This New Year’s Eve was a bigger and an even more dramatic, “end of era” celebration world over (despite all the restrictions), honoured with even more zest and jubilation, than the change of millennia, some20 yrs back which I, a 20 something then, had participated in all its glory.
It’s heartening to see people embrace hope and positivity and look ahead wishing for a “normal “ year ahead. While I’m honouring positivity this January, I don’t much care for all the flak that the last year got.
Did you know that the word January originated from the two-faced, Roman god of doors (and transitions) called JANUS… with one face looking ahead to what will be, and the other looking back to what has been. The transition between a new beginning and an ending.
And looking back to the notorious year 2020, I honestly don’t have particularly strong negative emotions.
Accepting that “life as we knew“ dramatically changed, the last year was a unique time in all our lives.
• A unique opportunity to stay at home and wear PJ’s all day! It was like a summer vacation that we grown-ups never get.
• Even if there was work from home, getting up late (No horrid commute) and still enough time to enjoy brekkers with family.
• Potential morning hours for a quick run or spin.
• Casual dressing!! Yay! Bath, totally optional😂
• Leisurely lunches (despite having to have prepared it on your own)
• And the added advantage of having learnt new culinary skills!
• Now that we were spending so much time at home… the house was cleaner and better organised.
• My eyes opened to the fact that I have a beautiful house with many nooks and cosy crannies to lounge in all day. And Work could be done lounging in a recliner or on a deck chair!
• Made the effort to be in touch with family and friends with regular calls (no more excuses of a very busy day)
• I read so much more.
• Some others “watched” so much more.
• Had time to appreciate the sunrise and the sunset… the glorious skies and the cool breezes!
• …. and the silence in the neighbourhood.
• Which meant we could hear the melodious song of the birds!
• For a change, life did not revolve about “me and mine”… but I felt part of a larger community, “the human race“ and part of a global phenomenon… the pandemic.
• Learnt to be more grateful. Grateful to God for keeping my family safe, grateful for a wonderful family, an awesome support group of friends, a comfortable house to be cooped up in, a cooperative neighbourhood and grateful to all public workers who made our lives easy while risking theirs every day.
• Learnt to be content. Life during last year was surely not about acquiring more but learning to make do with what we already had and being content with it. Be it the lack of fanciful groceries, premium wines or imported products that we thought we couldn’t do without. Well, we did manage with what was available and fairly well!
• Learnt to be calm. By basically tuning out negative news and negative people. Honestly, life is too short to waste on people that don’t add value and positivity to your life.
• Learnt the advantage of healthy habits- the endorphin rush! The most positive aspect of the whole year was the fitness regime that we started and have managed to make part of daily practice. A friend introduced me to a “20K steps for 20days” challenge… which thankfully lasted rest of 2020 and propagated to a fitter lifestyle where I started running and cycling as well.
So, you might see my point of view, that all was not lost and all did not go awry last year.
I don’t need to list the downside of this period, in our personal lives or through the world. There is no way we can ever forget. People lost their lives, their dear ones, their jobs, financial stability, basic freedom of movement and social interactions. But.
But. We survived. We adapted. We learnt and we grew. And perhaps become a better version of ourselves compared to the year before. We learnt to count our blessings. We learnt to be content. We deciphered how little one needed to still be happy and we identified true friends which add meaning to life.
Weed out unhealthy habits, useless people, and maximalist, unsustainable lifestyles.
And welcome the year to be, riding proudly on the small and big achievements of the year gone by. Be happy to be alive and be hopeful.
Infact, if you whine with wine, you’ll feel even lighter! 🙂 So, who else out there is missing wine country? Come on, let’s whine together!
Once upon a time, there was a studious city girl who went on a grand trip with her bae, to San Francisco, the city of her dreams and also the city hosting a Radiology conference. While this trip was being planned, she chanced upon a luxury travel magazine and fell in love with the pictures from Napa valley. “Oh, please can we go…” she chimed! “You don’t even know wine or enjoy wine!” stated DH, matter-of-factly. “Why do I need to know wine…I just want to enjoy the beauty of a lush countryside, the vineyards, cycle around the rolling green hills…!” DH…rolled his eyes so hard, he saw his brains!- True Story!
Yes, somewhat like that, in an unconventional way, started our life-long love of Wine-countries and then, Wine!
Though Australia and South America are yet to be uncorked, we have some of the European (the Old world vintage) and North American (new world charm) wine regions, bottled up! (do see the movie Bottle-shock, if you haven’t already!)
Sitting with a cuppa coffee (folks please, it’s early morning) I’m flipping through tons of pictures on Iphoto and drooling over wide open spaces, something we city dwellers sorely miss. Noticing that some of the greenest scapes are from our travels to wine regions, I started compiling a list of my favourites and hence this post, based in order of the impact they have left on our memories and the special charm they bring to the table!
Napa-Sonoma (Northern California) (2007)
Since this was the first-ever wine-country experience, it will remain our favorite. Though pictures 13 yrs back were not DSLR quality, we still had to discover wine snobbery 😉 and our palates were not as refined (not saying we are connoisseurs now but can differentiate the fruity notes of a Pinot Noir, from a spicy Syrah), we loved the experience which is etched on the memory as if it was yesterday!
Right from the pre-planning stage when we read and acquainted ourselves with etiquettes of wine-tasting which included, practicing “spitting” in the wash-basin, to reading California Driving manual (for rules against DUI), extensively planning which towns to stay and which wineries to visit and pre-renting cycles, mapping the routes, this trip was an eye-opener.
It was like being Alice, in a wonderland, exploring wide-eyed, an entirely extraordinary world! It’s not only about tasting, buying and drinking wine, we learnt about viticulture (which is the art of growing wine) and vinification (the process of making wine, including the grape crushing, mainly staged for us, the tourists, but still fun!).
Ever visited a temperature regulated, cool and dry wine cellar, stacked roof-to the floor with wine barrels, collecting wine from a barrel using a Wine-Thief and keeping a straight face when all about you are claiming to sniff peppercorns or red berries in their wine.
Did you know that some of the wineries are actually housed in beautiful mansions or places of historical interest or simply owned by famous families/ popular personalities, housing memorabilia, made into museums, and giving private pre-booked tours of the properties? One such was the Jacuzzi-family winery, yes the same jacuzzi that we soak-in.
Some of the wine-makers might entice visitors with wine-food or wine-cheese pairings while others might break the ice with a game of basketball or Golf!
Almost every tasting room has a view to-die-for and prices of some of the “Reserva” wines on offer, to die-off. Most of the wineries predictably have shops selling labeled wine merchandise but also, wine-vinegars, olive oils, preserves, all produced locally, worth the money that you buy it with and worth the effort put into bringing it back home!
Though, this is not a Napa Valley exclusive post, its still worth mentioning that we stayed at the top of the valley, in a town called Calistoga, very scenic with hills dotting the backdrop, ideal for those long cycling days, and known for its Mud-baths!
Stop smirking right there and let me explain. Its very-very difficult for me to choose between the famous wine regions within France (hell we drove for almost 20 days and through some of the most scenic routes). I cannot choose between Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire or Provence and cannot ignore upcoming regions like Bandol.
Before the trip, as usual, we scavenged for information on forums, as to which regions to visit for which wine, the wineries to visit, any festivals around that time, best cycling paths, and which child-friendly routes to take. A note that kept popping up was the snootiness of french winemakers and how making appointments was mandatory and sticking to them, even more. Now either we call the french snooty or accept that they appreciate punctuality and that’s no reason to think they are uptight.
In fact, our experience was in most part, very pleasant except for one very over-priced wine-lunch which, in all honesty, could be blamed partly on me being a vegetarian and partly on lack of vegetarian cooking skills of rest of the world. In one particular incidence, the host at a winery in the village of Pommard, in Bourgogne (popularly Burgundy) was so helpful and patient with us, despite us getting massively delayed due to a small biking accident, that he hosted us very pleasantly when we showed up three hours later for a cellar tour and tasting!
There is something to be said about being the old world when you can boast of cellars about 1000 yrs old, all cobwebby, no electrical lighting, wax candle-lit tasting, and in all a bit vampire-style spooky if everyone is wearing black! 🙂 It’s only polite when you buy not one but four bottles! Pity we couldn’t ship back an entire case!
We had the time of our lives, cycling in Burgundy, picture-perfect in every way, on the Véloroute! Enjoy the scenic vistas and do check out the dedicated post from our trip to Burgundy, before planning your next trip (Don’t worry, it’ll happen sooner than you imagine…keep the faith)!
Repose in Bordeaux, in the middle of a vineyard, near St Emillion, was as high as it can go in terms of staycation experiences, and we cannot wait to go and park ourselves there, again! Pictures are worth a thousand words…so here they are!
Can one have enough of cycling? Never, says me, through verdant wine regions, because that is one way to slow down your pace, your thoughts and soak-it-all-in! Here’s cycling through some of the most iconic landmarks of the Loire valley.
Lavaux, Montreux, Switzerland (2015)
Why Turquoise Blue for the Title? You may or may-not wonder but it’s my job to give you all unnecessary trivia.
Close your eyes and imagine vibrant green hills bedecked with grape-laden vines, rolling down to a turquoise-blue Lake-Geneva. The vista around Lavaux region of Switzerland is jaw-dropping in beauty and so exceptional that one has to go there to believe the stunning beauty.
Switzerland is not primarily known as a wine-growing country, because the world is not used to seeing Swiss wines on the aisles of their generic wine-shops. This is because the product is lesser in quantity, but great in quality, and is produced mainly for local consumption within the country, rather than for export. In fact, the Swiss drink a lot of wine per capita, import 2/3rd of the consumed quantity, and for a fun-fact, import more Beaujolais than the whole of the USA.
Spain as a wine-growing country is as complex or even more so than France!
Haven’t we all enjoyed a fruity red Tempranillo, one of the most famous red wine varietals, from the famous Rioja region of northern Spain? Cava, the sparkling wine, grown in the regions along the Mediterranean coast, which includes a blend of Garnacha (or Grenache in neighboring France) or the exquisite oaky Dry-Sherry (not the sweet sherry sipped by elderly English ladies) from Jerez de la Frontera, in Andalucia!
Spain is ideally located in terms of latitudes, with its warm to hot climate aptly suited for viniculture and the various influences on the wine-growing process from the neighboring regions.
Though Rioja in the Basque region is still on the travel bucket list, we visited Sant Sadurní d’Anoia near Barcelona to sample their famous Cava and instead of cycling or driving, ended up on a long walking-trip in the country. Not definitely by design, was too hot to handle but makes for one hell of a reflection!
We drove through the spectacular Andalucian region of southern Spain, bedecked with charming Pueblo Blancos or white villages, stunning countryside dotted with wine and olive groves, ancient Moorish, or Romanesque architecture, and turquoise lakes.
Andalucia epitomizes the charms of slow-travel, driving through awe-inspiring landscapes and breaking for wine/sherry tasting in tradicionalbodegas, during the day.
Checking into a new town every-other-day, exploring street-foods or go on a Tapas-bar hop, in the evening, pairing food with Cerveza or Sangria according to your whim! Later, head out for some foot-tapping flamenco experience or just stroll to a local popular Plaza and soak-in, life-as-a-local!
If you ever felt like “there’s so much to see, so little time”, you will feel it a 100 times more in Andalucia. Needless to say, pre-planning is your best bet!
Moselle River Valley- Germany (2013)
The Moselle (or Mosel) valley is a region around the river Mosel, meandering through parts of western Germany, eastern France and Luxembourg and is known for its White wines, especially the famous Rieslings from Germany.
What makes this region spectacular and on this list, is the landscape, as distinctive and charming as it gets!
Close those eyes again, and now imagine… hiking through terraced vineyards on hill slopes while the placid river Mosel, calmly meanders below, and a medieval, almost fairytale-like castle sits atop a neighboring hilltop.
Alternatively, imagine cycling along a beautiful track right along the river bed, with bird-song in your ear, dense foliage along the banks, intermittently opening its curtains to panoramic vistas of hillsides adorned with palisading vines.
Pacific Northwest wine regions (Washington and Oregon states)
If you’re wondering what or where’s that…nobody will blame you. The lesser-known of the New World wine regions, over-shadowed by neighboring Californian wines, but holding the fort, are the wines produced in Oregon and Washington states of north-west USA. While Oregon produces Pinot Noir in the majority, inland of Washington, along the Columbia River valley which is warmer in climate, produces a mix of great whites (including Chardonnay) and Reds.
Having driven along the scenic Pacific Highway 101 in California earlier, we wanted to explore the more rugged northern Pacific coasts and the Olympic peninsula.
Thus, originated the mammoth trip to the North-west pacific (including British Columbia in Canada), including their famous wine regions!
While boarding a flight from Seattle airport, the immigration officer seemed dumb-founded when we said we were visiting Walla-Walla, and he went, “Who the hell visits Walla-Walla”…and hubby goes, “we crazy, wine-loving Indian nomads”. Another, absolutely true story!
If you consider yourself a traveler and scoff at touristy attractions, you just might understand the charm of visiting places that are off-the-beaten-path! The novelty of visiting unheard-of places, being greeted with warmth, enjoying uncrowded vistas, and never having to come across the terms “booked-out or sold-out” are all, “simple joys of life”. Sampling delectable wines amidst splendid country setting is a top endorphin-releasing experience too!
Though, “there is so much wine and so little time” …the quest is on, albeit on a corona-break, and hopefully, we’ll be on a road-trip soon, on another continent, driving or cycling through sun-soaked, verdant countryside, sampling wines, cheese, and chocolates, keeping ourselves hydrated, sipping and spitting (part of the 4s’s…sniff, sip, swirl and spit) and minding speed limits.
This November (of 2018), we made a whirl-wind trip to Chicago, for work. Of course the little one accompanied us and we took turns attending conference and entertaining the little one. We all wear the traveling pants in our family, and Mr little pants who is already a pro-traveller contributed to travel planning this time, voting for things he wanted to see/ do /eat in Chi-town.
“I wish we could skate everyday back home, I’ll get so much better with practice “. No surprises there, as he was thrilled at the end of this tryst. Considering that we, the tropical dwellers do not usually engage in this sport, and little one has no skating/ balancing skills, the enthusiasm that he showed to try his hand (oops, feet) at ice skating was commendable. Through the week, we passed by the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink (at the Millennium Park), numerous times, dreamily ogling at the skaters. Both me and the little one were keen while daddy was speculative (having earlier torn his ACL in a freak injury). Anyhow, the last evening, few hours before our flight back home, we gave-in to our instincts and queued up to rent skates. Daddy dear was kind enough to also gear up, helping the little one by the perimeter. Despite tumbling a dozen times while balancing the act on the edge of a skate, the little one was all smiles and never once gave up.
“Wow, mum, Sue was amazing, not at all scary” Sue had already charmed the little one’s heart long before the trip! A Dinosaur enthusiast from the very beginning, he marveled at the chance to view the largest, most complete T-Rex skeleton in the world! Cherry on the topping was the giant Titanosaur, nick named Maximo, the largest dinosaur discovered. Along with him, even we were dazed by the fact that there have been about six “Mass Extinctions” on our planet till date. Makes one wonder, as to when would be our turn?!
“The Tilt was amazing and the view was so awesome! I was a teeny bit scared though…only a teeny bit” At the 360 Degree Chicago, located in the John Hancock Tower, is where people go to get thrilled (tilted) about 1000 meters over the city, in a glass window. I don’t have Pictures, of the tilt, as typically, photography was not allowed and one is cornered into buying garishly bright, flash bombed overpriced pictures, which we refused to buy. Though the panoramic views and pictures from the gallery were awe-inspiring!
This is the window where we Tilt. I had butterflies in my tummy when we actually inclined, (getting bizarre Final destination scenarios in my head) but the Little one was Rock-solid and enjoyed himself!
“I’m thankful that we got to see snowfall in November!” Having never seen a snow-fall, its not hard to imagine the ecstasy that little one felt seeing the cotton-wooly shower from the Sky, the very first snow fall this winter in Chicago, which was in itself an unusual occurrence around Thanks-giving, making it even more fortuitous. The Winter-wonderland that Chicago turned into soon after, was literally icing on the cake. Despite freezing cold, our hearts were warmed seeing the young one’s joy making snow-balls, kicking snow-balls (since he considers himself a soccer player, Ha) and making a snow angel (Brrr)! Truly, simple joys of life!
“Dolphins are so amazing and so is the giant alligator turtle, and the sea horses are so cute!” Of course, he loved the aquarium. Who doesn’t?! What’s not fascinating about a largely alien world with such marvelous under-water creatures. The grand slam of the tour was the Dolphin show, Dolphins being such fascinating and jolly creatures! There were sea lions on the show who entertained the little ones and almost all present were squealing in delight!
“Its so big, Daddy! It looked so small in the pictures!” Having heard of it while planning and seen the pictures, the Bean or the Cloud-gate, didn’t seize to amaze! When later, in a drawing class, the kids were asked to do a free-drawing, our little one chose to draw this…
…his memory of the Millennium park tree, the bean and the skyline of skyscrapers in the Windy city!
Zoo Lights, Christkindl Market and the Chicago River walk:
Little one is a trooper and though he said it only after coming back, he enjoyed the river walk and city walk and said, “I wish we could everyday walk to breakfast, by the river- side, back home!”
We loved the Zoo-lights, of which, we could get just a glimpse, since it was off-limits, for a private party on the evening we visited. Nonetheless, got few good shots!
Christkindl Market was all twinkling and sparkling and colorful, what with all those baubles and ornaments! It was paradise and not only his favorite, but our’s too!
…& then there was the Food!
Pancakes and Breakfast at Wildberry:
Mindy’s Hot Chocolate:
One thing he did “not” dig (into) was the famous Giordano’s Deep Dish Pizza
Can we blame him? It was just too over-whelming, the size of the slice! Let’s be frank… it was delicious, but let’s call it a pie, please. With two layers of bread, tons of cheese and oodles of filling its not anyone’s conventional pizza. Our little one, like me, is a picky eater and could manage to nibble just a quarter of a slice! All the rest was packed for our mid-night feast, since the jet-lagged family was up and hungry middle of the night, every night!
Let’s wrap up by saying that he had an incredible time. Despite the odds of freezing weather, numb hands, heavy boots, and the massive jet lag etc, he enjoyed the furlough. It was special because he knew what to expect, was part of the planning and the execution. He had opinions and views which as a parent was so forthcoming and heartening. We understand that as they grow up, they may not remember everything from a childhood trip, but having been exposed to new experiences, kids get a wider horizon and gain confidence.
Let me know your inputs. Do you travel with children? How old are they? And aren’t you making memories for a lifetime?
Arrived by air, from Bordeaux to Marseille, just before noon, from a place with torrential downpour to the land of sunny blue skies, fascinated by the azure Mediterranean coastline, while descending from the sky.
Wanting to see more in the available time, we planned to not stay on the coast, but do a drive through (we had already been to Paris, Bordeaux and Burgundy, on this french summer holiday, and still had Provence, Loire valley and bit of Normandy, on the itinerary).
The ambitious, original plan was to drive from Marseilles to Nice, with a stopover for lunch, in a coastal town and then drive up to L’isla’sur’la Sorgue, our local stay for next 3 days, in Provence.
The deviation from the plan was only that we did not drive all the way to Nice, but part of the way, and took pit stops along many smaller coastal towns with awe-inspiring views of the Mediterranean Sea.
After picking up our rental car, we navigated through the Old port of Marseilles, considered to be one of the most picturesque parts of Marseilles, and a harbour for cruise ships, as well. The view was spectacular with boats moored along the quay, cruise ships in the distance and the magnificent fortress, Château d’lf perched on the island of Lf in the distance, made popular by Alexander Dumas’, Count of Monte Cristo.
We meandered through the popular, Rue de la Republiqué, teeming with tourists, including those from the cruise-ships, with a picturesque promenade, dotted with cafes and restaurants.
We didn’t stay in Marseilles for long, as the plan was to have lunch at Bandol. Here, the challenge was to map our route, to be able to drive along the coast and soak-in the blue hues, as far as possible, and avoid driving, in-land. Unfortunately there isn’t a coastal highway, à la, Highway 1 pacific coast. So we mapped our route from coastal town- to town. Our first stop was Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, then La-Ciotat, latter a smaller port with similar promenades that dot most coastal towns.
The beaches are pristine white, contrasting with the shimmering azure blue seas and the sunny blue skies. Our breaks included finding a parking spot which was always a task, walk/ sit along the promenade, have an ice- lolly or a beer depending on the age, and click lots of pictures!
We reached Bandol, about 4 pm and had a late lunch here, paired with a Bandol Rosé, a product of Mourvédre grape, specific to this region, blended with Grenache. Bandol is amongst Provence’s increasingly popular wine regions, known for its young and crisp Rosé and spicy Reds.
From Bandol, we started back, at 6:30 pm, the shortest route via Marseilles again and then inland, reaching L’isla’sur’la sorgue at 9 pm.
This small picturesque town is also known as the Venice of Provence, with the shallow, clear steams of river Sorgue, forking through the town, lively cafes and restaurants lining the river side and picturesque bridges connecting the right and left banks. Colourful flowering shrubs along the river side, vibrant boats on the shallow waters and the eclectic lighting from the cafes, are a Photographer’s delight making for splendid pictures.
The town itself is very lively, bursting with tourists and locals alike, exuberant restaurateurs, eclectic shops and street musicians contributing together to make a perfect holiday atmosphere.
Our homestay (Air B& B) here, hosted by Olivier, was another of those great finds (of course not unexpected since DH researches a lot to find us the perfect spot). Perfectly situated, in a quiet by lane, just two minutes walk from the main market and the most happening foodie streets of the town. The apartment itself was eclectic in decor and fun to explore.
First evening was spent loitering about the town, soaking in the vibrant scenes and clicking away, at the perfect time of the day, twilight! Found a nice Italian restaurant who sweetly offered the patrons, cosy comforters, seeing us shiver in the evening breeze, along with delicious food, of course!
Next day was an ode to lavender! Since this french trip was timed perfectly to coincide with lavender bloom, we had travelled to Provence to see this natural marvel.. my dream since forever. Also, being an ardent fan of L’occitane products, and knowing their origin in Provence, had thought of visiting their production site, which we finally decided against, since that trip would have taken up much of a day. Eventually I shopped from their local store in town, at much discounted rates, compared to home.
Finding blooming lavender fields was the agenda of day 2 in Provence and made easy by the online “Lavender routes of Provence” Maps. We charted these on our google maps and headed for Gordes. On the way, did some roadside shopping for freshest of cherries and peaches, the bounty of Provence!
Spotted a cicada, another regional symbol, which chose poorly, to venture into our car and made for all the ensuing mini-frenzy!
French countryside like most of Europe is dotted with the most picturesque little towns, and the region of Luberon is dotted with these charming hill-top villages, known as “Les plus beaux villages de France”.
Gordes is one of those awe-inspiring spots, reminding me much of Andalusia. The photography began long before we meandered through the narrow winding and steeply uphill lanes, which was an adventure in itself, in our minibus!
After a short break here, we headed for the most photographed spot in the region, the fields of Abbey Senanque, in Vaucluse, with its perfectly manicured rows of lavender, pictured against the timeless Abbey, in stone!
Though the lavender bloom was not at its peak, it still was one of the most dramatic sites, vivid in shades of lavender and violet! Thank god for digital cameras, else we would have spent an entire roll of film here!
Next stop on the map was the village of Rousillon, known for the dramatic Ochre hills, and the village itself theme-painted in earthy tones of ochre, red and pink.
We had a routine lunch of pizza here, having reached later than usual hours, followed by delicious gelato and then lazily loitered through the shops, selling the perfect souvenirs for the tourists. Bought the most aromatic candle here infused with the Herbs’ du Provence!
Then we navigated towards Sault, the plateau around this town, is lush with lavender for miles. Just before reaching Sault, we had our first glimpse of lavender fields next to the road and we literally jumped out of the car to roll amongst these!
Unlike the Abbey Senanque, where venturing into the lavender fields is not allowed, here we could roll, bath and tumble amongst the river of lavender! It was all that I foresaw in my imagination and more and a thrill for everyone! We lolled around here, clicking pictures and collecting sprigs of lavender for a while.
I cannot say that we had our “fill” of lavender, but we were satiated for the moment.. and though we did go upto Sault, we enjoyed the lavender panorama, unfolding on the drive.
We were late for most of the lavender farms or factories, which were closed for the day, but without worry, as the towns sell enough of everything a traveller can need… and more! Back to town, we bought loads of lavender soaps, lotions, pillows and candles! … ummm, so aromatic and delightful!
Day 3 in L’isla’sur’la Sorgue, we did nothing. And as a result.. soaked in so much more of the town and it’s beat. We could have made a day trip to Nice.. as earlier planned.. but then, would we have stayed in bed till lunch time? Could we have had a lazy breakfast, strolled through the lanes and along the streams, ogled at the vivid sky and speckled clouds, at ducklings paddling in the streams or colourful buntings adorning the already vibrant town? Definitely not. Sometimes doing nothing, especially on a holiday, is the best thing to do. We’re anyway not the “big town” loving folks, already residing in one.. and if given an opportunity, we’ll always be found, in some nook and cranny of a lush countryside.
DH & dad & me did some wine and cheese tasting at Chez Stéphane.
& tasted the venerable, Châteauneuf-du-Pape!
Last morning in Provence, we marked our attendance at the weekly, farmers market in town, known widely for its arts and eclectic crafts section, along with the usual bounty of foods and such, not wanting to leave, but had to advance our journey onwards to central France, on to Loire Valley.
Beaune will be etched in our minds, amongst other merrier reasons, forever, as the place, where we met with our first ever Road accident, internationally.
To get that out-of-the-way, it was a low velocity impact.. being on country roads, close to Beaune, thankfully the metal took the brunt and the bodies involved were all safe, this incident highlighted the attitude of french..
1. The other party involved who were local french family were much more worried about us, than being bothered about their battered car.
2. The “french” locals as well as the Gendarmerie, won our hearts, with their sympathetic and uber helpful attitude helping us with everything including language constraints.
3. It’s highly advisable to get comprehensive car insurance! Can’t speak about it enough. This made the aftermath so smooth with pick ups and transfer to Dijon, the next big town, and smooth transition to the next car, all arranged by AVIS.
4. Never drink and drive. Especially take care to spit and not swallow if you’re wine tasting in a wine country. A lesser mortal might be tempted to take in a few swigs.. especially if there are Grand Cru and premiere Cru wines from the worlds best wine country, on the offing! But not dear hubby!! I already had enough confidence in him which only peaked after this episode. We were incidentally returning from a wine brunch when this happened. His breath analysis for alcohol came out negative.
5. Never give up, keep faith. Some of the members wanted to give up on the trip.. (imagine!).. but no way were we going to shelve a wonderfully planned journey and we carried on!
Beaune is a beautiful small town in Burgundy (Bourgogne) and also considered its wine capital, nested amidst the lush vineyards of Côte d’Or region.
We travelled from Paris on a Saturday morning so we could visit the weekly market at Beaune centre. Started from Paris about 10:30 and reached about noon.
The market area is divided into a large food plaza and a clothing / home decor section; sifting quickly through the latter we lazily strolled trough the food section, sampling local delectables and picking up freshest of baked goods and veggies, cheeses, mushrooms etc. Bought a whole lot of Truffle and truffle infused products, the regional delicacy of Bourgogne. A quirky thing on sale was dried onion flowers which is crisp and flavorful when sprinkled on salads and dishes.
We unfortunately missed out on the yearly wine fest in village of Volnay on the same morning, held every year about this time. So those travelling in end June should check this out.
Lunch was pre booked at a wonderful restaurant, recommended by a good friend, and is called L’ô à la Bouche. And what a recommendation.. for a perfect sunny brunch, by the side of a tiny brook and a pond with ducklings.. straight out of an Enid Blyton book! Only thing missing was a picnic basket, the lack of which was made up by the delectable lunch in the offing. This reminded me of the song The Perfect day, by Lou Reed!
After lounging about for an extended meal, we laggardly headed to our B&B within town, having chosen this for its proximity to the town centre as well as the bike rentals. Since we’re the “go-getters”, we headed straight out to “Bourgogne Randonees” to pick up our bikes which were previously reserved, since they’re much in demand!
The gentleman at the shop was very helpful but somehow we muddled up the directions that he gave for the bike path. We went round the town at least twice..had some not so serious falls, (first mom, then dad).. which pretty much shelved biking plan on that day!
Not losing hope, we strapped ourselves in the car seats and drove to the nearby village of Pommard, instead of cycling to it.. to meet for an appointment at a winery called Domaine Rebourgeon-Mure. Have to say that the owner, completely floored us by patiently waiting for us to show up for a tasting, beyond usual hours, at least 2 hours after our appointment… thus breaking the ‘myth’ of snooty uptight, french wine makers of burgundy, worlds oldest wine country! Here we could venture into a true vine cellar, centuries old with moldy dusty walls, cobwebs and candles, thankfully did not bump into any vampires!! Picked up couple of delicious Premiere Cru wines from this winemaker.
Day 2 was devoted to visiting nearby villages and their famous wine makers. These include Puligny Montrachet, Aloxe-Corton and Meursault.
Serendipitously ventured into an amazing restaurant in Meursault called Chez Richard, where we sampled the famous Epoisses cheese and the regional delicacy, the escargot!
After sating our appetite, and not sure about the next plan.. we decided to again give cycling a go. Having experienced other wine countries on a bike, we didn’t want to miss out on this experience in the french country.
So instead of renting the bike in town centre, we researched and reached Bougogne Evasion, located very close to the entrance gate of the Véloroute (bike-path) and thus minimising chances of our getting lost again!!
A pillared gate welcomes cyclists to the -Véloroute of Voie des Vignes, and right after entering, one is transported to serene, lush wine country surrounded by pallisading rows of verdant green vines and clear blue skies.
The stillness is interrupted only by the whirring of the bicycle wheels, chirping of the birds and the camera clicks! It’s a perfect detox for an urban dweller.
Being later in the day and considering the fitness levels of all, we chose to bike the shortest path from Beaune to Pommard, a short 20-30 minute ride, the terrain being mostly flat, with mild undulations. Path to village of Volnay is quiet steep and we skipped it. Do remember that wine countries are hot and sunny so be prepared with caps, sunscreen and lots of water, as there are no pit-stops between villages. Another point to remember is that cycling/ walking path is through vineyards but there’s no wine tasting rooms in between. Tasting is localised at abundant wine shops and in cellars in the villages or available with meals in the restaurants, latter being a wonderful idea after a bit of exercise 😊
Done with cycling, we had only managed to touch 4 o’clock on the watch, with the sun shining brightly and too early to call it a day. Guess what? We decided to visit Dijon, a half an hour ride away from Beaune. Despite knowing that Dijon is a big town, we were quite overwhelmed by its size and the traffic on the roads. I guess we were lucky that it was a Sunday and there were no major traffic snarls!
Since we were running against time, we headed straight to the town centre to see the Notre Dame cathedral and to follow the famous Owl Trail.
Within the city centre are many owl plaques, engraved on the pavement with numbers, guiding the tourists around many important landmark including the cathedral. One can buy a book from the town centre or easier, can download a mobile app, which tells in detail about every structure/ monument on the trail.
Saying goes that if you spot and touch the owl on a corner wall, at the end of the trail, it’s supposed to be lucky in getting you back to Dijon!
Another incident to remember, happened in Dijon, where for some reason our parking ticket was defective and we were sort of trapped in an underground parking. Again, a helpful local Frenchman, who didn’t understand a word of English, came to our rescue!!
We started the next and last day in Bourgogne, on a spicy note by a visit to the famous, Edmond Fallot Moutarderie, a mustard factory/ shop.. famous for the Dijon mustard! Bought few varieties of mustard and other products.
Following this, we set course for the adjacent commune (region) of Nuits-Saint-Georges. Both Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits-Saint-Georges are the famous wine regions in Burgundy (Bourgogne) with the former popular for its Chardonnay and the latter for its Pinot Noir wines!
It’s fascinating trying to understand the French wine appellation system. Breaking it down very, very broadly, the lowest in class would be a Regional wine (for example a bottle saying Bourdeaux or Burgundy), followed by Subregional category (example Côte de Beaune), followed by Village wine (example Pommard in Côte de Beaune) and finally the top most category is a single Domaine or vineyard. Then ofcourse there are Grand Cru (Burgundy regions best wines) and Premiere Cru (second best wines). Best refer to THE INTERNET for the same!
We did another wine tasting in Vosné Romanée, at Domaine Bernard Rion and bought some more wines for consumption! Hubby dear believes in bringing some back and I’m always worried about the Packing!
DH had earlier reserved a 4 course wine lunch at Olivier Leflaive. They serve a basic lunch menu to highlight the wine, but despite knowing this, ‘the vegetarians’ were disappointed with the serving of Boiled beans and cheese. At least, dear hubby enjoyed the Beouf Bourgogne with the paired Grand Cru andPremiere Cru wines.
One can also do Truffle hunting with tasting in this region, but the same wasn’t available on the dates when we were in the region.
To summarize, Burgundy was wonderful; the highlights being the cycling through the vineyards and the Pinot Noir! Hoping we’ll be back soon, especially with the blessings of the Dijon Owl.
We recently came across the german word ‘Gemütlich’ – translated as feeling of warmth and amiability to all, which usually describes my state of mind as I publish a much pondered post.
We are a Generation X couple, living a Uber cool life in a hot city where we expertly juggle our jobs, an increasingly demanding adolescent and managing a nuclear household in New Delhi, all without any screaming or meltdowns! While last bit may not be true… what’s a fact is that we preserve our sanity and live day to day, always dreaming and planning our next get-away! Pretty early on, in our married life, we discovered each other’s passion for travelling and live to explore the world and its bounty! Passionate nature lovers, and wine enthusiasts, most of our trips involve some hiking, biking, lush wine countries and gorgeous pictures on the way!
So all you genial folks out there, flip through the pages, walk with us and enjoy some amateur photography. These trips may not be path breaking, but everytrip is special, planned meticulously by dear darling, and always a bit off-the beaten path!