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Captivating Coves on the Costa Brava

Captivating Coves on the Costa Brava

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Why not join us in Bath in November for the Mozartfest?

Where were you when the world changed with the spread of Covid-19? We were happily isolated on Spain’s glorious Costa Brava, perched in a tiny but perfectly equipped apartment on the 10th floor, overlooking the bay of Roses. With views like this, we were happy to quietly keep to ourselves, stepping out of the almost-deserted building daily to wander a lonely beach or a rocky path. We’ve spent time previously on this beautiful coast closer to Barcelona, but this time we’re researching the area further northeast, almost to the French border, for an upcoming private tour…and we’ll include these enticing sights in our Wonders of Barcelona tour as well.
The flamboyant Surrealist artist Salvador Dali called the Costa Brava home for 50 years, and we’ve taken previous tour guests to the Dali museum in Figueres, which was so crowded that several of us quickly walked through, then sought out a cafe in town to relax with a drink! Our visit to Dali’s house-museum in Portlligat, a tiny hamlet on the next cove from lovely Cadaques, is a polar opposite, with only 8 guests allowed at a time. Inside and out, Dali’s quirky creativity is obvious – a polar bear in a salon? Why not? Eggs on the terrace? Why not?
Also obvious is his appreciation of a view – both outside, and in, where his bed is positioned so that he was “the first person in Spain to see the sun rise” – via a precisely positioned mirror. He knew just what he wanted to see, and to convey with his inimitable art!
Days of exploring are followed by breathtaking sunsets from our little balcony, and perhaps a moonlight stroll to complete the day.
Cadaques, adjacent to Portlligat, is often called by Spaniards “the most beautiful village in Spain”, its whitewashed buildings clustered around a delightful cove.
Cobbled lanes lead to quiet paths along the water, where we stroll before stopping for a sublime seaside lunch.
Heading west along  Roses Bay one day, we pause at Sant Martí d’Empúries, a tiny walled village crowned by a stalwart church. Flanked by a pine forest on one side, on the other spreads a long sandy beach, with views back to Roses.

We fit in one more hike along Cala Montgo before catching the last United flight to the US from Barcelona – we know we’ll have two weeks of self-quarantine ahead of us so we’re enjoying this freedom and the beautiful views as much as we can! Our hiking guide pamphlet warns of steep cliffside paths, and we scramble upward for a while, look back at where we started, and decide that the safer option would be to head back towards the flatter boulders, where we pause for a selfie to look back on until we can return to the Mediterranean  – when will that be?!?

Prayers and Plagues

Prayers and Plagues

As we’ve guided our guests through the beautiful town of Aix en Provence for the past 17 years, we’ve pointed out the many niches,

filled with Madonnas and saints, on corners of buildings, explaining that “in medieval times these comforting icons were installed during the plague so that the quarantined residents, unable to attend mass,  could instead pray to these figures that they could see from their windows”.

Did we ever imagine that, once again, the world would be confined to their homes as we are today? France is currently on a 15-day lockdown in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
We can see the cathedral bell tower from Ambiance d’Aix, our home in Aix en Provence – do you think that would “count” as a prayer niche?!

One of the things we love about our French home is the sound of those church bells. On Wednesday last week church bells rang out throughout France for 10 minutes, beginning at 7:30 pm, as an act of solidarity and hope, and people were encouraged to light candles in their windows at the same time.
In secularized France, I wonder if many now look out their windows to the Madonnas and pray?

Even if not, those peaceful Mother and Child statues

seem to bless the lively squares below (can you spy the figure on the corner?).

I think of this one as the market Madonna.

A rare snow draped the shoulders of this one a few years ago.

Just around the corner from our home is this unusual Black Madonna,

on the corner of  “scrape your elbows” lane – a cobbled path so narrow you have to hold your arms against your body as you walk through.
Pray we will, that this virus will soon be conquered,

and the calm Madonnas can smile down on busy-once-again squares!

Cotswold Memories

Cotswold Memories

As we anticipate returning to this ever-so-charming area of England next month, we’re looking back on previous visits – such as this one, with our Bath Mozartfest tour guests in 2015:
Our guests have been looking forward to a day in the Cotswolds – it’s been twenty years since they were last here! Well, this is a part of the world that probably has not changed much in twenty years – and the Cotswolds like it that way!
Even in the drizzle the villages are a delight…we walk along the river trailing through Bourton-on-the-Water, well-prepared with our umbrellas. After greeting the duckswe stop for a warming lunch in The Rose Tree, then bundle up and explore further.We’re not the only ones exploring the village, other umbrella-toters are taking in the late fall beauty as well.The drizzle continues as we drive on to quaint little Bibury – doesn’t this look like a fairy- tale illustration? A plus of the dreary weather is that there are fewer sightsee-ers here today. In September we had trouble finding a parking place, and had to weave between busloads of people checking out the tiny village. Now we can actually see the entire Arlington Row,picturesque cottages built in the 1300s as a monastic wool store, and later lived in by weavers in the 17th century. Current owners keep them beautifully maintained both in front and behind. Just a few memories – we’re looking forward to exploring yet more when we return!

 

Learning to Love Burgundy’s Complexities – One Step at a Time

Learning to Love Burgundy’s Complexities – One Step at a Time

Over the last decade or so, I’ve gotten a pretty good grasp of the wine growing regions of France and Italy. I can stare at the wine labels at a wine shop reminiscing about meeting wine-makers and walking among the vines – then leave the shop with an old familiar friend.  And though we’ve visited Burgundy vineyards before, I’m not familiar enough with this complex region to even explain it to a third grader. So we’re back in Burgundy again today, staying in Beaune and visiting all the major villages in Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune sub-region. It’s not too hard to do in one day because the farthest one away, Santenay, is only 10 miles south of Beaune. In addition to improving our knowledge and appreciation for the wines of Burgundy, we also had our eyes open to the beauty of daily life on a January day in the country.First stop was actually a little to the north of Beaune. The obsolete moat bed still surrounds one of the castles in Savigny-lès-Beaune. The owner’s collection of fighter jets is a bit of a shocker.

Peaceful morning among the endless miles of vines. It’s the time of year for trimming all of the fall’s post-harvest growth back to just the trunk and in some cases, just a single whip for next fall’s clusters to grow on. Some of the vineyards were dotted with workers pruning and burning the extraneous branches.
Mobile bottler comes to the barn door, fills empty bottles with wine pumped from the vats, IMG_9977 (video)  corks them and delivers pallets full of unlabeled bottles back to the winemaker. All the winemaker has to do is label and box them for delivery to the wine shops. Could you pick up six full bottles at a time?

The near constant mist and cloudiness turns the tops of the 1,000 year old stone walls into an ecosystem for all sorts of mosses and succulents.This Meursault wine retailer lists on his window, the names of the individual winemakers from the sub-region that are available in his shop. I’d would take quite a while to get acquainted with the 80+ producers just in this shop.Some of the best architecture was in Meursault.Backyard of Meursault’s City Château. Could have been a watchtower on a now disappeared wall; now just another outbuilding.Another architectural feature along Meursault’s old city wall.Finally, we compared four of France’s finest whites – Montrachet from the tiny village of Chassagne-Montrachet. Each the same vintage -2017 – from a different parcel within yards of the tasting room. Each was distinctly different. We liked the second bottle from the right the most. Fresh with bright minerality.The first bottle on the right, the Champs Gan, was from this plot-maybe 10 acres total.Last stop, the southernmost village, Santenay. This sign points to the farms and producers (called Climats here but terroirs elsewhere) that can use the name Santenay on their labels.On the way home we passed through Volnay, happy to have moved the needle a bit on the dial of our understanding of the people and place that produce this prized wine.

Villages and Vines in the Languedoc

Villages and Vines in the Languedoc

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Our to-do list for La Belle Cour our village house near the Mediterranean in the Languedoc (recently re-named Occitanie), is never-ending – but sometimes you’ve just got to take a break and enjoy the surrounding beauty! So after a morning meeting with the water company in the village, we’re off to the arriere-pays – the lesser-known inland villages, hills and valleys of the region. From the heights of Béziers, the closest city, 30 minutes inland from Vias, our gaze encompasses vineyards, the Canal du Midi, villages and winding roads blanketing the plain to the Montagne Noir in the distance. Cazouls-les-Béziers, our first stop, is one of the many places that include the big city in their name. It’s a quiet village (we don’t see a soul as we walk around!) set in the middle of vineyards, with a pretty church, St. Saturnin.
Scents of  the garrigue – scrub covering the uncultivated hills – wild rosemary, thyme, and other aromatic herbs – waft into the car (we’ve rented a convertible for this trip – perfect weather to ride al fresco!) as we slowly meander the narrowest roads we can find, traversing vineyards, vines heavy with grapes ready for harvest.
Puisserguier is our next stop, a circulade (walled circular village) with abundant flowers throughout.
We’ve noticed several of these delightful murals in Beziers and surrounding villages – wonderful trompe l’oeil details that make you want to walk right in!
The Languedoc cross flies over the chateau, dating from the 1200s,  atop the village. We’re invited to pause for a tour, but decide to wander the rest of the village and continue on to St. Chinian, a respected wine town where we sample a few local tipples, and come away with a few bottles for our cave in Aix. The harvest is in full swing around here, and nearly everyone is out in the vineyards. Chateau La Dournie, on the edge of town, has been woman-owned and operated for six generations, and Mme. Etienne (whose daughter is the current winemaker) is kind enough to take time away from her post in the office to show us the winery, fragrant with crushed grapes. Whites and reds await the magic of the winemaker – sweet to the taste, right off the vine. Dropping a light down into a vat, she shows us the grapes beginning to bubble and ferment – on their way to becoming a valued wine.
We’ll definitely want to try one of their vintages when we return to Vias!
Last stop today is Murviel-les-Béziers, another circular village surrounded by ramparts. The elegant Chateau de Mus sits atop the town, with expansive views. Intricately carved portals, doors and mullioned windows are a testament to the importance of the town in centuries past. Today, it quietly surveys the acres of vineyards carpeting the valley of the Orb River.
We’ve had just a sampling of the many villages and views awaiting exploration in the quieter interior of our area of Occitanie – and we look forward to discovering more!