Thanksgiving: Part II

As we drove along the main highway towards our destination of Montauk on Long Island, there was a distinct lack of places for a pit-stop. Finally, as we drove onto the south fork of the island, just outside of Southampton, we stopped for lunch (and a much needed comfort break). For me it was an easy choice: lobster salad. My beloved joined me. Whenever I’m on the east coast I try to keep my intake to at least one per day. On a two-week holiday to New England, I once famously ate lobster every single day!

Replete, we drove through the pretty villages which make up The Hamptons before arriving at our destination, just on the outskirts of Montauk, where I scored another room upgrade. Not for nothing do my sisters call me “Upgrade Sheree”! Our large and spacious room opened out onto the beach so that at night I could hear the surf crashing against the beach – quite my favourite lullaby.

We immediately went for a walk in the bracing beach air before heading to the gym and then the bar to try out the hotel’s cocktails and bar snacks! Everything passed muster and we slept like babes before enjoying breakfast in the hotel the following morning.

We spent the next couple of days re-aquainting ourselves with The Hamptons which is a series of beach towns and villages dotting eastern Long Island and, while all indisputably beautiful, each area of the island offers something a bit different. I was surprised that even though it was “out of season” so much was open, though none of it was busy. We were probably avoiding the visitors by leaving on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

We generally prefer to eat at lunchtime and enjoyed a little bit of France in Bridgehampton when we dined at a French restaurant. I ate a humongous lobster (steamed) while my beloved enjoyed brandade. We read with interest the story of how the current owner’s grandparents, who’d previously owned a patisserie in 16th arondissement of Paris, came to Long Island and opened a patisserie, which remains next-door, and chatted in French to the staff and charming owner. It was just the sort of neighbourhood restaurant which we love.

We were fortunate with the weather which was chilly but sunny allowing us to potter about each of the towns comprising The Hamptons, noting the changes from our last visit over four years ago. For example, the pretty white property (bottom right-hand corner) with the wrap around veranda and gingerbread trim used to sell antiques, it now sells French fashions. We also indulged in some spectacular property porn gazing!

For the first time we investigated one of the south-fork’s three local vineyards, the Wolffer Estate which had some impressive (IMHO) wines. We only tried a couple of their red wines, and would’ve liked to sample more, but didn’t fancy our chances of transporting them safely back to France. Despite the value of its acres, the island remains resolutely agricultural, and long may it stay that way. We’ve yet to visit the north fork which I understand has many more vineyards. Next time!

 

 

Postcard from Bordeaux

Easyjet has been selling tickets at ridiculously low prices, tempting me to book a few days away in Bordeaux, where we spent a couple of glorious days last summer. Leaving Wednesday morning and arriving at midday enabled us to spend some time that afternoon in Bordeaux. Sadly the weather was most inclement but being British means we never go anywhere without a raincoat and brolly.  Even so, we were glad to pop into one of the city’s major hotels for a late lunch and sanctuary from the rain.

Thursday we drove to Saint Emilion which we’d not had time to visit last summer. The clouds were still emptying their contents on us below and the sky looked positively menacing. However, the inclement conditions couldn’t hide Saint Emilion’s many charms. A small, well-preserved, medieval, honey-hued town, famous for its prestigious red wine, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

saint emilion map, tourism map st emilion france

Located on a limestone plateau, the medieval city has lots of small winding, steep streets called « Tertres », cobbled squares and ramparts. Unsurprisingly the streets are lined with restaurants and shops selling Saint Emilion wines and other local gastronomic specialties.

Saint Emilion was built around a cave dug by a monk of the same name. The cave still retains the Saint’s furniture carved into the rock. Along with a source of water, which Emilion would have used as a baptismal font and which still flows today.

Undergrounds tour and visit in Saint Emilion, France

The town’s flagship building is its monolithic church, the largest underground church in Europe which was dug into one single block of stone at the end of 11th century by the Benedictines.

Monolithic Church Saint Emilion France

Nearby, the Holy Trinity Chapel, built in 3th century, is also a designated historical monument. Inside, the building is decorated with particularly well-preserved frescoes and medieval paintings. Reshaped at different times, the chapel shows and represents the evolution of Gothic construction techniques.

Trinity Chapel Saint Emilion France

There’s also the imposing Collegiate church, largely Gothic, which was built in the early 12th century. It has some splendid murals from different periods and a remarkable organ. It’s also the town’s parish church.

Collegiate church saint emilion

Surrounded by those famous Bordeaux vineyards, Saint Emilion possesses all the ideal conditions for wine production. The omnipresent limestone offers exceptional soil for Saint Emilion’s vines plus its terroirs offer a great geological diversity and a microclimate perfectly adapted to viticulture.

Wineries close to Saint Emilion, vineyard saint emilion, visit saint emilion, map saint emilion wineries, map saint emilion vineyard

After a potter around the town, we nipped into one of its many delightful restaurants for a restorative, warming cup of coffee and discussed Brexit with the bemused owner. I imagine he’s had many such discussions with the large number of British living and holidaying in the area. Thereafter we headed to our lunch date at another restaurant, a scant 50 metres away.

My beloved much approved of my choice and we opted to place ourselves in the capable hands of the Head Chef who, knowing my dietary constraints, blew us away. Frankly, none of our plates needed to the services of a dishwasher, they’d been licked (not literally) clean. This was a chef who much merited his two Michelin stars, along with a capable and delightful front of house staff. We were most reluctant to leave and, as it’s attached to a hotel, it could feature on future visits.

The plan for Friday was to return to the restaurant Lalique which, since our visit last year, has recently garnered a Michelin star. Yesterday’s chef was a Breton, this one hails from Strasbourg, both areas with strong culinary traditions reflected in their stunning menus.

Unfortunately as Friday morning dawned my beloved said he felt unwell, too unwell to go out! Though not too unwell he couldn’t eat breakfast. I reluctantly cancelled lunch, left him with several bottles of mineral water and caught the tram into a very sunny Bordeaux to better explore its splendours.

Aside from wandering around the shops, I visited the Musée Beaux Arts and Musee des Arts Decoratifs both of which were relatively quiet. Neither was particularly large, the first one was just behind the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), with two small wings arranged around a lovely garden. While the second was built around a courtyard containing a restaurant which was the perfect spot for lunch.

I arrived back at our hotel late afternoon to discover my beloved was much recovered and looking forward to dinner! We ate at a small Italian restaurant recommended by the hotel which was extremely good. Saturday morning we rose ridiculously early to catch our flight back home. Trip over all too soon, but we’ll be back.

Postcard from Villany

Our bridal pair had chosen the village of Villany for their wedding celebrations largely because the bride’s grand-parents had once owned a vineyard here and the family had spent many happy hours in the area which is just two hours by car from their home in Budapest.

While wine-making in Villany can be traced back to Roman times, much of it had been developed more recently, largely by Swabian settlers who were encouraged to emigrate to the Kingdom of Hungary in the first half of the 1700s. The settlers were industrious, working incessantly to rebuild the countryside devastated by Ottoman rule and replanting the vines.  Centuries later Villány, the southernmost of Hungary’s 22 wine regions, is one of Hungary’s top wine regions, known for its award winning reds and rosés.

This is also where Hungary’s very first wine route was set up: in addition to the protected, landmark cellar-streets, old press-houses and small family businesses, wineries operating with state-of-the-art technology welcome visitors with open doors. Consequently, the region is popular with wine tourism. Most of the wine cellars are located on a wine route in close proximity to each other – along the main road! They are open for wine tasting and some wineries, like Bock and Gere, even offer accommodation.

If you’re thinking of spending some time in Budapest, this town would provide a lovely, relaxing (and inexpensive) extra couple of days. Plus, you could expand your wine knowledge!

12 days of Christmas: day 3

Before spending two weeks vacation in San Sebastian, we had a couple of days in Rioja, specifically the old walled town of Laguardia. This is one of the many glorious views taken from the gardens surrounding the village, looking out over the vineyards, as the clouds rolled in.

With its beautiful rolling landscapes, medieval hamlets and exquisite wines, Rioja is Spain’s Tuscany. The wine country is subdivided into three regions: Rioja Alta (where most of the oldest vineyards are located in and around Haro), Rioja Alavesa (which also belongs geographically to the Basque Country, and is home to some of the prettiest towns such as Laguardia and Samaniego) and Rioja Baja (further southeast, a larger, more arid region whose main hub is Calahorra). Even though we were only there for a couple of days, we managed to try lots of its wines!

Holiday photos: day 32

I can’t remember where but at some point in the holiday my beloved said we were enjoying a Tour du Vin. For once, he was right. Pretty much everywhere we went, rows and rows of vines were omnipresent. As I wrap up our holiday, three days late, I’m focusing in on the highlights of our four plus week’s holiday. As an aside, don’t you find the first few weeks of a long holiday pass quite slowly, while the second half just whizzes past? A bit like life!

In no particular order, although it may be chronological, here’s our highlights:-

1. Chateau anyone?

Our second overnight stop was at the Chateau de Beauvois in the utterly charming village of Saint-Etienne-de-Chigny. We had received an apologetic email from the hotel before we arrived saying that we wouldn’t be able to eat in the restaurant because of a function. Said function was someone’s 18th birthday celebrations. The hotel upgraded us to a larger room as far as possible from the function which frankly provided us with an evening’s entertainment in an idyllic spot. The hotel threw in a cold supper with champagne and generally couldn’t do enough for us. The only fly in the ointment was our inability to access the internet but we surmised with all those youngsters constantly taking selfies and sending them to those who hadn’t been invited that there was no bandwidth left!

We’d previously enjoyed a short stay in the Loire and visited some of its glorious chateaux and plan to return to discover more. This hotel would make the perfect base.

2. La Baule but not as we remembered it!

My beloved and I had both holidayed in La Baule as teenagers and were interested to see its transformation. About the only thing either of us remembered was the lovely, wide sandy beach. Our base for the first few stages of this year’s Tour de France was Chateau des Tourelles in Pornichet in the bay of La Baule. The hotel was right on the beach and had an amazing thalassotherapy spa and a great restaurant. We had a sizeable room with a sea view and were reluctant to tear ourselves away to go and watch the Tour. It proved to be the perfect place to recharge our batteries and one we’d happily revisit.

3. Ooops!

We drove to Bordeaux and our delightful, highly rated B&B to discover no one was home! Booking.com kindly offered to cover any additional costs we might incur as a consequence, but we didn’t. Bordeaux exceeded our expectations and we’re planning a longer visit in either spring or autumn. However, the highlight of our trip was a happy coincidence. While walking round Bordeaux, I noticed an advert for a hotel and restaurant on a soon to be opened Lalique shop. When we got back to the hotel, I looked it up on the internet and made a booking for lunch the following day.

The hotel and restaurant Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey is slap bang in the middle of Sauternes’ vineyards. It had only opened three weeks ago and showcases Lalique’s huge range of products. The overall effect is magnificent. Lunch was sublime and I much enjoyed chatting afterwards to the chef Jerome Schilling who kindly adapted the day’s set luncheon to meet my exacting dietary requirements. We allowed the very knowledgable sommelier to choose the wines for each of our courses. We were reluctant to leave behind such perfection………next time.

4. I’ll have a glass of….

Our penultimate stop was in Rioja, a place we’ve visited from time to time with both the Tour of the Basque country and the Vuelta a Espana. This time we stayed in the delightful old town of Laguardia in a small, family run hotel, with an excellent restaurant and cellar. I may have mentioned that neither of us is particularly knowledgeable about wine, we just know what we like. We tasted a number of Riojan wines, red and white, and liked them all! Naturally, we bought some to bring back with us. I think a tour of this area would be lovely and it has gone onto our (ever-growing) bucket list.

5. Donostia

We first visited San Sebastian in 2010 and fell in love. Consequently, ever since, we’ve visited it at least once a year. This time though we rented an apartment in town for two weeks, close to the beach, so that we could visit all of our favourite haunts – too numerous to mention – and find some new ones. While my beloved popped back to London for a few days, I also enjoyed the San Sebastian Jazz Festival.

Most of our visits to the town have revolved around a bike race, usually La Clasica, held on the Saturday after the Tour de France has finished. We had friends riding in the race who both did their bit to animate the racing. This year’s trip had an added poignancy, we already know  that we won’t be able to visit next year because of other commitments. But we will be back!