THE FRENCH RIVIERA TO THE RHÔNE VALLEY TOUR, JUNE 2018

June 13-24, 2018

Limited to 12 travelers.* 10 spots Remaining
bleu, nice
Bleu de Nice
rooftop, nice
View of Roof Top of Hotel in Nice
nice, chateau, baie des Anges
Le Démon sur la Baie des Anges
montagne sainte victoire
Montagne Sainte Victoire
pink flamingoes
Pink Flamingoes in Camargue
denis brihat
Denis Brihat and visitor
Our Hotel in the Rhône Valley
dentelles de montmirail
Dentelles de Montmirail from the extreme overlook
Rhone Valley, mont ventoux
Flirting with clouds at the top of the Mont Ventoux
dinner in Vacqueyras
The Joy of a Meal in Provence
Vacqueyras, vins
Vacqueyras
rhone valley, vineyard, visit
Tasting at Maison Arnoux
pont du gard
The Pont du Gard
pont d'arc
Pont d'Arc
Gorges de l'ardeche, belvedere
Gorges de l'Ardèche
valence, vallée du rhône
Chez Moi
diois
Diois. Drôme Valley
paris, eiffel tower
Vue Imprenable
nice, place massena
Dans la Ville Baroque.
beach restaurant, nice
Lunch on the Beach in Nice
grande corniche
Grande Corniche
Sainte Victoire
Hotel Camargue
petite camargue
Petite Camargue
denis brihat print show
Looking at Denis Brihat's work
Our Hotel in the Rhône Valley
Suzette
One of the views from the Ferme Saint Martin
Mont Ventoux, alps
Mont Ventoux, looking toward the Alps, Italy.
Mont Ventoux
Northern View from the Mont Ventoux
arnoux et fils, François-Xavier Vidil, contrast tours
Glorious tasting off the barrel with my brother at Arnoux & Fils
contrast tours meal
A Meal in Provence
grotte chauvet
In the Grotte Chauvet.
Gorges de l'ardeche, belvedere
Gorges de l'Ardèche
Guy Farge, St Joseph
Guy Farge
Tain l'Hermitage
Pedestrian Bridge in Tain l'Hermitage
tgv
High Speed Train to Paris
La Palette, café, bistrot, paris
Des Amants dans mon Café
ITINERARY:
* Wednesday June 13: Departure from RDU (or wherever you depart from) to JFK and then to Nice via direct flight.


* Thursday June 14: Arrival in Nice International Airport after a striking descent on the beautiful Bay of Angels.

This day will be dedicated to acclimating after the trans-Atlantic flight. Lunch at a restaurant on Nice's downtown beach and a relaxing stroll in Old Nice up to the Castle to capture the view seen on the photograph "Le Démon sur la Baie des Anges." Also lounge by the pool on the hotel's rooftop (see photograph on left).

Apéritif and dinner in the old town.
* Friday June 15: This is a second rather relaxing day in order to finish acclimating, although with more activities. In mid morning, we will drive to the edge of Nice to visit a little vin de Bellet producer, the best one I think, organic. These wines are remarkably fragrant, exhibiting the exacerbated aromas that one hopes to find in a vin de Bellet, and which exist in the three colors. Those wines from Nice, they are little known, precious, and match perfectly both the food and the colorfulness of Nice and the Riviera.

After this visit we will have lunch in a not too far small town restaurant in Nice's back country close to the foothills of the Alps.

In the afternoon we will relax at the beach, by the pool or take a stroll in town before a drive on the Grande Corniche which offers a magnificent view, especially in the end of the afternoon.

Apéritif and dinner in the old town.


* Saturday June 16: We hit the road and find ourselves two hours later, for lunch in a very French restaurant in the charming village of Le Tholonet that Cezanne cherished. After lunch we will take a little road dominated by the impressive Montagne Sainte Victoire and will arrive to the Domaine Richeaume on its foothills. The Sainte Victoire, was Cezanne's favorite subject, and mine too when I was living in a nearby village in pre-historic times.

The Domaine Richeaume is a ground breaking domaine which has innovated and set trends in the region for the past 35 years at least. Sylvain, the son of the founder and who now directs the property, is a stupendous wine maker and the production of the Domaine is absolutely stunning, with reds that are rich, deep, strong in fruit, notably black currant, with completely melted tanins. All the wines are organic.

After the visit we will drive to our hotel in Camargue, near Aigues Mortes, where we will stay two nights. This majestic hotel was once owned by Victor Hugo's family. They received the luminaries of the time, artists, political celebrities like Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie, Leon Blum etc. The hotel has been modernized since, see photograph on the right.

There is a beautiful pool there and we will have an aperitif, then dinner at the hotel.
* Sunday June 17: We will first visit Aigues Mortes, a lovely medieval little town surrounded by a fortress wall. It was developed by Louis IX who wanted a port on the Mediterranean at the Crusades time (12th Century) when Marsellle and Provence were not part of France. Aigues Mortes is connected to the sea by a canal, and seats adjacent to salt marshes which are at the origin of its existence and its name.

We will have lunch in the old town .

Camargue is the estuary of the Rhône river, the largest river in France. It is a swamp, not unlike the bayous of Louisiana, only under a different climate. After wandering a little along the marshes of Camargue, we will arrive to Domaine Scamandre, which takes its name from the nearby Scamandre marsh.

Scamandre is a Domaine created from scratch by a couple of dentists who fell in love with the region and teamed up with an oenologue. They produce wonderful organic wines following a very thoughtful and scientific process.

We will visit the domaine with Nadine Renouard who created the Domaine with her husband almost 20 years ago, and then will proceed for a festive evening at the domaine with a game of pétanque, apéritif and delicious food prepared by our hosts.


* Monday June 18: Today we head to the Rhône Valley. We will drive through the Alpilles, St Rémy de Provence, then cross the Rhône and get into the Luberon.

We will eventually arrive in Bonnieux where I have arranged a special lunch at my mentor's house. Denis Brihat is a photographer of international recognition, and the current spiritual heir of Edward Weston, the West coast photographer who first promoted photography as an art form, and inspired Ansel Adams. Denis settled in Bonnieux in the 50's after living in Biot in the vicinity of Picasso, Jean Cocteau etc... His work is unique in the history of photography and has had a big influence on mine. His wife Solange will prepare for us a lunch that will be accompanied by luberon wines. I can promise you a really exceptional treat, blending provencal wines with art and delicious home cooking.

Visit of the Winery producing the wines we had for munch, and short stop in Roussillon, a lovely picturesque village in the vicinity of Bonnieux.

Drive to our hotel nested in a 16th century castle, see photographs. This hotel is nothing short of magnificent, with a gorgeous pool of course and many luxurious amenities. Its organic garden is a model, and a good part of the food we will have there (all our dinners but one) will come from that garden.

The place will be an idillic location for many pétanque games.


* Tuesday June 19:
Exploration of the Dentelles de Montmirail and the small roads and tracks that penetrate it. We will notably go to the overlook tucked on a peak and from which one can enjoy a breathtaking view on the Dentelles and the Rhône Valley. See photograph on the left.

Visit of the Ferme Saint Martin in the beautiful village of Suzette nested in the Dentelles de Montmirail and from which one can see the Mont Ventoux almost up close. The domaine produces organic wines in both the Ventoux and Beaumes de Venise appellations. Because we are at a higher altitude compared to the valley, the wines display characteristics at one end of the range encountered between here and Chateauneuf du Pape in the heart of the valley. We will have a lunch at the the farm with the stunning view from this gorgeous winery.

After looking at the the Mont Ventoux all lunch long, we will now drive to its peak, and will possibly understand what riders of the Tour de France endure. From the top we will be cousins with the clouds, and will have a breathtaking 360˚ view on the Rhône Valley and also on the Alps, seemingly all the way to Italy on a bright day, see photographs on the right. Apart from its magnificence, the view really helps grasping the geography of the entire region.

Dinner and Pétanque at the Castle.


* Wednesday June 20: This morning we head to Vacqueyras and all along the way will be graced again with the sight of the Dentelles de Montmirail that we visited yesterday. In Vacqueyras we will be offered a very privileged visit of the Maison Arnoux, which is one of the largest winemakers of the southern Rhône Valley. The visit will be conducted by my actual brother who runs the domestic sales there. He will notably offer us a very exclusive technical and comparative tasting from the barrels, allowing us to understand the alchemy of barrel wine aging, and what parameters the winemaker plays with in order to develop the aromatic nobility of the wine. Here is a post about the flagship wine from maison Arnoux, the 1717 which ages in some of the very barrels that we will the base for this tasting.

We will then have lunch in a quaint manor 10 minutes away and one of the best tables of the region, old time French atmosphere and hospitality.

After lunch we will drive to Le Pont du Gard, about an hour away. This Unesco World Heritage site presents the tallest Roman aqueduct in the world, built in the 1st century and wonderfully preserved (see photograph on the left). We will enjoy a guided visit with a privileged tour of the third story of the bridge that will offer both a beautiful view and a captivating perspective on the history of this edifice and how it functioned.

It is possible to swim in the river that goes through the Pont du Gard, there are actually beaches there. So if the weather calls for it, we might seize the chance to swim in this historical setting.

A team of historians and oenologues have been able to reproduce wines like the ones Romans were drinking. We will have a tasting of these wines paired with food enhancing them. This mind shaking experience will allow us to go back in time with our palate and measure the evolution of wine over 2000 years.
* Thursday June 21: Drive to Chateau Rochecolombe in Ardèche on the other side of the Rhône river. Rochecolombe is a stellar organic vineyard producing medal winning wines that bridge the northern and southern Rhône wines. The Estate counts 60 Ha of vineyard run very efficiently. We will then have lunch at the Castle.

After lunch we will drive to the Grotte Chauvet, and after its visit we will drive down the Gorges de l'Ardèche.

The Gorges are known as Europe's Grand Canyon, and are a magnificent site, where many caves can be found that were inhabited by our pre-historic ancestors, as early as 300,000 years ago. The most treasured of the caves is the Grotte Chauvet. It is registered as a Unesco World heritage site, and contains the earliest known and best preserved figurative cave paintings in the world: 36,000 years old. It is not possible any longer to visit the actual grotte, but French authorities have built a perfect replica, which is the world's reference for conservation of decorated caves.

Dinner and Pétanque at the Castle.


* Friday June 22: Today we will drive to Valence my home town 1.5 hour north. When we pass Valence we will see a cliff from with a vastly in ruin, from which the photograph Chez Moi on the left was taken. On that photograph we can see the Trois Becs mountain where we will go in the afternoon.

For now we go a little further north to Saint Jean de Muzols for a visit of Domaine Guy Farge, who produces the best Saint Josephs I know. These Saint Josephs are smooth and thick, loaded with aromas of violet blended in the minerality of the terroir. It is rare to find Saint Josephs as aromatic and fresh as Guy Farge's, and I am happy that these wines are available at Contrast Wines' partner stores. See here.

We will have lunch with Guy Farge in Tournon.

After a stroll on the pedestrian bridge across the Rhône River (see photograph on the right) we will drive to drive to the Drôme Valley. The Drôme is a tributary of the Rhône river, coming straight from the pre-alps. It gave its name to the department in which I was born and raised. Most of the Drôme Valley sees the cultivation of clairette and muscat, the grapes which produce the Clairette de Die in this semi-mountainous climate. This wine is the oldest bubbly wine in France, going back to the first century, 15 hundred years before champagne. We will visit a family operated producer, which in my opinion, is the best one of the valley. There we will be explained the process yielding this delicious sparkling wine.

Dinner and Pétanque at the Castle.


* Saturday June 23: It is unfortunately time to leave our castle, but we will drive to see another one, a papal one in Avignon. So today we will indulge in a visit of this superb town, nested behind its ramparts, and where the popes lived in the 14th century. The town is one architectural marvel after another, and displays a constant festive southern feel.

After lunch in Avignon we will catch a high speed train for Paris (about 375 miles north) and where we will arrive roughly 2:40 hours later.

We will go to our hotel in Saint Germain des Près, close to the Seine, a most perfect location.


Dinner in Paris and a stroll in Paris at night.


* Sunday June 24: Departure by Air France shuttle or RER to Paris Roissy Airport. Delta direct flight to RDU, or any other flight that will get you from where you came.


Those wishing to book additional nights in Paris can do so through me, either touring the town with me or on their own. See here all the options for Paris, including my Paris itinerary and room options in Paris.
paris, montmartre, selfie
In Montmartre
La Tartine, café, bistrot, paris
La Tartine
St Etienne du Mont, Paris, chuch
Church in Paris near the Pantheon
ABOUT THIS VOYAGE:
Jean-Christian Rostagni, Monsieur Contraste
Jean-Christian Rostagni

This is Your Hosts
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to learn more about these characters, click on the thumbnail and then on "Open" in the lightbox in order to see what they are up to.

René Tanguy, marin
René Tanguy


This trip is for those seeking an authentic French experience exploring the French Riviera, Provence and the Rhône Valley, which saw the start of the wine production in France during Roman times. I have designed this itinerary with the hope of providing an exceptional journey through the legendary wines and food of the region. I am proud to say that the wines I am lucky to represent, are unparalleled.

We will travel through history with important "time-machine-like" site visits, going back to Roman and even pre-historic times. Such experiences have changed my perspective on many aspects of life. We will stay in extremely elegant accommodations.

My dear friend Giorgios Bakatsias owner of 15 outstanding restaurants in North Carolina, and who participated in a tour last year with a similar itinerary, and participates in this year's Bordeaux Tour, has kindly accepted to host a get together dinner at his house and that he will cook for us.

DATES: June 13-24, 2018 with a possible extension in Paris with me if you'd like, or on your own. See the Paris options here.

Limited to up to 12 travelers*, plus René Tanguy and me.

$7,285 per person in accommodations for two, + Air Fare. Single occupancy supplement is $1,150. If you don't have a traveling companion and are prepared to share a room, let us know and we will try to pair you. Price includes hotel, meals, including the get together dinner at Giorgios's house, wine during meals, transportation, entrance fees when applicable, and should be considered all-inclusive, save for beverages in your room or at the bar and other services you might want to enjoy that are not part of the group activities. Contrast Tours purchases the Group Protection plan, which offers benefits for Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption and more, on behalf of all travelers. If interested in the optional Cancel For Any Reason* coverage please contact Contrast Tours for rates and information. A copy of the plan document will be provided.
*CFAR is not available to residents of NY.

Photography: I will happily provide photographic assistance and share my photographer's perspective throughout the tour. You will even be able to get a second opinion from René Tanguy, who will co-host the trip. He was in photography school with me during antiquity, and is also a photographer with a several decades-long career and an impressive list of customers, shows and books.

During this journey you will be able to compare wines from many different appellations from France's south east, see what the differences are, and get to understand why there are such differences. Our meals will typically be paired with wines from the wineries that we visit.

A "Carnet de Route" will be published about this trip and a copy will be provided to you prior to departure. This booklet will include a detailed itinerary with a description of sites and wineries that we will visit, as well as descriptions of the wines we will enjoy, with enough space for you to take notes and keep a diary should you wish to.

The exact itinerary is subject to modification due to scheduling considerations. Please note that this is an epicurean journey, and while I will gladly satisfy special requests when possible, I cannot guarantee being able to accommodate all dietary needs. Please inquire if this is a matter of concern.

Please email me (use Contact Us button below) if you want to book or have any questions. You may also call me: 919-416-1111.

* If we have one an odd number of participants, the number of travelers could go up to 13.
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eric hodge, wunc
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Jean-Christian Rostagni

a.k.a.

Monsieur Contraste


My name is Jean-Christian Rostagni, I am a photographer, and as such the subject of Rodrigo Dorfman's film Monsieur Contraste. Here is my photographer's website.

I am French and I have been living in the Triangle, North Carolina, since 1993. Over the years several gracious people expressed that they would like to travel with me as a guide in France. I wanted to see if that was true, and this is how Contrast Tours was created. You might want to read this article that explains the genesis of Contrast Tours as well as its philosophy in which art and wine get married.

We specialize in wine tours in France that provide an authentic French experience of voluptuous quality. I started with a tour of the Rhône Valley and its wines, as that is the region that I am from, and I know it very well. It is also a region that lands itself to this type of travel due to climate, geography and history. I am currently developing a tour of Bordeaux and one of the French Riviera and Corsica that will be launched in 2018.

I hope to have the pleasure to transport you.

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eric hodge, wunc
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René Tanguy


I have known René for 40 years. We were both in the second school of photography that I attended. It was a great school, in the Unité de Recherche in Chemistry at the Faculté des Sciences Saint Charles in Marseille, totally unique, Some of the greatest French photographers of the time taught there, and it is where I met my mentor, Denis Brihat. It was such a great school that both Denis and I were fired, Denis became even more the revered photographer he already was and me, well, I am here! René stayed, finished his courses and had a long and often enviable career, notably working with major French corporations.

I have always loved René, everybody does. He is a better looking Gerard Depardieu, without the theatrics, more real, often with an irresistible sparkle in his eyes that have toured the world. René is from Brittany (can you tell?), about 2/3rd the polar opposite my mostly latin self, and we complement each other well. He is easy going, well spoken, very natural and thoughtful. I am very happy that he has accepted to tour with us and I know that you will find him a kind soul.

Here is René's website.
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nice, chateau, baie des Anges
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Grande corniche
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montagne Sainte Victoire
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pink flamingoes, camargue
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petite camargue
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denis brihat
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atelier denis brihat
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vacqueyras, vins
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dentelles de montmirail
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La Barroux
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rhone valley, mont ventoux
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Alps, mont ventoux
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mont ventoux
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dinner vacqueyras
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Wine tasting off the barrels
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Meal, Provence
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Pont du Gard
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Grotte Chauvet
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Pont d'Arc, Gorges de l'ardeche, belvedere
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Gorges de l'ardeche, belvedere
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Gorges de l'ardeche, belvedere
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valence, Vallée du Rhône
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Guy Farge, Saint Joseph
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pont tain l'hermitage
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diois, saillans
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tgv
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Paris, eiffel tower
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La Palette, café, bistrot, paris
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paris, montmartre, selfie
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St Etienne du Mont, Paris, chuch
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La Tartine, café, bistrot, paris