Sunday, February 25, 2018

Chateaux & Wine, Loire Valley- Part 1


Trip date: May 2017
Bookended by short spurts in Paris, the main point of my France trip was to visit the Loire Valley. The Loire is a huge region and as we only had a long weekend Forest and I decided to focus on the Central Loire, where we would visit grand chateaux and drink a lot of delicious wine.

Our first stop was Domaine Huards winery in Couer Cheverny. This should have been just over a 2-hour drive from Paris but we someone missed the exit and drove a bit past. Not a huge deal but we wanted to get 2 wine tastings and 2 chateaux in before Friday was over!

Couer Cheverny is the only AOC that grows the Romorantin grape which produces a lovely dry, minerally white wine that is similar to a Chablis, for about $7! After tasting through their line up, the first purchases were made and we were off to our first chateau, Chateau Cheverny!

Chateaux litter the Loire Valley, some visible from the roads, others hidden behind groves of trees and announced on the highway only by a sign showing a sketch. Some of them are owned and run by the government but the majority are privately owned; some offering tours and some open as hotels.

Chateau Cheverny, with its 54 rooms, is the smallest of the chateaux we would visit, and the family of Charles-Antoine de Vibraye lives in one half while the other is available to tour. The rooms are filled with family antiques from throughout the years and are really interesting.

The chateau is best known for two things; the permanent exhibit of the French comic character Tintin and the 100+ hunting dogs in the kennels. We didn't make it for the daily feeding of the dogs but just hanging out with them was deafening enough!

It was time for more wine so we jumped back on the road and drove to the Chateau de Chambord, which happens to have a nice tasting room onsite. 
We tasted through some very good whites and rosés made a few purchases and then walked around the massive chateau (which was closed to tours at this time but we hadn't planned on going in anyway).
Chambord is a royal chateau and is the largest in the Loire with 440 rooms, it was designed to be a hunting lodge and sits on a pretty lake that you can rent boats on.

Before leaving the grounds, we stopped at a cute little shop and picked up some absolutely delicious lamb pate made by the Bernard family. If you visit the chateau I highly recommend you taste their products- incredible!

We drove on to the minuscule town of Montlivault and checked into Maison d'a Côte where we would spend the night and dine in their great café (they also have a 1* Michelin restaurant that looked lovely; next time!) I absolutely recommend this hotel and café, it's not fancy but it is charming.
In the morning we drove to the town of Les Montils and attended a wine fair being held at the Clos du Tue-Boeuf winery. There were two cellars of winemakers from the area, all pouring from their current releases. The winemakers here are working farmers; there was nothing fancy in their heavy boots, jeans, and sweaters as they poured us tastes on the concrete floors surrounded by harvest and bottling equipment. 
Forest and I were focused on whites and I got my first tastes of wine from the Touraine and Anjou AOCs as well as more tastes of Chevernys and Vouvrays. And all the wines ran about $7! 
And as with most wine tastings, there we some casual snacks set out. Here in the Loire though, the winemakers had brought fresh cherries from their trees, amazing local cheeses, and fat slices of homemade patés and terrines. Hell yes!

More bottles were purchased and we headed to friend/blogger/author Emily Dilling's lovely farmhouse where she made us lunch out of her recent cookbook, My Paris Market. How cool is that? 
I only knew Emily from online so it was great to meet in person, and even better to enjoy her cooking!

As was our plan to hit both wine tastings and chateaux each day we said farewell and drove to the incredibly picturesque Chateau de Chenonceau. Built in 1511, the chateau spans the River Cher, and is the most visited Chateau in France after Versailles. 

It is privately owned now but it used to be a royal residence, Catherine Medici was one of the most famous inhabitants. Touring the rooms is incredibly interesting, especially the huge kitchens and impressive collection of copper cookware!
We wandered the beautiful gardens and then sat for a glass of wine outside, with the chateau in view.  

We were staying just about 20 minutes away in Amboise, another pretty drive through small villages and past more chateaux. We checked into the fabulously situated Hotel le Manoir, sitting in the shadow of Chateau Amboise. The sun was out so we had a little apero, taking in the view, before heading into the main square for dinner.
It was a short and easy walk to the restaurants and bars which line the opposite side of the street of the chateau. We grabbed drinks outside on the sidewalk terrace at one before heading into another for dinner. 
By the end of our second day, we had been to 4 chateaux and done 3 proper wine tastings. And we still had another 2 days! I was absolutely loving the Loire Valley!

All Loire photos here. 

Other posts from this trip:

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Everyday is Sun-day in Palm Springs

Trip date: April 2017

Most Seattleites have annual pilgrimages to escape the rain and grey, if you read this blog with any regularity you know I have many! Late winter/early spring in Palm Springs is one of the best as it is just a pure vitamin D soak.

On the Alaska Air flight down I was pleasantly surprised to get upgraded to Premium Class. This was a new thing at the time and it comes with a free snack box and complimentary drinks! Good morning mimosa!

Upon arriving, Paul, Lauren, Steve and I had lunch at King's Highway at the Ace Hotel. It's a hip restaurant housed in an old Denny's building (besides IHOP are there any more recognizable buildings?) serving pretty good food and drinks. I had a fried chicken sandwich with additive battered french fries and a very refreshing gin cocktail.
Per usual we had booked the Contempo Oasis for the week but this year we had a new guest as Mary brought her adorable dog, Charlie.

We made our obligatory runs to Costco and Jenson's to stock up for the week and then set about the serious business of daily pool floats, hot tubbing, grilling, and mixing cocktails.

Also as per usual, I worked most mornings after taking a sun-filled walk through the neighborhood. Deepwell Estates is really such a great location. The houses, landscape, and the hills are so cool!
One day Lauren and I drove to nearby Palm Desert and shopped the farmers market. Unfortunately we arrived pretty much at closing time so there wasn't a lot going on, but we did score some amazing dates!
Another day we booked an instructor to come to our house and do a poolside yoga session. The yoga was great but we found out that there are swarms of little flies that live in the bushes near the pool and they were the opposite of relaxing and zen!
And we had one night on the town where we let someone else do the mixing and cooking. Paul, Lauren, Steve, Dave and I started the night at Bootlegger Tiki which makes delicious high octane rum drinks in a very small (and dark) space. This isn't the place to bring your large groups to!

From here we went to Mr. Lyons and waited for our table in their hidden-in-plain site speakeasy Seymour's. This cocktail lounge is absolutely gorgeous and did very good classic cocktails as well as fun originals.

Once our table was ready we moved into the restaurant; we were there for their Sunday Prime Rib Dinner. Three courses for $29! It was all very good and the restaurant, just like the bar, was beautiful.
And on the last full day in Palm Springs, my friend Jerrell drove in from LA and joined us for drinks and "clean-out-the-fridge" dinner! Super fun!

My tickets are purchased for this year's trip, just 3-weeks away now! Bring on the desert sun!

All Palm Springs photos here.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Woolloomooloo

Trip date: February 2017

It was hard leaving Hayman Island but the upside was I had three more days in Sydney! Gail and I had rented a very cute Airbnb in the Woolloomooloo neighborhood, which besides being a great location is also pretty fun to say!

It was easy to walk down to the wharf that first night back to browse the various restaurants. We chose Otto and had a very nice dinner outside on their terrace. Sitting outside in February... ahhhh!

Gail and I both spent the next morning working from the coffee shop on the corner with a couple of flat whites. Flat whites are what everyone in Australia drinks; I couldn't tell you exactly how they differ from my typical latte but they are delicious!

After ditching the laptops we headed out for a nice long walk from our 'hood to Circular Quay and then over to The Rocks, a cute area with lots of shops and restaurants.

We stopped for a glass of wine and took in the scenery before heading to the ferry landing and catching one of the cute boats to Manly. The ferry ride was gorgeous and Manly has a lot of activity going on.
We walked down the main street, the Corso, past lots of shops (many of them selling men's swim bikinis known as Budgy Smugglers!) The Corso leads straight to the beach where sunbathers, surfers, and swimmers all share the sand and the sea.
Our lunch table at The Pantry gave us a great view of it all. Add in some cold rosé and delicious fish and chips, it was a great stop!

After lunch, we grabbed a quick mani/pedi and then Uber'd over to Mosman to spend the evening at Dave & Rachel's. Some friends of theirs came over and we had a great night drinking champagne and eating pizza. As you do!

The next morning, after Gail and I got some work done at our coffee shop, we walked to Willie's apartment in Darlinghurst. It's a very nice neighborhood and not very far from Woolloomooloo. The three of us Uber'd to Bronte Beach where we started one of the most stunning walks I have been on!
On the 3km walk, we passed incredible views of the sea, surfers, rock formations, and stunning homes. We arrived at Bondi Beach and headed to the terrace at Icebergs for a spritz before going downstairs into the swank dining room for a fabulous lunch.
The dining room looks over the stunning oceanside pool which is open year around. It doesn't get much prettier than this view! Paired with a decadent lunch, wines, and friends... a slice of heaven!

Fueled by a bit of wine, we did a little shopping in Paddington before Gail and I returned to Woolloomooloo to pack. Ugh, my 3 weeks in Australia was quickly coming to an end. But not before we headed back out with Willie for cocktails at The Barbershop. Which you enter, you guessed it, from an actual barbershop.
The bar is dim and offers a huge list of gins. Our cocktails were great and even though The Barbershop hasn't made it onto The World's 50 Best Bars, I much preferred it to The Baxter Inn.

We had a really lovely last dinner at Felix Cafe, a cute French bistro with outside tables, down a little side street in the CBD.  The entire day was just super fun and a great way to wrap up my trip.
The next morning we checked out of our Airbnb and made our way to Rachel's, who would be driving me to the airport. Gail and I walked down to The Beach House at Balmoral Beach where we had some lovely breakfast and flat whites while getting our morning work done.
Rachel drove me to the airport where I checked into the Quantas Business Class lounge to do a bit more work with a glass of champagne. The trip had been so much fun, and I obviously just scratched the surface of Australia. But not to worry as I already have a list started for the next trip!

It was an easy trip home, comfy in my Quantas pj's on the 747 with a spacious 2-2 seat configuration. I experienced major delays once in SFO but nothing like my trip over!

Thanks for a great time Australia!

All Sydney photos here

Other posts from this trip: 
The Longest Way to Oz
An American Down Under
Meet Up in Melbourne
Yarra Valley Wine Tasting
48-Hours Gold Coast
Welcome to Fantasy Island

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Welcome to Fantasy Island

Trip date: February 2017

There are certain things that you'll get to do only once in your life. If you're lucky they will be incredibly special things, shared with wonderful people, and they'll be over the top fun. Let me introduce you to the One & Only Resort Hayman Island.

Hayman Island is the farthest north of the Whitsundays in the Great Barrier Reef. The island is tiny with a small marina, a resort, and a few very high end vacation homes for sale. It is only accessible by helicopter or the resort's private yacht. Oh yea!

Rachel and I left The Gold Coast and met Gail and Denise at the Brisbane airport where we boarded a tiny prop plane for Hamilton Island. Those little guys make me so nervous so I was ready with my wine order when the flight attendant came by. She informed me that Quantas doesn't serve wine on flights before 4pm (and it was noon). Grrr... luckily the amazing scenery kept my mind occupied.
Those dark patches are reefs under the water!

We landed on Hamilton Island, checked in at the One & Only desk, and were led to the yacht that would take us to the resort. There were just us four girls on board and a guy from Chicago who was being flown out to DJ and take photos at a company party.  The rosé champagne started flowing and we all had a fantastic time cruising through the Whitsundays on the 1-hour trip to our island!
We disembarked, jumped in the waiting golf carts with our champagne still in hand, and were taken to our rooms at the resort. A quick change into swimsuits and we met Claudette and Willie who had arrived earlier.
That night after the pool, drinks, and dinner the resort lit a bonfire on the beach where we sat around with more wine.  I hadn't seen some of these girls in years and I was looking forward to catching up in this paradise over the next four days.

The next morning Rachel, Claudette, and I hiked up to Whitsunday View Point. Although we got up there around 9am the sun was already incredibly hot. But the views were worth the near heat exhaustion!
We continued with the incredible views as we all settled into beach cabanas for the day and practically had the resort to ourselves.

We spent the entire day lounging; going between the ocean and the pool for swims. It was heavenly.

Late in the afternoon, we got cleaned up and the golf carts were waiting to whisk us back down to the marina for a sunset champagne sail. The six of us girls had a blast drinking bubbles and chatting/giggling away. The other two couples, who were there for a romantic sail, didn't quite feel the same!
It was a gorgeous sunset!
Back on our island we may or may not have crashed the corporate party that our DJ friend was working...

Rachel, Claudette and I were off again the next morning on an Outer Great Barrier Reef snorkel trip! I was CRAZY excited for this bucket list adventure! There were just 12 people on the boat, 5 of us snorkeling, the others diving. The day couldn't have been more beautiful as we cruised an hour out to the reefs.
We stopped at our first reef, donned protective suits in case of jellyfish, and dove into the most gloriously clear blue water I think I have ever seen. The color of the coral was unbelievable!!! We hit two reefs with lunch in between and saw tons of coral, fish, turtles, and a reef shark! Claudette smartly grabbed the throwaway underwater camera from her room's minibar and got some great shots!

During lunch one of the crew pointed out to me how the coral was actually in towers, the water so clear you could see them reaching up for the sky, and when you looked they extended quite a ways in a semi-circle. They look like a giant's footsteps!
We had so much fun, I really couldn't have asked for a better day! Oh except our boat broke down on the way back. Luckily we were just outside of the marina so they had a small boat out to us right away. Thank god as there was no champagne onboard!

That night, after a late afternoon spent having spritzes by the pool, we brought some bottles of champagne down to the beach and enjoyed the sunset. Then we had a fabulous dinner at the restaurant that overlooks the pool and the beach. A few of the girls went to crash the corporate dance party while Denise, Gail, and I hung out on the beach star gazing at the incredible southern hemisphere sky.

Every morning the resort had an amazing buffet breakfast set up with anything you could want; freshly made donuts, omelets, waffles, dumplings, yogurts, fruits, etc. We all chose to sit outside each morning, taking in the beautiful view, but we did have to share with the locals...
It was our last full day in paradise! We started our day after breakfast with a beach bungalow as we had on our first day. Then Rachel, Gail, Claudette and I wandered over to the 2nd pool, a saltwater pool with a small island restaurant in the middle that we could swim around. I ordered a delicious coconut rum drink and we lounged away the afternoon on the pool beds.
That night we met in Willie, Denise, and Claudette's room for some champagne, including a special bottle Denise had brought that was from her wedding!
As it was Sunday night, all the restaurants were closed (which was really dumb seeing that they are the only ones on the island!), so after our champagne we orderd room service and had it delivered to the beach. These girls... they aren't just pretty and fun, they are smart!

And all too soon it was check out day. Denise and I grabbed stand up paddleboards after breakfast and were the only ones out in the bay. In the Great Barrier Reef. Ridiculous! We saw a stingray, a turtle, and lots of fish while standing looking down! 

It was so shallow that when we were very far out we jumped off our boards and the water was only just past our waists. It was a very awesome last morning in the ocean.

Willie had the first yacht and flight out so we said our goodbyes and the rest of us hit the pool beds. We got word that our flight out was delayed so we ordered up some rosé and took advantage of the extra hour!

Rachel and Claudette were on the next yacht so more goodbyes were said.
As Gail, Denise, and I got cleaned up the island was hit with a violent rain storm, coming seemingly out of the blue! Luckily it cleared up by the time we were taken to our yacht.

We had another 1-hour cruise, complete with rosé champagne, back to Hamilton Island.
Sadly the island was hit by Cyclone Debbie just a month after our visit and The One & Only had to close. I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced it with these fabulous women and looking back at my travel notes and photos have brought back so many sweet memories. Thank you ladies!
Maybe it's time to check out one of the other One & Only Resorts...

All Hayman Island/Great Barrier Reef photos here.


Other posts from this trip: 
The Longest Way to Oz
An American Down Under
Meet Up in Melbourne
Yarra Valley Wine Tasting
48-Hours Gold Coast
Woolloomooloo



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