Barolo, Italy; Gordes and Montpellier, France
We managed to get Leesa to the correct airport, on time and with all her possessions. We have not discovered anything missing, so I would say she didn't take anything extra! It was an awesome visit, lots of laughs, great food and only stories that a big sister can tell you about her little sister....I thought I had heard all of them, guess not!
Here is the map that shows where we have travelled so far, it’s hard to believe how much we have seen in our first 3 months. (We just discovered that if you zoom in to a specific location and click on the green dot, it should show the pictures we took there.)
Margo put in the GPS coordinates to take us to our next stop, a B&B in the Piedmont Region of Italy, specifically the community of Biglini which is a bedroom community of the town of Alba. The B&B was named Mammanella's and was highly recommended by Margo's sister Tara. Tara and her husband George were tandem cycling through the area in 2013, stayed here and gave it an outstanding rating, hence we booked 3 nights and were not disappointed. Mamma Nella remembered them and gave me a small gift for Tara.
Before we hit "Go" on the GPS, we realized that we would only be 30 minutes away from the city of Turin that hosted the XX Olympic Winter games in 2006 and as equally important was the home of Museo Nazionale dell' Automobile! As the historic birthplace of one of the world leading car manufactures (at least in Europe) the "T" in Fiat stands for Torino, hence Turin was an excellent place for a car museum! It was also ranked as one of the top 50 of all types museums in the world to visit, pretty impressive! Margo agreed that she would work on the blog in the coffee shop in the lobby and wait for me while I indulged in some automobile awesomeness! There was over 200 cars ranging from an 1892 Peugeot to 2014 F1 cars. I must also add that there was an impressive shrine to pay tribute to the late Canadian F1 driver Gilles Villeneuve. I would highly recommend a visit if you are ever in Turin. The museum housed everything from the cars of today, back to the 1890's and a very impressive showing of concept/futuristic cars of what we may see on the road next year. There are many interactive systems that allow you to build, test and imagine what a car might look like of perform if designed. One allowed you to see videos from car designers from major European car makers on what or who inspired them to create a specific automobile or what was their greatest success or biggest failure. I was interested to hear from the designer of the Cisitalia 202 on the video (the red 2 door below). He felt it was his biggest failure of his career as the car's sales never took off, most likely from its expensive price tag.
Interesting to note, Margo was texting with her sister Tara when she was waiting for me in the coffee shop. Tara texted back saying she sat in the same shop a couple of years ago so her husband George could tour the museum!
We decided to hit one more highlight of Turin before we heading to Mammanella's which was going up the Mole Antonelliana. The Mole is an aluminum spire that has an elevator that takes you up 167m/548ft to a 360 degree viewing platform to see all the sites of Turin and beyond, very impressive! We also walked around the city center to see some of Turin's history. It was another scorcher, even the dogs had to find ways to cool off!
Off to Mammanella's 45 minutes south in the prestigious area that produces Barolo and Barbaresco red wines and sparkling wine from Asti. Indigenous grape varieties include Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, Freisa, Grignolino and Brachetto that produce some killer wines! The B&B is centrally located with 3 comfortable rooms. The one we had included a balcony, was quite roomy and actually sparkled it was so clean!
We spent the next two days exploring the rich wine country including a tour and tasting at the Marchesi Di Barolo vineyard and cellars. The building which we toured was a 200 year old location that overlooks the "Castle of the Marquis Falletti" in Barolo. The winery is running today by the fifth generation Abbona Family who are very involved in running the business today. Their two children plan to follow in their families’ footsteps and take over the running of the winery in the years to come. We tasted 6 different and amazing vintages of their Barolos. We were so impressed with their wines that we bought two bottles of their 2010, one was a Barolo Reserva and the other a Barolo Sarmassa. 2010 delivered an exceptional year for the Nebbiolo grape and the Barolo vintages. They cost a small fortune but will be well worth it when we decant them and drink them during our travel. Our guide for the tour was a young inspiring winemaker from Turkey. She had spent 3 years apprenticing at 3 different California wineries and came to Italy to buck the trend of the mainly male dominated winemakers in Italy. She had excellent wine knowledge and was very familiar with the history of the winery and their wines.
The scenery in and around these amazing villages was stunning. Grape vines seemed to be growing everywhere and where there weren't grapes, there were hazelnut trees! Not a single wasted acre of fertile land was wasted.
Only the finest for the dogs of France!
We enjoyed a 6km/3.75m hike through the vineyards and hazelnut orchards just outside the town of La Morra. Although it was 35C/95F we made it through the full distance. It was interesting as most vineyards and orchards in North America will not just let you wonder through their property without permission and a guided tour. The hike was well sign posted and easy to follow. Life is different in Italy!
We got a little turned around in the hazelnut tree grove, but it was interesting!
We saw lots of advertising for multiple different outdoor concert venues that had array of different types of bands and musicians. We settled on purchasing tickets to see an Italian pop artist by the name of Giorgia in an amphitheater about 20 minutes away from our B&B. She sang mostly Italian songs with a few English hits sprinkled in and had a great voice. We really enjoyed it. It was an interesting experience attending an Italian outdoor concert, a few key differences from concerts back home: no tailgating prior to the concert, no security check entering the facility, line ups for drinks were longest for espresso and shortest for beer, no one stood up through her concert (even though they were tapping their toes and getting into the music), there was a DJ playing during intermission that people did stand up for (really?), after she appeared to be done for the night the audience just sat quietly and waited, there was no applause for an encore … and she did come back and play! It was all very civilized we thought, much more than their driving!
The next day we set out for Gordes in France, leaving behind great memories of Italy and the very happy automated recording of "Arrivederci!" at the highway toll booths after you pay your toll! We drove through the mountains between Italy and France which are very similar looking to the Canadian Rockies. Very high, dramatic and with very little built on them. We passed through Cesana and Claviere where some of the events from the 2006 Winter Olympics were held.
We arrived in Gordes France at a great hotel that was surrounded by grape vines and lavender fields. The hotel was set in a perfect location with a beautiful pool to enjoy and escape the smoking hot weather.
Gordes is a tiered medieval village that juts out over the Rivers Sorgue and Calavon, it’s quite spectacular hanging out over the white-rock face.
We bought a large slice of delicious nougat, that you buy by the slice. It comes in many flavors, everything from fruit and nuts to caramel and chocolate.
We also toured the Senanque Abbey nearby, founded in 1148 by Cistercian monks. It has been well maintained and is a huge tourist attraction due to its rich history and abundant lavender fields strategically placed to enhance the visit. Who knew the monks were so clever at marketing their Abbey! Margo was amazed at how strong the lavender smell was when we stopped - the aroma seemed to radiate from the flowers in the heat. It was also brave of her to stand in the lavender field given the number of bees on the flowers. I had the EpiPen close by just in case.
We had two remarkable meals in Gordes, one at our hotel: cheese stuffed zucchini flowers (yes again!), roast of lamb with cheese gnocchi, sea bass with roasted artichokes.
And one at a lovely terrace overlooking the valley below Gordes: seafood ravioli (one big ravioli), rosemary roasted thigh of chicken.
From Gordes we headed towards Montpellier but scheduled an excellent diversion due to the 35C\95F weather with a 4 hour kayak float down the Gardon River which passes under the Pont du Gard (an ancient Roman aqueduct from the first century). It was a speculator site (minus all the tourists in the water and on the aqueduct), towering 48.8m\160ft and descends a mere 2.5cm\1in along the 360m\1,180ft length. Incredible innovation by the Roman engineers in 40 - 60 AD to achieve such a feat! It was a great way to see the site in the heat - even the local dogs were there to cool down!
It was an uneventful drive to Montpellier where we checked into at a great centrally located hotel that was walking distance to everything, it even included parking which isn't always the case with these compact old cities. It is a very beautiful city. We toured all the sites, including yet another Arc De Triomphe, the first medical school in Europe and an amazing cathedral. You can refer back to our "Viva l’ltalia!" to see 3 other Arc De Triomphes, including the original in Paris.
It’s interesting how the modern art fits into to an old city.
We adventured out to the coast for a walk along a miles-long beach, a bike ride on the promenade and special siting of pink flamingos!
Margo and I enjoyed having a couple of dinners with a Dutch couple, Karen and Hans-Peter who we met at our hotel. They were an awesome couple, about our age, that have done extensive traveling around Europe and gave us many useful suggestions and tips for sites and places to travel to over the months to come. Coincidently, there next stop was Costa Brava in Spain, as is ours! Their two teen-aged daughters were flying to Costa Brava to enjoy a vacation with their folks. We plan to meet up for dinner at their place in Llafranc. (Hans-Peter reminds us of Bill Dahlquist, a good friend of ours in Denver - the same dry sense of humor but in Dutch!)
One last stop in France on our way to Spain was at Carcassonne, famous for its well fortified castle due to its strategic location. La Cite that has a concentric design of two outer walls with 52 towers.
Margo loves these lilies that seems to be blooming everywhere right now:
The town also is known for the Canal di Midi which connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea through a series of 64 locks. It was another hot day, so the canal boat ride sounded appealing and the story behind the canals lengthy construction in the 1600’s was quite interesting.
Off to Spain! Margo and I are both excited to be returning, as its kind of feels like our European home. Although Margo was worried about the heat, it is actually cooler on Costa Brava than southern France and northern Italy, so that will be a nice break. By cooler, we mean high 20's C/low 80's F, which is noticeably cooler than Italy and France.
Some French cheins (dogs), and the famous Stella from Finland (vacationing in the south of France, of course! Her owners drove and ferried from Finland to the South of France instead of flying for Stella, their second “apricot standard poodle”.