See this insider’s guide to our favorite Barolo wine picks from Piedmont, Italy. We love this region so much, we just keep coming back!Read More
See our 4 day itinerary in Barolo, our favorite wine region in Italy!Read More
Our recommended 3 day itinerary in Tuscany for wine lovers. Travel through the beautiful Val d’Orcia, discover Brunello and Vino Nobile wines, pecorino cheese, and pici pasta in Montalcino, Pienza, Monticchiello, and Montepulciano.Read More
The Val' d’Orcia is home to two of Italy’s most important wines - Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Find out what these incredible wines have in common and makes this area so special.Read More
We are offering our popular Small Group Tour of Tuscany again this May, 2019. We hope you can join us for a week of amazing Italian food, wine and culture.Read More
We didn’t have to work at the winery on weekends and sometimes our hosts would recommend things for us to do. One day Marcello told us about an event coming up. He described it as a walk – with wine and food. It cost 25 Euro. As a winemaker, he had donated 6 bottles of wine for the event. Would we like to go? Well of course we’d like to go! Wine? Food? Walking?? These are all things that are right up our alley. So, Marcello made a reservation for us. We were told it would be a 9 km walk and the event would start with breakfast and coffee in the Piazza Belvedere in Dogliani at 8:30 on Sunday morning. The “Passeggiando ai confine di Castello” – Walking around the Castle – would begin at 9:00.
We got up early and walked the 4 km downhill from the winery to Dogliani. We got there while they were still setting up. I’m pretty sure we stood out like a sore thumb. Using our very best Italian (which is clearly not very good) we said we had reservations. We were handed a bag with a glass in it to put around our necks and Greg got a hat; I got a sort of purse, or bag. I laughed so hard when Greg put that bag around his neck. He looked ridiculous. It was awesome. We talked about the many times we attended the Granbury Wine Walk and how much fun we’ve had there over the years.
There was a truck with coffee – tiny little cups of espresso. It was cold outside and let me tell you, it’s quite difficult to warm your hands around a tiny plastic cup! They also served slices of bread with either Nutella, honey or marmalade. We ate slices of bread and drank 3 cups of espresso waiting for everything to get started. We started our walk around 9:40.
There were probably 200 people “walking around the castle” on this Sunday morning! There were old people and young people and every age in between. We were the only Americans. There were 2 other foreigners there – from the Netherlands. There were men directing traffic and leading us onward through the vineyards and the fields on our walk. It was incredible! We walked up hill a long way – probably for 35 minutes or so before we stopped for our first antipasti (YES – I said our FIRST antipasti!) Everyone filed through the line and our plates were loaded with carne crudo – raw meat, a typical Piemontese dish. We then went to the wine tent and they filled our glass (as many times as we wanted) with our choice of wine from the Dogliani region – wine donated by the many vinters in the area. We sat down by a fence, in the winemaker’s yard, with our wine and our raw meat, at 10:15 in the morning, with 200 strangers who mostly didn’t speak English – and relished in the experience.
This process repeated itself time and time again. It was amazing!! We walked from place to place – farm to farm – enjoying each course with local wine and dining al fresco. Each host was generous and happy we were all there for the event. We enjoyed a second antipasta of bagna cauda, then a pasta course with the biggest serving of spaghetti you’ve ever seen – then the secondi or meat course – thinly sliced and roasted beef with carrots…..then a cheese course and then back to the Piazza Belvedere for dolce – the sweet course. When we arrived at one winery we were ushered in and introduced to the winemaker and his sister as “The Americans”. He proceeded to tell us all about a wedding he attended recently in New Jersey and what a nice time he had in the States. They made us feel very special.
We wish so much that we had better Italian language skills so we could really communicate but we do our best and have fun as we blunder along. A few people did talk to us along the way. Some folks came up to us and asked if we were “the Americans.” Another couple had their children come up and talk with us so they could practice their English. We walked 9 km with these wonderful people and loved participating in this truly local event. We walked up the steepest vineyard you can imagine and old and young alike happily encouraged each other as we made it to the top of the hill. We finished our experience at 4:00 in the afternoon. As we walked the 4 km uphill back to the winery, we felt very lucky to have been included in this community on this very special day.
Are you planning a trip somewhere in Europe? We can help with that! Remember that we are always available to you and your friends and family for custom trip planning to Italy, France, Ireland, England and all of Europe. We also still have spots available on our small group trip to Tuscany and our small group trip to Piedmont! We'd love for you to join us! You can always reach Betsy at email@example.com. We would love to help you make your travel dreams to Europe come true!
Great value wines that are also easy to find. Here is a list of our favorite wines under 30 dollars. 10 red and 10 white that deliver great taste and won't break the bank!Read More
We are just returning from a week in the Loire Valley in France. I am literally on the plane while I write this, as I want to share my thoughts while my memory is fresh. It was our first time in the area. We wanted to learn more about the 3rd most important wine region in this beautifully wine-centric country. Everyone knows Bordeaux wines are historic. Burgundy is currently some of the most expensive wine in the world. But how many of us are well acquainted with Chinon, Borgeuil, Vouvrey and Sancerre from the Loire? The best way to learn about an unfamiliar wine region is to visit, taste the wine and speak with the people who actually make it. They are the ones who are truly passionate about their product and can best represent a region’s offerings.
So we went to the Loire Valley for our spring break and stayed near Chinon. Our daughter, Chelsea, and her husband Sam joined us although Sam had to return to work early in the week. On our first night there we visited Cave Voltaire where we were greeted by an English speaking Loire Valley wine connoisseur who introduced us to several fine representations of the Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc and Sauvingon Blanc grapes. We talked about the area and some of his favorite producers. He is the one who suggested that we visit Bernard Baudry who makes Chinon.
This was such an amazing tasting. I have tasted a lot of wine and talked with a lot of wine makers but this was by far one of my favorite tastings – ever. All it takes is a little curiosity and interest in a person, a place and the literal fruits of his labor.
Visiting wineries in the Loire is not like tasting in California where they are set up for visitors. In the Loire, the winery may say they are “Ouvert” (Open) but when you walk in and ring the bell, it’s quite possible that no one will show up. These are mostly small operations where the winemaker is also the one who tends the vines, picks the grapes, bottles the juice and sells it. So we didn’t know what to expect when we drove up to the modest tasting room at Bernard Baudry.
We walked into the office near the end of the day to find 2 older men enjoying a glass of rosé and chatting with each other. They were obviously long time friends. My French is not fluent but I try my best so I asked in French if it was too late for a tasting. They had a quick laugh and the friend, who was also quite charming, wound up leaving the winemaker to his clients. Our host was the winemaker, Bernard Baudry himself. He is the third generation of winemakers in his family and his son works with him. Bernard led our tasting and we were the only guests.
It helps to speak the same language but it's most important to be curious, appreciative and interested. We tasted several of his wines, each from different soils. They were extremely different from one another, depending on the terroir. His tasting room was decorated with interesting pictures from the past and unique art. We asked about these, as well as the wine. It turns out that Bernard is friends with another wine maker we visited earlier in the day, whose art was decorating the walls! This is an intimate place where everyone knows each other and their families.
We clearly were enjoying Bernard’s wine and his engaging personality. When we reached what we thought was the end of our tasting, he invited us into the cave where he keeps his barrels. We got to have a barrel tasting of his 2016 Chinon. This was such an honor. This particular wine is thick with tannins and too young to drink now but as he told us, you can see the future when you taste the wine. It will be delicious when it is bottled and available to the public, and even better if you lay it down for a few years.
We were enjoying ourselves immensely when he asked what year Chelsea was born. He laughed and said to me in French “notice that I did not ask what year you were born.” He went into a different part of the cave and pulled out a dusty bottle from 1992. We went into the tasting room and he opened the bottle with drama and a mixture of pride and humility. He said 1992 was not a good year. But the cork was still perfect and the wine was delicious, having changed with age and maturity, just as we all do.
Bernard talked about what makes a wine his favorite and it is not the price of the bottle or the prestige of the label – it is the history of the family, the work of the season, the memory of the year and the sharing with family and friends that makes a bottle meaningful. His wines will always be memorable to me because of this experience, his generosity and his influence on my understanding of the area. Being curious, and appreciative of his wines made this one of the best tasting experiences I’ve ever had. As with most visits in this region, there was no charge for the tasting. It is polite to buy a bottle or two, but after tasting the wine you are happy to do so because it is so good. It is also very reasonably priced compared to other regions in France!
Remember, if you or someone you know would like help planning your own trip to the Loire Valley or anywhere in France, Italy, Ireland or the rest of Europe, I would love to talk with you! You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to help you make your travel dreams to Europe come true!
Where will we go next? The Loire Valley in France! We have never been there before so we are really looking forward to it. The last 3 years we have planned trips to Ireland in March for 20-30 students on study abroad programs over spring break. This year, a colleague is taking students to Ireland and Greg and I are doing our own thing! We can’t wait! While we are there, our daughter and son-in-law will fly in from Copenhagen and meet us for this chateau and wine centric trip. We leave in 2 weeks. We are really excited!
So what kinds of Travel Planning Services are we implementing for our upcoming trip? I’ve been reading guidebooks on the Loire and making decisions on things we need to book before we leave. I’ve also been thinking about activities we can decide on once we get there, based on how we feel on any given day. It will be a quick trip to the Loire. We only have 9 days so we want to get the most from our time, while taking advantage of a chance to relax before the craziness of our last few months in Texas set in.
Travel Planning to France means Getting a Flight
Our first step was to book a flight. We have really only traveled business class across the pond one time, a long time ago. It was wonderful – but a bit of a fluke. I am normally a very budget minded person, knowing that the more I save on a trip, the more I can spend on the next one. This year, we found ourselves with a lot of frequent flyer miles on American Airlines and we decided to splurge and fly business class to Paris. I’m super excited about this! I know I can’t get used to it but I’m delighted to get to enjoy this luxury one more time. So I booked these flights on miles back in the summertime, knowing that the availability of flights using air miles becomes quite limited the closer you get to departure. You can book trips 330 days out, so getting an early start gives you the best chance of being able to use your miles. For us, using Advantage miles, you also have to be wary of a leg on British Airways, a partner with American. If you book the BA flight across the Atlantic, they will tack on hundreds of dollars in fees, negating the benefit of using the miles! So I unchecked that box on the American Airlines website when I was trying to find flights that would not charge a bunch in fees for what should be very inexpensive flights! We ended up paying $261 for 2 round trip business class tickets (and we spent a lot of miles – but this was the out of pocket cost for our tickets to France).
Trip Planning to France means Finding Transportation
Next – a rent car. I really like to use Kayak.com to check prices from multiple vendors with one search. It helps that we will be picking up and dropping off the car at the same location. We rented a car for 8 days. It’s a small car but big enough for 4 people and our bags and it is standard shift. Rental is through easyCar.com and total cost is $126. Now, we have to be careful not to get a parking or traffic ticket – because if that happens you pay the rental company for processing the paperwork and then you pay a hefty fine on top of that. No tickets, please! I am saying this from experience.....
Travel Planning to France means Finding Accommodations
We booked an apartment in Beaumont-en-Véron near Chinon (a great wine producing area) through AirBnB. I love using AirBnB; it makes us feel like locals when we have our own accommodations with a kitchen and a patio. We can feel like we live there, if only for a week. We are staying in a troglodyte house, a cave house, with a large garden, renovated for 4 people. Total cost for 7 nights: $921, or $131.57 per night for all 4 of us.
So far we’ve spent about $1300 for our flights, rent car and accommodations. Not bad! Next time I’ll tell you more about what we are actually planning to do while we are in France. Don’t worry – Greg is great about posting pictures on Instagram and Facebook so we’ll take you along with us as we travel to the Loire Valley in just a few weeks!
Remember, if you or someone you know would like help planning your own trip to France, Italy, Ireland or the rest of Europe, I would love to talk with you! You can always reach me at email@example.com. I would love to help you make your travel dreams come true!
During a recent trip to Piedmont we had an great dinner in Barolo. The food and wine in the Barolo region keep bringing us back and this meal at La Cantinetta truly outstanding!Read More