Following the Ardeche River

Ardeche Gorge natural arch

Today we checked out from the Auberge du Vin and headed north towards Ardeche. We took the D70 out of Mazan to Caromb. In Caromb we turned west on D55 (lovely drive) to Aubignon, then D7 northward. A quick stop in Aubignon, which was okay, but much preferred Seguret, on next stop. Seguret is situated on a hillside just off of D7, you can’t miss it traveling up the highway, on your right. Small and quaint and clean, we enjoyed walking its narrow streets, up to the church and the chateau. Wonderful views looking back towards the Rhone river.

After Seguret we continued on D7 to Vaison-la-Romaine, which was definitely worth visiting. The town is divided into two parts by the river that flows through a narrow gorge, with just a narrow bridge, dating back to the time of the Romans, to connect the two together. The southern part would be the original medieval town whose streets wind their way up to a chateau at the top of the hill.

On the northern side is the more modern part of Vaison, but just as lovely with narrow pedestrian streets, and a large plaza lined with restaurants and cafes.

After Vaison we continued north, in search of lavender fields. Its a little early in the year for lavender, but we heard there were some fields near Vinsobre, so that’s where we headed. And we were in luck! One field was blooming and we found out way up to it and took a few photos.

From there we headed west crossed the Rhone river, to the Ardeche Gorge and river. An amazing drive with some incredible scenic and photographic viewpoints along the way.

Canoeing the Ardeche Gorge

Balazuc and the Ardeche River

The drive up the Ardeche Gorge is simply stunning and very much worth doing in you are anywhere near the area. The drive offers plenty of viewpoints and the opportunity to pull over and take in this deep canyon with steep rock walls and a river running through it. Its meets the Rhone just outside of Pont-Saint-Esprit on highway D290 and the most interesting drive starts about 40 km up at Vallon-Pont-D’Arc. At the viewpoints you’ll see many people who are kayaking or canoeing (most in kayaks these days) and there’s really no better way to see the Gorge than while floating down it, rapids and all.

We went through here in late June and it was already getting quite busy. We had planned to do the Gorge by kayak but by the time we got to Vallon we were overwhelmed by all the people, camping, rental places and decided to just drive through to our hotel. However, the next day when we were out exploring towns, we really enjoyed Balazuc, situated along the Ardeche river, where there weren’t nearly as many people, so we rented a two-person kayak. 35 Euros for the kayak and pick-up at the end of our trip, which was about two hours long. A wonderful float, with flat spots and minor rapids, nothing too challenging, surrounded by steep rock cliffs. Choosing to do this in the afternoon was also a good idea as we got more of a break from the sun. The company we rented from was Fazao, located right under the bridge at Balazuc, with parking spaces for your car. Definitely something worth doing, we really had a good time, swimming, lazing along the shoreline, and running the rapids when they appeared.

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Provencal Markets

Market day at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

Going to a market in Provence is a must as there is just so much to see and Provence has so much to offer with herbs, flowers, fruit, vegetable and handicrafts. We went to the market in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue on Sunday and it was packed with both people and stands. L’Isle is also an amazing town for antiques, not just on Sundays at the market but all year round with many, many antique stores. I’m sure much of what ends up decorating the newly purchased homes of expats comes from here. If you go, make sure you also visit Fountaine-de-Vaucluse, which is at the base of the mountain where the Surge river begins. Very cute town with the river running through it, and a great place to have lunch, especially if its hot out. Route de Fountaine, which takes you from Sorgue to Fountaine, is a beautiful drive, lined with tall, shading Sycamore trees.

Here’s a list of the some of the markets and the days on which they happen:

Monday: Bedoin, Cavaillon, Mazan Tuesday: Avignon, Beaumes de Venise, Gordes, Vaison-la-Romaine Wednesday: Avignon Thursday: Avignon, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Orange, Robion, Roussillon Friday: Avignon, Bonnieux, Carpentras, Cavaillon, Chateau-Nuef-du-Pape Saturday: Avignon, Cadenet, Menerbes, Mirabeau, Pernes-les-Fountaine Sunday: Ansouis-Avignon, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Maubec

Learning about wine in Provence

I very much enjoy searching for great places to stay when we have decided where we want to go for our next trip. There are just so many wonderful places to stay, to experience. So when looking for a place in Provence, in Vaucluse, when I saw the name of this place–Auberge du Vin–well, I was more than intrigued. The Auberge is operated by Linda and Chris, a couple who not only operate a wonderful Auberge, but also are certified wine instructors. All we were looking for was a nice place to stay. Well, we got that and a great mini course on wines in the Vaucluse region.

The Auberge is nestled in the middle of three wines vineyards (grenache, syrah and viognier), in between Carpentras and Mazan, making it strategically located for visiting all parts of the Haute Provence and the Rhone region. Nice accommodations, wonderful pool and garden area, and very hospitable owners.

Auberge du Vin wine course

We’ve taken numerous courses and tastings before, but this was the best yet. Linda knows her stuff, and she doesn’t have to go far to provide product for her course on Rhone wines. After talking a bit about the history of wine in the region, the types of grapes available, and the concept of the appellations, we then stepped right outside the Auberge and see firsthand syrah, vionier and grenache growing on the vines.

Our course involved eight tastings of wines; two Viognier whites (the “new” Chardonnay), two cru reds from Beaumes de Venise, two desert wines (a red and a white) and a Chateau Neuf de Pape with a surprise bottle of 2001 Domaine la Tourade that was simply amazing.

A few interesting things were learned were:

  • While in the Americas we tend to classify wines by the grape type (Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, etc.), in France it is by region (Bourgogne, Cote de Rhone, Bordeaux, etc.). Which can explain why I’ve always had trouble finding a good selection of Pinot Noir wines in French wine stores; all Bourgogne red wines are Pinot Noir!
  • While I knew that keeping wine in oak barrels helps the wine live longer, I discovered that is also provides the tannins in wine, and that when a wine is is strong in tannins it tends to dry out the mouth, while a wine with a good acidic balance will make the mouth watery.
  • The Rhone region produces more than 370 million bottles of wine a year, more than a million a day.
  • While most wines today are picked by machines, the higher quality Cru wines have to hand-picked, so limit damage to the grapes.

If you are looking for a wonderful place to vacation (Provence) and also learn a little more than about French history, The Auberge du Vin may be the place you may want to consider for your next stay.

Provence: Vaucluse

Gordes

Provence consists of three departements: Bouches-du-Rhone, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and thirdly Vaucluse, which is the region we were about to visit and tour. Within Vaucluse there are also three sub-regions, called Luberon, Mont Ventoux and Avignon and we did our best to get in a little bit of all three.

We left Avignon and headed south to Cavaillon, passing through, taking highway D2 towards Menerbes. This was beginning of our tour through small Provencal villages until we made our way to our stay at Auberge du Vin just outside of Carpentras. Wonderful countryside, a lovely drive and numerous hilltop villages to stop at and walk through, such as Menerbes, La Coste, Bonnieux, Gordes and Venasque. All cute and quaint, but Gordes stands out and is really quite something to see from the viewpoint when you arrive from the south on D2. And you will immediately know you are getting close to Gordes because of the unique walls or fences along the highway made solely of rock, flat, shale-like rock, starting with them placed horizontally up to about three meters, and then a top row placed vertically. Very unique.

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Biking in Paris on Sunday

Biking along the Seine

On Saturdays and Sundays, from March to November, Paris shuts down some of the highways the run along the Seine. On the Right Bank the road is closed to motorized traffic from the Tuilleries to the Pont Charles De Gaulle. On the left bank, a portion of the Voie Expresse Rive Gauche is also closed, from near the Eiffel Tower to Bridge de la Concorde, where you can then switch to the right side. During July and August it may always closed to motorized traffic. Bikers share the highway with “rollers” and pedestrians. Since the views along the Seine are spectacular, this is a popular outing and something we try to do every Sunday we are in Paris.

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Bretagne: Part IV (Fougeres & Vitré)

Fougeres

Our travels today took us from Dol de Bretagne southeast to Fougeres and Vitré. Both are towns with chateaus and medieval castles, and some of the best examples of them in France. They are two of our favorites. It’s so difficult to have favorites in France, as there are so many wonderful French villages, but these two rank up at the top.

Fourgeres is divided into two, with a lower part encompassing a medieval castle and town, and the upper, more modern town of Fougeres. A good way to start is in the upper part of town and then work your way downwards to the castle. You can walk through the public gardens of Place aux Arbres, which features terrific views of the castle medieval town below, and features hundred different versions of ferns (Figueres translates to fern). As you go walk through the gardens by way of a footpath you’ll make your way to the lower part of town (actually more scenic as most of the upper town had burned down in a fire in the 18th century) and the castle. As always, grab a map at the tourism office.

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Ultimate Room Service at Manoir de la Begaudiere, Brittany

Room at Manoir de la Beguadiere

Our special in-room dinner service began with a wonderful massage for both of us, which was just what we needed after a long day of exploring medieval chateaus and towns in Brittany. It was followed by a fire lit in the large fireplace in our room, served with a demi-bouteille of champagne and appetizers. As the last sips of the champagne went down, the Manoir staff re-appeared to set up our table with salad plates, a bottle of Bordeaux and a wooden cutting board with a large raw coté de Boef steak and aluminum wrapped baked potatoes. They then set up a special grill in the fireplace and left us with instructions that when we were ready, to grill the steak five minutes each side and reheat the already baked potatoes. We followed the instructions shortly after and the end result was a fantastic dinner for two by the fire in our room. Quite something. Oh yes, almost forgot. Dessert were to small pots, individual-sized with an apple crisp topped with chocolate chunks. A few minutes on the grill and we had hot dessert to finish off an unforgettable dining experience at the Manoir de la Begaudiere.

Cooking dinner at Manoir de la Beguadiere

Bretagne (Part III) Guirec & St. Malo

St. Malo

On day four we left Morlaix on D786 northeast to Lannion. Lannion reminded us very much of Quimper.  We had lunch on the town bridge, which one of the few bridges in Europe that are still occupied (the other famous one is in Prague). We had lunch at one of the restaurants on the bridge that looked cute, but it wasn’t great. Too often those restaurants in great locations unfortunately do not have great food. They don’t have to, tourists go to them because they are conveniently located. We prefer to search for our food!

After Lannion we headed over to Saint– and Perros Guirec. This is just a great coastline for exploring and unusual due to its coloring. Known as the “Côte de Granit Rose” (pink granite coast), it stretches for more than 30 kilometres from Plestin-les-Greves to Louannec and is one of the outstanding coastlines of Europe. This special pink rock is rare and can be found in only three other places in the world; Ontario, Canada, Corsica and China.

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Bretagne (Part II) – Morlaix & Roscoff

Central Morlaix

On our third day in Bretagne we headed further north close to the town of Morlaix, to a chateau called Chateau du Bois de la Roche, near Garlan and a few minutes outside of Morlaix.

On the way we first visited the coast taking D887 out of Port Launay to Camaret-sur-Mer. This is a rugged coastline with a lighthouse out on a point. There’s numerous trails to take and worth doing. If you drive right out to the point of Camaret there is parking and you’ll find the trail. Be careful with your footing in some of the areas!

After that we continued on E60 and on the way we turned off before Brest to visit Landerneau. We were close to Brest but decided to skip it. Its rather large town, much of it new as it was bombed quite a bit during WWII, so we decided on Landerneau instead. Landerneau is actually quite similar to Quimper. We enjoyed walking its old town streets, lined with well-preserved half-timbered buildings.

We continued on to the Chateau to get checked in and take a nap. The Chateau is owned by a German who bought the chateau with his wife some years before. Unfortunately shortly  the purchase of the chateau she died of cancer. He now rents out rooms, helped out by his son, while he takes care of the large property. Our room was on the third floor, shared with two other rooms. They were empty, which means the common sitting area and the shared bathroom, were all for us to use. This is something to be aware of when taking a room at a Chateau; do you get your own bathroom? If not, do you mind sharing? We prefer our own, but forgot to ask this time. Fortunately it worked out for us.

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