Phil started with cream of asparagus soup. After last night and all that food, I opted out of an appetizer. I tasted his soup. These Germans can really make good Spargelcremesuppe!

I was the carnivore tonight. A filet with boiled potatoes and you guessed it white asparagus topped with hollandaise sauce. As I am writing this we are about 20 minutes from going to dinner and I’d love to be transported back to this meal. The steak was perfectly medium rare. The asparagus were tender and the hollandaise was light and wonderful. I’m sure the potatoes were good, they just weren’t the star of the meal.

Yum-oh!

Phil was feeling like a little Italian tonight. Pasta with shellfish in a light wine sauce. I heard no complaints from the other side of the table.

All Phil’s favorites – pasta and shellfish

It was getting cool so we moved inside for an espresso. Our server shared with us that he learned English in school.  The game changer for him was a few years back an English couple spent a ton of time at the restaurant and bolstered his confidence.  Often, confidence is the key to fluency.  He no longer worried about making mistakes, he just spoke.  On our way back to the hotel we stopped for gelato at Gelateria Fratelli Bortolot. Their website is giving a 404 error so here’s their address Moselpromenade 1. It was delicious and reasonable priced. We were predictable, Phil had chocolate and I had coffee.

Gelateria Fratelli Bortolot. Moselpromenade 1

We spent two nights in Cochem. It was long enough. We could have stayed longer and done more hiking. It would have been beautiful, but we were off to Heidelberg to catch up with more good friends and meet their new son.

Here are a few more photos that I just love…

The frog is really a lion in armor
Louis Fréderic Jacques Ravené and his family
View of the other side of the river
View from the castle
Us at the castle
An unexpected good thing – Spargel Season in Germany

 

Nothing’s Better Than Spending Time With Friends – Return to Lorraine

It’s been three years since we’ve seen Regis, Marie, Justin, Timo and Jade. Justin was fifteen and the twins, Timo and Jade were 5. We were so looking forward to seeing them that we had no trouble rousing ourselves early, getting a quick run in and were on the road by 9:30. They were expecting us in Blainville sur l’eau at 12:30 for lunch.

The ride was mostly highway and the GPS had us arriving right at 12:30. Perfect for Phil as his preference is to be very, very punctual. All was going according to schedule, (What could go wrong?) until we actually arrived in Blainville sur l’eau. There was a street fair happening and we needed to turn right but it was blocked off, now what? We snaked our way around and the GPS finally said we had arrived, Phil thought we needed to make one more left, I wasn’t sure and as I got out of the car I could see Regis and Marie sitting at their patio table. We had actually arrived. The street fair, which we later found out is an annual event, started just two doors down from their home. Fortunately for us they were outside the perimeter.

Regis and Marie have done a lot of work on the house and garden. It looks even better than it did the last time we were there. We were so happy to see them. And the kids, oh my Justin has grown up, he is eighteen, driving and getting ready to hopefully go to Medical School. It’s different in France from the US, here you go straight to medical training, no undergraduate degree first. The twins, are just adorable – still adorable but more in an 8ish sort of way as opposed to a 5ish sort of way. We got our kisses on each cheek from everyone, a quick tour of the work they had done in the house since the last time we were here. There were also presents for my birthday something that was totally unexpected. I was thrilled. Immediately upon our arrival Marie asked for our laundry. It was so nice of her. She knew how long we had been on the road and knew it would help us out to do a load at their house. So very considerate of her.

Portuguese Feast

We felt so honored to be invited to Sunday dinner at Regis and Marie’s house. Our experience is that the Sunday meal is for family. The table was all set when we arrived and once again, Marie out did herself. We were having a Portuguese feast. Marie is of Portuguese decent. Regis had asked us weeks ago if we wanted French or Portuguese. We figured a change of pace would do us good this far into the trip. Everything was great and I’m hoping I can remember everything because I’m certain Regis and Marie will be reading this.

They were waiting for us to arrive

We started with olives and cherry tomatoes. There were also bean like things (nothing like being articulate) – a sort of cross between a butter bean and edamame, the color of butter beans, the consistency of edamame and the taste may have been a cross of the two. Fun to eat and tasty – just like edamame. There were also two varieties of empanadas: pulled baby pork and fish. Both were great. Last but not least Marie had purchased a fish pate; If my memory serves me right it was made from sardines. I could be making this up. But I shared a tin of it with Phil and we both liked it on bread.

That’s Marie and Regis

All of the wines today would be Portuguese, because that’s what one drinks with a Portuguese meal. There was a bit of a discussion over who makes the best wine; we agreed this was the best wine for this meal.  We started with a White Port. I’ve never had White Port before, I sure hope I get to have it again. It was the perfect aperitif, it paired perfectly with the appetizers, and it was easy drinking on a hot afternoon.

Marie had enough food to feed a small army. We thought this was dinner. Next thing we know, she’s bringing out an enormous casserole.

It’s as big as it looks

It was absolutely delicious. The perfect brunch food. I don’t know the name in Portuguese, I don’t think I asked. It was shredded potatoes and fish, with scrambled eggs on top and cured black olives. All baked in the oven. Incredibly filling and just as delicious. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. We added a little salt, Regis added some vinegar, it was just great.

The perfect brunch food

For everyone out there who is born around the span of years that Phil and I were born, you are not going to believe the wine we had with the main course.   Take a look at the bottle, you’ll all know it right away. It’s probably the first wine you ever drank and you were probably under age.

That’s Justin and No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you – it’s Mateus

Yes, it is Mateus and as the bottle indicates Mateus, The Original. It’s not the same stuff we drank as teenagers, but it’s from the same maker.   It was flavorful and light and paired well with the casserole. Another really easy drinking wine. That’s Justin opening the wine for us. While he is 18 and could drink in France, he is choosing not to. You ask, “why?”. Well it seems it costs a ton of money to get your driver’s license in France. It’s not like in the States and Justin is a good kid and he recognizes the sacrifices that Marie and Regis have made for him. They take drinking and driving very seriously here and he doesn’t want to mess it up for himself so he’s has decided not to drink. Very mature, he should make an excellent physician.

Regis remembered that “Phil loves cheese”. There was a cheese course. I love cheese too, but we were stuffed. There’s always room for some cheese and some dessert.

Phil loves cheese

The dessert was a real treat. It was similar to a flan. It was delicious. I had a not too big of a piece and thinking back on it now wish I could have another piece. The meal was just great. I actually think we had another bottle of wine, a red wine but I’m just not sure.

Good Friends

It was as if we had seen Regis and Marie three weeks ago, not three years ago. We so love being with them. The conversation is easy. More French, a little less English this time. Last time we had to rely on some Spanish as well (Marie speaks Spanish), but not this time. I hope that is partially because my French has improved. We talked about world events, politics in both France and the United States, surprising decision of the UK to leave the EU and the defeat of Le Pen in France. The kids were at the table sometimes, Justin joined in when he had something to add. He has a fascination with the United States. He believes “everything is better in the US”, I hope we can live up to his belief. We talked about the difference between going to Medical School in the US and in France. He was completely blown away by how much it costs in the US to go to Medical School compared to France. He might have a better appreciation for at least the education system in his home country.

That’s Jade (“Jaahd”)

Regis’ parents stopped by. They had gone to the street fair. Regis grew up no too far from Blainville sur l’eau. Both his parents are very warm and engaging. The Regis apple didn’t fall from the tree. We enjoyed talking with Regis’ parents; they really don’t speak English and we were alone with them for a while so I got a work on speaking and concurrent translation.

As it turns out the street fair is an annual community sponsored event. It sort of a cross between a flea market, carnival, farmer’s market and food festival – all wrapped up into one. I think the twins had been waiting all day to go. Among the first of the neighbors we ran into was the security officer at the twins elementary school. All the kids were thrilled to see him. Turns out he runs the summer program that many of the neighborhood kids attend. His appearance is “a little out there” but the kids were swarming him as if he were a rock star.

The kids were just swarming him

Timo and Jade wanted to go on one of the rides. It was a trampoline like contraption. Timo was first up and was fearless.

Jade was a little more timid at the start but really got the hang of it. They had a great time. We took a gazillion photos and videos of them. It was hard not to they were having such a wonderful time. It wasn’t clear to me exactly how long the ride would last, as it turns out I think it lasts until someone else pays to ride. The twins were flying high a good long time.

Just give her a second
Having Fun

We walked the full length of the fair. The kids including Regis had a slushy. They played a shoot the dart gun and pop the balloon game. Both kids won a prize. They were ecstatic.

Regis pointed out the neighborhood craft brewery, making and selling traditional beers of Lorraine just doors from their home.

It was disturbing and comforting at the same time, to see that the Neighborhood Association was concerned with security. This tiny town street fair took precautions with barriers to keep vehicles from plowing into the festivities.

Our world has certainly changed

Dinner anyone?

Back from the street fair, we enjoyed their backyard. We watched Olaf their cat hunt butterflies in the garden.

Phil getting some pointers from Justin

Marie gave us a few French pronunciation lessons. Jade gave a little concert. And we just kept talking and looking at photos. Marie wants us to visit Portugal. She did a great job convincing us that we need to go to Northern Portugal – from Porto north as Southern Portugal isn’t really Portugal — “too many foreigners”. We had some more wine and snacks. We looked at more photos and Marie made recommendations for places we should visit on our trip.

Let It Go from Frozen as Performed by Jade

Phil and Regis had a “Desperado” – a bottled tequila flavored beer. We were so surprised to see a “French tequila flavored beer”.   This warrants a little beersplanation. This beer was originally made by the French brewing company Fischer Brewery, it is now produced by a Croatian producer Karlovacko Brewery which is majority owned by Heineken International. The beer is a pale lager beer with 5.9% alcohol and is tequila favored. There’s clearly a market for it in France; we’ve seen it around. Phil assures me that Tecate, Corona, Pacifica, Dos Equis…and Patron, Casa Dragones, Don Julio, Casamigos probably won’t be introducing any line extensions.

Marie kept asking if we wanted dinner. They’d barbecue. We were still stuffed. We finally agreed to revisit the food from lunch. The tradition in their house is to give Marie Sunday night off from cooking. The kids had prepared their own dinners. All of them were eating cereal and watching TV. After all, tomorrow was a school day. Everything was great a second time including the cheese. “Phil loves cheese.’ They were so gracious. I think for all of us dinner just prolonged the day. Marie had one last Portuguese dish up her sleeve.   She had these little custard pies. We had seen photos of them earlier when she was doing her Portugal sales pitch. As full as we were, they were quite tasty.

We were so stuffed, they were so good

Right after we said our hellos this afternoon, we drove our car to the Chambre d’Hotes in LunĂ©ville that we would be staying at. The plan was for Regis to drive us back to his house for the afternoon and then take a cab back after dinner. Fortunately, Regis hadn’t had anything to drink at dinner. He couldn’t get a cab for us and he ended up taking us back. It was a good plan, we just didn’t execute it well. We stayed at the same place last time – La Condamine. We had the same big beautiful room in this magnificent house right in town. According to their website, this is a former royal residence from the 18th century. The château had one of the most “brilliant courtyards” in Europe and that it is a typical château of the period. I can’t speak for the “most brilliant courtyards” but I can tell you that we feel as if we have been transported back in time when we stay here.

It’s a regal residence, the room is charming, the bed is comfortable and our bathroom is huge. This time we met the lady of the house, Madame Strazielle. She was welcoming when we arrived. She was so excited. Not because we had come back but because there was a cigogne (stork) in her tree. She explained to us that these birds don’t typically spend any time in LunĂ©ville, I explained to her that perhaps he was scouting out a vacation spot for the family and her tree looked good.

Hunting for a Nest and Breakfast for the Family Vacation

My run through Lunéville was a tad chilly, but it was worth it to see the sun just up and shining o the Chateau de Lunéville. After breakfast, our first stop, was the tourist office. We explained to the agent we wanted to walk. She provided us with more options than we could ever do in a week. We choose one that required no driving and took us out of the village/city center. We strolled through little forests and meadows. We saw farm animals and horses.

We ended up back at the Chateau and decided it was time for lunch. It was getting late and if we didn’t get seated by 2PM – there’d be “No lunch for you”. On the main street through town there was a restaurant with inviting seating on a patio in front of the restaurant, it was so inviting that it was full. 2PM was fast approaching, so we opted to eat inside. From a dĂ©cor perspective, the restaurant was kinda hip, modern and old world French rolled into one. I was hoping for something light. They were offering a citrus marinated salmon that Phil insisted was “right up my alley”. He convinced me to order it. They were out of it, the woman at the table across from us snagged the last piece. Oh well, we both started with Quiche – after all we are in Lorraine. So it was in fact authentic Quiche Lorraine with a green salad. It was really good, the lardons were rich and bacony (yes, it’s word) and the custard was creamy.

Quiche Lorraine – The real deal

Phil had a hankering for a burger, so it was a “Burger lorrain” for him. I was thrown off a bit when there was no salmon, so I asked for the vegetarian plate. It was good, but not what I expected: pasta and rice, white asparagus, stewed tomatoes and sautĂ©ed red and green peppers. The vegetables were terrific, all fresh probably locally grown. The rice was light and fluffy and the pasta was pasta.   The asparagus is in season, the tomatoes were rich and the peppers spicy.   I finished my veggies not the other stuff. Phil reported that the burger was good, the cheese a little too strong for his taste (remember it was a “Burger lorrain”) and the frites were plentiful and delicious. Even the ketchup was good.

Looks good!

After lunch we took in a few more sights in town and I tried to get a manicure. It’s been 3 weeks since I’ve had one. Gel is wonderful but has it’s limits. Well guess what?  You can’t just walk in and get a manicure, every shop (all 2) were fully booked for the day. Lesson learned, where ever I decide I’m going to try again, be prepared to make an appointment. I’m thinking Cologne next week, we’re there for 3 days.

Nancy

Regis and Marie just gush with pride over Nancy. We visited the city when we first met Regis years ago but didn’t return last time. We agreed that seeing the city in the evening would be spectacular. So, Phil and I took a cab from LunĂ©ville to Nancy to meet Regis, Marie, Timo and Jade for dinner. Regis would try to make reservations, for Italian.

The cab ride took about 35 minutes we were expecting a 15 minute ride. We might have driven had we realized that, but the good news was we didn’t have to worry about driving home after dinner. We arrived around 6:45 PM and were stunned by the beauty of the city. Neither one of us had remembered how beautiful it was. We walked through quaint streets and then strolled through the public park.

Fairy tale city

People were out just enjoying the spectacular evening. Teenagers on the lawns, having a picnic. Families out with bicycles and scooters. Couples walking hand in hand and older folks sitting on the park benches. I almost tripped on a bird just hanging out.\\

Just lounging in the park

At first we didn’t realize it was a male peacock. And then we got quite a show.  You’ve got to watch this.

It was time for dinner after the show. We met the family at the statue of King Stanislaus and proceeded to look for a place to eat. All the places Regis knew for Italian were closed, “it’s Monday”. Up and down the little streets we went until we found a place were we could sit outside and get pizza and a salad. It was just perfect, being together again and sharing a meal and more stories.

We started with an aperitif. Timo knew exactly what he wanted. It was a mint concoction. Jade concurred and had one as well. Phil, Regis and I had the traditional aperitif of the region – sparkling wine with mirabelle; Marie had framboise in hers.

Timo and his pizza
Jade, her pizza and aperitif
Good food, great friends

The pizzas were great. We needed the salad. We walked around the square at night; it was even more beautiful illuminated. Marie says the light show in the summer is just amazing. Something we’ll need to see.

The square at night

The company was terrific and I just didn’t want the night to end. Fortunately, the twins had no school the next day (holiday commemorating the end on WW2) and Regis and Marie were on vacation, but unfortunately it did have to end. We were having trouble finding a cab, so we walked to where Regis and Marie had parked. Marie works for Accor. One of her sister properties let her park at their hotel. They called us a cab and took this photo for us.

A bientĂ´t

It was really hard to say goodbye. We can’t wait to see them again.

Before we head out to Germany, there are a few more photos that you should see::

This one is just too pretty
Ever wonder what the other side looks like? It’s pretty too
Bisous bisous -A la prochaine

 

 

My Birthday In Burgundy!

We were concerned that five days in the French Wilderness would be too long. As is always the case, after days of hiking when it is time to leave we never want to go. This was no exception. But, the good news is our next stop is Chagny-en-Bourgogne (Southern Burgundy). We know the area, love the hotel and can’t wait to eat in Chagny. The ride would normally take about five hours, we extended it a bit by dropping Angelique and Dominique off in Alès. They needed to pickup one of their cars from the repair shop and do some shopping. We left Dominque at the garage and Angelique at the “Bio” shop. This goodbye wasn’t too bad as we are sure we’ll be back. Why wouldn’t we? Good friends, good hiking, good food and good wine…

On the road to Chagny, we discussed where we would eat. We had reservations for Saturday night, my birthday, at the restaurant at the hotel. A Michelin 3 star restaurant that we just adore. This was the first starred restaurant we ever ate in years ago. We’ve been back a few times since and two things are important to note. One: This place set the bar for all fine dining for us and Two: It has never disappointed us and it continues to be the bar! The question was the other two nights. Phil and I are so in tune with this area that not only did we agree on which restaurants to eat in the other two nights but we were totally in synch as to which one which night.

Maison Lameloise – The Hotel

We arrived at the hotel. The gentleman who met us is the same man who greeted us the last two times and possibly the first time we had dinner there many years ago. We splurged on the room this time. Not necessarily because we wanted to, but because when Phil emailed for reservations all the “standard” rooms were booked. Yes, we could have moved things around on the trip, but I really wanted to spend my birthday here.

Maison Lameloise – 71150 Chagny, France

Our room is big, beautiful and comfortable. There are cookies and pastries on the coffee table you arrive and they are replaced daily. The frig is stocked with 1664 Beer, Perrier, Aqua Panna, and Pellegrino. Drink as much as you want, they’ll refill it free of charge. Well actually nothing is free, but at least it is included in the price of the room. The Wi-Fi is very good. We’ve survived the transition from remote luxury to Burgundian luxury. The hotel made reservations for us for dinner at two restaurants right in town for the nights we wanted at more or less the times we wanted.

Great big sitting room
Great big bed too!

We walked around a town that is so familiar to us. It was sad to see that the yarn shop is closing, but we were encouraged to see new restaurants open where others had been closed. With only had a few nights here, we were sticking with our favorites. We had a cocktail in the square right across the from the hotel. We missed Pierre and Angelique and Dominique for cocktails but felt obligated to keep up the tradition. It was a bit chilly. We were happy.

After that long drive Phil was ready for a beer…
…and I was just in a happy place!

Walking in Burgundy

When we stay in Chagny our goal is to give the car to the valet and not see it again until we are packing it to leave. We think this is a bit unusual for the folks who stay at this hotel. They always seem surprised that we are just going to enjoy what we can get to by foot or bicycle. We love to walk through the vineyards and explore the towns along the canal (Canal du Centre) – no car for us.

Our first order of business was to go to the Tourist office and get a walking map. Practically every other tourist office that we visit in France shoves pamphlets, guides, and maps at you all for free. Not in Burgundy, here you have to pay 3 Euros for the Carte Rando – 31 Walking Trails for pedestrians. This isn’t one of the fancy IGN French Walking Maps that tells you every rock and vine on your route. No this is a map developed by the Office de Tourisme in Beaune.   Why do they do this, I guess the answer is simple, “Because they can”. I’m going to try to remember to keep it for next time.   While in the tourist office we asked the tourist lady the best way to walk to St. Aubin? She looked at us as if we were crazy. No, no, no you should drive there. We thanked her for her advice and set out for St. Aubin. The destination in St. Aubin was a wine shop that we had visited 3 years earlier. It had just opened up and represented a number of St. Aubin wineries. We love the crisp, minerally, citrusy whites from this area.

There was only one problem. We don’t have the name of the shop. I was pretty sure if we got to St. Aubin we could find it. But we figured technology could help us. We googled wine shops in St. Aubin, Phil looked at the pictures and said, “It’s this one”. Off we went, the walk started out a little hairy on the side of a pretty major road, but that didn’t last too long. Before we knew it we were walking among the vines and through small villages. As we were approaching our GPS destination I had a sinking feeling, nothing about this felt right. Perhaps we were entering the town from a different direction. But once we heard, you have reached your destination, I was certain, we weren’t in the right place. It was a lovely place and I’m sure this shop which focused on confiture was deserving of its positive google rating, but it wasn’t our wine shop. In fact, we weren’t in St. Aubin. We were in Chassagne-Montrachet. Home of really good white wines, “royalty in the wine world” and many times more expensive than the St. Aubin wines we were in search of.

Beautiful shop just not the one we are looking for

At this point, we put the town of St. Aubin into Google Maps and hoped for the best. The walk was beautiful. The weather had turned hot and the rain had stopped, there were a lot of workers tending to the vines as we walked. As we approached a busy road, I was certain I knew where we were. I said to Phil look we are here; I think he thought I was crazy. But as we approached the road, he saw what I saw, the sign for St. Aubin. Problem now was to find the shop. I remembered it as being high on a hill; Phil did not recall this at all.

I knew we were on the right track…

Apparently there are two areas of St. Aubin. Initially we were in Gamay, Commune of St. Aubin. I know this is how we entered St. Aubin the last time, but what I couldn’t clearly remember was how we ascended the hill. We didn’t find the shop. We were resigned to asking at the hotel if they knew where we wanted to go. A waiter had recommended this shop the last time. We were in a beautiful place and decided to just enjoy the walk. Then we saw trail markers to St. Aubin in a different direction and decided to follow them.

Maybe we’ll find it

We approached a church that neither of us recalled; we were disappointed that we couldn’t find the shop. Just as we turned the corner by the church, I knew we had found it. But it was closed. There was a sign on the door that said, if we’re not here just call us we are no more than 10 minutes away by car. I thought that odd, as the shop was connected to their home. We decided to eat our lunch and call after we finished.

It was hot, we walked a lot, but there was some good St. Aubin in our future…we hoped

It took a couple of tries with the French phone to dial properly, but we explained we were at the door and they said they’d come meet us straight away. We were perplexed but within 10 minutes a woman in an SUV pulled up and told us they had moved the store. They now have a bigger space; they still live in this location. Sèverine asked us where our car was to follow her and we explained we had walked. We hopped in her car and she drove us 10 minutes back to exactly where we had started in Gamay, Commune of St. Aubin. We stood in front of their store 2 hours earlier noting that they take American Express (so few places do – “Don’t leave home without it AND make sure you also bring your VISA”). We tasted the 2016 wines and they were delicious. We bought some 2014s because we heard they were amazing. She only had a few bottles left. We also bought some 2016s to cellar for a little while. Sèverine asked us if we wanted a ride back to Chagny. I feel bad we didn’t take her up on the offer. I really wanted to do some more walking and with Phil’s knees I should have insisted but I didn’t….

All that delicious wine – I love St. Aubin

We asked her if we could avoid that major road, she said yes just go through the vineyards. Not right through the grapes but alongside of the plantings. Seemed simple enough, we knew the general direction had the GPS and headed back to town. Once again, a beautiful walk. We went back through Chassagne-Montachet, GPS confirmed a waking route through the vineyards that avoided the busy road, perfect, what could go wrong? Well what went wrong was the fact that we had to cross train tracks. Normally not a problem, we came to the first pedestrian crossing and it was closed but a sign pointed to another crossing a ways further on. When we got to that one it was closed too. Phil kept his cool, but he was tired and his knee was bothering him. There was no way around, we looked. I read the notice and they were temporarily closed – beginning one week ago through the middle of September.

There’s no safe way around…

The next problem was no matter where we tried to reset the GPS it kept wanting to reroute us back through these crossings.   We switched the GPS?from walk to drive and it added 3.5 kilometers to the return journey. Not a good situation at all. The road it wanted us to turn on was far too busy to walk on. We noticed a dirt road that ran alongside of the paved road and decided to take it. How bad could it be? We passed through an area that looked like a graveyard for rusted out motorhomes and doublewides. Both Phil and I had the same thought, this is where when you get kidnapped they bring you, torture you, kill you, cut up your body and bury the pieces. We did ultimately have to cross those railroad tracks on the large road we were trying to avoid. We were exhausted, filthy and hungry when we got back to the hotel.

The next day to my surprise and with the help of ice and ibuprofen Phil was ready to walk again. This time we decided to go along the Voie Verte a protected bicycle path that goes along the canal. I run along this in the mornings. I just love it there are barges and boats docked along side, people riding bicycles, walking, and running along the way. You can leave the Voie Vert and venture into towns along the way. We decided to go to the closet town Santenay and do one of the walks on our map. The walk was named “The Windmill Circuit” and promised premier cru vineyards and an old restored windmill.   The woman at the tourist office assured us these walks were very well marked. What could go wrong? We couldn’t find the starting point. Once again it was the train tracks we had to deal with. This time we were looking for the train station/tourist office. We went back and forth twice and had we just turned around the first time we would have seen the train station/tourist office. The walk was worth it. It was beautiful, we ate our lunch sitting on a stone wall behind the restored windmill.

View from lunch
View from the other side

A great day, capped off with refreshments back in the Santenay square along with hikers, bikers and drinkers.

Restaurant Scene: Chagny, France

We are returning to all three of these restaurants. We have eaten in them multiple times over a number of years and have never been disappointed. This trip was no exception.

Pierre & Jean – Relaxed Elegance

This restaurant is right around the corner from the hotel and it is the hotel’s “little brother”. The current chef and owner of Lameloise is not from the original family. This more casual restaurant is an homage to the father who started Lameloise and the son who gained the first Michelin star.

We started with the House Aperitif. I love sparkling wine. For me, it’s like a party in a bottle. I like cava, prosecco, champagne, crĂ©mant de bourgogne …you get the picture. I also have developed a fancy for gin.   And who doesn’t like cherries. The ApĂ©ritif Maison was crĂ©mant & crème de griotte & trait de gin). It’s definitely a keeper – will need to keep my eyes open for crème de griotte. The amuse bouche was a pea purĂ©e and a cheese stick. If spring had a taste, it would be peas.

Oh that cocktail….

For a starter, Phil had traditional paté in pastry. I had the wining dish of the evening. At least from my perspective the marinated salmon was the winner.

Tastes even better than it looks

I could have had seconds on the salmon and been very happy. The salmon and avocado paired perfectly well. I love the different ways radishes were used. Both pickled for sweetness and raw for heat. The savory shortbread cracker just put it over the top.

Phil had veal as his main course. It was served with mushrooms, celery root (a favorite on my list), and chard.

I went for the chicken. Pintade or guinea fowl to be precise with creamy polenta, spring onions and radishes (once again pickled and fresh). The chicken was super moist, the polenta was rich and cheesy and the spring onions and radishes added some tang and heat. I loved it!

I never realized how delicious radishes can be

We were stuffed but it was a menu and there was dessert coming. Phil actually passed up the chocolate dessert and had the Millefeuille caramel beurre salĂ©. I was surprised but the server told him this was the dessert to have. It’s like a Napoleon with caramel mouse. I had something a bit lighter, but certainly delicious. Roasted pineapple, with mango sorbet and a tuille. It was heavenly.

You just couldn’t go wrong!

A great meal, in a place we love. Oh, the wine, I almost forgot. 2016 Mercurey 1er Cru – Les Byots – Domaine Brintet. Reasonably priced and terrific!

Le Grenier á Sel – The Place For All Things Grilled

Le Grenier á Sel is literally the salt attic. The place where salt was stored. Today it is a cozy, restaurant in the heart of Chagny that serves grilled dishes. Everything seems to be grilled except the salads and desserts. Every time we have been here there are tons of locals in the restaurant along with the tourists. This is not the place for vegans. Vegetarians could get by with salads and the sides but there’s lots of cheese and cream.

When you sit at your table they bring everyone a complimentary aperitif. For adults it is a Kir and for the kids some kind of fruit juice with a little sparkling water. That a long with a few olives is a nice way to start the evening. I had a salad with warm goat cheese to start and Phil had the locally cured ham. Both were terrific.

We were complete carnivores tonight. Rumpsteak with all the sides. They charge you and extra 3 Euros for the sides, we each ordered two and expected the sides to cost 12 Euros when the bill came it was 3 Euros each no matter how many sides you ordered. We ordered the frites, backed potato, green beans and carrot gratin. When all the food came to the table, I didn’t think there was a chance we’d finish it all. We did, this was the day we walked to St. Aubin and we were starving.

The carrots were good too

Everything was wonderful. To end this eating frenzy, Phil had his favorite profiteroles; they were filled with chocolate ice cream and swimming in warm chocolate sauce. I had a delicious apple tart.

There’s always room for profiteroles

Maison Lameloise – The Restaurant

Lameloise is a three star Michelin restaurant. We’ve been looking forward to this meal and it did not disappoint. We had our aperitif and amuse bouches in the lounge. The aperitif was delicious, it had crème de casis, aperol, cremant and some lemon flavored simple syrup. Did I mention it was delicious.

The first bites included popcorn with snail butter, it was like light escargot, a bowl of house cured green olives and some parsley lamb mustard jellied things. The mustard undertone was intense.

The next bite is my absolute favorite, I think it’s a classic. It’s a foie gras lollipop with coco powder mango jelly. Each time I have this, I think I really wish they’d bring me another.

I can’t explain how MAGNIFICENT this is

I’m not going to take you through the whole meal. You’ll be too hungry when I’m done. Here’s the menu.

I’ll point out a few things that I just loved.

Menu degustation

Crème anglaise au parfum de meurette | oeuf de caille

Yummy mushroom flavor

Petits Pois & Omble Chevalier

veloute de petits pois | omble mi-cuit arrose de ses sucs radis & fleurs | givre d’agrume
Peas are what Spring tastes like

Saint-Pierre & Verveine

blanc de Saint-Pierre cuit en vapeur douce & laque | asperges vertes & rhubarbe sabayon moutarde & verveine
Saint-Pierre is John Dory

Celeri & Ormeaux

compression de celery | foie gras & ormeaux | cresson de fontaine | morilles  bouillon parfume a la cazette

Agneau de Lait

cote & selle roties au pralin d’ail | feuille de pomme de terre & persil | fricassee de rattes fumes aux saments de vigne & onions rouge | jus perle

Fromages Frais & Affines

Cheese, cheese, cheese

Plasir sucre

The dessert before the dessert

Citron & Jasmin

mousse citronnee | tuile croustillante a l’amande | sorbet citron & granite au jasmin
That’s the mignardises & chocolats on the plate in the back

5 Mai 2018 – Chagny

Breakfast

Breakfast is pretty spectacular here too.  It’s served in your room or in the dining room.  Room service is so much fun.

There’s so much here we pack a lunch each day as well

We’re off to Lorraine to see our good friend Regis and Marie.  More on that soon.

Here’s a couple more pictures of Burgundy to enjoy.

I saw this on my morning run
These too
So we can ALWAYS find them in the future

 

Les CĂ©vennes – The French Wilderness

I have recently received a number of questions about “the list”. For those of you who regularly eat with Phil and me or have been reading my travel emails for years, you know there is a list of ingredients that Phil would just assume avoid. Some of our friends actually consult the list when we are coming to dinner, others (my preference) just ignore it and make what ever the heck they want to make. Phil is lucky to have such good friends.

Keep in mind that the list isn’t all that long, and I must admit that he has been getting better lately. Off the top of my head here are some of the current list items and their severity rating:

  • Cloves – avoid at all costs
  • Fennel – seeds as in Italian sausage may be okay if not overpowering – the vegetable is a no-no
  • Cucumbers – he picks them out of sushi – need I say more?
  • Cilantro – I’ll give him a pass on this one – I think he may be allergic to it; it tastes like soap to him
  • Ginger – pickled is out of the question, powdered in moderation is okay
  • Vinegar – mild vinegars like Rice Wine Vinegar are okay – strong vinegars like red wine will bring him to his knees – it’s best if he can avoid smelling them – that’s what he really hates
  • Beets – he thinks they taste like dirt – he won’t even try Golden Beets – which absolutely do not taste like dirt
  • Butter – when I first met Phil the only thing he could put butter on was good bread, he has really developed a pallet for fine butter. In fact he is looking forward to our time in Brittany – the butter there is outstanding. I know you are thinking butter? That’s an odd thing to not like – it had something to do with making butter in kindergarten and it going bad. My kindergarten class did the same thing and I think back on it fondly.

Just Getting There is An Adventure

We were up early on our last day in Lot-et-Garonne. I did my final run without Elouk as it was raining and when he comes with me we need to run in the orchards. That’s hard enough without the slick rained upon grassy hills. He seemed so sad that I was leaving without him. At dinner the night before, Pierre assured us we would absolutely adore “Les CĂ©vennes” (said “Lay Seven – accent on the “ven”). We discussed with him our proposed route and he completely changed it. We had planned to route through Mende and then Saint-Étienne-VallĂ©e-Française, Pierre assured us that going through Toulouse was the way to go. While it was longer in mileage it would be shorter in duration, more highways and as the weather report was for heavy downpours we wanted to just get there.

How we originally planned to go

 

 

 

 

 

 

How we went

We also realized that we made a routing mistake. Every single French person that we discussed our drive from Monteton to Les CĂ©vennes asked us if we had or would be visiting Carcassonne, a hilltop town in southern France’s Languedoc area, it is famous for its medieval citadel. It’s now on a different list for a future adventure.

How we should have gone

We were packed and said our goodbyes by ten. We think this will be our longest drive and with the rain, we are certain it won’t be fun.

We made it all the way to Saint-Étienne-VallĂ©e-Française and that’s where Angelique’s directions picked up. She assured us that no GPS would find their place. Here’s an excerpt of the directions:

Go through the small village St Etienne VallĂ©e fr, just after the village, you will see the village name crossed and going down a little further you will see a sign Serres/ Droubies and a small bridge on your right, cross the bridge and go up the curvy road all the way to the top. (5-6km) There you will see a rubbish bin and two signs left Serres / Les Abrits and right Droubies, take the left direction Serres. Be attentive if you arrive at night as these signs are small and the road tends to go more smoothly towards Droubies. After a km you will see some signs with names on the left – Pierre de la Vieille /Longonge/ Soliers L’or du Peuch etc (if nature hasn’t already grown over them!!!) and one on the right – Le Pereyret,  continue on straight!! …… Please do not arrive at night as we live in a forest and you WILL get lost. Please do not follow your gps instead of my directions at the very end as the gps does not yet read our road, and will lead you on a wild boar chase!

.We were actually doing okay until we got to the small bridge on our right, cross the bridge and go up the curvy road all the way to the top. First problem, there was a choice we could go sort of straight (towards the right) or curve around to the left. We choose the sort of straight way. Minutes from the bridge, there was a sign on the road that I didn’t understand. It looked like there might be a problem with the road further up. We put it in the translator app  and the translator didn’t understand it either. I got out of the car and walked a bit up the road and it looked okay. I came back and reported to Phil that I thought we should continue on. He put the car in gear, we headed up this one lane (for both directions) road and within 3 minutes a car was coming down the road. She made Phil back up. He did an amazing job – it was curvy, we were on a hill and he was driving an unfamiliar car backwards. The back up camera and sensors helped as on one side of the road there was a steep drop and on the other side a wall of rock. It took a number of tries but we got back down to a flat area and the woman was able to pass and we started up the hill again. It felt like hours until we got to what we thought was Angelique and Dominique’s road.

Another km further on you will pass a reservoir on the right and then a little further you will see a letterbox on the left (all alone!!! with no name ) then, just after the corner, a big stone in the ground on the left, with a wooden barrier – this is the entrance to our property.

Phil was fried and we just hoped that the road we turned down really was the entrance to their property. It had been raining so the road was slick, it’s not paved and it was very curvy.

We finally see a cluster of buildings and a man we don’t recognize walking a pony. It’s been 10 years, but we’re pretty certain we’d recognize Dominique. This gentleman doesn’t speak any English but we ask for Angelique and he motions to us that we are in the right place. We park the car and Angelique comes running out.

But Boy Was the Journey Worth It

She looks amazing and the property is spectacular. After the pleasantries, she shows us to our room and we are simply blown away. They bought the property (45 hectacres which is 111 acres) and a bunch of ruins. Many of the ruins have been transformed to their home, guest accommodations and a stable for the horse and pony. They are also in the process of renovating the windmill into a guest accommodation…and they have plans to do more.

One of the many areas to enjoy a meal, a drink, whatever
Pathway in
Surprised to see the new pony, Voltaire, grazing right outside our door
View of the property from one of the terraces

They did much of the work themselves. Only calling in the professionals for things like roofing and major infrastructure work – such as running the electrical lines but not putting lighting in the guest rooms (that they did themselves). They’ve been working their French and Australian derrieres off and it shows.

We have the largest guest room. A huge bedroom with sitting and dining area and a great big bathroom attached. We share a kitchen with another guest room. There is also another room in a separate building that has it’s own kitchen and deck. There are decks throughout the property to enjoy the views, the outdoors and the peacefulness of the property.

I’m not sure the pictures do justice to just how lovely it is.

Our room – note the pellet stove – aaahhhh!
The perfect room for a rainy day
Beautifully decorated with a mix of Angelique’s paintings and Dominique’s love of India

GĂ®te vs. Chambre d’HĂ´tes

Phil had worked out this part of our trip with Angelique. Keep in mind we had never stayed in a true “gĂ®te” before our stay in Laroque this trip. And it is important to remember that the organization we have come to trust for rating Chambre d’HĂ´tes (Bed and Breakfasts) is called GĂ®tes de France. Imagine his confusion when we realized that this was NOT a Chambre d’HĂ´tes but a GĂ®te with a twist. Angelique does make dinner (Table d’HĂ´tes) available to her guests but not breakfast or lunch. Most people bring food up with them, cook their meals in the kitchens attached to their rooms and maybe book a dinner or two with Angelique and Dominique. We had let Angelique know that we would have dinner with them all five nights, but we were in a bit of a bind for breakfast and lunch. Phil didn’t want to touch the car until it was our time to leave for Burgundy, we were after all, what felt like a million miles from any store, and we had no food except for some dried pasta and mustard. Angelique to the rescue, she put together a basket of organic groceries for us only charging us what she had paid for them.   And she provided us with homemade bread and/or pastries in the morning. We were set.

with bread, cheese and pate in the frig we were set

Both the other rooms were booked. One of the other couples, Johanna and Tibor, from Germany now living in Paris would be joining us for dinner our first night. Valerie and Gerard would join us the second night and the other 3 nights it would just be Angelique, Dominique, Phil and me for dinner.

We think we met Angelique in 2002 in an art gallery on the Ile St.-Louis in Paris. Her exhibition had been running for a few weeks and there were only a few painting that weren’t sold. We immediately fell in love with her work and one of the remaining available paintings, Les Mauvais Garçons.

Our Very First Angelique Painting – Les Mauvais Garcons

Back then we were buying one piece of art every year for our wedding anniversary; the house had a lot of wall space. It was September and we hadn’t made that year’s purchase until our trip to Paris. We love Paris and we love Angelique’s work. There are a number of her pieces in our home. She has decorated the GĂ®te with her paintings. It was great fun to see some of the paintings that we considered buying in the past. They make me long for more wall space. At some point we met Dominque, who is a philosopher, and the four of us just hit it off. These are exceptionally kind people who have an inner peace about them that is just amazing. We would see them anytime we were all in Paris – sometimes at the gallery, or out for dinner or to their home for an evening. It had been at least 10 years since the last time we saw them. But we kept in touch. The internet is a wonderful thing.

Angelique and the new pony (for them) Voltaire
Dominique and Angelique putting the final touches on dinner

What A Timely Rainy Day!

Our first full day in Les CĂ©vennes was perfect. It was cold and pouring all day. I took the day off from running. We had the pellet stove going all day. The room was warm and cozy. Phil played the guitar, I wrote, I may even have knit a row or two. It was absolutely wonderful. We had a picnic lunch, watched some downloaded Netflix in the room and just relaxed.

 

Daily Activities in Les CĂ©vennes – Running or Guitar Playing, Hiking, Eating, Drinking and Having a Great Time With Old Friends

That pretty much sums it up. Remote is a good description of the area. The topography is mountainous. We would walk for hours on the trails and not see another person. We would depart for our hikes right from the GĂ®te. No driving required. We’d pack a lunch from our provisions or we’d split the hiking into a morning session and an afternoon session and come back to the gĂ®te for a bite to eat.   In fact one day we came back around two and found a care package from Johanna and Tibor. They decided to leave a day early and try to catch the sun in Marseille. They left food for us as they knew our GĂ®te vs. Chambre d’Hotes confusion. We’d get lost hiking and the GPS would help us out or we’d just keep going until we recognized something/anything.

The view from our room
A great surprise after a morning of hiking

The internet was a bit of a challenge, we had to position ourselves in the right spots to have connectivity. Uploading the blog was a bit of a challenge.   We also had to hang out the window to get service on the French phone; fortunately we weren’t talking with anyone. It was just perfect. Exactly the kind of relaxing time we needed. The only problem, Phil is continuing to have problems with his bursar sac which restricts the amount of hiking he can do – and he’s over doing it for sure.

Simply beautiful
I love to hike
Overcoming all obstacles

We hiked through a forest that Phil thought looked like something out of Harry Potter. We ate lunch at what felt like the top of the world. We climbed up, we cautiously climbed down. Thank goodness we had our hiking sticks with us. We were prohibited from taking the path back to the gite one day. A crotchety old man forced us to walk around the area he had cordoned off for sheep, it was crazy that we did it. There was practically no path, we had to walk through clumps of trees, thorns tore at our clothes and I lost the handle to one of my hiking sticks. We had photographed part of the incident and Angelique was nuts, “He can’t do that, Dominique you need to go tell him they can’t do that” I’m certain the neighbor got a nice but firm talking to after we left.

A scene out of Harry Potter?
Love the trees
We came upon a blocked path
Still smiling because we haven’t dealt with the thorns yet

Restaurant Scene: Les CĂ©vennes, France

Well for us there was only one game in town – Le Pereyrol otherwise knows as Angelique and Dominique’s GĂ®te. I didn’t take a lot of photos during the meals, especially the first two nights where there were others dining with us. As they are Angelique and Dominique’s customers I didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable.

Each meal started with an aperitif, usually a sparkling white. We brought a white from Cadillac that Dominique planned to open later in the week. Angelique likes to serve food and use ingredients from the region. She is also health conscious; everything is “Bio” or organic. When she can she gathers the ingredients from the forest. Many of this dishes we had contained either chestnuts or chestnut flour (not on the list). Angelique battles the wildlife in the forest for the chestnuts once they start falling. She admits the animals have a keen sense of knowing which chestnuts are best. Dries them under the wood burning stove and then either uses the nuts or grinds them into flour. She told me it takes 1 hour to prepare 50 chestnuts (getting them out of their shell) for grinding. People ask her all the time if they can buy chestnut flour from her. She won’t sell it but she will give them 50 chestnuts and show them how to prepare them, and if they do that they can have the flour for free. No one has taken her up on that offer. She had hoped with all the rain that we’d be able to go out an look for cèpes. But sadly it never warmed up for them to spring up in the forest.

A little bite with our aperitifs
Chestnuts drying under a fire

We ate in the dining room when there were others dining with us. The first night’s appetizers were grilled wild board sausage and mushroom as well as vegetable spring rolls with a sweet/spicy dipping sauce. Both were outstanding. The boar was NOT gamey at all.   Loved the sausage and we were happy to see the vegetables. There was cilantro (list) in the spring rolls but I don’t think he noticed.

Angelique offers her guests a variety of levels of dinners to choose from. Johanna and Tibor had asked for the luxury version, we were along for the ride. The main course was a sort of seafood paella, Indian Style. It was different from anything I’ve ever had. The seafood was very well cooked. I have no pictures, but there were mussels, calamari, prawns, and three kinds of fish – Salmon, Loup de Mer and Cabillau. The sauce was formed from the tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant cooking down with a little cream. The sauce actually looked as if it was tomato based. Angelique had some challenges with the short grain rice, it never seemed to get done. She had cooked it for hours and it was crunchy. She was embarrassed. So you’re thinking to yourself, what makes this Indian paella? Well it was the spices and Angelique has a heavy hand with the spices. At a minimum there was clove, cumin, turmeric, ginger, and coriander. The item that holds the number 1 position on the list, “cloves” was in there so was ginger and for spice purists coriander (cilantro in Spanish) but dried coriander really isn’t on the list. I was impressed, he ate his dinner, enjoyed the seafood and did his best to avoid getting any extra sauce.

After the main course we were treated to a green salad and a selection of cheese from the region. I was about to burst, the main course was quite filling, but the salad was quite delicious and what can I say? No to cheese in France, that would be very difficult.

Dessert was delicious, light and enormous. It was a Berry Pavolva. Pavolva is a meringue based (egg whites and chestnut flour) dessert named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavolva. It was developed for her because she wanted dessert but had to watch her calorie intake. It is typically topped with fruit (frozen berries from the region) and whipped cream. Tibor and Johanna took the leftovers for breakfast the next morning it was so good.

The next dinner was almost vegetarian. Valerie and Gerard are vegetarians. Angelique had been a vegetarian at one point in her life and Dominique, Phil and I are omnivores.

The sparkling wine tonight was served with fried cauliflower and broccoli along with Indian flat bread and two dipping sauces. One was made with the vegetable fennel (on the list) and the second was made with spicy peppers. Both were terrific. Phil ate and liked both of them.

There’s fennel and cilantro hiding in there

Dinner was mostly vegetarian and it was delicious. Angelique made a stew of tomatoes, eggplant and lentils. I think there was some fennel in there too. It was delicious, deeply roasted in her wood burning oven. She also made stuffed squash blossoms that were great! For the four of us she made some sticky, gooey, and just a touch sweet chicken legs. They were flavorful and moist. Oh, and the starch for the day was spiced rice and while there may have been a number of spices in the rice, the only one Phil could taste was the clove (#1 on the list).   What saved Phil tonight was the hot peppers that Angelique served on the side; he was able to partially conceal the clove taste with the heat.

Mostly vegetarian. Cloves hiding in the rice

The salad was a beet (on the list) and tomato salad topped with a balsamic vinaigrette (on the list). It was quite good, there was a healthy amount of Dijon mustard in the salad making it a bit spicy.

Dessert was great, a goat cheese cake with a chestnut crust topped with frozen gooseberries (‘groseilles”) on top. The cake was light, the cheese tangy, the crust not to sweet but rich and the berries were cold and tart. It was a great dessert. Valerie and Gerard took the left overs for breakfast this time.

Frozen Gooseberries on Top – Delicious!

Angelique and Dominique’s living space is simply beautiful. They did an amazing job transforming the ruins into a warm and inviting home. The living room/dinning room walls are lined with bookcases and many first edition and old books.  The kitchen is large with two stoves: one wood burning and one electric with a convection oven. There’s a huge island in the kitchen. On the nights that it was just the four of us for dinner we ate in the kitchen – informal and relaxing

Books are important to Dominique.
Sitting at the island made for a nice casual dinner

Angelique asked us what we wanted for dinner each of the subsequent nights. We told her we didn’t want her to work as hard as she had been on dinners. We wanted to ensure they’d want us to come back. Somehow we also let her know to leave the cloves out of things going forward. She felt bad; Phil just laughed it off. That night we opened the Cadillac wine from Bordeaux, Angelique served pate de foie gras on homemade chestnut crackers. It paired perfectly with the wine. We sat at the island and had duck breast with roasted potatoes. She made roasted vegetables again that were just delicious.   It was a simple, it was a perfect dinner. We had a little cheese and some salad after the duck. Angelique hit a home run by making chocolate mousse for dessert.

.The next night we had roasted chicken, carrots, and eggplant in a semi-sweet sauce with chestnuts. I originally thought the chestnuts were large beans, but one bite and I knew that rich chestnut flavor. The skin on the chicken was crispy. The meat moist, even the white meat. Dessert that night was creamy with berries and chocolate. We ate half of it and told Angelique to just use it tomorrow night. She was horrified, she would make something else.

The chestnuts were a real surprise

Our last night was just spectacular. We had roasted wild boar. The same boar that was used for the sausages our first night. As it turns out, the boar was tearing up the neighborhood. At some point, one of the neighbors went hunting (this boar in particular) and was successful. Angelique marinated the boar overnight in two bottles of red wine from the area. She then cooked it for hours in two more bottles of red wine from the region. The meat was tasty, beef like. Not a hint of gaminess. Dominique told us that people who return to the Gite often specifically ask Angelique to make wild boar because of how accomplished she is at it. The bones were interesting – Vegans/Vegetarians if you’re still reading, STOP. They were thinner than I expected and very sharp and severe. I had only had wild boar in ragu before this trip and I love that. To accompany the boar, she made very caramelized onions. They were so sweet and complimented the meat.   This was a great new culinary experience. Angelique knew we were concerned about not getting any vegetables after we left her. She made enough vegetables to feed an army including roasted thinly sliced potatoes and sweet potatoes, tomatoes, egg plant, and zucchini.   She also made sautĂ©ed spinach, broccoli and cauliflower and white asparagus. It was a vegetable bonanza!

Roasted wild boar in red wine sauce

Dessert was great again tonight and she sort of did what we asked her. She mad a light semifreddo  using the leftovers from the prior night in the center and coconut milk for the outside. It was light, not too sweet, cold and delicious.

Yum – light and not too sweet semifreddo

Fortunately we had been doing a lot of hiking or we would have gained 10 pounds in 5 days. We’d like to come back to Les CĂ©vennes and stay with Angelique and Dominique again. The years between our last visit and this one just melted away. They are very special people. Next time, we will take the train to NĂ®mes and they will pick us up. We will go grocery shopping before heading up to the gĂ®te. This is a special place for getting away from it all.

We met on my run one morning
When you want to get away from it all Le Pereyrol is for you

Sad to Say – But There Is No Silver Bullet When Learning French

The genesis for our trip to mostly France was so I could experience French Immersion. We would live with my teacher’s family and I would have 15 hours per week of customized French lessons. I tried to find a teacher or a combination of two teachers so I could do this for two weeks. Well, it seems and my experience confirms it, that one must book these sorts of experiences well in advance. I was so very lucky to get any spot at all, and mine was actually 1 day shorter than the standard week.

 Getting Ready For School

We left Laroque and traveled about 3 hours to Lot-et-Garonne. We arrived late Sunday afternoon. Veronique and Michel had graciously let us keep all our luggage in their garage. This allowed us to walk to Cadillac, explore the town, visit the chateau and walk back. We then headed to Lot to meet Pierre and his family.

Castle of the Dukes of Epernon
I thought this was too cool to not include in the photos – It’s the top part of a fireplace mantle
Can’t wait to visit them again! We will be back.

We arrived just after Isabelle, Pierre’s wife had left for a week long school field trip to the south of Spain. Isabel teaches French in the local elementary school. I know all of you are thinking to yourselves, “Why do they need a French teacher in France, don’t they already speak French?”. Okay, didn’t every single one of you take English until you graduated….nuff said.

Pierre’s home is in Monteton, not in the town center, it’s a little over a mile from the church, restaurant, auberge/chateau hotel, and small grouping of homes that make up “downtown” Monteton. Pierre welcomed us and showed us our room. He had a meal ready for us if we were hungry but we had picked up a sandwich and a salad to split at the Paul quick stop on the highway. He introduced us to his sons, Loeiz and Vivien. The kids bolted after the introduction. Pierre asked us if we wanted to do anything or if we were tired.

We weren’t tired and the countryside looked beautiful. The three of us went for a walk with the dogs, (Elouk “el-luke”, the Husky and Joy “Joey” , the Jack Russell) and headed through the plum trees directly across the road from their home towards Monteton. Pierre said there is no problem walking through the orchards, the dogs knew the way and they were excited to go along with us. We walked through the orchards, to a small road that led into town. The Romanesque church was open and in wonderful shape and the views from the town were spectacular. We learned that there is a jazz camp in Monteton every summer; perhaps something Phil should consider and I could come back for more lessons….

Elouk would sometimes run with me
Elouk and Joy
So beautiful, out of the mainstream
Oeufs is the plural of eggs and a word that I have such trouble saying – it always comes out the eyes (les yeux) and they are for sale (“AV”) down the block

After our walk Pierre prepared our absolute favorite hors d’oeuvres from the trip so far. It’s the simplest thing and I can wait to make it at home. Good quality crusty bread, soft spreadable cheese (he uses Paysan Breton Le Fromage Fouette – Madame Loik – Nature au Sel de Guerande) topped with smoked trout. I will figure out what the equivalent of the cheese is in the US and rest assured it will become a regular for company at our house. We had it with a glass of local white wine, sat outside and watched the sunset. The sun sets really late, at least it’s late to us — around 9PM.

Crusty bread, spreadable cheese and smoked trout – please pass me one!

Pierre said he’s usually the cook and having Isabelle gone wasn’t really a culinary problem. He seemed very comfortable in the kitchen. The three of us had dinner on the patio; I think the kids ate inside watching a video. We had duck and roasted potatoes, switched to a local red wine and had fruit for dessert.

The schedule for my five school days was basically the same each day. I would get up a little before seven and run 3 or 4 miles, come back and shower, have a very traditional French breakfast of bread, jam butter and tea or coffee, and start lessons by 9AM. Pierre was usually gone when I got back from running taking his youngest to school, Phil was sitting at the table drinking coffee and watching a download of the prior day’s Padres game. Pierre and I would work at the dining table and Phil would go into our room or out on the patio and play guitar.

We’d have lunch sometime after noon and then Phil and I would go off to explore the area in the afternoon. When Pierre didn’t have another lesson in the afternoon he’d go with us. Pierre teaches people who live in the area French as well as his immersion students; there are a lot of British people who have settled here. This week was a little challenging for Pierre with Isabelle away. He had to pick up the Vivien from school. We’d regroup after six, probably closer to seven, for an aperitif and hors d’oeuvres and dinner would follow. Some nights we’d watch a video or just go straight to sleep.

The Curriculum

I’m certain Pierre was sizing up my skills in French to decide what to work on. It was Day 1 that I realized I wasn’t going to walk out of here after 5 days and be fluent. That bubble had burst. In French there are a ton of words that they use all the time that buy them time to think or connect thoughts together or to simply confuse foreigners who are trying to learn the language. These are a particular problem with understanding spoken French. We do it in English too, but it’s natural for us. We spent almost three hours going over when and how to use these phrases – “conservation fillers” – there’s a million of them, things like “by the way”, “so”, “rather”, “anyway”, etc. I think flash cards are definitely in order. Pierre also taught me a French card game, Tarot, that uses a special deck of cards. The plan was for us to play one night with Loeiz. Most days I had homework to reinforce what we had worked on earlier in the day.

My classroom

The second day of class was the most painful. We worked on pronunciation. Three years of French in High School, three years in College and a few years of lessons and I’m awful. It’s painful for my own ears to hear it. AND, I don’t think I was ever formally taught the rules of pronunciation. There are so many combinations of letters that end up being the exact same sound – it can be, it is very frustrating. There is also a list of things that English speakers really have a hard time with. I am no exception. While the day was very frustrating, really frustrating I realized that 1) this was going to take continued work and 2) I’m not having trouble with things that other English speakers don’t also have trouble with. No homework tonight, I was just exhausted and my head was spinning.

My lessons

I rebounded on day three. It was a heavy grammar day; I always was a “Grammar Geek“.  Pierre did the best job of explaining pronominal verbs to me of all the instructors I have ever had. We didn’t get completely through the topic in one day but the fog around them was starting to clear. He also did a review of direct object pronouns, indirect object pronouns and disjunctive stress pronouns. I hate to admit it but I do like doing the grammar work. It was a good day.

On Thursday, we worked on the indirect object pronouns “en” and “y”, reviewed and finished up pronominal verbs and reviewed the full chart of “temps simple” and “temps compose”.

My homework

And on Friday, we reviewed a potpourri of topics including things like the verb manquer (to miss), expressions with “Ça”, causative constructions using faire, when to use si or que, qui and que and finally we stuck our toes into the subjunctive waters.

While I didn’t find the silver bullet for becoming fluent, the week re-energized me to get back to formal lessons with an emphasis on getting a handle on the rules around pronunciation. I am so very glad I had the opportunity to do this and I look forward to doing it again and again.

Meals – 3 Squares Each Day

Included in my class fee was three meals a day. Breakfast was always the same – a simple French breakfast of bread, butter, jam and coffee or tea.  Pierre prepared lunch after lessons. On a few afternoons we saw one or both of the boys, because the school schedule was a little wacky with half days (a lot of teachers were on extended field trips like Isabelle so the kids who remained were let out early) this week.   It was a brief sighting; as long as it took to fill a plate and finish it.

Among the notable lunches was a delicious thin quiche like tart with an amazingly fresh mixed salad with red, red tomatoes and mild goat cheese.

Quiche and
Salad

Pierre is originally from Bretagne and his parents still live there. His mother makes this most wonderful dish called Pain de Poisson which translates to Fish Loaf. When I first heard that this is what was for lunch I was concerned on two fronts 1) would Phil like it? and 2) would I like it? Pierre’s mother made it, froze it, gave it to Pierre and he heated it and served it for lunch. It was so amazingly good that I looked up the recipe. There’s no bread in it – the name “Pain” describes the loaf shape not an ingredient. The ingredients are fish, eggs, cream, tomato sauce, gruyere, salt and pepper. You basically poach the fish, let it cool, put all the ingredients in a food processer and give it a swirl, put the “batter” into a buttered loaf pan and cook it for 45 minutes at 150 degrees Celsius (350 Fahrenheit) and what comes out of the oven is just delicious. We loved it so much that I forgot to take a photo and by the time I realized it there was none left. Pierre made it two times during the week because we raved about it. Here’s what’s even more amazing. Many of you know that mayonnaise is basically on “the list”; a small amount is acceptable in tuna salad but that is the only acceptable use for mayonnaise. The Pain de Poisson was served with homemade mayonnaise (we have chickens so eggs seem plentiful). The mayo was also terrific, with a great Dijon and olive oil flavor.   A simple carrot salad (grated carrots) with vinaigrette was the perfect accompaniment.   The second time we had this, Pierre also steamed some artichokes from the garden. Often we’d have radishes from the garden. They were super spicy; he explained that this happened because the week before we arrived they were in Greece and the garden hadn’t been watered. The lack of water ups the spiciness.

Pain de Poisson – the picture doesn’t do it justice – Simply delicious

Each evening we had an aperitif of a local white wine and some hors d’oeuvres. The trout was the winner and repeated multiple times, but we also had house cured black olives, and foie gras.

Dinners were varied and quite good. On Monday night (and again Tuesday for lunch) we had a traditional Brittany favorite, the galette. The batter for the galette is made with buckwheat. Pierre is quite accomplished at making these; he even has a special cooker/appliance.

There is a gadget to do just about everything in the kitchen

Our galettes were stuffed with ham and cheese (many cheeses including a few stinky ones (on the list)) and a egg. The egg was inside the pancake and cooks up like a fried egg. Phil had a galette in the new French cafĂ© in San Diego and they put the fried egg on top of the galette, this was actually cooked right in the galette! These were so delicious that I can’t wait to have one again when we’re in Brittany towards the end of trip. Pierre served them with a green salad. This was the first time I ate a ham and cheese galette; I’ve had crepes before. This will not be the last.

Galettes for dinner…
…galettes for lunch!

Another night we had oven baked fish, spicy broccoli and new potatoes. The fish was cooked to perfection. I think it was Cabillaud which I think is cod. The new potatoes were done in the pressure cooker and were buttery on their own. The broccoli was overcooked for our taste but still very flavorful and I’m not sure what made it spicy. I was so happy to have the vegetable. Another night we had a delicious, roasted chicken with potatoes. The skin was super crispy and the meat was falling off the bones and both the white and dark meat was moist. There wasn’t a speck of chicken leftover.

Roasted chicken and potatoes – classic French food

Each night we usually switched to a local red wine with dinner. We’d have some cheese after the main course and before dessert. Dessert would be either fruit or a confection. One night Phil and I brought home eclairs from our adventure: 3 chocolate, 1 cafĂ© and 1 green tea with strawberries.

Our last night we had French homemade pizza. Very thin crust, at least 4 cheeses and ham.   Some of those cheeses were “on the list”; Phil just enjoyed the pizza.  Isabelle was home, it was nice for all of us to get to spend a little time with her.

Pierre prepares pizza

After School Activities

Monday afternoon we didn’t do anything outside of the house – it was a little cold and we were tired so Phil practiced and I did homework. Tuesday afternoon after confirming how bad my pronounciation is we took a short road trip. We never went more than 30 kilometers from the house any day. This day we went for a hike and saw a windmill.

No French Don Quixote spotted

We walked through fruit and nut trees and just soaked up the day. We did see a number of signs that said “Attention Palombiere” and after consulting a number of translation apps we had no idea what we needed to be aware of.

Frequent fall of pigeons!

The next day we drove to Allemans-du-Dropt. Here we saw a church with the most amazing paintings on the walls – painted frescoes from the 15th and 16th centuries.   That was very cool.

St. Michael slaying the dragon

We also traveled to Eymet which Pierre tells us is the most “British” town around – the town is full of Englanders. We can confirm that the woman in the patisserie seemed to be more comfortable speaking English to us than French.   This town was so quaint. Eymet is in the PĂ©rigord region of France, where the foie gras and my troglodyte gite I mentioned earlier come from. I didn’t realize we would be so close when planning the trip. The town or bastide was founded in 1270 by Alphonse de Poitiers the brother of Louis IX of France. It’s very well preserved and so “cute”.   This is where we picked up the Ă©clairs for dessert.

Us in Eymet with the 13th century chateau behind us

We also took a short walk around about 1/3 of the lake at Soumensac where we crossed from Lot et Garonne into Dordogne and back again.

A walk around the lake

We visited Duras, there we toured the Chateau de Duras. It was originally built in the 12th century and turned into a fortress in the 14th century. It became a superb country mansion during the 17th century and then, uh oh, it was the 18th century and it was plundered and partially destroyed during the French Revolution (1798) and fell into disrepair.   In the 1960s the village purchased it and have been renovating it every since. We did an audio tour of the property in English and really enjoyed it. We also stopped in the Chateau du Vin, did a little tasting and picked up a couple of very reasonably priced wines for near term consumption.

A one hour audio tour – absolutely worth the time

We returned to Monteton to meet Pierre for another walk in the countryside. This time we drove to the starting point. Elouk and Joy were elated to come with us. They hopped into the trunk of the car, for the short ride by car. It was a little disconcerting for Phil and me to have them in the trunk, I felt like a Mob Boss kidnapping the dogs. They didn’t seem the least bit bothered by it. The dogs and people enjoyed the walk. Pierre had explained to us the “Palombiere” warning signs we saw was to warn people that there could be hunters shooting birds and to be careful to not get shot and not get hit by falling birds. Shooting pigeons seems to be quite the sport in this area of France. He showed us the elaborate hunting “shacks” that are constructed. Pierre explained that a group of men will often go hunting for days if not weeks. It appears to be a bonding and drinking opportunity for them.

It’s party time

In addition to explaining the hunting practices of French men he also took us by a ruin of an old church that the community paid and worked (volunteered hours) to save – it was critical that they reinforced the roof line after the roof fell in – otherwise the walls would have crumbled as well.

We found it!

We did get in a quick game of Tarot. That was fun. Maybe I’ll find some folks back in the US who are familiar with the game. Two nights we watched movies. The first night was an American Film with French subtitles, “O Brother Where For Art Thou” with George Cluny. Phil and Pierre liked it. I picked the second film, a French Film, “Ce qui nous lie (Back to Burgundy)” with English subtitles. It was sappy and predictable and I loved it and Phil said it “held his attention”. I listened carefully for all the conversation fillers we had studied earlier in the week, they are everywhere in spoken French.

On our last full day I did something I don’t think I’ve ever done before, or at least not in 40 years. Pierre offered to let us do some laundry which we quickly and thankfully accepted. We line dried our clothes. I remember my mother hanging laundry out to dry as a child; I don’t remember every having done it myself.

Pretty spectacular view for hanging laundry

Before our pizza dinner on our last night, Pierre and Loiez had guitar lessons. Their teacher, Javier is originally from Mexico and has a French girlfriend.  He came to the house to give the lessons.  Phil listened while I was writing; I heard nothing. When the lessons were over, Pierre and Isabelle asked Javier to stay for an aperitif. Phil and Javier played together a little. Enjoy!

Our week was over so fast, before I knew it we were on the road to the CĂ©vennes. We would be spending five nights at our friends, Angelique and Dominique’s gite.  It’s been at least 10 years since we’ve seen them.

Wishing I had another week of lessons but looking forward to seeing Angelique and Dominique

 

So Much to See and Do, So Little Time – CĂ´tes de Bordeaux

Wine, wine, wine…

When I booked our stay in Laroque I really wanted a full week here. Things just didn’t work out that way with the flights and the timing of my French Immersion stay it could only be 5 nights. We had originally thought we would take a day trip up to the “hoity toity” part of Bordeaux….Saint-Émilion or maybe Pomerol or perhaps Pauillac. But that just didn’t happen.

Laroque is in the CĂ´tes-de-Bordeaux appellation (AOC). I did some research on this AOC and found all sorts of contradictory information. So much for a wine lesson from me. Basically here’s what I know. The red wine down in this area is very nice, it pairs well with the food of the region, it can’t be cellared for a long time like the wines in northern Bordeaux. It also is not exported because the producers are small. This wine is far less expensive than the well known wines from Saint-Émilion, Pomerol, Pauillac, etc.. In Cadillac, the sweet white wine is quite good. They claim it rivals Sauternes, which coincidentally, isn’t all that far away from where we are staying.

Michel arranged for us to visit the producer of the wine we drank our first night in Laroque, Chateau Peller-Laroque. A small producer who he says produces the best sweet white in the area.

Small producers dot the landscape in this part of Bordeaux

Christine the daughter of the owner of the Chateau would take us on the tour. She explained to us that her father had wanted to raise cows and her grandfather told him, “No cows, grow grapes”. According to their website Chateau Peller-Laroque is a family vineyard that has been in business since 1888 and according to Christine her father and mother purchased the property in the 1950s. They have more hectares today than they did when he purchased it and the acreage that they have today is more valuable than what they originally acquired. They have bought and sold hectares so that more of the vines are planted on the petite hillsides (cĂ´teaux) rather than the flat earth. All of their land is adjacent to the chateau. She showed us around the property. It’s simply beautiful. Her mother is originally from the south of France, so much of the vegetation (not the grapes) are representative of Provence and Marseille.   She confirmed that a specialty of the region is grilling meet or fish over an open fire perfumed with grapevines. We saw the pit and the equipment that her family uses.

Chateau Peller, Laroque

Christine explained to us that before the property was turned into a vineyard, it was a retirement home for monks. The original chapel is in now where they produce the wine. In this part of France, this room is called “le chai” [le “shay”]. It translates as “the cellar” but she explained that “le chai” is where the wine is formulated. “La cave” is where the wine is aged or cellared.

Le chai
La cave

She showed us the huge tractorlike piece of equipment they use to pick the grapes. Her theory is that with automation they are able to optimally pick, all the fruit when it reaches it’s peak flavor. Without automation, some grapes are picked early, some right on time and some late. I also think they use the machines to pick the grapes they sell to other producers. They hand pick the harvest for their signature wines. We also walked to the vineyard, where she showed us the style of pruning that they do to increase the quality of the harvest. We tried a number of their wines in the tasting room set up in “Le Chai”. By far the sweet white known as Cadillac is the best.

Automation in Bordeaux

We certainly had a personal tour of Christine’s family vineyard.  She spent over 90 minutes with us and we could have stayed all night.  I’m certain Christine is happy her grand-père said “…grapes, not cows”.

Churches, churches, churches…

To experience as much of the region as possible we used both the car and our feet. We either just walked or drove and walked to the sites. There’s beauty everywhere; it could be an old ruin, or a ruin reclaimed to a new purpose or preserved for future generations or simply beautiful a landscape.  On multiple occasions Phil said to me, “Everyone will think we went on a tour of European churches from our pictures”.

La Sauve-Majeure

La Sauve-Majeure is a Benedictine monastery built between the 11th and 13th centuries. The Romanesque abbey is in ruins, but a number of the capitals on the columns survive and are in very good shape. The self guided walking tour takes about an hour, the site is beautiful, they make it easy for you to follow from point of interest to point of interest and the surrounding area is magnificent. This abbey is on the pilgrimage route to St. James of the Compostela and in 1998 it was made a UNESCO world heritage site.

Our first view of the Abbey
The view from the tower
You could almost hear the singing in the chapel. Take a look at the columns
Unbelievable capitals up close

A Driving Tour:  Rions – Loupiac -Ste. Croix-du-Mont – Verdelais  – Saint Macaire

Veronique had recommended a driving circuit the other evening and I didn’t write it down and my memory isn’t what it used to be if I’m not totally focused and sipping wine. When Michel came by to check on us and I asked him if he knew the route. He didn’t recall the conversation, but was certain he could give us some good options. We should just drive from town to town, park the car and walk around.

Today is my turn to drive. I’m still not comfortable with the car but Phil’s thinking (besides that he wants to be the passenger sometimes) is that I’ll be more comfortable driving from small town to small town. Lots of 30 km/hr zones for me to get used to the clutch.

Rions

When you approach Rions, it looks like something straight out of King Arthur’s court. It’s a medieval city and its around 1000 years old.   We walked the entire town. The last population figure I could find was 1,588 inhabitants. The walls of the city are spectacular, it’s obvious the walls fortified the town. There’s a Romanesque church, Saint-Seurin from the 12th century and we found the restaurant we had wanted to tray and saw the movie crew on site.

Looking for the knights of the round table
The first of many churches today
Lights, camera, action…

Loupiac

We parked at the first parking area we found and walked up to the church in Loupiac. It is an impressive building from the outside. It was locked so we have no idea what it looked like inside. There is a memorial to the fallen for both WWI and WWI outside the church and beautiful vineyard surrounding the church.

Every town, no mater how small has a church – at least 1
What a view from he church

Ste. Croix-du-Mont

This is the same town where we had dinner one night on the main road. But that’s not really where the town is, there’s a reason there’s a “Mont” (mountain) in the name. We had to drive up the small, windy road to get to the real Ste. Croix-du-Mont. I could feel my blood pressure rising. It’s not our car, I’m not used to the clutch and Phil’s with me – I’m not alone. He could see how nervous I was getting and asked me, “When you come home to the condo and take 163 do you get off at Ash Street?” I said, “Yes”. He said, “How do you do that hill?” I said “I just do”. We made it up the hill and parked the car. We explored the town a bit, saw a woman training horses, incredible panoramic views, a 15th century castle, came across a 12th century church and a sign about oysters. Geologically speaking this is a big deal, there is a huge oyster fossil bed in the cliff here. So if you are into geology, like Herb, this excites you and I suspect if you are into wine, like everyone else, I think this impacts the soil here and the taste of the wine, so this excites you. I just can’t confirm that – I could be completely making that up. I tried to do a little investigating; I was even willing to do it in French. But I came up dry.

Oyster shells embedded in the rock
This church was tall and impressive and closed

Next stop Verdelais. Well, it was getting late, we were getting tired, we didn’t see much from the car so we decided to push on to the next town. We probably missed the most amazing thing, but we’ll never know.

Saint Macaire

We did stop in Saint Macaire. Found a great parking space just outside the town wall. It’s a medieval town that dates back to the 12th century.   The town is very picturesque. We did find the church and this time we to go in. There were a number of restaurants here that looked inviting.

Quaint and inviting streets
…and a church that was open for business

We were done for this day.  I was still driving and we were relying on the GPS, we tried at least 3 times to get home from St. Macaire…recalculating was the catch phrase for this trip home.  We finally didn’t go exactly as she said and it worked out.  It had been a long day and we were glad to get home.

Walking Tour:

Gite Le Coteau des Vignes – Lac Loromet – Chateau Laroque – Monastere due Broussais – Vielle Tour – La Pradiasse- Eglise – Gite

Veronique gave us a walking map for a circuit leaving directly from the gite. The route is only 7 kilometers but it gives you a feel for the area.

Monastere du Broussais
Chateau Laroque
Vines, vines everywhere
A beautiful day for a walk
And even our little town of Laroque has a church

Bordeaux – The City

We’ve been in this area before but we had never visited the city of Bordeaux. We always went straight for the wine at it’s source. Both Veronique and Michel recommended that we drive up and spend a day in Bordeaux. They told us exactly where to park and recommended that we just walk around the city. We made the 35ish minute drive up to Bordeaux on the D10 a two lane road that went from town to town. The ride was beautiful.

We parked in a public lot (Place Jean Jaures) which is centrally located right by the Place de la Bourse and the Grand Theatre. Parking is subterranean. We came above ground and headed straight to the Garonne River. We were told that the city has gone through major renovations in recent decades. We walked along the river on the Quay. While we typically try to stay away from American Chains in Europe, we stopped at a Starbucks to borrow some Wi-Fi and I felt obligated to have a coffee.

Strolling along the Garonne in Bordeaux

We had lunch at L’Aero CafĂ© Brasserie on the Cours du Chapeau Rouge which is right near the Grand Theater and on a street that is lined with grand manor houses from the 18th and 19th centuries – the homes of rich wine merchants. It was a beautiful day and we ate outside.

L’Aero CafĂ© Brasserie 12 Cours du Chapeau Rouge

We both had classic French bistro dishes. Phil ordered one of the specials of the day – Chicken Cordon Bleu with fries and a small green salad. I had one of my absolute favorites salad with chevre chaud. I tasted Phil’s chicken and fries and both were very good. My salad was dressed with a Dijon vinaigrette and the hot cheese was all melty and delicious when I spread it on the bread.

Ooey gooey chevre chaud – Yum-oh!

While many around us were opting for wine at lunch (and they weren’t all tourists) I opted for sparkling water and Phil had a beer. We sat outside and just enjoyed being in Bordeaux.

A perfect lunch on a perfect day

We spent the rest of the day walking around. We knew we couldn’t see everything and the weather was marvelous so we just let our feet take us from place to place. We ended up in the middle of a protest and at the Orange store. We were having some trouble registering the French cell phone and stopped in for an assist. That was a first for us. Fortunately, the Spanish associate who was helping us spoke excellent English. I would have struggled for the right words.

Peaceful protest…speaking their minds…too bad we weren’t sure what they were saying

We visited the Cathedrale St-Andre. The cathedral was very impressive both inside and out.

 

 

Wow is about all we could say

We stopped for a drink at a café on the Place Pey-Berland and could see both the Hotel de ville and the Tour Pey-Berland from our table.

Folks just enjoying the day, enjoying the city, enjoying life
Place Pey-Berland

We enjoyed our day in Bordeaux but all I can really say is I’ve been to Bordeaux. We talked about staying in Bordeaux for a few days on a future trip. This visit was just a taste of Bordeaux (pun intended!).

One last thing…

As I was putting this together I realized I omitted something.  We drove one day from the gite to a town named Omet and did a rather lengthy walk.  I won’t bore you with the details – a bunch of churches, vines, rolling hills, a forest, a chateau…you get the picture. But there is one picture that I absolutely had to share with you.

Green Acres is the place for me…

 

Restaurant Guide: Laroque, France

Given that we will be traveling for six weeks, there were two important reasons we wanted to sprinkle a couple of gĂ®tes into the accommodations mix: 1) we would need to do laundry and it’s easy at a gĂ®te with a washing machine and 2) we needed to eat a few relatively healthy meals (at least I’d know the ingredients). But we didn’t want to completely miss the cuisine of this region of France. We decided to have 3 meals out in the area, one lunch and two dinners. As it turns out there is only one restaurant in Laroque, we would venture to other towns for two of the meals.

Le Laromet (Cuisine traditionnelle) Au bord du lac – Menus a part de 14 Euros & carte

VĂ©ronique highly recommended that we try Le Laromet. It is located less than 2 kilometers from the gĂ®te on a lake and we could walk there. She said the food was excellent but when we said we’d have dinner there, she said no it’s better for lunch. The dishes are light like salads; or at least that’s what we understood. She told me to absolutely make a reservation, the place isn’t all that big and we would want to be sure we sat outside.

I made a reservation for 2 people for the next day for lunch. There was definitely a little confusion on the phone, especially my trying to spell “Lenowsky” in French. I tried to make reservations for 1PM, but it seems they only take reservations for what I thought was a single seating, noon. Noon it would be. I was pretty sure we were set for lunch at Le Laromet.

Spectacular day for an outdoor lunch

It was a beautiful day, the sun was shinning, it was actually hot. We walked to the lakeside restaurant (au bord du lac). When we arrived I told the woman who looked to be in charge that we had reservations and for a few moments there was complete confusion. I didn’t understand her and she didn’t understand me. She acknowledged that we had reservations, but for some reason she wasn’t looking to seat us. Finally, I heard the two words I had missed on the telephone the day before “et demi”. All I heard was “a midi” [at noon] and she was saying “a midi et demi” [12:30]. Once that was clear we knew we just needed to kill some time. I was really pretty hot, so walking back to the gĂ®te didn’t make sense so we found a big rock and took a seat water front. About 15 minutes later, people started arriving and they were being seated. We noticed a contractor like pick up truck pull into the parking lot with three guys who were definitely coming from a jobsite enter the restaurant. They were clearly regulars by the reaction of the staff. It was 12:15 PM.  I made Phil wait another 10 minutes before we headed back. She was emphatic with me 12:30.

We were seated, outside and it was just lovely. We had two servers, the main woman and a young man. We were asked if we wanted an aperitif. Phil had a beer and I told him I would have water. He offered me everything from fruit juice to vintage champagne, but we were going to eat out for dinner this evening and I knew I needed to save myself for wine with dinner. They brought Phil what looked like a mini-beer compared to the beers we saw being consumed at other tables along with a plate of olives.   No one was rushing us we were just enjoying a beautiful sunny day. I did have a bit of regret that I hadn’t ordered a glass of rose or the like. Phil ended up needing a second mini-beer. I must have messed up ordering it and must have asked for the child’s beer by accident.

Oops, I must have ordered Phil a child’s beer

They were only serving the “menu” today – nothing a la carte. Okay, we could work with that. The daily offering was written on a chalk board and brought to our table.

Wow – all this for 15 euros

For 15 euros, we had our choice of a salad of tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and pesto vinaigrette or a salad with scallops. I run hot and cold with scallops – there are times when I can’t get enough of them and other times when I can’t bear to look at them, I’m in a cold period and Phil “Mr. Lobsta” finds them too rich so we both ordered the tomato salad. It was simple, fresh and delicious. The tomatoes were red and flavorful – a preview of summer. The mozzarella tasted like pure dairy and had a clean flavor; a little hard to describe, pure freshness. The basil was sharp. Classic caprese!

Pretty and Delicious

For the entrĂ©e, we had our choice of steak with shallots or fish with a little shellfish. We knew “cabillau” was fish but that’s about all we knew. I felt adventuresome. Phil’s steak was served medium rare, it came with frites cooked in olive oil, a little salad and a medley of mixed vegetables. On top of the steak were beautifully caramelized shallots “echalotes confites”. I tasted both his steak and the fries and they were great.

My fish was spectacular. I picked better. Cabillau is a very mild yet tasty white fish. Our server told me it was from the area. It was cooked to perfection; not undercooked and not overcooked. It was topped with tiny steamed clams. There was a side of perfectly cooked rice. All this was sitting in a light, creamy lemony sauce. I was surprised at how much I liked the fish plain, but in the sauce it was fancy dinner worthy and sensational. I shared a few clams with Phil.

Both choices were good – Mine was better!

For dessert, we had a choice of bananas with a ginger (on the list) sauce or strawberry melba. I wanted the strawberries, Phil settled for the strawberries. There was no chocolate in sight. It was so good. The sweetest locally grown strawberries, with a scoop of strawberry ice cream and another scoop of what I think was almond ice cream, topped with freshly whipped (not too sweet) cream and a tuile.

This area is known for it’s strawberries – I can see why

We finished with an espresso that came with another tuile.

The restaurant is lovely. We were never rushed. The value of the meal was just amazing. Should you find yourself in the neighborhood this is a must. Lunch or dinner. Remember the contractors, they stayed for 1 hour and 45 minutes (I was watching). They each had at least one beer and they shared a bottle of rose. It’s good to work in France.

L’EntrĂ©e Jardin (Cuisine gastronomique) Rue du Pont – CADILLAC – Menu de 27 euros a 84 euros ou a la carte

The first of our two dinners out would be at L’EntrĂ©e Jardin in Cadillac. The limits of Cadillac “CAH – DEE – ACK” are said to be only 3 kilometers from Laroque. It feels further away than that. Most probably because we knew we would be driving. We checked Uber but nothing was available.

Michel had made reservations for us earlier in the day. He was so smooth. He called the restaurant, explained where he was calling from and that he had guests who wanted to try their exceptional cuisine. Would they be able to accommodate that? They said of course and he went on to ask for a nice table on the patio for his guests from the United States. Madame could speak French. In the event they had been full, I think with Michel’s approach we would have gotten in no matter what.

We expected the restaurant to be within the walls of Cadillac. We parked in a municipal lot and went in search of the restaurant, we were surprised that it was outside of the walls of the bastide and even more surprised when we realized the restaurant had a parking lot. Lesson learned, next time ask.   We were lead through a lovely restaurant to a beautiful screened in patio.

Beautiful night in a beautiful location…

Tonight we would have an aperitif. Champagne pour deux, SVP! The champagne came out and so did a fish “dip” with tiny toasts. Not overpowering, not mayonnaisey – perfect with the champagne.

The restaurant was lovely. We were eating outside on the patio and the weather was perfect. At 8 o’clock the place was practically empty. By 8:30 PM it was starting to fill up and by 9PM the joint was jumping.

After the server took our dinner order and we ordered a half bottle of Chateau La Gard (Pessac – Leognan) red to have with our dinner. We were treated to two tiny amuse bouches from the kitchen. Both were salmon, the first was a salmon tartare and the second was simply amazing, a savory salmon crème brulĂ©e. I could have made a dinner out of the amuse bouches had it been offered.

The amuse bouche was something to write home about

Phil and I selected the exact same menu with the exact same choices. Normally, I would switch just to try something different but I wasn’t budging.   As a starter we had langoustines, served a top an artichoke heart, with some chorizo under that flower, with an avocado puree. It was twice as good as it was beautiful to look at.

This tasted even better than it looks

Phil went for a repeat and I followed his lead. We do eat beef, but not all that often. When I was growing up we probably had beef two or three times a week. Today, we average beef 1 time a month (for dinner – as I have no control over other people’s lunches or dinner’s out).  The beef was cooked to medium rare perfection, served with creamy, rich, smooth mashed potatoes (not sure if it was cream or butter or both that made them heavenly), rich, dark gravy and crisp vegetables.

Beef it’s what’s for dinner!

We went over the top and had the cheese course as well as dessert. We were served three perfectly sized pieces of cheese – one goat, one cow and one sheep cheese. Two were creamy and one was hard. None were sharp. All were good – I love cheese! The salad that accompanied it was perfectly dressed.

Phil and I selected different desserts. I loved what I picked. Strawberries again, on a pistachio cake a top a shortbread cookie with strawberry sorbet, pistachio wafers and a little Chantilly cream. OMG – it was as good as it looks!

Sooooo gooood

I can’t even remember what Phil had. Checking my notes it was “Douceur de miel d’accacia, mousse de lait et espumas de bleuet”. Which translates to “Sweetness of acacia honey, milk froth and blueberry foam”. Phil really enjoyed it. He loves blueberries.   We ended the evening with coffee and the post dessert sweets including milk choclate turtles, meringue cookies and CanelĂ©s de Bordeaux. The canelĂ©s are little cakes, that look like a chef’s cap to me, they have cream inside and are flavored with rum and vanilla. Just roll me out and to sleep.

A Great Ending!

Our other choice for dinner was Le Chaudron d’Anna in Rions. When I called their machine said they were closed. I didn’t fully understand the message. When Michel called he said they were closed for vacation. A rather odd time of year for a restaurant to be closed. When we visited Rions we learned that a movie was being filmed at the restaurant and that was the reason for the closure. Next time for sure; Michel said it is very good

Vincent Poussard’s L’Auberge Girondine – St Croix du Mont

St. Croix du Mont is about 10 kilometers from Laroque. Phil was less than thrilled with me for picking a restaurant so far away; he wanted to eat in Cadillac again (3 kilometers). I think he got over when he saw it was on the main road, it was easy to get there and there was ample parking. The restaurant is part of a guest house/hotel. When we arrived I think there were no patrons in the restaurant.  I’ll admit I was a little concerned. This was not a fancy place. The main wall of the restaurant was painted with blackboard paint (what a great idea) and it had specials written with chalk. We each had a glass of sparkling wine and we were treated to little “egg salad” toasts. They were quite tasty.

We both selected the same appetizer and main course.   All my vegetarian friends should skip down a couple of paragraphs and go straight to dessert.

Our appetizer came out at the speed of light. We were taken aback at how fast it came out. We were served just about the biggest piece of foie gras de canard that I have ever had. I love foie gras and when it was brought to the table I didn’t think I’d ever finish it. It was served with fig chutney and grilled toast. Foie gras with sweet figs on warm toast is simply delicious. It’s rich and smooth and sweet and yummy all at once. I powered through it and so did Phil.

Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

We had no sooner finished our foie gras when the main course came out. Hey, slow down this is France we eat slowly here; we savor our food. We ordered a carafe of local red and both ordered the filet (breast) of duck in orange sauce, with mashed potatoes and a crispy piece of prosciutto.   The duck was perfectly cooked to medium rare. The sauce was sweet from the oranges and yet gravy like. The potatoes were smooth and as you can see there weren’t too many to load the dish down. But the genius of dish was the crispy prosciutto. The crispy, salty top quality prosciutto was a surprising contrast to the rich, sweet duck. It was great!

The restaurant was filling up and fortunately, there was some time to relax between the main course and dessert. We actually don’t think they were rushing us; we think the kitchen staff was eager to cook and we were the only orders we had.

I opted for Basque sheep milk cheese with homemade cherry jam for dessert.   Cheese and cherries, what could be bad. Phil had the dessert that our server recommended: Paris Sainte Croix Du Mont, crème pralinee noisette. I don’t think he shared any of it. I can only describe what I saw: there was cake, chocolate sauce, hazelnut mousse inside, whipped cream on top, and some crunchy nutty things decorating the plate and then there was nothing!

It was there and then it was gone

Three wonderful meals – the “Laroque and its environs” is a happening restaurant scene.

There’s Lots To Do In Heaven

Running and Exploring at the Same Time

Running here in Laroque and the adjacent “towns” is a ton of fun. The roads are hilly, so you get a pretty good workout even if you don’t run too far, the views are spectacular, people wave to you and you only pass a few cars during any particular run. I’m trying to do between 3 and 4 miles in the morning, not hard at all but I’m doing this distance for two reasons: 1) it doesn’t take that long so Phil’s not sitting around waiting for me and/or I don’t have to get up at oh dark thirty to run and 2) if we are going to do a lot of walking during the day, my legs won’t feel like mush at night.

Rolling Hills and vines for as far as the eye can see

 Shopping at the Market

Michel came by the gĂ®te promptly at 9:45 AM to see if we still wanted to follow them to the market – Bien sur, of course we did. Phil went down to get the car, we’re parking it in the Marie (town hall) parking lot (it’s actually hard to believe that a town as small as this has a Marie). VĂ©ronique had also arrived and we chatted for a while — Did we sleep well? Was there anything else we needed? Did we need a “sac” for our purchases at the “marchĂ©”? Would we like to come to their house tonight for a glass of wine and tell them about our day? I slept great; Phil not so much. We didn’t need anything, I had my Whole Foods “sac” with us so we were good there. Oh, of course we’d love to come over tonight, how welcoming, how friendly, and I’d get to practice my French again!

We followed them to CrĂ©on and they showed us where to park. The public lots were full but they knew where it would be okay to park on the street. Without them to guide us I’m not sure we would have found a parking spot. We walked over together and VĂ©ronique explained where we would find what items: clothes, antiques and other people’s junk, vegetables, cheese, meets, fish, poultry and most importantly where we’d find cafĂ©s to have a cup of coffee and enjoy the town. As we came upon the market, there was a cart piled up with bundles of grape vines. She explained to us that it is a specialty of the region to use the grape vines in the fire when grilling meat or fish. The vines give a unique “perfume to whatever is cooked on them”.   Once we had the lay of the market, we parted. We would see them back at their place at 5:30 this evening.

Barbecue anyone?

We planned to buy ingredients for dinner for two nights. We wanted to keep it rather simple. For dinner this evening, we’d have a barbecue. Protein, baked potatoes, white asparagus (a specialty of the region and in season), and salad. The meats at the stalls in the market were ginormous. We decided to go into the butcher shop on the edge of the market. We had narrowed it down to lamb chops or steak. Steak won out and the young butcher sold us a “faux filet” and assured us it would be great on the grill (even without grapevines in the fire).

On our first exploratory trip around the market we had seen a vendor selling beautiful tomatoes. We bought tomatoes from him for salad and to make sauce for pasta, as well as enormous, freshly cut white asparagus.

Every single time we’ve gone to a market in Europe I’ve wanted to cook dinner – tonight we will!

We also picked up a carrot, leek and garlic for the sauce. We purchased potatoes and lettuce from another vendor. The most fun we had was making a purchase from the man selling homemade pasta. I wish we had a better photo, he was so friendly and complimentary of my French. We bought a hunk of parmesan cheese and ravioli. Two kinds, one with mozzarella and prosciutto and one with just cheese. We’d have pasta tomorrow night.

He was so nice – if only I had a better photo.

For lunch we bought an “empanada like” savory pastry filled with queso, corn and chorizo. There appears to be a bit of a Basque influence around here. One of the cheeses we bought at the IntermarchĂ© yesterday had espelete peppers in it. The vendor assured us this was his most popular variety and we’d love it. He wasn’t sampling the chorizo because it always sells out so quickly. We sampled the spinach and goat cheese and it was quite good.

We just couldn’t resist.

Most marchĂ©s have a merchant selling spices. The colors and aromas are always inviting. Phil is always looking for crushed red pepper to have on Italian food when we are traveling. It doesn’t matter where we go in Europe, they never have it. We never remember to bring any. Sometimes we are offered red pepper in olive oil, which is very tasty but adds quite a few calories to any dish. I remembered how disappointed he always is that we don’t have it so we bought a little bag of ground red pepper. It smelled right, it was ground not flakes but I believe it will work just fine.

With our purchases complete, we had a coffee on the square and watched the world go by.

Just kickin’ back and taking it all in.

The Meals…Easy, Simple and Delicious

We grilled the steak on the electric barbecue on the patio. We’d never used an electric grill before. You fill it up with water place the heating mechanism over the water, put on the grill and plug it in. Phil and the grill did a splendid job grilling the asparagus with a touch of olive oil and salt and pepper as well as the steaks to medium rare. I made a huge salad and Dijon vinaigrette and we roasted potatoes in the oven. We had a bottle of red, 2015 Chateau du Calvaire – Saint-Emilion Grand Cru that we picked up at the IntermarchĂ© for 11 Euros. Everything was simply delicious.

Simple and Delicious

For dessert we shared two pastries that we picked up in a little shop in La Sauve-Majeure a town no more than 15 kilometers from the gîte. We had heated up and split the empanada when we dropped off the groceries at the gite, it was delicious but not exactly filling for two people for lunch. So, we also split a little pizza from the patisserie; they heated it for us. It too was delicious.

Can you guess which ones we had?

We almost wished we hadn’t bought bread at the famers’ market. The breads in this place are cooked in a wood oven and looked amazing.

Just gorgeous

The following night I made spaghetti sauce using the olive oil, garlic, leek, carrot and tomatoes we had purchased at the farmers market.   The ravioli cooked in just 4 minutes in boiling water. I replicated the salad from the night before, added the left over grilled asparagus, and the Dijon vinaigrette was even better the second night.

Pasta tonight

We had to eat inside tonight, it was just too chilly to eat outside. But we pulled the table over to the glass doors so we could still enjoy the view. We finished the wine from the night before and shared a left over éclair that we had picked up at the Intermarché our first day.

Pasta, salad and a good red – heavenly food in heaven

Three really good dinners at the gĂ®te; for our two remaining nights we’d try some local restaurants.

 Wonderful People, Delicious Wine, Great Conversation and A Magnificent Home

We arrived at the gate to Michel and VĂ©ronique’s home, they promptly greeted us and invited us in. Their home is magnificent. Tile, stone, glass, modern appliances, open spaces, amazing views, a beautiful lawn and very tastefully decorated. They showed us around the house. It was 3 houses that an architect assembled into their home. I think we’re staying in a barn turned gĂ®te and garage. They’ve lived there for six years I think. They moved from Paris when Michel retired and are so happy to be living in Laroque. There were clearly no regrets about leaving the City of Lights.

Such amazing taste and design.

They had a spread set up for us out on their patio which had an even more spectacular view then we have. French woman are amazing at entertaining. They do it with ease. Michel was serving both red and white wine. VĂ©ronique assembled a plate of olives, some fish spread on toasts, cured ham wrapped around cheese, and slices of Spanish chorizo. We sipped wine, had snacks, discussed our day, considered what we could do for the next few days, and what we planned to do for the rest of our trip. They were interested in my French lessons and Phil’s guitar playing. VĂ©ronique had made a map for us of a walk they recommend around the gite. It was a wonderful evening.

Ă€ bientĂ´t

 

We Have Found Heaven… It’s Le CĂ´teau des Vignes

The last few months have been rather stressful.  Nothing that I didn’t know I’d get through but difficult all the same.  Knowing we would be taking this trip kept me sane and in the worst of times I’d look at the photo below, knowing I’d soon be here – sipping wine, knitting and just totally relaxed – it would get me through the day.

This is the first time we are staying in a gĂ®te.  We have stayed in bed and breakfasts (chambre d’hĂ´tes) but never a gĂ®te. The difference is that at a gĂ®te you’re on your own. Usually the gĂ®te is on the owner’s property and they are not too far away, there’s no breakfast served and you have a kitchen to prepare your own meals.   You are not guests in their house.   There’s also something called a rural gĂ®te that I think is rather “rustic”, I haven’t done much exploration of those. We have been staying in chambre d’hĂ´tes in France for at least 10 if not 15 years. There’s an association called GĂ®tes de France that rates the properties. In recent years, their website has improved, it’s available in English, you can make reservations for most properties, often you can pay with Mastercard/Visa or in some cases, PayPal, you can see photographs of the properties and you can read reviews. I found our next stop on our journey on the GĂ®tes de France website and have been showing everyone who I could corner the photos of the place.

Do We Say Foot of a Building? And Would You Know What That Means?

We arrived in Laroque and found the church. The directions on our confirmation said, “A Laroque aller Ă  l’Ă©glise, le gĂ®te se situe au pied de l’Ă©glise”. We found the church (l’Ă©glise) the next problem was determining what the foot (le pied) of the church was. 50/50 chance – we picked wrong. Keep in mind Laroque is a tiny place. I could find census info for 2008, 1,398 people in Laroque.  We pulled up at what I guess you’d call the head of the church, parked and looked around. There was a pretty big house across from the head of the church, but no indications of any sort that they were welcoming guests. Their dogs were barking like crazy at us; probably a good sign that this wasn’t the right place. Next test was to try and call our Hosts. We called the number on the confirmation and got a machine, didn’t leave a message. Tried the cell number on the confirmation and realized it was the same number so I left a message this time. Our hosts would hear just how bad my French was.

Welcome to Laroque – Heaven Awaits!

We decided to look around. We walked to the opposite end of the church, headed down the road and saw a stone building with the GĂ®tes de France placard proudly displayed and music started playing in my head as I saw the pebbled stairs leading up to the gĂ®te — just as the photos had promised.   The key was in the door and since Phil was with me, we walked right in. It was absolutely perfect. Exactly what the photos had promised. I was so freakin’ excited. After a quick look around, we knew the place was spectacular.

Exactly As Advertised!

Our French phone rang, it was Michel probably expecting to have to give us directions to Laroque and the gîte. I explained to him that we were already there and explained to him that the key was in the door and we were in. Thinking back on it, I think he was a little freaked out that we had just gone on in. A few moments later Michel and Véronique were with us, giving us a tour of our home for the next five nights.

Welcome To Heaven!

The gîte is bright, happy and welcoming. Bright white walls, ancient stone accents, original wooden beams and bursts of color. The whole thing is about 38 square meters (409 square feet). For reference, our condo is 137 square meters (1,474 square feet).  The first floor has a sitting area, a table for meals, the kitchen and a 1/2 bath.

You can see the key was in the door – just begging us to come on in!

There’s a rather steep open wooden stair case that leads to the bedroom, shower, and laundry room. It’s like a loft or a mezzanine.

This is going to be a bit of a challenge in the middle of the night…after some wine.

The stairs took a bit of getting used to. The angle is a little steeper than we are accustomed to and if you needed to scoot down to the bathroom in the middle of the night in the dark you needed to be careful.

But all that was worth it, because the view from upstairs is sensational. Both inside and out. Imagine waking up to this or looking out the sky light at the stars. We don’t have to imagine it we just need to remember it.

You can see the heavens through the skylight

Everything is perfect about this place. The bed is comfortable, the water is hot, all the appliances work, the kitchen is adequately stocked to cook a meal, and the view from the terrace is to die for. We will later find out that even our hosts are perfect!

“Hey, Is this heaven? No, It’s not Iowa, it’s Laroque , France.”

Michel and VĂ©ronique, were incredibly welcoming. They explained to us that they lived just behind our gĂ®te and if we needed anything or had any questions, we should just call them. I think we did about 85% of this in French. VĂ©ronique speaks some English and Michel understands some. I was thrilled that they could understand me! It wasn’t perfect and with hand motions and a few mixed sentences (English/French) we more than got by. They had a book prepared for us with local restaurants, sites, recommendations of things to do including a schedule of local farmers’ markets, the user manuals for the appliances, everything you could think of.

We quickly decided that we wanted to enjoy that view on our first night and wouldn’t venture out to a restaurant. We asked where to get groceries and they told us to go to the IntermachĂ© in Beguey. They gave us directions, I had remembered seeing it on our way in and we would put it in the GPS, we’d take no chances. VĂ©ronique and Michel double checked that we all set and then asked us if we wanted to follow them to the weekly marchĂ© (market) in CrĂ©on the next day. They would show us where to park, walk us over to the market and we’d go our separate ways. We immediately said yes and agreed to meet at 10 the next morning. We would buy vegetables and meat at the market to cook a few other nights at home.

At the Intermarché we picked up a few staples like olive oil, mustard, milk, butter, eggs, yogurt, baguettes, jam, water, laundry soap, etc.. Dinner our first night was simple and heavenly.   Cheese, cured ham, paté, quiche and that view.

Simple, Delicious, Peaceful and Beautiful

We also had a bottle of local red wine from a vineyard less than 2 kilometers from the gĂ®te. It was a welcome gift that was sitting on the table when we arrived. The food was terrific from the IntermarchĂ©, it’s practically like going to Walmart with prepared haute cuisine. The patĂ© was exceptional. The quiche was great. Phil had Quiche Lorraine and I had a quiche with goat cheese and zucchini. Everything was so reasonably priced; we were amazed. We bought more than we needed for dinner and were thrilled to have the left overs. We sat on the patio, Phil played guitar and I knitted. We had picked very well for our first gĂ®te experience.  

 

 

Obsessed with Troglodytes

There’s Something Intriguing About Living in the Rocks…

I have had an absolute obsession with staying in a troglodyte gite for years. There’s one in the Dordogne region that I want to spend at least a week if not a month in. Dordogne wasn’t in the cards for this trip once I knew were and when my French lessons were going to be. As a little bit of a tease for a future troglodyte adventure, I found a Chambre d’Hotes (Bed and Breakfast) in Nazelles-Negron, about 3.5 to 4 hours from the airport in Paris and nearly 40% of the way to where we are really going. Perfect after an all night flight from the US.

Troglodyte ruin in need of renovation

We arrive in Nazelles-Negron thanks to the GPS looking for “Rue de la Cote Rotie” (already a good sign for Wine Lovers) and ended up on the wrong road, one lane wrong road, heading up a hill alongside homes. There’s an older gentleman working in his yard. We stop the car, I get up my courage to ask for directions and to my surprise he understands me and I understand him. He tells us to go back to the Marie (town hall) take a road with the word “soif” (thirst) in it and follow that up to Cote Rotie. Seems simple (If I understood him correctly); what was hard was turning the car around. We continued up this little road to try to find a place to turn around and it dead ends. But just before the dead end we see another very old man, who is challenged to walk also working in his garden. He comes out to greet us. I explain the problem, he gives us the exact same guidance, he struggles over to help guide Phil in turning around the car, he bids us “Bonne journĂ©e” and we’re off. Two things to note here, both men were incredibly friendly and the second gentleman was easily in his late 80s, probably disabled not just old, and he was working in his garden. I want to be like them, I want everyone to be like them.   Back on the main road, and we see no street sign with the word “soif” in it. I call the bed and breakfast for the second time, and the woman who seems so very happy, tries to explain again to us how to get there. Finally she asks where we are and we tell her, we are on Rue des Écoles – she says stay put I will come and get you in five minutes. We wait, she comes, hops in the car and directs us to her home. We were close, just not exactly there.

Not too far….

A Wonderfully Welcoming Place to Stay

The bed and breakfast is absolutely precious. Our room is built right into the rock.

Our room is built right into the rock

The floors are beautiful terra cotta like tile and it is simply and tastefully decorated. The toilet is separate from the shower and sink. All are lovely and modern.

The sitting area in our room….only French TV

There is a working garden: visible right now are strawberries, leeks, shallots, garlic, tomatoes, and zucchini plants.

A beautiful and tasty garden

Our Warm and Charming Hostess – A Woman Who Has Led A Very Interesting Life and Has Definite Opinions

Our hostess, Francoise LeChat (I’m not making the last name up) is a hoot. She’s had quite the life. Unfortunately, she was widowed at an early age, her husband was only 37 and I suspect she was younger than he at the time. She has 3 children, 2 sons and a daughter. Her one son, who she is very close to, lives nearby and has children of his own. She was a carpenter and quite accomplished as she fabricated all of the wood cabinets in the house and helped with the transformation of the property into her home and the Chambre D’HĂ´tes. Francoise worked in the cinema, she showed us photos of Nick Nolte on a photo shoot. She was in set design and costuming and takes pride in doing things right and the old fashioned way. She is very creative: she decorated and made a lot of the items in her home. After her husband passed away, she took her children with her to Ethiopia for a month. The fact that Ethiopian women had had absolutely nothing, were willing to share what little they did have with her and her children, made a lasting impression on her. She told me that experience really shaped her world view. Everything she cooks with and eats is organic. Francoise tries not to waste anything. She loves her life; she told me it is like living at “Little House on the Prairie”. She has destane for people with lots of money, who think they are big shots. She thinks Monsanto single handedly ruined the environment.     To put it mildly, she’s not wild about Macron and his relationship with the American President. To sum it up, she boarders on having socialist views. I like her a ton, she’s intelligent, well read, and at 76 she’s sharp and has an opinion on everything.

Francoise loves life – we love that she shared her life with us

She was so welcoming and fun. Full of life. She had been preparing dinner for us and it was a feast! We started with a glass of sparkling local wine. We talked for awhile. Nothing rushed at all.

After a long trip, it’s time for some sparkling wine.For our first course we had a leek and chevre (goat cheese) brik. Brik is a Tunisian (or possibly more generally North African) dish that is a thin pancake, wrapped around a filling. Often fried but in this case, baked until golden in the oven. The leeks were sautĂ©ed for at least an hour; they were beautifully caramelized and mixed with a smooth, creamy, light goat cheese and I’d guess egg filling. It was served on lettuce from her garden. It was sensational with the minerally, bubbly, wine. Give me another, and I’d be done with dinner. Absolutely, delicious!

Chèvre et poireau Brik

The main course was a chicken dish made with a “pintade” or guinea fowl in English. She served it with mushrooms and roasted potatoes in a deep, rich wine sauce. We had red wine with the main course, the same red wine she used to cook the chicken. It came from a close by vintner; she brought the bottle he filled it with wine. As you can imagine, all the ingredients were local and they paired together wonderfully. The chicken was moist and flavorful, the mushrooms were earthy, and the potatoes were crisp and sweet. It was wonderful.

Francoise had planned to serve a cheese course, but Phil wasn’t feeling all that great so we skipped it. She promised to serve the cheese with breakfast.

Dessert was amazing, it was almost like a clafoutis but instead of being made with black cherries, the fruit was raspberries. The cake was not sweet, just sweet enough and the raspberries were at the height of freshness. Franciose served it with a crème anglaise. This was sensational.

We finished off dinner with an espresso and went to sleep; it had been a very long day and a half.

I slept like a rock; Phil less so. He felt better in the morning and breakfast was simple and terrific: rich coffee with warm milk, bread, butter, croissants, 3 homemade jams (pear, citrus and peach), homemade yogurt (so good!), fresh squeezed juice (orange, kiwi and apple), the goat cheese we missed last night and left over cake.

Francoise keeps her promises – cheese with breakfast

Two things to note here — Phil loved the cheese, in fact he at the rind. Anyone who has had cheese with Phil knows that he never eats the rind.  He also had another slice of cake (diabetic eating cake for breakfast) because it was so very good. Francoise sat with us and we had another great conversation.

She offered to take us on a walk around the village. We gladly accepted. We walked for about 6 kilometers with her, through vineyards, by other trocoldyte homes and ruins, past properties that claimed to be “chateaux” but she assured us weren’t large enough to be “chateaux” and shared with us the inside scoop on the neighborhood.

Francoise telling Phil something about something

Back at the bed and breakfast we took a little time for Phil to play the guitar and for me to knit. We didn’t want to get to our next stop too early and I have to admit, I hated to leave Francoise she is captivating.  I hope we get to stay with her again, if you want to learn more about Francoise’s Chambre D’HĂ´tes, there’s more info on Gites-de-France website.  

Francoise and I were treated to a little jazz in the morning sun

As we headed to the Bordeaux region, the scenery was beautiful. We were struck by the beauty of the colors. Every thing was so green, and so yellow!

On the road to Bordeaux