The sagas, begin in folklore, with how the Norwegians, then Vikings, crossed the mighty seas and reached Iceland and why they bothered at all to make a base on this cold and desolate island. I do not really care to share the stories from the Stone Ages, but we’re here to share our sagas…which though less gruesome, are no less audacious.
Our saga begins with how these tropical-dwelling asians (that’s us) went traipsing across mainland Europe, why they could not just stay there doing the usual touristy things, like Venice or Budapest or even Slovenia…and why they bothered to venture to Iceland. The sagas of modern times will include the turmoils during the planning phase (something most travel bloggers fail to address) and then the travel stories themselves, including the adventures and misadventures endured, the vagaries of nature braved, the facets of human behavior faced and how the two and a half humans persisted on the road for 16 days.
Do not expect the common kind of blog post with the best things to do, spectacular drives, favorite hikes, etc. All that goes without saying, but there will be unadulterated and blatant truth of an Icelandic trip, the travels, and the terrors.
Iceland first appeared on the horizon of our perspective, in the form of the movie, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” an outstanding and vivid tale of travel and attendant escapades.
We have always had this urge to see faraway places, this longing to be amidst raw natural beauty, to be far from maddening crowds. Homo sapiens have this nomadic gene, dubbed the restless gene by David Dobbs, (National Geographic Magazine) which describes this urge of humankind that eventually led to them to move out of Africa, and then to the moon and then beyond!
We first saw this movie back in 2017 and started daydreaming about this road trip. Time went by, other plans were made, other cities explored and finally, it was the dawn of 2020 when we sat down and booked the entire 15 days of Iceland for the upcoming summer. Every reader, unless an Inuit in Greenland, would know exactly what followed next. The world became a large lonely place, with empty streets, vacant beaches, lonely monuments, and happy wildlife. Yes.. it was 2020 when the modern world came to an abrupt standstill. And so did our best-laid plans.
Thankfully we managed to rescue our accounts, with near-complete refunds from the airline and Air B&B.
The next opportunity knocked in 2023. Correction, it was an opportunity, willfully created. Though we had other commitments, I stubbornly insisted that Iceland was to happen this very year and not to be delayed any further. Sacrificed some of the planned Himalayan treks to fit this mega trip on our limited holiday reserve.
DH started rubbing his hands in nervous anticipation.. just ready to attack the internet to disclose, all its travel tips and tricks, where to stay, what to eat, and what all layers to wear. He is like a kid in a candy store when given a destination, dates, and an approximate budget and he dives in with both hands and feet to find the juiciest airfares, the most delectable restaurant bookings, drool-worthy destinations, and the most colorful accommodations.
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.
Blessed are the curious, for they will have all the adventures!
Some folks might wonder why I’m posting a pending post from a previous trip, now, at the time when there is no imminent travel on the horizon, for anyone.
As I see things, now is the time to keep hopes and morale up, now is the time to find the silver-lining and now is the time to look forward and dream. I am going to. And giving everyone an outlet to enjoy the wide open vistas, which is a rare commodity at the moment.
Morning at our Air B&B at Killorglin was like waking up in an Enid Blyton book… with crispy morning air, blowing through a picture-perfect window, displaying a bubbling brook and emerald-green vista, aroma of hot-breakfast wafting up to our room and sense of adventure lurking around the corner.
This was a very productive day as we managed to drive through some bits of Dingle and Kerry on the same day (see the itinerary maps for the same), experiencing their mix of scenery and micro-climates, had a thrilling falconry experience in Dingle, drove through the amazing highlands of Glencar, as suggested by our very helpful host and had an unnerving encounter with the notorious coastal fogs in Kerry.
The first planned stop-over was at Inch Beach, a long sandy beach, popular for all kinds of water sports when the weather is favorable, but it was one of the windiest spot on the coast, that day and we bid adieu too soon after few mandatory pictures.
One of the attempted self portrait looked something like this…
Bypassing the town of Dingle we drove to the farthest point on our itinerary, towards Dunquin Harbour, site of dramatic sea-mounds, cut-off by the fiery Atlantic winds. A very picturesque spot and definitely worth a visit.
After a bit of hiking and photographing here, we drove to the vibrant town of Dingle for lunch. Does anyone recall that particular scene from the movie Leap-year when the actress boards a ferry from Wales (in England) towards Ireland and after a stormy sea trip, lands at Dingle? Just FYI, that’s not possible, since Dingle is situated on the west coast of Ireland! But then, movies we always knew, know no geographical boundaries. Sorry for the totally random trivia!
Lunch at quirky cafe called Pantri, was a colorful affair, serving organic produce with plenty of vegetarian options for me and thankfully, seating available for three, at rush-hour.
After a satiating meal, there was an appointment to keep at the Dingle Falconry.
This majestic eagle owl, largest species of owl in the world, was one of the many species of predators we saw during this private, pre-booked, hour long falconry experience. The falconry also has a public tour everyday, though at fixed hours and suitable if you’re in town for longer! Check their schedules and do put it on your itinerary, it was definitely worth the time and money spent!
Our little one was thrilled by the experience, as is evident on this YouTube video he agreed to shoot, sharing his experience of the same. If you’re traveling with kids and wondering if its for them, do listen.
Now it was time to explore Kerry. Our Air B&B host suggested that we go down via the midlands rather than follow the coastal road in entirety, to see best of both worlds!
So, following instructions and our trusty google maps, we headed to the spectacular Glencar region (a hidden gem alert) making our way towards the coast, to Waterville. This Glen of river Caragh, is a dramatic landscape with mountains in the back drop and wild moorlands criss-crossed by the river Caragh. A small, barely traversed road meanders through the region, bedecked with jaw dropping landscape, completely out of this world.
Though, we would not encourage standing in the middle of the road, out of respect for the sheep… we did take some of the most iconic pictures from this trip, perched on the road, here.
Most of the Irish midlands have Peat bogs for harvesting Peat, a fuel source, also known as Turf, with the harvesting process called turf-cutting. This is one site, you don’t see everyday.
At Waterville, we took a pit-stop at a gift/ coffee shop, and ofcourse, picked up a few tchotchkes 🙂 (what to buy in Ireland deserves its own dedicated, as yet unwritten blog post).
Along the ring road, while we were busy admiring the magnificent views, rolled-in a fog so dense and so fast, that visibility was reduced from 100-0% in minutes. We barely managed to turn around from Portmagee, aborting the Ring of Kerry loop, leaving behind the now-dangerously obscured roads, heading back towards Kenmare, via inland roads.
Point to highlight here is that despite the best-laid plans, sometimes, one has to bow to mother nature and know when to turn back. Weather in Ireland is very unpredictable, can rain just when you thought it couldn’t be brighter, sun would peak-out just when you’ve trashed all plans due to incessant rains and particularly along the coast, fog could roll in before you could say Wow!
Wind is another factor that can play spoilt-sport, precluding that well deserved walk on the beach or a planned hike, thus owning a sturdy wind cheater, a mandatory clothing item on your list. I feel colder than others in my family and had ear muffs too!
Evenings, after soaking up the scenery, are meant to be relaxed, and what better way to wind down than with live-music in a local pub!
Wild Atlantic way is the Wild Wild West of Ireland, where the lawless Atlantic waves break on the rugged, almost 2500 km long, meandering coastline with stunning finger-like fjords in the south, scenic bays in the middle and steep sea cliffs in the north.
It has something for everyone. With stunning vistas and unspoiled, rugged natural beauty, it’s the perfect road-trip destination with jaw-dropping views at every turn (one has to remember to look more to the road!). The coastline is dotted with quaint and colorful towns with plethora of local pubs pulsating with foot-tapping live music, serving freshest & most delectable sea-food preparations, with locally distilled Irish Gins, freshly brewed beer, including Guinness which nowhere tastes as good as it does in Ireland. There is hiking for the outdoor lovers, whale watching, falconry experience and puffin spotting to entertain families, and the surf coast for the adventure junkies. Might as well, mention the almost “too” famous Cliffs of Moher!
If you have enjoyed the drive along the pacific coast in the US of A or marveled along the Gold coast in Australia, you would simply die of happiness and sensory overload along the WAW!
Its Easy to follow the Wild Atlantic way, with many sign boards with a zig-zag sign, just like this one:
It all comes down to the number of days at hand and the must-visit destinations/ must-do experiences. We had just about 6 nights to spare on the West coast and we planned to drive South to North and then back to Dublin. We don’t mind pushing ourselves a tad bit but the ideal would be at least 10 nights here.
One of the Popular Itinerary is as follows:
Dublin to Galway
via Cliffs of Moher
Down to Dingle
Ring of Kerry
Back to Dublin.
We, being a bit greedy to see more, started south and went northwards. After driving through the jaw dropping Wicklow mountains, in the east, we powered through with a long drive of about 4 hours, cutting straight to Glengarriff, in County Cork, at the mouth of Beara peninsula, at the west coast.
Ring of Kerry in reverse via the stunning landscape at Glencar and Ballagisheen pass, Portmagee, cahersiveen, to Killorglin (night-stay)
Dingle peninsula (Inch beach, Dingle, Dunquin Harbour)
Ferry across Shannon to Tarbert
Cliffs of Moher
Galway (2 night-stay)
Donegal- Sleiveleague Cliffs (night-stay)
Amongst the peninsulas on the southwestern coast, are the three big ones; Beara, Ring of Kerry and Dingle. A question frequently popping on Ireland travel forums is, “which is the best?”.
The simplest answer would be to drive through all… or some bit of all, to appreciate all the flavors.
I’ve broken down the regions, as we covered them, on the map.
Tips about Beara:
Follow the road except for two small diversions for Kilcatherine Point and Healy pass.
Stop for a sumptuous meal and one of the best Chowder-sea food soup at The Beara Coast Hotel in Castletown, Beara. We did not, but intend to stay here on our next trip, the location being idyllic.
On our way towards Eyeries, we chanced upon this beautiful arts gallery called Adrigole Arts, where we met the Talented owner and musician Gerry Bruton, picked up some inspired curios and had a slice of the most delicious Guinness Cake! Heard him play live at a pub in Kenmare, later.
Healy pass, according to us is a must-see point, not just any detour, and is a meandering, snaking route through the highlands seen from a high vantage point.
And a perfect closure to a long post should be with some Live music! Don’t panic, I’m not performing, this is straight from the land of shamrocks!
I’m Breaking the road trip into a series of posts, so click here for the next one, which covers Ring of Kerry and Dingle!
· …who love long breezy road trips along winding coastal roads peppered with sheep here and vistas there.
· …for those who can not have enough of green. Be warned, it’s called emerald Isle for a reason and if too much of wet and wild is not your cuppa coffee… then maybe, hike some place else.
· …for those who love to sweat it out for a view that’s worth it’s while! Full of awe-inspiring hikes, ireland is a haven for adventurers.
· …for those who own a sturdy, smart, Rain jacket. That’s self-explanatory.
· …for those who dig pubs, live traditional Irish music and stout beer. Heard of Guinness? 😁
Why Ireland. We faced this question a bit more than we liked. Well, for all these reasons and more!
Ireland is hugely popular with Americans (since a fair majority can claim Irish inheritance) but it does not seem to be on any major tourist bucket-list for fellow Indians . And Europeans (that I know) don’t see the point, probably as they’re done with wet and green😬.
But hey.. ever heard of Dublin, one of the most trending cities of the world with old world charm and new age shenanigans. Galway, with its vibrant style and epic arts and music culture? What about the dramatic Wild Atlantic Way? No. Ever heard of “craic“…don’t you want to feel it? Or Guinness anyone? Which can never taste as good anywhere, as it does in Ireland!
Not sold yet. Please read on.
Ireland, the island, is divided into Northern Ireland, part of the UK with Belfast as the capital, and the Republic of Ireland, a separate country, with Dublin, the capital city.
Schengen visa does not cover Republic of Ireland, so one needs to apply for an Ireland visa.
A UK visa only permits you to visit Northern Ireland, unless you’ve been stamped with a BIVS (British-Ireland visa scheme, given by default to citizens from some nations including Indians) on which both countries can be visited. All this might change with Brexit.. so keep yourself updated with the latest at your time of visit.
Having said that, boundaries are, as of now, only on paper, or can be spotted funnily on a GPS…easily missable in actuality, since a sign board marks the boundary. Also, you’ll realize you’ve entered UK territory when suddenly the GPS starts talking in miles vs kilometers. 😁
Irish folks, on the whole, are a friendly cheery, relaxed bunch of folks, who will always guide you in the right direction.
We had 9 days in Ireland, not much by any standard but since we had plans to be in London already, we latched on the opportunity to visit Ireland, a wish, brewing in the mind for some time!
I wont lie when I say that it was Hollywood that first inspired us to visit Ireland. Being compulsive romantics at heart and suckers for all things wild, we loved the movies, “PS, I love you” & Leap Year, both shot in the stunning Ireland. Movies of course, know no geographical boundaries, jumping from East to West in a wink.
Of course we wanted to see it all. Of course, we were driving around the country.. but distances and time taken on road, don’t mean the same in Ireland, as you will read everywhere. Smaller coastal roads, tourist traffic, sudden fog rolling in, could all alter the variables. And with a young kid, though very tolerant for his age, we couldn’t overdo the driving, push the timing or change cities everyday.
Our itinerary was as follows:
Day 1: London (STN) to Dublin, via Ryanair, arrival 10am, car rental pick up and drive out to Wicklow, a 1 1/2 hour drive, via Lough Tay and short hike in Wicklow to Glendalough. Then Drive across the country, from East to West coast, straight to Glengariff about 41/2 hrs drive, arrival on the west coast). (One might notice that we shaved off the southern part of the island from our itinerary which was tragic but necessary.)
Day 2: Morning in Glengariff, at the mouth of Beara Peninsula, exploring the Ring of Beara. Arrival at Kenmare.
Day 3: Kenmare for exploring the Ring of Kerry: Did a bit of loop the loop on this day, to avoid tourist buses by taking the longer route and to be on the opposite side of the road as the general traffic. Arrival at Killorglin.
Day 5: Cliffs of Moher. Drive north to Tarbert- Took ferry across the estuary- drive to Liscannor- followed by a short spectacular hike from Hag’s head to see the Cliffs- arrival at Galway. Serenaded by Galway’s night life!
Day 6: Galway farmers market, drove towards Achill Island via Connemara- biked a bit of the picture-perfect “green way“. Had plans to see the Kylemore Abbey but couldn’t manage with the time constraints.
Day 7: Galway, exploring Latin quarters, saw Emma, tapping to Irish music. Lunch- Drive to Donegal via Sligo- Glencar waterfall on the way- arrival at Kilcar.
Day 8: Morning exploring Cliffs of Slieve League. Drive to Giant’s causeway in northern Ireland. Drive to Dublin.
We visited the region of Bordeaux, in the south-west France, in July 2017, as part of our french summer holiday. After landing in Paris we stayed on for a few days, showing the basic sights to the little one, including the Eiffel Tower, the lit up pyramids and Seine river cruise. (The entire trip was planned around his obsession with Eiffel Tower souvenir back home)!
The second leg of the road trip was Bourgogne (Burgundy). We stayed in Beaune, thoroughly enjoyed the road trip despite having met with a road accident, which delayed us by a day, shortening our furlough to Bordeaux…the details in the previous post, A ride to remember, in Bourgogne.
I titled this trip as “A Repose” to Bordeaux, because that is what it was. Resting time. Repose time. After the mis-adventure in Beaune, the consequent delay, and the long drive between Bourgogne to Bordeaux (nearly 8 hours), we just wanted to relax. The Air B&B that we booked at St Terre, a 5 minute drive from St Emilion, was just what the doctor prescribed!
We chose to stay at the outskirts of the town to be able to stay amidst the serene lush vineyards, away from the touristy Hum-drum, get into the feel of the countryside and still be in close proximity to the beautiful town of St Emilion.
We were hosted by Sabine and Jean Baptiste, in their Gîte (french country house), amidst the Vignobles Daniel Mouty (vignobles meaning vineyards in french), the latter being a well known Bordeaux wine producer. Jean Baptiste is a charmer, and received us with wide arms and pleasant smile, making us feel welcome, at once. He showed us around the beautiful property and the two storey house, all open to us, the vineyards, the small plunge pool and the gardens, equipped with a TT table and even a sand pit for the little one! The Gîte was very well equipped with all basic essentials, and some more. He bought along a delicious deep Pomerol from their vineyards, as a welcome gift and welcomed us to visit their winery for a tasting, anytime!
We immediately settled in, feeling at home in our beautiful surroundings, uncorked a bottle of wine and parked ourselves on the lounge chairs in the garden, (which was nothing but a large, cleared patch within the vineyard), commanding a spectacular view of the verdant landscape.
The raw grape vines swayed gently in the cool breeze, as the evening sun still shone brightly and the little one squandered about checking out the property. No one had any intention of moving from this otherworldly nest, even for dining out, since we were well stocked with essentials, thanks to a prior detour to Carrefour- Liburon.
Day after, was another lazy morning with staggered breakfast almost amounting to brunch, when we all voted to finally venture out of this blissful country existence.
Of course, DH had wine tastings lined up, and we started by visiting Chateau Gueyrosse, in adjoining Town of Liburon, at the edge of the river Dordogne. DH, is a meticulous planner and always takes into consideration, every member’s needs. That is inclusive of the youngest, who’s 5 yr old. There are many wineries and Chateaus which provide activities to engage the younger ones. Chateau Gueyrosse has beautiful gardens, a river flowing by and an overall picturesque property where the little one could wander about and explore.
Here the grown ups learnt about the organic farming methods and manual harvesting techniques. We took a tour of the vineyards, the grounds of the chateau as well as their winery, tasted some great wines and bought a 2011 Ch Gueyrosse.
This would be a good place, to touch-upon the unusually complex topic of Bordeaux wine classification system. For a generic wine enthusiast, like moi, this was an engaging discovery!
It is a convoluted system, especially enigmatic for the New-world consumers, since here, the wines are classified according to where the grapes are grown i.e the “Terroir” and not by the grape varietal. A bottle of Bordeaux wine will detail the Region/ Chateau, Year and appellation, but not the grape varietal, that one usually expects.
Bordeaux produces red wines in majority and they are always a blend, usually of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, in varying proportions.
The Bordeaux region is divided broadly into the “left bank” and the “right bank” by the river Gironde and its tributaries, the Garrone and Dordogne. While the left bank (the Medoc and Grave region) enjoys an elite status following the famous 1855 classification, and mainly highlights Cabernet Sauvignon (with blends of merlot and Cabernet franc); the Right bank relies more on the Merlot with blends from the others, and follows different appellation systems, most prominent being the St Emillion appellation.
Though the elitist wines from the 1st to 5th growths, on the left bank are clearly un-affordable, there are many very well priced Bordeaux wines in the market.
Coming to our day out. Next we steered towards St Emilion! Typically google maps, on the “shortest route available mode” navigated us through vineyards and narrow lanes towards the town.. though not the best possible approach, it was quite picturesque!
From far we spotted the church spire first… which loomed large as we reached the town centre.. where expectedly there wasn’t any parking to be found. So we drove some distance, parked next to a restaurant and walked the short distance to town centre.
St Emilion is one of the best looking small towns we’ve ever been too.. closely competing with the Andalusian towns of Cordova and Ronda. When I picture it, I see medieval, pale yellow ? lime stone buildings, lining narrow cobblestoned streets, sloping down to the town periphery and rising upto the bell tower and winding alleys meandering through the town.
The architectural highlight is the church and bell- tower, towering above the beautiful town and its surrounding acres of lush country-side. The views from the bell tower are breath-taking!
Spent couple of hours just sauntering through the town, the boutique shops and eateries at a leisurely pace and soaking the views.
Then literally walked down to nearby Chateau Cadet Bon for another Grand Cru tasting where the no-more- wine inclined folks just enjoyed another view of the town from this side of the vineyards.
We wanted to really go easy so didn’t venture to the left bank at all. Visit to the city of Bordeaux was originally on the itinerary for the this evening…but we forgo it to relax at “our” wine-stay! 😊
Did visit the winery at Vignoble Daniel Mouty, a really short walk from the Gîte, for one last tasting in this wonderful wine country!
Maybe, not just yet…
The trip out of Bordeaux, next morning was nothing short of a thriller movie- an early morning flight from city of Bordeaux, so an even earlier departure from St Terre(an hour long journey to Bordeaux Mérignac airport) at 5 am; driving the country roads and eventually the highways, in torrential downpour; couple of detours thanks to poor visibility and GPS re-routings… when we finally approached the airport, the GPS, as usual, lost it, and couldn’t direct us to Avis Rental car drop. By sheer poor luck, we entered a long term car parking.. and could not exit!! Literally.. it was like the song “Hotel California- you can enter but you can never leave! “. As we later understood., with long term parking, one parks the car, collects the ticket, flies out, on arrival, one gets the ticket validated inside the airport and uses that ticket to exit the car park. Since we were not that smart to begin with, we tried to exit using this ticket when the machine flashed ” validation required” in french.. translated it using google translator, tried to ask around for help but there was nobody to ask! Once we figured things, one of us went running to the terminal, a good walk away, tried to validate the ticket, but failed as the machine pointed out.. “this ticket has been already used to exit”!! Now what? .. in the cold weather we were sweating Bricks, couldn’t leave the car there, couldn’t exit, sure to miss the flight!! Made one last effort to talk to Avis rental at the airport who directed us to Avis drop off facility, ran from one place to the other.. and I guess it was the panic on our faces.. and the convoluted way that we tried to explain the situation which garnered sympathy from those officers who told us to leave the car where it was, and walk out with our bags!! Phew. Even then the ordeal was far from over.. we had to lug the heavy duty luggage from the farthest available parking slot in the pouring rain to be able to reach the boarding counter .. just in nick of time.
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.
After first two relatively touristy days spent in Munich, it was time to head to the road! We woke up early for breakfast full of apprehension as a long day beckoned. But first we trouped down for breakfast…
Our second morning breakfast at Laimer hof was fantastic thanks to Sebastian the owner whose personal attention definitely made a difference! He served hot breakfast, fresh coffee, hot chocolate for the little one and kept up a cheerful conversation with everyone.
After getting directions from Sebastian to the car rental location-Laim , I and dad reached the pick-up location with the passport and driving license, forgetting the booking confirmation.. All three are usually needed for picking up the vehicle.. But luckily lady at the counter wasn’t fussy and as soon she heard my last name she chirped…oh, the Minibus!! Taken aback, we realized that the 9 seater van, a Ford Tourneo, that we’d rented was big enough to look like a minibus (comfortable van with two passengers sitting along with the driver in the first row, one car seat and two adults in the next row and ample space for 5 suitcases and three bags.)
Set out with DW in the front seat navigating, as always, while waiting for the GPS babe to activate… We took the scenic drive avoiding the Austrian highway, driving towards Siegsdörf, then Inzell, on the way meandered through German village roads and passed Chiemsee, and finally reached Königsee (pronounced Kueenigcee).
We arrived with rain and wind on our back, enough that some of us were wondering if it would be worth stepping out..Berchtesgaden (and eagle’s nest) was definitely out because of the overcast weather. I tried to reassure everybody that we would be traversing lake Königsee in a covered boat, but there first was a short wet cold walk from the tourist information center to the dock that had everyone wondering…
So we had to saunter into a very inviting cafe, displaying all its bounty…got hot coffee, chocolate, strawberry tart and apfelstrudel.. I think we shared the strawberry tat, kept the apple strudel , and squashed it in luggage on the subsequent trip 😉
After buying tickets we got into the boat with a whole class of French/ Swiss children… For the most, the school teachers kept the children in a cheery and not too noisy order..
It was very beautiful in the covered boat with some light rain and thankfully not as cold. Half way to the first stop the captain switched off the electric engines, to cut out the noise and blew a few notes pausing to let us hear the echo… It was eerie and at the same time beautiful…
The first stop was at St Bartholomo, a beautiful church with orange onion domes where everyone got off. We the smart, well researched lot, knew that the most awesome views were from the boat and decided to stay in the boat for the next stop..
Salat, the second stop, is at one end of lake Königsee, where all get off and walk to the next lake, the Obersee..
We got down at a small harbor, with a beautiful wooden arch, and after utilizing the WC, tottered on for a 15 minute hike.. It was a lot like half an hour going through pouring rain, muddy puddles that our little one wanted to jump in, passing many laconic German cows, mama cows and baby calves.. And we realized that we were missing one person. I had to run back get Dad…who was patiently waiting by the WC..
The final view at Obersee was worth the wet hike.. Lovely wooden hut giving a great foreground, the placid lake and mountains all around hiding in the mist..
After hiking in pouring rain with only our (wet) jackets keeping us sort of dry we got back to the harbor, got on the boat and reached land..
At Königsee, seeing everyones bedraggled appearance, I knew we needed some hot nourishment…and happened upon the Hotel Koenigssee Restaurant, specifically looking for German vegetarian options. The restaurant had pleasant seating with large wooden round tables, and good portions.
We ordered the Spargelzuppe (white asparagus soup), Kässezuppe (cheese soup), omelette with asparagus and some more. Surprisingly the cheese soup was the most appreciated.
We drove back and reached Füssen quite late about 9:30, and fortunately our rooms were still held for us! The city of Füssen had an otherworldly charm in the evening, with beautifully lit warm glow to the cobble-stoned streets.
The second surprise was the Hotel Sonne Füssen. Now while booking the hotel, I had looked at many many hotels in the vicinity, but I didn’t like their reviews, and the ones I wanted were not available.. I finally booked Sonne Fuessen knowing it was expensive, but it really exceeded expectations, starting from the staff, who were extremely helpful, the ambience, with beautiful gowns on tasteful mannequins, paintings and quirky lights in the corridors..
Each room had it’s own different decor and paintings..
We got together and had a light meal, furnished on the spot with the groceries we were carrying..and many of the party called it a long day, crashing on the luxurious beds!
Anyway after reaching, I and dad went down to the bar to have a glass of wine, we tried a Chardonnay and local German Riesling ( Trocken meaning dry).. The Riesling was excellent.. the chardonnay was passable.. The bar at this place seemed a happening site with lots of couples in snazzy outfits, arriving in great rides!