Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Travelling through France

This year our holiday involves quite a bit of driving through France. I'm not a fan of driving fast down the motorway, seeing nothing and paying high tolls so we always take the scenic route.

Our journey began on board Brittany Ferries ship Normandie. We know this ship well having sailed her last year and back in 1992 (her maiden year) with Dad and a very young Michael. We always book a cabin so we can relax on the five and a half hour crossing.
Much of our first few days were in the car
Normandie in 1992 - Dad's photo
One of the many Navy ships in the harbour
Brittany Ferries catamaran waiting to dock
Our first night was in Ouistreham where the ferry docks, an Ibis Styles hotel right along side the dock, great stopover with a good breakfast.

Saturday's drive was mainly using 'rue nationales' to cover the miles. Had we used the Autoroute's the day's journey would have cost €80, instead we travelled on the main roads which were straight, smooth, and reasonably quiet.

Our journey took us through the Loire Valley with the obvious lunch stop at Cheverny, obvious because it's one of our favourite Loire wines. Cheverny is a small village with a beautiful Chateau, we didn't have time to visit but did have a stroll round the village.

Cheverny church
Part of the Chateau grounds
It was a long drive but not overly tiring. Our stop over hotel this time was Ibis Budget on the outskirts of Montlucon. Perfect for a stop over as it was on a service area with a reasonable priced petrol station, two restaurants and a service station area. It certainly isn't a holiday spot to stay but was great for us.

After checking the restaurant menus we went to see what the service station was like, expecting our usual variety of fast food ... but what a surprise. It was amazing, like a posh restaurant with a bar as you went in, a small shop area, a waiter service restaurant and a self service restaurant.

We chose the self service - 5 courses including coffee. The total price including our bottle if wine was £26 - unbelievable value, great food and a new meaning to the word 'service station'.
The bar
Self service restaurant
Bar seating area through to waitered restaurant
Sunday we travelled from Montlucon to Aubenas, not so car in miles but no autoroutes and at times quite small roads. This route goes over the Volcans and a huge plateau. You don't realise you have climbed so high but most of the journey was at 3000 feet, our highest point was 4300 feet - higher than Snowdon !!

The views were amazing. We made a small detour to Lac du Bouchet and enjoyed a coffee at a superb restaurant on the lake side.  We found a quiet picnic spot for lunch with views right across the mountains - not had a picnic at 4000 feet before.
Lac du Bouchet
View from our picnic spot
Picnic time
Stunning views 
We did drop down a little at Aubenas although the centre of the town was high up - a difficult climb but worth it. At the top is a mediaeval castle that is now the Hotel de Ville (town hall). Super buildings all around, it was a great place to stop over.
Aubenas chateau
Turret overlooking the town 
Aubenas shield 
Monday was a day of drive - stop - photo - drive - repeat. We travelled through the Gorge de l'Ardeche with its famous Pont d'Arc where the river 1000s of years ago forced it's way through the rock. I had visited here when I was 13 and always wanted to show Nick, especially as he is interested in geology.

It was an amazing day, lots of people picnicking, sunbathing, even swimming at the river beach. Plenty of canoeists going down the river, their whoops echoing around the rocks. I took so many photos - these are some of my favourites.
High cliffs along the gorge
The road goes through many tunnels
At the Pont d'Arc with my lovely Hubby
Pont d'Arc
Pont d'Arc from the other side
The Ardeche river from one of the
many view points 
Ardeche river, perfect for canoeing
View towards the Cotes du Rhone region
our next destination
It's been amazing traveling through France, not really the main part of our holiday but full of highlights.

I'll blog about our wine tasting experiences in my next update - saluté

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

A little wine in June

A quick catch up about our latest wine findings before we head off to France for our wine adventure in the Rhone region - lots of exciting things planned, non more so than our meeting with Cellier des Dauphins at the Wine University for a wine tasting afternoon but before all that here's a few we've enjoyed at home.

Now the sun is out and the weather is gorgeously warm we decided it's time for mussels and a bottle of Sancerre - perfect evening meal out on our deck.

The mussels were pre-prepared in white wine sauce, boil in the bag style from Tesco .... and were delicious, so meaty.

The Sancerre was a birthday gift from some very good friends - my birthday is in September and this wine suits warmer weather so I've been saving it and last night was the perfect time.

It's a lovely clear wine with a hue of green, light bouquet of apple and citrus, fresh appley palate with a lemon and a hint of vanilla - available at Majestic 

I've been very lucky as I was selected to be on Aldi's 8th tasting panel - their wine is very very good. Each panel is six wines to taste and they are delivered over a few weeks in pairs - I'm collecting our last two tomorrow. These are the four we've tried so far:

Exquisite Albarino with delicate nose and
 peachy flavour 
Cotes de Provence rose full of summer fruits 
Gaguedi Swartland Sauvignon Blanc dry,
crisp, with pineapple highlights 
Blanquette de Limoux full of bubbles,
apples and a hint of pear
We have also joined Naked Wines and recently took delivery of our first chosen order - the first order is from a selective range of mixed cases but once you become a 'Naked Angel' you can make up your own selection per case.

Our first selection including a few freebies 
I really like their Villebois Sauvignon Blanc so we ordered a couple bottles of that, Hubby likes Rioja so he ordered a selection of Spanish wines and although not our usual bubbly we did enjoy the freebie Prosecco.

Lovely french sauvignon
Light bottle of bubbly 

Last year I saved any 2015 coin we had in our change and by the year end we had enough to buy a good bottle of wine each - we bought them from Cambridge Wine Shop in Salisbury and both were from Famille Perrin who are part of the Chateau Beaucastel winemakers. I'm hoping we can try some more Famille Perrin when we're in France.

Lovely red full of redcurrants and blackberries
Moving away from wine, last Friday Hubby and I along with our grown up son and daughter went to Majestic Wine in Leicester for their first beer course. Abraham hosted the tasting with us starting the evening with an IPA. Although we have all been to brewery tours so knew a little about how beer is made it was a great evening with various malts and hops to smell and taste.

I have not tasted a variety of beer from different producers before - on brewery tours you only taste that brand but a variety of styles - this course was six very different beers from six different producers. As with wine some beers taste better with food and Abraham had nibbles of cheese, crisps and sausage rolls for us to try with certain beers - it does make a difference and in some cases (as with wine) can spoil a drink.

Hubby and our son both liked Brewdog Punk IPA whereas our daughter and I both liked the Hawthorne Pilsner.

Thank you Majestic for a great night of beer discovery.

I think I'll be writing our french holiday discoveries up over a couple of blogs especially the wine details. Have a great June - always a good time of year for a glass of something nice in the garden.