Champagne…More Than Just a Celebration Drink

The first documentation of using the Champagne method to make sparkling wine appeared in the 1600s, and many of today’s most well-known Champagne houses, including Taittinger, Moët & Chandon, and Ruinart, were founded in the 1700s.

The Champagne appellation was formally created in 1936. Major houses launched marketing campaigns in the United States that portrayed Champagne as the ultimate luxury beverage for celebrations and aperitif-style sipping. Today, many Americans use the word Champagne to mean any and all sparkling wines.

Because of a combination of place, soils, grapes, and the Champagne process, Champagne is one of the most unique beverages in the world. Vintages vary dramatically due to the region’s marginal climate. For example, the differences between Champagne’s 61 Grand and Premier Cru villages are vast. Specific vineyards within those villages have unique terroirs, some of which are small, even tiny, parcels with completely different soils and aspects than those just next door.

Champagne has just three key grape varieties, with seven permitted in total. In addition, decisions about viticulture, aging, and blending create a huge variety of finished wines to study and dissect. Think of blanc de blanc, blanc de noir, rose, cuvee…

This diversity is one of the reasons why a Champagne-only pairing menu can emphasize the wine’s overall food-friendliness. With a combination of refreshing acidity and palate-cleansing bubbles, Champagne pairs with foods ranging from raw oysters to fried chicken, and everything in between. Those bubbles are not only lively to look at and refreshing to drink, but they offer you a drink relatively low in alcohol and fairly high in acidity.

Is the Eiffel Tower on Your Bucket List?

Is the Eiffel Tower on your Paris Bucket List? If so, do you have a plan for visiting it?

Security at the Eiffel Tower

We were there three years ago and again this year. One thing we noticed is the tightened security measures that now exist at the Eiffel Tower. Until the terrorist attacks in recent years, the area around and underneath the Eiffel Tower was completely open to the public. We could wander under the structure from one side to another, take photos as we looked up at the wonderful late 19th-century architectural masterpiece, get across the wide expanse…all without buying tickets.

Not so anymore. The whole area around the tower is fenced off and you can’t get past security to get underneath the tower unless you have tickets.

Booking tickets for the Eiffel Tower

Did you know…the most famous cultural symbol of France, the Eiffel Tower, is the most visited paid monument in the world and receives around seven million visitors a year.

Knowing that, this probably is the most important reason to book your tickets in advance! The best and easiest way to do this is online. Ahead of time…in some cases, a long way ahead of time.

But it might help to explain the different options for going up the tower first.

The stairs or the elevators?

First, let’s talk about the layout of the tower.

There are three levels to the tower. On the first level, there are some restaurants, a short film about the evolution of the Eiffel Tower and the new glass floor area that almost makes you feel like you’re walking on air.

On the second level, there is another restaurant and some souvenir stores. The third level is the summit of the tower, with a viewing deck, a champagne bar and a display of photos from the 19th century of the Eiffel Tower and its architect Gustave Eiffel. Views of Paris and beyond are spectacular. Take your camera.

There are two elevators within the tower; one serves the first and second levels and the other goes from the second to the third level. Some people choose to take the stairs to the second level as the queues are shorter and the ticket is cheaper. Fine, if you don’t mind over 600 steps!

Like most people, we took the two elevators to the top. Note that you can’t take stairs to the third level.

On the Eiffel Tower’s website, http://www.toureiffel.paris/en, you can book your tickets up to the second or third level.

TIP:

  • The third level tickets often sell out a long time ahead. If you know when you will be in Paris…book those tickets now. You can always buy tickets on line to the second level, then buy the third level ticket when you get there. But, who wants to stand in line if you don’t have to? Lines can be long…really long.

Whatever option you choose for ascending the tower, you are allowed to take the elevators down to the bottom after you are finished.

TIPS:

  • You will need to pick a time-slot for visiting the Eiffel Tower when buying your tickets online. This is just the time that you need to arrive – you can spend as much time in the tower as you like! Try to pick a slot for first thing in the morning, at lunch-time or towards the end of the day when there are fewer people.
  • Make sure you arrive on time, or several minutes ahead of your scheduled time. If you are late, you may not be allowed in.
  • It can get very windy and cold on the second and third levels of the Eiffel Tower, and you will most likely have to line up outside for the elevator from the second to the third level; so even if the weather seems perfect on the ground, bring a warm jacket or sweater.
  • If you plan to have lunch or dinner at one of the Eiffel Tower’s restaurants, make sure you book in advance, on the Eiffel Tower’s website, as there are often long queues for the restaurants.

 

Wine Walk Through the Village…What’s Not to Love?

 

When staying in the Languedoc Roussillon area of France, and our host suggested we might like a ‘wine walk through a village’, we readily agreed. What foodie and wine lover wouldn’t like to have the opportunity to taste some of the 30 or 40 local wines, sample gourmet food prepared by an excellent chef, visit with wine makers and growers throughout the day, and experience a beautiful natural park near the village?

Sign us up…

Nestled between scrubland, ponds, and hills, the village of Peyriac de Mer sits on a diversity of soils, including limestone, chalk, and gravel. Combine those soils with the variety of microclimates found here and you have the perfect combination for enhancing the character of different grapes. Hence, producing exceptional wines.

So far, sounds amazing…

Ready for our wine tasting and gastronomic walk, we bundled up and headed off to meet our host. Since a pesky cold front was hanging around, we wore layers. I do mean layers. As we headed out onto a dock along the edge of the lake, the wind whipped up white caps and threatened to knock us into the choppy, gray water.

Quickly, we realized we were not walking through the delightful village, but up and around the lake, past an old, working salt flat, across a high ridge where the views of the Mediterranean were fantastic, and through the Nature Park. Walking shoes would have been appropriate for the six plus kilometer journey that took us up over 300 meters from where we started. The village…that’s where we ended.

What did we get into?

Another reason the wines here are special, is the wind. It contributes to soil ventilation, thus improving the quality of the wines. All well and good, unless you’re trying to walk along the top of the ridge as the wind is determined to blow you into one of the lakes below. I’m quite sure it could have blown me off the top and into the Mediterranean had I not been hanging on to my husband.

So, what did we think once we finished our ‘walk’ and headed into the village for coffee and sunshine?

Wines…they were fantastic. All of them. What’s not to like about a glass of Montfin Blanc from Chateau Montfin, a glass of Grenache Blanc from Chateau Fabre-Cordon, or a glass of Rose from Abbaye Sainte Eugenie? Visiting with the wine makers and growers, often the same person, made those glasses even more special. I almost hated to leave one wine stop and hike to the next one. Until I tasted the next group of wines, that is.

Food…also fantastic. Who wouldn’t want a piece of fresh, crusty bread with perfectly sliced beef carpaccio, copeaux or shavings of semi-soft goat cheese, and rosemary sprigs to pair with your glass of Carignena? Next stop, salmon gravelax, sprinkled with petit peas, and a dollop of lemon cream, and our choice of Grenache Blanc or Vent Marin Blanc. Of course the epaule or shoulder of lamb with sprigs of thyme, olive oil, and petardon peas was perfect with my glass of Mire la Mer. When we made it to the dessert stop, we were ready to be on flat ground again as we ate our crème caramel with candied oranges, beurre sale, and almonds. Paired with either a sweeter Musc’ito or a Banyuls Ame de pierre, a blend of Grenache, Grenache Blanc, and Grenache Gris made us smile as we headed to the village. We were in Heaven…and full.

The walk…incredible views, friendly people, knowledgeable wine growers, and even some hunters who offered homemade salami and saucisse. Yummy, beautiful, and nothing like we had ever done before.

Asked by our host if we would do this again…even with the weather, terrain, and wind as challenges. Absolutely. Why would we complain about being in the wonderful French countryside, eating delicious food, and drinking amazing wines?

After all, this was not any ordinary ‘wine walk’…it was so much better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the Most Photographed Chateau in the Loire Valley?

Chateau de Chenonceau

Quite the distinction to say Chateau de Chenonceau is the most visited and the most photographed chateau in the Loire Valley in France. It’s also been called the ladies chateau, as ladies have been the most influential in its design…from early on to the stunning structure we see today. Wives, mistresses, widows…all had their hand in the way Chateau de Chenonceau looks.

In the 16th century, Thomas Bohier and his wife Katherine Briconnet demolished an old castle and mill, which were standing on the site. Supposedly wanting to control the River Cher, the chateau sits all the way across it. Soon after completion, the chateau was seized by King Francois I, because Bohier couldn’t pay his debts. His successor, Henry II, gave the chateau to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who spent time and money redesigning the expansive gardens.

When Henry II died, his wife Catherine de Medici removed Diane and redid the gardens to her liking. More ladies and more renovations. When walking through the chateau, around every turn, in every room, on every staircase…there is a trace of one of the queens and mistresses who lived here.

Renaissance furniture, massive tapestries, paintings, and a small chapel are in fantastic condition. You can almost see how kings, their queens, and their mistresses lived here. The kitchen is its own special place. Or, should I say kitchens? There is one for baking breads, one for cutting meat, one for pastry work, one for bringing in the vegetables….and more. The copperware collection alone is worth looking at, and be sure to check out the 16th Century chimney in the pantry.

Chenonceau played an important part in more modern history as well. During WWI, the owner allowed the chateau to be used as a hospital, and during WWII one end of the castle was in the Occupied Zone and the other end in French Free Territory.

Definitely one of the prettiest chateau in the Loire Valley…in my opinion. Worth the visit.

For a special treat, have lunch at L’Orangerie, located on the grounds. Take your time…it’s worth it.

 

 

 

Chateau de Chambord…Not Your Typical Hunting Lodge

Chateau de Chambord is the largest of the Loire Valley Chateau, even though it was originally built as a hunting lodge for King Francois I. His main palaces were located at Chateau d’Amboise and Chateau de Blois.

Keep in mind…not what you might expect as a hunting lodge.

It’s grand…grand enough that the Loire River had to be diverted to make some more space for its construction. In fact, the grounds cover 50 square kilometers. As a hunting lodge, Francois I apparently only spent seven weeks here when he was hunting. That’s because his hunting party included around 2,000 people. Difficult, at best, to get that many people all here at the same time!

When walking through, you can see much of the unfinished work in rooms where the moldings are not quite complete or the tapestries are only partially hung. After Francois I died in 1547, the castle remained in a state of abandon for almost 100 years. Several different kings or brothers of kings worked on it and owned it over the next century. That explains the different architectural lines, towers, staircases, rooms, turrets, moats, and roof lines…all with their own variation from side to side and front to back.

Since no records or plans exist on how the original chateau would look, it’s not easy to imagine what the first architect had in mind. Da Vinci’s sketches and influence is easy to spot here. After all, he lived here for a while and was invaluable to the king at that time.

Nothing along the roof line, archways, or skyline looks quite the same from one section to the next. It’s not your typical chateau…yet it’s impressive from a distance and from close up.

You’ll see distinct French Renaissance architecture with traditional medieval defensive structures, classical Italian aspects adapted from Milan and Toscane, a Greek cross-shaped center plan design, intricate sculpted ceiling medallions, countless chimneys, and stairway turrets which seem to go nowhere.

Be sure to look at the central staircase, as it is the architectural highlight of this enormous chateau. The stone staircase rises the entire height of the castle, and is a double helix. This means that two independent staircases are wound around each other. People going up and people coming down the staircase will not meet. Not a narrow staircase, each step is several meters across.

Check out the second floor where this cross-shaped room is unique. Each wing consists of a huge vault adorned with the emblems of Francois I…monogrammed “F” salamanders spitting out water. Supposedly, the spitting water was to extinguish the bad fire and the salamanders swallowing the good fire assisted. You’ll see salamanders all over the chateau…sculpted, not real.

Definitely one of the most notable chateau in Europe, especially since it consists of over 440 rooms. Did I mention it was built as a hunting lodge? Could that be why there are 365 fireplaces throughout? Check for yourself and start counting.