Monday, December 24, 2012

Part Two: Bordeaux and the Dordogne Valley

This was definitely the biggest splurge of our trip.  Being huge winos wine lovers, we were looking forward to exploring the Bordeaux region and learning more about their wine.  The last time we were in France we visited the Chateauneuf-du-Pape area and had a great time, so we were pumped for this.  But...given the limited knowledge (i.e., none) that we had about Bordeaux wines, we decided to book a tour with someone who knew what the heck he was talking about, and could take the hassle out of touring by scheduling all of our winery visits for us.  Visiting wineries in France is very different than visiting wineries on the west coast of the US.  You can't just show up and expect a tour and tasting, you have to schedule in advance, and the places we went we would have never been able to set up on our own. 

Our personal tour guide was Bruno from BD Wine Tours.  We found him by scouring Trip Advisor and the reviews were all top notch.  We took the 6:30 am high-speed train from Paris to Bordeaux, arriving a little bit before 10:00. Bruno met us right on the platform and we were off.  Bruno had an ambitious schedule for us, with the first tour and tasting at Chateau Rauzan Segla at 10:30.  Mmmm...nothing like a nice glass of red wine when I'm usually sitting down to my morning oatmeal.  I love Europe. 

We arrived a little late due to our later than scheduled arrival in Bordeaux, but we were the only ones touring so we were quickly shown around the estate and got to see all of the production and aging areas, followed by a tasting.



After the first tasting, we took a pit stop to grab lunch in St. Julien.  I really wish that I could remember the name of the restaurant where we ate because it was fantastic.  It was great to have Bruno there too, he had great recommendations for wine pairing and the man just has so. much. knowledge. of Bordeaux wines it's amazing.

Next stop was Chateau Picon Longueville Baron. I highly recommend clicking on that link if for no other reason than to see a much better picture of the amazing chateau.

That reflection pool?  That's not just for looks on the outside, underneath it is one of the estate's cellars.  How cool is that?  This was definitely one of the most unique and beautiful properties I've ever seen.  We got to walk through the vines and learn about what they are doing to keep them warm through the winter.  It may look like there is no activity in the vines right now, but trust me there is a lot to do in the winter months, and they must do it well because this was my favorite wine of our two days.  On our second day, we really earned our wine by doing a walking tour through the vineyards and ending up in St. Emilion.  Even though it was gray and sprinkled a little bit, the experience was amazing and I am soooo glad we did it!


In addition to a stunning walk leading up to the village of St. Emilion, the town center itself was beautiful, and the sun even came out for us for a few hours.


Our third and final stop for the day was at Chateau Leoville Barton.  This was unique because their fermentation and aging is all still done in wooden tanks...no stainless steel at all here.


After spending two days being shuttled around and drinking wine, it was time for us to pick up our car and head south.  The plan was that we would spend 2 nights each in Sarlat-la-Caneda and Limoux.  Sarlat because of it's location, being surrounded by castles - and Limoux for the sparkling wine and location near Carcassonne, one of the best-preserved fortified towns.  Our first stop was Sarlat.  We were the last guests of the season at La Lanterne, a cute B&B in the perfect location near the old town center.  On our way there, it was recommended that we stop in Beynac to take in the view of the Dordogne.  The city itself took my breath away, and the trek to the top of the castle was well worth the huffing and puffing.


One thing that we had read all about and were told was a "not to miss" experience, was the Saturday market in Sarlat.  The entire town bustles as vendors set up stalls with everything from fruit, to meat, to cheese, to bread, to clothes and ceramic.  It was truly unique from other markets that we had been to in France because it wasn't limited to just one part of the town, it was literally the entire historic core, covered in vendors.  We were fortunate to be there on Saturday to walk around, and we picked up some provisions for our road trip to Limoux. 


I'm not sure what I was expecting from Limoux, as it had been E's pick.  He was mostly interested in checking out Carcassonne, and since we good word that they make a pretty amazing sparkling wine here, we decided to use it as our base.  It was a pretty sleepy town and I'm not sure that we would stay here again, but our B&B was definitely worth it.  We stayed at La Cortanela, a truly boutique (one room!) in the home of Chris & Tricia Wheatley.  They were away when we arrived, but we were warmly greeted by their son Tom and their Australian Shepherd, Ben.  We decided to make the most of our location and visit some of the Cathar Castles, and Tom recommened that if we only had time to visit one, we make it Ch√Ęteau de Peyrepertuse.  After a windy, white-knuckled (to say the least) drive, we arrived and knew right away we made the right choice.  It's a quick hike from the parking area to the castle, and I don't think there are any words that accurately portray the enormity of the castle.  Even in its current state, it'a amzing to think that the original lower part was constructed in the 11th century.


Since we spent nearly all day visiting Peyrepertuse and some other castles, it was going to be a nighttime visit to Carcassonne.  Unfortunately, we arrived just after the castle closed for the day.  Poor E, it was really high on his must-see list, but it just wasn't in the cards.  We were able to walk around the old part of the city, but it wasn't quite the same as being able to go into the castle.  On the bright side, going at night gave us some gorgeous photos!


Up next, the second country of our trip - Spain!!  We spent two nights just over the French boarder in Girona, then ended our trip in Barcelona.  We have been to Spain before, but never to Catalonia, so it was great to get a feel for a different region.  We also snuck in a pilgrimage to visit the former restaurant of one of the most innovative chefs of our generation...more on that in the next post!

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Part One: Paris

In keeping with tradition, my husband (E) and I took our “big” trip of the year during the two weeks over Thanksgiving this year.  We’re all for family and togetherness, but when your respective families live four hours apart and visiting everyone for each holiday is not an attractive option, we’re happy to take one holiday out of the equation.

We got a great deal on open-jaw tickets on Aer Lingus (bonus, it’s only a 5 hour flight to Dublin from Boston – it flew by…pun intended) into Paris and out of Barcelona two weeks later.  We spent three nights in Paris, two in Bordeaux, two in Sarlat-la-Caneda, two in Limoux, two in Girona and three in Barcelona.  It makes me tired now just typing all of the places that we stayed, but hey – you’re spending big bucks for airfare so you’ve got to make the most of it while you’re there and cram in as much as possible.  That’s our philosophy anyway, and seeing as there were no beaches to lounge on for days on end, I was okay with the ambitious schedule.

Having already been to Paris, we didn’t feel obligated to do the typical must-do things, and instead decided to just enjoy the city and try to experience it as a Parisian.  Since we were there in mid-November, we weren’t expecting perfect weather.  It was pretty cloudy and grey almost the whole time we were there, but temps were in the low 50’s (being from New England, that’s almost tropical) and it didn’t rain.  Good enough for me, especially because the last time that we went to Paris was E’s first time and to say that he was underwhelmed would be a fair statement.  It was cold, it rained, things were closed, we didn’t see out good food and therefore had nothing remarkable, etc. 

This time I was determined to change his mind.  We rented a studio apartment in the St. Germain area, which was a perfect central base.  After dropping our packs off at the apartment we rented, we immediately headed off in search of lunch, which we found nearby at Peres et Filles (Fathers and Daughters).  It was loud and cramped - always a good sign.  We had the best onion soup of the trip, a duck terrine with pistachios that was wonderful and E had the classic beef bourguignon - he was a happy man!

After lunch a long walk was in order, and there was one place in particular that I hadn't managed to visit during previous trips to Paris


It might look like just another building, but that, my friends, is where Mrs. Julia Child resided during the majority of the time that she lived in Paris.  Seeing as I may never have been interested in food (or France for that matter) without Julia, it was only appropriate that I pay tribute to her at her former home.  It may sound silly, but just walking down the street and thinking about how these were the same streets she had walked, no doubt lugging huge bags of groceries, it made me feel...connected. 

We really didn't do much else while we were in Paris, other than eat and walk!  We wanted to visit the Catacombs, but sadly they were closed when we got there.  Oh well, that's what next time is for I guess.


For the rest of our stay in Paris, we pretty much spent the days walking and eating...and drinking!

Quick pit-stop to warm up with an espresso!

It was cloudy and gray, but I think that just added to the romanticism...or maybe I just really love Paris.

Laduree, obligatory macaron pilgrimage

Entrance to the Louvre plaza
In the next post, I'll tell you about the next stop on our trip, Bordeaux.  Let me just tell you this - hiring a guide who knows what the heck he's talking about and is willing to drive you around to gorgeous chateaus while you drink wine is money well spent.