OUR TRAVELS

PART SIX

Campy parked in Toscana Village Camping, Montopoli, Toscana, Italia!

Follow that, you may well say again after Part Five below – however, in a way, this time we didn’t – at first, at least!

We had it in mind to go from Domaine Dalmeran to Frejús, nearer to the Italian border to wait for as long as necessary for us to be able to cross into Italy following all Covid Protocols, of course. So, off we went.

It was a good campsite, though rather sodden after unusually heavy rainfall, 10 minutes from the town on Scoots. It was pleasant, there was a lovely beach, but the weather, contrary to how we’d expected, was really cold – I guess living in SE Spain for so long has weakened our resistance to cold weather!

Fortunately, we soon learned that all we needed for entry into Italy was a negative Covid test and an address to which we were travelling. We fancied Tuscany (who wouldn’t?!) so we booked into Toscana Village, Montopoli, receiving confirmation, should we need it at any police stops etc. The local chemist was performing official Covid Tests – we booked one each and soon were on our way.

It’s a fair distance from the French/Italy border to Toscana, so we knew we would have to ‘wild-camp’ en route, but if it’s good enough for the truckers, it was good enough for us! In honesty, it wouldn’t be my first choice, staying overnight at a motorway station, but we were really pleasantly surprised. It was perfectly safe, all facilities were open, everybody was Covid conscious, sanitisers, masks etc – and, a shock to us at that stage, the restaurant was perfectly ok to visit for dinner if we’d wanted (we didn’t, as we had a dish already cooked and ready to re-heat in Campy), and breakfast, which we did – trying a couple of different coffees until we got it right for our tastes!

Actually it was quite tempting to dawdle over breky, something of a tribute to the service stations here in Italy, but we needed to move on. Our cooking and central heating when required is from GPL gas, which isn’t always so easy to find – however it is quite popular here, so we filled up with gas and diesel and hit the road!

When we arrived at Toscana Village, the weather was rainy, chilly too, and yet it was really quite beautiful. A fitting start for what turned out to be another brilliant experience, up there with the others mentioned below!

There was an Irishman, a Scotsman and an Englishman, as the old joke has it!

On our third night we were invited to a pit-fire BBQ. Apparently, it was Irishman Tony’s (on the right), turn to host this small weekly event, which included, the much travelled Kitch, the lovely lady in charge of campsite cleaning and Scotsman Wil, co-founder of Caravans in the Sun ( https://www.caravansinthesun.com/), who is two years into his 5 year plan, helping the owners of the site promote their business, as well as his, of course! Wil had been very helpful re a number of issues – internet, electricity etc when we’d first arrived, and always with a smile! A mention here also for Andrew, who wasn’t at the BBQ, but who had also been so helpful and friendly!

And talking of smiles, Tony’s is irrepressible – so typical of the Irish! We brought some wine, though Tony insisted we also try his supply, from the local winery and bottled without labels (often a major plus!). The conversation got around to football as we ate the pre-ordered pizzas and I happened to mention(!) that’s I’d been involved with Liverpool FC in the 90s, when Tony almost fell off his chair – he’s been a Reds supporter all his life!

Wil, who supports some obscure Scottish team, Hibs?! Oh dear, he won’t like that, has also watched Liverpool on several occasions, so we rambled on about the great matches, ex and current players and so on. Conscious of trying to bring Kitch and Claire into the conversation I decided that a change of direction was needed and was given the chance when ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ (Gerry Marsdon, LFC anthem) was brought up – odd, though it sounds, considering Claire’s classical music training, opera aria singing etc.

It seems all Italians love Classical Music/Opera and when I told the assembled quorum of Claire’s beautiful soprano voice and singing experience they insisted on hearing some. After a few drinks and half a pizza, Claire wasn’t so keen on singing there and then, but wait, says I, we have videos! The silence that ensued as I played some videos of Claire, for example busking as below in Avignon and Benicássim and others, was only broken by the sound of jaws dropping in awe!

Wil, always a business man, realised straight away what an attraction Claire would be for Toscana Village in the summer season – would she be interested in working the July/August season for them, singing at the beautifully lit pool and restaurant a couple of times a week?!

So, after just three nights in Italy, the opportunity that we’d hoped might present itself, did so – the following day a deal was struck.

Like Kitch, Tony and Wil, we are really looking forward to returning to Toscana Village, under the Tuscan Sun, towards the end of June!

Ciao, for now!

OUR TRAVELS

PART FIVE

Chateau Domaine Dalmeran

After Part Four of this blog (please see below) you may well have said – well, follow that!

We said it also, and were amazed to find that, in fact, we did – and some!

When we awoke in Campy in the village car park of Chateauneuf-du-Pape after our morning visit with Neil, co-owner of Domaine La Célestière, our afternoon tasting with Michel Blanc, Secretary of the AOC, and a Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine selected from the several bottles kindly given to us – we felt elated, rather than groggy. It had been such a magical day and night.

Our excited chatter was interrupted by a call from Neil, re-emphasising that he’d really meant his invitation for us to visit their other property, Domaine Dalmeran. We hadn’t wanted to impose further on their generosity so had said that we’d love to do some time in the future. Well, let’s be fair – even only 24 hours on was still ‘in the future’!

When we’d remarked how beautiful La Célestière was, he’d thanked us, but said – wait until you see Domaine Dalmeran!

We breakfasted sharpish, packed up and hit the road!

Well – Claire and I were completely bowled over by this magical, mystical, spiritual, truly beautiful part of the world, close to Les Baux de Provence. Neil’s casual, “Oh by the way, no need to sleep in Campy, there’s a house in the grounds for you, the heating is on and it’s yours for as long as you’d like,” bowled us over once again. Such generosity and kindness.

Our own mini-chateau!

In the morning, a message arrived on my phone – ‘Bonjour, suggest you open your front door.’ I did, of course, and there was a tray with baguette, warm croissant, butter and homemade jam! How wonderful!

That morning we walked a little of this huge estate viewing the vineyards, small and large parcels of vines, some of which Neil had been pruning already, set against a backdrop of huge granite outcrops, surrounding us, along with the tree-studded hills and tiny brooks. Paradise! Neil told us some of the history of the property, pointing out some of the remains of the Roman aqueduct that had crossed the property two thousand years ago, parts of which were perfectly preserved. A medieval well, parts of various other Roman architecture, a chapel, wonderful grounds laid to lawn with multiple trees and so much more make up this amazing property.

And here, a Vinoborem, in its natural habitat!

We tasted some outstanding wine with Anna, a lovely Spanish young lady who works in the offices at the Domaine’s tasting centre, where we also met Neil’s French wife, Beatrice for the first time. We were told also that there happened to be another young couple staying at the Chateau, Liga from Latvia and Israeli, Doron, who were to be married in two days time, in the chapel in the grounds! Would we like to join the four of them for some tea and cake (Doron is an experienced Michelin restaurant pastry chef) in the Chateau the next evening?

What a beautiful dining room in what was essentially a stately home! We were intrigued as to how Liga (a jeweler who had been working in Hong Kong) and Doron had met, and when we heard the truly romantic story of their courtship and his incredible, amazingly elaborate proposal – well, it’s such a great story! We chatted and I told them all that Claire was an amazing soprano, at which point Claire asked if they might like her to sing a few songs as ‘our’ wedding gift on the day itself! They were so delighted with the idea that discussions ensued re their favourite arias etc.

‘Our’ gift to the newly married couple! NB video’s of some of Claire’s songs are/will be on her social media posts.

Needless to say, the small wedding was wonderful and Claire was a great success. We were invited onto the terrace for a glass of Champagne, and afterwards, perhaps we’d like to join them in the Chateau again for dinner?! We accepted with alacrity of course, though insisting that I brought the Spanish wine (Sparkling from Raventos i Blanc; Casa Cisca & Casa de la Vela from Bodegas Castaño; and Casa Boquera’s Selección Limitada – since you ask!) and Claire brought some Spanish style starters!

What a wonderful night we had!

I couldn’t leave out Elliot, who also enjoyed the wedding, and his own dinner later!

Claire and I knew that we were in for some wonderful experiences on our travels – but, really, this and Part Four, were almost unbelievable!

And, as the comic, said – There’s more!

Thanks for reading – please feel free to comment, by e-mail, or on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram please, rather than below, as I have over 2,000 spam comments, for some reason, and it’s very difficult to find genuine ones, which accounts for the probable fact(?) that I may not have replied to anybody who did send a comment. My apologies! Please do make comments as above!

Finally, as you know, this is not a wine blog, but I do know that there are those who would like more specifics about the wines tasted during these experiences. You can find these on my Facebook/Instagram/Twitter accounts – usually my Wine Reviews on Video!

Hasta ahora!

OUR TRAVELS

PART FOUR

Campy parked for the night adjacent to the HQ offices of the AOC Chateauneuf-du-Pape!

Social Media plays a part in the lives of most people these days, I guess. This can be a very beneficial phenomenon as well, unfortunately, as a rather unpleasant thing. Also, some of those who use Social Media can become rather obsessed with it.

Quite rightly, when I’m in danger of fitting into this last category, as I occasionally am (although my plea is that it is almost always for ‘professional’ reasons, i.e. ‘wine stuff’), Claire puts my brakes on for me. She’s usually right!

However, Social Media, does occasionally come up with some amazing ‘goods’, as it did when camped at the side of the Rhône in Avignon (please see Part Three below), I casually posted a Tweet asking if any of my wine colleagues and friends were able to recommend a winery not too far from where we were staying. A number of responses were forthcoming and overnight we had lots of options to consider.

One was particularly intriguing – a certain Monsieur Michel Blanc, Secretary (I think) of AOC Chateauneuf-du-Pape asked me to e-mail him with whatever my requirements were. It seemed an offer I couldn’t refuse – there may be the possibility of learning quite a lot about the AOC in general, rather than just about one winery, as would be the case were we to visit a Domaine, in either our actual location, AOC Côtes-du-Rhône, or in that of the very nearby Chateauneuf.

In fact, as it transpired, there was the opportunity to do both.

Michel was most helpful, inviting us to taste at the AOC shop where about half of the producers exhibit their wines, which are also sold there for the same prices as if visitors were to buy from the Chateau/Domaines, and where there are always three or four Chateauneuf wines to taste, free of charge. (When you are next there you simply must go here!)

AOC Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine shop.

He also sent me a list of wineries that would be happy to give us a tour and tasting – would I like to choose one, please? Well, there were quite a number so, to save time I simply opted for the first on the list – wow, that was a lucky choice, as you’ll see here, and in Part Five. Incredibly fortunate, to say the very least!

Michel wasn’t at all fazed by my enquiry – would it be ok to come in our campervan, park at the HQ and maybe plug in, too? It hadn’t been done before, was a little unorthodox, but was absolutely no problem, we were welcome!

We arrived in the morning to be met by the co-owner of Domaine La Célestière, one of the larger concerns of the AOC. In fact I hadn’t noticed when I’d opted, as above, for this Domaine that the owner’s name, Neil, seemed to be English. My French is dreadful, but Claire is fluent (so is Neil), and Beatrice, Neil’s wife, whom we were yet to meet, is French. Perfect. Not half – we followed Neil just outside of the city where we first laid eyes on their vineyards and then on the really beautiful winery.

Neil and Claire – not sure which language they were speaking, but the beauty of the landscape spoke volumes, in any language!

Domaine La Célestière makes mostly top class red Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but also white (sublime in my view!) and Neil kindly showed us around the whole wonderfully, wholly in-keeping restoration of the property that had started to become a little sad, as was explained.

This is what greets visitors as they enter the reception area – it shows the soils in which the vines of La Célestière are planted, particularly the famed ‘galets’, the large pebbles on the surface. These stones were deposited here millions of years ago when the whole area was submerged under the sea, and now serve as storage heaters for the vines, retaining the warmth of the daytime sunshine for slow release overnight, thus ensuring perfect ripening of the grapes!

The purpose of these Blog updates is not to rabbit on about wine, wineries etc – it’s to tell of our travels, which will of course include wine, but it’s our experiences on which I’d prefer to focus (bet you’re delighted!). So, I won’t give chapter and verse about La Célestière here. If interested in more wine detail, please click below (cool music too!)

You amy also like to visit my facebook account where you’ll be able to see last Thirsty Thursday’s Wine Review which features one on Neil and Beatrice’s wines.

I couldn’t resist this photo though – a Célestière vine which has seen more than 100 summers!

After our visit we returned to HQ where Michel led us to the official shop where he, the sommelier manager and their intern assistant talked us through some of the wines, white and red. Really fascinating!

Grenache is one of the mainstays of Chateauneuf-du-Pape

That night we had quite a haul of wonderful wines from this world-famous area of fine wine production! All these wines were so generously given us by Michel and of course, Neil. We’ve absolutely loved them.

Our visit to Chateauneuf-du-Pape was wonderful – thanks to a chance Social Media Tweet. However, when we awoke in the morning there was another fantastic surprise for us!

Please read Part Five very soon!

Thank you for your time – all comments gratefully received!