A Tiered Village in Southwest France

A Tiered Village in Southwest France

Sunday, March 29, 2015
Puy l’Eveque, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer – join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast in July?

Not far from Cahors is the multi-tiered village of Puy l’Eveque…and rain or shine, the tour must go on! We begin at the Mairie (Town Hall), 03291501 AM rain or shine Puy l Eveque

then wind uphill (passing a castle for rent – any takers?) 03291501 castle for rentand gaze yet higher at intricate carvings on centuries-old homes.03291501 high above us renaissance carvingsWe visited this little village years ago with Jill, and what I remember are the pretty trompe l’oeil-ed walls, but we don’t see those this time.
Heading down towards the port, “La Cale” we pass a rushing streamlet by a mill, 03291501 milland a humbler abode tucked into the hillside.03291501 more primitive shelterThere’s much to appreciate in this multi-leveled charmer – and we’d like it even better on a sunny day!03291501 tiersNext, stop, a vineyard – Clos Triguedina, home to pioneering wine makers, the Baldés family, since 1830. 03291501 winery Clos Triguedina homeMr. Baldés, the 7th generation to work this land, is laid up with a severe sciatica attack, but his charming wife, whom he met in Beaune while studying at France’s prestigious Wine University there, does a wonderful job of introducing us to the estate. 03291501 winery tour damp and cold glad for every layerShe, one of the last to be born in the gorgeous Hospices de Beaune before it became a museum, has brought some Burgundy input to this fine property. 03291501 winery Clos Triguedina 7 generationsAfter tasting their fine wines, we choose a bottle to take home with us.
A surprise awaits us at enchanting Le Caillau, where we stop for lunch. Inviting seating areas are arranged around a courtyard – 03291502 a pretty spot for lunchthe sofas in the open barn look like a wonderful place to while away an hour or two! We’re seated inside in a charmingly rustic dining area, 03291502 excellent food and great setting good for tea or drink tooand as we begin our lunch, the owner walks over to us “Mr. and Mrs. Woodyard? I’ve heard about you!” and hands us a bottle of wine and a note. What prompted this, we wonder…and open the note….03291502 surpriseit’s a sweet missive from Jill – what a lovely surprise! No wonder we fell in love with this delightful and thoughtful lady from the first time we met!
Our delicious lunch is completed with a dessert as tasty as it is adorably served –03291503 creme brulee earl grey Earl Grey crème brulee with shortbread shaped like a tea tag. Yet one more place where we’d love to spend more time!





Tasting and Touring Cahors with Friends

Tasting and Touring Cahors with Friends

Saturday, March 28, 2015, continued
Cahors, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer – join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast in July?

As we read the itinerary for the Midi Pyrenees Wine and Heritage tour on which we were invited, we saw that we’d be spending time not far from our dear friend Jill, so asked if she’d like to meet us in Cahors for an afternoon. As our guide briefs the group about this intriguing town I walk towards its famous bridge, Pont Valentré, where we’ve arranged to meet.03281504 cahors pont valentréAnd here she comes! We first met Jill in Prague when she and a friend joined us on a Music and Markets Tour there a decade ago, and she has since gone on at least 5 more of our tours (most recently last year’s Aix Easter Festival Tour) , so in addition to becoming a dear friend, she’s certainly our best client!03281504 jill lives nearby reference 2 years ago blogMany of the stops on this heritage tour have been on the Way of Santiago de Compostela, the pilgrimage to northwest Spain, and Cahors, too, was an important waypoint – the signature scallop on the cobbles of 14th century Pont Valentré, a Unesco World Heritage site, testifies to the path they took.03281504 pilgrims cross bridgeCahors is spread out enough that we first tour on a bus, then walk into the historic center, where the city has conserved a remarkable number of medieval houses,03281504 u spring bloomsstopping at the cathedral as well.03281504 town cathedralWe first visited this area in the late 90s, and are familiar with it’s “black wine” but it has certainly taken off since then…and now is proudly marketed as the original Malbec.
We’re invited to the Cahors Malbec Lounge for a lesson on the wine, 03281505 cahors tastingand of course a tasting, 03281505 jill tastingwhere we find that Cahors has its own special glass, with a ring in the stem.03281505 cahors malbecAs we leave to check into our hotel for the night, Jill says goodbye – what a treat it’s been to spend time with her! Last time we were in this area, two years ago, we so enjoyed a visit at her new home. When we first met in 2005, she was still living in Bermuda, but now lives in this beautiful part of France.
The day’s completed with a marvelous dinner at Le Marché – beginning with a layered Pain d’Epices (spice bread) and foie gras appetizer, 03281506 dinner favethrough the tenderest lamb we’ve ever tasted, also layered, this time with eggplant, sundried tomatoes, pesto, and goatcheese. 03281506 sow cooked lamb millefeuille see menuThe best meal yet!


The Knights of Malta in Italy

The Knights of Malta in Italy

Thursday, February 2, 2012
Umbria, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Next on the itinerary: Our spring tours in Barcelona, Venice or Prague

A morning and afternoon of meetings with very interesting wine-related travel providers, such as South Africa’s Franschoek Wine Valley , Iberian Wine Tours, and Italy’s Le Donne del Vino (Women of Wine) was punctuated with another Umbrian feast for lunch.
Within this palazzo is Umbria’s National Gallery of Art, and we had a quick viewing of the highlights before our post-tours began.
Piero della Francesca is one of Umbria’s star players, and we learn that he was a geometrist and technical scientist as well as an artist. He published a paper on technical perspective and this beautiful Annun- ciation clearly shows his mastery of the challenging artistic skill .
The majority of works in the gallery are religious, including many Annunciations

– you can certainly see the difference in this pre-perspective, pre- Renaissance work, with the preferred gilding of earlier centuries and the stiff subjects.

What a magnificent ceiling!
And then we’re out the door, back to Hotel Gio to pick up our suitcases, then on the bus, where we meet the other 16 members of our tour, a congenial group coming from around the world – Brazil, Holland, US, Italy and Singapore.

In less than an hour we arrive at the first stop of our Umbria tour, the Cavalieri di Malta Castle in Magione – it’s freezing out here, please let us in!

This majestic ancient stronghold, erected in the 1100’s as a resting place for pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem, is the summer residence of the Grand Master of
the Knights of Malta (Matthew Festing is the 79th Grand Master in the Order’s history) – he is in his palazzo in Rome the rest of the year.

The Grand Master takes his seat in the chapel for private services when he’s in town.

This faded Nativity fresco was discovered when cracks developed in the plaster covering it – what a hidden treasure!

We’re honored to be shown the private chambers of the Grand Master, not normally included in the tour of the castle. You may be wondering, as I was as I walked through the palazzo, about the Knights of Malta – especially, what they do now that they’re not supporting pilgrims and crusaders. The Sovereign Order still has properties around the world (we’ve seen several in Provence, Italy, and Prague), has a permanent seat as an observer in the United Nations, and still today “defends the faith”, and provides assistance to the poor, elderly, and refugees, as well as emergency medical services around the world.

The property grows and ages its own wine,

and we are offered tastings of several vintages before dinner.

That plate of bruschetta, slathered with olive oil also produced on the property, disappears fast!

Dinner is ready – we’re invited to the table,

where the wine keeps coming!
What a whirlwind these 36 hours have been – whisked from the Rome airport to Perugia, wined and dined before meetings with dozens of fascinating wine-lovers from around the world, and now dinner in a castle – and the fun has just begun!

The Wine Underground

The Wine Underground

Wednesday, September 28, 2011 – Part 1

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
xt on the itinerary: New Year’s Jazz in Italy

Where is the largest wine collection in the world stored? Deep under the Moldovan plains, where over two million bottles are kept along miles and miles of underground roads of Milestii Mici.
This 200 – year- old labyrinth, a limestone quarry dug with hand tools by prisoners until 1960, then by machine, is 200 kilometers of winding tunnels, 55 of which are in use today.
In 1968 Moldovan vintners saw the caves and realized that they were the perfect environment, with the constant temperature and humidity, for storing wine.

Above ground are the wine fountains – take your pick, red or white. But just for show – the real deal is below ground.

Stefan, our guide, can keep us from getting lost in the caverns, and joins us in the bus as we descend underground, the large vehicle carefully turning onto bottle- lined streets named Chardonnay, Cabernet, or the local grape, Feteasca Negra.

The roads we’re on are not lined with the best wines – who wants auto exhaust polluting their treasures? Those for keeping are carefully stored and labelled in the “houses” as they are called, on walking -only streets.

Each house can hold 1500 bottles, and as you can see, some of those bottles have been untouched for a looooong time!

The deepest part of the labyrinth is 80 meters underground. Behind heavy stone-backed doors is an elegant tasting room, where a group is entertained by musicians while they taste some of Milestii’s treasures.
To be continued…

Tuscan Footsteps

Tuscan Footsteps

January 2, 2009
Monte San Savino, Cortona, Pienza Italy

Because Jacqueline really identified with the movie version of Under the Tuscan Sun and saw it several times, she was very interested in seeing Bramasole, the home of the book’s author, Francis Mayes, in nearby Cortona.
We took my mother to see Bramasole in 2002 so we knew how to find it but the last time we were here, we couldn’t get manage to retrace our route to it.
In hopes we could figure something out this time, we descended Monte San Savino’s east-side hill and crossed the expressway in the valley and up to the west-facing hills crowned by Cortona.
We were surprised that although there are plenty of parking lots for the summer tourists, they were all filled – even in the dead of winter. We finally grabbed one and began the long steep climb from the tall stone gate to the piazza in the center of town, peeking up and down steep cobbled steps as we went.
We walked down to the edge of the smaller piazza in front of the little church and looked off the edge at the olive farms, vineyards and little villages to the north. Just across the piazza Jacqueline also got a long look at the the famous “Annunciation” by Fra Angelico in the little Museo Diocesano.
We all met for a bathroom break at a bar where we got directions to Bramasole. The bartender said the way we took in 2002 is now mostly pedestrianized so we had to go around the town the opposite direction.

I kept the car running while Anne and Jacqueline ran and snapped a couple of quick photos of the exterior

that looks to me like raspberry and apricot sherbet stirred lightly together.

We used the GPS to get us to lunch in Monticchiello in another valley, the magic Val d’Orcia the site of many battles for Tuscan preeminence first between competing noblemen and finally between Siena and Florence. Other hilltop strongholds turned into towns in the Val d’Orcia have names like Montalcino, Rocca d’Orcia, Radicofani, and Castiglion d’Orcia – high points in a battlefield where resisters could fight their last stand. But we’re here to eat! And to eat at one of our favorite restaurants on earth – La Porta where Daria greets and seats us like family. I was able to show her an email on my cell phone we just received from Ed and Sandy reminding us to give Daria a hug from them. Daria said, “Well, don’t forget!” and gave me another hug for Ed and Sandy. I don’t know how this works but now I get to pass her hug on to Ed and Sandy. How did I get in the middle of this?
I had a plate of sliced Cinta Senese ham with melted pecorino cheese and truffles (we’re getting more chances than ever to enjoy the season’s bounty of truffles this year) to start.

Anne and Jacqueline both had cubes of polenta on melted pecorino with mushrooms. We enjoyed this with sips of the best wine of the trip, a just released 2003 Brunello di Montalcino.
For first courses we had farro risotto with vino nobile and cornmeal gnocchi with pecorino. Then for secondi, I had two fried eggs with sliced truffles,
Anne had a rack of lamb (which she could only eat a bite or two – the first courses were so good she just had to eat every bite!) , and Jacqueline a plate of sliced pecorino with honey. We finished lunch off with two digestivi, one made of verbena, and the other of pear and pomegranate. Daria included a bottle of the latter as a gift. We’ll be proudly sharing it with friends after dinner in Virginia soon.
Long after the medieval battles in this valley, it again became the site of unbelievable hardship, suffering, and even the worst kind of cruelty during the occupation of the Nazis during World War II. One of the sad but triumphant stories is captured on a plaque just outside La Porta in Monticchiello. As we were walking up to read it an old man in a green Ape coasted downhill past us then turned around and drove back uphill when he saw we were reading the memorial plaque. He said he was one of the young partisans whose photos are on an adjacent plaque who secretly resisted the Nazis by sabotaging their efforts and sending valuable military information to the Allies. He asked us where we were from and when we told him the USA, he said, “Those guys helped us beat the Nazis!” Then this hero’s eyes teared up as he remembered, saying “Those were brutal times.” He tried to explain with his hands where he was on the day memorialized on the plaque and where the Nazis were and how it happened. He seemed so happy to be living now in this peaceful valley. When we asked, he said his name is (ironically) Adolfo. We were very happy that he turned his little truck around and are truly privileged to have met a real live hero of the resistance.
Then we wandered over to a fabric shop to see pillowcases and hand towels crafted from beautiful local materials. Letizia Capelleti has run this shop for 60 years. Now her son mans the counter while she charms the visitors.

From the terrace outside the village walls, we spied what looked like a ski run on Monte Amiata.

Next stop, Pienza – gleaming against the sunset across the valley.

In Pienza’s beautiful Renaissance square, there are a couple of huge yule logs burning. It’s difficult to walk by without stopping to warm up our hands.

After the requisite shop in a pecorino cheese boutique (Pienza’s prized local specialty), where the smell is almost overpowering, we pile in the car to return to Monte San Savino.
Jacqueline visited the antique shop again, and the owner took her to a musty dark storeroom so she could see his hundreds of old doors – all in need of restoration.
For dinner today we walk through the huge stone gate of Monte San Savino to Ristorante La Terrasse. Kirk picked a particular wine as a surprise for Jacqueline – Bramasole! It’s a very good syrah from an Antinori vineyard in Cortona.
La Terrasse is owned and managed by a relative of our hotel’s owner, and is well worth a visit – we’ll remember to include it on future trips. Anne’s appetizer, a pear pecorino and truffle tart, brought ooh’s and aah’s and rolled eyes – a worth-the-trip treat!
Kirk’s Extravanza del Chef was a full two plates-full (one hot and one cold) of local delicacies.
Wandering back to our hotel, we thought of taking a post-dinner walk around the town, but lazily fell into bed instead.