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Tips, stories, and questions about travel-related topics, including restaurants
27 posts • Page 1 of 1
Since 2012 I have been spending the large majority of my summer holidays driving around Central Europe with my girlfriend. Early on we (I) were very eager to visit the producers and most stops were indeed in the hearts of the famous wine regions. For the last couple of trips we have not really arranged winery visits anymore beforehand, preferring to have as little fixed agenda as possible and keeping our options wide option. Wine is of course still a large point of interest but instead of visiting wineries it is now mostly about restaurant wine lists and geeky wine shops.
This time around our main first actual places to really look for were Pallanza (Lago di Maggiore) and Imperia (Ligurian coast). In order to get to Italy we would drive through Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. While the German towns of Eutin, Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Rottweil do have their charm for us they were mostly same ol', same ol' and really we felt like our holiday had started when we reached the sleepy village of Isenthal in Switzerland. While the village itself did not offer much there was a cable car nearby that took us higher up to a place called Gitschenen (pictured above) where we could enjoy fresh mountain air and the absolutely beautiful scenery with very little other people around.
After only one day in Switzerland we drove to Lago di Maggiore to a town called Intra, located on a peninsula opposite to the better known town of Stresa. I rather liked this town's liveliness and positive vibe. There seemed to be a decent amount of Gelaterias and having tried a couple of them I have to say the quality was good. My favorite was one called Tamboloni - excellent vegan (!!) pistachio. Mind you that I only chose this one based on how it looked and I am glad to have trusted my instincts.
The main thing in Intra for me however was a top notch cheese, salumi and wine boutique and bar called La Casera. This is exactly the sort of place where I want to lunch and dine when I am in Italy. The walls are covered with modestly-priced bottles carrying many familiar labels. Had I not had promised to my gf to start my buying spree once in France I would have been forced to buy a case from their quite substantial list (http://www.formaggidieros.it/media/Copi ... io2018.pdf). One should not even make the comparison but having been exposed to such wine lists it is really difficult to consider the wine lists mentioned on the "Help me choose a bottle"-threads here on WB and not feel a bit sick.
After a long enough drive some bubbles were a must. The Blanc de Noirs from Aÿ pictured was a very positive surprise: ripe, powerful and fairly toasty yet nearly bone dry with plenty of freshness and nuances. Not familiar with Gonet-Medeville really but would not hesitate to try another one from them. We also had a Franciacorta Satèn from a producer called Vezzoli and this was just as it should be: actually dry with pure citrusy flavor profile, firm texture and some pleasant developed notes. I have struggled many times with Franciacortas that carry more than 4-5 g/l of sugar - does it not make all the sense in the world to make only bone dry wines here considering how much warmer it is than in Champagne?
The cheeses and the salumi were all top quality and made for basically the perfect lunch in our books. To cap things off I had easily the best coffee of our whole trip which was of course a very happy thing at the very moment and less happy later on. After praising to my gf "I did not even remember how good coffee tastes in Italy" it was indeed a bit sad to realize that as La Casera is one of those places that does not cut corners also their coffee is on a whole different level than the competition and disappointments were bound to happen afterwards.
Another thing to mention about La Casera: in addition to all the mentioned and having a really sick selection of spirits, especially Gin, they also age cheeses. The cabinets look really amazing and as a nice touch there are fitting bottles next to many cheeses. I must say that pairing of Comté and Château-Chalon felt awfully tempting.
Our hotel called Aquadolce was on the other side of the peninsula in a relatively quiet town called Pallanza. While nothing too fancy we quite enjoyed the hotel and especially the view of the lake. Based on our experience I would recommend the hotel but not necessarily due to the restaurants nearby. The one we had chosen for the first evening led to my gf getting a food poisoning, coloring our next day a bit bland. For the second dinner I had been wise enough to cancel our original reservation, replacing it with La Casera.
We had had all kinds of plans of exploring the lake but due to my gf's condition we decided on a slow stroll to Intra were one had more cruise options than in Pallanza. We took a ferry to the town of Laveno which is on the east side of the lake. We had noticed from Intra that there is again a cable car ("Funivie") that would take us up top to enjoy a nice view of the lake. Only after paying for the tickets we learned that the ride up would not be as enjoyable as one would hope. During what seemed like an eternity in the cramped metal vessel pictured my gf started feeling only worse and worse and in the end I was truly surprised that she had managed to keep from throwing up. The school kids coming down sure had a lot of fun laughing at the pale Finn suffering from the combination of food poisoning and the rough ride.
Once we got to the up we were in no rush to return. The views were indeed quite nice and the setting quite fitting for enjoying a crisp lager.
Come the evening I was really keeping my fingers crossed that my gf would not say the dreaded words: "I do not have it in me to go to the restaurant. Could we just skip it and get something to go?". Fortunately she felt just barely well enough and we ended up again in this wonderful establishment, however she made it known early on that eating would be a challenge and drinking something else than water not desirable. I shortly considered getting something by the glass but in the end it just made all the sense in the world to order a bottle of Emidio Pepe's Trebbiano d'Abruzzo 2014 for the lowly sum of 35 Euros. The waiter commented that ideally one would give it a lot of air but for an unknown reason they had not one decanter in the restaurant. Safe to say the wine did not offer a whole lot early on but did open up with time. It was oxidative and saline on the nose with notes of lemon and oatmeal. On the palate it was medium-bodied, bone dry and salty with very firm texture and fairly high acidity. Maybe more interesting than delicious at that point but paired very well with food.
Interestingly enough once the waiter had opened the bottle and poured he mentioned that "your free plate of salumi and cheese is being prepared just now". It is not certain if this was something they would automatically do when a customer orders a bottle or because we had been there just a day before and left a good impression but nevertheless I was quite amazed by the amount of free produce on the plate. As my gf could not eat much I had already got rid of much of my hunger before I had managed to order any food.
Properly fresh Burrata is one of the best things Italy has to offer and it was a must for me to have. This one with smoked sardines was pure perfection. Straight oohhing and aahhing all the way. After it I really did not feel like eating anything else so once again a cup of the best coffee out there was more than enough. In other words getting my stomach full and having a bottle of Emidio Pepe and a coffee ended up costing me 50 Euros. Only in Italy.
After returning to Pallanza we spent sometime outside enjoying the wonderful sunset. There were other tourists like us around but yet it was really quiet and calm, absolutely nothing to distract from enjoying the moment.
Next up: Ligurian coast
Last name = L u !V! !V! e
Really enjoyed reading this, and great photos, thank you! Great deal for a bottle of Emilio Pepe Trebbiano at 35euros.
Looking forward to reading more.
Looking forward to reading more.
What Neal said. I was fortunate enough to spend a week at Lake Maggiore for work (was in Baveno though - Grand Hotel Dino) and it was fantastic.
You can find me at the grill! Https://www.instagram.com/akgrill
Thanks guys for the comments, happy to hear you enjoyed the first one.
After Lake Maggiore we headed towards the coastal town of Imperia while stopping in Genoa shortly for lunch and some light shopping. I had learned while at the lake that constant sunshine and temperatures of around 35 degrees celsius can seriously damage the dark colors of one's shorts and I now needed to add some lighter shades to my holiday wardrobe. Later after our trip it was quite a shock to read about the bridge collapse that happened in Genoa. While a horrible thing no matter what one just seems to react to such news much more strongly after having visited the area not so long ago.
When it comes to the Ligurian coast the part east of Genoa is surely the more exciting one but being that we were so late with the booking we opted to the western side and the town of Imperia. Now I cannot say that this town is in any way something one should definitely go and experience but it served our needs well: I wanted a nice place to stay at and some potentially good dinners, while my girlfriend wanted lots of sun and to be very close to the sea. Compared to Ventimiglia where we stayed last yeat it was definitely less rough (not that we could not handle Ventimiglia!).
The first dinner was at a local institution called Salvo Cacciatori. This fabulous restaurant is located on a very pleasant pedestrian street in Oneglia, which one could describe as the rougher half of Imperia but that would be mostly due to some industrial structures next to the perfectly nice beach boulevard. The restaurant has been there for more than one hundred years but now everything is quite modern and the cooking very much refined. The waiters were absolutely fantastic - this is the sort of place where professionalism is the key word but that is not to say that it is a stiff place. As a nice touch they brought a wooden Ca del Bosco case for my girlfriend to put her handbag on!
The wine list (https://ristorantesalvocacciatori.it/do ... i_vini.pdf) is quite impressive, especially so for its physical dimensions and materials. The whole Italy is covered pretty well with some hipster-approved names alongside many large though still quality-driven producers. While the prices are not stated on the website to me they seemed very fair. I could have gone to dozens of different directions but due to eating outside and the evening being very warm I was craving for a refreshing white.
I truly hate it when I order a wine just to hear that it is out of stock. This happened here as the Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Bianco was nowhere to be found in their cellar. They suggested one from Planeta instead but I decided to go for something totally different and chose the 2016 Franz Haas 'Manna' from Alto Adige. Having enjoyed the producer's Pinot Nero years ago I felt relatively optimistic about this rather crazy blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Kerner. Instead of being an overwhelming tutti frutti fruit salad it turned out to be an exceptionally well-balanced and delicious wine that was just perfect for the moment and for the cuisine. Surely there was plenty of lush fruit and aromatic complexity but also distinct minerality and great acidic zip. It did not overpower anything but also stood up to all the dishes quite well. I am not one to try such blends very easily but perhaps I should do it more often, especially when the producer has some renown.
Foodwise we opted for the Menù Degustazione which at 45 € turned out to be very good value. It was basically a 5-course menu with one amuse bouche and petits fours. There were no duds but the true highlight was the highly intense pomodoro risotto with taggiasca olives. The experience was very much like one can get with a perfect risotto milanese - hearty yet invigorating and immensely satisfying. While one might look for a red or a bigger, stronger white our pick had enough volume to pair really well. Once again I think with this dish we had the essence of Italian cuisine (yeah, I know it is an oxymoron) on our plates. A relatively simple thing that could not have been improved in any way. Overall I really recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting the area.
The next day way once again woke up to experience the most perfect view and weather. Our B&B called Note di Mare was quite superb in most ways, although parking was not among them. We had arrived on Friday and as there would be a Saturday market a fair part of the nearby parking space was not available for us. Once we had - after a good while I must say - managed to find a spot only about 300 meters from our B&B we decided to drop our earlier plans of exploring the region by car. Therefore the next day ended up being one of our fairly common "20 kilometers at 35 degrees celsius"-walking experiences. My gf often criticizes my hedonistic tendencies but fortunately I can use concessions like this as a counter argument.
In case the B&B is of interest to anyone it was indeed an attractive, tall room in a posh apartment building one block away from the beach. It is run by an adorable elderly gentleman who does not speak English but very much did his best to make our stay a great experience. The room was terrific with a modern bathroom of good size. The photo above is from the balcony where we would both enjoy our breakfasts and marvel at the sunset.
On the Saturday we strolled to the other side of Imperia called Porto Maurizio. The 4km walk was not particularly impressive when it comes to scenery but coming from the cold north we had by no means gotten enough of the heat and sunshine yet so that alone kept us happy and driven to move ahead.
Also in Porto Maurizio there is a beach and of course a port with plenty of sailing boats. This area also offers a chance to walk farther away from the coast to a lighthouse.
Due to it being so hot it never occurred to us to have lunch the whole day. Absurd amounts of bottled water, smoothies and the puff pastry cannolo pictured was really more than enough to keep the hunger away. Porto Maurizio did not seem like a huge place but we certainly enjoyed exploring it by foot. The best exercise of the day came from hiking up all the way to the top of the hill where Santuario Monte Calvario is located. As it happens by the time we got there I was sweating like a pig and exhausted to the extent of not feeling like taking any photos so the nice view of Porto Maurizio and the sea did not travel back with us.
After finally reaching Oneglia again I had the perfect thing in mind and got just that. There is just something about drinking these local mainstream lagers in Italy on a hot day. Brings back nice memories of renting a villa in Tuscany for a week many years ago and chugging this stuff by the pool.
Unlike lunch we were not looking to skip dinner and had a reservation at a joint called Dalla Padella alla Brace. It is a seemingly popular family-run place on a small alley not so far from Salvo Cacciatori but not that easy to find if one is not specifically looking for it. I would assume that it is the kind of place that is more popular among the locals than tourists as at the very moment we walked in a lady greeted us by saying: "Welcome to our restaurant, let me take you to your table!"
This restaurant seems to be a favorite of many on Tripadvisor and I can see why. It seems honest, unfussy and quite traditional in its ways. Compared to our previous dinner at Salvo Cacciatori it was a bit of a let-down however. It seemed like the sons (=the waiters) had been instructed to stare at the tables constantly when not running between the tables and the kitchen. While it is surely very important to be aware of what is going on at the tables to be able quickly to react to the diners' needs it can become a bit disturbing when someone nearby is keeping their eyes on you without a pause.
Having not been able to drink Tenuta delle Terre Nere the night before I decided to try it again. As my gf is always aching for Sangiovese and I always like to try new stuff I feel like these Etna reds are a really good choice. They often seem to offer a lot of what good Sangiovese might but in a bit different way. Before getting there there was a hassle though. The bottle was delivered at room temp and as it was again around 30 degrees celsius the wine was most definitely too warm, showing some heat even on the finish. The unprofessionalism of the stuff became even more obvious at this point as the waiter was very hesitant to bring us an ice bucket, informing that one is not supposed to drink such wine chilled. Once I had managed to convince him that it is what we really want no matter what their or the whole Italy's preference might be he finally brought the bucket with generously as many as two whole ice cubes and a little bit of water. Fortunately even that was enough to improve the drinking experience considerably. The nose was surprisingly Barolo-like with with savory red fruits and some mushroomy notes. On the palate it was medium-bodied with the most delicious strawberry fruit, mild tannins and refreshing acidity. It was highly drinkable, polished and lots of fun really.
The quality of the food ranged from decent to good, with the below fish receiving the highest grades. This fish called Bonito was not familiar to me before but being a big fan of tuna I enjoyed it a lot. Firm in texture and perfectly cooked, together with the cold tomato sauce it was rally tasty and also paired well with the red.
Despite my rants and the staff's shortcomings the overall experience was really not that terrible. I think it is the large contrast to the previous evening's place that made it not-so-enjoyable more than anything else as we are not ones to look for perfection in such affordable restaurants. Still, there are surely better places around and of course one could also always go twice to Cacciatori instead.
Next up: Provence
Last edited by IlkkaL on September 2nd, 2018, 10:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Last name = L u !V! !V! e
We went to Provence for the first time last year and it was love at first sight. While the most well-known addresses were not exactly the thing for us we were still happy to check out places like Antibes and Saint Tropez. What was yet left to experience was Monaco and as it was conveniently on our route we thought "why the heck not?".
One cannot go to Monaco without preconceptions. In many ways it was just as I had expected. However while I knew it was small I had no idea how sleepy it would be, even as it was Sunday. Sure there were tourists but otherwise it seems incredibly quiet and finding a place to have lunch turned out to be so difficult that in the end we decided to satisfy that need on the other side of the border. That said the port sure was astounding and the number of massive yachts very, very impressive, as was the yacht club building itself as well.
The casino is of course also a must-see thing, so there you go.
After Monaco it was time for a straight up déjà vu as we again failed to visit the famous hilltop town of Èze. I guess we could be classified as sorts of "if it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be"-travelers. The town is free from car traffic and the car park in front is seriously limited in size. If I have understood correctly there is another car park some kilometers away and some shuttles operate between it and the town but at least for now that option did not feel tempting. Enter Villefranche-sur-Mer.
This most photogenic of coastal towns was not familiar to us in pretty much anyway but it turned out to be a very pleasant new acquaintance. Note to self: there is not that much parking space available so just take the first parking garage after leaving the main road - it's not worth it to try to get any closer to the action.
The walk down to the main attraction did not suck. This place is exactly what one would expect from coastal Provence.
The beach boulevard is full of restaurants. Affordable, expensive, stylish, tacky - it is all there. Most likely there are some hidden gems to be found as soon as one moves a block inland but as we had just arrived to Provence we were looking for sun, rosé, salade niçoise and people watching. Indeed after the lunch we did come across a natural wine bar (named mind-blowingly 'La Cave Nature') just a couple minutes' walk away so if that is your thing, you are covered.
We settled on a touristy yet not that hated on place (it is just great to have cheap mobile Internet all over Europe nowadays) called Lou Bantry. We were not waiting for anything spectacular but were in the end totally happy with our salads and the rosé, which was some generic Côtes de Provence.
We would visit Carrefour often to keep water at hand at all times - after arriving in Italy we had two straight weeks of sunshine and temperatures of 30-35 degrees celsius. There was some rosé available there also.
Our first overnight stay in Provence was another coastal town called La Ciotat, were we had two nights booked at a very well-rated B&B called Le Rayon Vert. This was right there in the center of La Ciotat and turned out to be the most positive experience. It is run by a fit, grey-haired woman with the most amazing vitality about herself. A yoga instructor type, if you will. The room was very much quirky - showing its age yet not in a negative manner. On the walls there was art, painted by the hostess I assume, and just like the name would suggest our room was green color all over. The breakfast was perfect: lots of home-made goodies (yogurt, marmalades etc) and of course freshly baked baguettes and pastries from a nearby patisserie/boulangerie.
La Ciotat itself to me felt like an authentic place - a place where you mostly see locals instead of tourists. For us it was a very good base to explore the region from.
As anyone who has spent any time in France knows Sunday is not the best of days in terms of dining options. There were several very appealing restaurants that were not open. Our pick, a combination of an epicerie, wine bar and restaurant called De la Vigne à l'Olivier turned out to be a so-so experience. The staff were very kind and in good mood and the simple food items were quite tasty and not unfairly priced. In fact I could happily recommend this place for its food that leaned heavily towards Italy which is not that weird being that we were not so far away from the border. The burrata, the charcuterie, the tortelloni al tartufo and the lasagne were all exemplary.
The wine selection I found lacking. It was split 50-50 between France and Italy. Unfortunately the Italian side was quite uninspiring with some very mainstream names and the French side just too thin for a wine bar in Provence. I had expected to find at least a few different Bandols and in different colors but, alas, I was disappointed. If my memory serves me correctly there was only one white I would actually identify as Provencal (the one above), but many from the Southern Rhône that they were selling as Provencal options. I think this is the sort of matter where it very much depends on where you are coming from. I have always considered Luberon to be steadily part of the Southern Rhône but it seemed that the locals view it as a part of Provence and apply that to the wines as well. In my mind there is a clear difference between the wines of Provence and the wines of the Southern Rhône but then perhaps my idea of the wines of Provence is rather Bandol-centric.
In any case it was the 2014 Henri Bonnaud Palette Blanc 'Quintessence' that appealed to me the most and as all the wines were available by the glass (in good and bad, it later occurred to me) that is what was poured. Oak in Provencal whites is not something I tend to desire and indeed there was a very clear oak signature here but whether it was because of the surroundings or the appetizers I was actually positively intrigued by this wine. It was quite strong, concentrated and pungent even with not exactly the highest acidity. There was nothing too obviously attractive about it and I do not know how many glasses I would want to drink without food but right there and then it all came together nicely and to my surprise I found myself getting another glass. Wine is weird sometimes.
We then turned to the only Bandol available, the organically-certified 2010 Lafran-Veyrolles. We had had a young vintage of it a year before and enjoyed it well enough. However now I think we saw the downside of the "everything by the glass"-policy and with time it started to show more and more oxidation and raisiny character. Not horrible, just not what it should be. To take things completely to the next level once we had asked for the check we were kept waiting for around 45 minutes even though there was no lack of waiters. Oh well, at least the food had been good.
There was a night market on both Sunday and Monday and even at 10pm if was very lively: lots of local people with their kids, bébés and dogs. We later learned that this conveniently named event called Marché Nocturne takes place every day 8pm to 1am from the end of June to the end of August. I think what it does is make the place feel safe and very attractive.
The next day we drove a one hour or so to Hyères or more accurately Giens, near Toulon, to take a boat ride to one of the nearby islands. This was something we had really been looking forward to after enjoying immensely the Cassis-Calanques cruise a year before. Safe to say that while the Île de Porquerolles is a different experience it did not disappoint us.
There are all kinds of commercial activities on the island and a big part of the crowd seemed to navigate towards them. We were there more for the weather, the nature and the views so we headed to Plage de la Courtade, the most f***ing awesome beach out there (pardon my French). Words cannot begin to describe what a fantastic experience it was to just stand there in the water, looking at the ocean and the sailing boats and take in the sunshine and the incredibly fresh air.
Away from the beach it was really, really hot on the island. Nevertheless we found some vineyards there basking in the sun. For anyone interested on that side of the island I suggest taking a look at the excellent blog, Not Drinking Poison in Paris: http://notdrinkingpoison.blogspot.com/2 ... eries.html
One activity that I wanted to replicate from our previous visit to Provence was patronizing the Oenothèque des Vins de Bandol, located naturally in the town of Bandol, although they also have another shop called Maison des Vins de Bandol in Le Castellet. Not to repeat myself too much this is the place where one can find wines from practically all Bandol producers, although not all colors nor cuvées (especially the more limited ones) are necessarily available. Every day they also let you taste two wines of each color in the name of demonstrating the different styles this appellation has to offer.
The contrasts were big from the get-go, as the white Domaine de Frégate was fresh as daisy in comparison to the considerably bigger and more powerful Château de Pibarnon. The rosés were both quite nice, yet the fleshier and more serious Domaine de Terrebrune was more to my liking than the light-bodied and very easy-drinking Domaine de l'Olivette. With the reds my preference was even clearer as I just loved the tannic, acidic and delightfully rustic Château Pradeaux. Not all wines from this appellation should be like this but in its style it is as authentic as it gets. Domaine de la Suffrene's version in comparison was ripe, soft and concentrated, however the employee very knowledgeably explained in regards to this and the other comparisons how the differences in the terroir really are a significant factor when it comes to this appellation's diversity.
For dinner we had booked a promising restaurant right next to our B&B called Kitch & Cook. We ate outside and besides a short performance by local troubadours the atmosphere was simply fantastic. The staff were both very professional and tongue-in-cheek casual and clearly enjoying their job and as a result people at all the tables seemed to have a great time. I then had the hardest time choosing a wine as there was a bunch of unfamiliar local options on the list and the similarly priced bottle of Vouvray Sec from Vincent Carême, a producer whom I really like. I shared my thoughts with the waiter who expressed a lot of sympathy but in the end steered us towards a local wine, the Domaine du Paternel Cassis 'Blanc de Blancs' (does not make sense to me either, the designation). I had seen this recognizable label in the windows of several shops when in Cassis last year and as such there was some interest from my part. The outcome? A bit meh but not a catastrophy. Sure it is fresh, minerally and herbally with the sort of brightness that is just perfect for a warm Provence evening. On the other hand I feel like there is very little substance and very little anything of real interest. In the end it was perfectly pleasant especially with our fried fish mains which were on the light and fresh side so the opportunity cost did not make me stay up for the night thinking what if. Next time it is guaranteed that I will have the Carême, though!
The highlight of the dinner was the tuna tataki above. Pure deliciousness, one of those dishes that you could almost have for start, main and dessert and be perfectly happy.
Next up: heading north
Last name = L u !V! !V! e
Well that is an awfully nice thing to hear!
Happy to hear you enjoyed it. I am sure you are going to have a great trip as well, as there is no such thing as a bad time in Provence!
Thanks everyone else for your comments too. While the writing itself is rewarding enough for me it makes it all the merrier when my write-ups manage to entertain people.
Last name = L u !V! !V! e
In my book there is nothing better than waking up in Provence and seeing a Bruce Willis doppelgänger who is very much into medieval things and predatory birds on TV.
From La Ciotat we headed up north towards the Southern Rhône. On the way to our countryside B&B we decided to go and have a look what Avignon has to offer. By now the dynamic of our traveling had changed in a significant way as we now had wine in our car. This meant that we could not leave the car in the sun for longer periods and a garage would be ideal. As we arrived to the Palais des Papes parking all the signs were saying complet but we chose to give it a try anyway and lo and and behold we ended up getting lucky.
Avignon was packed with tourists and it was easy to understand why. Right after walking out of the garage we found the imposing and massive Palais des Papes standing in front of us. Additionally there were tons of shopping opportunities of all kinds which meant that both of us would enjoy our time there. At this point I had just managed to dip my toe when it came to buying wine and I was hungry for more. Thus I quickly googled a promising caviste and hinted to my gf that maybe she would like to go shopping some clothes, cosmetics, handbags or whatever it is she might fancy.
A highly rated natural wine shop was closed despite their website claiming otherwise but the second option called Le Vin Devant Soi did not look too shabby either. What I found there was a very friendly welcome by a young female employee and an enomatic device filled with several mighty interesting bottles. I quickly had a look at the shelves and then started tasting. I was handed a card with 20 € credit and before I knew it I was having the time of my life tasting small samples while talking with the staff.
There were a few interesting whites like the Condrieu DePoncins from Francois Villard and a white blend from Domaine Gallety but what really took me by surprise was the Pouilly-Fumé Florilège from Jonathan Didier Pabiot. I had only heard the name a couple of times and I honestly cannot remember when was the last time I had a Pouilly-Fumé but oh boy this was a nice one. It was most splendidly fresh and vivid with the sort of airiness that is not very common. Often Sauvignon Blanc ticks the first two boxes but then can be tight, tart or even metallic. Right now thinking of this wine I am quite amazed how I went through the rest of the summer without drinking the bottle I have in my cellar.
On paper THE wine in the enomatic was the 2000 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape. I am not very experienced with this wine, having only tasted a couple of young vintages some years ago and as I am generally a Northern Rhône stan it is not really on my radar. Perhaps it should be, as this bottle was a beast: a powerhouse with a markedly sauvage character and lots of attitude. Spicy, herbal and funky with superb concentration and still really strongly gripping tannins. Very complex with a bright future.
What also were of interest to me were the two Provencal reds present. The 2010 Domaine du Gros' Noré was more calm and timid than the Beaucastel but possessed similar animalistic qualities - from a big vintage but still showing a lot of what I am looking for in a Mourvèdre-dominated wine. Dark, heady and chocolatey with a good dose of garrigue and tobacco.
The 2013 Château Simone Palette took a significant step towards elegance and sophistication. It too speaks clearly of its place but with fruit leaning somewhat more towards red and minerality being a key word. It had plenty of tannin but the mouthfeel was quite silky and the finish very much of the lingering kind. I have a few bottles in the cellar from this producer but I think moving forward I can quite comfortably buy more. While not cheap I think the QPR here is quite good.
What was perhaps most notable about the shop otherwise was their selection of wines from Reynaud. Grabbing very well-priced bottles of Vacqueyras, CdR Rouge and CdR Blanc from Château des Tours off the shelves lead to the shopkeeper giving me a look and mumbling something along the lines of: "You sure seem to go for some hard-to-find stuff...". Luckily it did not escalate from there and I got to walk out as a happy fellow with these gems. Other nice finds were the 2016 Foillard Côte du Py which seems to be getting some serious hype on a weekly basis on CT and the not so frequently seen bottle of Bandol Blanc from the aforementioned Gros' Noré.
After a very light lunch we visited the Palais des Papes shortly. There is not that much to see on the inside so visitors get a 3D-headset with which they can see how it all was back in the day. It was surprisingly hot there so we quite quickly ran it all through. It was nice to go to the top and see the views over the town (pictured at the beginning of this post).
From Avignon we started moving towards our next B&B, located near the hilltop village of La Garde Adhémar. We decided to have a look at the village first but as we arrived some dark clouds started approaching and we thought it best to drive to the B&B right away. Indeed it started raining violently very soon so the decision turned out to be a great one.
At the house there were two women and a man sitting on a patio under a large umbrella, sipping on some wine. We joined their company and learned that one of the women was the hostess and the couple were Swiss guests. We were kindly offered drinks and I happily welcomed a bottle of a local amber beer. Right around the time I took my last sip the rain was over and quickly it was sunshine and 30+ again.
The place was called Les Esplanes and it was by far the best accommodation of our vacation. The owners, Jean-Louis and Blandine, are incredible hosts and do their absolute best for their guests to have a relaxing and pleasant stay.
We are not ones to stay still but in case I at some point manage to really get stressed out from the daily grind I can imagine coming here and just doing nothing. The pool area was not in much use but as we spent an hour or so there we met a couple who run a restaurant in Montbéliard in Jura. Neither of them spoke one word of English but I later connected with the man by comparing our Instagram posts - hooray technology!
Come evening time we had a reservation in a restaurant in a town with a rather fancy name, Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux. We did not end up seeing any châteaux whatsoever but the restaurant, called L'Entre2, was located in an attractive old stone building.
Wine was not the high point of the dinner. Each and every bottle on the list was from nearby minor appellations and I could not recognize one single name, which is not something I can recall happening. Thus we had to trust the waiter's recommendation and apparently my chosen keywords of "savory", "fresh" and "restrained" did not quite register.
No worries, I still had fresh memories of the superb wines tasted earlier in the wine shop and sometimes it is good to just focus on the food. In this case it was quite easy too as all the dishes were quite superb. My gf does not really get my enthusiasm for terrines and in a way I can understand where she is coming from but this terrine des foies de volailles was in all its simplicity really fantastic. The tarte au citron was even better - tremendously satisfying with awesome zesty tang. The restaurant is run by a young couple and they do a great job in both feeding you and making you feel perfectly comfortable and relaxed. As I am sure there are some nice wines on the list for those who know their Grignan-les-Adhémars better than I do I can comfortably recommend this place to anyone visiting the region.
The sunset was spectacular that day and it really was one of those magical evenings the French countryside can provide.
Next up: more of the same
Last name = L u !V! !V! e
The funny thing is, I always take a lot of photos when on holiday but I usually never take any time looking at them afterwards. Thus writing about the travels brings back a lot of nice memories that would be fading otherwise.
Last name = L u !V! !V! e
I've had some nice outdoor breakfasts before and for sure it is awesome to have an ocean or a lake there in front of you but here I could find nothing to complain about looking at the serein Southern Rhône landscape while being served good, strong coffee, freshly baked pastries and bread, yogurt and home-made jams and some fresh fruits.
As the rain had ruined our plans previously we wanted to now see the hilltop village of La Garde Adhémar, the village chosen to represent the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region as the "favorite village of the French" last year in an annual competition. It did not fare too well, placing 11th out of 13 (with Kaysersberg in Alsace taking the grand prize), but regardless it is a terribly charming if rather quiet place.
Those who recognize the Grignan-les-Adhémar appellation usually know that the name is rather new. The reason for the renaming can be seen at the background in the above image - the nuclear power plant of Tricastin. Indeed the appellation's name not so long ago was Coteaux de Tricastin but after an accident at the power plant resulting in uranium release and the decrease in wine sales that followed it was decided that the old name must go.
We had planned absolutely nothing for the day and decided to take it really easy, lazily moving from one village to another, crossing the river when needed.
The village of Viviers was quite nice in that all over one could find signs that tell about the history of different buildings and sights. Kind of like an outdoor museum without much tourists anywhere. Later we drove to the city of Montélimar but found surprisingly little of interest for us there. Well, I guess France needs to have its boring corners as well.
For the second evening we had been offered the possibility to participate in a dinner at the B&B. 35 Euros per person all in, which I had on previous holidays learned to mean unlimited wine as well. Not that we would be into maximizing the value of the deal, quite the opposite. At such a situation it is rather too easy to always accept a pour when offered and end up getting quite wasted.
The evening began with aperitifs and a small talk session with the host and some of the other guests. The restaurant owning couple from Jura was there, as were two men - a Parisian and an Englishman - who had just recently arrived. Considering the location my first guess was that they were a couple but soon they explained that they are colleagues who come to the area frequently for work. At this point I immediately thought of the nuclear power plant and decided to ask. Rather mysteriously the Englishman rushed to respond: "Perhaps." As I then commented - half-jokingly - that I think they are quite lucky if they are not expected to have dinner with their local colleagues there once again was a quick response: "Well...we are not very wanted guests here - think of us as the IRS." Interesting!
The aperitifs were plentiful with magnums of local white and rosé being opened for the 7 of us to accompany toasted bread and some top notch home-made tapenade and aioli. So simple, so darn delicious.
The food, while definitely tasty and hearty, was not that photogenic so one can do without photos. The wines were local but once again I was faced with the same phenomenon as in the Northern Rhône: for current consumption just forget about the 2015s and go for the splendidly drinking 2014s. This magnum of Domaine de Montine Vinsobres was delightfully restrained and moderate in size with pretty, savory fruit and an attractive hint of funk. Really, really drinkable; all of the 1,5 liters were gone in a heartbeat. Unfortunately the 2015 Grignan that followed was all dense, primary fruit without any clear sense of place. Not bad by any means but just so much below the previous wine in terms of enjoyment.
The next morning we were really sad to leave this awesome piece of our planet behind but at the same time also eager to discover something new. We first headed to Condrieu to pick up a few cases from Xavier Gerard. Xavier was in really good spirits - offering us right away glasses of Pradeaux Rosé - mentioning that thus far the vintage conditions had been quite nice and there had only been a small amount of rotten grapes they had needed to remove. He also commented that surprisingly there had been rot in the Southern Rhône as well and expressed his skepticism of whether the Southerners know to remove those grapes as they are not accustomed to this phenomenon. It was an international/multi-regional affair at Xavier's as it always seems to be (having met people like Marc Kent of Boekenhoutskloof and Vincent Chansault of Domaine Gayda there before): we chatted with a young winemaker-to-be from New Zealand and another fellow originating from Bretagne who now works for an American barrel company.
From Condrieu it was 100 kilometers or so east to the village of Charavines where I had booked a two nights' stay just for a winelist. Having checked in to our modest hotel (the only one in town, I think) we charted our options of afternoon activities and found out that the town of Voiron would offer something rather attractive.
Only a couple of years earlier I had found the joys of Chartreuse and somewhat against the odds my girlfriend had become a fan as well. Therefore we did not want to pass the opportunity to visit the cellars where this noble drink is produced and aged. I highly recommend everyone visiting the area of doing it: the tour is completely free of charge and it includes a very thorough presentation in the cellar (in French, it must be said) and of course a tasting of the basic yellow and green products. Unfortunately they have a strict rule of all mobile phones being turned off so no photos could be taken in the cellar. This was told to be due to the epidemic of exploding Samsung batteries not long ago - they are afraid that it could cause a fire in the cellar due to all the evaporating alcohol. No comments from my part, just reporting here.
While neither of us speaks French at least I managed to follow the presentation reasonably well and after each segment the tour guide would ask us in English whether there was something we did not understand. It was cool to see I think how some of the sugars get out of the barrels through the gaps between the staves. It was also interesting to note how small the barrels used for ageing the mighty VEP are compared to those used for the cheaper products.
According to the tour guide every medicin cabinet needs one of these so we are now prepared to face the worst of diseases. It is supposed to be the original Chartreuse product before the creation of the Chartreuse Verte.
After a superb lunch in May I was anxiously looking forward to returning to Hotel des Bains in Charavines. Interestingly (but not surprisingly) in the meanwhile it had been named "the best wine list of France" by the Terre de vins magazine in the category of traditional restaurants. As the winelist can be seen online I had had a lot of time to go through the different options before our vacation. That is not to say it was in any way easy to choose a bottle for either night but in the end my criteria was scarcity, at least for the first evening.
While Burgundy is likely the strongest suit here I had never tried a bottle of Clos Rougeard and saw this is as a mighty good opportunity. They were all quite young vintages but Googling seemed to indicate the 2012 Les Poyeux would be the relatively approachable one.
The service in this place, especially when it comes to wine, is nothing short of excellent. First a young sommelier came to present the wine and expressed his excitement as these wines are not opened there that often. He poured a small amount for himself to see that the wine is ok (I do not object this one bit - I think it is a very good thing to do especially if the customer is not very confident about wines), approved it with a wide smile and poured me a sample. After I had likewise approved it he poured it into a fancy decanter, after which he rushed to offer his boss, the owner Pascal Perino, what little was left in the glass. What a wonderful display of enthusiasm!
Quite soon Mr. Perino came to greet us and to talk a little about the wine. He said that their annual allocation of this cuvée is 24 bottles but he is not sure whether that will continue given the changes in ownership at the winery. He also commented that they have a shop in Hong Kong where they export wines themselves and this particular bottle goes for 600 Euros there, versus the 90 € in his restaurant. It's a crazy world...
How about the wine then? While I have been a fan of Loire Cab Franc for a moment this is unlike any other that I have had. It did not move one bit over the two hours or so but then it was quite good from the get-go. Bright red currant, blood orange peel, red capsicum and a hint of barnyard on the nose with also a perfumey quality. On the palate medium-bodied, silky and weightless. Aromatically all Loire Cab Franc, but with the mouthfeel of a top shelf red Burgundy. The tannins were incredibly caressing and the drinking pleasure immense. There was certain earthiness to it but it was in no way rustic. For sure there is a lot to come but we had none of that "well this was opened way too early" with it. To my surprise my gf was not that excited about the wine, which I did not mind.
With this kind of a wine list all one needs is food of decent quality that stylistically complements the wines. What they have here certainly achieves that but also offers ridiculous value for money. We both had the menu gourmand, 31 € for entrée, main, cheese and dessert. My main, boeuf Rossini, cost 4 € extra which surely was very reasonable. The starter was a criminally over-sized portion of Pata Négra Bellota ham. It was really delicious but half-way through the saltiness and the fat was starting to be a bit too much. I soldiered on however - you will not see this guy giving up on the challenge! The boeuf Rossini was also not lacking in size but it was also massively hedonistic. The French certainly know their mash potatoes - no one needs to worry about there not being enough butter. The beef tenderloin (from the village's local butcher, around the corner from the restaurant) was of terrific quality and cooked perfectly rare as per my wishes. The fried foie gras was... well, just what it is supposed to be. The desserts were merely good and I could have done without them, especially with the cheese offering being so great.
The cheeses come from Fromagerie Beaudé, located just 10km away from the restaurants, and are top notch all the way. I missed half of the names but I did learn that I had always mispronounced Langres, hearing the waitress pronounce it so eloquently.
Next to our table there was a French gentleman dining solo. As always our unusual language drew attention and very quickly we learned that the man was a fan of many things Finnish: rally drivers, novelists, you name it. He had been a regular at the restaurant for decades, coming there with his parents already as a child. I had no idea but he told us that indeed Mr. Perino is part of the same lineage that has owned the restaurant since 1872. Very impressive! What we also found quite spectacular was that all the employees seemed to really enjoy working there.
Funny enough at most tables we could not see a fancy bottle of wine being enjoyed. Mostly people just seemed to enjoy whatever was offered by the glass and have a great time. We however were already looking forward to the next evening and the next bottle and my gf at this point had perfectly understood why I had booked this village for two nights and accepted the decision.
Next up: Grenoble, more of Hotel des Bains.
Last name = L u !V! !V! e
- Alan Rath
- GCC Member
- Posts: 19413
- Joined: April 24th, 2009, 12:45 am
- Location: Bay Area, CA. Sometimes out to lunch.
Loving the entire report, thanks! But you're killing me with the Rougeard. Insanely good find, and an excellent choice. Glad you enjoyed it.
I'm just one lost soul, swimming in a fish bowl, year after year
Ouch, that has to sting! Well, if it is of any consolation it is likely that the restaurant will still be there the next time you are in the area
I definitely want to also mention about setbacks and boring/skippable things. I think that reading about them can be just as useful as reading about the great things. Also sometimes more entertaining.
Only in France, only in France. I have been thinking of doing at some point a post/list about such treasure troves that can be found in the old world. I know that certain people on this forum like to shush about such places but I believe that overall it would be something useful for many.
Last name = L u !V! !V! e
Loving your notes, pics and descriptions! Thanks for taking the time to share all the details. I totally agree with you that - taking the time to summarize and sort through the pics helps you relive the trip. Sounds like a wonderful vacation. I can't wait for our next trip to France so we can try Hotel des Bains - seems like the ideal place to go with a group of 6 people so you could really explore the wine list in more depth.
Taking a group of 4-6 to Hotel des Bains would indeed be the thing to do. The only thing that would top that is going on a tour and visiting that AND the other few restaurants in the French countryside with similarly unreal cellars...Maire ONeill wrote: ↑January 11th, 2019, 10:46 amLoving your notes, pics and descriptions! Thanks for taking the time to share all the details. I totally agree with you that - taking the time to summarize and sort through the pics helps you relive the trip. Sounds like a wonderful vacation. I can't wait for our next trip to France so we can try Hotel des Bains - seems like the ideal place to go with a group of 6 people so you could really explore the wine list in more depth.
Last name = L u !V! !V! e
Having enjoyed such Savoie cities/town as Chambéry and Annecy on our previous trips we felt like Grenoble was next in line. Only a 35 minutes drive from Charavines, we got there quite early in the morning. After having not bought a bottle of wine for a couple of days I was feeling the itch so after parking the car in a garage near Halles Sainte-Claire we agreed to split up for an undetermined length of time.
Right behind Halles Sainte-Claire there is the two part operation of La Balade des Terroirs (the shop) and Le ZINC (the bar, short for Ze Independent Natural Cellar). This was another of those occasions where I entered an empty shop and ended up spending close to two hours chatting with the staff while putting together a couple of mixed cases to take home.
The shop is basically one tall room with bottles covering the walls from floor to ceiling. It was very hard to take it all in when the bottles up top were far enough to be unrecognizable save for the most familiar labels. Fortunately the staff was very eager to discuss anything and everything and they also brought the winebar's list which helped navigating throught the selection a lot.
As the name of their bar suggests there is a lot of natural wine offered here. Unfortunately for a few quite desirable names the allocations are so small that they are sold only at the bar (wine list can be seen on the website if you are interested). Especially the bar's selection of Ganevat (domaine wines) is nothing short of ridiculous and the prices are funny. This is of course not a unique phenomenon, I think in general it is way easier to score Ganevat in France at restaurants than in retail. Same applied for the wines of L'Anglore, where the scarcity is really making the wines more and more tempting to me despite having never tried one.
As my preferences are most definitely closer to conventional stuff than the blatantly natural I was very happy to find stuff from the likes of Bernard Moreau, Jean-Marc Vincent, Berthaut-Gerbet and de Villaine's Côte Chalonnaise operation. On the more natural side I picked up bottles from Henri Milan, de Moor and Damien Coquelet at what I thought were very smart prices.
Struggling to choose the final bottles I was offered a taste of the bottle pictured above, a dry wine from a tiny 3-hectare producer named Clos Larrouyat from Jurançon. I could not remember whether I had ever tried anything from the region so I was very intrigued to taste it and liked it more than enough to buy a bottle. A 50-50 blend of Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng, the flavor profile was quite singular yet the wine was thoroughly harmonious with moderate concentration and very nice acidity. Time will tell whether I shall be an a**hole and put it in a blind tasting or just enjoy at home with a meal.
Out of many unusual wines in the shop this one perhaps takes the cake: a blend of Gamay, Syrah and Mondeuse with the grapes coming from Jean-Claude Lapalu, Matthieu Barret and Dominique Belluard. Unfortunately a pour was not offered but I look forward to trying it one day. They only had it in magnums so I passed on buying a bottle.
As seems to be a habit in France after I had decided on my 12 bottles the shopkeeper insisted that he gifts me an extra bottle. He inquired what I would wish it to be but as I was open to anything he reached to an unfamiliar bottle of Chenin, a 2015 Thomas Batardière Vin de France Clos des Cocus. All I can say is what a nice habit! That said even without any extras I could not recommended this shop more highly. Even if natural wines are not your thing you will surely find nice bottles to your taste here.
On the street between the shop and the Halles there was a large, rather sketchy group of local youngsters hanging out and the shopkeeper actually offered to help me carry the wines to the car - not sure whether it was more due to the amount of bottles or not - but I politely refused and walked away with my two cases and one bottle.
After the wine shopping it was lunch time which was followed by casual wandering aroung the city and some very light normal shopping. We rather enjoyed the Jardin de Ville which was just full of life. Having a dog at home you really start to miss the little bugger after a couple weeks on the road so it's nice to see other people's dogs then in action. What we saw of Grenoble it seemed like a nice enough city though with definitely a feel of a bigger city compared Chambéry and especially Annecy. Probably not a destination on its own but I would not mind spending a day or two there.
The World Cup had reached its more exciting stages and it was the day of France against Belgium. This meant that very early ALL the bars started to get crowded as seemingly everyone wanted to see the game. There were a lot of police officers around the city to make sure that everyone acts nicely but to me it seemed more like they were there really to watch the game as well. After the game ended (France won) it got crazy loud as the locals drove home honking their horns. Annoying and awesome at once.
What waited us in the evening was of course another dinner at Hotel des Bains. I had had grand plans of ordering a bottle of Arnaud Ente's Meursault, listed back then on there website for a very friendly price (around 100 € IIRC). However to our disappointment it was not on the winelist anymore and Mr. Perino explained that the last bottle had just been sold and at Ente changes had taken place when it came to distribution. I understood that he was not pleased with the new regime and thus had ended the relationship. I think someone at the forum touched on this matter in a recent white Burgundy thread.
No worries, given the depth of the list I felt certain I would have my Chardonnay itch scratched with some other bottle. After a brief consideration Perino recommended us the 2009 Meursault Perrières from Albert Grivault. I was not familiar with the producer and without much real experience the vintage was not one I would go for blindly. That said I would not dare to question Mr. Perino's recommendation. A wise decision!
Like usual the wine took its time in the decanter to really get going. Once it did, it was all fireworks. Vanilla, honey, seashells, cream and lemon on the decadent nose. Rich, mouthfilling and powerful on the palate. Still young, full of energy. Concentrated with a downright luxurious mouthfeel. Not heavy or flabby thanks to its insane drive. A true wow wine, bound to develop but delivered for every penny of its 120 € price tag.
Being from Finland cold smoked salmon is damn near our national food and we know something about this. Hotel des Bains's version was massively delicious, just melting in the mouth.
The main was whitefish called 'féra' from Lake Geneva/Lac Léman. Apparently not common outside the lake, which is a shame. Super delicious, tender yet with a way more refined flavor than salmon. Perfectly cooked and the ideal pairing for the Meursault.
After finishing the bottle which some cheeses I needed a digestif. You like Armagnac? They have some here.
Having tasted some vintages from Laubade already I once again turned to Mr. Perino for a rec. He said his personal favorite was the 1978 due to its savoriness and that sounded good enough for me. To no one's surprise it turned out to be really, really nice. Thoroughly savory, salty and nutty on the nose. Dry and savory on the palate with a distinct tobacco note. Very well balanced all the way.
While it had felt like the previous dinner was difficult to better I think this one just might have done it. In either case I don't think you can have anything short of an excellent experience here and after writing this post I suddenly crave to return. The summer can't come soon enough...
Last name = L u !V! !V! e