In Burgundy the famous vineyards of Cote de Nuit and Cote Beaune which sit to the North and South of the picturesque charming town of Beaune were all bustling with activity as thousands of pickers were hand picking the precious Premier Cru and Grand Cru grapes. It was a hive of activity between the pickers and machines doing the Village and Borgogne grapes. Europe has experienced a hot long summer and I have never been here at this time of the year to see the harvest in full swing. Many tractors carrying trailers of grapes were readying the individual wineries to begin the de-steming, crushing and fermentation process and commence the 2017 vintage.
This is a stunning region in the of the world wine and the appellation of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is world famous. Wine here reaches the most expensive prices in the world and with the the help of the most enthusiastic character of a local guide called Jean Louis my group enjoyed an afternoon they will never forget.
Tasting wine is an art and understanding the complicated system of wineries in Burgundy takes time. Even more scary is trying to choose a wine from the huge bible at each restaurant and become familiar with some of the names of the wine makers.
Towns all over France have gorgeous displays of colourful perennials filling roundabouts, hanging baskets and borders. Most are colour coded and I just love the selection of plants, from flowers, grasses and vegetables that always look stunning and I plan to copy in Dunedin.
As in my previous blog – Beaune too has a market that operates each week to provide local produce to the surrounding towns and villages. Beaune’s market never fails to impress me and once again I couldn’t resist the old old linen from the Brocante stalls. At least it is relatively light and easy to pack – Well that my excuse!!
Just over an from our home base of Yvoire on Lake Geneva are the French Alps, which are covered in ski fields in the winter and beautiful villages with exquisite wooden cladded chalets. Each year we always enjoy a mountain lunch experience at Le Bettex over looking Mt Blanc and the following day a picnic lunch beside the gorgeous Lake Annecy.
Both days provide a chance to become familiar with food available to the French on a daily basis and provide an opportunity to look and buy.
The first stop on the way to our mountain lunch is at a supermarket in Sallanches and apart from the TV’s, clothes, toys and electrics etc, the fresh food, chacuterie , cheeses, meat, seafood and bread is incredibly extensive. It’s surprising how a walk through a supermarket can provide you with an indication, not only of the local food choices but obviously the cuisine and culture of the region. It was nice to know the good old Savoy cabbage’s history evolved from this region. Terrines and pates are sold by the slice from very nice terracotta baking dishes and are available at any charcuterie counter, along with a wide range of hams, air-dried meats and salamis.
On the other hand markets are held in Villages on certain days during the week.The Annecy Market is always on a Tuesday and vendors line the narrow streets in the old medieval part of the town. Everyone had to buy something to contribute to a picnic lunch under the trees in the park.
While I was standing in a long queue waiting to purchase a slice of terrine and pate. I got to observe what the locals were buying and they were very fussy if the product wasn’t up to their standard. An old man in front of me had a long list and it was a good lesson in patience as no one was hurrying. The perfect espresso is hard to find in France and I just don’t understand how it can be so different to Italy. However, I was amused by this cute little puppy asleep in its basket on the counter of the coffee vendor. But, sadly once again the coffee was average. I would loved to have bought a bunch of flowers full of colourful zinnias but it is one purchase that is difficult when you are traveling.
Our picnic lunch selection was enormous. Everyone excelled themselves with a huge variety of cheeses, foie gras, meats, breads, salads, olives, radishes, heritage tomatoes, figs, myrtles, strawberries and grapes. Even a plate of hot roasted potatoes!! Charles provided Aperol Spritz, so really we didn’t lack for anything other than a few deck chairs.
We even had enough for lunch the next day in our hotel garden after a morning visit to Geneva. The sun was out and the temperature was perfect for a relaxing afternoon around the pool. Yvoire is a small medieval village and one of our highlight meals is on the balcony of the restaurant Lac Leman overlooking the impressive architecture towards the lake eating fried lake fish and chips.Timing is all important on tours and meals here take time. Nothing is rushed, dining starts at 7.30 earliest and there is always baskets of delicious French bread. Its a good lesson for us to embrace the French style of eating out.
My father loved Dahlias and as teenagers we used to make fun of him and his flower choices – like Gladiolas. (which I love but not to plant in the garden) Each year we visit the garden of Villa Taranto on Lake Maggiore and it happens to have an astonishing display of very tall, very colourful dahlias. I am always mesmerised by the range of colours, shapes and the sheer size of some of the blooms. This year was no exception and I have picked on ‘pink’. Plus I could have put up many more photos !!!
Europe has had a long hot summer and the gardens are showing signs of tiredness and look rather ‘Over’. They all need good shower of rain, but for many trees they have started to drop their leaves already.
The vineyards too are having a difficult season and grape picking is much earlier this year. Our day trip to Piemonte to visit New Zealander Jeffrey Chilcott at Marchessi de Gressi was very different since they had almost picked all their grapes except for the Nebbiolo. In past years the harvest usually hadn’t started, so they are contending with less juice and a challenging year. Jeffrey wanted rain and indeed he got a night of impressive thunder, lightening and torrential rain.
Our long lunch after a wine tasting in the village of Barbaresco never fails to impress and Jeffrey enjoyed a 3 hour lunch with us, which was a treat for him during busy harvest time. Course after course of delicious Piedmonte food along with a range of wines ensures this lunch always goes down very favourably – especially with Charles and we had some very jolly people getting on the bus for the drive to Lake Maggiore.(well for the first 30 minutes ) Here too experienced the stormy weather all night and the lake and mountains remained moody and stormy looking the following day although rain didn’t eventuate. Island hopping from Isola Madre – Islola Bella – Islola Pescatore makes for a fun day on the lake and a peak into the life of the Borromean family which still to this day own the lake and the islands.
In less than an hour on a good traffic day Milan is a short train trip or drive from the Lakes of Como and Maggiore. To live on the lake and work in the city for many must be the ideal life style.
For my tour group we spend a day on the lake and a day in the city. Obviously most people live in apartments or small multi story houses almost built on top of each other in this part of the word but for us the shear size and opulence of the villas lining the lake edge on Lake Como – some of which are surrounded with vast gardens,beautifully clipped hedges and huge mature trees, they are very impressive.Many seem to have their shutters closed and since it is now the end of summer for the Italians I presume these vast villas must be holiday houses!!
There is always movement on the water with the constant hum of ferries and the odd smaller boat. It’s easy to sit in the sun people watching and taking in the the magnificent scenery. Como is surrounded by very high hills and houses are dotted way up the slopes. Not sure how scary the access would be in the winter! Our weather is very hot and clam and dinner at my favourite La Baia was fabulous as usual – with all the doors open to the verandah above the lake and you couldn’t wish for a better night
Our day in Milan is planned around a visit to Leonardo Da Vinci’s work of the “Last Supper’. It has to be meticulously planned with only a 15 minute time to view the work, followed by a walk onto the largest castle in Italy, once owned by the the Sforza family and is now a popular tourist site and home to many galleries. It’s history is fascinating and of course was a fortress with a colourful past. Again we are in awe of the size of the buildings. You do get used to the shear size of the churches and the enormous numbers of them but walking in the Sant’Ambrogio neighbourhood with tree lined streets and large apartment blocks is fascinating. On closer inspection you can see through the huge iron gates and most of the them have inner courtyards where you can park your car and include tranquil private gardens. I think we were in the most expensive real estate in Italy !!!
So from the Lakes to the City it is all pretty impressive and life here is intertwined and connected by trains and the frenetic motorway system. Our drive in and out of Milan was painless and didn’t have to experience a traffic jam.!!
Life in Venice revolves around everything arriving on the water by boat and departing on water by boat. Although there is an island which does grow a substantial amount of fruits and vegetables – especially the little purple artichokes. Hotels, restaurants, bars ,cafes and locals depend on the hundreds of vessels bringing produce, meat and fish daily, selling it at the Rialto Market or even canal side boats which provide the best of seasonal fruits and vegetables to locals and of course supplying the local supermarkets doted over the city.
3 Days in Venice with my tour groups means you can’t rely on just popping in and ordering dinner for 16 and in reality even by yourself researching and booking is advisable.
Local, regional delicacies like Fegato – Liver / Fritto Misto – Little Fried Fish / Risotto with Black Cuttle Fish Ink / Sea Bas or Prawns are all consumed with the famous local Prosecco. The Veneto hills are carpeted in grape vines all producing evidently the worlds most popular sparkling wine.
This year we had a brief visit to a charming little wooden ‘villa’ set between rows of grape vines ; where you eat the bread, salami, cheese and tomatoes, drink the prosecco and enjoy the unique special location. Everything is provided in refrigerators and you leave a donation. Groups were enjoying their own picnic in the vineyard, sitting looking over the hills and the many wineries and probably there for the day.
I get to choose group meals on tour and our long lunches from Venice are always exceptional. First night dinner in our local Campo San Barnaba is a 2 minute walk from our hotel and the perfect start to introduce simple Venetian food, after the long haul flights from New Zealand.
Day 1. Carprese Salad / Melon and Prosciutto / Gnocchi with Fresh Tomato Sauce / Fritto Misto a choice of desert.
Day 2. Sitting high on the terrace in the picturesque historical village of Asolo at Hotel Al Sole where lunch is always outstanding. Our long table was beautifully set with colourful Murano glasses , thick linen and white china. The slick operation of Elena and her team ensured our lunch was faultless and beautiful. Effortlessly lunch goes by too quickly, although this year the heat accompanied by Veneto wines meant a few more hours relaxing would have been nice. We started with a crumbed large prawn in bean soup , followed by scallops in black squid ink ravioli, salt crusted sea bass and tropical fruits with the most sublime mango sorbet, ending with espresso and petit fours. Very special and a huge treat.
Day 3. Our day on the Lagoon was in a private water taxi with my best local guide Cristina. A few years ago she recommended Ristorante D’Avola on the Island of Torcello for lunch and now they love my New Zealand group arriving each August. It was hot and sultry, but sitting in the restaurants large logia with our own outside fans made lunch very pleasant and comfortable . The second Italian long lunch in two days was once again delicious with an unexpected plate of stuffed zucchini flowers to start and a traditional tiramsu to finish.
Venice never fails to impress and good food choices certainly helps.