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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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……

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

A Magical Mountain Adventure

Waking again to the same sound of the Giessbach Falls which had sent us off to sleep, we started the day of our wedding anniversary with more than a hint of anticipation and excitement for what the day would bring forth.

We took breakfast on the terrace and secured pole position overlooking both the Falls and the lake. The Grand Hotel Giessbach breakfast was a sumptuous smorgorsborg of hot and cold dishes. Highlights were local cheese with wild alpine honey straight from the honeycomb, partnered with fruit bread and a killer Bircher muesli. Starting the day as we meant to go on we reached for the Prosecco and charged our glasses!

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As we swung back past perception to confirm what time the boat left for Interlaken we had another nice surprise. Jonathan our helpful hotel receptionist from the day before had bought us an anniversary card and some Swiss chocolates as a gift. A very thoughtful and generous touch.

The concierge confined that the funicular which connects the hotel with the boat station departed at 10:40 and handed us the complimentary passes that hotel guests have for use of this novel transfer.
The funicular has the honour of being the oldest and first to have been installed in Switzerland. I’ve seen these in many locations around the world but this one certainly is the most dramatic.

imageThe Grand Hotel Giessbach stands proudly on the side of a mountain adjacent to the Giessbach Falls. It was saved from destruction after falling into disrepair by a consortium of wealthy Swiss businessmen who were keen to preserve this iconic bundling. It has the air of a palatial grand estate adorned with chandeliers and ornate furnishings and has been faithfully restored to its former glory.

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The funicular took just a few minutes to convey us from the hotel down to its own boat station on the lake. Long before the winding road was built the only way to reach the hotel was by boat from Interlarken and then funicular.

Hotel guests can also purchase a first class return ticket for the hour or so trip to Interlaken which was a subsidised bargain at 30 Euros per person. First Class also guarantees you a seat on the upper deck where we were afforded some stunning views of the Lake Brienz and the surrounding mountains. There was also a little bar so we decided another Prosecco was in order!

The toot toot of the ferry announces to us our embarkation. We pass several lakeside villages dotted around lack Brienz as we zigzag our way to Interlaken Ost across the lake. It’s turquoise green waters contrasting with the intense blue of the sky.

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On arrival at Interlaken Ost boat station we changed to our third mode of transport for the train journey to Wengen changing at Lauterbrunnen. One of the great things about Switzerland is the Swiss passion for ruthless efficiency which means trains running to time with minimal hanging around between connections!

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At Wengen just five minutes walk from the train station is the Cable car to Mannlichen. Already within striking distance of the stunning Alps this last stage of journey was for me the most exciting! Powdery white snow dusting the majestic peaks of the mountains like a patisserie chef adding the finish to a fondant!

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Exiting the cable car, the vista was breathtaking, a combination of quaint Swiss chalets, rolling green alpine pastures and snow capped mountains set against an azure blue sky.

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A further surprise as we passed a group of cows, their large bells clunking in harmony around their necks was the dramatic and haunting sound of the local Alpenhorns and an annual Alpenhorn festival.

Click here for clip of Alpenhorn Festival
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Walking from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg along trail Number 33 was breathtaking and ranks as one of my favourite walks of all time! Words and pictures can’t really do justice to the beauty of the panoramic vistas.

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After ninety minute of walking along the trial we arrived at the tiny village of Kleine Scheidegg just in time to pick up the mountain railway to Grindelwald.  From here we crammed onto another train full of international tourists returning from the Jungfrau theme park back to Interlaken hoping to catch the last ferry back to our hotel.

We arrived back at Interlaken Ost some thirty minutes or so after the last boat departed but realised if we took the next fast train to Brienz we could catch it up there so as to enjoy our return to the hotel in the same way we departed and save on a thirty Euro taxi fare from Brienz!

We made excellent time back to Brienz and still had time for a refreshingly short dip in the icy waters of lake Brienz, so cold that it actually took my breath away, in time to catch our boat.

As the funicular pulled us back up the mountainside our thoughts turned to dinner. We had booked a table in the critically acclaimed Cascades restaurant in the hotel but having spent the day in the alpine fresh air we were reluctant to relinquish the great outdoors and so decided to opt for the bar menu again on the terrace.

When we got to the bar the terrace overlooking the lake was buzzing as it was such a beautiful evening. We need not have worried! Our new found friends from the previous evening Swiss Toni and Giota had reserved the best two tables for us so that we could chose which one we wanted! They had anticipated that we would probably want to eat al fresco and didn’t want us to have a disappointing end to our special day!

Hotel dinner

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Sautéed Goat’s Cheese with Wild Garlic Pesto.

The wild garlic pesto was a triumph complimenting the richness of the goats cheese perfectl!

Main course

Entrecôte steak with thin fries and garlic/herb butter. Juicy , perfectly cooked: rare for me and medium rare for Gillian. We asked if the sommelier could come from the Cascades restaurant to advise on a wine to partner the steak, something Swiss.

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We had the chance to meet the charming sommelier, Kevin Hischke who recommended Teninento La Prella from near Ascona on Lake Maggiore, in Ticino. This wine, a Merlot grand reserve had a nose of chocolate, cherry and spice. On the palette there was morello cherries and a hint of cherries in kirsch combined with soft tannins in a well rounded finish. A perfect recommendation with the steak.

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As we ordered a post prandial coffee we asked Swiss Toni to recommend a typical Swiss digestif . He recommended Nocino a nut liquor which was syrupy, sweet and with a buttery nutty taste.

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Giota, Tim and Swiss Toni!

imageThanking both Toni and Giota for looking after us both so well and making the end to our special day so memorable we climbed the two flights of stairs and slept like the proverbially logs!
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Our Road to the Bernese Oberland

A great nights sleep is always a good way to start a new adventure, and today was no exception. The luxury and comfort afforded us by the Chateau Courban combined with the excellent Discovery Menu and a fine Chablis to provide the great cocktail for that beauty sleep!

Fortified by an energetic swim and a mini work out by the pool, breakfast was a heavenly mix of home baked Quiche Lorraine, jams and pastries accompanied by several mind blowing espressos!


Back on the road, I set about the serious business of Blogging whilst Gillian took the wheel. The first part of the journey out of the Côte d’Or was fairly plain. It wasn’t until we were well into Franche Comte and past Bessancon that things started to become more interesting.

Past Pontarlier the landscape takes on more of an Alpine appearance. This is the real essence of Franche Comte. Road side stalls selling wheels of their delicious aged Comte cheese, alpine pastures decked with cows, their bells creating a beautiful little symphony.

We crossed the border into Switzerland shortly afterwards. Sneeze and you’d miss it! A crossing so easy and effortless that it was a far cry from the painful, numbing queues at Dover!

Before too long we had reached Lake Neufchâtel and went about the important business of finding a suitable location to carry out a spot of open water lake swimming.

We turned off the Swiss route 1 and headed towards the picture postcard mediaeval town of Estavayer du Lac. Access to the lake was not that easy and some distance from where we could park! I looked at iMaps on the phone and navigated us to a little hamlet called Vernay.

At the end of a twisting narrow grit track there opened up a grassed parking area right by the Lac and the most delightful little beach without hordes of people.

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It was getting close to 3pm and the cooling waters of the lake called.  The first 20m were really shallow and so although the lake is fed with alpine fresh water the heat of the sun had warmed it to a refreshing but tepid temperature.

Revived and refreshed we pushed on into the heart of the Bernese Oberland, passing the rather industrial capital Bern. As we passed Lake Thun we started to fully appreciate the dramatic nature of the lake mountain combination, even so we were quite unprepared for the sheer beauty of our final destination that day, the stunning Grand Hotel Giessbach.

Our arrival no less dramatic on account of the white knuckle ride along the steep narrow road with multiple hairpin bends passing the iconic Giessbach Falls before arriving at the Hotel.

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Our arrival was made all the more welcoming due to a charming young Swiss Bermudan called Jonathan Wenger. Although only on a work experience placement he was a real ambassador for the hotel. Helpful and courteous and accessing the many complex Swiss rail timetables to help us plan our mountain hike for the next day. I’m sure that one day he will be the General Manager of a Leading Hotel of the World!

Feeling tired we deposited our bags in our room and hastened back to the bar where we met the lovely Giota, a Greek ex pat who ran the bar with the charismatic Swiss Toni.

Having ordered the Giessbach burger and fries we indulged in a cocktail with our table over looking the lake on one side and the Falls on the other.

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Always keen to try something new Giota introduced me to the local speciality, the Hugo, while Gillian opted for her favourite, the Margarita!

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The Hugo

Fill a tall wine glass with ice.

Add some crushed mint to the glass and a squeeze of lime.

Pour over about 30ml of finest Swiss organic elderflower cordial and fill 1/3 with Prosecco.

Top up with a little soda water to taste …… Perfectly refreshing and best enjoyed with a mountain/lake view.

After dinner we indulged further by asking Toni if he could make us a nightcap of Esspresso Martinis, he obliged with two killer numbers that sent us off into a golden slumber with a lullaby of the sound of the water crashing over the nearby Falls.

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Dinner Fit For a Gourmand

We arrived at Chateau Courban shortly before 6pm still buzzing with the excitement of our serendipitous visit to Champagne Louise Brison . As the evening sun bathed the exquisite gardens in warm light we planned to take a cooling dip in the pool as soon as we checked in.

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Check in was smooth and efficient but they kept from us the best surprise of all…. An upgraded room which was straight out of a scene from the new BBC drama Versailles. A master bedroom with stunning views across the Côte d’Or countryside leading to a bathroom whose central feature was a beautiful roll top enamel bath, with shower room and toilet in separate rooms off of the bathing area so as not to spoil the Feng Shui!

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We wasted no time in heading to the pool area for a refreshing pre dinner swim. Decadently we enjoyed a half bottle of the 2010 vintage Louise Brison champagne as an aperitif while getting ready for dinner and luxuriating in our sumptuous surroundings. (See previous posting for tasting notes)

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This was our second visit to Courban after discovering this stunning oasis last year. We weren’t the least bit surprised to learn that many guests return again and again in what is a case of once discovered never forgotten.

It’s a great stopover at anytime of year especially if you’re heading south to the French Alps, Switzerland or Italy. It was also incredibly great value at a pre Brexit booking price of around £200 for half board which included a four course Discovery menu from their legendary Head Chef, Takashi Kinoshita. The restaurant is also deservedly included In the Michelin selection 2016.

Whilst perusing the Discovery menu we enjoyed a glass of the house champagne, Champagne Robert Barbichon, a Blanc de Blanc with 15% Pinot Noir, made to biodynamic standards in the Côte des Bars. This was the first time I had tasted a Champagne made in this style and the 15% Pinot certainly added to the taste making it arguably a more suitable companion for the amuse bouche.

Dinner

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Amuse Bouches No1

Mustard macaroon with toasted pecans.
I loved the sweet and savoury juxtaposition of this mouthful, a perfect balance of light sugary meringue and tangy mustard. It also looked incredible.

Deep fried epoisse parcels presented on a bed of dried lentils. I think this dish would work better with a more over ripe epoisse when its power would balance with the Tempura. Tasty though the same.

Amuse Bouches No 2

Gazpacho with Celery Foam.
Like a lightly textured fresh and slightly spicy Bloody Mary.

Starters

Prawns with baby aubergine.
Prawns in a light tempura with daikon salad, wakame with a yuzu and toasted sesame oil vinaigrette.
Lemon foam and sweet soy sauce binding all the ingredients together.

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Duck Foie Gras with petits pois mousseline.
A fusion of spicy flavours including coriander seeds and chorizo offset by perfect soft and silky textured foie gras. Garnished with lemon foam and egg yolk confit.

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Main Course
Roasted supreme of Bourg en Bresse chicken with duxelles of girolles mushrooms new potato soufflé and courgette ribbons, veal jus, spinach with red basil. Garnished with whole sautéed girolles.

This breed of chicken in my opinion deserves its place as the best in the world. Melt in the mouth breast, moist and flavoursome. The devil sauce carrying loads of Unami flavour from its base veal jus.

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Dessert

Courban countryside dessert.
A soft cream cheese set in a light green meringue wrap with white chocolate batons and ice cream.

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A Summer Swim
Segments of Pink grapefruit and red shizo sorbet, peach and toasted sesame meringue with red shizo garnished with rose wine jelly and green spun sugar.
Light, fresh and sharp the perfect palette cleansing dessert in stunning summery like technicolour.

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We chose a stunning local wine from nearby Chablis…..with the main course in mind.
Chablis Grand Cru Grenouilles Regnard 2011. A great nose expressing both minerality and fruit. On the palette, further minerality, augmented with notes of plump ripe quinces, a fat wine with a long finish and one that I believe will continue to improve with age.

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We had just enough room for coffee and petit fours. These provided the perfect finale to this discovery menu. Light and chewy meringues and rich lavender flavoured chocolate truffles.

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We strolled back to our room having thoroughly enjoyed our Gastronomic experience wondering what the next day would bring as we drifted off into a deep sleep.

The Great Gastro Adventure (three countries, two foodies one mission)

( It seems hard to believe that I started timsfoodandwinetravels.com on a whim just before last years food and wine tour to France. Sitting in the co pilot seat with my iPad on my lap I’m looking forward to sharing with you the next great Gastro Adventure. A two week tour to the heart of the Tuscan wine country via
Champagne, the Bernese Oberland and Lake Como. Our return taking us via the stunning Val d’Aosta and my Achilles heel Burgundy.

Our journey started with a bleary eyed slog to Dover. Heading the Twittersphere advice of both P and O and Dover Port authority to allow extra time for check in due to additional security.
As the Pride of Canterbury slipped her mornings and we edged out into the Straits of Dover we took up pole position on the top deck, soaking up the warmth of the sun’s rays as we saw the iconic cliffs of Dover shrink onto the horizon.
In less time than it it takes me to drive the 20 miles or so to London we were embarking onto the Calais quayside and out into the French countryside.
Our first destination was Courban in the Côte d’Or via the Route du Cremant. The area around Chatillon-sur-Seine is known as the Chatillonnais. It’s renowned for making the sparking wines made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir called Cremant du Burgogne.
The thing I love about these adventures is the serendipitous finds that come from the least likely of places. Day one of this trip was no exception. As we neared our first destination I saw a sign proclaiming “Champagne vigneron”. My analytical brain starting processing this information. Was this a random Cremant producer pushing the limits of the AOC or did the Champagne AOC really extend this far south!
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By the time I’d come to the conclusion it could well be the later we were already 2km down the road when we passed another Champagne house by the road side. Curiosity well and truly got this cat and I lept out of the car like a fan who had his last Pokemon in sight!

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I approached the cellar door of   Champagne Louise Brison with an air of trepidation, I was really hoping that they would be open. I wandered into the tasting room and saw a wall adorned with award winning accolades from such prestigious sources as Decanter, Vinalies Internationales Concors des Oenologues de France and the International Wine Challenge.

My heart started beating faster with the anticipation that I had stumbled across by chance an award winning champagne house at the very southern tip of the Champagne AOC.
The office door swung open and we were met by the charming Julie Gallecier, their Sales Assistant.

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What struck me as we were driving through this area is that unlike the Epernay and Reims areas to the north west where the terroir is dominated by viticulture in the Aube area it’s farming that dominates with small pockets of viticulture.

What makes this area different is also the terroir, Burgundian in character (Clay/limestone) and suited to the staples of Burgundy; Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It doesn’t suit the other grape varietal used in Champagne the Pinot Menier.

A family concern, the estate of 13 hectares is named after his maternal grandmother, who have farmed the area for generations it was the courage and determination of the current owner Monsieur Earl Brulez, who loved champagne that led to the creation of Louise Brison. Unlike generations before him who sold their precious grapes to the cooperatif for the guarantee of financial security but the anonymity of the cooperatif; instead he choose the high stakes of going it alone to produce his own individual style vintage champagne. If that wasn’t setting the bar high enough he further set out three golden rules to which he wanted to produce his first champagne.

1. Reasoned and Reasonable – affordable vintage champagnes that had purpose.

2. Respectful of the Harmony – although not certified biodynamic, the wines are produced to biodynamic standards to preserve the microbiology of the soil. By avoiding chemical fertilisers, insecticides and fungicides and maintaining these organic conditions the vines are free to draw minerals from the subsoil and to improve their metabolism and production of organic compounds.

3. Revelation of the Aromas – this house only produces vintage champagnes with huge ageing potential. It’s no accident that each vintage is cellared for a min of 6 years to allow all their flavours and aromas to develop. This gives their champagnes refinement, roundness and character. It also means that half a dozen bottles of say the 2009 vintage purchased now but opened each year for the next six years are likely to taste different each year. This will also effect the suitability of the champagne to be either any aperitif or accompany a certain food style.

This schematic nicely illustrates how these champagnes change character over their life.
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Louise Brison, 2010 Brut Vintage. A 50/50 Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend. A nose of citrus especially grapefruit and toasty brioche from the oak ageing. By their standards this is a young vintage but had a surprisingly long finish; in its current form would be an ideal aperitif but showed great promise of good food pairing in future.

Louise Brison, 2009 Brut Vintage. Has received 6 accolades.
Gault Millieu, 2015 Effervescents du Monde, Silver Medal/ 2016 Decanter World Wine Awards, Silver Medal/les Vinalies 2016 Grand Prix d’Excellence

Notes of spice, violets, quince, pineapple and oak on the nose. Similar on palate with a  little oak. This champagne has great ageing potential.

Louise Brison, 2008 Vintage, Blanc de Blanc. This has won 2 medals, a gold medal in Chardonnay of the world, and a gold medal in best French wine in USA.

A nose of wet stones yielding an overall minerality with a hint of oak after spending 9 months in barrel. On the palate there are both salty and citrus notes, a perfect partner to fruit de mer.

Champagne Rose  L’impertinente. A 100% Pinot macerated Rose, 2010. An deep pink colour with a dark orange hue. Notes of wild strawberries, red fruits on the nose, with oak toastiness. On the palette the red fruit theme continues with further hints of morello cherry. The finish is long and fat. Whilst this would be an ideal aperitif, suit white meats and work sublimely with a strawberry Charlotte it surprisingly partners BBQ meats.

We thanked Julie for the degustation, made a few purchases and then headed off to Courban. Before we left, Julie suggested we take the slightly longer route via the champagne villages of Noe les Malettes and Fontette. Between these two villages is a panoramic view across the vineyards called Plateau de Blu.

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Plateau de Blu. A stunning view of the champagne vineyards.

As we pulled up into the car park of the Chateau du Courban we reflected on the fact that we hadn’t made it to the Route du Cremant but had discovered instead one of the hidden jewels of champagne.