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.


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!



Showing Off Aix

Showing Off Aix

Easter 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 summer –  why not join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast , in Provence, or Amsterdam?

It’s our chance to show off our much-loved city of Aix this week, as we begin another Aix Easter Festival Tour. From markets in bloom to historical collections in the Museum of Old Aix, from favorite squares such as Place Albertas to Mary and saints keeping watch from neighborhood corners, it’s truly a pleasure to share!
Of course the cuisine is a big draw too – I’m excited to introduce my all-time fave dessert,  Café Gourmand, to our guest! And then there are the venues in which we enjoy our meals – the weather is perfect for al fresco dining.
Before our first concert of the tour, in the Grand Theatre, we’re invited to our neighbors for a lavish Aperitif, and a viewing of their exquisite museum-quality collections.As we walk back from the concert the Rotonde gleams a goodnight. Sleep well, tomorrow will be full of more discoveries!

Bordeaux Beauty

Bordeaux Beauty

Thursday & Friday, September 22-23, 2016
Bordeaux, 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?

Across the Atlantic we go again, landing as the sun rises…cam14332tomorrow, Friday, Music and Markets Bordeaux Dordogne Tour begins!
Hotel de Seze is our Bordeaux base – and what a beauty it is! We drop our bags and head out for the first of our errands. We’ve chosen the restaurants for our first and last night, both of which will be in Bordeaux, but want to check out a new one, which one of our favorite France food writers, Alec Lobrano, has recently reviewed – Le Quatrieme Mur. In the classically exquisite Grand Theater, 02121602-grand-theatreit’s small and elegant, and with the continuing summer-like weather, lunch on the terrace is perfect. Each dish is as beautiful as it is delicious, and the excellent wine list comes to each table on a tab! cam14336We think this gem will be a perfect opening-night star for our tour!
We walk by a couple of other of Lobrano’s recommendations, enjoying each pretty square as we go.cam14343After dark we walk to Place de la Bourse, right on the river, where at long last we get to see the Mirroir d’Eau (Water Mirror) reflecting the grand square – it’s as shimmeringly lovely as we imagined! cam14348On our previous visits, winter and early spring, the fountains were not turned on  – they’re a warm-weather special.
We first met our tour clients, Stanley and Elaine, last year in Bath, for our Mozartfest tour, and have since gotten together with them in the US, both in Virginia and in New York where they live. This is their first visit to Bordeaux, so we begin with a walking tour of the city. cam14370Right behind our hotel is the huge Place de Quinconces, the largest square in Europe, anchored by the towering Girondins Monument.cam14371Next stop, a peek into the grand entry of the theater/opera,cam14374and as we continue our walk, we note the resemblance to Parisian streets, with the added pleasure of bright doors and trim once in a while.cam14358As we pass the Mirroir d’Eau the mist comes on, and young and old cool off on this hot day.cam14378Place du Parliament is an always-inviting square, cam14383popular with the Bordelais day and night.
We can’t miss Porte Caillhou, one of the city’s most photo-worthy spots, cam14385before circling back to the hotel.
It happens to be my birthday today, and I’m indulged with my favorite dessert, a Café Gourmand, cam14396bdaytreatbefore Kirk and I return to Hotel de Seze.
In a couple of hours we’re out again, for a first night’s dinner at Quatrieme Mur – cam14398and our guests enjoy it as much as we did yesterday. cam14399Bordeaux is such a beautiful city – with much to see, taste, and enjoy! Tomorrow we’re off to the countryside.

Farewell to Aix

Farewell to Aix

Tuesday, August 25, 2015
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?

One last day…and it’s a market day. No, we won’t buy anything else, but we’ve got to walk through and just take it all in one more time. Passing another sweet door-topper, 08251501 am walkand a mysterious sunny corner,08251501 sunlit corner

we stroll through the bustling squares, passing a beautiful fountain or two, 08251501 fountainthe warm scents of fresh-baked bread, 08251501 market breadthe best paella man – yes, it’s going fast!08251501 paella going fastIt still feels like summer here  – need a flirty fedora? 08251501 summer fedorasBut fall’s encroaching, we’ve walked over crunchy leaves in our square, and here the fall colors creep in to the market. 08251501 market fall colorsWe’ve got another taste or two that we don’t want Cassidy to miss, so amble over to a favorite restaurant, Le Bouddoir, on lovely Place des Tanneurs, 08251502 for lunch for lunch. 08251502 lunch bouddoirLeave room for dessert – you’ve GOT to try Café Gourmand! 08251503 cassidy has to try thisCassidy agrees, it’s a fabulous French invention…who wouldn’t like FOUR desserts rather than just one?!
One more stop – a new pirate-themed candy shop, where she stocks up for the long flight tomorrow. 08251503 gotta show you thisWe take the long way home, peeking in on another favorite square, Place Albertas, 08251503 long way homeand walking through our adjacent square, where lunch is still in session.08251503 still lunchingThen I get to work packing and cleaning, and Cassidy studies on the windowsill, still her favorite perch. 08251503 studying while i packOk, chores done, we can fit in a final concert or two – and we begin with the group we heard rehearsing earlier right next door, the Percussion and Brass sections of the OJF,08251504 concert from the windowsill video too French Youth Orchestra – here’s a Spanish themed piece. They’re terrific musicians all!
And last of all, a choral group in the cloister, also just next door.08251504 last one in rarely open cloister Aaah Aix, we’re going to miss you!

More Music and Markets in Aix

More Music and Markets in Aix

Summer in Aix 2014

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

Is that a mid-August hint of fall I see in the market today? 

Tour groups and shoppers all stop to listen to a combo by the clock tower,

and by afternoon the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville shows what “dappled” is all about.

Xavier comes by with his drill so we can discover if the space below the bathtub is useable. We’re surprised to find that under our tub is someone else’s closet, so no, we can NOT use that space as we renovate the bathroom. These old buildings are full of puzzles and quirks!

Tuesday morning the crowds are so thick that it’s hard to see the flowers for sale!

The honey man’s on site on Place Richelme, rain or shine – we’ve even seen him on a rare snowy winter day!

Our neighbor’s window boxes are the prettiest they’ve ever been – merci beaucoup.

They came over to take photos of them too!

Our friend Gloria is living in Villefranche -sur-Mer for the summer, and has come to Aix for the day to shop. We meet for lunch at Brasserie Leopold in the Hotel St. Christophe. We’ve been told that this is a favorite hang-out of the mayor, but we don’t see her here today. Their 12.50 € three course lunch is one of Aix’s best bargains, and the included dessert is a Café Gourmand – my favorite! Can you identify the 5 mini desserts?

Another combo keeps things lively as the day wanes –

the music and markets just won’t stop in Aix!