Biblical Rains, A Bar with a Killer wine list and Thirteen wines tasted! The tour just gets better

Waking to the sound of torrential rain pounding the tarmac outside our room we reflect on how lucky we had been yesterday with a dry day for cycling the Cote Rotie.

Summer Storm Video in Condrieu

We bid “au Revoir” to Julian our friendly waiter and dodging the Biblical rains we check out and go in search of breakfast.


Finding a boulangerie with a selection of pastries to fortify the soul, pre wine tasting, we go in search of the other staple ingredient of a continental breakfast- Coffee!

Winding our way around Condrieu’s narrow streets we find coffee in a bar. Walking in to it feels like the set of a wine movie! A veritable cast of rugged rustic types perched on bar stools. Some with an espresso others a glass of wine at 9am! All in boiler suits and wellies taking a break from tending their vines!

With a clientele such as this it’s no surprise to see they have an amazing wine list! In addition there’s also a huge range by the glass and with very little mark up!!

After our coffee stop we leave behind the town of Condrieu and make our steep ascent to the vineyards of Francois Villard in nearby Saint-Michel-sur-Rhône. Sometimes trying to find a winemakers caveau is a little like a puzzle or initiation test. Often there’s no clear signage, neither Googlemaps nor my Sat Nav are our frinds but eventually we find our way into the reception.


Our host Letitia guides us through a veritable line up of Monsieur Villard’s wines. I have to conceal my excitement as I’m a little like a small child in a candy store!

Legend has it that Francois is self-taught but in fact he trained as a chef which led him into sommellerie, and then onto grape-growing and oenology.

Letitia tells that Francois produces around 300,000 bottles a year. 12 years ago it was just a quarter of that!

To the whites first!

2016 Crozes Hermitage ” Cour de Récré” . Medium Lemon in appearance with a nose of medium plus intensity and greengages, made from 100% Marsanne. Rich intense aromas of yellow fruit, dry, with medium (+) acidity, high alcohol, and resinous overtones from 30% oak exposure culminating in a medium (+) finish.

2016 Saint-Peray, a blend of 80% Marsanne/20% Rousanne, with a nose of honey and honeysuckle flowers, on the palate dry with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol and medium (+) body and medium plus finish.

2015 Saint-Peray Version Longue: The big brother, 100% Marsanne and a bolder style of winemaking. 35% new oak and 18 months of lees ageing. Pale gold in appearance with pronounced aromas of pineapple and dried apricot. On the palate same fruits follow through from the nose. Dry with medium (+) acidity, high alcohol, medium (+) body and very long finish.

2016 Viognier Les Contours de Deponcins. An IGT wine made from 100% Viognier that’s located just above the Condrieu AOC contour limit of 250m. Nose of honey, white flowers, toasted nuts, white peach and violet. Aged in oak for a fuller richer style more aromas follow through from the nose dry, with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol and medium (+) body and a pleasing long finish.

2015 Les Grand Vallon Condrieu. This wine is fermented in oak barrels and matures in a mixture of 35% new oak and 65% 3/5 year old oak barrels. Pale gold in appearance with a bouquet of white peach and apricot and complex smoky notes form oak. Developing in age with aromas of more white peach on the palate dry, with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) body, medium alcohol, a seductive smoky toasted oakiness and long finish. This wine exhibits great balance, good finish well integrated primary and secondary aromas and a degree of complexity. It’s an outstanding example of a Condrieu.


and then the reds…

2015 Saint Joseph “Poivre et Sol” (Pepper and Soil). 100% Syrah. Medium purple in appearance. Aromas of animal, truffle and cassis. On the palate dry, medium (+) tannin, medium (+) body, medium alcohol and high acidity. More blackcurrant and a little vanilla. Long finish drinking well now.

2015 Saint Joseph “Mairlant”. 100% Syrah Medium purple in appearance. Notes of cassis on the nose. On the palate dry with high tannins, medium (+) alcohol, high acidity, aromas of blackcurrant and vanilla with a long finish. Needs minimum of 3 years in bottle to soften acidity and tannins.

2015 Saint Joseph “Reflet”. 100% SyrahDeep purple in appearance, a pronounced nose of cassis, violets, and myrrh. Developing in age, dry with high acidity, high tannins, full body, high alcohol, further aromas of cassis, myrtle berry and myrrh with secondary oak aromas of vanilla and toast. Lovely long finish integrated and well balanced.

2015 Le Gallet Blanc, Cote Rôtie. 100% Syrah. Matured in in oak for 18 months (30% new 70% 2/4 years old). Deep purple in appearance, Bone dry, with high acidity, full bodied, high tannin. Aromas of cassis and myrrh, vanilla and cream. Long integrated finish but still a baby with many years more to give.

2015 Cornas. Francois likes to make a Cornas that you can drink now! Its got fruit and spice and certainly doesn’t show the temperament of wine that usually needs to be tamed by 7 years plus in bottle. Dry, high alcohol, high tannins, medium (+) acidity, a balanced and complex mix of cassis and creaminess. Leaves you with a pleasurable long finish.



We thank Letitia for the dégustation and leave behind us the sensuous contours of the Rhone valley.  In no time at all we are back on the A7 Autoroute du Soleil. The rains of yesterday are a distant memory and the temperature starts to increase as we head into Provence. As we pass Avignon we can’t resist a quick detour to the heart of the Luberon to the picturesque perched village of Gordes, our base for our first French road trip many years before.


We stop for coffee at the cafe that was one of the main locations in Ridley Scott’s A Good Year set in and around Gordes…Russell Crowe’s character in the movie uses the adjective “intoxicating” to describe the enchanting atmosphere of this area and it couldn’t be more appropriate.

Revived and refreshed we get back on the A7 and blast our way past majestic mountains  set against azure blue skies and vineyards laden with fruit to La Cadière D’Azur our next destination. The prettiest and most typical of perched villages in this part of the Bandol AOC we arrive just after 7pm. We are greeted warmly by Madame Bérard of L’Hostellerie Berard and check in to our room overlooking the pool. It’s a Tuesday night and the little village is buzzing as we make our way down the  narrow main street to the Restaurant Regain.

Trio in La Cadiere D’Azur Part 1


We are both blown away by the simple home cooked food and local wines! We choose a Domaine de la Garenne 2011,Comte Jean de Balincourt. It’s a deep ruby in appearance with complex tertiary aromas already evident on the nose of meat, game, leather, tar and stewed damson fruit.
On the palate it’s dry with medium plus tannin, high alcohol, medium plus acidity, full body, well defined stewed damson fruit with secondary aromas of cedar, charred wood toast and clove.
Beautiful balance with medium plus length, intense tertiary fruits aplenty and a level of complexity that is disproportionate to its modest price!
An outstanding Bandol wine that still could yield more to those who wait but is a killer partner to a rare entrecôte steak in a Provençal village this evening!

Settling our bill we walk back down the main street in the village to the soundtrack of a local French band entertaining the locals.

Trio in La Cadiere D’Azur Part 2

We settle down with a Pastis and soak up the balmy atmosphere, a fusion of cicadas and flutes and gruff but melodic Provençal voices. It’s a world away from our day jobs and beautifully hypnotic!



Viennese Wine; The best of Austrian wine from Grüner Veltliner to Gemischter Satz!Part 1 – Weingut Weininger

As Spring 2017 was bursting forth across central Europe I spent a pleasant 5 days in Vienna. I knew from a previous visit that it  was well known for its Heurige (wine taverns) out in the suburbs and its local white varietal field blend known as Gemischter Satz. What I hadn’t appreciated,  was that the Viennese winemaking fraternity have well and truly thrown off the yoke of the anti-freeze scandal of the eighties and embarked on making in the main organic/biodynamic high quality wines that we see little of in the UK!

A little pre trip research indicated that the two must visit winemakers were Rainer Christ of Weingut Christ and Fritz Wieninger of Weingut Wieninger. Bacchus’ divine intervention was surely at play during my trip as a phone call to both Rainer and Fritz yielded two of the most enjoyable and interesting tasting visits that I’ve had the pleasure to indulge in across three continents!

Top 3 Viennese Wine Facts:

  1. Only capital city to have vineyards within the city limits.
  2. Wine has been grown in Vienna for over 2700 years.
  3. There are over 700 hectares of vines planted.

Weingut Wieninger

The wine district is no more than a 40 minute drive from the centre of Vienna. Leaving behind the imperial architecture of the Hapsburg era, passing semi industrial suburbs we climb the hills that surround the city and enter the enchanting area of the Heurige. 

In the tasting room we are introduced to the sommelier and the dozen or so wines that we will try. Its a wine geeks paradise with display boards adorning the walls exhibiting the different types of terroir that make up the estate. It’s made really cosy with the glow of a wood burning fire.


My enthusiasm for sampling these wines rubs off on some friends who join me for the tasting. Its a throughly social experience and always enhanced by sharing the experience of exploring new wines.


The tasting gets under way!

Kicking off the proceedings

Sekt Rose Cuvée Katharina 

A blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Zweigelt. Fermented in the methode traditionelle with just 5g/L dosage. Pale salmon in appearance with a nose of strawberry mousse that is of medium (-) intensity. Dry with medium (+) acidity, a feature of early picking, medium (-) body, medium alcohol with more notes of strawberry mousse and autolytic aromas on the palate. Good balance and complexity a good wine drinking well now.


One of the many great things at Weingut Wieninger is that opportunity to really experience the impact that contrasting terroir have on a wine.

Our first introduction to this was in sampling Gruner Veltliner made on either side of the Danube from the Nussberg and Bisamberg sites.


Located on the west bank of the Danube is composed of shell limestone and weathered limestone soils with a subsoil of limestone rocks. This high limestone content yields excellent minerality. The clay content is distinctly higher than the Bisamberg on the opposite bank. The heavy soil with high limestone produces wines with a creamy texture, darker fruit tones and moderate acidity with a pronounced minerality. Suiting the local blend Gemischter Satz, Riesling, Traminer and Gruner Veltliner.


Located on the east bank of the Danube. With a climate that has more wind, more sun and 20% less rain. Light and sandy loess soil that suit red varietals and Chardonnay with the later making a style that is fresh and light with a vibrant acidity.

Gruner Veltliner Nussberg 2016

Medium gold in appearance with nose of white flowers and nettle. On palate a sharp granny smith apple frehsness and acidity with stoney minerality from the limestone. Lovely balance and expression of the Nussberg terroir.

Gruner Veltliner Bisamberg Herrenholz 2016

Medium gold in appearance. A nose that is a mix of white flowers and fruit salad. On the palate, dry with a medium plus acidity, exquisite minerality, medium body, with notes of fruit salad and peach.

Riesling Nussberg 2015

The grapes for the Riesling Nussberg are usually from the Preussen on the Nussberg, but because of the small yields and high ripeness, grapes from other vineyards on the Nussberg – the Obere Schoss and Purgstall – were also used. Preussen translates from the German for Prussia and take its name from the site of the camp of the Prusssian army when defending Vienna in wars past.  It was also a rose garden and its this feature which gives rise to a characteristic of this wine.

Appearance is pale gold with hints of green, aromatic nose of lychee, peach jam with honey and hints of petrol showing. On the palate dry with high acidity, medium plus body, medium alcohol culminating in a lengthy stone fruit infusion of peach and apricot.


Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC 2016  

A fragrant and fresh young wine with a spicy fresh character. Pale gold in appearance with a dry refreshingly high acidity, medium alcohol and medium plus body with a fruit salad melange from the wider variety of grapes used. Medium finish.

Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC Bisamberg 2016

The Bisamberg soil is comprised of light, sandy loess covering massive limestone and is very calcareous. The varieties growing in this vineyard, which is approximately 40 years old,are Weissburgunder (40%), Grauburgunder (40%) and Chardonnay (20%). Appearance is pale gold with a nose of smoky grapefruit and stone fruit. Dry with high acidity, medium body and a medium plus finish.

Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC Nussberg 2015

This Wiener Gemischte Satz consists of 9 grape varieties – Weissburgunder, Neuburger, Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner, Sylvaner, Zierfandler, Rotgipfler, Traminer and Riesling. All handpicked and processed together following the careful elimination of any botrytised grapes. Fermentation in 75% cooled steel tanks and another 25% in large old oak barrels. After 10 months maturation on the fine lees the different tanks and barrels were put together and the wine was bottled.

This wine exudes a nose of complex aromas a heady cocktail of  of lemon, peach, pineapples, herbs and wild flowers. An aposite expression of Gemischter Satz whose DAC rules dictate that as a field blend all the grape varietals are grown, harvested and fermented together even though they ripen at different times! The skill of the winemaker judges the best trade off between under and over ripe fruit and produces this distinctive wine style. With an increasingly large cohort of growers adopting organic and biodynamic principles many of theses field blends see wild flowers and herbs growing alongside the vines influencing the terroir and its precious fruit as well as increasing the biodiversity of the area.

The palate dry with medium plus acidity, medium alcohol and medium plus body, primary fruit aromas follow through from the nose and are integrated and balanced with secondary aromas of butter and toast ending in a rich mouthfeel with of long finish.


Chardonnay Classic 2016

The grapes for the Chardonnay Classic 2015 are almost solely from Vienna’s Bisamberg vineyards, though some come from a small single vineyard on the Nussberg.

The wine is a very pale gold in appearance, with a nose of citrus and some stone fruit. On the palate it is dry with high acidity with medium body. Culminating in a medium plus finish the wine is drinking well now.

Chardonnay Grand Select 2015

The grapes for the Chardonnay Grand Select 2013 came exclusively from the Wiener Bisamberg, specifically from the two oldest and best Chardonnay vineyards of the winery – Ried Breiten and Ried Kritschen. For the fermentation, the juice spent a short time in stainless steel tanks and was then transferred into 60%-new and 40%-used barriques. It then spent just under 30 months in oak.

The wine is medium gold in appearance. On the nose there are notes of cedar and vanilla  with string aromas of citrus and stone fruits. The palate has notes of citrus and apricot with exotic fruits such as melon and pineapple wound in a creamy texture from the malolactic fermentation and a pleasant toasty from the batonnage.

The wine has very good balance, a lengthy finish and complexity and will undoubtedly age well. Its a great example of a very good Chardonnay.

Chardonnay Grand Select 2013

This vintage was not available for tasting and there are few bottles left for sale but we managed to secure one and tasted it the next day although I’ll include the tasting notes here for continuity.

Deep gold in appearance. Nose pronounced secondary aromas of butter and toast while still exuding the exotic flavours of pineapple and mango. On the palate the wine is dry, with medium plus acidity and full body. There is more secondary flavours of butter and toast, and primary fruits of pineapple following through from the nose, culminating in long and richly textured finish.

An excellent example of a Chardonnay and my favourite wine of the vineyard.


Pinot Noir Select 2015

Maturation in Burgundian barriques, 25% of them new. Pale ruby in appearance. Nose of  ripe red cherry with delicate spice from the new oak. On the palate dry, with medium body, medium plus acidity medium soft tannin and medium alcohol with more cherry fruit. The elegance of a Burgundian Pinot with a pure finish and good potential for development.

Wiener Trilogie 2014

The Wiener Trilogie 2014 is a blend comprised of 70% Zweigelt, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot, with the grape varieties harvested at different times. Medium ruby in appearance, this wine reveals an intense red berry nose with delicate spice from 20% exposure to oak, green pepper and cigar leaves. On the palate are more juicy, red cherry fruit notes  with gentle tannins, dry with medium plus acidity.  A great everyday day drinking wine.

St. Laurent Grand Select 2013

The wine is matured in oak barrels for up to 26 months. Dark ruby ​​garnet in appearance.  A nose of red cherry with herbs and tobacco notes. On the palate more red cherry and blackcurrant juicy fruit exudes sweetness. Dry with medium plus body and well integrated tannins also hints of tarmac as a indication of ageing.

Danubis Grand Select 2008

Danubis Grand Select 2008 consists of 50 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 40 % Merlot and 10 % Zweigelt. 30 months, barrique maturation and a further one year in bottle before release. Nose of black fruits with hints of tobacco and spice. More juicy blackberry fruits follow through on the palate giving a rich mouthfeel with firm rounded tannins.

Blown away by the combination of volume and quality of wines and the wonderful hospitality afford us we head back into the city unequivocal and unanimous in agreement that Viennese wines rock!

These wines are available in the UK from

Connolly´s Wine Merchants

Arch 13, 220 Livery Street
Birmingham. B31EU
show location Phone number: +44 12123 69269
Fax number: +44 1212 332 33

Liberty Wines Ltd

6 Timbermill Way
show location Phone number: +44 (0) 20 7819 0315
Fax number:

In Part 2 we visit Rainer Christ vineyard and look forward to sharing more Viennese delights with you.











Condrieu AOC and the Côte-Rôtie AOC on two wheels!

As the hotel prep our bikes for us we have a little time to take in this stunning view of the  Rhone adjacent to Le Beau Rivage Hotel.

River Rhone by Le Beau RivageIMG_3261

We cycle into Condrieu at a moderate pace in search of a Boulangerie. On route we compose a wish list of must visit winemakers in Condrieu and the Côte Rôtie, naively thinking our list would be complete by the end of the day!

Breakfast is a simple affair of pain au chocolat, it’s only 11:45am and we have Domaine Georges Vernay in our sights. We hurry across the road into their tasting room opposite the boulangerie and are disappointed to learn that it’s about to close for lunch and advised to return after 2pm!

We see a sign for the local Tourist Office and decide to get some intel on the other winemakers on our wish list. Schoolboy error! Most winemakers in Condrieu are taking two weeks off before the vendage!

We cut our losses and decide to venture to the Côte Rôtie. As we pedal leisurely along the car free ViaRhôna greenway we can already feel the sun burning our arms and the warm breeze from the river on our faces.

As we reach a roundabout it’s decision time! Either rejoin the busy main road to Ampuis and dodge some French HGV drivers fuelled up on their mid morning plat du jour et demi bouteille de vin or dig deep and take the quiet and almost traffic free 1 in 5 ascent to the town of Tupin-et-Semons at the top of the plateau of the Côte Rôtie.

The gears work their magic and our legs push hard on the pedals as we pass rows of vines. It’s obvious that these grapes are all tended to and harvest by hand and it helps to give some understanding of the labour intensive costs associated with these wines.


As we reach the summit we feel a mixture of exhaustion and exhilaration?


Just past the church down a little lane we spot Auberge de la Source  A welcome oasis where we hope to take lunch and rehydrate!

The restaurant has the most incredible views across the Rhône and Côte Rôtie.

We meet the delightful Lucy, one of the co-proprietors who has recently taken over the running of the Auberge. She explains that they are full as they have a block booking from a local care home, the place is packed with local pensioners tucking into traditional Lyonnaise cooking.

It’s a really heartwarming sight to see the care and respect afforded to these senior citizens who are laughing and enjoying themselves, a model of care that should be aspired too, we think!

Lucy brings us a large jug of ice cool water and we order a glass of chilled St. Joseph white and one of a Condrieu, kick back and take in the panoramic view.


We get a further boost when Lucy tells us that her partner and chef is happy to rustle up 2 Salade Niçoise during a break in service. We gratefully order and spontaeously ask for the wine list! After all it is our wedding anniversary and for once neither of us is driving!

We order a stunning Condrieu Maison Christophe Pichon 2016
It’s pale gold in appearance with a medium plus intensity on the nose of white peach, wet stones and white blossom. On the nose it’s dry, with medium acidity, a full body, high alcohol with fresh apricot notes and high turpines. Ending on a very long finish with a full and pleasing mouthfeel. This Condrieu is youthful at present drinking well now with good balance and length with is great!  It’s also showing enough intensity and complexity to keep you coming back for more. An outstanding wine.

We descend down the Côte Rôtie and head towards the river to pick up the ViaRhôna once again.

Cote Rotie vineyards near Tupin-et-Semons

Passing a vista of terraces planted with Syrah and a smattering of Viognier. A combination of the topography and the effects of the Mistral necessitating  different forms of viticulture as seen below. Bottom left bush vines free standing whilst bottom right they are tied at the top for resilience and support against the winds!


Standing majestically just a few metres from the river is the iconic Domaine E. Guigal


We arrive back in Condrieu in time for a visit to the legendary Domaine Georges Vernay . Georges is long retired and his daughter, Christine, is now running the Domaine and expanding its range to major in both reds as well as the historic whites, her father’s legacy. It’s incredible that there were 170 hectares under the AOC when granted in 1940.

By the 1950s there were just 6 hectares left with many producers giving up on the back breaking and labour intensive terraced viticulture that is a central feature of this AOC. At a time when his neighbours were pulling back Georges showed commitment and dedication to the terroir by clearing land on the slopes of the Coteau du Vernon of dense acacia and oak to plant a further acre! Today Christine has 22 hectares under viticulture all organically farmed.


Inside the tasting room we opt to taste a range of wines.

Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes
Viognier: Pied de Samson 2016

Made from 100% Viognier but grown just above the 300m upper altitude limit of the Condrieu AOC and so classified as an IGP.  Fermented and matured in stainless steel, this wine is pale gold and made in a light style of Condrieu with lots of fresh stone fruit aromas of peach and apricot. It has medium plus acidity and medium to light medium alcohol with a medium finish.

Les Terrasses de L’empire Condrieu 2016

Classic nose of stone fruits all apricot and white peach with a hint of almond. Following through on the palate with medium body and medium plus acidity. Drinking well now with 2/4 years ageing potential. Fermented and matured in oak foudré for a richer style of Condrieu.

Les Chailles de L’Enfer Condrieu 2014

A Condrieu made in a style for ageing. Palate aromas of yellow fruit, especially ripe apricot more than white stone fruit but with a balanced background minerality. Medium plus body with medium acidity and long refined finish. A great wine that is delicately balanced with refined length and superb balance and complexity.

Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah: Fleurs du Mai 2016
Made from 100% Syrah but grown just above the 300m upper altitude limit of the Côte Rôtie AOC and so classified as an IGP.  Matured for 6 months in old wood barrels. Aromas of red cherry and tar secondary aromas on the nose with a purple/ruby appearance. Nose aromas continue on the palate with medium plus tannin and medium plus acidity. Drinking well now but will continue to improve over the next 4/5 years.

2015 Cote Rotie Blonde du Seigneur
A blend of 95% Syrah, 5% Viognier.Matured in 25% new oak barrel.
Medium purple appearance, jammy black currant nose with notes of toast and tar from secondary aromas. On the palate, dry with medium plus tannin, medium plus body, medium alcohol, medium plus acidity and long finish. A classic style for this AOC with great balance length, intensity and complexity, a little young now and will age for another 15 years or so.
After our boozy tasting we cycle back to the hotel, drop off our bottles and pick up our swim things for a dip in the municipal Lido on the other side of the river.

Here I fall foul of the Lido police who inset that my swimming shorts are too long and prohibit me from taking a refreshing dip in the pool. I fall on the mercy of the changing room attendant who passes me a pair of speedo trunks as my passport to the pool! With no options left I take the trunks and make for the pool. It’s so worth it! The pool is clean and refreshing and the perfect way to cool down after and cycling adventure.

With our body temperatures back to normal we cycle back to the hotel and turn around quickly. It’s a gorgeous evening and the restaurant manager decides to host service in the gardens by the river.

Knowing that it’s our wedding anniversary Julian has reserved us the best table in the garden right next to the still waters of the Rhône.


Julian naturally recommends us a stunning Condrieu made in a style to perfectly accompany the pork filet mignon with a mustard sauce. The grapes for this wine are grown on terroir that is adjacent to the Chateau-Grillet AOC, the most prestigious in the Condrieu area but at prices out of my league.


Condrieu Coteau du Chery 2015 Andre Perret
This wine is medium gold in appearance, with a medium plus intensity of peach and smokiness from partial oak. It is developing in character. On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, high alcohol and a full bodied rounded rich mouthfeel with aromas of apricot and toasted cedar and a long lingering finish. In assesment there is balance in harmony with a great length, and intensity with complex flavours evolving. A great wine drinking well now and with some further ageing potential of a few years.

The richness of this style of Condrieu is perfect to balance the rich flavours of the pork and mustard main course.

We were so enchanted by the Apricot dessert from the tasting menu the night before that we reorder the same again along with a another glass of Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise.  To our surprise they put their own signature finish to the dish wishing us both a Happy Anniversary! A really lovely touch to bring a perfect day to its close!


With the moon working its magic on the river we stroll back to our room after another amazing day!

Chateaux, Abbeys Stellar Food and Wine, Wine, Wine!

An intense azure blue sky is the opposite to what we saw the day before as we take in our last breakfast at the Chateau de Courban before hitting the road.

Most of the time, when on tour we take a room only so we can experience the delights of the local boulangerie but in Courban it's not really an option as the nearest one is a good five miles away and anyway it's an excuse to indulge in their delicious breakfast buffet! For me the toasted brioche with homemade apricot jam was irresistible.

As we loaded up the car we decided to take a small detour to the UNESCO World Heritage site, Fontenay Abbey, a decision we would later congratulate ourselves on!

At the centre of Châtillon-sur-Seine we pass this lovely fountain, one of many around the town.

We leave the the bustling town behind us and wind our way out into the beautiful rolling Burgundian hills. A landscape that is a riot of shades of green pastures dotted with the unmistakeable creamy white whisps of Charolais cows! The soothing brogue of Hugh Bonneville on Desert Island Disks is our soundtrack, it's the perfect fusion of the senses to instil peace and a sense of calm.

Arriving at Fontenay we estimate a quick pit stop but are unprepared for the sheer wonder of the place.

Founded in 1118 by Saint Bernard it is one of the oldest Cistercian abbeys. The industrious monks cleared a swamp that was here and dried the land to build the abbey and its surrounding buildings. The abbey was wealthy from 12th Century to the 15th Century with a community of more than two hundred monks.

The abbey owned a huge estate which was cultivated and farmed by the monks they even used their engineering prowess to create a novel forge, the first of its kind in Europe. By the 16th Century the abbey started to decline partly as the abbots became appointed by the King!

By the time of the French Revolution there were only twelve monks left. In 1790 the abbey was sold as state property and bought in 1820 by Elie de Montgolfier, a descendant of the famous pioneers of hot air balloon flight. He transformed the abbey into a paper mill. In 1906 Edouard Aynard, a wealthy financier and art collector bought the abbey back from his father in law, Raymond de Montgolfier.

He rescued the former abbey, transforming it from an industrial site and restoring the buildings to their original architectural beauty. The abbey remains in the family's ownership today and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Fontenay Panoramic Views 1

Fontenay Panoramic Views 2

Completely wowed by Fontenay we head off with a taste for a little more Burgundian architectural splendour and in search of the King of Burgundian cheeses, Epoisse!

Sadly the dairy which offers five different iterations of this strong and creamy Marc washed cheese was closed as was the local gourmand food store opposite the castle so we settled on a brisk walk around the inside of the castle, which is a perfectly preserved example of a double moated castle.

At the ticket office was a young French student combining his weekend job with some flute practice and this was the result!

Live flute at Epoisse

The temperature was rising and as we raced down the autoroute towards Beaujolais our next pit stop, we decided on an unscheduled stop just outside Beaune to take a dip in the natural outdoor lido!

Refreshed and refuelled with the leftovers of the previous night's picnic we continued towards Beaujolais. We wanted to be in Condrieu before 7pm and thinking that as it was a Sunday afternoon most cellars would be closed we just plucked a lesser known Cru as a wild card on the off chance somewhere would be open.

Julienas rewarded us with the local producers association PR centre being open. Housed in a former church and also used as an education centre on the wines of Julienas they also offered tastings! Here's the results!

The terroir of Julienas is granite and shale with clay veins.

Julienas 2013 Red; Medium ruby red in appearance, developing wine with a raspberry nose. More red fruit on the palate in the form of red cherry, dry with light tannin, medium alcohol, medium body and a long finish.

Julienas 2014 Red: Medium ruby red appearance again with a nose of Parma violets and red cherry with more of these flavours coming through on the palate. Dry, with medium tannin, medium alcohol, medium body and a medium plus finish.

Julienas 2015 Red: As predicted medium Ruby appearance, with a nose of bubblegum from the carbonic maceration. On the palate, dry with light tannin, medium alcohol and body lots of red cherry fruit and a medium plus finish. Developing and would benefit from keeping longer although drinking well now if you prefer a lighter, fruitier style.

Julienas 2016 White: Pale lemon in appearance. On the nose, white flowers, green apple and a hint of lemon. No oak. On the palate, dry, with medium plus alcohol and medium plus body, medium plus acidity and a medium plus finish. Aromas of apricot, peach and hints of tropical fruit. A surprising 100% Chardonnay Beaujolais which makes up less than 3% of total grapes grown in the Julienas AOC.

Julienas 2015 Red Oaked: Medium ruby red in appearance with red fruit, red cherry nose. On the palate, light sour red cherry aromas, like a cherry yoghurt. Dry, medium tannin, medium alcohol, light body, medium plus finish.

We arrive at the Le Beau Rivage before sunset in time for a quick change before dinner. Then a leisurely stroll along the Rhone before we drink a glass of Condrieu in Condrieu while studying the extensive wine list and menu as the sun goes down.

We are looked after by the charming Julian whose knowledge of wines is incredible we think he must be the sommelier and are surprised that he is not! We go for the turbot to share which we thought is a classic Condrieu pairing and our guided by Julian to the sublime 2014 Pierre Gaillard L'Octroi.

Dinner is a triumph of great food as much as great wines to match!

2014 Pierre Gaillard L'Octroi Condrieu

Pale gold in appearance with medium plus intensity on the nose of white peach and honeysuckle. A developing wine which is dry, with medium plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium plus body and a rich intensity of more stone fruits apricot and peach with background refreshing minerality. This is a beautifully balanced wine with a long lingering finish and seamlessly integrated components that are both intensely rich and complex. It is drinking well now and is an outstanding example of a fresh unoaked Condrieu.

The Turbot is amazing. Grilled whole and served by Julian at the table. It is perfectly cooked and is succulent and rich in flavour accompanied by a perfect hollandaise.

Whilst perusing the dessert menu we get food envy seeing the dessert from the tasting menu go to an adjacent table and twist Julian's arm to see if we can have that! Chef agrees and we are excited!

The dessert is a sorbet of apricot with pistachios granules and an apricot sugar dome covering an apricot and rosemary mousse sitting on poached apricots on a dark chocolate square. It's a riot of stone fruits with lots of sweet and sour/acid flavours going on and an incredible dessert which looks spectacular.

Dessert is classicly paired with a Beaumes-de-Venise and followed with coffee and an incredible selection of chocolates from the nearby house of Valrhona.

Dinner is rounded off with a Marc from Maison M.Chapoutier after dinner we take a romantic moonlight stroll along the Rhone.

Its the perfect end to another perfect day.

The Great Sicilian Escape

I’ve been anticipating this trip for several months. A country that’s as rich in its cultural heritage whether that be Greek, Roman or Phoenician as it is in its food and wine whether that be the searing acidity of those legendary Sicilan lemons or the sweetness of their ricotta filled pastries.Leaving a cold and damp Gatwick behind us on a Friday, our first surprise was an upgrade on our car from the charming Simona at Avis Preferred. Within an hour we arrived at the majestic Belmont Villa Sant’Andrea our base for the next 4 days. Set like a jewel into the rocks with an adorning landscaped garden giving way to breathtaking views of the ocean, its not hard to see why this is the hottest ticket in Taormina!

Receiving the warmest of Sicilian welcomes from La Bella Leah on reception we check into our room to be wowed with this view.

A nice touch was a welcome note from the General Manager with complimentary pastries.

After a quick dip in the chilly waters of the Med we headed round to the cove by the picturesque Isola Bella. There we found a beach restaurant, Ristorante La Pizzichella, with a deck which the incoming tide was lapping.

The perfect location we thought for pre dinner Negronis!

The first 2 were sooo good the words Ancora Negroni! Just tripped off our lips!

Such an idyllic location with the water lapping at our toes, it was hard to be beat so we just caught last orders at 19:45 for the kitchen and ordered the chef special,  swordfish linguini. Rounded off with a sublime bottle of Vignavella Chardonnay. Hints of oak and a dry acidity this was delicious although the Negronis impaired my memory any further.

As we strolled back up the steps from the beach we felt a craving for something sweet to finish off! We found a delightful bar and Gelateria, Ai Paladini Cafe, a few metres down the road and fed our cravings with a selection of chocolate and pistachio pastries accompanied of course by some sweet nectar like Sicilian dessert wines.

As we ordered il conto the waiter brought us a local speciality of pistachio cream liquor which was something you could easily get addicted to!

Less than 24 hours in Sicily and we had already fallen in love with the island!


Unspoilt Quiet Beaches, Wine Tasting and a Killer Sunset – Another Day in the Paradise that is Maremma!

After a first full day in the paradise that is the Maremma, we wonder what day two would hold in store for us.

We had already researched that we could join a guided trek in English through the wilderness that is the Maremma National Park at 9am that morning. So we make an early start, leaving behind us Porto Santo Stefano, already bustling with life, its marina awash with daytrippers ready to board the shuttle service to Isola del Giglio.

We arrive in the sleepy village of Alberese just before 9am and make our way to the Tourist Information Centre to book ourselves onto the trek.

To our surprise we find that the English tour was the next day and that the Italian tour that day didn’t start until 10am!

Undeterred by this seemingly large setback we decide to take a flyer on the Italian tour with my limited knowledge of spoken Italian our restricted audio guide!

With an hour to spare before the tour begins we head over to a little cafe bar opposite, where we order two doppios and two large glasses of iced water and settle down in a shady spot to take refuge from the already searing heat with our holiday reading for amusement.

At five to ten the transfer bus rolls up with our guide who to our relief speaks some English and was an Ecologist from the University of Pisa.

Within 15 minutes we are in the thick of the park with wild boars and deer visible from the bus as we drive to the drop off.

The Maremma is one of the last great unspoilt ecosystems in Italy. Its biodiversity and beauty fiercely protected by controlled entry. Access to the park by vehicle is restricted to guided tours and these are limited to just a few a day.

One of the commonest trees indigenous to the park is the Mediterranean Oak which has evolved so that it can survive drought. Unlike our native English Oak it is an evergreen and is characterised by hard small green leaves. When thriving en masse like in the park it gives the hills and mountains an intense green colour that contrasts against the azure blue sky.


Droughts here can be extreme, exacerbated by the permeability of the limestone rock which causes the winter rains to rapidly drain away.

The only sound we hear is the faint swish of waves lapping the shore below and a few odd cicadas at the end of their season, this is in contrast to late spring and early summer when their chorus of mariachi can be deafening.

All along the Maremma coast there is a series of defensive towers a relic of the sixteenth century when this area was prone to raids by Saracen pirates


A rich canvas of olive green hues leads out to the turquoise sea, beyond which the islands of Elba, Montecristo and even the faint outline of Corsica creep along the horizon.

The Maremma is also home to the Maremmana longhorned breed of cattle which can be traced back to the Etruscan period. After a period of population decline it has reasserted itself, thriving in the harsh environment of the Maremma.


We descend down through the rocky path onto a huge expanse of wild beach, completely unspoilt and with just a handful of people sprinkled across the shoreline. Our guide advises us we have twenty minutes to take a refreshing dip before the short hike back to our bus so we take full advantage of this tranquil paradise.


We work up quite an appetite during our morning hike  and decide to head to the recommended nearby Osteria La Nuova Dispensa.

The recommendation is insightful! We sit in the shade under a pergola our table covered in a rustic style patterned cloth.

Highlights on the menu are the local charcuterie with cheeses and beef T-bone cooked Florentine style.


We opt for both! The starter is a mix of spicy wild boar salami, strong flavoured capo collo and a silky prosciutto Umbria with strong umami. A glass of Maremma Sangiovese from the nearby Santa Lucia vineyard  accentuates the flavours even further. A crumbly pecorino cheese is served with wild honey from a local bee keeper.


The main course arrives with a simple garnish,it’s a full on fest of rare cooked meat on the bone simply flavoured with salt and pepper.

Our bellies full we head off in search of the Santa Lucia vineyard. Located near Grosseto it’s a fairly modern affair with a tasting room located in a large bungalow style building at the heart of the estate.


We had the opportunity to taste 3 wines:

Brigante: 100% Vermentino.

Betto: A Super Tuscan comprising Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Sour cherries balanced with sweetness of the Merlot to produce a great example.

Santa Lucia: 100% Ansonica. A great expression of the local varietal that is crisp with a steely minerality and aromatic nose.

We arrive back at Cala Piccola in time to catch the last shuttle down to the little cove at the foot of the hotel.


As the mountains start to shade the falling evening sun we indulge in some open water swimming in the warm clear turquoise waters and for a finale sip on some ice cold tequila sunrises!

Before dinner we are treated to one of the most dramatic sunsets we have ever witnessed.


As we sip our pre dinner drinks on our balcony the sun finally slips behind the distant Isola di Giglio and a cooling sea breeze blows in as we descend into darkness.


Dinner is a simpler affair this evening after our meatfest for lunch.

Emilano, the sommelier again delivers a perfect recommendation:  Vini Montauto Enos I, DOC Maremma Toscana. A wine made by one of Tuscany’s new generation of winemakers who are reinvigorating their family owned vineyards with new enthusiasm for producing stunning wines that really express the terroir in which they are grown.

Exhibiting a classic nose of Sauvignon Blanc with gooseberry, fresh grass and Granny Smith, a great balance of acidity and minerality with notes of white fruits, herbs, apple and star fruit rounded with a long finish and perfect with the light summer pasta.


An appetiser of anchovy and buffalo mozzarella is very light, sourced directly from the farmer and served in a slightly quirky style. Nonetheless the saltiness of the anchovy balances nicely with the rich cream of the mozzarella!



Our main course is macaroni with a mirepoix of carrot, aubergine and bacon bound in a light pea velouté. The silky yet fresh execution of this dish sings a ballad of summer with every mouthful.


We are again seduced by the Valrhona chocolate dome with passion fruit ganache and dried fruit crumbs. As spectacular in its delivery as it was the night before!


Notching up the ante just a little Emilano our sommelier recommends one of my favourite dessert wines the rare Passito Pantelleria from the tiny Italian island that is closer to Africa than Italy!

Its a heady fusion of honey and honeycomb which is a rich golden colour, with a palette of rich marmalade.


With our second day in paradise drawing to a close we take a stroll around the gardens of the hotel serenaded by cicadas!


Seaviews, Sublime Wines, Sunshine & Stunning Sunsets and a Gourmet Dinner; Is It a Dream or Are We In Paradise?

The long journey down from Lake Como had really wiped us out so there was no chance that we were going to see the sunrise over the Tyrrhenian Sea! When we did eventually wake up we were in awe at the stunning views from our room.


The room was really well appointed inside too with a large bathroom comprising of a walk in shower, deep bath and his/her twin sinks.

Our decadent lie in precipated a quick turnaround if we were going to make breakfast which finished around 10:30am.

We made our way down to the restaurant which afforded similar views of the cove below to our bedroom but with the added benefit of parasols to shade you from the increasing burn factor of the sun.

Breakfast was a feast in itself! We were given a table at the edge of the restaurant with one of the best views by the charming Alessandro. Then its was down to the serious business of making some tough decisions about the buffet.

For me a no brainer, salty prosciutto and sweet melon, toasted sesame bread with local cheeses and honey rounded off with the obligatory double espresso!

As we breakfasted with the azure blue sky and olive green pine trees providing a natural wallpaper behind us our thought turned to how we were going to spend our next four days in paradise.

I’d already researched that there was as interesting Antinori coastal vineyard near Castiglione della Pescaia and we thought the coastal town itself would be worth a punt. Chatting with the guest relations team we also discovered a guided walk in the nearby Maremma national park and the thermal springs at Saturnia were a must.

I phoned Le Mortelle, the Antinori vineyard only to discover that the only English speaking tour was on Saturday, the day that we had booked to do the national park walk. We decided to head down towards Castiglione della Pescaia anyway and do a drive by if the vineyard was on the route!

As luck would have it as we neared Castiglione dell Pescaia we picked up some tourist signs  for Le Mortelle (Antinori vineyard).

As we drove down the dusty track to the tenuta (estate) it was flanked by rows of vineyards.

Le Mortelle Vineyards

On arrival we were met by the charming Barbara who explained that although the full English tour was as we knew the next day she could do a personal tasting of their wines for us!


The estate covers a huge 270 hectares of which 160 are planted with grape vines. There are also 15 hectares of organic fruit orchards. The two main varietals planted are Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Recently they have also begun to cultivate white varietals such as the local Ansonica, Vermintino and Viognier.

It’s also remarkable for it’s commitment to sustainability, with the design of the cellars underground on a system of levels to allow  production “by falling”. The grapes arrive at the upper level  with the vinification process continued on the middle level and the ageing on the lowest level before the wine is ready for sale.

The cellars are lit by lateral openings in the ceiling and a huge one at the top of a helical winding staircase which connects all the levels.

After an introduction to the estate it was down to the tasting. This took place outside on the terrace with stunning views over the terroir.


2014 Vivia – Maremma Toscana

Using the typical Tuscan varietals of Ansonica and Vermentino with Viognier added after years of experimentation to find a suitable aromatic varietal to balance the blend. The result is light pale straw coloured wine, with a nose of stone fruits , white blossom and candied pineapple. On the palette, white pepper and spice with peach with fresh acidity. A fat and full flavoured wine with a smooth finish. Ansonica whether in a blend or on its own should usually be drunk young.

2013 Botrosecco – Maremma Toscana

Taking its name from a now long dried out ancient moat on the estate this blend is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon with 40% Cabernet Franc for balance. Notes of vanilla on the nose from the oak barriques, fruity aromas when mixed with the vanilla reminiscent of blackberry crumble. A dark cherry colour with a fuller finish. Still some tannins, pepper, star anise and spice on the palette.

2012 Poggio Alle Nane – Maremma Toscana 

The premium blend from this estate. 80% Cabernet Franc with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. the terroir and microclimate of where these grapes are grown on the state yield the highest potential on the estate for fine wine.

A nose of tar and cherry, intense blackcurrant fruit and peppery spice on the palette with soft tannins and a full long finish with complex flavours. Would be an ideal partner for bistecca fiorentina. 

Barbara also arranged for me to taste 2 other wines which are produced only for sale at the estate.

Rosé Mortelle

A dark rose colour with a nose of cherry boiled sweets, continuing onto the palette. A full dry finish with rose hip acidity and freshness. Would be a great as an aperitif or with canapés.

Roso Mortelle

Made with 100% Sangiovese , this had notes of black cherry on the nose with a light fruity style on the palette and a hint of young slightly spicy morello cherries. The finish was short. Drinking young as an everyday wine with charcuterie, pizza etc…

The final tasting treat was an Eau de vie made from organic plums. A whopping 42% Alc, a strong clear spirit with a background flavour of plum. Unusual and one that I felt compelled to purchase.

Distillato di Susine – Le Mortelle


This was one of the most scenic estates for a tasting on the whole tour.

Panoramic view of Le Mortelle vineyard from my tasting seat!

Laden with our purchases and some tasty produce from the organic farm shop we made our way back down to the coast. Our energy levels slightly sapped by the heat of the Tuscan sun we found some cheap parking just a few hundred yards from the public beach in Castiglione dell Pescaia.


Taking a dip in the warm but still refreshing waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea we cooled down sufficiently before heading back to Monte Argentario and our hotel at Cala Piccola.

That evening we decided to dine al fresco in the hotel restaurant. Their chef, the very talented Salvatore Cioce had a 5 course tasting menu on offer, it looked to go to miss!

Taking pre dinner drinks on the terrace of our room before sunset we were anticipating a gourmet evening ahead of us.


Although by the time we sat down to dinner the sun had set it was still magical to be eating under the moon and stars.

We turned out attention to the menu and without hesitation plunged into the 5 course course tasting menu that had caught our attention earlier in the day.

Whilst salivating over the menu the sommelier, the charming Emiliano Leuti, recommended us this stunning wine from the Friuli Venezia Giulia region. A Vintage Tunina Bianco 2013. Made from Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana, Picolit grapes. This is a fantastic blend. Brilliant straw-yellow colour with golden highlights. On the nose the aromatics hit you with elegant notes of honey and wild flowers. On the palette, Its taste is dry, velvety, and complex with fat flavours of quince and lychee and a hint of mandarin, ending on a rounded and long finish. Still relatively young but with definitely another 5 years in the tank! This is also a very versatile wine that was perfect for the tasting menu and its range of big flavours!


The Amuse Bouche set the standard for the gastronomy that followed. A Buffalo cream ricotta cheese with black pepper and light and crispy crostini. The ricotta was light and velvety in texture yet rich in flavour.


Following on; the next course was scallops wrapped in pancetta in hazelnut butter with apple jelly and spinach foils. The scallops were sweet and cooked to perfection and lifted to heady heights by the sweet mango sauce.


Canteloupe melon gazpacho with whole langoustine lightly marinated in citrus fruits with mandarin flavoured mayonnaise. Beautifully decorated with wild flowers! My first ever melon gazpacho which balanced perfectly the sweetnesses of the soup with the saltiness of seafood.


Veronese Vialone Nano risotto with local squid, salmon caviar and sepia powder. Visually stunning and theatre in itself,  this dish contained concentrated seafood flavours, rich and al dente risotto with a dusting of squid ink for show!


Monkfish fillet in panchetta on crovarelle potato cream and crustacean bisque. A classic combination, well executed and cooked to perfection.


Valrhona chocolate dome with passion fruit ganache and dried fruit crumbs. The last course and definitely a show stopper! The king of chocolates used creatively for a chocolate boat with passion fruit cream and then as a chocolate carpet to bind together fresh seasonal fruits and toasted sweet biscuit! Absolutely sensational. Emiliano also wanted to make sure this triumph had its own special partner and so recommend a lovely slightly sparkling red from Montalcino.


The Rosa Regale Brachetto D’Acqui from the famous Banfi house in Montalcino was the perfect partner to the chocolate fest; almost like a sweet low alcohol (7%) sparkling cherry cordial! Delicious.image

We strolled back from the restaurant taking a post dessert espresso on the  terrace listening to the sounds of waves crashing onto the rocks before we headed off to bed.













Tremezzo to Tuscany – A Food Lovers Autoroute 

It would be really remiss of me not to wax just a little lyrical about how wonderful it was to return to Hotel La Perla in Tremezzo. The twin sisters Clelia and Mara who run this place with their husbands, Sergio and Luca are justifiably proud of their many awards and accolades from Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence to other commendations.

They work tirelessly and with great humour to make your stay so special and comfortable whilst maintaining really high standards of cleanliness and comfort. The rooms are really well appointed and since our last stay 4 years ago have all been refurbished, another good sign of a hotel run not just for profit but for the benefit of its guests!


We enjoyed a last morning coffee and spectacular view from our balcony (always worth paying a little extra for the view!) before grabbing a quick swim in the pool before breakfast.


The pool was always a great place to cool off at the end of the day with plenty of sun loungers and a plentiful supply of towels!

The Hotel La Perla has the added advantage of being located about 2o mins walk from the lake so that it is also incredibly quiet unlike the many period hotels that adorn the lakeside but have to constantly compete with the hustle and bustle of the traffic!

After enjoying the spectacular view from the terrace over breakfast one last time……


we loaded up the car and settled our bill before having a group photo with the our hosts!


L-R ( Sergio, Clelia, Tim, Mara, Luca)

Whilst Gillian was taking this photo Luca remarked that we’d back in time for the Olympics in 4 years! ( the 2012 London Olympics were taking place when we last stayed there and the Rio Olympics were in full glow this time!).

As we bade farewell to the Lago di Como we joined the autostrada to Milan. I was somewhat slightly troubled by the AdBlue warning light flashing on the dashboard and so we stopped off at a large service area just west of Milan to seek assistance.

With my very limited Italian I managed to converse with the kiosk attendant and get a 5 litre carton of the fuel additive along with a watering can and a large funnel! With the car refuelled and the AdBlue sorted we were back on the road and heading to Parma our next stop. My attention turned to blogging and as I fired up the iPad and we tore along the autostrada words started flowing out of me like extra virgin olive oil from a press!

This was always going to be one of our longest drives of the tour at 350 miles and so we decided to schedule in several stops. As we headed along the E35 towards Parma we crossed the iconic Po river its vast banks flanked by fields of the legendary Arborio rice! It really got me thinking about risotto! However, we decided that our first shop should be a picnic lunch in Parma, arguably one of the must visit food stops in Emilia-Romagna. 

In our minds we were already salivating over crumbly and intense parmesan cheese, gossamer thin slices of prosciutto di parma and light and doughy focaccia!

After extracting ourselves from a near miss courtesy of driving the wrong way down a one way street we parked in a multistory just fifteen minutes walk from the old town.

As we strolled down the Via Garibaldi we were struck by the sheer number and choice of delicatessen. We opted for La Verdi. What a  a place!

imageParmesan wheels stacked up on wooden shelves, a legion of hams of every kind of age hanging to tantalise the purchaser!

We opted for just a standard aged parmesan and a 12 month aged prosciutto di parma. A little further down the Via Garibaldi we came across a bakery whose speciality was foccacia!

Armed with our purchases we crossed the Via Garibaldi and sat by some fountains to have our picnic.


with this stunning panorama as our backdrop

Parma Panorama 360

We figured that we had just enough time to take in some of the stunning Parmesan architecture before hitting the road again.


Back on the road we headed to Bologna. However, we made a schoolboy error and hadn’t properly researched our next stop! We spent an hour or so wondering around the central station area in search of the perfect Ragù but found nothing!

Disappointed we pushed on in the direction of Florence by passing the city but remembering our last visit here also 4 years ago as we saw the impressive Duomo towering over the city.

If ever you are minded to drive to the Tuscan coast make sure that you factor in the appalling nature of the road network!  The last 2 hours of our journey were tortuous in every sense of the word. Despite great views of the Tuscan vineyards we encountered worse roadworks than on the M1 “smart motorway” back home and 40mph speed restrictions!

Slightly short tempered and with a sense of humour stretched we eventually arrived on the  Monte Argentario peninsula just before 7pm. We passed through the little port of Porto Santo Stefano before the road wound it’s way up round the mountain and then down the other side to our hotel the stunning Hotel Torre di Cala Piccola.

After check in we were shown to our room. It had to be the best room in the hotel! Views towards the beach on one side and views towards Isola del Giglio on the other and the perfect place to catch the evening sunsets which were without a doubt a highlight of the 5 days we stayed there!


Feeling slightly grubby from our drive and just wanting to chill we opted for room service; a bottle of the local Sangiovese wine, A tagliatelle with wild boar ragù ( as compensation for missing out in Bologna!) and a Caprese salad! Sitting on the balcony with the sound of the waves lapping against the rocks below it was pretty much the perfect dinner location and the food probably one of the best room service meals we’ve ever had!








Hiking, Swimming and Eating – The Best of Lake Como

The summer weather on the Italian lakes can be quite unpredictable with the searing heat causing dramatic thunderstorms to blow up. Today was no exception with one forecasted for around 4pm.

We breakfasted like kings on the terrace with a traditional Italian spread of local cheeses, hams, pastries and jams all washed down with a large dose of espresso! Made all the more dramatic against a backdrop of bells peeling from a nearby church.

Lake Como with Church Bell Soundtrack

Deciding to maximise our day and beat the storm we packed our rucksack and headed off on the “Greenway del Lario” a 10km trail that takes you between Lake Como and the many villages behind away from the busy main road between Colonno and Cadennabia.

We joined the trail just a distance from our hotel in the village of Susino. Here we were afforded stunning views of the lake and this striking church.


We pressed on through Azzano before descending down to the lake from Mezzegra, pausing for a few moments to take in this view towards the Lido di Lenno.


As the path weaved through a few lanes and brought us right onto to the lakeside the heat of the morning sun was becoming intense. Just before the San Giorgio Hotel there was a little beach and so we decided to take a refreshing dip with a little open water swimming to cool off.

We then headed off to the bustling lakeside town of Lenno which is one of the stopping points for the many ferry boats which are the essential mode of transport for travelling round Lake Como.

Jostling our way through the crowds at the busy Tuesday street market we soaked up the atmosphere by the little marina and admiring the view towards the Villa Balbianello.

imageA closer view shows the stunning opulence of these lakeside villas with  contrasting shades of terracotta, probably the holiday home of some A lister or millionaire!


We headed back up through the market to pick up the Greenway again and as we did we heard “Bonjour” and not “Buongiorno”. It was our new found French friends Laurence and Rèmy and their families out exploring in Lenno! With a  “Bonne journée” we left them and continued on into Lenno to pick up the trail.

In Lenno we found a real gem. “La Cantina Vini Sfusi di Lenno”, or bulk wine cellar in English!image

Here you bring along your container and they fill it straight from these steel tanks at €2.20 per litre! We tried the Bonarda which was surprisingly drinkable for an everyday table wine!

They also sell lots of high end Italian wines and spirits too. We had hoped to go to one of the legendary Valtellina vineyards Pelizatti Perego, but having phoned Isabella one of the winemakers that morning she apologised that no one was available and advised me to book in advance for our next trip. As a comprise for not getting to Valtellina we decided to splash out on a bottle of the Passito style red wine that this region is famed for.

Sfursat di Valtellina, one of the two DOCG in Valtellina, is a dry red wine made by drying grapes in much the same way as in Amarone, the grapes being dried out in specially vented cellars before pressing, the wine is aged for a minimum of 18 months, with the key grape variety being Chiavennasca  (The local name for Nebbiolo), DOCG rules dictate at least 90% Nebbiolo in the blend.

Scanning the shelves in the Cantina we spotted one bottle of this treasured beauty left. We made our purchase and asked the owner which Valtellina foods would accompany this best. The answer came local aged Braesola, and any good local hard cheeses such as Bitto or Casera. With this crucial information carefully written down we continued along the Greenway trail.


Just past Lenno, sauntering along the Greenway we passed a convent with a cobbled path on the opposite side going down to the lake. A chain cordoning the access off was down so we took this as in invitation to swim in this idyllic spot above.

Quiet and secluded away from the bustle of Lenno it was only as we swam out to the white buoy in the middle that we noticed a sign saying “Privado” ! At this point we took our chances and continue with our swim with no adverse consequences.

imageOut of the water and continuing back on the trail it took us past the stunning if not lesser known Villa Balbiano, where we paused to admire the perfect symmetry of the gardens.

Noticing that the weather was on the turn and anticipating the storm’s earlier arrival we doubled back along the route towards Lenno before we got to Colonno arriving just in time to pick up the shuttle boat to Tremezzo which took us a mere 10 mins.

imageBack at the hotel we jumped in the car to head down to the nearby village of Mezzegra to use the local laundrette and to buy our essential Valtellina cheeses for our locally themed picnic dinner.

As we arrived in Mezzegra the heavens opened and the streets became awash with raging torrents of water. We sat for a while sheltering in the car before making a run for it to the nearby laundrette . Whilst trying to figure out the operating instructions we met another couple in there who offered assistance.

Andy was a Swiss-German architect and his partner was a German neurologist. As our respective loads spun through their 35 minute cycle we chatted partly in German, partly in English.

They told me they had a boat on the lake. It turned out that is was more than just a boat! A magnificent 35 foot hand built Tuillo Abate powerboat which was moored nearby. Fast boats were Andy’s passion and we learnt a little of the history of Tuillo Abate whose shipyard was in the village of Mezzegra.

We all remarked it was like one of those random meetings in a movie where strangers connect and chat like old friends!

As the dryer finished its cycle we headed off the the little deli opposite to buy our cheese and then made our way back to Hotel La Perla in Tremezzo.

As we got ready for dinner the storm clouds started to lift, so we cracked open the 1999 Louise Brison champagne and enjoyed our aperitif on our balcony.


We had planned to picnic on the balcony, however Clilia and Mara were having none of it! Instead, as their “snackbar” was closed they offered us the use of the main hotel terrace, put us out plates and crockery and some really lovely Bordeaux style wine glasses! It really was a very special picnic!

The freshest local ingredients; The Braesola was strongly flavoured from months of maturation seasoned with the fresh peppery rocket and offset with sweet plum tomatoes.


The Sfursat was exceptional! A nose of plum, damson and chocolate. Really soft tannins, a dry long lingering finish with violets and damsons. It was the perfect partner to the local cheeses and Braesola. There’s always something really special about enjoying wine and food that are coterminous with the same terroir!

imageimageThe cheeses were pretty exceptional too especially the Casera with its hard, texture and intense mature flavour!

During dinner we had the added spectacle of the seeing the sunset again over the pink tipped mountain tops and as the terrace became enveloped in darkness, we looked out across the sparkling lights of the lakeside villages and decided to head back to our room in anticipation of a long drive the next day!

We were just about to crash out when there was a knock at the door; We’d forgotten that we had promised to meet our new found French friends for a final Grappa on the terrace! Again entering into the Entente Cordiale spirit and banishing those Brexit demons we joined Rèmy and Laurence on the terrace for a final Grappa and late night conversation!image

Three Languages, Two Countries, One Amazing Adventure!

Although my working life is very science based, I was fortunate enough to study both French and German to A Level. My Italian is poor but on this trip I learnt a lot more than the usual Buonjourno or Grazie Mille!

I can’t think of the last time that I had the opportunity to speak all three of these languages in one day! Today was to be the exception! Waking again to the sound of water crashing over the Giessbach Falls and sunlight streaming into our room we needed little other motivation to test the outdoor biodynamic swimming pool.

“Guten Morgen, wie gethts ? ” I said to the receptionist on the way to the pool. I’d spotted this unusual pool, the day before and was curious about it. As we walked the short distance to the pool we could already feel the alpine sun burning our faces.

The pool is completely chemical free and to my surprise our swimming companions turned out to be newts!

After our swim we enjoyed a short walk to the viewing area adjacent to the Falls which was stunning,

before the delights of breakfasting al fresco again and then making our check-out before picking up the road just after Brienz for our journey to Lake Como.

Our journey to the Italian speaking Canton of Ticino in the south of Switzerland took us through some of the most stunning scenery we saw on our tour with the added thrill of some hair raising drives with multiple hairpin bends.

I really couldn’t resist the temptation to put on “On Days Like These Days”, the Matt Monroe classic from the soundtrack of the “Italian Job” as the Merc glided along the mountain roads!

Thanks to the intelligent SatNav we completely avoided the hour long queue at the San Gottardo tunnel by taking a parallel back road that brought us back onto the main road just before the tunnel.

After a good fifteen minutes (approx. 10 miles) we emerged from the darkness of the tunnel into the stimulating daylight of Ticino. We took a short pit stop at a very smart Swiss service station and then decided to seek respite from the searing heat of the day with a spot of open water lake swimming in Lake Maggiore.

Heading towards the glamorous lakeside metropolis that is Locarno we wanted to find a spot with good lake access without having to drive through too much traffic. The annual film festival was well under way and so this ruled out Locarno. Instead we headed to Magadino, a small lakeside down with a lovely “spiaggia publica” or public beach. This is the phrase that pays in Ticino/Italy as although most seaside and lakeside resorts have a plethora of pay and play beaches, the law states there always as to be a “spiaggia publica”

We took our first tentative steps into the refreshing waters of Lake Maggiore and found that the summer sun had warmed the lake, considerably so that it’s chilly edge had diminished and we spent a good half an hour swimming back and forth from one of the diving pontoons near the lakeside beach.

Back in the car we stopped off at the Migros hypermarket. A brand that had evoked memories of childhood holidays 4 decades ago when there was a certain exotic quality about these European hypermarkets when all we had was Key Markets or the Coop!

The experience was no less stimulating today, a vast food hall with fresh produce of all kinds with a huge non foods area up stairs. Unlike the likes of Tesco piled high with poor quality low cost items these stores had quality merchandise at sensible prices, such a refreshing concept!

We decided to avoid the fast route to Lake Como by avoiding the border crossing at Chiasso/Como instead taking the scenic and much quieter mountain route to the east of Lake Lugano.

I did feel a little guilty as Gillian was driving and this route turned out to be a real white knuckle ride! On route to Tremezzo we had arranged to meet some friends who had a holiday home in the hillside village of Dizzasco overlooking Lake Como.

Arriving a little late courtesy of the winding and twisting mountain roads it was lovely meeting up with Martin and Beverly and having a cold beer in their garden overlooking the lake!

At five we made our way to Tremezzo to the charming family run Hotel La Perla . We had stayed here for a week 4 years ago and were looking forward to our return. The twin sisters Clilia and Mara who run this place with their husbands Luca and Sergio are charming and delightful and greeted us like old friends returning for a weekend break in summer.We replied with a “Molto Gentile!”

Feeling quite tired from our drive we took a quick dip in the pool before taking dinner from their understated “snack bar”. Although not a formal restaurant they serve fantastic antipasti, pasta and salads on the terrace most nights between 6:30pm/8pm.

We dinned like kings with antipasti of prosciutto and melon, caprese salad and local braesola with rocket and Parmesan shavings.


Followed by a delicious tagliatelle ragu and all washed down with a bottle of simple local red wine.

imageAll this against a stunning backdrop of the sun setting against the marble like pinkness of the mountains.

imageAs we ordered lemon sorbets with a glass of limoncello

we did our bit for keeping the spirit of the Entente Cordiale alive by chatting to two French families at a nearby table on the terrace. Rèmy and his family were from Paris but originally Toulouse and were holidaying with his old school friend Laurence and his family who still lived in Toulouse.

I ordered 3 glasses of the top grade grappa and the three guys drank a toast to friendship despite Brexit! We continued to chat partly in English and partly in French and really enjoyed the random nature of our meeting.

As the stars shone brightly in the shadow of the moon we bid our new found friends “Bon nuit et dormez bien!” and slipped back to our room, drifting off into a deep sleep with the sound of cicadas in the background.