Wine Travel Adventure

Bay Area & California travel blog

Category: Europe (page 1 of 2)

The Paris hotel where they shot ‘Bourne Identity,’ other spy flicks

By David Nelson

Hotel ReginaOne of the most appealing contradictions in Paris is Le Bar Anglais (The English Bar), located in the very French Hotel Régina. You may not have stayed in the Hotel Régina, but you are certainly familiar with it. If you are a movie fan, that is. In The Bourne Identity, Secret Agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) dispatches his lover/ally, Marie (Franka Potente), to retrieve crucial information contained on a hotel invoice. The hotel she enters? Hotel Régina.

In La Femme Nikita, Secret Agent Nikita (Anne Parillaud) receives orders to report for an assignment as a room service maid who must deliver a spiked breakfast tray to an important hotel guest. The hotel? Hotel Régina. Continue reading

See Italy, and bring the wine glasses with you

Sterling glassware Italy

WineTravelAdventure correspondents Susan Hutchinson Arnett and Harley Arnett have an interesting and perhaps even unique travel custom: They like to take wine glasses from wineries they have visited in California with them when they travel to Europe. It doesn’t always work out—the glasses frequently break in transit, and it’s hard to find winery glasses that are small enough to fit securely in luggage.

Nevertheless, when it does work—such as with these two Sterling Vineyards glasses, transported from the Calistoga winery to a hotel balcony overlooking the harbor in Santa Margherita Ligure in Italy, where the couple were staying—“there is no better way to enjoy a great local wine,” says Harley, adding, “It’s a little bit of home on the other side of the world.” Now, on the eve of their latest trip to the Continent, the question begs, What glasses are they going to take with them?

Photograph by Harley Arnett. For the full story on the couple’s visit to the Liguria region of Italy, please see here.

Cinque Terra: Seaside villages of almost mystical beauty

By Susan Hutchinson Arnett and Harley Arnett

Cinque Terre is an almost mystical string of five tiny villages clinging to impossibly steep slopes along Italy’s Ligurian Sea. The villages—Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore—are part of Cinque Terre National Park. The area is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Popularized by a well-known travel writer almost 15 years ago, the once-isolated villages have experienced a sudden influx of tourists from all over the world. As a result, the best times to visit are in the off-season shoulder periods of April-May and September-October.

Cinque Terre Manarola, one of the string of villages on the Ligurian Sea.

Cinque Terre Manarola, one of the string of five villages on the Ligurian Sea.

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Message on a bottle: Mapping out your next wine country trip

Maps are a traveler’s best friend, whether they are on a smart phone , the old-fashioned paper kind or even the back label of a wine bottle. The tiny, thumbnail-size maps found on the back of some bottles will not take you very far, of course, but that’s not really the point, is it? The idea is to give people a sense of where the winery is located and perhaps even cause them to think, “Wouldn’t it be nice to go there!” Here are four maps, all found on the back label of their respective wines, that may stir thoughts of wanderlust:

 MacMurray Ranch

MacMurray Ranc

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Serendipity and pesto sauce in Italy’s charming Liguria region

By Susan Hutchinson Arnett and Harley Arnett

The draw of Europe is irresistible with an impressive array of fascinating destinations, but the country we keep coming back to is Italy. The food is superb, the wine amazing, the art incomparable, and the ancient architecture breathtaking. Still, the attraction goes even deeper than that. The people exhibit a love for life— a relaxed, welcoming vibe that makes you feel like an invited guest rather than a bothersome traveler. And we have found no city more welcoming than Santa Margherita Ligure.Liguria 1

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On the trail of Mark Twain in the mountains of Switzerland

Mt Rigi Switzerland 1By Susan Hutchinson Arnett and Harley Arnett

Switzerland envelops you with her beauty. From the moment we crossed the border on the train from neighboring Austria, we knew we had entered a special place—lush, green pastures, gorgeous lakes and overwhelming, majestic mountains.

Checking into the Montana Hotel in Lucerne, we were instantly captivated by unmatched views of the expansive lake.Hotel Montana Switzerland

The town of Lucerne is stunning. Situated on Lake Lucerne, a historic wooden bridge and winding cobblestone streets invite you to linger and explore more of the town’s history. But our ultimate destination was to follow the path of Mark Twain, who traveled to the top of nearby Mt Rigi in the late 1800s. Known as the “Queen of the Mountains,” she rises majestically above Lake Lucerne to an impressive summit at Rigi Kulm. Continue reading

A bar of legend and mystery: Alexander’s Bar in Athens

By Dave Nelson

Whenever you see CNBC’s international business reporter, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, filing a story on the latest financial/political crisis in Greece, she is standing in the same location: the rooftop garden bar at the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens. Of course, most viewers don’t realize where she is. On screen all you can see is Michelle speaking with the Greek Parliament and Syntagma Square in the background.

It’s a great shot and a great view. I know because I have stood in that same spot, drinking Chablis while waiting for a table in the rooftop restaurant. The rooftop bar is nice, and I recommend it, but it is not even the best bar in the hotel. That distinction belongs to Alexander’s Bar downstairs, just off the hotel’s lobby. Legend has it the bar was named for Alexander the Great who drank his first Cosmo there after conquering the known world.

Alexander's Bar Athens

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Aged cheese and ‘Alien’: a Swiss Gruyere adventure

By Susan Hutchinson Arnett and Harley Arnett

You have to understand one thing about Harley; he LOVES Swiss-Gruyere fondue. Not a casual “LIKE” but a deep, longing “LOVE.” When he realized that the source of all that wonderful aged Gruyere cheese was only an hour or two from our hotel in Vevey, Switzerland, there was was no turning back.  Fortunately, modern technology makes such spontaneous quests easily possible where in the past they might have briefly burned with a bright flame and quickly died.

With only a moment’s hesitation, he was on Google Maps plotting a route through the mountains—and minutes later I was whisked away on a journey to the Montreux train station. Tickets in hand, we jumped on the next Golden Pass train for an unforgettable trip through miles of beautiful ravines in the pre-Alps to the small town of Montbovan. Disembarking in the middle of nowhere, we trusted Google and waited patiently for the arrival of a second train headed to Gruyere.

Gruyere 1

The second leg of the train trip was even more stunning than the first. We passed picture-perfect villages lost in time and miles and miles of gorgeous pastureland dotted with grazing cattle. Continue reading

A truly Grand Bar, Italian-style

By Dave Nelson

One of the greatest bars I’ve ever been in, certainly the biggest, was occupied at the time by just six people—the bartender, my wife and me, and three German nuns. That was a first, drinking with nuns. Of course, we weren’t actually drinking with them. They sat at a separate table. And they were drinking coffee, not wine. And they may not have been nuns, but they dressed like nuns and they spoke German.

So that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

How we got to this bar, and what we did there, is a simpler tale. My wife and I were staying in Lucca, in northern Tuscany, and decided to make the two-hour drive to Modena, north of Bologna. Modena is where the world’s finest cars (Ferrari and Lamborghini) and most exquisite balsamic vinegar are made. I have no idea what the two products have in common but we heard Ferrari was giving away a free bottle of vinegar with every purchase of one of their 12-cylinder models. So we were intrigued.

We never arrived at Modena, however. Not even close. We started late and, just 20 minutes into the trip, we decided it was time for lunch. (Vacation schedules are such a grind.) But where to eat? We pulled off the autostrada at a town called Montecatini Terme. There we found not just lunch but one of the loveliest afternoons imaginable.

While trying to find our way back to the highway after lunch, my wife spotted what appeared to be a palace surrounded by ornate, manicured gardens. “What do you think that is?” she said.

A few right turns (and a few wrong turns) later, we found ourselves standing at the palace entrance. Nobody was there! No cars in the parking lot. No tourists. Was it abandoned? Closed? Private? True, it was a drizzly, umbrella afternoon but even the most overlooked landmarks in Italy are usually jammed in May, no matter the time or weather. Yet, there was nobody.

The Grand Bar 1aWe peeked in and saw the most astonishing promenade—columns, stained glass, tile, and frescoes, classic Art Nouveau architecture. We found an admission booth and a lone ticket seller. I asked her if the place were closed. No! What was this place? She told me it was a “terme” (TEHR-meh). The word, “terme” had not yet entered my Italian vocabulary so I didn’t understand her answer. But, hey, two euros apiece and we were in! Continue reading

While tasting in Switzerland, taste this sweet jazz festival

While you’re wine tasting in the Lavaux Vineyards this summer, you may wish to consider a side trip to a very tasty musical feast that’s practically in the same neighborhood: the 49th annual Montreux Jazz Festival.

Montreux Jazz, one of the oldest, biggest and baddest jazz festivals in the world, takes place in Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva, a half-hour train ride from Chexbres in Swiss wine country. The festival is a short walk from the Montreux train station, so taking public transport is the perfect way to go. Last year’s festival, dampened a tad by rain, featured Stevie Wonder and Pharrell Williams in the Auditorium Stravinski and Jack DeJohnette and other cool jazz players in the smaller Jazz Club and Jazz Lab venues.

The festival began in 1967 and has hosted countless legendary performances, including the brilliant 1969 set by Les McCann and Eddie Harris that helped established Montreux as a global jazz destination and became one of the best live jazz recordings ever made, “Swiss Movement.” Their rendition of “Compared to What,” with McCann on vocals and piano and Harris going off on tenor sax, remains as vital today as the day it was recorded.

Swiss Movement

The 2015 festival takes place July 3-18. Tickets go on sale April 17. Visit Montreux Jazz for more.

Vineyards in Switzerland? You bet. And we found a great one

By Susan Hutchinson Arnett and Harley Arnett

Until last year, we never thought of Switzerland as a great wine producer. Planning a trip to the beautiful town of Vevey on Lake Geneva (aka Léman), we discovered that the Lavaux Vineyards have been producing wine since Roman times. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the vineyards stretch for 30 kilometers along the south-facing hills of Lake Geneva. The vineyards are quite steep and beautiful stone terraces were constructed in 1100 AD to improve access and expand the available land.

Swiss vineyards 1

To access the vineyards, we took a short train ride from Vevey to the adjacent town of Montreux—then a second quick ride from Montreux to the tiny town of Chexbres. A light drizzle was falling and we ducked into  Boulangerie Bidlingmeyer, a cute bakery for a cup of coffee and an amazing fresh fruit tart. Continue reading

Meal of a lifetime: Provence, 1993, Clos de la Violette

In 1993 Jennifer Kaiser, a WineTravelAdventure contributor, traveled to Provence with three good friends. While there she kept a diary and filled it with pictures and loving descriptions of the things they ate and drank, particularly one memorable meal at Le Clos de la Violette in Aix-en-Provence. Her detailed account, written with such care, evokes that lunch and that day so well that we decided to reproduce it here, thinking, perhaps, that it may make you recall, with fondness, your own personal “meal of a lifetime.” As she wrote then,

“The Meal at Le Clos de la Violette: we arrive, lovely garden setting, perfect service. We start with two little cheese roll things and a bottle of Pommery Brut Royale. Quail Carpaccio w/ grilled quail and toast w/slab of foie gras come just after leeks in a light aspic served with tapenade croutons.Provence diary
A bottle of perfect Chablis accompanies langoustines with smoked onions, served with raviolis made from scallop roe. Next comes (oops, forgot the shortbread) sautéed filet of turbot, crème dill sauce, grilled tomatoes and anchovy fennels. Ready for the entrée?
Roast lamb with rosemary wrapped in crisp skin, tiny potatoes stuffed with herbs and chevre, a lardon swirl, bread crumbs sprinkled on plate rim. Next comes a small cheese selection. Oh, by that time we’ve moved onto an ’87 Bandol—Domaine de Terrebrune. Mmm. Also, since I’m taking copious notes the staff decides I’m a food critic. They provide me with a menu to take home, a translation dictionary (The A to Z of French Food) and outstanding service. I don’t let them know they’re mistaken.
Provence Diary 2First dessert is a biscuit croquet with lemon mousse and mint leaves. Then they bring out a warm chocolate gateau with fresh vanilla ice cream. Since we’re getting coffee, they bring a little tray of things to munch on: glacéed orange peel, candied pistachios, brownie truffles, marzipan, etc. Happy, happy day. Somehow that excessive meal, during which you understood why there was a French Revolution, was balanced so well that we left feeling perfectly sated.”

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