Chateauneuf-de-Pape

Chateauneuf-de-Pape, aka CDP, is not just an AOC, but a quaint hillside town ridiculously overrun with amazing wine!  We headed out from Aix with our guide Michael sharing wine trivia and experiences + learning a lot from him about wine in France and the CDP AOC/Cotes-du-Rhone region, specifically.  We were headed into the heart of the souther Rhone valley where Grenache reins supreme and its not unusual for wineries to span hundreds of years passed down thru a single family.

First stop, Domaine de Beaurenard (http://www.beaurenard.fr/indexgb.htm), translated to the beautiful fox.  We tried both white and red CDP.  The 2006 vintage was showing its age – in a good way! – but the younger wines clearly still need some time in the bottle.  Winemaker Paul Coulon et fils.


Next up, Clos de Papes – a personal favorite of Michaels and definitely a low-key affair.  http://www.clos-des-papes.fr/   We tried both a new and old white CDP + reds from 2013, 2011, 2009 and 2006.  The last was only by lucky chance that the winemaker himself had been in the day or so before and pulled to cork on that fantastic vintage!  Lucky us!  The prices were significantly higher – mostly in line or slightly about high-end OR Pinots, so we opted for a bottle of their 10 euro table wine and look forward to having that while relaxing in Marseille.


We drove up to the remains of the chateau of Chateauneuf itself – built as another home of the Pope, which was dismantled by the same peasant workforce who built it after it fell to disuse.  We had a chance to see the rocky soil and gnarled old vines up close, as well as taste a grape or two that will be ready for vendange in @ 2 weeks.  Just down from the ruins, lunch included a delicious rose from Bandol, duck, bull, and a lovely fig tarte at Le Verger des Papes.  We also visited the cave at Le Verger and tasted wines from a mix of local makers + saw some of the old roman ruins now used as storage.


Last stop of the day and by far the best, Domanie Serguier.  http://www.domaine-serguier.com/domaine.htm   The wine was delightful and the winemaker incredibly accommodating and informative.  We tried whites and reds of both Cotes-du-Rhone and CDP – and then we tried 4 right out of the barrel.  Interesting in that she was using different sized barrels to different effect.  Elected a white CDP to take with us and started on our way to Marseille.


Beautiful day to be in the Rhone Valley!!

 

Best laid plans..

Of all of the activities we were looking forward to, the private winery tour of the Chateauneuf-de-Pape region scheduled for Tuesday was going to be the highlight.  The biggie.  The piece-de-resistance!  And then, as we’re pressed and dressed and out on the street looking expectantly for our ride – I see there’s an email from the company.  Our guide is ill and there’s nothing to be done.  Can we reschedule for the next day, she asks??  Grrrrr.   With much cursing and muttering, I summon a reasonably polite response – well yes, but we have to be in Marseille by 7.  D’accord?  D’accord.

But now what to do??  We’d seen about all there was to see in Aix and I wasn’t up for another group tour – even if we were the whole group!  We finally settled on a day trip to Arles, sorted out the correct bus/timetable, scooted out the door in time to pick up a crepe-to-go and off we went.


Arles is famous for a number of things, but most people know it as the inspiration for many of Van Gogh’s best know works.  He only spent @ 15 months there – many confined in the sanatorium – but yet he was incredibly prolific during that period, creating as many as 300 works!


What we didn’t know was that there are a number of roman ruins there – the Romans occupied the area as early as 100 BC – such as a rebuilt amphitheater, a coliseum still in use today, the remains of what were the community baths, and various pieces of roads and fortifications.
We enjoyed seeing the town and marveled at being able to touch a piece of rock carved for a pillar or cornice more than 2000 yrs ago.  What a reminder of just how young our country really is..


Last dinner in Aix turned out to be our best – and I’m almost embarrassed to admit that it was a burger and fries!  Naturally, it was the French rendition and not your average Red Robin, but still..  Anyway, we stumbled across Marie-Georgette by happy accident in our wanderings with Doug and Kara – we’d passed by the Passage Agard entrance to the small alley where it’s located multiple times and never even took notice.  Wonderful food and a comfortable low-key dining experience.  Should we find ourselves in Aix in the future, we’ll definitely seek it out!  http://www.marie-georgette.fr/


 

Camargue, St Maries de la Mer, and Aigues-Mortes

After our successful Luberon villages outing, we decided to try another tour, I thought it would be interesting to see a different coastal landscape + see how salt has been produced from the sea for many generations.  We were able to arrange a Camargue tour on short notice and – unbeknownst to us at the time – we were the entire group!

We had a quick lunch at Les Deux Garcons – more tourist hype than authentic cafe experience in my opinion – and went off to meet up with our guide for the afternoon.  http://lesdeuxgarcons.fr/  We did run in to Betty and Bill there from the previous day and had a quick chat exchanging notes on destinations and restaurants.  We also commiserated about a large and loud group of fellow Americans..  I guess we can’t all be subtle and savvy travelers!

The Camargue is a region of wetlands known for wild(ish) horses and bulls + large flocks of flamingos.  Might have been good to know that the very end of a hot dry summer is easily the worst time to visit!!  We did see horses, bulls, and flamingos – albeit at a distance – but the trip may be more remembered for the large and aggressive mosquitoes!!  Still whelped and itching days later!!



Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (http://www.saintesmaries.com/) is a lovely beach town.  Period.  As the story goes, its shore once welcomed – at the dawn of the Christianity after the execution of Jesus – Marie Jacobi, Marie Salomé and their handmaid Sarah, who were persecuted Christians escaping from Palestine on a boat without a rudder guided by an angel.  Miracles followed.  For more..  http://www.saintesmaries.com/eng/saintes-maries-de-la-mer.html   Had we been there during a bull game (they don’t fight/kill the Camargue bulls as in Spain) or gypsy festival, it might have been a different story.  But essentially, there was a little tourist town, a nice church dedicated to the two St Maries and St Sarah, and a beach on the Mediterranean sea.



In lieu of 2 hrs in the quaint tourist trap, we asked the driver if we could go to where the Salt Train tour is.  http://www.visitesalinsdecamargue.com/en/train-tour/  We ended up in Aigues-Mortes, which was close, but due to driving time, etc, it just wasn’t going to be possible to get there in time for the tour.  We did see the salt production facility from across the bay and also had a little time in the walled inner city of Aigues-Mortes, but that was about it.  Still, we did get rice grown and salt produced in Camargue – so we’ll have that memory once we’re home.


Note to self – and anyone else who may read this blog:  Go to Camargue in June!

Dinner that night was at a cute little bistro that we’d passed by numerous times – it always seemed lively and the plates looked good.  Le Piston was fine – but that’s about as good of a review as I can come up with.  Not bad, not great.  Okay.   Based on the reviews, it may have gone down hill in recent years..  It certainly had good reviews at some point!   https://www.yelp.fr/biz/le-piston-aix-en-provence

Walls Walla onion rings

Once a year – and once is enough – we end up at Burgerville for the onion rings..  and usually a milkshake.  The big sweet onions make amazing fried goodness!!  

So the day went like this:  breakfast at Toast – can’t go wrong with the Big Ass Sandwich, some time tending the garden, the OK City finals of American Ninja Warrior, pickup party at Colene Clemens, a stop at a new winery that’s been in the list forever – Domaine Serene, the Burgerville and home.  

Picked up some awesome rosé at DS!  They had a classic car show on for the evening so we took a peak at some amazing modern and vintage cars – the Spyder 918 belonged to the owners son at a price of @ $850k!  Damn!  And it was one of three!!  

Saturday Market

We did a quick tour of the Saturday Market before the family headed off to BC – just enough for some kettle corn and an unfortunate incident with a couple of butcher knives!  Oh no!!



 Paul, Jerry and I headed off to Killer Burger – where every burger comes with bacon, naturally – for a bite of lunch.  Afterwards, Jerry took the bike for a tour of the Columbia Gorge on the scenic highway and we vege’d on the deck and enjoyed the summer afternoon.

We headed to the Muddy Rudder for a stromboli repeat with plans for a hike the next day for us and Jerry headed towards the coast and then back to connect with Mara in Eugene.

Happy Independence Day!

We started the day at the Hyde Street Pier across from the hotel, then walked up to Lombard Street – the crookedest street in San Francisco.  From there we went back down to Fisherman’s Wharf and toured the SS Jeremiah O’Brien.  We stopped in at the famous Boudin Bakery for some fresh bread and then caught the bus over to the Golden Gate Bridge.  We walked out to the middle of the bridge and watch the whales feeding in the bay!


By happy accident, we took the right bus going the wrong way and ended up near Golden Gate park.  We cut through the park over to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and found a great place for Mexican street food called Street Tacos. 

We were running a bit late for our 3:00 pm checkout, so we uber-ed it back and got there just in time!  Off to SFO!!

We got into Portland before the fireworks, but were too tired to go out and watch..  Time to sleep and get ready to go back to work..

 

Checking out more of the local NMB fare

Decided to try our luck again with the friendly, if ADHD-afflicted, barista at Beach Dreams.  We managed to get out of there with correct orders in less than 25 min – definite improvement!!  And the coffee is sooo good!

Then we moved on to the new Eggs Up Grill https://www.eggsupgrill.com/ for breakfast and found it a bit sterile – good enough, but definitely lacking in local flavor.  Lunch was back to our old favorite of bone-in flounder at Hoskins.  Just can’t go wrong!

Michelle rolled in @ 7:30 and we decided to walk down to the International Cafe and test their menu – all good stuff!  Crispy onion rings, fresh salad, and a made-to-order burger with some shoestring fries!

So that’s local independently-operated restaurants 3 : chain restaurants 0