Wine With Food: Part 2

Why drink wine with a meal? Apart from the pleasure it gives, it helps us digest. I would empirically prove this time and again in Paris when, after a lengthy dinner out with friends and bottles of wine, I would rise the next day and go running in the park. Surprisingly, yet invariably, if I’d had wine, I’d run better than if I’d had none. (If I’d had too many glasses I no run so good.)

Why this is true is most likely because wine aids in the production and flow of the gastric juices which facilitate digestion by breaking down the food in the stomach quickly and effectively. Wine also helps regulate insulin during digestion which regulates weight.

The same tannins in red wine that have been touted for health reasons (wine is a well-known antioxidant because the phenolics, found in skins, stems and seeds, reduce the amount of cholesterol deposited in the arteries decreasing one’s chance of heart attack) are what give wine its structure and are softened with food. There’s an old saying, “Buy on apples, sell on cheese.” In other words, apples will bring out the defects in a wine, where cheese will enhance it. This works because the cheese softens the tannins. Same thing with tea. What do we do to lessen tannic acid in tea? We add milk.

A Beyond Ordinary Travel group enjoying wine with cheese and meats

A Beyond Ordinary Travel group enjoying wine with cheese and meats

These are factual, chemical reasons for having wine with food, but the pleasure wine affords is equally important, for although it affects something less tangible or provable, I believe it is perhaps something more essential. When we stop to pull the cork from a bottle of wine there is more going on than the simple thought of drinking wine or even pairing it with the perfect meal. When we pull that cork and pour the glass, we are taking a pause from hectic life and, for that moment, savoring. Whether for ritual or relaxation, whether metaphysical or purely gustatory, it’s a step back from the craziness of life, a step back in time to simpler ways of life. (Or very simple, since wine dates back to the Neolithic Period 8500-4000 BC!) And doesn’t this in itself de-stress us, further helping digestion (or whatever ails us)? Thus, around and around it goes… So Bibendum, as the Romans would say. Drink up!

Food wines:

Château de Recougne, Bordeaux Supérior – 75% Merlot, light tannins, ripe plumy taste, an everyday drinking kind of Bordeaux. $15

Château Boutisse, St-Emilion Grand Cru – 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon with lush cherry fruit, chocolate and coffee notes. Tannic on the finish, it goes especially well with beef. $28

Château Meyney, St-Estéphe, 1998 – Classic, timely, much has been written about the great St-Estèphes. Austere tannins will mellow with age and food. Quintessential food wine. Pair with lamb or duck.

Domaine des Baumard, Savennières – a white food wine from the Loire.  Made 100% from Chenin Blanc, a grape famous for its sweet whites, this wine is dry, yet complex with floral and honeysuckle aromas. Almonds and citrus on the palate. Pair with fish dishes and cream sauces.

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Wine With Food: Part 1

Most everyone knows that wine with food is one of the best marriages going. Yet I know couples who open and drink a bottle of wine before dinner.

Shocking? Or the norm? Just wait.

“Then do you open a second bottle?” A friend asks them.

“No.”

“What do you drink with dinner?”

“Nothing. Well, sometimes water. Or Coke.”

Shocking? Or the norm? Your answer will reveal much about how you view the relationship of wine to food.

I’m fascinated by this relationship, for it seems to be changing and with its change, so too are the wines. More and more wines, European and New World alike, are being made to drink young. Nothing wrong with that. They’re approachable wines, which means easily drinkable. They’re fruit forward wines, which means lots of fruit up front, rather than barnyard or musty characteristics. They’re smooth and delicious. Nothing wrong with that. But is there?

A good French Burgundy or Bordeaux may be delicious on its own, especially when given time to age, but it’s made to be drunk with a meal. Such wines are often described as complex. The great Bordeaux can be extremely tannic, owing to the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, and don’t soften except with time. Yet, pair these wines with dinner and you see how the wine complements the food and vice versa. The food softens the tannins, but the wine still retains enough structure to balance the meal. If, on the other hand, you had paired a super jammy New World Shiraz, for example, with the same meal, the wine might not be able to stand up to the food. This is not to say that Shiraz does not complement many foods, for it does. Only that many wines that taste scrumptious on their own, don’t do justice to a meal. And this is why often a customer will taste a French wine and say, “A little rough.” Or “too earthy.” Because its not being used the way it was meant: with food.

A Beyond Ordinary Travel group enjoying wine with their meal

A Beyond Ordinary Travel group enjoying wine with their meal

It’s a cultural difference. Europeans drink much more wine per capita than we do in America, but they drink it with lunch and dinner (and sometimes breakfast).Americans drink more wine as a cocktail before a meal than do Europeans.

Because of growing consumer demand for easy to drink wines, even European producers are changing the way in which they make wine, changing methods and beliefs that are centuries old. Alcohol content too is creeping up. Alcohol content of 13% used to be the exception reserved for Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Now it’s the norm and 12-12.5% becoming rare. It’s not unusual to see Zinfandels and Australian Shiraz’s at 15-17%.

Following are wines I consider “food wines.” See if they don’t enhance the meal more than that glass of Coca-Cola.

Château de Gaudou – from Cahors in the southwest of France.  Often called the “black wine” it’s so full-bodied. Merlot/Malbec blend. Pair with Cassoulet, duck or hearty beef. $12

Domaine Berthoumieu, Charles de Batz – from Madiran, this wine is outstanding. Made from 100% Tannat, it is tannic, but the tannins soften with food. $22

As always, buy meats from local farmers or buy free range.

A picnic at Chapel St. Cosme

This post was written by one of our travelers, Lauren.

When I went to the South of France most recently, the group was led by an incredible guide.   Having lived in Paris and Southern France, Kay knows a ton about the food, wine and landscape of France.

One of Kay’s favorite spots in the South of France is the chapel of Saint Cosme in Gigondas, in the heart of Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape country.

She had the idea that it would be nice for our group to see the chapel.   That morning, we stopped in Bonnieux for the morning market to stock up on more French cheeses, breads, olives, and tapenades.   We all shared our purchases in the form of a picnic to enjoy and experience the beauty.

Our picnic

This chapel is partly ruined.  In fact, we camped out in the nave with our picnic because of the intense wind that swirled around the chapel.  Luckily, there was a small bench that was useful as a “table”.

Seeking shelter in the nave

A special group of ladies

Luckily, we had a nice ‘community’ supply of wine from our stops at the L’Auchan grocery, Château Beaucastel, and Château de Ségriès.

After tasting a few delicacies, I wandered around the stone path that led above the chapel.

Walking around Chapel St. Cosme

Beautiful pathway

Climbing into the vineyards above the chapel

The chapel is surrounded by gorgeous vineyards above.   It makes such a beautiful panorama in the Provençal sky.  Our group is grateful to Kay for taking us to this special place.

 

 This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

Bistros of Paris

This post is by Kay Pfaltz, Founder of Beyond Ordinary Travel. 

Oh, there are so many and every time I think I’ve listed my favourites I remember twelve dozen more. No joke. But here are some winners, in different categories, mostly bistros, a few brasseries and restaurants. Keep this in mind, and no matter where you go, you’ll have a good meal. Even the local café offers a great salad or omelet with baskets of bread and good local, cheap house wine. I have not listed any three-star or even two-star Michelin restaurants but you might want to try at least one, just for the sheer quality of service and food. I have eaten more than once in all of the five (maybe now six) three-stars in Paris and it is an experience. Stroll, seek and enjoy…. Paris is a moveable feast.

Happy bistro-goers at Les Papilles on Beyond Ordinary Travel's Paris 2010 trip.

Happy bistro-goers at Les Papilles on Beyond Ordinary Travel’s Paris 2010 trip.

Classic bistros: A bistro has come to mean many things now. But it used to be a sort of Mom and Pop type of place with checkered tablecloths and mimeographed menus. Today there are simple, cheap bistros full of atmosphere and there are also very high-end, high quality bistros (like Benoit) full of atmosphere. Some of these below are considered both bistro and restaurant.

Polidor – 41, rue Monsieur-le-Prince, 6th. A historic bistro that has aged with grace. Hemingway, Joyce, many dined here. Regulars today still have their own napkins and rings. Regulars don’t even bother with the menu but just wait for the waitress to tell them what’s good. The snails are excellent. So is the pumpkin soup in season. Simple and cheap.

 Chardenoux – 1, rue Jules-Valles, 11th. Beautiful Belle Epoque bistro. This is one of the prettiest. Look for the long zinc bar. Very French and authentic. Regulars flock here.

 Le Vieux Bistro – 14, rue du Cloitre-Notre-Dame, 4th. I call this one the romantic bistro of Paris. Near Notre  Dame on the Ile de la Cite, it can get touristy, but you’ll find surprisingly a lot of French.

 La Fonaine de Mars – 129, rue St-Dominique, 7th. One of my favourite bistros. A true find in the fashionable and expensive 7th arrondissement. In nice weather sit outside near the fountain of Mars for which it’s named. Quintessential bistro. Order the assiette de cochonnailles de Laguiole or the Boudin aux pommes or the confit de canard.

La Tour de Montlhery – (Called Chez Denise by us locals!) 5, rue Prouvaires, 1st. Chez Denise is open 24 hours and gets really cranking after 9 or 10 pm. This is a carnivores delight and because of its location on the edge of the old Les Halles market (now torn down) it attracted the market vendors into the wee hours. A true institution, lively and wonderful. Everyone should go once. Order up the house Brouilly (Beaujolais), laugh and eat.

 Le Petit Marguery  – 9, blvd. Port-Royal, 13th. I love this bistro. It’s off the beaten path, in the 13th arrondissement but worth it. Food is excellent.

D’Chez Eux – 2, avenue Lowendal, 7th.  In the elegant 7th arrondissement, this restaurant attracts a well-heeled crowd. Food is very, very copious. For instance if you order the crudités as an appetizer, you’ll be wheeled bowls upon bowls of salads and veggies. If you

Chez Réné – 14, blvd. St-Germain, 6th. I named the Basic Necessities Piggeries plate after a dish I had here once full of charcuterie (i.e. every pig product you can imagine.) Been around for a long time. Sit on the tree-enclosed wonderful terrace in the warm months and watch the world go by down the boulevard St. Germain.

Le Petit Pontoise – 9, rue de Pontoise, 5th. Great atmosphere, great food (all the best bistro specialties like boudin noir and kidneys and quiche and tarts for the less adventurous—nice tarte Tatin for dessert). A few outside tables. Very authentic except you may hear American voices since it was recently and unfortunately written up in the NY Times.

 Le Rotisserie du Beaujolais – 19, quai de la Tournelle, 5th. Beside the famous Tour d’Argent, this rotisserie is owned by the son of M. Terrail (owner of Tour d’Argent). Having been to the famous and very expensive Tour d’Argent twice, I can say that this restaurant is my preferred choice. Only the view is secondary. This is a meat-eater’s place and if you want veggies (with the exception of mushrooms in fall), go elsewhere. Go early or call ahead and grab a window table and watch the people and the river beyond.

Les Papilles – 30, rue Gay-Lussac, 5th. Used to be somewhat hard to find more than a handful of good bistros in the 5th, but this relatively new one is excellent. 31 euro menu offers excellent, inventive cuisine.

Au  Bon St-Pourcain – 10, bis, rue Servandoni, 6th. Walk into this tiny (26 seat) beauty in the shadow of St-Sulpice and you’ll think you’ve walked into (Billy) Wilderian Paris. Owner is former Deux Magots waiter François. Cheap and cheerful and ever so authentic. A find in touristy St-Germain.

Chez Paul – 13, rue  Charonne, 11th. There are many Chez Pauls in Paris, but this one may be more people’s favourite restaurant than any other. It is heart-breakingly authentic. You’ll feel like you’re in a postcard. In the workingman’s 11th, a traditional bistro. Tables outside. Order up rabbit rilettes or steak au poivre with cognac.

Chez Janou – 2, rue Roger Verlomme, 3rd. There are two restaurants (not counting three-star L’Ambrosie and Ma Bourgogne which I mention next) on the place des Vosges that I love, but Chez Janou is just behind, away from the crowds, far enough away to keep the tourists at a distance and remain a nice little secret. It’s on a quiet little (almost) square with trees and a terrace for eating outside. It has 80 varieties of pastis so you can pretend you’re in sunny Provence! Even more so if you order up the petite friture d’eperlans (tiny whitebait, floured and friend and served in a basket with aioli on the side.) There’s a house salad of shrimp, avocado and grapefruit sections.

Ma Bourgogne – Place des Vosges, 4th. I keep coming back and back to this restaurant. I love the salads, big salades Nicoise etc. You can sit inside, but best is outside under the arcades of the Place des Vosges. This is where I ordered the carafe of Côtes du Rhône (in a wonderful cracked carafe) and they brought me the left over Beaujolais Nouveau and I took one sniff and sent it back stating I’d asked for the Rhone not Beaujolais. They were shocked that a lowly American knew the difference, and by a mere sniff. Wonderful setting. Check out the Victor Hugo museum at the far south eastern corner on your way out and also pass by three-star Michelin (remember 3 stars are as high as it goes in France) L’Ambrosie, same side as Ma Bourgogne.

Les  Fete Galantes – rue Ecole Polytechnique, 5th. This place is tiny, but wonderful. Various ladies over the years have had such a good time, they shed their brasseries and there is a collection upon the wall. Also letters, like one by Kay. Bebe is the Moroccan owner and if you tell him you’re an American friend of Kay’s he’ll most likely ply you with free kirs (in hope of receiving a bra! Just kidding.) I used to bring legions of wine tasting students here twenty years ago. So carry on the tradition! Set menu, excellent value.

Perraudin – 157, rue St-Jacque, 5th. The quintessential bistro with its red and white table cloths and Art Deco tile floors, lace-curtained windows. Go in hungry, order a lot. The sole is excellent. Cheap, hearty, no-frills fare. Very traditional cooking. Leave stuffed.

Chez Lena et Mimile – 32, rue Tournefort, 5th. I include this marvelous set menu restaurant, because of the front terrace outside. Great value. Tartare of salmon is good, as is the duck.

Le Quincy – 28, avenue Ledru-Rollin, 12th.  Excellent, traditional and up-scale bistro leaning towards southwestern specialties such as foie gras. Try the cassoulet au confit d’oie (goose).

Le Taxi Jaune – 13, rue Chapon, 3rd. Tiny, authentic bistro serving excellent traditional bistro fare. Unpretentious. Highly recommended.

Le Cordonnerie – 20, rue St-Roch, 1st. Excellent restaurant on the right bank. Really a restaurant and not a bistro. Traditional French cuisine in a 17th-century building.

Café Dalva – 48, rue D’Argou, 2nd. Not far from the Louvre and Palais Royal, Dalva offers very affordable food. Incredible terrace for dining.

IMG_1201

Neo Bistros:

Albion – 80, rue du Faubourg Poissonière, 10th. This is a new bistro with excellent, inventive cuisine and traditional bistro interior. Office workers by day and trendy types by night. Open wine shelves, bistro chairs and tables, top quality food on daily changing chalkboard menus.

Au Bascou – 38, rue Reamur, 3rd. Outstanding Basque restaurant. This is a different experience, all Basque specialties. Real raw Basque ham; snails with garlic; roast lamb from the Pyrenéss. Really good and interesting wines. I have never had a bad meal. Grab the front table in the window.

Le Pre Verre – Many tables outside in this trendy restaurant in the Latin Quarter. Wine comes in the stemless glasses. Food is excellent. If on the menu, don’t miss the stunning sweetbreads. Noisy and hectic sometimes inside, but the food is definitely worth it.

I will stop here and if you go to none don’t worry. These are mere suggestions. There are many, many more favourites… in the 15th, 16th and 17th arrondissements. All over. I just can’t list all, but any good guide book is a good place to start and, as I think I said, the one you stumble upon even if café or chain is the one you’re supposed to be in. You really can’t go wrong in Paris.

A few clients enjoying a Paris wine bar

A few clients enjoying a Paris wine bar

Wine bars: Le Rubis – 10, rue du Marché-St-Honoré, 1st. On the hidden place du Marche St-Honore sits this little wine bar on the corner…that’s been there forever…or so it seems. Food is classic, copious and cheap. Have a glass of Côtes du Rhône for 3 euros. Dine well for under 20 Euros. Popular with the business lunch crowd.

Juvenile’s – 47, rue de Richelieu, 1st. A tiny wine bar near the Bibliotheque National (National Library) where yours truly K. Pfaltz sat for hours in the big womb of a reading room working on her doctoral dissertation (i.e. day-dreaming). Apparently the B.N. as it’s called in Paris, is a great pick-up place. Sadly that fact was lost on me as no one ever picked me up! Back to Juvenile’s: It is another delightful and affordable experience. Grilled quail, curried lamb, duck breast with sautéed potatoes and greens. Most entrees under 9 euros (remember entrée in France means starter, i.e. before the main course) and the plates (or main courses) are 15 to 16 euros. To finish the meal try one of Bernard Boisson’s (of Maison Audry) incredible cognacs.

La Taverne Henri IV –13, place du Pont-Neuf. This place on the tip of the Ile de la Cite has been around for a long time. It’s often filled with magistrates or lawyers from the nearby Palais de Justice. The square across from it on the tip of the island is called Square de Vert Galant after Henry IV whose statue stands above on the Pont Neuf (new bridge which in true French logic is the oldest in Paris.) To get to the Square de Vert Galant take the stairs down towards the Seine. Pose for a photo under the beautiful sweeping willow. The square behind the wine bar/tavern is also worth wandering around. It houses a couple famous restaurants (Chez Paul) and was famous as the residence of Yves Montand. But it’s worth it to stroll the leafy little park (place Dauphine) for its quiet, peaceful elegance. Inside at the tavern, dine on the usual wine bar fair and drink excellent cuvees of wine.

Willis Wine Bar – 13, rue des Petits-Champs. Willie’s is owned by Englishman, Mark Williamson and ironically may be one of the best wine bars in Paris. “Willie’s” passion is for the wines of the Rhone and here is a fabulous offering. Food is excellent, more restaurant style than bistro. Not nouvelle cuisine, just a bit more delicate. You’ll not be disappointed by either food or wine.

Jacques Melac – 42, rue Leon-Frot, 11th. One of the most authentic and liveliest wine bars in Paris. In the workingman’s 11th, an arrondissement filled with cabinetmakers and artisans, this wine bar offers real Auvergnat dishes. Worth the trek.

L’Excluse – 15, place de la Madeleine, 8th. And other locations. A wine bar chain but not like our chains in the US! i.e. Waffle House! Serves good food and exclusively Bordeaux. An inexpensive way to try some really good wines.

Best wine shop in the world?

Lavinia – boulevard du Madeleine. Actually started in Spain, but this is the Paris branch.

Brasseries: Brasseries are bigger than bistros, and more brightly lit. They were the old beer houses of Franch, so you’ll find beer, but also good Alsatian wines. You can always find good seafood food platter (plateau fruits de mer) but keep in mind, usually raw. Also the Alsatian influence means you’ll find such specialties as Choucroute (sauerkraut) on the menu. The Boucher/Flo group has bought out just about all of the old famous ones. I (and most Parisians) have mixed feelings as it means these old places are now really a chain, but you’d never know it. Go to at least one.

Brasserie Balzar – 49, rue des Ecoles, 5th. Historic brasserie (more bistro sized) that was finally bought out by the Flo Group. Food is decent, atmosphere superb, still frequented by politicians, philosophers and the intellectual elite.

La Coupole –102, blvd du Montparnasse, 14th. After seven or eight decades La Coupole remains one of the most authentically Parisian scenes, with its bustling and solidly professional waiters, young families, old couples, singles and of course for many years…Lauren! It was here we celebrated her birthday.

Brasserie Flo – 7, cour Petites-Ecuries, 10th. An honest 1900s Alsatian brasserie with a faithful, flashy Parisian clientele. Noisy, hectic but for many regulars that’s part of the charm.

Julien – 16, rue du Faubourg St-Denis, 10th. Despite the rather seedy location, Julien remains one of the city’s most chic, most popular nighttime addresses. Look inside this bright, stunning 1890s dining hall and you’ll understand. Better yet dine there.

Brasserie Lipp – 151, blvd St-Germain, 6th. One of the city’s most famous café- restaurants. Still a late-night spot for politicians and designers and editors. During the day can be cramped with Americans or Japanese on the terrace. Hemingway wrote beautifully about Lipp.

Bofinger – 5, rue de la Bastille, 4th. One of the prettiest brasseries in Paris, festive and classy with attentive service. Try the choucroute (sauerkraut).

Bouillon Racine –  3, rue Racine, 5th. Great location in the Latin Quarter. Beautiful, Belle Epoque Brasserie.

Vaudeville – 29, rue Vivienne, 2nd. A lively 1925 brasserie full of mirrors and marble and the sounds of great times. In warm weather opt for a table outside facing the imposing Bourse, or stock exchange. Order up carafes of the house Riesling and feast on oysters etc. Flash once jumped out of his carry bag (this was after the days of Lauren) and ran into the kitchen. No joke.

 

Falafel:

Chez Marianne – On the corner of the rue des Rosiers (heart of the Jewish section) this is a great place to order take out falafel. Pay inside and take a ticket, then wait in line outside. Find a park around the corner, buy water, sit and eat! Or you can sit inside and order up the wonderful eastern European specialties and don’t miss all the wonderful pastries.

Oysters:

Oysters are eaten in the winter months, i.e. the months with “R” in them, not because oysters will harm you in the summer months, but because the warm months are the spawning season and the oysters tend to be thin and watery. But what better time to slip down some oysters with cool glass of Sancerre than in summer time? Raw oysters in France are not served with cocktail sauce (shudder, how American) but with sauce Mignonette, a mixture of shallots and vinegar. I personally prefer just a squeeze of lemon. You will find oysters in all of the Brasseries. Order a large plateau fruits de mer or fruits of the sea! Seafood, most of which will be raw.

Huiterie Régis – 3, rue de Montfaucon, 6th. One of the best. Order a plateau fruits de mer, a bottle of Muscadet or Sancerre and sit back and watch le tout Paris.

La Coupole – See brasseries.

Famous Cafés: Cafés are where life takes place in Paris. Order a café and sit back for hours and watch the world go by. Listen to the voices behind you; you’ll hear many languages; you’ll hear talk of politics, art and philosophy. Cafés are everywhere, from the working man’s corner café to the famous (and for that reason touristy) ones I list below.

La Rotonde – 105, blvd du Montparnasse, 14th. Lenin and Trotsky sipped their crèmes here in 1915 along with others of the international intelligentsia who made the café famous. The Americans (Hemingway, Fitzgerald etc.) hung out in the cafés of Montparnasse in the 20s and 30s. Le Dome across the street (also good for seafood) and Le Select next door.

Aux Deux Magots – 170 blvd. St-Germain, 6th. After the war the intellectual center shifted and St-Germain, not Montparnasse, became the place to be. Sartre and de Beauvoir sat and wrote here. This is probably the ultimate Parisian café and good to go to once. Make sure to go inside or if you can sit inside as the terrace gets mighty touristy, but it’s fun. Great coffee and great hot chocolate. But not cheap.

Café de Flore – 172, blvd. St-Germain. Next door to Deux Magots. More of a literary hangout and popular with Sartre, de Beauvoir and Albert Camus. Perhaps my favourite café in Paris. I wrote some of A Walk Through Paris at an upstairs table looking out the window. Upstairs is not very scenic though.

La Palette – 40, rue de Seine, 6th. This café, the artists hangout, is perfect on a sunny afternoon. Good sandwiches made on Paiin Poilane. Out of the way, so a bit more trendy than the touristy ones on St. Germain.

Café de la Marie – 8 place St. Sulpice, 6th. On the place St-Sulpice this café must have one of the best locations in all of Paris. Try to grab a seat out front just for the experience. And don’t be surprise is you see Catherine Deneuve walk by doing her own shopping, she lives at number 76, rue de Bonaparte. Just don’t run up to her or snap a photo. The Parisians respect the privacy of others, a concept we’d do well to honour in the U.S.

Café Delmas – This café on the place de la Contrescarpe in the 5th arrondissement is right across from my old apartment. The square now has a lovely fountain but once upon a time it was just a bit of raised concrete and the bums hung out there. I knew them all. My address was 57, rue Lacepede across the square and I had the three windows on the first floor (yellow tinted window is the bathroom, to the left the living room, to the left of it the kitchen.

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

Tuscany: Siena, San Donato and San Girmignano

This post was written by one of our travelers, Lauren.

My first time to Tuscany, I remember feeling like I was driving through a Van Gogh painting. I loved witnessing with my own eyes the way the cypress dotted the landscape and gave protection to the rolling hills of vineyards and olive trees.

This trip, I was lucky that I got to see four new places in the Tuscan region.

SIENA – Beautiful hill town, a continual rival of its neighbor Florence. Verdict: I prefer Florence. Although, maybe I should visit Siena again when we aren’t so pressed for time and I’m not hungry.

POGGIBONSI

Since this trip was a terroir trip to experience food and wine, one of our stops was a tasting with a local Tuscan butcher, Filipo. He explained the history of the family business which was quite interesting, and then invited us to see the cinta pigs roaming on the land. Cintas are a different type of pig – they are striped – and they also graze on nuts, forest foliage, and berries.

On the trip over, we discussed how important we think it is to see the source of our food. Too often you forget. Filipo shaved our fresh prosciutto off the leg. This is a big reminder to me how we should respect our food and not waste. Also, the way that his free range cinta are treated is a lesson for how important these practices in when selecting what products we purchase.

I found it ironic I wore a white dress on the pig farm visit day.

SAN DONATO

San Donato is a tiny medieval town in the Tuscan hills. We had a wine tasting at Fattoria San Donato of local wine – vernaccia (white) and chianti (red) as well as their beautiful olive oils. A highlight was walking through the familial home to find our courtyard tasting in the groves.

SAN GIRMINGNANO

San Gimingnano is another charming Tuscan hill town, instantly recognizable by its peaking bell towers.

We tasted more tuscan wine and olive oil at La Marronaia, another friend of Kay’s who had a sumptuous cellar. We tasted basic vernaccia, visila, chianti colli sennesi, intenso and quattrossi. I brought back some olive oil to accentuate my Italian dishes.

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

How to speak like a true Parisian

This post is by Kay Pfaltz, Founder of Beyond Ordinary Travel. 

Traveling to Paris? I offer these tips to the first time traveler.  A few French phrases will get you far along that chic boulevard without having to rent a Yorkie or poodle or shell out the Euros on the Hermès scarves. And a few dos and don’ts never hurt either.

The French are polite, and the French are more formal than we Americans.

Therefore when entering a boulangerie or shop of any sort, always say, “Bonjour.” If there is one woman behind the counter, even if she giving your tattered clothes a disdaining eye as you dare touch her elegant rows of lingerie, say, “Bonjour Madame.” If there are several people waiting in line in the boulangerie when you enter, say in your best singsong voice, “Bonjour Mesdames, bonjour Messieurs.” A smile is optional if not all that common, but I have found in France as elsewhere on the journey of life, that a smile has taken me farther down that same boulevard than mere politesse, flattery or any other sort of adulation ever has. Upon leaving utter the simple words: “Merci” and “Au revoir.” These simple words are the gold keys with which you’ll begin to narrow the chasm that yawns between the American mentality and la mentalité française, and banish for a few moments in time, if never forever, the image of ugly American.

A typical French patisserie

A typical French patisserie

Please. Your mother may have taught you this one, but she was, mais bien sûr, right again. S’il vous plait or please. Saying please, like a smile, will not hurt and will in fact if not exactly open doors, help you to keep them from slamming in your face. If asking for a coffee, you can do it many ways but the easiest is: Un café s’il vous plait. If someone does you a favour, say thank you, merci. And if you do someone a favour for which you are thanked you may reply, Je vous en prie, formal for, literally, “I beg of you.” Or if it is a friend or someone you know casually, you reply, Je t’en prie or De rien, it’s nothing.

The French are very logical. And by that I mean, of course, illogical. Never mind that theirs is fundamentally a Cartesian society, their very thought, intellectualism to the tenth degree, founded, for better or for worse, by Descartes.  Therefore, you must be prepared for their illogical logic. For instance if you have business to do in a France Telecom office and are told to wait, beware the small increments of time. If you are told to wait for “un moment” (a moment) you’re probably okay. But beware the moment that “un moment” becomes “un petit moment” (a  little moment)  for that is longer still or, horrors of all, “un tout petit instant” (a very little instant/moment). You might as well get out the sleeping bag.

Coffee, black or white.  Where coffee is concerned I have to admit I think the French are quite logical. In the morning, they like it with milk or cream, as in café au lait or café crème. (If you are a cream lover, be warned that many café owners will simply give you steamed milk no matter what your desire.) An express (short for espresso) or un café are also acceptable at breakfast. These are small, strong coffees…espresso. At what hour is the bewitching hour when you would never find a Frenchman asking for a grand crème? Well, at tea-time it is still permissible to have the milk, although a thé, tisane or infusion is often more fashionable. (But don’t look at me, I love my crèmes as much as my doubles.) After dinner, however, you always order un café or un express, unless of course you order un double or un double express in which case we know you’re either an insomniac who wanders the streets of Paris instead of sleeping or that enviable youth who can still imbibe large quantities of alcohol and strong coffee and sleep like a bébé.

Awaiting a cup of coffee in Provence

Stay tuned….

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

Umbria: Assisi, Tili Vini and Orvieto

This post was written by one of our travelers, Lauren.

Just a bit lower than Tuscany, Umbria also has a remarkable landscape. It’s slightly drier and more rustic than its Northern neighbor, but still quite capable of amazing things.

One of the towns we visited was Assisi which is the famous birthplace of St. Francis. I adored the town and its classic and simple pink stone. The pink is a naturally sourced stone from Umbria and used to decorate the basilicas simply without too much adornment, as was restricted in St. Francis’s day.

The reason for the simplicity is that St. Francis believed in peace and the renouncement of material things. The basilica contains simple frescos instead of ornate stones and gold.

In fact, Kay had encouraged us all to say a prayer and to do one act as St. Francis would do in this experience, rather than be a typical tourist. She encouraged us to slip some coins to the poor and forgoing the traditional souvenir. It was a beautiful mindset in which to enter this holy place. Adding to this experience, we witnessed a peace rally marching 20km from Perugia to the basilica. This peace celebration only happens every 3 years and it was a coincidence that we were able to be a part of it.

On our ride home that evening, we witnessed a little peace as well when we saw this rainbow on the Umbrian landscape. What a nice souvenir.

Also in Assisi, we had the opportunity to visit a few Umbrian locals at Tivi Vini, a winery near Assisi. The same pride we’d seen from Elena at La Stoppa and Filipo of Fattoria della Cinta, also poured out in the mother daughter combo Tili and Maria.

We tasted their Assisi biance (chardonnay and pinot), the Grechetto (95% grechetto, 5% pinot), Pinto Nero (90% noir and 10% sangrantino — Rosie’s favorite), a Young (blend of 3 reds — Gabe’s favorite, a Rosso (Lauren’s favorite) and a 100% Sagrantino aged for 8 years.

We returned to Florence that night, but the next day, we had the pleasure of dining in Orvieto. The meal at Restaurant Maurizo, just off the main square, was hands-down my favorite meal of the trip. We started with a great antipasti, then a truffle and cheek umberchelini, then pasta with lamb ragu, a secondi of pork with herb rub and roasted potatoes and then a selection of local cakes for dolce. I am a sucker for any type of mushroom but the truffles put me over the edge. What a meal!

Umbria might be my new favorite over Tuscany.

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.