Archive of ‘Travel’ category

Press Trip to Bergerac… and “My Heart’s Home”!

When En Route editor Andy Arnts asked if I was interested in going on a press trip to Bergerac, it didn’t take long for me to say ‘yes’. I love the city and am there every summer during our vacations in Duras, which, as you may know by now, is “my heart’s home”. You can imagine my surprise when I reread the mail he sent me and discovered that the press trip would also take us to… Duras! In case, you don’t know, by the way, I am the culinary columnist for En Route.
The trip, which was organized by Vins de Bergerac & Duras and Business France, featured wine, food and culture. We (I had the pleasure of being in the company of Renée Salome from Winelife, Loethe Olthuis from the Volkskrant and Marjolein Schipper from De Telegraaf) had the chance to taste fantastic Bergerac wines (I am especially in love with the wines from Château Bélingard, and Laurent, the owner is just about the most charming person you will ever meet), dine at Michelin-starred restaurants such as Les Fresques at Château des Vigiers and La Tour des Vents, and visit beautiful places such as the château and tower of French philosopher Michel Montaigne and Château de Monbazillac. Being in Duras again (just weeks before our vacation) was also fantastic. One afternoon, we visited the Maison des Vins and had a lovely walk through the Berticot vineyards. We were in the village late at night though, so it was pretty much deserted, but we did get treated to a spectacular light show at the château!
We stayed at the beautiful Château les Merles where I also got a chance to interview the gracious owners Jan van Grinsven and his wife José as part of an assignment for an awesome magazine (more on that in due course). I can tell you, however, that I pitched the magazine just days before my departure and got the ‘go-ahead’ the same day! Mr. Van Grinsven was a joy to talk to. He is truly an example of someone who isn’t afraid of chasing dreams. Oh, and I really enjoyed hopping on one of the golf carts with him and seeing both his abundant potager (which is used by the on-site restaurant) and his favorite spot overlooking the vineyards!
Now I know this may all sound idyllic (and that I may even make you slightly jealous), but believe me, press trips are not all-expense paid vacations — they are work, and the workdays are long (but lots of fun)! Every sip of wine, every bite of food and every place is carefully analyzed. I made notes, took video, recorded explanations, took pictures, posted extensively on social media… and then came home and spent the next two weeks organizing all the material, doing further research and writing.
But this is the best job ever. I can definitely say that my work involves a lot of ‘pinch me’ moments!
Here are some pictures. You can find more on Instagram.

Château les Merles, where we stayed during our trip. Beautiful four-starred hotel with GaultMillau restaurant and lovely owners.

Château les Merles, where we stayed during our trip. Beautiful four-starred hotel with GaultMillau restaurant and lovely owners.

Wines at Bergerac's Maison des Vins.

Wines at Bergerac’s Maison des Vins.

Jan van Grinsven's (owner of Les Merles) favorite spot.

Jan van Grinsven’s (owner of Les Merles) favorite spot.

Château de Montaigne, where French philosopher Michel Montaigne wrote his famous 'Essais'. The book is now on my night table.

Château de Montaigne, where French philosopher Michel Montaigne wrote his famous ‘Essais’. The book is now on my night table.

Tasting session at Domaine du Haut-Pécharmant.

Tasting session at Domaine du Haut-Pécharmant.

The lovely cheese course served by Paul Ebbing and Reinoud Slinkman of La Maison Forte.

The lovely cheese course served by Paul Ebbing and Reinoud Slinkman of La Maison Forte.

Tasting with Hugh Ryman at his organic vineyard, Château de la Jaubertie.

Tasting with Hugh Ryman at his organic vineyard, Château de la Jaubertie.

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The marvelous kitchen at La Jaubertie… what a dream!

Enjoying dinner with Daniel Hecquet from Château Puy Servain at Michelin-starred restaurant Les Fresques.

Enjoying dinner with Daniel Hecquet from Château Puy Servain at Michelin-starred restaurant Les Fresques.

Tasting at Berticot in Duras. Wines I know all too well!

Tasting at Berticot in Duras. Wines I know all too well!

A wonderful way to end our press trip: lunch with Laurent and Sylvie de Bosredon of Château Bélingard!

A wonderful way to end our press trip: lunch with Laurent and Sylvie de Bosredon of Château Bélingard!

Views over Château Bélingard... stunning.

Views over Château Bélingard… stunning.

Week at the French Seaside

Le Touquet-Paris-Plage is known as one of the most luxurious beach resorts in the north of France. Wealthy Parisians have beautiful summer villas there, and the resort was a favorite among people such as Serge Gainsbourg, Marlène Dietrich and Winston Churchill. One of its most famous residents today may just well be French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron!
We fell in love with Le Touquet years ago during our first trip to the north of France, and since then, we alternate either early winter in Bourgogne or late spring in Le Touquet. Last week we had another wonderful holiday at this gorgeous coastal town. It was only five days, but it felt like so much more. We enjoyed wonderful (and not so wonderful!) French food, had the fortune of having fantastic weather (albeit a little on the chilly side), and enjoyed walks on the beach with our little digger Pastis (who gave me quite a scare when he got sand in his eyes!). Here are some snapshots of our week, for those who didn’t already see them on Instagram. PS: There are more there.
I am looking forward to going back already! Never visited? Have a look at this link:

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Our ‘welcome to France’ meal has always been steak-frites. And the best we’ve ever had is served at Brasserie de la Paix in Sainte Cecile. Everything is perfect here. The wine, the desserts, the ambience!

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Brasserie de la Paix, from the outside. The beach is two steps away.

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Some of the seaside houses of Le Touquet. The really fancy ones on their own private little hills are about a five-minute drive from the beach and city center.

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This could have been the best meal ever! We went for a drive and ended up in a coastal town called Saint-Valery-sur-Somme. There we stopped at Le Bistrot de St. Val where I started with six beautiful oysters before moving on to this sumptuous choucroute de la mer! Sauerkraut, various types of seafood and a delectable cream sauce to gloriously crown it all. The wine was gorgeous and the setting at their veranda just perfect.

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After lunch, we walked through the center of town, Beautiful little French village!

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Our next stop was Cayeux-sur-Mer.

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Majestic views around Camiers.

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On Wednesday, we visited Boulogne-sur-Mer and ate at the cozy restaurant La Pierre Chaud. Run by a friendly couple, eating at the restaurant feels like coming home after a long day at work. I started with a herring salad and my main was a traditional dish of northern France called ‘potjevleesch’, a terrine with various types of meats such as rabbit, pork, veal and chicken. I can’t even tell you how good it is — though it may not look that appetizing!

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After lunch, it was time to walk off some of the calories!

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Square at Boulogne-sur-Mer.

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On Thursday morning, hubby and I headed for the market in Le Touquet where we enjoyed coffee and croissants in the sun! Kirstie stayed at the hotel with Pastis as markets are not all that interesting to them.

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The covered part of the market is the best part! We got some bits and pieces for dinner that day, including a tasty piece of duck-pepper terrine from Prince Mulard!

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And no trip to the north of France would be complete without buying a chunk of the stinkiest and tastiest of cheeses — Maroilles! Look at this beautiful cheese stand!

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Our final lunch in France was at Á Table in Le Touquet’s Rue du Metz. Wonderfully cozy place. We started with this lovely goat’s cheese salad and our main was pork loin in mustard-lavender sauce! A flavor explosion! By the way, we had a pretty horrible experience at Le Matisse (where I got served the most vile Belgian endive salad) and at Au Marché (where Kirstie was served a bleeding burger and I ended up a bit sick; a shame as we loved this restaurant in the past). But we didn’t let those hiccups ruin our fun!

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Our final sunset at le Touquet. Can’t wait to be back!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning from Duras

DurasI must start this post with honesty that may seem a little too sentimental, perhaps a little too much. I had a very hard time leaving Duras this year and had to choke back more tears than were good for me. I know that my family hated to leave just as much as I did, and the last thing I wanted to do was let them see how sad I was, so I composed myself and thought about that perfect Dr. Seuss quote: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
But as we drove away and the castle slowly disappeared in the distance, my heart broke. I wasn’t just leaving France, I was leaving my heart’s home. A place that has been endearing  to me since the first time I laid eyes on it. And after all these years, Duras still continues to be so good to us.
I sometimes jokingly say that I lived in Duras in a past life. No other place in the world feels so much like home, so who knows, there may be some truth to that. My husband and I have every intention of moving there permanently, but the time is not right just yet. Our biggest priority is having our daughter finish her education. Once that’s a fact, we’ll start the process that we’ve been planning and talking about for the last eight years.
In the meantime, we make the most of the time we spend in that beautiful little corner of the world. Starting the day with coffee at Régine’s café overlooking the castle, enjoying a glass of wine and a genuine smile at the local wine bar, having a simple lunch at brasserie L’EXpression after the Monday morning market, relishing in an expertly prepared dinner at La Terrasse (more about that fabulous restaurant to follow soon), walking through the village and seeing all those familiar faces, slowing down our pace and, in short, living life to the fullest. And no, it’s not a ‘holiday’ thing. As much as I love the rest of France, it doesn’t feel the same when I leave other places.
Duras is a good twelve hours away in distance right now, but it’s closer to my heart than ever.  If you want to read more about Duras, have a look here, here, here and here.

Wine discovery in the Côte Chalonnaise

Though I have been to the Côte Chalonnaise many times and have even written about the regional wines (the article was published by the Cave des Vignerons de Buxy after it appeared in Belgian magazine AWAY), there are still many treasures to be discovered in this rich wine producing region located between the Côte de Beaune to the north and the Mâconnais to the south. This became evident to me just a few months ago during our last trip to Buxy when we (unknowingly) rented the house of local vigneron, Laurent Cognard. An unexpected surprise which turned out to be one of the most delicious experiences — and perhaps the main highlight of our trip.
That first night when we met owner Perrine, she casually informed us there was a bottle of ‘her’ wine left in the fridge. With eyes wide and hardly able to contain my  delight, I smiled and said: “Oh, your own wine. Where are your vineyards?” It turns out that she and her husband, Mr. Cognard, are local winegrowers operating from Buxy. A chilled bottle of their 2013 Montagny 1e Cru waited for us in the fridge.
FullSizeRender (1)Tired after a ten-hour car trip from our hometown in the Netherlands, I decided it was best to leave that special gift for the following day. I wanted to taste it with all my senses, and at that moment, it would’ve been a total waste.
So the next evening we lit a fire, polished some glasses, popped the cork and took a sip of the beautifully aromatic and well-balanced Chardonnay. Minerally with a long, fresh and slightly saline finish. I suddenly envisioned drinking this with a plateau de fruits de mer — pure perfection!
Laurent Cognard’s first footsteps in the wine world were taken in 1997 when he purchased his first 0.68 hectares in Mercurey. At first, he had to have another job to support himself, but his hard work paid off because less than a decade later, in 2006, he was finally able to dedicate his life completely to winegrowing, following in his father’s footsteps. Today he owns approximately 10 hectares in Mercurey, Montagny-lès-Buxy and Bissey-sous-Cruchaud. No pesticides are used in the production of his wines and the harvest is completely manual. Quite an added bonus, in my opinion.
Besides his classic whites (some named after his children), he also offers a refreshingly clean Aligoté, an earthy Pinot Noir and a sparkling Crémant, to name a few. His vaulted cellars are found in the center of the village of Buxy, about a five-minute walk from where we stayed.
We couldn’t leave without purchasing a few bottles, of course.
FullSizeRender (2)If you’d like to ‘meet’ Mr. Cognard, before planning a visit to this wonderful region, have a look here:

 

 

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