Melodies in the Vines

Melodies in the Vines

September 20-23, 2017
The Final Orpheus and Bacchus Festival
Gensac, 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?

Nestled in the prime vineyards of the Bordeaux region, Orpheus and Bacchus, a unique musical experience, presented its final festival this fall. We met the visionary founder, Ian Christians, in 2003, and have had the pleasure of joining him in the beautiful setting of La Musique for these matchless events several times since then. Once again the marvelous Wihan Quartet (whose artistry we enjoyed last year at the festival and also at Taunton Castle Hotel in England) delighted us and our Music and Markets guests in the intimate setting of La Musique each evening, but Ian did not join us for his much-loved festival. He let us know in the spring that he was suffering from cancer, and hoped to be here, but that was not to be. Shortly after we arrived we talked with his lovely wife Sharon and found that he had just passed on – a week ago. Sharon welcomed us all with an aperitif before the first concert, and shared that this last festival would be in honor of Ian, and would be filled with many of his favorite pieces, then returned to the UK. I pause as I write, thinking of all that she and Ian’s son, Alex, and their friends did to make this festival a magnificent success, truly worthy of Ian. Alex, a lawyer in London, was the chef for the many superb meals we enjoyed, in addition to organizing all of the details to enable the festival to proceed. Yes, a busy lawyer from London took time away from his practice and his family and created the best meals we’ve ever had at Orpheus and Bacchus – what a gift for his father!
Each morning our breakfast was followed with a concert featuring outstanding young musicians, such as pianist Ben Comeau and cellist William-Clark Maxwell. Where else can you sit on comfortable sofas, relaxing as you’re surrounded with marvelous music?!One of Ian’s passions was encouraging and supporting many of these talented young performers, often by including them in the programs of the festival.
Hilltop chateaus such as Monbazillac, and enticing villages, such as St. Emilion,  filled our afternoons. The closest hamlet to the Orpheus and Bacchus property is Gensac – we walked through the quiet lanes after picking up a delayed suitcase for one of our clients. The airline-arranged delivery person couldn’t find our hidden-in-the-vines estate, so left it at the sole pharmacy in town for us 😉
St. Emilion is our favorite village in the area. Crowned by a majestic church that rises out of the rock, It’s steep lanes (the steepest are called tertres, only in St. Emilion) are lined with enticing boutiques – many filled with wine, of course! To complete a delicious lunch at Les Bistrot des Vignobles we introduced our guests to my favorite dessert – Café Gourmand  – and they continued to order it, when available, throughout the trip – can you blame them?!
The town was as full as we’ve ever seen it – the closest parking spot was a mile away! But the walk to get there (Kirk and I walked to pick up the car) took us by some autumn charmers. For yet one more view, we drove uphill from our usual parking spot on the edge of town to an overlook near the renowned Ausone vineyards. Don’t miss St. Emilion if you’re in the area!
After another evening of fabulous music – Hummel, Janacek and Bruckner,  the performers joined us for dinner, as they did each night. What a pleasure to hear their thoughts on the music, and appreciate their chance to relax and listen themselves as we all enjoyed some more music in a more casual ambiance. Alessandro Commellato, who played the Hummel piano concerto, was eager to try out the Pleyel duo-clave, a rare double piano with a keyboard on both ends, so a few guys pulled it out and got it ready. Remember when I played a tune with another pianist on this intriguing instrument last year? When we finally went to bed, we fell asleep with more beautiful music drifting down from upstairs.
Saturday was the final day of the final festival (and happened to be my birthday as well!), and the young performer’s concert was scheduled for the afternoon so those who wanted to could go to the market town of St. Foy la Grande. Driving through the mist hovering over the vineyards,  we parked by the river, then walked to the market stalls – feeling more mysterious than usual in the fog. Oh if we only had more room in our suitcase – so many delicious specialties of the region. My favorite booth is the one with foie-gras stuffed dried figs – somehow they taste better than when I make them at home! The town itself is well worth a wander, with its arcaded central square and many half-timbered houses. Follow the Vanilla Vendor around as he calls out his wares and you’ll see a nice lane or two.
We had time for a quick stop at Monbazillac before returning to La Musique, and after posing in front of the vineyard surrounded chateau (above) we took in the glorious views and sampled the sweet wine (excellent with dessert or foie gras). A simple inn in the town served a nice lunch in the garden, and I was pleasantly surprised with a couple of thoughtful and beautiful birthday gifts from our guests – I’m putting on golden tassel earrings here.Back to the loft of La Musique for more music – where we’re absolutely blown away by young Ben’s artistry at the piano – spanning the centuries from Bach to Beethoven, Chopin to Irving Berlin. I’ve never heard anyone improvise as he does – from medieval tunes to jazz standards. Amazing! And then someone called out for Nigel, who emceed the festival in Ian’s absence, to sing – and Ben accompanied him as he serenaded us with “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.”
Yet more delights awaited us on this final day – Alex invited us to Ian’s legendary cellar for a tasting! An uninvited guest caused a few gasps, until Monsieur Bat settled down and hung from the stone vaults above. From ’95 to ’05 we sampled Chateau du Moulin from St. Emilion – which year was the best? Schubert, Dvorak and Beethoven delighted our ears one last time, and then Alex pulled out all the stops for a grand feast – including decanting a massive Saint Emilion Grand Cru. The bottle was then passed from table to table for all to sign – voila! Alex was gifted with a basket full of Southwest France treats – just the thing for this lawyer-chef! And as dessert, créme brulée, came out, I was serenaded by the room and presented with a super-size birthday brulée – what a surprise! What a day it’s been – filled with a marvelous market, a chateau, presents in the garden, music galore, and a musical serenade. Can any birthday top this one?!?
The joy and delight of these four days were a constant tribute to Ian Christians, founder of Orpheus and Bacchus – we’ll always treasure the times we’ve spent here through the years, and be thankful for the opportunity we’ve had to know him and share such wonderful music with him.

 

14 juillet – Celebrate!

14 juillet – Celebrate!

July 14, 2017
Aix en Provence, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
How about celebrating Mozart in the matchless city of Bath, England in November?

France is celebrating today, and so are we – It’s Kirk’s birthday! As you may remember, he LOVES spending it in France since the whole country parties for him 🙂
How does he want to start the day? With a walk up the hill to Cezanne’s atelier and oft-used painting perch beyond, now the Terrain de Peintres, showcasing several of his portrayals of Mt. Saint Victoire painted from right in this spot.
In the afternoon we take in Aix’s newest museum, the Hôtel de Caumont in the Mazarine district. We were there years ago when it was the headquarters of the Music Conservatory, and although we’ve attended a concert in the courtyard, this is the first time we’ve been inside since the complete and lavish restoration. As we walk through the rooms with decor faithful to the 18th century, the period of the building, I’m reminded that a friend encouraged me to see the interior to get ideas for decorating our apartment of the same era. Our budget is not quite the same as the Caumont 😉
Upstairs, the rooms are always devoted to a particular exhibition, and until October 15 Sisley the impressionist is the beautifully curated collection. The rooms are spacious and uncrowded, allowing us to absorb the superb paintings at our leisure.More than any other artist Sisley draws you into his spacious landscapes. You feel as if you’re walking under that vast sky, brushing your fingers in the rippling river, listening to the twitter of birds in the trees. We’ve been to countless museums in our lives, but this is a new favorite…and the visit will be memorable since it’s part of our birthday celebration!
From top to bottom the Caumont is a treasure…and then there’s the tea room and garden! After sipping a cup in the shade, we snap a birthday selfie then just sit and enjoy – even on a hot summer day it’s cool and comfortable in the garden.
The party’s not over yet! After a delicious birthday dinner we listen to a string quartet in another beautiful mansion’s courtyard, then join the revelers on Cours Mirabeau – watching all ages sing along to French pop standards that we’ve never heard before – even the très cool teens and twenties sing the oldies as they dance!
Bonne fête, France, and Joyeaux Anniversaire, Kirk!

 

Cooling Down in the Luberon

Cooling Down in the Luberon

July 2017
Provence, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Why not join us on our newest tour in September – Bordeaux and Dordogne

In search of a cool escape, we’ve booked a night at a B & B north of Aix, pre-requisites: a pool and air conditioning! Passing the iconic Provençal village of Gordes on the way, we look forward to returning for dinner – it’s the closest village of any size near Les Jardins d’Eleusis, the B & B we’ve found. We meet the friendly owners, spend an hour or so by the pool, join them and the other guests for an aperitif, then wind our way back on the narrow country roads to Gordes. One of the most well-known Luberon villages, Gordes is often a victim of its own popularity: wall-to-wall visitors, full parking lots and fully booked restaurants and hotels making it difficult to enjoy. But this evening in early July, just a few folks wander the lanes, and a table’s available in the most popular restaurant with views across the valley. La Trinquette, we learn, means to toast – as in “cheers”! And cheered we are, sipping a local rosé along with a delicious dinner, as the lights twinkle on below.Crowned with a massive chateau, hovering over the pale stone homes tumbling below, Gordes is deserving of its award as one of France’s Plus Beaux Villages. It’s a pleasure to leisurely walk through quiet squares and lanes on our way back to the car.
Today will be another scorcher, but it begins with a light sprinkle. We shelter under the broad overhang on our private terrace and get a good start to the day with an abundant breakfast, brought to us on a tray by Stephanie, our hostess, then walk to the nearest hamlet, Murs. From the top we look out over the surrounding fields, peer across the rooftops, take in the immaculate garden of a private chateau, and check out the ancient stone homes, some adorned with old farm implements. It’s lavender season, and that’s one of my must-sees on this jaunt. We’ve read that the nearby village of Lioux boasts a few fields, and a spectacular setting beside a towering cliff, and when we track down the field, we just stand there, letting the fragrance and the beauty flow over us. Walking through the village, we don’t see a soul…but DO spy a few photo-worthy corners. The door to this ivy-covered church is open and we pause in the quiet space before snapping the town hall…where IS everybody? Maybe it’s just a film set?
On the way to Joucas, our next stop, we find another purple expanse then move along to the village since it’s lunch time.
Sculptors have left their mark in Joucas…from the parvis of the church to the vineyards and orchards below. An atelier is tucked beside a lane – keep walking, what we will find next? The stone paths are almost as intriguing as the houses lining them.
Hostellerie des Commandeurs is the most popular place in town, with an inviting terrace – beside a VERY inviting pool. Can we dive in after lunch?  Snails starts us off, and we both choose the fish of the day for our main course. Of course I can’t resist a Café Gourmand for dessert! Our next stop may be the most touristed in Provence today – the crush of huge buses dwarfing a string of crawling cars makes it almost impossible to see. What a difference from the quiet villages we’ve paused at earlier!
It’s the lavender that we, and hundreds of others want to view….we had planned to walk the significant distance from the parking area to the Abbaye de Senanque and it’s signature purple fields, but I chicken out and stay by the car, parked up a hill heading out of the valley, and leave the photo op to Kirk. Yes, it’s gorgeous, but definitely spoiled by the out-of-control buses and crowds on a summer Sunday.
And our next stop is not much better… Fontaine de Vaucluse, home of the mysterious source of the rushing river flowing through town and into the region,proves to be another popular Sunday destination. You’d think that all that water would make it cooler, but I’m nearly fainting from the heat by the time we climb the hill leading to the source….and thinking that I’ll get closer to the chilly stream on our way back down. Aaaaah……I think we’ll stick to lesser-known villages on summer weekends from now on!

 

 

Provençal Tastes, Sights, and Sounds

Provençal Tastes, Sights, and Sounds

Easter Week 2017
The South of France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Why not join us on our newest tour in September – Bordeaux and Dordogne

Come along for a day filled with provençal delights, beginning with the Wednesday market in St. Remy de Provence…stalls fill the charming squares,their colorful produce enticing – how about Kristin Espinasse’s (of French Word a Day) Tarte à la Tomate with a few of these beauties? 
Palest blue shutters whisper “south of France” on this boutique, one of the many enticing home-goods shops worth a visit.
Sated with sights and smells, we’re ready for lunch at Kirk’s all-time favorite, Bistro du Paradou, down the road towards Le Baux de Provence. It’s Wednesday, and rabbit is today’s main dish, but the meal begins with MY favorite of their first courses – meltingly succulent aubergine, with a side of rich tomato coulis. After the remarkable cheese basket, a meal in itself, we finish with dessert and coffee, then trundle out to the car to make our way to an olive oil mill.
With the hilltop ruins of Le Baux in the distance, we walk through the mistral-tossed olive groves before purchasing a tin or two of some award-winning oil.
Beneath that menacing fortress are the towering rooms hollowed out from bauxite quarries, now the Carrières de Lumiéres – Quarries of Images, a sound and light spectacle that is a highlight of our Provence tours. This year (the spectacle changes yearly) the artists Bosch, Brueghel and Arcimboldo are featured – a more gruesome, at times, focus than we’ve ever seen here. Not one of our favorites – but worth a visit regardless to be surrounded by art and sound – a unique experience.
Senses sated, back to Aix we go – more Provençal delights await us tomorrow!

Gardens from Cannes to Grasse

Gardens from Cannes to Grasse

Thursday, April 6, 2017
The Riviera, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer –  why not join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast , in Provence, or Amsterdam?

I just popped into the library today, here at home in northern Virginia…and remembered THIS library we stopped by in Cannes. A romantic neo-classic villa, surrounded by a lovely park (where creatives have designed some interesting garden features), it was originally built for the Baronne de Rothschild in 1881. Now THIS is a library where I’d linger, spending time in one gorgeous room after another!
Our final garden-filled day begins in Grasse, where on a hillside near town Lady Fortescue wrote Perfume from Provence as she designed a garden, Villa Fort France, with more than 500 varieties of plants and trees in the 1930s. The De Courcel family have lived in Villa Fort France since  1992, and this lovely property, more than any other we’ve visited, gives the feel of a warm and welcoming home, surrounded by beauty….oh for a chance to sit and enjoy! But of course we’ve much more to see today.
Grasse is renowned for its perfume industry, and a stop at the Fragonard Perfumery begins with a guided walk through the garden of sources for the fine fragrances produced here. Several of us don’t depart from the boutique adjoining the workrooms empty-handed! Peony is the 2017 flower, and adorns one tempting item after another.
The last garden of this wonderful tour provided by Cote d’Azur Tourism is La Mouissone. Olive groves spread across the terraced property and form the backbone of the garden, which is dotted with inviting sitting areas (and some large areas perfect for events such as weddings) and creative designs. Lady Lockett, whose family has owned the property since 1998, shows us around the gardens, then shares a delicious picnic with us, French wines and produce mingling with Melton Mowbray Pork Pies from her British home.
From every terrace there’s a fabulous view  – yet more temptation to just relax and stay a while! Speaking of which, there’s a lovely guest house for rent on the property! And lots of enjoyable activies – how about a bounce on the trampoline?!It’s time to say goodbye to France, as we head to Barcelona for the weekend so we stroll along the beach in Nice before flying away….we’ll hurry back to France next week!

Riviera Beauties – from Towns to Gardens

Riviera Beauties – from Towns to Gardens

Wednesday, April 6, 2017
The Riviera, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer –  why not join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast , in Provence, or Amsterdam?

Menton’s cheery yellow market is the first stop of the day. With the colorful town rising behind, the mountains beyond, flowering lemon trees (Menton is proud of its lemons and has a fabulous festival celebrating them every February – a terrific winter trip!) and fresh produce show off in a beautiful setting.
Our tour continues with picturesque squares, perfectly shabby shutters, and steep vaulted passageways. We’ve been told that “Riviera” signifies mountains meeting the sea, and Menton’s built right into this abrupt rise from the water.Outside of town near a hilltop village, the Val Rameh gardens offer a round-the-world botany tour clustered around a lovely home. From jasmine draped bridges to bamboo forests and even a unique specimen of the Toromiro tree of Easter Island, it’s a fascinating wander.
The one garden and villa we’ve visited before, when we hosted a private tour of Provence and the Riviera in 2010, is the fabulous Villa Ephrussi-Rothschild. We’re invited for lunch and a quick tour of the interior before entering the gardens, fragrant with wisteria and in full spring bloom.My favorites of the 7 gardens are the Florentine, with azalea draped architectural beauties, and the Spanish, golden arches beside an Alhambra-like rectangle of water.
With views across the bay to Villefranche-sur-Mer, I can well understand the choice of this perfect peninsula for the majestic home and gardens.
As on our previous visit, I could spend hours by these musical dancing fountainswhat a delight!