Grimentz: Geraniums galore and more


And the winner is — Yvonne Rouvinet. The competition: Geraniums.

Grimentz, a tiny Swiss hamlet high in the Anniviers Valley in southern Switzerland, is the Shangri-la of geraniums. The fiery red blossoms are the village claim to fame – brimming from boxes on houses, apartments, hotels, shops. Tourists clog narrow cobblestone lanes with their cell phone cameras.

Yvonne Rouvinet and her prize-winning geraniums.

Every August the village sponsors a geranium contest. This year there were over 170 entries in three categories: apartments, businesses and chalets. Rouvinet took top honors in the apartment category, beating out 130 other competitors.

Grimentz, a quintessential Swiss village,  was my destination for a solo mountain break. Husband Bob stayed home with his daughter who was visiting.  I miss the Swiss Alps where Bob and I had so many amazing adventures. We biked, with panniers, six of the country’s nine national bike routes. We hiked, often spending nights in gemütlich mountain lodges and huts. We skied its challenging slopes. I enjoyed several terrific press trips to different parts of the country. Those were the days. We were younger and very fit.

The Grimentz-Sorebois cable car ascends to  2,700 meters.

At times it was all too nostalgic. I could not hold back the tears when I saw cyclists loading their bikes on the trains. How many times had we done the very same thing? I hate growing old. I still yearn to soar down black runs (red would do), hike to high peaks, bike those three remaining Swiss bike routes. Merde!

Reality really set in when I set out on a hike which the guy in the tourist office recommended as “flat and easy” – supposedly an hour and half trek to the Hotel Weisshorn. I rode the funicular from St. Luc to the start of the trail. I had a backpack, but unfortunately no hiking poles. The trail was stoney. From the onset, there were ups and downs, not steep, but not my idea of flat. I progressed slowly, stopping to take photos. This was the Planets Trail with markers for the various planets along the way. After about 45 minutes I reached a large clearing where an imposing planet-like structure stood at the edge of the mountain. A woman sat on a bench underneath. I approached and asked her about it.

Marie Claire takes a rest under Saturn.

“Saturn,” she answered. I told her I was on the way to the Hotel Weisshorn. “Oh, it’s up there,” she said, pointing to a distant building atop a mountain. No way. This was not a “flat, easy hike.” I was devastated. I was already tired and my knees hurt.

Marie Claire is from Belgium and has been coming to nearby Zinal every year for many, many years, this time with a son.  Her husband died in 2006. She hiked to the hotel two years ago, but intended to take a pass this year and head back down. Her son had charged ahead.  She invited me to join her for the descent. She saved me, lending me one of her hiking poles.

Flat?  How naive was I?  Nothing can be flat in the Swiss Alps.

We talked about our old and broken bodies. She has two knee replacements. I have one. We both have hip tendinitis. I have a decaying back. Marie Claire was also an inspiration, very positive about everything. “You have to keep moving.”

I failed at the Weisshorn hike, but certainly I could master the hike around Lake Moiry. Clement Vianin, a Grimentz native and the manager of the charming Hotel Meleze where I stayed, suggested I take the bus to the Moiry glacier, then hike the trail around the lake to the dam and bus stop at the other end. Bravo. I did it.

Moiry Glacier.  Climate change has taken its toll.

Like all mountain glaciers, this one has suffered from climate change and has receded significantly.

The lake is a marvel of intense, vibrant turquoise. Minerals from the glacier’s melting ice give the lake its gorgeous hue.

Lake Moiry

I relished hiking around the lake at a snail’s pace, stopping for lots of photos. I even tried macro on some wildflowers. This is the Switzerland I love.

I was in heaven the first night when I entered the cozy, woodsy restaurant of the Hotel Meleze permeated with the aromas of Switzerland – fondue and raclette. I ordered one of my favorites, the deluxe version of Croute au Fromage, bread topped with ham, Gruyere and an egg, baked so the cheese melts and the egg cooks. This called for several glasses of Fendant (Swiss white wine). During my visit I indulged in other Swiss favorites, Rosti, grated potatoes with any melange of other ingredients. I chose one with lots of melted cheese and an

Cheesy Risotto

egg. I had another cheese bombshell, a Risotto speciality at the Becs de Bosson restaurant. Parmesan is pounded smooth in a big bowl as you watch. Grappa is added, then the hot rice. That was my Swiss cheese farewell. I savored it all, but by then I had had enough cheese and was ready for a return to fish from the Med.

Back to those geraniums. I plant them every summer, but mine never looked like those in Grimentz. “It’s the climate,” Rouvinet said. “Not too hot. That is not good.” She also pointed out that the old dark wood of the village buildings “gives a good effect” to the geraniums. Many of the ancient houses date from the 13th to the 15thcentury.

The villagers use a special fertilizer for geraniums. They caution against over-watering. Dead-heading the faded blossoms is also critical. Many chalets and apartments in Grimentz are not occupied year round. Thirty village volunteers visit unoccupied residences to care for the flowers.

Wooden houses were built upon a base of stone where grain was stored.  Wine now replaces grain .

Grimentz is in the French speaking part of Valais, a  bi-lingual canton in Switzerland.  The town, elevation 1,570 meters, is a ski resort as well as a geranium Mecca. It has just 450 permanent residents, but the number skyrockets to as many as 4,000 in winter when  skiers arrive. Summer and geraniums bring almost that number, but many just come for the day to admire red blossoms and take  photos.

Rouvinet’s prize? Not a bottle of champagne. Not a bottle of Fendant, but a bottle of fertilizer and a coupon to buy geraniums next year.

Scroll down for more photos.

Road to the Moiry Dam and glacier at right.
Picnic at Lake Moiry
Sunset in Grimentz
Name this flower


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Cannes: Far from the Madding crowd

The crowds are fierce in this Riviera hot spot in August. And, of course during its famous film festival when the world focuses on all the stars who pose on the red carpet at the Palais des Festivals.

View from the ferry
Cannes viewed  from the ferry

But, you can escape the masses and find tranquility amidst Mediterranean splendor just a short boat ride (20 minutes) away. We visited Cannes again this year to watch outstanding fireworks which are part of an international competition held every summer in Cannes. Fireworks are shot from numerous boats in the harbor and synchronized to music. Worth a trip!


So too is a visit to the off shore islands (Îsles de Lérins): Île Sainte Marquerite and Île Saint Honorat. Last summer we hiked around Ste. Marquerite, the larger island, and savored an excellent lunch on the shore. This time, Saint Honorat, the monks’ island.cannes,14

Splendid. The tiny island has no cars, no hotels, just one restaurant, two shops –and monks. In 410 AD, Honoratus, a Roman noble who became saintly and sought isolation, is said to have chosen the island, then full of snakes and scorpions and thought to be haunted, as an ideal retreat. Visitors followed. A monastic order was established.

11th century fortress was connected to the original abbey by a tunnel.
11th century fortress was connected to the original abbey by a tunnel.

The monastery grew to become one of the most powerful in Christendom. Alas, peace and quiet did not last. Raids by Saracens and pirates in the 8th century took their toll, then later attacks by Spaniards. The monastery was closed in 1788, but reborn in 1859 when Cistercians took it over.

Today 20 monks live on Saint Honorat. In addition to praying, they cultivate grapes, eight hectares of vineyards, five for red wine, and three for white.

The monks' grapes were looking good.,
Monastery grapes are looking good.

We followed the mostly shaded trail along the island’s craggy coastline, past rocky coves, ancient chapel ruins, an 11th century fortress and cannonball ovens. These curious structures were used in the 18th century to heat cannonballs so they would wreck further destruction on the ships they hit.

VR inspects a cannonball oven.
VR inspects a cannonball oven.

Signs along the way remind you to keep quiet and to respect the religious ambience – no bare chests. Mediterranean vegetation – pines, herbs, eucalyptus – borders the trail and makes for interesting photos. Other paths lead through the island interior, past the vineyards.

Monks have been living here for 16th centuries. REspect
Respect the monks and their silence.  Be decently attired.  T-shirts and shorts obligatory.

It is truly another world: beautiful, peaceful and quiet. It was hard to fathom that those noisy masses on La Croisette, Cannes renowned boulevard, were not far away.cannes.5

We stopped to visit the current abbey church and the shop which sold mainly wine. According to a brochure on the island wine, it is “full of spirituality.” All the vintages are named after saints, but you will pay dearly for spiritual wine.   The cheapest we found was 26 euro, but most were far more expensive.

No wine bargains here.
No wine bargains here.

At La Tonnelle , the island restaurant, we each ordered a glass of the monk’s brew to accompany our lunch. A glass of Sainte Cesaire (Chardonnay) for me at 8 euro; a glass of Saint Honorat (Syrah) for VR at 11.80 euro. I found my wine too oaky and too Chardonnay. Vino Roberto’s was good, very robust. To take a bottle home: 33 euro. VR reasoned he could buy several good bottles back in the Luberon for that amount.canes.15

The lunch (we each ordered fish) was delicious.   People watching at this seaside eatery also gets high marks. Pleasure boats cast anchor off shore. A tender ferries passengers to the restaurant, a constant parade of the yachting crowd.cannes.8

Travel Tips:

Trip Advisor led me to the Hotel l’Olivier in Cannes, a small, family-run (22 rooms) hotel on a hillside overlooking the Med.   Our room was tiny, but our terrace with a superb view was perfect. The hotel personnel were all very warm, welcoming and helpful. It was a bit of a walk to the town center, but good exercise. The hotel has a small pool, flowered terrace for al fresco breakfast, and it’s quiet – a great escape from the chaos of La Croisette. A beach is also nearby.

Beach near the hotel
Beach near the hotel

Another Trip Advisor find, the Bistrot Saint-Sauveur in Le Cannet, a town above Cannes, where we had an excellent lunch.

La Tonnelle, restaurant on the island,

A leisurely saunter around the island takes about 1 ½ hours. Boats to both islands run about every hour during summer months. Round-trip ticket to Saint Honorat, 14 euro (price for seniors). More information

Island olive tree
Island olive tree

Don’t miss Today’s Taste in column at right: DILLY POTATO SALAD, my favorite potato salad.

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Swiss Slopes Welcome Journalists

blog.ledeThey came, they skied, they raced, they partied – 210 journalists from 31 countries on the Swiss slopes above the charming town of Champéry. The ski terrain is part of the incredible Portes du Soleil ski region with interconnecting slopes in both Switzerland and

The 61st meeting of the Ski Club of International Journalists (SCIJ) had a serious side, too. Jean Claude Biver, president of the upscale Swiss watch manufacturer, Hublot, gave a fascinating presentation on the “Swiss model” and the history of watch making in the country. A panel of experts discussed climate change and the threat to mountains. Another panel talked about “swissness.”blog.27

But, it’s skiing that is foremost during these meetings, once each year in a different country. I’ve been a member for many years and, in addition to joining meets on European slopes, I’ve had the fortune to ski in Japan, the U.S., Argentina, Turkey and Morocco.

Races are de rigueur, both giant slalom and cross country. This was my first time back in the starting gates with my new knee. My times were slow, but I

American teammate Risa Wyatt et moi.
American teammate Risa Wyatt et moi.

competed. This was also my first time skiing in about four years. The bionic knee is a wonder, performing well beyond my expectations.

Even though SCIJ races are for fun, many take them seriously. It’s hard not to get pre-race jitters before the competitions. Races aside, skiing at Portes du Soleil, which claims to be the largest ski area in the world, is fabulous with slopes for all

I joined friends for a trek over the mountains to Avoriaz and beyond in France. We had snow the first few days of our stay, so the off-piste skiers were in heaven, most skiing on freeride skis.   The more adventurous, equipped with  avalanche beacons and shovel, followed a guide to ski back country.

British table at Nations Night
British table at Nations Night

Nations Night is a favorite on the après-ski agenda. Members bring delicacies (food and beverages, usually alcoholic) from their countries to share with others. There were just three Americans this time, myself, Risa Wyatt and Peter Schroeder, both from N. California. We had a Kentucky table. (Peter hails from Louisville and I got my journalism start at the Louisville Courier-Journal many, many years ago.)  We offered mint juleps, ham and corn bread. There was no blog.1reasonable way to get Kentucky ham to Switzerland, so we settled on a Swiss smoked variety which was delicious. I baked and lugged five heavy batches of corn bread in a backpack, in addition to a weighty suitcase, on the train from France. A major mistake!  Corn bread, I learned, is best eaten the day it is baked, not three days later. Although it had been enveloped in plastic wrap and then foil, it was hard, dry, dreadful. It all ended up in the garbage. (But — it was yummy the day it was baked, warm from the oven smeared with butter. See recipe in column at right.)

The week ended with a “White Party,” when all were asked to wear white. Bulgarian doctors and nurses joined sheiks and others clad in snow white for a fun and festive evening. blog.12

I went on to join a small group for a post trip to slopes in Crans Montana, another top Swiss ski resort. In addition to skiing in the sunshine, we enjoyed a tasting of wines from the Valais, Switzerland’s largest wine producing area. We also had the opportunity to savor diffferent Swiss wines at Champéry. Excellent, but unfortunately since limited quantites are produced, the thirsty Swiss drink most and little is exported.

Thank you, SCIJ Switzerland, for a super meeting!blog.26 SCIJ USA is looking for new members. If you know an American journalist who skis, tell him/her to check out the web site, , and/or contact me.

More about Champéry at

More about Portes du Soleil,

Share your thoughts…comments are welcome.  See “Leave a Reply” below. And, sign up, top right,  to see future posts.  More Myanmar coming soon, Blissful Days at Nagapali Beach.

 More SCIJ  photos follow:

Tatiana from Russia at a wine tasting in Crans Montana.
Tatiana from Russia at a wine tasting in Crans Montana.


Some toured the Morand Distillery where tasting was tops.
Some toured the Morand Distillery where tasting was tops.


Koos from Holland, the man behind the traditional pea soup served after cross country  race.
Koos from Holland, the man behind the traditional pea soup served after cross country race.


Czech beer after the cross country race was a hit.
Czech beer after the cross country race was a hit.
Peter from Denmark
Peter from Denmark
Me, Peter and Risa at Crans Montana,
Me, Peter and Risa at Crans Montana,
A cozy place for a warm up and rest.
A cozy place for a warm up and rest.
And the winners are...
And the winners are…
A hearty Swiss soup followed the GS race.
A hearty Swiss soup followed the GS race.
Uros from Slovenia and friend.
Uros from Slovenia and friend.
Some danced until the wee hours.
Some danced until the wee hours.


Cliona and Isabel from Ireland with Gill from Great Britain.
Cliona and Isabel from Ireland with Gill from Great Britain.

Wild and Wonderful Corsica

Bonifacio ,

According to the sign posted at the beginning of the hiking trail in the Corsican mountains, it was a one-hour trek to Lac de Melu.  Piece of cake, I figured, and a good test for my new,

Two hours later we were still huffing and puffing, scrambling over rocks —   even a few times on all fours for me.  No lake in sight. We had conquered the challenging, extra steep sections of chains and ladders.  But, the trail of all rocks went on and on, up and up.  At times it was frustrating to figure out which way to proceed over this stony sea.  The trail was marked by yellow slashes on the rocks, but often they were hard to spot.

Find the yellow slash -- the trail marker.
Find the yellow slash — the trail marker.

I was about to give up when we encountered a group on their way down.  “How much farther?” I asked.  “It’s not that far.  Will you make it?  If you want I can accompany you,” answered the mountain guide who was leading the others.   I must have looked near death, which is about the way I felt, but there was no way I would ask for assistance.  Now I was more determined than ever to conquer this trail.

After two hours and 10 minutes we reached the lovely lake.  How could anyone make it here in one hour?   We are old, but not decrepit. That sign was meant for Himalayan

Getting down was no easy task.  The rocks, all sizes, were demanding.  You had to keep your eyes on the trial below at all times to figure out where to put your foot next, on top of which boulder, into which crevice.  I was petrified of falling, of breaking a leg, screwing up my knee.  How would I be rescued?  No helicopters could land anywhere near this surface of rugged rocks. I did fall once, but fortunately I had given my camera to BB (husband Bicycle Bob) who was more steady a foot.  I ended up with a badly bruised leg, but nothing broken, including my precious camera.

Refilling the water bottles.
Refilling the water bottles.

In our younger days, BB and I did some long and tough mountain hikes in the Swiss Alps – several days on the trail with backpacks.  We loved it.  This was different.  “Most hikes are strenuous, but enjoyable,” he remarked. “This was work, labor intensive.”

What a relief to get the work over with, to reach the hut at the bottom – and to enjoy that satisfying sense of accomplishment after conquering a mountain.  O.K.  This was just a lake, not a mountain, and we were slow.  But, we did it.  My knee passed the

Rocks abound in Corsica—not just on mountain trails.  Along the coast.  On the beaches.  In the sea.  Rocks in the shape of animals, human faces, surrealistic

Natural rock.
Natural rock.


Not long after we disembarked from our all-night ferry ride to this island in the Med (Toulon to Ajaccio); we stopped to visit the archeological site, Filitosa, on our way south.  Incredible rocks there. We followed the path through the site where artifacts dating to as early as 3,300 have been found.  Ancient civilizations lived in caves here.  During the megalithic period they erected menhir statues, granite monoliths, carved to represent human faces or entire figures.  They are intriguing, as are the natural rock formations in the area.


Onward to the coast and the tiny town of Tizzano for five nights at the Hotel du Golfe, which advertises that it has its feet in the sea. The Mediterranean waters were right below the balcony of our room.  Awake to the soothing sounds of the sea gently slapping the rocks. The hotel beach is just a miniscule patch of sand surrounded by those rocks. Getting in and out of the sea was a bit tricky maneuvering over the hurdles, but the water was perfect. I swam and swam and swam with no one in sight.

Mini beach on a windy day --too dangerous to swim
Mini beach on a windy day –too dangerous to swim

During our October visit to this island utopia we enjoyed still warm weather and mostly blue skies – and tranquility.  The tourist season was over.  On the plus side, no crowds anywhere and the highways to ourselves.  On the down side, many shops, hotels and restaurants had already closed for the season.  All four of the restaurants in Tizzano were boarded shut.

There is just one winding road down the mountain from the inland town of Sartène leading to our mini burg and the sea. Winter Tizzano population:

Chopinette, my favorite Corsican,
Chopinette, my favorite Corsican,

30 humans and lots of felines.   In the summer:  3,000 tourists.  In October:  us, the locals, a few other tourists and the friendly cats.  I was in heaven.

Since BB is not a swimmer and we wanted to see more than Tizzano, we set out on excursions every day, to Ponte Vecchio on the eastern coast, to Bonifacio in the far southwestern corner of the island, and on foot one day for a hike along corsica.15bthe shore.  No leisurely stroll along a sandy beach was this, but a demanding trek through coastal bush –and yet more boulders.  The scenery was splendid with more fantastic rock formations to photograph.

Ponte Vecchio is basically a resort town with lots of sailboats in the harbor, narrow streets with cute boutiques (most closed) and restaurants (also most closed).  Not too exciting.  Bonifacio is different, a two-level, lively town.  The haute ville, an amazing sight, perches precariously atop a cliff on a thin peninsula.  Skinny streets twist past ancient buildings, including numerous churches.   We followed the advice of the woman in the tourist office and set off to the Escalier du Roi d’Aragon – 187 steps from a corner of the town’s citadel plunging to the sea.  Scary, steep steps. Descending them is an exhilarating adventure.  They plummet straight down and at times involve big jumps – one step where there should be

The winds were ferocious on the day of our Bonifacio visit. Mammoth waves roared and crashed into the rocks. We had been told the best view of the city is from the water, but due to the wind velocity, tourist boats were not running.

So, let’s splurge on lunch. Food is always a highlight of our travels.  Since so many restaurants were closed, our choices were limited.  We had few memorable meals in Corsica, including one we’d like to forget — the $98 (72 euro) fish at a harbor restaurant in Bonifacio.  We like fish and craved a fresh Mediterranean corsica.26catch.  The waiter brought out a tray of specimens and recommended a “Sar.”  We had never heard of this fish, but were game to try, not bothering to ask the price.  Bad move. The astronomical bill  –the fish had been priced at nine euros per 100 grams –was a  shock.   Our Sar was a big fellow, tasty, perhaps not that tasty, but it did come with some veggies and potatoes.

Corte's citadel
Corte’s citadel

Cap Corse, the island finger at the northern tip, was our destination for three days before boarding the ferry in Bastia for the trip back to Toulon.  En route we spent a night at the interior town of Corte so we could do the lake hike.  Hiking is just one of numerous outdoor activities offered in Corsica – all kinds of water sports plus mountain adventures:  canyoning, rock climbing, zip line

The drive through the interior is spectacular – miles and miles of rugged nature over excellent roads.   Although Corsica is a vacation paradise, it has not been scarred by mass tourism.  There are vast pristine sections in both the interior and along the coast — no towns, no hotels, no commerce.


Our hotel in the coastal town of Erbalunga was not on the beach, but it did have a large heated pool — my private pool – no other swimmers.

We drove along the Cap coast with many photo stops.  We drove through the middle of the peninsula over roads that averaged more than a dozen curves per kilometer.  Along the route:  stops for wine tasting and buying.  Wine is the island’s principal export.  According to my guidebook bible, Lonely Planet corsica.38bCorsica, the wines “are not necessarily the most distinguished of wines.”   Some of the grape varieties (Niellucciu for one) are unique to Corsica.  As BB seems to like wine more than bicycles these days, we bought a supply.

corsica.47Bastia, a town of crumbling splendor, is fun to explore: a busy harbor, imposing citadel, intriguing hillside park, ancient churches – and shops that were open.  Throughout the trip I had been searching for stores where I could purchase Corsican delicacies – cheese, sausage, honey, jams.  No luck. In Bastia’s thriving shopping district, I found my treasures at

I hope to return to Corsica, but in late September before so much shuts down for winter.  And, I’d go back to Tizzano and the Hotel du Golfe.  Gil Chopin, the hotel proprietor, told me he was born in the town but moved on to work in Paris and other cities.  “I missed nature, the sea.”  He came back.  “We live in harmony with nature here.  Each day is different.  Each day I am astonished.  For me, this is paradise.”  It was paradise for me, too.

Hotel du Golfe,Tizzano.  A perfect coastal retreat. The simple but comfortable rooms all have balconies above the Med.  Idyllic location.

On the terrace at Hotel du Golfe
On the terrace at Hotel du Golfe

Hotel Castel Brando, Erbalunga, Cap Corse. Spacious accommodations including rooms with private terraces, lovely garden for breakfast  (ample, including do-it-yourself eggs and pancakes) and a super heated pool.

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Discovering Fine Wines in the Gard

gard.10According to the French proverb, “A day without wine is a day without sunshine.”  There’s no lack of liquid sunshine in our lives, nor in the lives of most of the French, as wine is an essential part of life here.   Not far from our abode in the Luberon area of Provence are numerous wineries.  BB (husband Bicycle Bob) and I enjoy treks to visit and taste and buy.

Last week’s all-day excursion to sample  Côtes du Rhône wines in the department of the Gard northwest of Avignon was over-the-top.  Four wineries, lots of delicious reds and whites – plus the famous Tavel Rosé.

Happy Wine Tasters--photo by David Regan
Happy Wine Tasters–photo by David Regan

French friends Anne and Pascal organized the jaunt, rented a van, and invited us, plus our friends David, Martine and George. (David’s wife Mollie was sick and had to miss the event.)    Pascal hails from the region, and is a fan of its red wine.  He had prepared documentation on the area, as well as each of the wineries we would visit.  Very impressive and professional.

Pascal, Gard wine afficionado
Pascal, Gard wine afficionado

The Gard, as opposed to other wine areas we have visited, is relatively flat.  Vines grow on level ground in chalky soil covered by layers of flat stones which act as heat storage – similar to the terrain of the prestigious Châteauneuf- du- Pape vineyards.   Winters are warm and dry. Spring is warm and wet, while summers, very hot and dry, precede warm and rainy autumns. Mistral winds blow away the risk of disease.  It all makes for excellent wine.

Chartreuse de Valbonne,  an ancient monastery founded in 1203 with its own vineyards, was our first stop.  Pascal’s mother was a teacher there, teaching the children of the doctors who worked at the hospital for lepers formerly housed in the monastery.  His mother’s family moved gard,1from northern France to the Gard, which was a Zone Libre (free zone), during World War II.

We sipped three reds and two whites.  Martine and I, both fans of white wine, especially liked Terrasse de Montalivet, Côtes du Rhône Village 2011, 100% Viognier.   Pascal said he prefers the white wines of Burgundy, but for red wine, these Côtes du Rhône are his favorites.  He explained that the combination of the terrain and the expertise of the vintners in the region who blend different grapes result in “wines with a special character.”   And, the price is right, not as expensive as other, better known Côtes du Rhône.

gard.6The wine connoisseur chose the perfect lunch stop:  Goudargues, “Venice Gardoise,” a delightful town with a canal bordered by giant Plane trees right gard.8smack in its middle.  We sat outdoors above the clear water where we’d spot an occasional trout.  Moules (mussels) were a restaurant special.  I chose the version in curry sauce, while BB opted for mussels with a chorizo sauce.  Both served with frites and scrumptious.

Delicious (photo by David).
Delicious (photo by David).

George and David are serious, professional photographers. Martine, Anne and I also like taking photos.  We all found plenty of photo opps in this pretty, pleasant  town.

Martine gets the perfect grape shot.
Martine gets the perfect grape shot.

More wine awaited at Domaine Pélaquié,, a family winery dating back to the 16th century with 85 hectares of vineyards. Some of its wines have the appellation Côtes du Rhône Village Laudun.

Laudun is one of about 20 villages that are permitted to add their names to the Côtes du Rhone Villages appellation.  These vineyards are noted to produce higher-quality wines distinctive of the regional style. Wines with the Côtes du Rhône Village appellation are a step up in quality from those of the Côtes du Rhône title.

Serious tasters BB and David
Serious tasters BB and David

The winery brochure states that from father to son, generation after generation, the secrets and knowledge of the soil and the grape vines have been passed on.  But each generation makes its own discoveries to create elegant wines with the distinctive character of this domaine.

My wine of choice here was the white Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun 2012, a blend of Grenache blanc, Clairette, Viognier and Roussanne grapes,  € 8.50 per bottle.  BB liked the Luc Pélaquié Côtes du Rhône 2010, a red wine, 100 % Mourvèdre, at € 13 per bottle.

Anne is not a big fan of wine, but she loved that grape juice.
Anne is not a big fan of wine, but she loved that grape juice.

Proprietor Luc Pélaquié led us back into the “cave” to taste grape juice.  He filled our glasses from a 6,000 liter steel tank containing liquid from grapes that had been pressed only a few days prior and was just beginning to ferment.   All rated it very tasty and refreshing.

There was plenty of action to observe at the next stop, a co-op winery, Caves des Vins de Cru de Lirac,  The commune of Lirac has 715 hectares of vineyards producing wines, predominantly red, of an exceptional quality.

Grape harvest was in full swing in the region.  Truck after truck pulling trailers brimming with grapes arrived at the co-op to dump their contents into a vat where they were instantly crushed by revolving blades.  The aromas,  musty and  fruity,  were heavenly.gard.15

Christiane Bouzige, the winery’s “chef d’exportation,” explained that 60 vintners bring their grapes to the co-op.  Harvest lasts about three weeks when all involved in the business of wine production work seven days a week, almost round the clock.  She predicts that this year’s wine in the Gard will be “very good, but with a small harvest…The grapes are very small…It was very cold in April.”  The co-op sells 36 different wines, ranging in price from € 4 to € 37,50 per bottle.

At Domaine Lafond,, our last stop, we got to taste a Châteauneuf- du- Pape 2009/2010 as this winery has vineyards in the Châteauneuf -du- Pape region.  gard.9The wine’ s  name dates back to 1305 when  the Pope moved to Avignon.   Clement V,  pontiff at the time, was an avid wine lover.    We all relished  the pope’s wine (80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre),   but at € 25.50 per bottle, a bit too pricey for our budgets.

We also tasted a Tavel Rosé, which vintner Pascal Lafond said is a “very different style of rosé than the rosé of Provence.  You can drink it year round, not just in summer around the pool.”

Lafond, another old family wine estate, produces “bio” wines.   Pascal Lafond mans the winery while his 83-year-old father Jean-Pierre keeps the books.  “I have to check to see if he has made any mistakes, “ said Jean-Pierre.

To our surprise, we began our tasting here with a red wine, followed by the rosé, then the white.  We had assumed the order  should be the reverse, but Pascal explained that in this order the true flavors of the white wine are appreciated.  We did appreciate his excellent white, Lirac Blanc 2012, € 9,20 per bottle.

Wines of southern France are richer and more complex in taste, he said.gard.17

Some of Lafond’s wines are aged in oak barrels for several months.  He proudly showed us his “cave” with long rows of beige colored  barrels which looked new.  He prefers French and Russian oak for his wine storage.  American oak, he finds, gives “too much taste.”

On our way out we walked past stacks of boxes ready for shipping.  Several were labeled “Cascher” (Kosher).  Two rabbis work at the winery in the production of this special wine which is shipped to Jewish communities in France as well as in the US.

Photo by David
Photo by David

That was a healthy dose of delectable sunshine. All returned with several boxes of wine to be assured of sunny days in the winter ahead.  Merci,  Pascal and Anne.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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A recipe to try:  Duck Breasts in Balsamic Vinegar. It’s very good and very easy and comes from my Australian friend Meg. Scroll down recipe column at right.