fbpx
Slow Living

Slow Living

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer – perhaps Amsterdam this year?

I recently read something that truly resonated:  “Slow travel was a trend before Covid hit, but it’s savored travel I’m seeking now—enjoying everything to the very fullest.”
Savoring, as far as I’m concerned, takes time, and that’s where Slow Living comes in: staying in a place long enough –  in a home, not a hotel –  to savor details, daily life, off-the-beaten-track spots, local tastes, a leisurely stroll, one sunset after another….what would you add to the list?
We’re savoring life in Split Croatia at the moment, in a marvelous apartment with the most fabulous view, drawing me again and again to the balconies or windows. One evening we both stopped what we were working on and just stood and watched the blazing orange ball of the sun slip into the western sea – priceless!
Over the years we’ve savored life in a Cambridge flat, a Parisian pied-a-terre, an Amsterdam canal-side townhouse,

or a Barcelona apartment, shopping the local markets, becoming a regular at the café, riding a bicycle to the park, or just sitting in the sun on a balcony.
Long before Airbnb, VRBO was our go-to site to find homes in the places we wanted to spend time in. Seduced by the idea of a place of our own, we then bought a village house in the south of France and that led to another way to live like a local in a desirable spot: Home Exchange! Years ago these sites offered only the options of Reciprocal (exchange at the same time) or Non Reciprocal (exchanging at different times) house trades, but now have a Guest Points program, which is working well for us during the time we are not allowed entry into France and can’t enjoy our places, La Belle Cour and Ambiance d’Aix  for ourselves. Several European families or couples have been in our homes for a week or more, seeking a more inviting place to socially distance, allowing us to build up our Guest Point stash for when we can travel.
Savoring life allows time to try all the bakeries in town, we hear from our renters and exchangers at La Belle Cour in Vias, to find the BEST croissant!
Living in our home in France, home exchange or rental has allowed us time to feel like a local while in a Venice apartment in a totally untouristed part of town,

to learn from a neighbor in Vias how to make a south-of-France specialty, Petits Farcis (meat-stuffed vegetables), to sample how the local wine tastes with the local food, to get a tip from a gowned student near our river-side Cambridge apartment  to try the corner coffee shop, to keep looking up and around on our daily walk and discover a new-to-us sight, to connect the dots in our current city – oh, THAT is what we see from our window!
Several things top our list of requirements in places to settle for a while: a well-equipped kitchen, a view, walking distance to sights, transport, shopping and markets, a comfortable bed, and of course good wifi.
Our top floor apartment in Split has met all of these requirements and more…I wonder where will we savor life next?

Legendary Southern Dalmatian Coast Wines

Legendary Southern Dalmatian Coast Wines

Day-One Red Wine Buying

It’s mid-afternoon on our first day in Croatia and we just checked in to our rental apartment in Split. Job one is to make plans for dinner: Anne will shop in the grocery store downstairs for basic supplies and something we can make for dinner. I’ll choose a couple bottles of red wine. I agreed to this plan knowing that I knew next to nothing about Croatian wines. What I did know was that I had some quick catch up homework to do.

Lessons Learned

I also quickly realized Croatia labels are not in English. When I see a bottle of Argentine wine labeled “Malbec,” I know what to expect. But what does a Croatian wine labelled “Bogdanuša” or “Grk” tell me about the likelihood of whether the wine inside the bottle will go well with dinner tonight? 
I would soon be staring at shelves of bottles whose labels were covered with mysterious foreign words. And I needed to come up with an intelligent red wine choice before dinner. So I grabbed our two Croatia guidebooks and found the pages about the wines of the nearby area.Rocky limestone mountains come right down to the sea, leaving little space for vineyards

Hooked on the Hyper Local

Grapes that were grown and made into wine very close to where we’re eating is the goal. We learned long ago that wherever we are, we eat better when we order local food specialties in restaurants or try our hand at local recipes in the kitchen. Waiters are happy to bring us a bottle of something very local that goes well with what we ordered. The locals have been producing both the food and the wine from the same soil for centuries . Of course they go deliciously together.

Learning to Speak Southern

So with google and the guidebooks, I focussed on the wines produced right here on the southern end of Croatia’s west coast and on those islands I could see from our eighth floor balcony.
It’s hard to grow grapes in Croatia. Land for expansive Bordeaux-like vineyards just doesn’t exist. The abundant mountains force winemakers to the scarce valleys or the narrow ribbon of limestone where the sea and the rocky mountains start. Winemakers who choose to farm near the shore have miles of shoreline to choose from. Croatia is the size of South Carolina, but including all the islands, has more shoreline than California.

The Southern Dalmatian Coast is great for sailing, but the landscape doesn’t make planting grapes easy.

Protecting the Regional Traditions

Next I learned that Croatia has their own wine naming protection system similar to France and Italy’s AOC and DOC with the acronyms ZOI or KZP, but this system does little more than divide the country into 12 wine-growing geographical areas. The ZOI, instead of being an indicator of a wine’s quality, points primarily to the area where the grapes originated. I did, however discover that for dinner tonight, I wanted a wine from the ZOI named, “Srednja I Južna Dalmacija” (Central and Southern Dalmatia) rather than from one of the other eleven. So I’ll look for that designation on the label next to the words “Zaštićena Oznaka Izvornosti” or “Kontrolirano Zemljopisno Podrijetlo

Making My First Purchase

Next, the dominant red wine grape grown in nearby vineyards and islands is Plavac Mali, a descendent of the indigenous zinfandel. While Anne was shopping for dinner, I scoured the unreadable names on wine labels for a wine made in the Central and Southern Dalmatia ZOI from this grape. I found a bottle that featured the word, “Plavac”. It was 37 Croatian Kuna or $5.77 and it met my two criteria, so we carried it home.

This label is in serious need of a decoder ring.

When Anne saw me make a face at the first taste, she lost hope that this would be the perfect complement to our first Croatian dinner. As much as I wanted to like it, the most picturesque description I could come up with for it was that something was missing. The color was weak, the hot alcohol hit was abrupt, and there was a sourness in the slight taste of red berries.

Going Back for More

It’s not the grape’s fault, I take some of the blame for going with the first bottle I saw with familiar words on it and I paid too little for it. So before tomorrow’s dinner, I determined to do a bit more research on Southern Dalmatian wines and loosen up the wallet a bit and see if I get a more agreeable taste.

Cliff’s Notes for Dalmatian Wine Buying Newbies

I armed myself with more research and written notes:

  1. If only the grape is highlighted on the label (such as Plavic Mali) that is an indication that the wine inside is not going to be as good as when a subregion within the ZOI is highlighted (if only I had learned that before my first trip down the wine aisle).
    This is because a consortium of winegrowers in a smaller subregion agree to winegrowing and vinification practices that are aligned with that area’s soil, climate, and grape varietal(s).
  2. Some, not all, wine labels highlight one of the three quality classifications, “STOLNO” for table wine, “KVALITETNO” for mid-level, and “VRHUNSKO” for top-level. The bottle I bought the first night for $5.77 was designated Kvalitetno. These designations are sometimes in the fine print on the back label and difficult to find. I think it would be wiser to move up from kvalitetno to vrhunsko wines for my next purchase.
  3. Within the Central and Southern Dalmatian ZOI, there are two tiny subregions producing red wines named Postup and Dingač. Both Postup and Dingač are on the south facing slope of the Pelješac penninsula and meet the high standards of the Vrhunsko or top-level classification. Each of these two subregions has around 15 winemakers working about 150 acres.
  4. Useful Croatian red wine label words
      •  suho – dry
      •  crno – black (meaning the wine is red)
      •  bijelo – white (meaning the wine is white)
      •  Hrvatske – Croatia
      •  vinogorje – vineyard
      •  Hvar, Brac, Korčula, Peljesac – three nearby islands and a peninsula

Some labels like this (empty) bottle of Plavac Mali have very helpful English translations.

Some Improvement on the Second Swing

So on the second trip to our grocery store’s wine section I selected a Postup and a Dingač both made from plavac mali grapes.

Each were about $15, classified with the Vrhunsko quality rating, and compared to what I’m accustomed to, I’d rate both of them at about a B-.

Both are bold reds; the Dingač seemed bitter and the Postup more chalky. I wouldn’t say either was pleasant. But with a steak or hearty winter stew, either would make a fine evening’s companion.

 

 

I Like a Little Story With My Wine

This winemaker, who is also a great spinner of wine stories, makes it easy to spend an afternoon tasting and buying in his cellar.

But there’s more to wine than the flavor. I like that after only about 20 years of a market economy, Croatia’s new generation of winemakers, though they are staying with the ancient indigenous grapes, are beginning to win international competitions, and the quality and finesse of their wines are getting better. And the fanciful stories I heard from some of the winemakers reflect the authenticity of the craft. I could sit and sip a wine all day as long as the winemaker is telling the ancestral legends that go along with it.This winemaker, who is also a great spinner of wine stories, makes it easy to spend an afternoon tasting and buying in his cellar.

Fairies Arrive Dancing During the Night 

One legend involves a tiny pond surrounded on all sides by hills just north of the village of Smokvica on the cigar shaped island of Korcula. Unlike the other ponds in the area, this one never dries out in the heat of the summer because of the dancing night fairies protecting the pond. According to the legend of the Vilin Dol (Valley of the Fairies) one morning, a villager named Jakov and his mule found a beautiful fairy who had fallen asleep after an exhausting night of dancing. Knowing that fairies cannot survive in sunlight, Jakov cut some branches and made a little shelter to shade her sensitive skin. To reward him for saving her, she gave him two bags of gold coins instructing him to open the bags only when he arrived back home in Smokvica.

On the way there, overcome with his desire to see the coins, he opened the bags and found only dried leaves. At home, when he related the story to his wife, she shook the now empty bags of leaves and a few gold coins fell out. She gave him a thorough tongue lashing for letting his curiosity get the best of him.

Cousins of our apartment host, Boris, grew the grapes and made this wine on the nearby island of Korčula.

A Passion for Passing on the Traditions

Stories like these repeated by winemakers and re-enacted by the real girls of Smokvica for centuries are part of a culture bent on refining the wine produced from the same varieties of grapes and soil and that their grandfathers worked. These coastal Croatian winemakers have no interest in reproducing what moderns have come to expect from Italian, French or New World wine. Their strong and enduring passion is to honor the ancestral traditions handed down to them by drawing all the best from the grapes that thrive on the scarce workable soil by the sea,.

Three kisses make great grapes

On these hillside terraces, villagers have been producing admirable wines for centuries.

Southern Dalmatian coast winemakers like to explain that their grapes get kissed three times by the sun – directly by the sunlight overhead, by the light bouncing off the near-white limestone vineyard floors, and by the sparkling diamond-like reflections from the adjacent Adriatic Sea. And I’m happy to continue enjoying the smells and tastes of this unique and ancient land, expanding my experience with the foods and wines and listening to more winemakers’ stories.

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.

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.

Friends and Family in Aix en Provence

Friends and Family in Aix en Provence

Thanksgiving Week, 2017
Aix en Provence, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

What’s first on the Aix to-do list when we arrive? Flowers, of course! And what a glorious morning we have for our first market foray! The usual produce, flowers, clothes and textiles fill stalls, and the annual Santon Fair is set up beyond the grand Rotonde fountain at the end of Cours Mirabeau – every imaginable figure for your creche scene.Most of the week we’re walking around familiar lanes, but for a couple of days we rent a car to see friends further afield. After a near-freezing morning, we’re off to La Ciotat, where we’re surprised to see hardy souls braving the water – from stand-up paddlers beyond the waves, to swimmers and sunbathers. Our friends Jean-Marc and Kristin (author of one of our favorite blogs, French Word a Day) have recently moved here from a few miles away, and after that chilly start to the day, it’s turned out to be perfect for a garden lunch. Kirk channels Van Gogh in one of Kristin’s hats, and we while away the hours together in the sunshine.After stopping for some big box store supplies outside of Aix while we have the car, we take a side road home and pull off to take in a glorious sunset.One more day with a car, and we’ve invited new friends Jim and Brenda to see more of the area – the lush and varied Luberon north of Aix calls us today, beginning with ochre-toned Roussillon, always a favorite.Rewinding south towards Bonnieux, we pause at Pont Julien, a hearty Roman relic that survived when new bridges perished in floods over the centuries.
Just down the road is bonnie Bonnieux, where we pause for a look across the rooftops and the lower church – to the valley beyond. A few elegant doorways from centuries ago attest to the former wealth of the village, popular again since Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence. Pulling away towards Lourmarin, we’re grabbed with the sight of the village tumbling down its hill, framed in glorious autumn colors – wow!Between Bonnieux and Lourmarin we stop for a half kilometer hike down a path beside an old mill trace to a stone bridge built by the pre-Luther Protestants called Vaudois. They left Italy where they were known as Waldensians and where they developed considerable skill as stone masons. This low, short bridge over the insignificant Aigue Brun stream has as an anchor on the right, a stone concave fan. Those Vaudois cut and laid those stones with such skill that the bridge still stands after about 500 years.
Last stop, chic Lourmarin, with its eye-catching chateau. The guys pause for a coffee while Brenda and I peek in the shops.
Mt. St. Victoire greets us in the sunset as we approach Aix, where a surprise awaits us. Our friend Xavier told us to call him when we got back since he had something to bring us. He’s a collector of contemporary art, but has saved for us a piece from his parent’s estate that he gave to them years ago – of a place he knows we enjoy. Venice! We’ve been looking for something for this corner – how nice to have a piece with a personal connection!
Friends and family make life so delightful….the family arrives tomorrow!