Posts Tagged With: Rhone River

Wine 101 in Beaujolais

Water levels on the river sometimes cause changes to the itinerary on a river cruise. For example, when we were in Porto, Portugal, in the spring of 2016 we heard the Viking River Cruise on the Douro River was transporting passengers entirely by bus because the river was flooding. Our Viking River Cruise was scheduled to leave the Rhône River at Lyon, cruise up the Saône River, and dock at Mâcon on day 7.  Instead, the captain announced our ship would stay in Lyon because it might not make it under the bridges on the Saône due to high water levels.

While we missed views of the Saône from the ship and didn’t get to visit Mâcon, the accommodation seemed quite seamless to me. We would still travel by coach through the Beaujolais region for an included wine tasting at Le Château Pierreclos. The only difference was that a complimentary lunch would be provided for us at a restaurant afterward because we wouldn’t have time to travel back to the ship before our afternoon optional excursion to Cluny Abbey.

The scenes from the coach and the commentary offered by our guide made the longer bus ride totally worth it.

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Door to Beaujolais

French wine is complicated and I certainly don’t know enough to be an expert but I now know more than I did before.  At least I feel a little more comfortable looking at a French wine label. When buying wine in the U.S., the most important information on the label is the varietal or type of grape such as Syrah (my favorite), chardonnay, pinot noir, etc. In France, the varietal is usually not found on the label at all. Instead, the most important information is the Appellation d’Origine Controlée or AOC. Each region has rules and guidelines that determine whether the wine qualifies for AOC classification. The most well-known appellation and easiest example to explain is Champagne. In order to earn the AOC of Champagne, the wine must come from the region of Champagne. Anything else is just sparkling wine and can’t claim the name of Champagne.  According to Wikipedia, there are currently over 300 appellations including Beaujolais, Chateauneuf du Papes, and Côtes du Rhone, to name just a few that we encountered on our river cruise in France.

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French wine label with my explanation

If a wine doesn’t meet the rigorous standards for AOC, it’s either a table wine or a country wine (Vin de pays). I’m sure we drank some of these in France but truly they are good enough that we didn’t know the difference.

Driving through the Beaujolais region which is just 34 miles long, we saw lots of vineyards.  Beaujolais is often thought of as a young light fruity red wine made from Gamay grapes best consumed immediately or soon after release which always occurs on the third Thursday of November.  Actually, that is true of Beaujolais Nouveau which accounts for one-third of the wine produced but the AOC Beaujolais Villages and the top 10 Beaujolais Cru have a longer shelf life.

We were fortunate to have spotted two of the Beaujolais Cru vineyards. The Moulin-a-Vent, named after a local windmill, is considered the King of Beaujolais.

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Moulin-a-Vent

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Moulin-a-Vent

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Chateau Portier Vineyard

The other Beaujolais Cru vineyard we spotted was Juliénas, named for Julius Caesar, as the welcome mural indicates somewhat obviously.

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Bienvenue (Welcome) to Juliénas

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Vineyard in Beaujolais

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We stopped first at the Rock of Solutré, close to the village of Solutré-Pouilly, located in the wine-producing area of Pouilly-Fuissé.

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Rock of Solutré

In the 1860’s, the discovery of thousands of horse and reindeer bones around the base of the rock resulted in a now discredited theory that 20,000 years ago Cro-magnon man herded the animals over the edge of the rock to their death. The presence of the bones remains an archeological mystery to this day.

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Rock of Solutré

Even more amazing than this archeological site was the incredible beauty of the surrounding vineyards among the rolling hills. I’m sure it was our good fortune to visit when the autumn color was at its peak. We arrived following the completion of harvest which depends on around 300,000 minimum wage pickers throughout France for about a two week period each year. In the Beaujolais region, all grapes must be picked by hand although that requirement varies in other regions.

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Looking at the countryside one wouldn’t suspect the harvest in this area was one of the worst in 30 years due to terrible weather conditions including frost, heavy rains, hail, drought, and mildew. You can read more about the devastation here.

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Back on the bus, we headed onward to our wine tasting but just up the road, we spied these animals on the loose; I just can’t tell you whether they were sheep or goats.

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Chateau de Pierreclos is a restored medieval castle that offers wine tasting, a bed and breakfast, and a wedding venue. Prior to our tasting, we wandered around on a self-guided tour enjoying the grounds and the setting on a crisp autumn day with only a sprinkle or two of rain.

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At our appointed time, we followed our group to the wine cellar where we enjoyed the wines included in our tasting.

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The wines included in our tasting

Following our tasting, we were directed to a modern spacious shop where we perused and bought local products to take home with us. Then we boarded our coach again for transportation to the restaurant for lunch before our afternoon visit to Cluny Abbey. But that’s the subject of my next post so please join us next time.

 

Based on events from November 2016.

Categories: cruise, Europe, France, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Day 4: Viviers

Every morning on the Rhône River offered new delights. At breakfast on morning 4, we saw these elegant creatures gliding through the mist on the river.

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Swans on the Rhône River

After taking no fewer than 50 largely disappointing photos, I definitely had a greater appreciation for wildlife photographers and the images they capture.

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Taking flight

Following breakfast, we readied ourselves for a walking tour of Viviers, France. This small walled town with a population of 3400 captivated us with its winding medieval streets, medieval and Renaissance architecture, and quintessential French charm. The crisp autumn weather with azure skies accompanied by the aroma and rustle of fallen leaves completed the scene as we entered the village.

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View of the Rhône as we departed the ship

Plane trees (called sycamore in the U.S.) lined the road creating a shady canopy for locals having the time and inclination to sit for awhile. Napoleon had them planted all over southern France to provide shade for his troops as they marched or rested.

 

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Allée du Rhône lined with plane trees

 

The plane tree is also sometimes called a camouflage tree due to the dappled appearance of the trunk caused by the bark peeling in patches.

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Trunk of the plane tree

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Doesn’t this just invite you to sit for a while?

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Buildings along the Allée du Rhône in Viviers

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Jim in the midst of lovely fall foliage

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Lori in front of a petite doorway in a stone wall

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The men straggling behind our tour group

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Decorative fountain in a wall

Notice the narrow lane below with the buildings so close together that the center of the lane is trenched to drain the water.

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The clothesline in the next photo was a clever invention to hang laundry out to dry in areas without the benefit of outdoor space on the ground level.

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When we reached the Place de la Republique in the center of the old town, our tour guide told us about the Maison de Lestrade, built in the 13th century which today still contains windows installed in the 16th century. For many years it served as the town hall for Viviers.

IMG_0965Located on the same square was the Maison des Chevaliers, built in Renaissance style for a rich salt merchant, Noel Albert. He was executed in 1568 after seizing control of Viviers during the Huguenot Wars. Look closely at the ornamentation on the facade. C’est magnifique.

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Leaving Place de la République we headed uphill through the old gate at St. Michael’s Tower to St. Vincent’s Cathedral, the smallest cathedral still in use in France. The tapestries in this cathedral depicting various Bible scenes are especially fine.  IMG_0978

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Tower of St. Michael

 

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St. Vincent’s Cathedral

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Interior of St. Vincent’s Cathedral

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Altar in St. Vincent’s Cathedral

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Another visitor at the cathedral

I must mention that it was in this cathedral that an old gentleman asked me whether I was American. When I replied in the affirmative, he inquired whether I supported Donald Trump and whether I thought he would win the election. I responded, “Absolutely not!” but he was elected immediately upon our return from this trip.

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Up to see the view

 

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View from the upper town

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Ruins of the fortress in the upper town

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Clock tower of Viviers from the upper town

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View from upper town

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After enjoying the views from the upper town, we made our way back to lower town and stopped in a couple shops.  IMG_1038

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Window shopping at the charcuterie

When we returned to the ship, it was such a beautiful day we made for the upper deck of the Viking Buri where we tried out the putting green and shuffleboard and checked out the herb garden.

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After another superb lunch, we decided to take it easy and stayed onboard for the afternoon. We attended the cooking demonstration featuring Chef Pascal and Maitre d’ Imre preparing Chocolat Fondant and a French lesson before dinner. Parlez-vous Français?

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Chef Pascal and Maitre d’ Imre

 

That evening at dinner, we invited Drago, our expert waiter, for a photo with our dinner group. All of the staff were attentive and helpful but Drago’s excellent sense of humor made him a favorite with this crowd. IMG_1093It was the end of another perfect day on our Viking River Cruise. But please come back again to check out day 5 in my next post.

Based on events of November 2016.

References:

Tour guide from the Viking Buri

Viking Daily

Viking Cruise Documents

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Walking Tour of Arles, France

We first glimpsed Tarascon, France through the early morning mist on the Rhône river. As the castle came into view, we knew that day 2 of our river cruise promised to be at least as delightful as the first. Our ship docked at this small town of 13,000 inhabitants, 11 miles (18 km) north of Arles. Tarascon would have to wait until later in the day, however, because we were scheduled for a walking tour of Arles that morning.

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Dawn on the Rhône River approaching Tarascon

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Tarascon Castle from the Rhône River

But first, a good breakfast was in order to fuel our explorations. We were offered an outstanding array on the buffet or we could order from the menu or both.

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Scrumptious breakfast

Following breakfast, our motor coach waited to transport us to Arles, pop. 50,000. Arles was settled by the Greeks as early as the 6th century, BC, and the city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its Roman monuments dating from the 1st century, BC, and Romanesque monuments from the 11th and 12th centuries.

As we walked through the city, I was charmed by almost everything I saw.

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The Roman Amphitheater, still in use today for bullfights and other events, was built in the 1st century AD to accommodate 21,000 spectators.

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Lori and Jim at the Roman Amphitheater

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Inside the Roman Amphitheater

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Inside the Roman Amphitheater

The nearby Roman Theater, built in the 1st century BC, was not as well-preserved as the amphitheater but it, too, is still used today for outdoor performances, accommodating audiences of 8,000.

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As we continued our stroll toward the Place de la Republique, I captured a few views along the way.

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The Place de la Republique, where the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) is located, is the center of the historic district. The ancient Egyptian obelisk was moved here from the amphitheater in 1676.

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Place de la Republique

Facing the Place de la Republique is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Church and Cloister of St. Trophime, named for an early bishop of Arles. The facade of the Romanesque church features sculptured scenes of the Last Judgement including Christ in Majesty surrounded by symbols of the four Evangelists above the doorway, the righteous being delivered to the saints on the left, and the chain-bound souls being delivered to hell on the right.

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Christ in Majesty with the Evangelists

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The righteous delivered to the saints

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The damned with chains around their waists delivered to hell

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Inside the Church of St. Trophime

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Church of St. Trophime Interior

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Church of St. Trophime

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Church of St. Trophime

Incidentally, the Church of St. Trophime is a stop along one of the pilgrimage routes of the Camino de Santiago. We didn’t see any pilgrims while we were there, however.

Vincent Van Gogh arrived in Arles in 1888 at age 34 and spent 15 months here producing 300 paintings including some of his most famous. It was here that he cut off his ear and was hospitalized at the old Arles Hospital where he painted Le Jardin de la Maison de Santé a Arles. Today this hospital is a cultural center featuring many of Van Gogh’s works. Sadly, the artist died young in 1890.

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Sign to mark the place where Van Gogh painted Le Jardin de la Maison de Santé a Arles

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In the footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh

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Sign to identify the cafe where Van Gogh painted Le Café Le Soir

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Location of the painting Le Cafe Le Soir (Cafe Terrace at Night)

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Another view of the café

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Marker for Van Gogh’s La Nuit Étoilée

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View of the river where La Nuit Étoilée was painted by Vincent Van Gogh

We saw one more ancient Roman monument on our walking tour, the Baths of Constantine, dating from the 4th century.

 

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Baths of Constantine

 

 

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Baths of Constantine

 

Before boarding our bus to return to Tarascon, I took a few photos of The Bridge of Lions. The bridge was destroyed in a WWII bombing but the lions have been restored and stand regally on guard on the embankment of the River Rhône. IMG_0326

Upon our return to our ship, the Viking Buri, we were greeted by staff with a welcome aboard drink for us.

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Check back for a tour of Tarascon Castle.

 

Based on events from October 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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