The weather is deteriorating and there is a chance of snow overnight. We had planned to go home tonight or tomorrow, so the weather made the choice an easy one for us.
When we set out we thought we would only spend a couple of nights in the Yakima Valley, but we ended up staying 4 nights. Our planning was a little off this trip as we ended up winging our days, and probably drove a couple of hundred random miles because of our poor planning. But we do enjoy seeing things in the back country so except for the extra cost of gas it did not particularly bother us.
The nice part about the trip is each day we ended up finding a place that we really enjoyed and was memorable for good food, drink, and fun people. None of these places were on the agenda at the beginning of the day when we set out. So while it may not have been an efficient week, spontaneity led to positive experiences. This seems to happen to us very often and rarely do we have the opposite experience where things go badly. I think these kind of finds are what we enjoy about traveling.
Driving down the Columbia River Gorge Ton proposed we make one more stop before home so we pulled into one of our favorite Gorge Wineries, Idiots Grace. They had just reopened with a tented and heated tasting area. We had a quick lunch from Scout pared with a tasting of wine. The weather was crisp at about 50 degrees but it was a good end to a very nice trip.
Continuing our tour of Eastern Washington Wine Country today we headed to center of the region. Walla Walla beside having a great name, is the town that really put Washington wines on the map. We last visited this wine town 15 years ago and were curious how success had changed things. Ton favors small producers and she picked two of the places that had good friendly reviews for our visit.
The day started out sunny, but cooler than the last couple of days, but the weather report showed that things are going to go down hill. The drive over was uneventful so we decided to take a stroll thru town before heading over to our first winery. Walla Walla is a really cute, regional farm town, probably the most picturesque and upscale looking of all of the towns on the east side of the mountains. It has a very well respected liberal arts college that adds a youthful energy to the farmers, ranchers and winemakers. There are several nice restaurants and coffee shops. The biggest change since our last visit is that about every other store front is now a tasting room for a winery.
Many of the towns and cities in the Northwest as a response to Covid have begun to convert streets and other public spaces to outdoor dining. This development put in place as an emergency measure has been well received. The streets that have been closed do not seem to have had a big impact on traffic, and like we noticed in Europe it makes walking a much more enjoyable experience. The temperature today is only in the mid-50’s and as you can see from the picture above it was too cold for most people to sit outside. It will be interesting to see what happens in the bad weather, both with the disease and if restaurant owners and customers will be able and willing to adapt.
Our first stop was Reinenger Winery. It has been producing wines since 1997. The wine tasting experience is a little different in these times. Instead of bringing over a sample one at a time and poring the wine while explaining the characteristics, they brought over the entire tasting flight in small carafes with a written explanation. This allows for proper social distancing for us and the tasting room workers.
We were enjoying our tasting when one of the workers and asked if wanted to take a tour of the winery. We were surprised as it is harvest time and usually the wineries are closed to visitors as they bring in the grapes. We masked up and headed out to have a walk around with one other group, and the tasting room manager. It was a nice treat to watch the workers deal with the grapes, and to see the vats of newly picked grapes going thru their initial fermentation.
The view from the winery was different, usually you are looking at vineyards. In this case we were looking at wheat fields for miles. The vineyards for the winery are a few miles away. So we were enjoying the great wine with a view that reminded us of North Dakota.
We finished the day by visiting another tasting room in downtown Walla Walla. Kontos winery was interesting because the family had been farming and ranching in Walla Walla since the 1850’s, but had only recently taken up winemaking in the 1990’s. They have a strong connection to the town and are proud of this recent development in farming there.
We are doing another short trip this time to the east for wine country and a bit of fall colors in Eastern Washington. We woke up a bit early and packed Scout up for about a one week trip, though our plans are not finalized yet. On our way out of town we headed over to our friends house to drop off some packages she had shipped to our home in Oregon to avoid the sales tax in Washington.
After that chore was done a quick stop to top off the fuel tank and we were headed east through the Columbia River Gorge. The weather was a bit unsettled and we hit a few patches of rain, before entering the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains and the desert of Eastern Oregon and Washington. The drive was pretty simple and we arrived at the campground in the Yakima Valley town of Prosser a little earlier than we planned. We have stayed at this campground once before and picked it because it is a nice central location in the Washington wine country.
As Covid has taken hold a lot of people have taken to RV’ing to have a good way to travel and maintain social distancing. This trend is unfortunately being reflected in the cost of camping. The campground tonight is $45 per night, and for that price you do not even get free showers, but have to pay an additional 25 cents. Campground prices in the US have been rising steeply over the last few years, and are much more expensive than what we typically pay in Europe.
Once we settled in and I quit complaining to Ton about the cost, we headed over to a couple of wineries that are walking distance from the campground. I was really looking forward to the first one, and was profoundly disappointed. The wine was old, and not very good, and the server was pretty disinterested. I had been looking forward to the winery as I had read good things about it and had hyped it up as we walked over, so I apologized to Ton.
As we were walking into my disappointing winery Ton pointed out a winery next door that she had read about and wanted to try, so we quickly exited my winery and walked into a great experience.
Coyote Canyon Winery has a 1300 acre vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills Viticultural Area where they grow 29 varietals of grapes that they mostly sell. They take a small percentage of the grapes and produce their own wine. We were lucky when we arrived as the nice lady in the tasting room said the wine maker was giving a talk in the back if we wanted to join. Justin Michaud was showing a group of ladies the latest grapes they were fermenting and explaining the process when we joined up. His pride in his work was obvious and the pride showed thru in the final product. Ton told him that she really enjoyed Primitivo in Italy, and was excited because they were one of the few producers who made it in the Northwest US. So even though Primitivo was not included in the taster tray we purchased, a sample showed up. In fact several other samples showed up that were not in the sample tray that we really enjoyed. The surprise for us was a wine called Graciano made from a grape that originates in Northern Spain. Justin talked us thru this one and it really knocked our socks off. We want to thank Justin and the lady in the tasting room whose name we did not get. They were gracious hosts and we really enjoyed ourselves.
Ton really remembered that she liked the sunsets around here on our last visit and sure enough we were treated to another great sunset as we walked back to Scout. It was a good start to our trip.
Taormina was on Ton’s must see list today. I made a scouting run down to the terminal to discover the best way to Taormina. Option 1 was a hop on hop off bus that gave us use of the tourist bus and the regular bus for €14 each or take a regular bus for €3. We were torn about what to do, and still had not made up our mind when we got to the terminal. We finally chose the regular bus, but after we bought the ticket the cashier who must have heard our debate, asked the Hop on Hop off bus driver to let us ride to Taormina, so we ended up with the best of both worlds. This good samaritan was the same guy who had rebuffed my earlier attempt to ask him about the bus to Taormina in Italian, with a gruff “What do you want?” in English.
Taormina has been a town since the ancient Greeks, and it is really a spectacular site on a large bluff overlooking the harbor at Giardini-Naxos. We were dropped off at a nondescript bus terminal, but as soon as we began hiking up the road to the town the views were spectacular. As we got closer to the town center we both became more charmed. Despite the fact that Taormina is definitely on the tourist trail, complete with all of the brand name stores lining its main street, it still had a spirit that we both really enjoyed.
The town meanders up and down hill. The main road is wide and flat, but all of the roads off of it are either up or down and quite narrow, which adds to the atmosphere. Off of the main road the shops were run by locals who were very friendly without being pushy. Ton had picked out two potential restaurants for lunch, but one had gone out of business, and the other was not open. Just down the street was a cheese store that advertised lunch and we were both drawn to it. We went inside to take a look and saw a restaurant in the back. We asked the lady at the counter if they served lunch and she said yes in an hour, would we like a reservation. Something I have learned is that in romance languages my short name “Ron” (in Spanish it means Rum) is perplexing, so when she acted confused about my name I switched it to Ronaldo, she immediately connected the dots and had a good laugh with one of the customers.
Having an hour to kill we decided to head up to the Greek Theater which is the big attraction in town. When we got there it was €10 to get in, and since we have seen a lot of antiquity sites on this trip decided to pass. We still had time to kill so we went to the municipal park and sat down on a park bench to enjoy the views.
The lunch at the cheese shop was superb. We opted for a Sicilian food and wine tasting. It consisted of three wines, and a plate of cheeses, meats, and grilled vegetables. We have had a lot of good meals on our trips in Europe, but we both agreed that so far this is the best. The food and wine while simple was fresh and delicious. The service of the husband and wife was great and they enjoyed explaining the food and wine to us. They were clearly proud of their Sicilian heritage and happy to share it with us. At the end neither of us could bring ourselves to leave so we stalled with a coffee, and an aperitif. Ton was tempted to return for dinner, but they were full, though we could tell if we pushed and had some flexibility they would have found a way to accommodate us. We rarely mention places by name but if you are ever in town do not miss La Bottega Del Formaggio.
Our first full day in Italy was a treat. We were still a little unsettled about our plans for Sicily when we woke up. Marsala is famous for a type of fortified wine and while I was sleeping Ton found a place where we could have a tour. So while I was making coffee she proposed we spend the day here and take the tour. The winery was too far away to walk to, and it required reservations so we had to find out if we could get in and arrange for a taxi to take us there. I went up to the office and asked if they could arrange a taxi, and call the winery for us as we do not have a sim card for Italy in our phone. The owner of the campground said he would take us and the winery could accommodate us at 10am. Since it was already 9:15, I ran back to tell Ton to get ready as we needed to leave in 20 minutes. Giacomo the owner of the campground ran off to change into better clothes and also to quickly give the van from the campground a wash. We arrived at Florio winery with 10 minutes to spare.
Florio Winery was founded in the early 1800’s to produce Marsala. It was the first Marsala Wine producer to be owned by Italians as prior to that the fortified wine industry in Marsala was dominated by English. The Florio family went on to become quite a conglomerate including wine, shipping, agriculture, and light industry. At one time they were by far the richest family on Sicily. They also made their mark by providing some of the original assistance to Garibaldi as he began his campaign to unite Italy into one country. Like many family dynasties the first generation makes all of the money, the second generation maintains the fortune, and the third generation squanders it all. The third generation of the Florio’s ended up selling off the winery to raise cash to pay for their extravagant lifestyle.
After we completed the wine tasting we followed the harbor to the old town. Things are scruffier in Sicily, but very charming. We enjoyed walking around town looking at the sites when we realized that our breakfast had been fortified wine. We found a nice restaurant near Garibaldi square. The food was outstanding, and the service was really outstanding. The waiter was a young guy who may have been the son of the owner, and if not acted like he was. At the end we asked for coffee and when we commented on how much we liked it he lit up and told us it was a local coffee and talked us thru the beans and roasting process with great passion.
We arranged for Giacomo to pick us up at a local grocery store. After delivering us to François I saw him sitting in a chair near the office having a beer and struck up a conversation. It turns out between driving us to town and picking us up he had spent the day harvesting the olives from the trees around the campground. Talking to him it turns out he had retired from the Italian Army after 20 years and returned home to Marsala to open the campground on part of his fathers farm. He took us around the campground showing us the different plants and herbs he had planted around the campground. It was a treat to spend some time with him.
We picked Epernay as a destination as it was about 60% of the way to Sens, had a decent place to stay, and looked like an interesting place to spend the afternoon. When we arrived we were worried about whether there would be room in the campground as there was a youth Rugby tournament taking place at the athletic fields surrounding the campground. Actually we have begun to notice that things are getting more crowded as we go, the aires and campgrounds have been filling up nearly everyday by 5 pm. We got lucky and did get a spot, but by 5 pm they were also full.
We spent the afternoon relaxing and when we were bored venturing out to watch the youth Rugby. Ton and I took a walk around 1pm, but in France even youth Rugby tournaments take a two hour break for a proper lunch. We enjoyed watching the families lay out a large lunch spread including wine for the adults. The French surely have their priorities aligned when it comes to food.
Epernay is one of the largest producers of champagne, and Moet which is an upscale brand is based there. Our original plan was to walk into town and poke around, but it was quite hot. When we checked in they told us there was a wine tour at 5:15 pm for a reasonable price, so we signed up to avoid the walk. On the tour we were joined by a German couple with a cute Labradoodle named Murphy, and a couple of Dutch guys who were on a weekend trip to stock up with champagne for the year. The winery was kind of a bust as the owner did not speak much English, and none of us spoke French. But we made the best of it and ended up enjoying the company of the other people on the tour.
When we returned Ton made a huge dinner as we are trying hard to eat all of the food in the refrigerator. Feeling stuffed we decided to take an after dinner stroll when we ran into the Dutch guys again. As we were exchanging stories Ton told them about the Dutch couple we were parked next to in Bruges, he had told us that he was one of the original surfers in the Netherlands. When she was explaining the part about the surfer dude from Holland the two guys started speaking excitedly in Dutch, and asked her to describe him in more detail. They had a little more conversation in Dutch and then told us we had met Jan van de Berg who apparently is more than just a surfer dude in the Netherlands, but a big deal. He was an Olympic hero in the 80’s for winning the Netherlands first medal in surfing, also he was apparently a hotty as all of the girls in the Netherlands had posters of him in their bedrooms. Our street cred with the Dutch guys went up enormously. Later Ton did some research and we think we met the parents of Jan, and not Jan himself.
We learned yesterday afternoon that Monday is a holiday in Germany which explains the big crowds both in Bremen and at the stellplatz. When we got back to the stellplatz last night there was a sign in the entrance saying that there was no room in the parking lot. Because we liked Bremen and were worried about finding a similar sign in our next destination we decided to spend another day.
The World Heritage Site the old town hall that we saw yesterday had a tour today at noon and we decided to make that our highlight for the day. We slept in and then spent the morning cleaning François and watching the morning exodus of motorhomes from the stellplatz before walking down to the city for our tour.
The tour of the interior was helped by an extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide who did a good job of explaining how Bremen developed as an independent merchant city under the Holy Roman Empire. When Charlemagne first tried to incorporate Bremen into his empire he did so in the normal way by sending a bishop to the city. The citizens of Bremen resisted this because they wanted the city government to be separate from the church. Charlemagne’s son Roland agreed to this and Bremen claims to be the first government where the separation of church and state was formally proclaimed.
Unlike in other cities in Europe the town hall was as prominent as the Cathedral, and do to luck the building survived all of the wars that occurred over the 600 years it has been in existence. In addition to the normal fantastic wood carvings and paintings the town hall also has a giant wine cellar that holds over 650 different examples of German wine.
Part of the wine cellar is now a restaurant so we decided to treat ourselves to lunch down in the cellar. When we arrived we were offered a private room for about 6 people built into the side of the cellar. It was a cool place even though we were planning on a light lunch.
After lunch we strolled thru town for a while taking in the sites, and people watching. Bremen has a cute town symbol the four musicians of Bremen. It is based on a fairy tale by the brothers Grimm about 4 animals who are abandoned by their owners when they are too old to be useful. The 4 of them decide to move to Bremen to be musicians and even though in the fairy tale they do not make it to Bremen the town has adopted them as the symbol. There is a statue of the four musicians next to the town hall and the legend is that if you make a wish and touch both forelegs your wish will come true. It is important to touch both legs because as they say in Bremen if you only touch one it is just two asses shaking hands with each other.
Tonight François is parked about 20 yards from the Main River in Wurzberg. We have had a couple of river barges come by close enough to look in the windows, and they can look into François. We even waved at a guy going by in his room. But while we have a great view out the front window, this is the closest we have ever been parked to our neighbors on each side. We cannot use our side door, and must exit from the front drivers door whenever we come and go.
Würzburg is a beautiful city that was almost completely destroyed during WWII. The British Royal Air Force firebombed the city in 1945, and when the American army arrived at the town the Germans blew the bridges and made it clear they were going to defend the town. Needless to say by this point in the war, with the end in sight, we were not interested in taking any unnecessary casualties. So we just sat back and bombarded the city with artillery until we completed the destruction the British had started.
The Germans rebuilt the town after the war, and it is a very pretty river town in a great setting with vineyards surrounding the town on the hillside. There were a couple of landmarks that were not completely destroyed by the allies. The Residence of the Prince -Bishop was largely destroyed, this was an 18th century palace along the lines of Versailles, but some of the rooms were still standing and luckily one of the “Monuments Men”, a group of US Army officers with architectural or art backgrounds tasked with preserving the art and buildings of Europe showed up in town and helped procure the needed materials to preserve what was remaining. As a result several monumental frescoes were preserved that would have been lost.
We took a guided tour of the residence, and the guide was fantastic. He really brought the building to life, and had a great blend of knowledge and a dry sense of humor that made the tour fantastic. He was able to handle questions from the group with aplomb that we really admired. Because of him the history of the residence came to life in a way that we did not expect.
We also had lunch at a local restaurant that had been in business since the 1300’s. The food was good and we are sure we missed a real opportunity due to language. Two ladies next to us seemed really fun, and while we tried to engage with them and them with us the lack of a common language really stifled what we are sure would have been a really fun and interesting conversation.
Würzburg has a pedestrian bridge over the Main River and the tradition is that you go to the bridge and have a glass of wine. We are not sure how old the tradition is, but it is a great way to spend the evening so we participated. When we arrived about 8pm the bridge was packed with people drinking wine and enjoying a band. But around sunset at 9pm we looked around and realized the band was packing and the crowd was nearly gone.
So a little disappointed we headed back to François for a late dinner, and bed.
Today we shifted a whopping 10km’s to Colmar. We did make a side trip to another Alsatian town on the way to Colmar.
We both woke up about 5 am smelling smoke. I lay there wondering if something was burning when Ton also woke up and asked if we were on fire. This motivated me to get up and check to see if anything was burning in François. It turns out that we were not on fire, but the smoke from the wood fires in the town next to us had settled into the little valley the campground was in. Once we determined we were safe we went back to sleep for a couple of hours.
We finally got on the road to our primary target for the day a town called Eguisheim. In 2013 it was voted the most beautiful village in France. I had punched in a free parking site on the soccer field, but when we got there the town had blocked access due to all of the rain, so we headed over to the municipal parking. The parking was brand new and high tech with bar code readers, but the area designated for RV’s cost €6 for 4 hours. It seemed excessive but I didn’t see any other options, so I gnashed my teeth and ponied up.
Eguisheim is indeed a lovely village. Originally a double walled village. It is built in a circle which is unusual in France. We walked the space between the two original walls, over time when security became less of an issue the space between the two walls was built up with homes and work spaces. These half timbered buildings are really well preserved. The colorful paint is from the 20th century. Up until then the buildings were earth toned. We had a great walk enjoying the variety of buildings.
Many of the towns we have visited in the last few days still have Easter ornaments up. Apparently the Easter Bunny is a big deal, and in addition to a lot of bunnies the French decorate trees and bushes with colored Easter eggs. The displays remind us of the Christmas and Halloween displays we see at home.
As we were wrapping up the walk thru town we came around a corner to finds a very imposing man dressed in medieval clothes and doing a vigorous sword dance. It turns out he was the owner of a coffee shop who had no customers so he was filming himself in the ally. We decided we would have a coffee. He was an interesting character, originally from Germany, I asked him if it was a traditional dance, he said “nah, I just make it up as I go, maybe in 100 years it will become a traditional Alsatian sword dance.”
As we went to pull out of our expensive parking I inserted the barcode paper I was given when I purchased the ticket to the machine that controlled the gate. It said reading and then did nothing, I repeated this several times without the gate opening. Finally I got out and tried several more times figuring it might work if I was standing next to it looking irritated. As I was about to give up and go looking for help, a guy in a parking attendants uniform walked up and took the paper, he tried a couple of times, then punched my code into his electronic device to make sure I was not trying to get away with something. He finally started muttering about technology in French while he worked on getting the gate to open, it finally did and with a Voila and an apology we were on our way to Colmar.
The main goal for us today was to visit the village of Essoyes. Essoyes is famous as the summer home of Renoir. He did a lot of his later paintings there, as he spent a lot of senior age years there.
Last night we parked up on a winery in the area owned by the Lameroux’s. It was a nice parking spot for up to six campers including water, and a dump. We walked down to the winery when we arrived to check if it was ok to park. The wife of the owner met us and she did not speak any English, we managed to mime that we were in the camper aire, and she said good. We decided against a tasting and she looked relieved. This morning as we were pulling out her husband happened to be pulling into work. He stopped and thanked us for staying and invited us back if we were ever in the area, and you could tell it was heartfelt. Our experience in Les Riceys was really exceptional, and if an area ever motivated me to learn French it was here, as the people were fantastic.
The drive over to Essoyes was short, and we parked up next to a new museum for Renoir. In fact it was so new that the main exhibitions were not open yet. The museum included a video presentation about Renoir’s life in Essoyes. It was quite well done and helped us understand the rest of the tour. We followed the walking tour thru the village, and as we approached his home we realized we were going to run into lunch. We went in and did a quick tour, but decided to come back for a more extensive tour after lunch. We saw one of the curators and tried to ask in broken French if we could return after lunch, and he smiled and with a proper English accent said of course. Later we learned he was from the south of England.
The home Renoir lived in was exceptionally well restored and supported by one of Renoir’s great granddaughters so a lot of the furniture is family heirlooms. Essoyes is a beautiful village, and if you like impressionists and particularly Renoir it is worth seeking out.
It was still pretty early when we were done so we decided to keep heading east. We picked out the town of Contrexeville in the Vosges as it was generally in the right direction and had a couple of parking options. The GPS said it was 130km so we figured about 2 hours. The GPS had lately been picking pretty good roads where the speed between towns is about 80kph (50 mph), and most towns were bypassed. Today she decided to send us down little D roads where top speed is about 65kph (40mph), but there are lots of little villages where you are creeping thru at 30kph. Our two hour drive turned into 3 hours. We did not mind that much as the countryside was really beautiful, and the roads were nearly empty.
Contrexeville is a spa town with a small Casino. They are trying to develop some tourism, but the Vosges do not seem to be attracting a lot of tourism. The campground tonight is really nice and an incredible bargain at €11.
We are still a bit jet lagged so we find we are falling asleep late and then sleeping in. This morning we were not up until 9am. The plan for the day was to return to the little village we stopped in yesterday.
Les Riceys is actually a combination of three villages that were at one point the border fortresses for 3 different principalities. In the distant past before France was a country there was a Riceys in the Duchy of Sens, another in the Duchy of Burgundy, and a third in Champagne. Each of the Riceys have their own fortified church. They are now happily together as Les Riceys.
The wine in the area is Champagne, though it has only been allowed to be called Champagne recently due to the strict French rules about these things. It was restricted because some of the vineyards are in Burgundy, so it was not purely from Champagne. Now they are allowed to call it champagne as the village mostly resides in Champagne.
Today we stopped at two wineries. At the first winery Pascal Walczak the owner welcomed us with open arms, but he did not speak English. Luckily for us there were two other visitors from Luxembourg who took us under their wing and translated for us. We learned a lot about Champagne. We were also able to get some tips about places to go in Luxembourg and Germany from our impromptu translators. It was a nice stop.
The weather called for hard rain in the afternoon so we rushed over to the Tourist Information to try to find another place to visit before the rain set in. The office recommended a place called Morize Pere & Fils. She called ahead and said that they were beginning a tour shortly and we needed to head straight over. When we go there it was a tour in French, with no helpful Luxembourgers along to help with the translation. The tour guide was one of the sons, though he was our age. The tasting was also nice, and the champagne was good. The problem is neither Ton or I are big fans of champagne, and while we recognized it was good wine, it still was not to our taste.
Les Riceys is a nice little village with a well kept feel, and a lot of wineries specializing in Champagne. If you are a fan we highly recommend you try it. Right after the second tour the hard rain arrived, so we hunkered down in François for the remainder of the day.
The problem with traveling during shoulder season is the weather is unpredictable. It has been a wet October in Spain, and it culminated with today. When we checked the weather last night they predicted a very large storm with possible flash floods, high winds and thunderstorms. It was supposed to last all day. Our original thoughts were to begin moving north towards France by bounding up the coast to Roses. But when we checked the weather there it was actually supposed to be worst than Mataros. Eventually we decided to hunker down for the day.
Unfortunately the weather man got it right and it was spectacularly bad weather all day. We were a little surprised that so many people were choosing to leave when the weather was so bad, and we were beginning to think we were whimps for not carrying on with our plans. It turns out we did not know that today was the last day the campground was open this year and everyone has to be out by tomorrow morning.
We were going a little stir crazy so we decided to see if the campground had anything planned for the evening, and they did, a wine tasting. We signed up and it became the highlight of our day. The tasting was by a local winery in Mataro, and there were only 6 people at the tasting, two English couples and us. Laura the representative from the winery had brought 4 wines to taste. She did a great job of explaining the characteristics of the wine from Mataro, and the wines were quite good. During the tasting we struck up a conversation with one of the English couples , and at the end of the tasting Laura surprised us by putting the 4 bottles in the center of the table and told us we were free to finish them, not knowing this we had also purchased a wine from them, so the 4 of us had the duty of finishing off 5 bottles of wine. Lyndsey and her husband John were kind enough to invite us over for supper so we could have some food with the wine. It turned into a fun night, and it was nearly 1am when we made it to bed having done our duty and finished off all of the wine. Thanks for the exceptional hospitality Lyndsey and John.
Tonight we are parked at a winery called Cellar Battl Artcava. We are little bit southwest of Barcelona. This area is known for a sparkling wine called Cava.
We had booked a visit to the largest producer of Cava in Spain called Codorniu, it has been in business since 1541, and is still owned by the 18th generation of the original family. We both woke up early and even though it was only a couple of hours to the winery we left pretty early, and sure enough arrived very early for our 330 pm tour. After looking at our options we decided to head into one of the larger towns nearby to see if we could knock out some laundry. That did not happen, but we did find a Lidl which is Ton’s favorite grocery store here.
After spending some money in Lidl we headed back to the winery and still had some time to kill so, so we settled in and did some reading. Finally we went in and had the light lunch we had scheduled, we met a couple from Austin who were touring Italy and Spain by car. We swapped stories about wine regions before beginning the tour.
We have been on a lot of wine tours but this one was unique. This is an industrial sized winery and they have the capacity to produce one million bottles in a year, though last year they “only” made 600,000 bottles. Around 1911 they focused exclusively on Cava which is a sparkling wine. The tour focused on their storage caves which are about 90 feet underground and according to the guide cover 13.5 km’s of tunnels. To prove the extent of the tunnels at one point they loaded us all onto a train and drove us around the tunnels for about 10 minutes. They are really vast. The wine was good, but we still are not great fans of sparkling wines.
After the tour we moved over to Cellar Battl Artcava which is supposed to be located 5 minutes from the source of the original vineyards in Catalan, so it is the Cava (winery) closest to the origin of wine here.
We have been in Catalan for a few days now and are beginning to get even more confused with romance languages. The signs here are in Catalan and Spanish. Catalan unlike Basque is a romance language, but it is as different from Spanish as French or Portuguese is. As an example wine in French is Vin, in Spanish is Vino, and in Catalan is Vi. There has been a bit of a political uproar as the Catalan parliament voted to leave Spain last year, but driving around there is no sign that anything is happening to move that forward or to stymie it, but of course we cannot read the signs in Spanish or Catalan!
The aire we are staying at is owned by a Spanish/British couple who are RV’ers’ also. You can tell as they designed it in a way that is really user friendly, their experience shows. They are considering a trip to the US so we exchanged some information with them.
Later in the day we headed into Malaga which is a town we are both familiar with from school. We took a local bus into town, as we came around a point of land we had our first view of the harbor. To our dismay their were 3 cruise ships in port including the largest one we have ever seen. It turns out there was actually a 4th one but it was a sailing cruise ship and did not stand out. We knew then that the town would be packed.
Malaga had a really nice vibe to it, and we enjoyed wandering around town. As usual we checked out the cathedral, the castle (Arabic), and some old buildings. The old town is dwarfed by the new town, but it was still quite large. The Spanish do a great job of making their down town cores pedestrian friendly. The walkways are wide, and most streets have very limited access for cars and delivery trucks, so the roads can also safely be used for pedestrian traffic. Ton really loves how they make it easy to enjoy a stroll.
The high light of the day was the Picasso Museum. Picasso was originally from Malaga and the museum did a good job of showing the different phases of his development. Unfortunately there are no photos allowed in the museum. It is an excellent museum without having any of his famous works. Because of this they focused more on how his work developed from his early days as a student until his late works in his 90’s.
After that we were wandering down a street looking for the market when we came upon an old bar that looked interesting, it was founded in 1840 and was the official supplier of Sherrie for Queen Isabel II before she abdicated and moved to France. They served glasses of different sherries out of giant wooden casks. They had a variety of different local sherries which is a regional specialty around Malaga. They also had a very interesting way of keeping the tab, after you order they take a piece of chalk and write the amount you owe for the round on the wooden bar in front of you. It’s simple and you know right where you stand, and as an Englishman next to us explained you do not have to worry about losing your spot at the bar when you go to the bathroom, because for someone to take your spot at the bar, they also inherit your tab! Unfortunately we forgot to get a liter to go.
We ended the evening sitting around with the owner of the aire and two English couples where we were given some excellent advice about travel. Malaga was another great stop, we can see why people flock to the Costa del Sol.
Today we left the land of Pintxo (Basque) and entered the land of Tapas (Spanish). We stopped in two towns today. The first town was a planned stop to see some things we were interested in, and the second was picked based on it being a good distance to drive, with a decent place to sleep.
We spent a noisy night in the parking lot of a Leclerc grocery store in Soria. The store was located in a kind of industrial park, and had a lot of truck traffic going by. Both of us have a bit of a bug so neither one of us slept very well between being sick and the noise of the traffic all night.
Our plan for the day was to head for the town of Aranda de Duero. It is another old fortified town with a bunch of caves under it that were originally for defense of the town, but have recently been converted to wine production. The drive from Soria was easy, in general the roads in Spain are a little wider and a little straighter than France, and this results in quicker and easier trips between towns. We arrived a little before noon, found the aire and headed into town to check it out. After a quick stop at the visitors center we headed off to a Bodega that also had a cave under it that we could tour. We arrived at the Bodega at the same time as a Danish couple so we went on the tour together. When the tour was done we walked around town, and decided we had seen enough of Aranda. As it was still early we decided to drive a couple more hours.
After some research we picked the town of Tordesillas based on it being the distance we wanted to drive with a good place to sleep for the night. Our intention was to get to the campground early, and take it easy for the rest of the night. But as we pulled in the town looked interesting, and the restaurant was offering a great deal on a Asada (meat) platter for two. So we ended up walking into the town to admire the churches, and having probably our best meal so far in Spain. It was a very nice ending to the day. During the meal we ended up talking to a Dutch/English couple who raved about Portugal. We are getting really tempted to visit.
We had wanted to visit some of the caves under Laguardia, but when we arrived yesterday it was too late to get in. We decided to stay around another day and get in a tour.
With time in the morning we lazed around a bit before heading over to Laguardia. We had a specific winery we were most interested in, but today they were only offering tours in Spanish, we contemplated going along, but they said it would be a waste as they spent a lot of time explaining the process and if we were not fluent it would be boring.
Instead we went to another winery and booked ourselves on a tour of Bodega Carlos San Pedro. We had a couple of hours to kill so we settled into a coffee shop and watched a replay of the Real Madrid game with the local team Since we did not know the score it was live to us. In the end the local team scored literally at the final whistle, and all of the locals who had kindly not given away the score shared a big high five with us.
When we got to Carlos San Pedro it was packed. In fact the owner was startled about how many English speaking guests he had. Towards the end he began asking people to wait 15 minutes and he would run a second tour. Ton and I decided to join his tour, as he was clearly the owner and winemaker. It was a good decision as Carlos gave an in depth and clear description of the winemaking process in the Rioja region. He showed us the original winemaking facility before admitting that they had moved to a modern facility about 15 years ago. They did have a splendid video of the process using the old equipment including a hand operated press that was still on display.
After the explanation we went down into the caves under the winery to see the cement tanks they use, as well as the barrel and bottle rooms. The caves have been under the town for hundreds of years, and go back to the time when the town was a fortress. There are over 300 caves under the town, and many have been used for winemaking and storage for the last 150 years.
It ended with a taste of the wine that was in a 6000 liter tank aging, as well as two from the bottle. The wine was superb, and we have been on a lot of wine tours in our time, but this was one of the best.
It was still pretty early so we decided to move south a little bit to get us positioned for another town tomorrow. Tonight we are in the parking lot of a major grocery store with 6 other motorhomes. We were able to get some supplies. The drive to here was thru the Cebollera National Park, and it was quite beautiful, though the weather was a little sketchy or we may have stopped for the night. It gives us something to aim for in the future.
Everyone we talked to over the last few days told us we had to go to Bordeaux. Ron was a little intimidated with the idea of driving into a big city, and there are no official aires or campgrounds in the city. After some research our Dutch Parking App listed a parking lot next to a soccer stadium and municipal pool that had good access to the city by bus.
To everyone who told us not to miss Bordeaux thank you we both enjoyed it very much. It is a medium sized city with a very well developed transit system that was easy to use. The waterfront promenade goes on for a couple of kilometers and is wide and pleasant to walk. The promenade has cafes on one side, and river cruise ships, and one very expensive yacht on the other.
We visited the World of Wine Museum which is a little pricey, but a very modern multi-media museum, and the entrance did come with a taste of one wine from their world selection. The different multimedia displays included something to taste touch, and many different ways of visually presenting information about wine. It was interesting to see how curators are trying to integrate all of the audio visual stuff that is available now. We also got a small taste of French humor in some of the presentations which was fun.
After cutting ourselves off after over three hours in the museum we headed down town to look at some of the buildings in town. The city center is quite nice, and looks like it was not terribly damaged during WWII despite being a major base for German U-Boats. With a city as tuned into wine as Bordeaux is the cafe scene is quite extensive, and a lot of people were enjoying an afternoon drink, so we decided to join them for a beer. We had a couple of French microbrews and they were quite satisfactory.
We spent the day exploring the wine region on the west side of the Gironde River. This area has some of the most expensive wines in the world. To get there we had two choices, a 100km drive around the Gironde and thru Bordeaux, for the time and gas, or a 20 minute Ferry Ride that would put us right in the middle of the wine area we were aiming towards, for cash money. We opted for the ferry ride because Ron is a sucker for ferries, and does not like driving thru big cities.
We really wanted to see the town called Margaux which is the center of the Premier Cru wines. As we were driving there, harvest was in full swing everywhere. This limited our opportunity to visit wineries as the smaller wineries that we tend to visit were closed due to the harvest. When we got to Margaux the town itself did not make much of an impression, besides having a couple of larger than normal homes it could have been any small French village.
We decided to get out to take a quick walk thru town, and were about to head back to François when we saw a winery that was open, in France we have learned that an open sign does not always mean they are open. We were poking around the outside trying to decide when a lady stuck her head out of the door and informed us they were open. We went in with her and found ourselves in the poshest place we have been to in quite a while. She offered us a tour of the winery for €50 each. We decided to splurge for a glass of wine and some desert instead. While we were savoring our small moment of poshness, another American couple came in and joined us. We had a nice conversation with them before heading out. The wine was really good.
On our way out of town we saw the signs for Chateau Margaux whose wines retail for over $1200 per bottle and decided to do a drive by. On arrival we saw that their parking lot was pretty full so we turned into the winery, but were stopped by a security guard and told to turn around. We clearly are not Chateau Margaux customers!
We spent the rest of the afternoon driving around looking at the Chateaus, and the harvest process before parking up for the night in a little village in the center of the wine country. The village of St. Laurent Medoc is not nearly as posh as Margaux so we fit in.
We had an early start to the day. The weather continues to be great, highs in the low 70’s and lows in the low 50’s. We headed into Bordeaux which is the home of Cabernet Sauvignon, the area we wanted to visit produces some of the most expensive wines in France.
Our Dutch App that we use to locate places to stay recommended we stay at a winery called the Marquis de Vauban. It was free so we punched it in as we left Rochefort, after a nice relaxing Sunday drive of about 110Km’s we arrived. Our expectation was a spot in a parking lot. We were very pleasantly surprised to find we are parked right in the vineyard of the winery with electricity, and water provided. We went into the tasting room and signed up for the 4pm English tour.
We had a few hours to kill so we walked into the town of Blaye to see the fortifications there which is a UNESCO world heritage site. This is another fort designed by the French designer Vauban, (the same guy our winery is named after). It was designed in 1660 on the site of a medieval fort on the River Gironde. The Gironde is the largest River estuary in Europe and it is about 3 miles wide here. The purpose of the fort was to protect Bordeaux from ships coming up the Gironde. It is an immense fort and was put to the test in 1814 when the British besieged it. The fort withstood the siege and kept the British from getting down the Gironde. It was decommissioned after WWII and turned over to the town.
We took our winery tour and tasting with a couple from Wales. After the tour we took a nice horse carriage ride into town to top off the night. While we were relaxing there was a knock on the door of the RV and it was the guide from the horse carriage wanting to know if we wanted an aperitif for the night, of course we did. The aperitif was poured from a used Evian water bottle. After everyone from the campground got their glass he asked what it was, we had no idea, but felt better when none of the other guests knew either. It turned out it was blackberry currant mixed with red wine. It was delicious. After that we returned to the RV to have our dinner, and call home.
Our plan when we arrived was to head towards Spain, so of course we drove north today to Chartres. Along the way we decided to visit Normandy and Brittany on our way to Spain, so we had to divert north to get to Normandy.
We decided to visit Chartres primarily to see its Gothic Cathedral. We visited Sens Cathedral the other day which is billed as the first Gothic Cathedral, and Chartres is supposed to be the best example of a Gothic Cathedral. Chartres still has its’ original stained glass as during both wars they removed it and stored it safely. During WWII the cathedral was in danger as the allies moved towards Paris, but an American Colonel successfully negotiated with a German General to declare Chartres open, so there was no battle fought in the city.
On our way out of Chinon we decided we wanted to visit a winery, we drove thru the countryside only to find it was closed. Disappointed again, we wrote off getting a taste of any Chinon wine, but on our way out of town Ton spotted the new tasting room for the winery we had driven out into the country to see. Pierre and Bertrand Couly had opened a new tasting room on the highway to Chartres, Chinon Red wines are what we call Cabernet Franc in the US. We spoke to the wife of the owner and she did a great job explaining the wines of the area. She was aware of Oregon wines as her husband had spent some time at Sokol Blosser winery in Oregon in the 1980’s.
The three hour drive to Chartres was uneventful as the “N” road that we used most of the way was quite good. We parked in a free overnight spot, and walked about a mile into town to see the cathedral. The cathedral was indeed impressive, and the interior stain glass windows were among the best we have seen in France. The cathedral was constructed in the early 1200’s after the previous Romanesque Cathedral had burned. The cathedral is deservedly a UNESCO world heritage site. Besides admiring the beauty of the building we also again discussed the maintenance of these immense buildings. Just keeping the exterior clean is a full time job.
After touring the cathedral we decided not to wait for the light show, so we walked back to François. Frankly we were a little peeved with one of the attendants who would not let us take the last crypt tour, and did it in a way that seemed unnecessarily officious to us while simultaneously refusing to speak English, even though we had just heard him giving an explanation of the tour in perfect English to another person. I hope he was just having a bad day. We had a light dinner and a relatively early night as we have a long drive to Normandy tomorrow.