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Continuing with our trip to the West, from the Alps to the Atlantic …

From Arcachon, we took a ferry across the bay to Cap Ferret.

Cap Ferret is a headland which takes the form of a spit, which separates the Atlantic Ocean from Arcachon Bay.

Lots of people took their bike across as there are good beach and forest trials (so we hear).

By the time we bought the ticket and waited for the boat, it was past 4pm. And the last boat to come back to Arcachon would leave in less than 30 minutes, which was the time we had on that side of the bay.

The place really deserved some slow quiet exploration. Oh well, it was a rush for us but the trip across the bay was pleasant and relaxing.

This region is a haven for wildlife. Islands within the bay include the isle of birds (‘L’ile aux Oiseaux’) and a protected nature sanctuary  – Banc d’Arguin, a landing ground for migrating terns.

Next to the ferry landing are restaurants, bars and ice cream parlors – low key but popular. Holiday homes are further behind.

After we and many daytrippers left on the last boat, the place must be quieter and cozier.

Conde Nast Traveller has a really nice piece about Cap Ferret.

According to the article, the place is like a European Martha’s Vineyard. Don’t confuse it with Cap Ferrat another beach town which is located on the Mediterranean shore of France.

The place that we missed is Dune du Pilat – the tallest dune in Europe, with sand stretching one and a half miles long and piled 350 feet high. Not visible in the photo below, there were wind-assisted sand surfing on the dunes.

The completely white stretch of shore in the photo is it. One can drive to the bottom of it and climb to the top by stairs.

Because it was the last boat back to Arcachon, the line to get on the boat was long but every one was in good spirit and the weather was cooperating.

The pier on the Arcachon side later that day.

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Arcachon was developed as a resort in the 19th century, and the promenade is populated with large hotels – some with a fancy façade but most are efficient modern constructions.

The big hotels, the shopping streets behind them and the wide, sandy beaches in front are all part of the ville d’été (summer town), the district of Arcachon designed to accommodate and amuse Victorian holiday makers arriving on the train from Bordeaux.

When we were there, Easter was still a bit too chilly for sea-bathing.

The streets were packed with people, however. We were lucky to have found underground parking near the beach after some searching.

We did not have time to explore the ville d’hiver (winter town) which has beautiful splendid mansion so we read in a guide afterwards. Some are visible from the water while we were crossing the bay to Cap Ferret (see later post).

The ferry pier after the last boat service was quiet.

We could not resist the Ferris wheel – never been on one that is on the beach.

For the first revolution, because the sea is featureless, we did not really see/feel how quickly we rose in altitude.

Tiny people we saw … it happened surprisingly quickly.

 

Near the top, looking towards Arcachon Bay …

Very quickly we found ourselves at the very top – the view was magnifique and the breeze was so refreshing. Unforgettable.

Looking towards the mouth of the Bay … we couldn’t quite see the Atlantic which is on the other side of the peninsula.

Before Google Earth, the quiet aerial view of any place, let alone a beach town, at this height must have been so unique.

We will try to go on more in the future, for now, see our other Ferris wheel experience in Vienna, London, and Lyon.

 

 

 

 

While we were staying in Bordeaux-Medoc, we decided to go to the Atlantic coast and visit Arcachon (more about Arcachon in a later post).

To avoid traffic on the main highway, we detoured according to our GPS and drove along D650. Since the landscape is flat, D650 is almost mathematically straight and run parallel to the main highway. We recommend you follow us on Google map as the above map is too small to see it on the post.

The area’s main business apart from tourism is oyster farming in Arcachon Bay (Bassin d’Arcachon). The road runs along the southern shore of the bay linking a number of oyster farming villages. We stopped off at the port of Larros where there is a jetty promenade.

The bay covers an area of 150 km² at high tide and 40 km² at low tide. Obviously we arrived when the tide was low. It was a mess but there was no smell.

The port offered a view that we have not seen before. Boats were moored and beached, until the tidal water returns. Acres of mud as far as the eye can see and in less than 12 hours, all submerged (we assume).

The mud was apparently solid enough for people to walk out. Love to make a time-lapse video of the returning and receding tide.

This bay is the largest oyster culture area in France – “Ostréiculture arcachonnaise” – it even has its own wikipedia entry.

According to Wikipedia, wild oysters have always been collected and consumed there, as evidenced by some writings dating from the Gallo – Roman period. The oyster which was then found in the bay was the flat oyster, or “gravette” (Ostrea edulis). The official exploitation of oysters began in 1849.

Several different species of oysters dominated the bay in succession, first the Portugese Crassostera angulata in 1868 after the flat oysters were decimated by disease in 1920’s, then in the early 1970’s viral outbreaks killed most of the oysters in the bay. It threatened all the farms in the area.

Later it was decided to introduce a Japanese species Crassostrea gigas which is the only species raised today. The jetty has a roll of small buildings presumably housing all the equipment for oyster farming. Some were left rusting outside.

Lining the sides of the jetty are several large oyster bars – but they served a very limited menu. “La Tradition” on the menu includes twelve No. 3 oysters, bread and wine, 19 euros. This is as fresh as one can get but no discount here.

We were hungry and went to a proper restaurant – Les Viviers.

Our 12 No. 2’s.

This was how one gentleman ate his seafood platter solo at Les Viviers.

This lucky fisherman caught a mermaid in his cage.

After lunch, we continued our journey to Arcachon.

Here are some photos of the sights around Haut-Medoc and the chateaux that we passed on our drives through the region.

From Blanquefort, we drove north on D2 along the river, passing Macau (where we stocked up on cheeses and crackers), Margaux, Saint-Julien, and Pauillac. We did not go further up to Saint-Estephe. Each of the villages producing wine has its own tourist information center (maison). There are 8 appellations in Medoc (Medoc, Saint-Estephe, Haut-Medoc, Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Listrac-Medoc, Moulis and Margaux), all producing AOC wines.

We stopped at Margaux to visit Chateau Ferriere (see earlier post) and had lunch at Le Savoie (nothing remarkable).

In the Medoc region, a total of 60 Grand Cru Classé wines were included in the 1855 Official Classification.

Pauillac visiter center with a giant unlabelled bottle.

Along the way, we stopped briefly at Chateau Pichon Baron, Pauillac.

The chateau was built in 1851 in Renaissance style with two turrets.

In front of the chateau are two ornamental pools, which with a blue sky created a Margrittesque canvas.

The wine of Pichon Baron was recognized in the 1855 classification as Second Growths (Deuxièmes Crus).

We walked in the grounds of Chateau Beychevelle, Saint-Julien.

Missed the tour but loved the garden.

The wine of Beychevelle was recognized in the 1855 classification as Fourth Growths (Quartrièmes Crus).

A typical scene of a generic Bordeaux vineyard and chateau. No idea now where in Medoc was this taken.

Voilà, les vignobles Bordelais.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continuing with our travel in the Bordeaux-Medoc region …

At Pauillac’s tourist information, we asked about any last minute tour and they suggested we try Château Lamothe Bergeron, Cussac-Fort-Médoc, without a reservation.

By the time we got there, all the visitors had left already. The owner/manager saw us lingering and asked the guide to give us a tour.  A private tour !

Everything about this establishment seem new even though it has been around for a long time, the chateau was built in 1868. The wine is classified as Cru Bourgeois, Haut-Medoc.

The reception area is decorated like a living room.

The tour started with a visit to a hut overlooking a field of grapes.

Some of the big production spaces on the tour have nightclub lightings.

With massive stainless steel tanks lining the space, reflective walls and high ceilings, all one need is a DJ and nice sound system.

The tour included a multimedia experience, a kind of augmented reality without the headset. Very slick presentation of the blending process projected on a glass partition with the barrel room in the background – state of the art technology.

According to its web site (click here):

Nestling between the terroirs of Margaux and Saint-Julien, Lamothe-Bergeron forms part of the closed circle of châteaux “with a river view”, in other words those occupying the best gravels left by the Gironde estuary. This magical soil warms the grapes, provides perfect drainage and produces grapes with finesse…

The vineyards cover 67 hectares, of which 58% are planted with Merlot grapes, 38% with Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot.

At the end of the tour, we were invited to try 2 vintages.

The tasting station is diffusely lit from the bottom.

The wines were both good. We bought a 2009 and a 2014.

Fun.

 

 

 

Continuing with our travel in the Bordeaux-Medoc region …

Everything was last minute on this trip and that made it impossible to join a tour of any one of the famous first growth (Grand Cru Classé – Primer Cru) winemakers. We kind of knew it but kept our plan loose.

The staff at our chateau (see earlier post) was very kind and secured us a spot on a tour of Château Ferrière.

Château Ferrière is a winery in the Margaux appellation of the Bordeaux region of France. The wine produced here was classified as one of fourteen Troisièmes Crus (Third Growths) in the historic Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855.

Interesting machine. We thought grapes are still picked by hand … probably depends on the vinyard.

The 1855 classification contained more wines from Margaux than from any other appellation, and its best-known vineyard, Château Margaux, was one of only four wines to be awarded the Premier Cru status.

We started with a cool dark room where the tanks made of concrete are used for primary fermentation. We did not expect concrete as a material to make the tanks.

The Château has 29 acres (12 hectares) planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It has the smallest surface of vines of all the classified growth in 1855. A parcel of this small terroir lies in the heart of the Margaux village, next to Chateau Margaux.

The 1855 Classification resulted from the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris, when Emperor Napoleon III requested a classification system for France’s best Bordeaux wines that were to be on display for visitors from around the world. Brokers from the wine industry ranked the wines according to a château’s reputation and trading price, which at that time was directly related to quality.

The tour was led by a staff member using English, although an Italian family joined us on the tour.

The second stage, malolactic fermentation is carried out in new oak barrels.

A second wine is produced under the label Les Remparts de Ferriere. We tried a few vintages and bought two bottles of Chateau Ferriere.

Buying and taking wine home over a long drive is generally not recommended because the temperature in a car under the sun might ruin the wine.

Bon vin.

For the last leg of our Alps-to-Atlantic Easter trip, we stayed in the Bordeaux-Medoc region for a few days. Fa and An stayed behind in Biarritz to do some more surfing.

Our last minute searches landed us at the Château Grattequina in Blanquefort, just north of the city of Bordeaux. Click here for their website.

Built in 1872, the château was surrounded by farmland at the gateway of Bordeaux (which is only about 10 km away), on the road to the Medoc. We entered the grounds through an automatic gate and can see the chateau in a distance.

The sight of the chateau is rather dramatic at night as there are no other lighted buildings in sight. The River Garonne is behind the chateau.

Looking back toward the main road (D209) from the chateau, as far as we can see, there is no vine growing here now, just agricultural land. Corn ? In the middle of the photo is the private access road.

The chateau has only 10 guest rooms, all on the upper two floors. It was restored in 1999 and took 4 years, and it was re-painted this year (we could smell it).

Our room was spacious with simple furniture. It was so quiet all around and therefore quite relaxing.

Loved the double sink in the bathroom, but we would have liked a proper shower.

Very helpful staff. They called a bunch of chateaux for us to check if we can join their tours at the last minute.

Since the chateau is on the left bank of the River Garonne, the chateau has its own private dock, in theory one can arrive by boat. In practice, the owner can take guests into Bordeaux city (upstream) or go wine tasting in Margaux direction (downstream). See boat parked on the left in photo.

The view across the river is rather uninspiring. Because the river is not far from its mouth where it enters the Atlantic Ocean, the flow is slow and the water looks muddy.

The owner lives on the property in a separate modern building, behind the tower.

Nice breakfast room. No on-site restaurant. This chateau is really a B-n-B.

“Enomatic” – wine-on-demand – eight local wines (2 Margaux, Saint-Emilion, Saint-Estephe, Pauillac, Pessac Leognan and Saint Julien) at various price points were sold by the glass. Three sizes to choose from. Pay via a special debit card from the hotel that is settled when checking out. We got several different glasses and enjoyed them with cheeses back in our room.

Next to the chateau is a building that can be used for conferences and weddings. We believe that it is probably a significant part of the business.

The pool was not yet opened but the chateau provides bikes for us to explore the grounds.

Relaxing place to stay if you want easy access to Bordeaux city. But it does not have a working vineyard, unlike those further downstream towards Haut-Medoc.

After reaching our westernmost destination on our Alps-Atlantic trip at Biarritz (click here to see related posts), we came back via Bordeaux and stopped for a few days to explore the area.

The Cité du Vin is a museum as well as a place of exhibitions and academic seminars on the theme of wine located in the city of Bordeaux.

The building, meant to suggest a decanter, was designed by Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazières of XTU architects.

La Cite du Vins was official opened by the President, François Hollande on May 31, 2016. So the place is not even a year old, it is brand new.

The building has 8 floors with most of the exhibition spaces and classrooms on the lower floors.

In an open exhibition space occupying more than 3,000 m², nearly twenty different themed areas invite you to take a voyage of discovery and enjoy a unique experience exploring the many and varied facets of wine across time and space.

One can spend hours watching, listening, and even smelling the exhibits. There is so much media content to be consumed.

One darkened area has several tables where visitors can sit around and watch a virtual host explain various topics – history, entertaining, food pairing.

The table is actually a screen and the image changes continuously – sometimes it is a dining table but it could morph into another image seamlessly and quickly.

There were several tables that allow visitors to discern the aromas present in a wine. A squeeze of the small black rubber bulb releases the aroma which can be inhaled from the copper horn.

This part of the exhibition was unique in that they provided many different sources of aroma.

We participated in a multi-sensory workshop where we tasted several wines, learnt about its origin (not all were French) and pairing with food around the world. It is “multi-sensory” because certain aromas were sprayed into the room to invoke a sense of a place and its food which were projected on surround screen.

The workshop was entertaining and its delivery employed state of the art technology.

There are 2 restaurants. We did not eat there. Our entry ticket include a free glass of wine to be enjoyed at the belvedere which affords a 360 degree view of the northern end of Bordeaux city and the river Garonne.

“Downtown” direction view of the city of Bordeaux.

There is a souvenir shop “La Boutique” which sells every wine-related gifts one can imagine.

Next to it is the wine store which stocks thousands of bottles from around the world. Not just Bordeaux or French, a truly comprehensive international collection.

We spent almost the entire day here. The city really did a good job in creating this museum to educate and promote wine culture, and giving adults the sense of fun that kids have in a themed amusement park.

Another entry to our tour of bookstores around the world …

We found this gem of a bookstore in Biarritz.  The bookstore is called “BOOKSTORE”. And to confirm the nature of its business, on the storefront below the name, it says “Librairie Bookstore”.

It is understandable that this establishment at a French beach town is so named in English because historically, many British tourists including royalties like Queen Victoria and King Edward VII spent their vacation at this seaside resort.

On its website, it lists its Summer opening hours which are 1 hour longer and are applicable from July 8 to September 1.  After all, the bookstore is barely a block from the beach – No. 27 Place Clemenceau.

The bookstore is remarkable in that it is really quite small – not much larger than a newsagent that sells only magazines, cigarettes, sodas and chewing gum.

The back of the store has a lower section that sells “livre de poche” – paperback books – perfect for the beach.

The front room has a main area and a set of stairs that lead to a mezzanine level.

There is a “bureau” in the front room as well as at the mezzanine level. These bureaus are essentially little single-person booths where a storekeeper helps customers with payment and questions.

The bureau on the mezzenine level is rather unusual as it is suspended in the airspace (hovers) above the main area. A small souvenir street nameplate stuck on this bureau says “Place de la Contrescarpe” – a square in Paris considered the center of the 5th arrondisement – the Latin Quarter – an area known for scholarly and literary pursuits.

Despite its size, it affords a nice small leather sofa (oversized relative to the floor space) on the mezzanine level.

All the offerings here appear to be quality reading materials – most if not all are in French and we are not yet proficient to understand/gauge – so we judged them by their covers.

Books are displayed three-sixty degrees on all available shelf space, wall space and any flat surfaces.

The store is generously lit by big bright round light bulbs  – without them the space might feel a bit claustrophobic.

We presume the bookstore is fully stocked since we were at the beginning of the tourist season, hence multiple copies of the same book in stacks on display.

One of a kind.

 

La Cabane à Huitres – we went to this oyster shack on rue Gambetta – a street lined with shops, and at the top end, restaurants (that are not overly touristy).

Small place with brisk service. Simple decor made it feel like a shack.

They have oysters from Marennes d’Oleron Fines de Claires at three different sizes as well as Regal oysters from Ireland.

Everything on the menu is in the refrigerated display cabinet.

Between the French and the Irish which we tried, the Irish tasted sweeter.

Our dinner was mostly seafood except this grilled, salted chili peppers.

We also had fresh anchovies, and octopus marinated in red sauce.

The garlicky-chili clams (palourdes) were great.

Apple crumble for dessert.

This local wine was refreshing and had a subtle mineral taste that went well with the shellfish.

Recommended.

Continuing with our Easter Alps to Atlantic trip …

After Saint-Emilion, we headed south directly to Biarritz by-passing the city of Bordeaux (which we would later visit). The drive down A63 was easier, a lot less twists and turns, and the landscape is flat. This area, Landes is part of an estuary but looks a bit like Florida, for different geological reasons.

The day we arrived, the weather was incredibly warm – every one rushed onto the beach – we suspect that most of the people on the beach were locals as the tourists had not yet descended on this place.

Yoga on the beach sponsored by a local radio station.

Biarritz is a beach town on the Côte Basque, French surfing mecca, resort for royalties since the 1800’s, and only 15 miles from the Spanish border.  It is only 50 kilometers from Donostia-San Sebastian where we visited last summer, see here and here.

Our hotel room offered an incredible beach view. We could hear the surf all night.

The colors of the sky and the sea changed quite dramatically during our stay. In front of the hotel is a plaza and a rusty modern sculpture.

It was quiet at night. From a distance, one can see the lighthouse.

The lighthouse – Phare de Biarritz – is dramatic with its sweeping searchlight.

On the waterfront separating the Grand Plage and the Plage du Miramar (not visible) is the Hôtel du Palais (the brightly lit building above), the city’s landmark luxury resort and former royal residence.

A symbol of Biarritz, the Rocher de la Vierge is a rocky outcrop topped with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Reachable via a footbridge built in 1887 by Gustave Eiffel, who is also known to have worked in the capital.

Looking across the Grand Plage late afternoon, the Rocher and footbridge were just visible through the holes and arches in the rocks.

Rock arches.

The above has been predicted to collapse in a few years time.

Surf class

These kayaks came from somewhere, landed on the beach for a while and then paddled back out and left in minutes  …

According to the New York Times, this beach town is back in vogue since its popularity peaked in the 1950’s. The newspaper article (here) was published in May 2017 – two months after we visited Biarritz – we were literally ahead of the Times. <wink>

Lots more photos to come …

 

 

A few more snapshots …

Saint-Emilion is on the east in the Bordeaux wine region and the right bank of the Dordogne. In the region, there are 5400 hectares for growing vines, 800 wine estates and 127 that are listed and opened to the public.

The vineyards of Saint-Emilion are ancient. Back in the Roman times – as early as the second century, vines were planted to take advantage of the limestone soil and temperate oceanic climate (no temperature extremes and rainfall well distributed throughout the year).

Saint-Emilion was ruled by a jurade – a council of local notables – until the French Revolution. In 1948, the council was turned into a guild to promote the wines of the appellation.

For a thousand years, Saint-Emilion exported its limestone for construction use leaving behind underground quarries and miles of tunnels – some becoming wine cellars. This Cave is next to our hotel and uses the remaining defensive wall as a part of the cellar.

There are 3 levels of quality in the classification of Saint-Emilion wines – Grand Cru Classé, 1er Grand Cru Classé B and 1er Grand Cru Classé A (highest).

We have never seen such a range of bottle sizes.

And there is the Comptoir des vignoble in the village main street which deals in high-end wines and has a monolith cellar from the 12th century.

It lists the prices, like stock prices, of four famously good and expensive wines by the vintage year, Chateaux d’Yquem, Mouton, Cheval Blanc and Petrus, outside at its entrance. Petrus 2009 was listed at around 3500 euro.

Another wine store – Merchant of Thirst

We had dinner at L’Envers du Décor which was recommended by the hotel receptionist.

All the tables and several walls were covered with the ends of wine box which were stamped with the name of the wine it contained and its origin.

The wine we ordered – its box happened to appear on our table top.

Fun place.

Saint-Émilion is rustic and picturesque. Hostellerie de Plaissance is located in the center of it sitting above the Place du Marché next to the Monolithic church (Clocher de l’eglise Monolithe).

The restaurant has a private courtyard that overlooks the square and restaurants below. We could have sat outside but due to the pollen, we opted to be inside.

We did not make a reservation and as it was a spur of the moment thing, just walked in very casually – so much so that the staff felt compelled to ask if we knew the restaurant has two Michelin stars. We thought it was a bit rude of them.

At the entrance, the dining room is partly hidden behind a lacquered curvy screen.

The dining room was not even half full – it was only the beginning of the season. We liked it this way.

The chef is Ronan Kervarrec. We chose a relatively simple menu with wine pairings.

We started with a number of appetizers, including churros (in the background of the photo).

Chefs like to use lentil to form a base, like soil, to present food constructions (second time we saw it in a few days).

Asparagus was in season (it was on all the menus during this trip). Here it was served as “Green asparagus braised in a chicken broth, frangipane tart with peanuts and zabaliglione”.

On the menu that they printed for us to keep, the second course is “Deep sea scallops poached in a stock sauce and cauliflower”. We pondered on the term “stock sauce” – it is so understated that is bordering on laziness or being mysterious.  The sauce was however very good whatever it was made with.

“Basil in small ravioli, vegetal broth, white cheese sorbet”. This was taken before the green vegetal broth was poured over it.

“Cherry amaretto, almond soufflé and cherry sorbet crisp macaroons”

We added a cheese course to the menu to go with the wines.

Assorted desserts.

They also made a miniature canelé served on top of a brass full-size canelé mould. Very popular in Bordeaux, canelé is a pastry flavored with rum and vanilla having a soft and tender custard center, and a dark, thick caramelized crust.

We had coffee and not tea, otherwise, we would have been offered a selection of fresh herb leaves that are plucked directly from potted plants. It was fun to see the potted plants being carted around the dining room – certainly caught the eyes of some diners. It is chic to do it now, even our office canteen started having these live plants around the coffee/tea areas.

According to Wikipedia, Plaisance is a French word, meaning pleasantness, derived from the Latin placentia ‘acceptable things’. Google Translate offers “recreation”, and it is not “pleasure” as we jokingly suggested.

We noticed a certain well known, local wine – the “white horse” – in its collection.

A fine establishment indeed. Highly recommended.

 

Saint-Emilion is a popular place because of its environment, history and produce. The communes of Saint-Emilion, there are 22 of them, extends over 238 sq km between Libourne and Castillon-la-Bataille, and bound to the south by the Dordogne river.

The town is named after a monk named Emilion (duh) who came to settle in the 8th century.

We really like it because it is small enough for one to see the entire town which is surrounded by vineyards as far as the eyes can see.

There were numerous monasteries, convents and churches in the region attracting various schools of monks and nuns – Dominicans, Benedictines, Franciscans, Ursulines. It also welcomed pilgrims of the Santiago de Compostela trail which is not far from the area.

There were a fair amount of restoration of houses in the small town but they all seem harmoniously done.

The UNESCO designation in 1999 helped preserved the local ancient practices of wine-making and many old buildings.

This is a old lavoir, a public place set aside for the commune to wash clothes. They were essential until laundromats and private plumbing made them obsolete.  We really liked the set up – a raised lip around a shallow pool of flowing water and a sheltered section.

The center of the village in front of the monolith church and market hall. It was a lively cheerful public place. We did not see the church – a 12 th century building dug into the limestone plateau and whose current structure still forms a single block. We were in fact standing atop of it when the photos was taken.

We are sure the scene is quite common but for urban dwellers like us it felt a tiny bit Renoir-esque.

The “castel daou rey ” meaning the King’s Keep is a romanesque tower, built in the 12th century, where it might have served as the city hall in the past.

Part 2 to come.

Our first night of the 2017 Alps-to-Atlantic trip was spent in Saint-Emilion.  This small medieval village is known for its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site and extremely well known for its red wine.

Our hotel “Au Logis des Remparts” is located at the edge of the village center and was built using a part of the remaining defensive wall. The village is so small that the hotel’s location is essentially central.

There are three floors. There is an elevator for luggage but not people.

One can see parts of the rampart with a walkway on top and a stone parapet.

This village was recognized by UNESCO in 1999 and it was the first wine-making entity that was listed as a “cultural landscape”.

While our room is unremarkable, the garden is heavenly.

Geometrically-shaped trees in the middle.

We and our friends really like it and spent a good few hours lying on the lounge chairs, staring up at the trees, and falling asleep.

We had it all to ourselves.

Can’t remember the last time we had such a naturally serene and relaxing moment.

Since it was the beginning of the season, the owner was moving the sculptures around the garden looking for an optimal place to show them.

The pieces are apparently all available for sale.

The weather was perfect to be outside. But it is too cold for swimming.

The patio has the perfectly shaped shady olive tree (I think it is an olive tree).

We took our breakfast underneath it one morning.

Highly recommended.

Today is the day of the French presidential election. The future of Europe depends much on this result. Apt that we blog about France here aujourd’hui.

We spent a week on the west coast of France over Easter. On our drive towards the Atlantic from the Alps, Clermont Ferrand is roughly the midpoint after Lyon. Our  friends, Fa and An were heading in the same direction for their vacation. So we decided to drive together, two cars in tandem. Our first night was at Saint-Émilion.

Fa volunteered to find a good restaurant around Clermont Ferrand to make the boring drive more enjoyable (Google estimated that it would take about 7 hours). As he rightly said, it is not often that he or any one of us will likely pass through this part of France (Auvergne) in the near future.

He made a reservation at Le Pré in Durtol near Clermont Ferrand. The restaurant stops receiving diners for lunch at 1:15pm. To make it there on time, we had an excuse to drive rather fast (… I got a speeding ticket through the mail after returning to Switzerland).

The restaurant is in a modern building and the dining room and bar are located in the mid-section. We had a hard time finding the entrance in the beginning. As we arrived a little bit after our reservation time slot, the maître’d gave us the most frosty welcome. (This is not Switzerland, come on).

The main dining room was almost full so we had our private room. Hehe.

The chef of this Michelin 2-star restaurant is Xavier Beaudiment.

There are 86 two-star restaurants and 12 new ones in 2017.

He won his second star this year – that is probably why it was so full for lunch on a weekday.

There is a poached egg down there. Went very well with the white asparagus.

” … a unique menu elaborated according to the inspiration of the moment, with the complicity of a whole network of small producers and wild herbs in the region. A “kitchen of instinct”, allied to a true sense of flavors, …”  – The Inspector’s words (translated, courtesy Google)

We did notice unique flavors – clearly distinguishable and not muddled – which were much appreciated.

A detour to this restaurant took us off the monotonous motorway and we drove through the Auvergne regional park built around a long-dead volcano range – Chaîne des Puys.

The source of the international brand of mineral water – Volvic – is not far from the restaurant. And we were drinking the local water with our meal.

One of the dessert is all about chocolate – five or six ways of preparing it – I (Chris) am not a die-hard chocolate fan but really enjoyed it.

The bar/lounge area is nicely decorated. While the nice large windows give the space lots of light but there is not much to see outside. Suburban homes and the parking lot.

Quite a collection of cognac and armagnac.

Recommended.

Dear Readers, Happy New Year !

This is our first post of 2016. It is almost a tradition of this blog – the first post takes a look back at some of the places we visited last year.

Click on links, where provided to read more about the places of interest. There are usually a series of related posts per location, you can discover them easily in the calendar at the bottom of the post.

In reverse chronological order:

Swiss alps featuring Matterhorn – we went up to Zermatt on December 30 – this was taken from a view point at Gornergrat – ‎3,135 m (10,285 ft)

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Piazza San Marco, Venezia, Italy in October

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Tree of Life, World Expo 2015, Milano, Italy in October

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Chamonix, France in September long weekend

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Crozet, France in August, business meeting

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BBQ on Lac Leman lake front, Lausanne

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Basel, Switzerland in July

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Annecy, France in June – day trip ended with surprise firework display

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Louisiana Museum of Art, Humlebæk, Denmark in June

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Copenhagen, Denmark in June

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See next post for the places we went in the first half of 2015.

 

 

 

It was August 1, Switzerland’s National Day and everything was closed around us. Our friend A and F thought – why not spend a day in France ?  Since many shops were holding an end of the summer sales, we could benefit from some dernière démarque, tax-free shopping. So off we went to Annecy.

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Annecy was super-busy and we were so glad that we booked our table at La Ciboulette in advance.

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We made a one’o clock reservation, the restaurant was full; and we were the last to leave, hence, the empty tables.

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La Ciboulette serves contemporary continental fare. It was the first time for all of us.

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The dining room has modern oak paneling, and during the summer it is opened to a courtyeard filled with plants.

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Interesting silver salt and pepper shakers (Angry Birds) and bougeoir on each table.

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We all had the “Gourmandise” set menu which started with an amuse bouche – a cool cerviche.

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We were very happy with our lunch, the service and thought that the whole experience calls for one michelin star.

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.

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Well, when we looked the restaurant up online back home, they do indeed have one michelin star.

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Cheese course – the trolley and cheeses is ….

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Desserts

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.

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We ended the day with one of the most fantastic fireworks shows we ever saw. Annecy had its Fete de Lac on that day and the fireworks were synchronized with music from the 70’s to the present. The show ended with Sia’s Titanium.

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We are happy to know this place as Annecy is packed with touristy restaurants.

Highly recommended.

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H a p p y  2015 !

Now that we are back from our year-end vacation, we are taking a look back at some of the places we visited last year. This is the second of two posts; Part 1 is here.

The photos are organized in reverse chronological order. Some of the trips are business trips and some are vacations. Click the links where provided to see the actual posts. There are usually a series of related posts per location, they are uploaded around the same time – you can discover them easily in the calendar at the bottom of the post.

June 2014 – Val de Loire, France – It was a road trip with our “new” car and we saw V and her families.

Chambord

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Orleans

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Chez Liz, Orleans – thanks, we had a great time seeing every one.

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May 2014 – Cologne, Germany

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April 2014 – Milan, Italy – I (Chris) went to see the Salone Internazionale del Mobile.

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April 2014 – Korea – Sue went with her family for a tour.

Seoul

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Busan (부산, 釜山)

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Jeju Island (제주도, 濟州島)

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April 2014 – Morges, Switzerland – Annual Tulip festival

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February 2014, Chateau d’Oex, Switzerland with IT who came to see ballet, eat fondue and buy accordion.

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January 2014, Times Square, New York. I (Chris) took this from the building where I worked many years ago on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 44th street.

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We are wondering where we will go in 2015.

 

Let’s talk about cheese. Mont d’Or. Like most cheeses, it is named after where it comes from. This place is named Gold Mountain because of the cliffs in this mountainous area which reflect the golden light of the setting sun. By the way, the mountain range is named Jura which gave rise to the name of a geological period – Jurassic – which is in turn made famous by the dinosaur movies – Jurassic Park 1, 2….

Mont d’Or, or Vacherin du Haut-Doubs, from France, or Vacherin Mont d’Or from Switzerland is a soft, rich, seasonal cheese made from cow’s milk in villages of the Jura region. Both cheeses are strictly controlled by its Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) or Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) and there were histories of rivalry between the two countries.

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The French version has a grayish-yellow washed rind and contains 45 to 50 percent milk fat and is produced between August 15 and March 15, and sold between September 10 and May 10. We checked before going on a September weekend. It was a cross-border day trip up the Jura mountains from Lausanne. Our friend F joined us and we left shortly after lunch on a sunny fall day.

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The Swiss Vacherin Mont d’Or is generally made with pasteurised milk, while the French Vacherin du Haut-Doubs is unpasteurised. That means the French version is illegal in the US and one should expect it to be confiscated by customs if it is discovered.

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The cheese is traditionally made in the winter months when the cows come down from Alpage and there is not enough milk to make Comte. It is marketed in round boxes of various diameters made of spruce, and often served warmed in its original packaging and eaten like fondue.

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The destination of our little trip was the Sancey Richard Fromagerie in the town of Metabief, no more than one hour drive from Lausanne. The cheese factory contains an exhibit of their old equipment as well as a short film about its history.

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They also constructed a viewing area where one can see in a hygienic way how the cheeses are made. This area is for making Comte and Morbier.

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The grand dame of the family that owns the fromagerie received the National Order of the Legion of Honour (Chevalier légion d’honneur) presumably for her family’s contribution to the local cheese-making culture.

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Attached to the factory is the shop (fromagerie) that was doing brisk business. We bought 2 Mont d’Or, about 0.3 kg of each of Comte Fruite and Comte Vieux as well as a wedge of Bleu de Gex.

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In the shop, we were most impressed by this hydraulically-operated, laser-guided cheese cutter (see the line of red light). Very professional and lethal !

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We started snacking on the Comte as soon as we walked out. It is one of our favorite cheeses.

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Back home that evening, we pushed several pieces of whole garlic into the cheese and poured some white wine into a little well we dug in the middle. After 25 minutes in the oven, it melted and we ate it like a mini fondue with potatoes and charcuterie also from the Franche-Comté area.

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Great local-style dinner, fine wine and good company. Cheers.