Today we turn 300

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Since April 2011 there have been 299 posts to this blog so this one is officially number 300. Over the last 2 and a bit years we’ve covered our trip to Europe – which was the reason for starting this … Continue reading

Echoes of Champagne

A friend is planning a trip to Epernay, in the heart of the champagne region, during the upcoming northern summer.

This brought back memories of the time Jean and I spent in Epernay in the summer of 2007. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the cuisine and, of course, the champagne.

Grapes from the champagne region are special. The region is located around 49˚ north of the equator which is as far north as grapes will ripen. And the grapes inherently have a high level of acidity – ideal for sparkling wines in general and champagne in particular. As a result the town is home to many famous champagne houses.

We stayed at a boutique hotel just outside Epernay called Royal Champagne. Located on a hill over looking a valley filled with vines and with Epernay in the distance, it was the perfect spot to drink in the region.

The hotel was originally a coach house on the main road running east from Paris. It has hosted, among others, the Emperor Napolean, hence the designation “Royal” Champagne which has stayed with the establishment ever since. It was a magical place with a superb restaurant and a bar where the Emperor himself could have enjoyed a drink.

No trip to Epernay is complete without a tour of the cellars of at least one major champagne house. We chose Moët & Chandon who have 28 kms of  cellars running under Epernay. And somewhere in that 28kms is their tasting room with a very fine selection of champagnes to savour.

Most importantly the issue of pronunciation of the name is dealt with. The correct pronunciation is not “mo-way” but “mo-wett” or “m-wet“, as Claude Moët’s name is Dutch, not French.

That’s worth a toast – a votre sante!

One year ago today

This time last year we had taken a break from the hectic pace of Tuscany, packed up the trusty Peugeot and headed north to France – the Cote d’Azur to be precise.

We had arranged to swap cars in Nice returning a slightly beat up Peugeot 308SW and picking up a brand new shiny Renault Megane Estate. Jean’s sister, brother-in-law and their baby James had been staying in Nice for a week relaxing so we met them and then moved about 10 minutes along the coast to the small seaside village of Villefranche sur Mer.

With bustling Nice on one side and glamorous Cap Ferrat on the other it always amazes me that this seaside village retains an air of calm and relaxation. There is nothing better than a quiet morning cafe at the hotel followed by a wander through the local markets and lunch on the Quai de l’Amiral Courbet with the sea lapping at your feet.

The panorama shot (made up of 6 individual photos covering 180 degrees) is taken from our balcony at Hotel Welcome, an institution in the village and a place we’ve stayed every time we’ve visited – which must be half a dozen times in the last decade. The Hotel has a wonderful manager who speaks excellent english, has a wonderfully dry sense of humour, and is a keen rugby follower. Even in August last year he was picking a France versus All Blacks Rugby World Cup final and an All Black victory. An easy one was his pick.

A view of Villefranche sur Mer with Cap Ferrat in the background

Eating out in Calais

Calais is not the greatest place on earth. In fact it’s somewhere that you pass through rather than stay. We stayed for two nights on our trip north from Italy in December because the girls needed to pass a vet check before entering the UK – a worm tablet and a dose of Frontline, €110 for that, merci.

We stayed in the old part of Calais and, as the weather was cold and wet, didn’t venture far from the hotel.

On the first night we asked the hotel receptionist where we could eat. She recommended a bistro down the road so all four of us went out for dinner. A few metres down the road we found Au Vieux Fourneau. A small and quaint bistro exuding French charm and on a cold wet night it looked very welcoming.

The service was that wonderfully aloof French style where you should feel grateful for being served – not a great start. But then there was the food.

It was really good. I mean really good.

To be honest it was not what we were expecting. We ordered from the set menu and received a complimentary “chef’s bite” to begin. Jean had a homemade terrine for her entree while I tried the fish pie. Mains were a Salmon Penne and a deconstructed Shepherds Pie. Desserts were the inevitable Creme Brulee and a very tasty Red Berry Crumble.

None of these bland descriptions come close to doing the dishes justice. This was French cuisine to a very high standard. Washed down with a half bottle of red and half bottle of white, it made for a very pleasant evening.

The girls behaved themselves sitting quietly under the table so all was well with the world. We were so impressed that we returned the next night and sampled more from the menu.

The cost for this three course meal? Look at the pictures and let us know what you think.

Looking back at 2011

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Last year was quite a ride for Jean and I and the girls. We started it in our home in Wellington, New Zealand, doing what we have done for the last 20 years and ended it in a pub in … Continue reading