Don’t let the only wet day on a tour for a long time dampen any spirits. Anyway that was my motto as we set off to meet Hubert and Claire Martin in an original Clos (walled property ) belonging to Claire’s brother Jean Louis.
Our morning was all about truffles starting with a demonstration with Hubert’s special breed of Legatto dog – they love to eat truffles and can smell the highly pungent fungi sitting under the ground. The aim is to get there first and retrieve the truffle .
Claire was so organised and ready for our workshop. She introduced my group to the world of truffles – something very foreign to everyone except Charles. They have a reputation of being expensive ( which is true) and rare especially in the Southern Hemisphere. Truffle varieties like : Summer , Burgundy , Meuse, Brumale, Black, Borchii and Alba are now familiar to my group.
We prepared, grated and sliced a variety of truffles into – butter which was chilled and then served melted with snails , grated into very slow cooked eggs, added to a rich creamy pasta sauce for homemade fettuccine, folded through soft cheese to eat with bread and salad and finally served as ice cream.
Claire’s impeccable attention to detail down to the gorgeous presentation of each dish and her professional glossy colourful notes means we are all better informed about truffles and will be looking out for them in New Zealand .
This was a family affair and Vincent son of Jean Louis and nephew of Claire spent the afternoon extolling the virtues of Burgundian wine, clarifying the classification of the wines and helping us to understand this complex wine region.
A wine tasting at Phillip Le Clerc at the end of the afternoon reinforced all we had learned and was the completion of a huge wonderful day with a very lovely family.
There is no better way of getting under the skin of a village or understand how it works than visiting the local market .
On this tour we do our fair share of markets. Each is special in its own way,selling produce typical of their region.
When I look back over the many highlights in the past two weeks the markets are always featured.
Venice – Sepia squid, huge selection of seafood and prepared artichoke hearts.
Duvaine – the smell of the many rotisserie – cooking chicken, legs of lamb and pork hocks.
Annecy – honey bread made without eggs, butter or raising agent, impressive cheeses and large slabs of nougat.
And still to come is the huge market in Beaune where I will stock up on handkerchiefs, French cotton tea towels and little paring knives!!
In Annecy we had a rather nice lunch . Everyone had to buy some thing at the market (not a filled roll ) and preferably something that was new to them .
We met in the park beside the lake to show off our purchases and enjoy a shared picnic lunch. (Charles and I did mange to get plastic knives and napkins)
We had thin slices of terrine en Croute, pork rillettes, duck and orange terrine, goat, sheep and cows milk cheeses along with a Acheron mont d’or – a characteristic cheese from Annecy, plus wonderful classic French breads.
We also had an impressive selection of sweets – from nougat, honey cake, mandelines and fruits like strawberries ,fresh figs and red currants.
It is always interesting to wander around a market but a lot more fun to buy. It makes you look, converse with the producer (or wave your arms a lot if you can’t speak the language) and it gives you a chance to taste and eat.
Although we didn’t have a sunny afternoon to lie around and relax our picnic was a laugh.
Our time in Annecy was extended somewhat after our bus developed a fault. It had an enforced overnight visit with a mechanic while we embarked on our return to Yvoire . First by bus to Geneva, followed by a train to Nyon and finally a boat to Yvoire .
I have an amazing accommodating tour group and they treated their unplanned afternoon with enthusiasm. Some even commented on how much they learnt dealing with tickets, travel times and the crowded rush hour traffic.
Sailing into Yvoire by boat gave us a photogenic view of this lovely quant village and in no time at all we were sitting on an outside terrace under the heaters eating one of my favourite meals of the tour – fried lake fish with chips !!!
I Know ….. REALLY
Haha – another market- This time a short stop from our hotel at what used to be Charles local. From bedspreads, shoes and clothes to vegetables, flowers, masses of exquisite cheeses and salamis. The smell of the many rotisseries cooking chickens, lamb and pork was so tantalising and so was the delicious looking potatoes dripping in the meat juices. If we didn’t have a lunch planned up in the mountains this would have been too far too good to resist.
Stephanie once again produced a wonderful mountain lunch. Sitting at the base of a ski tow in the town of Le Bettex we had sheep grazing around us this year eating the lush grass. I loved their electric fence poles – disused ski poles – that’s pretty good recycling . We had no trouble enjoying the Venison and crispy potatoes followed by macaroons and the view is completely outstanding .
Winding down the road we had plenty of opportunities to take photos of the beautiful wooden chalets, they are mostly holiday houses used for the skiing in the winter and walking in the summer. They looked immaculate with decorative wood stacks lining the properties and masses of geraniums hanging below the windows.
A 3o minute drive along the valley floor took us to Chamonix . This is a busy smart town and home the first Winter Olympics in 1924 . We briefly acquainted ourselves with the main shopping area before our exhilarating ride up the gondola and further on in a cabin to a high vantage point with terrific views of the surrounding mountains and of course Mt Blanc. Cyclists , mountaineers , rock climbers and day walkers were up this high enjoying the stunning environment. But.. The most amazing sight was watching two base jumpers drop themselves off a ledge in their bat suits to career down the mountain and land in a field in Chamonix 1/2 minutes later !!!
Yikes … No thanks to that crazy sport.
Comments flow around my tour group all the time and I try and remember them or write them down. But one word I hear constantly is ‘Amazing ‘ Sue my old school friend from Mosgiel – who now lives in Australia said “thats it’s a word she is becoming very familiar with.”
Under grey cloudy skies but very calm balmy conditions our day on lake Maggiore was magical and the late summer gardens on Isola Bella and Isola Madre looked heavy with flowers and foliage. The Italian lakes have many impressive homes lining the lake edges and although many are holiday homes to the European wealthy. The towns and villages are full of Italians who will have lived here all their lives,probably in the same house as their parents .
I just loved returning to my dear friends at their family Trattoria – Il Buchiello. For the best Gorgonzola gnocchi, porcini tagliatelle and Talliegio the typical dish of rare beef slices with rocket and grana cheese .It was so good Charles and I had a second dose the next night.
‘Exhilarating ‘ is a word that literally describes our bucket ride up 1000 m above the town of Levano to get a stunning view of lake Maggiore and the adjacent lakes .I can’t imagine any where in New Zealand where they would allow a cable car ride quite like this. Below us was a lovely beach forest lined with chestnut trees – all thick with spiky chestnuts and lots of wild hellebores.
This region of Italy has many lakes – almost side by side . It’s a short drive for us late in the afternoon to Lake Orta. A chance to wander the narrow streets in Orta, enjoy a ‘Prosecco’ and a few plates of local cheeses and meats .
There is an amazing New Zealander called Jeffrey Chilcott who has lived and worked in Barbaresco – in the heart of the wine growing area of Piedmonte for over 25 years .
This visit once again was a Highlight – 5 hours of sheer enjoyment, starting with a tour of the Tenute Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi de Cresy winery followed by a wine tasting . We then sat down to the most extraudinary long lunch in the heart of the Barbaresco village. I think it was 8 courses from a sublime veal tartare,plates of stuffed vegetables, the famous veal with tonnato sauce, the thinnest fine pasta ever, pheasant, followed by 3 desserts . But hey whose counting !!
Jeffrey is a star and provided my group with a truely wonderful memory that everyone will dine out on for ever.
Once again we had clear sunny skies and Lake Como was as gorgeous as you could imagine. The villas surrounding the lake are absolutely eye poppingly beautiful surrounded by neat clipped hedges, drifts of hydrangeas and mature trees. Some even have the house on one side of the road and the bridge above the road linking it to the garden and lake.
The garden of Villa Carlotta filled our morning ,walking through the impressive house and meandering around the garden. It’s a wonderful place to return to each year. I would love to have a pomegranate hedge like the one below with the cutest little fruits dripping fromthe branches.
Taking the slow boat from Bellagio back to the hotel in Moltrasio was the perfect way to spend a relaxing few hours spotting interesting houses and gardens (even George Clooney’s) – that’s not his with the washing drying over the lake !!!
After finding La Baia a few years ago I have returned with groups each year. Sited on the edge of the lake in what look like a boat club – Alessio the chef has become a lovely friend and provides a fabulous meal every year . I don’t even have to choose a menu – I know he will ‘wow ‘ with food from this region and impress with course after course of delicious dishes. Porcini are in season and the risotto was amazing.
On returning to the hotel we were all enthralled with a wedding being set up beside our hotel. I have never seen flowers dripping in such profusion and the quests sat at a long candle lit table with the most incredible mounds of flowers down the middle .
Thankyou Trevor for his honest comment after lunch in Asolo:
Great View / Great Walk / Great Lunch
When I asked Silvia the owner of Locanda San Barnaba Hotel to tell my group about the history of the hotel she said ‘ there is nothing to tell – it has been in my family from the ’16 th century ‘ Wow … For so many generations to live in your family house and for this long is incredible – In saying that there are still many locals here livingin their family palazzos, although the population of true Venetians has dropped enormously.They have proud traditions, strong regional food and speak in their own dialect .
Sadly, we are leaving on the day of the historical boat race down the grand canal.
These people must have extremely accommodating natures – since they have to share this remarkable city with tourists 24/7. I have come to love the Dorsoduro area of the city and for the past two years my groups have enjoyed staying in a true Palazzo away from the madding crowds. A twenty metre walk out the front door is the campo, where we sit, chat, people watch and drink quite a few aperol spritz – the drink of choice in these parts .I’ve have booked our lovely 12 bedroom palazzo again next year !!!
Cristina my ‘ amazing ‘ guide – (a word I am hearing alot ) Introduced , elaborated , described and made everyone feel comfortable and a part of Venice . Her outstanding professional skills were evident and she transported my tour group through quiet alleys with no tourists in Venice to Prosecco tasting in the hills of the Veneto to boating on the Lagoon in our own private gorgeous water taxi .
We ate Sarde e Sour and Fritto Misto on the first night sitting in campo San Barnaba, Risotto with Octopus on a balcony high above the beautiful medieval village of Asolo and Scallop and Porcini Mushroom salad in the beautiful Osteria del Diavola on the Island of Torchello – the oldest inhabited island in the lagoon. With a mosaic lined 6 th century church looking positively radiant .
The Venice Mercato never fails to impress and an early morning walk to catch the stall holders setting up for the day is so worth it . No where will you see the black sepia squid in such abundance , along with disks of prepared artichokes and even horse meat.
The final evening for some was spent at a Vivaldi concert of the Four Seasons . While others found tiny restaurants filled with locals to eat and enjoy their last Venetian meal – Charles had Fegato – liver, a real favourite here.
Four days is definitely not long enough in Venice – However, it just means you have to come back ..
Coming from 4 degrees to 43 degrees really does take some adjusting. The heat wave that hits you at 5.30 in the morning leaving the airport takes your breath away until you can do some slight adjusting. The safety of Manzil hotels cool lobby surrounded by vases of tall blue delphiniums , drinking a glass of fresh lime juice and mint makes the introduction to Dubai very nice!!!
They always manage to find rooms for my groups very quickly at this hour of the day and by 9.30 after choosing breakfast from one of the best selections you are likely to get we set off on the City tour with the gorgeous Dana – my Jordanian guide who I just love using
So in a city with extraudinary architecture, an outstanding number of amazing cars (and there was even a two door deep blue Rolls Royce out side the hotel) and malls everywhere. There is still in the older creek area where in 43 degrees everything is carried, pulled or pushed by hand.
The spice market was as busy as ever with men sitting out on the pavement in this extreme heat smashing up huge lumps of frankincense . It was interesting to watch a lady bartering -wanting to buy saffron and in the end she walked away.
From one extreme to the other – Malls in Dubai provide the environment to get away from the heat and I think shopping is an extra curricular activity where you can purchase anything and everything , be entertained and eat at the huge range of restaurants and fast food outlets.
However , I couldn’t resist taking photos of the most stunning displays of dates, chocolates and marzipan fruits .
Dubai goes from one extreme to the other and after arriving just over 5 hours earlier my tour group once again has had a terrific city tour – although I can’t say they liked the heat.
As I depart on my tour to Italy and France and leave our sparce winter garden behind I will get to return in Spring and a garden bursting with new life . It already shows signs as new pink blossoms are just starting to appear and the peony roses have buds.
However, Winter Roses or Hellebores or Lenten Roses or Christmas Roses -what ever you want to call them have to be my favourite in a winter garden – we have planted the orientalis in a patch by themselves to flower, seed and multiply. Providing us with an enjoyable mass from white, pink through to mauve and purple. Drifts of rambling green Corsica varieties flop over the rock walls and fill the gaps between the bare roses.
I could easily have these beauties everywhere . They look after themselves, have great green foliage year round and require very little effort to produce a rewarding display .
My lovely friend Christine Boswijk sent me these beautiful photos of her hellebores which look gorgeous in her kitchen with her stunning colourful pottery as a backdrop.