THE FRENCH RIVIERA TO THE RHÔNE VALLEY TOUR, HARVEST 2019

September 21-October 3rd, 2019

transatlantic flight, moon
Approaching Europe
rooftop, nice
View of Roof Top of Hotel in Nice
nice, place Gambetta
Nice
nice, chateau, baie des Anges
Le Démon sur la Baie des Anges
montagne sainte victoire
Montagne Sainte Victoire
denis brihat print show
Looking at Denis Brihat's work
denis brihat
Denis Brihat and visitor
Our Hotel in the Rhône Valley
Our Hotel in the Rhône Valley
Gorges de l'ardeche, belvedere
Gorges de l'Ardèche
pont d'arc
Pont d'Arc
pont du gard
The Pont du Gard
Gorges de l'ardeche, belvedere
Gorges de l'Ardèche
diois
Diois. Drôme Valley
rhone valley, vineyard, visit
Tasting at Maison Arnoux
Guy Farge, St Joseph
Guy Farge
valence, vallée du rhône
Chez Moi
paris, eiffel tower
Vue Imprenable
bleu, nice
Bleu de Nice
nice, place massena
Dans la Ville Baroque.
beach restaurant, nice
Lunch on the Beach in Nice
Hotel camargue
Hotel Camargue
petite camargue
Petite Camargue
pink flamingoes
Pink Flamingoes in Camargue
dinner in Vacqueyras
Vacqueyras White on the Beautiful Table
dentelles de montmirail
Dentelles de Montmirail from the extreme overlook
Rhone Valley, mont ventoux
Flirting with clouds at the top of the Mont Ventoux
Mont Ventoux, alps
Mont Ventoux, looking toward the Alps, Italy.
Mont Ventoux
Northern View from the Mont Ventoux
contrast tours meal
A Meal in Provence
grotte chauvet
In the Grotte Chauvet.
dinner in Vacqueyras
The Joy of a Meal in Provence
arnoux et fils, François-Xavier Vidil, contrast tours
Glorious tasting off the barrel with my brother at Arnoux & Fils
Vacqueyras, vins
Vacqueyras
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:
* Saturday September 21: Departure from RDU (or wherever you depart from) to JFK and then to Nice via direct flight.


* Sunday September 22: 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.
* Monday September 23: We'll leave the hotel by 10:00 and on our way out will drive to the edge of Nice to visit a little vin de Bellet producer, the best one I think, organic, whose wines we will have experienced during meals the day before. These wines are remarkably fragrant, exhibiting the exacerbated aromas that one hopes to find in a vin de Bellet. Those wines from Nice 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.

We will then hit the road and find ourselves 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 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. 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 first take a little road offering a stunning view on the Sainte Vicoire, and then will head 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.


* Tuesday September 24: 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 sits adjacent to salt marshes which are at the origin of its existence and 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 have a walk along one of the marshes, hoping to see flamingoes and other exotic wild life common in the area before arriving 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.

* Wednesday September 25: 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, the legendary part of Provence subject of countless books notably the Peter Mayle ones, who by the way, was a fan of my mentor, our host today.

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 lunch, 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) will come from that garden.

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


* Thursday September 26:
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 a spectacular winery 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.


* Friday September 27:
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, and the wines are truly the best value one can find in the Côtes du Rhône appellation. We will then have lunch at the Castle catered by a gem restauranteur from the surroundings.

After lunch we will drive to the Grotte Chauvet, and after its visit we will drive down the Gorges de l'Ardèche, stripping at several breath taking belvederes.

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.


* Saturday September 28:
This morning we head to Uzès, a beautiful little town that has preserved an historic center offering a rare collection of architecture from the 16th, 17th and 18th century, On Saturdays the town vibrates with its market, one of the nicest of the authentic ones in France, and we will loose ourselves in this colorful melting pot of vegetables, fruit, olives, charcuteries and other local produces.

We will then drive to, Le Pont du Gard. 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 first enjoy a lunch with Roman wines at the restaurant there with a view on the aqueduct. 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.

We will then enjoy a guided visit explaining how and why this aqueduct was built. We will have 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.

Cooking class with the chef and dinner at the Castle.


* Sunday September 29:
This morning we head to the Valley of the Drôme river, the river that gives its name to the department in which I was born. We are going to visit there a producer of Clairette de Die. The Clairette de Die is made with the Clairette grape, often blended with muscat. It is the oldest sparkling wine in France, going back to the 1st Century, so about 1,600 years before Champagne.

Our hosts will explain the production of these wines, and of course we will taste the various blends.

After that we will have lunch in a charming village nearby, a very joyful and happening place with a vibrant square and fountain in its center.

Pétanque and dinner at the Castle.


* Monday September 30:
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 earlier. 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 and is very involved in the wine making because of his extraordinary palate and understanding of wine. François-Xavier will 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 study during 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.

Our senses well satisfied we will visit Séguret, a lovely village perched on the flanks of the Rhône valley, and offering the intense beauty of of a provençale village-fortress now living in peace.

Pétanque and dinner at the castle.


* Tuesday October 1st: Today we leave our castle to see another one, a papal one in Avignon. Today we 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.

We will have lunch in Avignon which is technically the capital of the Côtes du Rhône.

In the afternoon we will stop to visit a winery in Chateauneuf du Pape and explore this mythic little village and try to understand why it exercises such a domination on the Rhône valley's wines.

Pétanque and dinner at the castle.


* Wednesday October 2nd:
Most dreams tend to come to an end, and today we have to say our "adieus" to this beautiful castle that hosted us. We will drive to Valence my home town 1.5 hour north, in the northern part of the valley. When we pass Valence we will see a cliff from with a castle 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 went to visit the Clairette winery earlier.

We will go a little further north just past Tain l'Hermitage 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 say bye bye to the Rhône Valley as we will need to catch a high speed train for Paris where we will arrive roughly 2:00 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.



* Thursday October 3rd: 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 and import, are unparalleled due to the connections that I am lucky to enjoy in that industry.

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. This tour is also graced with extremely elegant accommodations.

DATES: September 21-October 3rd, 2019 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 myself, your travel companions, drivers, guides, interpreters and hopefully entertainers.

$6,075 per person in accommodations for two, + Air Fare (10 spots at this price). 2 spots or more in Luxe rooms with balcony in the Rhône castle at a cost of $6,365 per person. Price includes hotel, meals, 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. Most wines will be available in stores in NC, which is more cost effective. For people living outside of NC and when certain wines from a given producer are not available here, you will be able to purchase the wines directly from the producer and Contrast Tours will ship the wines to you. The price for that varies in function of volume, and varies therefore from 11€ to 20€ per bottle. A precise pricing chart will be provided before departure.

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, bleu
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nice, place massena
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nice, place massena
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nice, beach lunch
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nice, chateau, baie des Anges
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montagne Sainte Victoire
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petite camargue
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pink flamingoes, camargue
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atelier denis brihat
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denis brihat
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meal, provence
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vacqueyras, vins
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dentelles de montmirail
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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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Gorges de l'ardeche, belvedere
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Pont d'Arc, Gorges de l'ardeche, belvedere
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Pont du Gard
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Gorges de l'ardeche, belvedere
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Meal, Provence
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Grotte Chauvet
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diois, saillans
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dinner vacqueyras
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rhone valley, maison arnoux, wine barrels
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Wine tasting off the barrels
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vacqueyras, vins
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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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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