CONTRAST TOURS

THE RHONE VALLEY AND ITS WINES, FALL 2017
In Company of Artists, including Giorgios Bakatsias.

Sept 24-Oct 5, 2017

12 travelers. 2 last spots available.
bleu, nice
Bleu de Nice
rooftop, nice
View of Hotel n Nice
nice, chjurch, Ste Reparate
Church on Old Nice
maison d'hôtes
A Room at the Maison d'Hôtes
aurenjo, dinner, provence
Dinner at the Maison d'Hôtes
dentelles de montmirail, ventoux
Inside the Dentelles de Montmirail
dentelles de montmirail
Dentelles de Montmirail On a June Morning
rhone valley, vineyard, visit
Tasting at Maison Arnoux
valence, vallée du rhône
Chez Moi
Guy Farge, St Joseph
Guy Farge
Raisins, grape
Wine grape of the Rhône Valley
Rhone Valley, mont ventoux
Flirting with clouds at the top of the Mont Ventoux
Gorges de l'ardeche, belvedere
Gorges de l'Ardèche
pont d'arc
Pont d'Arc
chateauneuf du pape, verger des papes, restaurant
Châteauneuf du Pape
St Etienne du Mont, Paris, chuch
Church in Paris near the Pantheon
La Palette, café, bistrot, paris
Des Amants dans mon Café
nice, prmenade des anglais
Lunch Promenade des Anglais
riviera, lunch
Lunch Promenade des Anglais
nice, chateau, baie des Anges
Le Démon sur la Baie des Anges
Sainte Victoire
Montagne Sainte Victoire
dentelles de montmirail
Dentelles de Montmirail On a June Morning
Durban, Ventoux
From inside the Dentelles
Vacqueyras, vins
Vacqueyras
Facteur Cheval
Défense de Rien Toucher

Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval
pont du gard
The Pont du Gard
Mont Ventoux, alps
Mont Ventoux, looking toward the Alps, Italy.
Mont Ventoux
Northern View from the Mont Ventoux
mont ventoux, alps
Looking East from the Mont Ventoux
grotte chauvet
Entrance of the Grotte Chauvet. The architecture induces the idea of getting in a time machine.
Gorges de l'ardeche, belvedere
Gorges de l'Ardèche
Chateauneuf du Pape
The Pont du Gard
paris, eiffel tower
Vue Imprenable
ITINERARY:
* Sunday September 24: Departure from RDU (or wherever you depart from) to JFK and then to Nice via direct flight.


* Monday September 25: 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 on the Promenade des Anglais 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." Alternately, some may want to shop in this town marked with high style, take a nap at the hotel, lounge by the pool or go to the beach, which is across the street.

We stay two nights in Nice in this exceptional 4 Star hotel (see photograph on the left) with a unique secluded location in the most exclusive and desirable part of the town.


Dinner on the Old Port with Giorgios.
* Tuesday September 26: This a second rather relaxing day in order to finish acclimating, although with more activities. This will give us the opportunity to explore two very rare and little known wineries.

First, we will go by train to Cannes, the resort town known for its international Film Festival, and where we will arrive 23 minutes later. There we will take a boat to an island (20-minute boat ride) just off the bay, where monks have been living and making wine since the 5th century. St Patrick is said to have studied there before conquering Ireland. Over the centuries, the monks have created a small piece of paradise that they now share with those aware of this unlikely but angelic retreat.

We will have a wine tasting in the vineyard with one of the vintner monks, then lunch in their restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean. Afterwards, we will take a guided tour of the island and its fortified abbey. The island enjoys a micro-climate providing optimum conditions for winemaking. As a result, the monks' little known production delivers wines that encapsulate the mediterranean summer, and exude perfumes of maritime pine trees and the lushness of the French Riviera.

Upon our return to Cannes, we will get cars and head to another rare vineyard on the northwest edge of Nice in the Bellet appellation. There we will visit an organic small vineyard run by a tight family of Italian origins. Of course, almost everything in Nice has Italian origins! It is not surprising that Bellet wines are wonderfully suited to the type of dishes specific to Nice that we will enjoy while there, like soccas, summer vegetable dishes rich in luscious olive oil and mediterranean rock fish. They express the special character of Nice, its particular flowery flavor, and are quintessentially reflective of the French Riviera.

We will go back to downtown Nice and will have dinner there with Giorgios who will have come with us to the island earlier in the day.



* Wednesday September 27: We hit the road and find ourselves an hour and 45 minutes later at the Domaine Richeaume on the foothills of the Montagne Sainte Victoire, which was Cezanne's favorite subject, and mine too when I was living in a nearby village when, coincidentally. Jimmy Carter and later Ronald Reagan were President then. 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 with completely melted tanins. All the wines are organic.

After lunch in the charming village of Puyloubier, we will take a little road dominated by the impressive Sainte Victoire and will arrive to the Tholonet, a charming little place loved by Cezanne.

Arrival to our Maison d'Hôtes in Orange, located in a manor on the edge of town with pool, tennis court, and very charming rooms, see photograph on the left.

Dinner at the Maison d'Hôtes by our host, who is a wonderful cook, and in company of Giorgios. Dinners there provide the opportunity to relax and enjoy the amenities, including playing boules.
* Thursday September 28: 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 photographs.

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 appellation. 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.

Lunch in Beaumes de Venise and then visit of a beautiful medieval village nearby considered to be one of the most beautiful villages of France.

Toward the end of the afternoon we will head toward Vacqueyras where 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 rare 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, and which ages in some of the very barrels that we will taste.

More tasting at Maison Arnoux and dinner with their wines in Vacqueyras in the company of my brother who will be delighted to answer all your questions. The tasting and dinner will be in the company of Giorgios as well.


* Friday September 29: After our last breakfast with Giorgios who will be departing afterward, we will drive to Valence my home town and 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. These are my favorite wines, period. It is rare to find Saint Josephs as aromatic and fresh as Guy Farge's, and I am happy that Queen of Wines is now importing these beauties which will be available at Contrast Tours' partner stores in May.

Lunch in Tain l'Hermitage at Jaboulet's Vineum. Jaboulet is one of the three largest winemakers in the Rhône Valley. Tain l'Hermitage is where they started and where they own the most precious land to make the Hermitage, historically the Rhône Valley's most revered wine the world over. Jaboulet runs an excellent restaurant in the center of Tain and we will have a great meal there during which we will taste some of their wonderful wines.

After a stroll on the pedestrian bridge across the Rhône River we will drive to the Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval. This early Naive Art creation is the masterpiece built over decades by a very humble mailman at the turn of the 19th Century. It provides a rare opportunity to delve into the psyche of "ordinary" people in France at the time.


Dinner by our host at the Maison d' Hôtes.
* Saturday September 30: Drive to the Costières de Nimes on the western edge of Camargue for a visit the Domaine Scamandre, which takes its name from the nearby Scamandre marsh.

We will have lunch in a very humble, authentic and excellent restaurant of the Saintes Maries de la Mer, the mythic capital of Camargue, and of Gypsies as Saine Marie Madeleine is said to have landed there. The 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. On our way and back we will experience the unique beauty of that area.

We then 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 right). We will enjoy a guided visit (in English) 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.

A team of historians and oenologues have been able to reproduce wines like the ones Romans were drinking, and before dinner we will have a comparative tasting of roman wines and one of our wines, an absolutely mind shaking experience allowing us to go back in time with our palate.

Dinner in nearby Uzès an adorable lively little town with a beautiful architecture.


* Sunday October 1:
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. This wine is possibly the oldest bubbly wine, 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 again because of our seasonal timing, we will be able to observe and taste the fermentation process, and understand better how a sparkling wine comes to life and bubbles.

Lunch by the mountain Les Trois Becs, which you can see in the background of the photograph Chez Moi (on the left) and which is shot in Valence in the Northern Rhône where we were two days earlier. Then we will drive to Dieulefit a lovely little town renowned for its potters, and after that to Grignan where we will take a peak a the beautiful castle of the Marquise de Sévigné, a novelist from Louis the 14th's court, and its gorgeous village surroundings.

Dinner by our host at the Maison d'Hôtes.
* Monday October 2: Visit of a stunning medieval village on our way to the Mont Ventoux. Lunch in Bédoin the official "owner" of the mythic Mont Ventoux for Tour de France aficionados. We will then drive to the the top of the Mont Ventoux and will possibly understand what riders of the Tour de France endure and which defies my imagination. 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.

From the Mont Ventoux we will descend through Sault, known for its lavender fields, to the Luberon, the pearl of Provence. We will stop in the village of Bonnieux, where I have arranged for a special dinner 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 special dinner that will be accompanied by a gorgeous wine from Bonnieux and a couple of others selected for the occasion. I can promise you a really exceptional treat, blending exquisite wines with art and delicious home cooking.


* Tuesday October 3: 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. We will then have lunch in a beautiful village dominating the Ardèche river.

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: 38,000 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 by our host at the Maison d'Hôtes.



* Wednesday October 4: After a tearing up bye-bye with our hosts, we will take the lovely road to Chateuneuf du Pape for a visit of Chateau Pegau, one of the appellation's most celebrated producer for an in depth visit and tasting.

We will walk through Châteauneuf du Pape's charming streets on our way to a restaurant at the top of the village. From there we will enjoy a beautiful view on the Valley during a delicious lunch.

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


Dinner in Paris and a stroll in Paris at night.



* Thursday October 5: Departure by Air France shuttle 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 the tour, including my itinerary in Paris and room options in Nice. You may also arrange yourself a longer stay in France. Your return date will be booked following your specifications. Please note that depending on your return dates, the price for the flight back may change, although most likely minimally.
paris, montmartre, selfie
In Montmartre
La Tartine, café, bistrot, paris
La Tartine
café, bistrot, paris, men
In the Company of Men
La Palette, café, bistrot, paris
La Palette
ABOUT THIS VOYAGE:
Giorgio Bakatsias
Giorgios Bakatsias
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 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. 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 elegant accommodations with sumptuous food and wine, and will enjoy privileged visits with the most crucial winemakers of the Rhône Valley. On this trip we will enjoy the company of Giorgios Bakatsias. Giorgios will be present in Nice and at the beginning of the Rhône Valley part of the tour as well as for the get together pre-tour dinner at Vin Rouge. Here is Giorgios' schedule with us:

* Dinner at Vin Rouge, in August or September, date to be determined.
* Sept 25: Dinner in Nice.
* Sept 26: Visit of Monk Island and Dinner in Nice.
* Sept 27: Dinner at our Maison d'Hôtes.
* Sept 28: Wine tasting at Maison Arnoux and following dinner.

DATES: September 24-October 5, 2017 with a possible extension in Paris with me if you'd like, or on your own.

Limited to up to 12 travelers, plus René Tanguy and me. 2 last spots available.

$6,275 per person in accommodations for two. We have only 1or 2 single accommodations available on this trip due to the limited amount of rooms in the charming and strategically located Maison d'Hôtes where we stay in the Rhône Valley. But if you don't have a traveling companion, let us know and we will try to pair you. Price includes airfare, hotel, meals, including the get together dinner with Giorgios at Vin Rouge, 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 high-end producers, such as those in Chateauneuf du Pape and Tain l'Hermitage with lesser known ones, which nevertheless provide excellent wines at a great value. We will also visit several wineries, such as one run by the monks of the island of Lérins, that are curiosities in regard to the geography and history of winemaking, and have often been considered marginal in a world dominated by the necessities of mass sales. Our meals, whether at the Maison d'Hôtes or in restaurants, 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 itinerary below 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.
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eric hodge, wunc
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Giorgios Bakatsias


Giorgio is an artist chef of Greek origins that has established himself over several decades, as one of the very most prominent restaurateur in North Carolina. His hospitality group counts an impressive list of restaurants across the Triangle and Asheville. They are all characterized by an acute sense of aesthetics and food creativity.

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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, bleu
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nice, promenade des Anglais, lunch
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René tanguy, marin
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nice, chateau, baie des Anges
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Sainte Victoire
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Dentelles de Montmirail
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aurenjo, dinner, provence
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Dentelles de Montmirail
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durban, ventoux
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dentelles de montmirail, ventoux
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Dentelles de Montmirail
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vacqueyras, vins
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rhone valley, maison arnoux, wine barrels
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facteur cheval, palais idéal
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valence, Vallée du Rhône
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Guy Farge, Saint Joseph
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Pont du Gard
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raisin, bleu, blue grape
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Alps, mont ventoux
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mont ventoux
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mont ventoux, alps
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rhone valley, mont ventoux
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Gorges de l'ardeche, belvedere
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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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chateauneuf du Pape
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chateauneuf du pape, verger des papes, restaurant
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St Etienne du Mont, Paris, chuch
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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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La Tartine, café, bistrot, paris
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La Palette, café, bistrot, paris
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café, bistrot, paris, men