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!

 

In Love with the Amalfi Coast!

In Love with the Amalfi Coast!

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy?

What do we love about the Amalfi Coast? Well, there are the VIEWS – always astounding, always drawing oohs and aahs, whether we’re relaxing by the pool at our favorite Capri hotel, approaching iconic Positano from the water, gazing up at the majestic Duomo of Amalfi, posing before the Faraglioni rocks of Capri, watching Vesuvius fade into the distanceas we speed across the bay, pulling into Capri’s colorful Marina Grande before spiraling high above to Anacapri, or enjoying the vista from the Belvedere of Infinity in Ravello. We’ve taken in these views for nearly twenty years, and they still make us gasp anew each time!
Then there’s the food….a fritto misto fresh from the surrounding waters, a caprese salad created on the island for which it’s named,
pizza in the land of its birth, a lemon granita (a slushy) from our favorite cart up the hill in Positano,
fresh fish from the sea below us in Ravello, and that marvelous lemon-tinged lunch we learned how to make with our guests at Villa Maria Agriturismo, under the lemon groves above Minori, before enjoying it with yet another fabulous view.
We also love the history that surrounds us – that 13th century Moorish style cloister and loggia of the Duomo in Amalfi,the peaceful Villa San Michele, constructed in Anacapri for a Swedish doctor at the turn of the 19th century, incorporating relics from the ruins of a villa of Emperor Tiberius on which it was built,
the gardens and cloister of Villa Cimbrone, dating from the 11th century, and the mysterious 13th century passageways  in Atrani and Amalfi, even more enticing after dark.
Is it any surprise that we chose this fabulous part of Italy to premier our Wonder Tours last spring?!
We’ll be back in April 2020  – why not join us and experience these wonders for yourself?

England’s Smallest City

England’s Smallest City

One of our favorite day trips from Bath during our November Mozartfest tour is delightful little Wells, “England’s smallest city”.Wells is named from three wells dedicated to St. Andrew the Apostle, one in the market place and two within the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace and cathedral.
Although the population recorded in the 2011 census was only 10,536, Wells has had city status since medieval times, because of the presence of Wells Cathedral, hence its label of England’s smallest city.
We always plan our visit for a Sunday, in order to enjoy the afternoon Evensong at 3:00.
The Crown, right in the market square beside the cathedral, is just the place for a traditional Sunday Roast. William Penn stayed in Wells shortly before leaving for America in 1682, spending a night at this very inn. He was briefly arrested for addressing a large crowd in the market place, but released on the intervention of the Bishop of Bath and Wells – I hope he got to appreciate a Sunday Roast before he left! We certainly enjoyed ours – Yorkshire Pudding and all. Walking through the vaulted passageway into the Cathedral Close, we pass the moat, swans peacefully paddling in the calm water,then enter the awesome Cathedral.
On this Sunday, rather than the usual boys choir, sweet young voices of girls sing the psalms and hymns as we sit with them in the beautifully carved choir, intricate tapestries and needlework adorning the seats.Built in Early English Gothic style between the 11 and 1400s, the Cathedral is filled with awe-inspiring craftsmanship, such as the massive and unique scissor arches stabilizing the center after an earthquake left it weakened. Although this video is too dark – by the time Evensong is over at 4 the short winter day is dimming – I think you’ll enjoy the organ resounding in this splendid space.
The Chapter House, up a well-worn stairway, is another don’t-miss part of this ancient beauty.Built in 1306, this meeting place for church affairs would have been an inspiring place to conduct business, with its delicate tracery and vaults rippling across the ceiling, supported by a central pillar that’s been likened to a giant palm tree, spreading its foliage above.Like many of the places we visit on this Bath Mozartfest Tour, Wells transports us back hundreds of years with its ancient beauty and the peaceful generation-spanning quiet of Evensong.

Rome for the Night

Rome for the Night

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We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

We often find ourselves spending a night in Rome on our way to or from other places in Italy, as we did last month, and we enjoy the opportunity to savor the sights and tastes of the city even with just an overnight.

We’ve found a favorite little four-room inn, Relais Cavour, housed in a Roman palazzo that is a ten minute walk from Rome’s Termini Train Station, from where it’s an easy trip to the airport.  With comfortable well-equipped quiet rooms – excellent beds, a sleek bathroom, space for our luggage, superior wifi, and plenty of electrical outlets – it’s a perfect fit for a one night stay. Breakfast can be delivered to your room – there are a table and chairs in each room – or if you’re leaving early, in a to-go bag.
The Monti district, a few minutes walk from the Inn, has gotten a lot of press in recent years regarding new restaurants and boutiques, and is well worth a wander. When we spent a night there last fall, I mentioned the district and Kirk found an old-Rome trattoria on Yelp that we tried out – and LOVED. One of the best Carbonaras I’ve tasted! When we were at the Relais in January, arriving from the airport just in time for a late dinner, we tried to remember the name to find it again – we’d just finished a few days in Malta following a private tour for a guest who was seeking out her roots on the Adriatic Coast of Italy so we hadn’t planned for Rome except for booking a room! Couldn’t find it on Yelp, so we just started walking in the general direction, and after wandering down one cobbled street that didn’t look quite right, we tried the next one and there it was, at via dei Capocci #4- Trattoria al Tettarello! I had that memorable Carbonara again, and Kirk enjoyed one of the best steaks he’s ever had, along with an excellent bottle of Rosso de Montalcino. With unbelievably good prices and a cozy intimate down-home dining room, it’s a place we’ll return to again and again!
In addition to the fun Monti neighborhood, Relais Cavour is also within walking distance of Rome’s number one sight, the Colisseum!  It was a pleasure to walk to that icon at sunrise last fall before heading for the airport for the long flight home. We circled the massive structure, stopped for one last good Italian coffee, and gathered our bags at the Relais to be on our way.
Another Roman beauty is even closer – Santa Maria Maggiore, which we pass on our way to dinner at al Tettarello. And if you have a little more time, the Campo dei Fiori market, always a delight, isn’t too far. Nor is the glorious Pantheon, and just around the corner, Kirk’s favorite coffee pause – Sant Eustachio. So even with less than 24 hours, it’s easy to enjoy a mini Roman Holiday!

A Marseille Celebration

A Marseille Celebration

14 juillet – Bastille Day, 2018
Marseille, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy?

“Where can we see some great Bastille Day fireworks near Aix?” we asked our in-the-know French friends…and Marseille was the top reply – now we know why! In addition to festive fun (Kirk’s birthday happens to be the same day as France’s National Holiday, you may remember!) we were looking forward to an air conditioned respite from the oppressive heat, and a swimming pool thrown in for good measure! Right on the historic Vieux Port, the Radisson Blu was a perfect choice – with a fabulous view from our 4th floor windows! Although we were tempted to stay in the marvelously cool room (you don’t know how much you miss air conditioning until you live without it for a while!), we decided to relax poolside instead – cooled with a refreshing dip and breezes as we basked in the sun, the 17th century Fort St. Nicolas looming beyond. Since Marseille is such a big city, I always imagined it as hotter than Aix – but no, it’s seaside location tempers the heat nicely – it’s bearable to stroll around near the water, unlike on those 89 degree afternoons in Aix. Enjoying the beautiful architecture as we seek out a restaurant for an early (for France, that is – around 8) dinner, we find many well-recommended spots right near the Vieux Port, and request an outdoor table at L’Oliveraie, on restaurant-lined Place aux Huiles. Jazz from the restaurant next-door entertains us as we relish a delicious dinner under the olive trees – we do recommend this place!
Police and Emergency Medical Teams are setting up all around the Vieux Port in preparation for the fireworks at 10, and early arrivers are claiming their spots chosen for the best view. After a sunset stroll along the water, we head up to our room, waiting for the show. Just after ten, the streetlights surrounding the port turn off, music booms from the speakers, and here we go! 16 pontoons are lined up down the middle,

and flare in unison with beautiful firework displays, while to our left, above Fort St. Nicolas, more fireworks fill the sky – what a show! Happy Birthday Kirk!
The celebrations  continue on Sunday – France is in the World Cup! But the day starts quietly, with a walk around the port (check out the mermaids!)  after the delicious buffet breakfast at the Radisson Blu.
You’ve heard of Savon de Marseille, I’m sure – now available worldwide, and one of the most popular booths at any south of France market – well why not buy fragrant olive oil soap right here in Marseille, IN the Vieux Port?One more delicious Marseille meal – fresh seafood -with-a-view at Caravelle – thanks, Corey of French La Vie for the recommendation!
Then under the so-cool reflective canopy we walk, snap a photo of ourselves, metro to the station, and bus back to Aix with revelers ready to watch the big game – yes, Les Bleus are World Champions again! Last time was 1998, and we were in Paris for that unforgettable revelry. Aix celebrates more calmly, we’re glad to say 🙂
What fun this second-largest city of France, Marseille, has been – we’ll be back!