This voyage is blessed with the gracious participation of Larry Weaver owner of Asheville Wine Market who will co-host this trip with me. Larry is a man of marvelous company, who exhibits an inherently soothing zen-like spirit complemented by a deep wine knowledge and appreciation. I personally cannot wait to explore France with him and you.
This trip is for those seeking an authentic wine and food exploration of 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 experience and promoting a good knowledge of the region and its wines. We will travel through history with important "time-machine-like" sites 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 of winemakers selected by Larry for the excellence of their production.
I will happily provide photographic assistance and share my photographer's perspective throughout the tour.
DATES: June 20 to June 30, with a possible extension in Paris with me if you'd like, or on your own.
Limited to up to 12 travelers, plus Larry and myself. Sold Out. Registering interest for the next such trip.
$6,285. per person in accommodations for two. We cannot provide single accommodation 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. Price includes airfare, 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 that you might want to enjoy that are not part of the group activities. Contrast Tours purchases the Group Deluxe Protection plan with Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption on behalf of all participants (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. 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 description of the wines that 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.
See Contact Page, if you want to book or have any questions. You may also call me: 919-416-1111.
Bleu de Nice
Nice and the Promenade des Anglais
Montagne Sainte Victoire
The road to Chateauneuf du Pape
A Room at the Maison d'Hôtes
From inside the Dentelles
Mont Ventoux, looking toward the Alps, Italy.
Flirting with clouds at the top of the Mont Ventoux
Wine grape of the Rhône Valley
Gorges de l'Ardèche
The Pont du Gard
Maxime Gourdain, Domaine de Rosiers
Church in Paris near the Pantheon
Lunch Promenade des Anglais
Church on Old Nice
Le Démon sur la Baie des Anges
Châteauneuf du Pape
Dentelles de Montmirail On a June Morning
Dentelles de Montmirail On a June Morning
Inside the Dentelles de Montmirail
Looking East from the Mont Ventoux
Northern View from the Mont Ventoux
Visiting a vineyard of the Rhône Valley
Entrance of the Grotte Chauvet. The architecture induces the idea of getting in a time machine.
Gorges de l'Ardèche
Dinner at the Maison d'Hôtes
Cellar Domaine de Rosiers
Défense de Rien Toucher
Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval
* Tuesday June 20: Departure from Asheville to Atlanta to JFK and then to Nice via direct flight.
* Wednesday June 21: 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, or go to the beach, which is across the street from our hotel.
We stay two nights in Nice in a superb boutique hotel with direct view on the sea, pool and superb service. This is one of the most sought after hotels in Nice, see photograph on the left.
Dinner by the nearby Old Port
* Thursday June 22: 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 enjoy a dinner at the domaine prepared by the family and served under the olive trees.
* Friday June 23: We leave Nice and find ourselves 90 minutes later at the Domaine des Annibals in Brignoles. The domaine takes his name from the legend of Hannibal, the Carthagenese (inhabitant of the current Tunisia) conqueror who passed by the region on its way to Rome. We will meet the owner, visit the 12th Century cellar, and of course have a tasting. All the wines there are organic, and the domaine uses only renewable electricity through a green energy contract.
Lunch in Puyloubier by the Montagne Sainte Victoire, which was Cezanne's favorite subject, and mine too when I was living in a nearby village in the vicinity of Aix en Provence.
After lunch we will head toward the Rhône Valley and will make a stop at the Guillaume Gonnet Estate in Bédarrides near Chateuneuf du Pape for a visit and tasting. The Gonnets have been in Bedarrides since the 1600. Guillaume Gonnet produces a wide variety of wines in several appellations of the Southern Rhône.
Drive to Vacqueyras for a visit and extraordinary tasting at Maison Arnoux. 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 done 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.
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.
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.
* Saturday June 24:Walk to Orange's Antique Theatre 10 minutes away from our Maison d'Hôtes. We will have an audio visit of this world's heritage site that will guide us through its almost two thousand years of history.
Drive to Chateauneuf du Pape through the lovely route that goes there, tour of the village and visit of the Domaine Jean Deydier Les Clefs d'Or. The domaine goes back to the 19th Century. Following the visit we will have lunch in Chateauneuf du Pape in one of the most elegant restaurant of the region, enjoying the view over the valley, see photograph on the left.
Visit and tasting at Domaine Palon in Gigondas. This small estate produces essentially in the Gigondas and Vacqueyras appellations.
Dinner at the Maison d' Hôtes by our host Oliver, with Domaine Palon wines. Oliver is a wonderful cook and dinners there provide the opportunity to relax and enjoy the amenities, including playing boules.
* Sunday June 25: Exploration of the Dentelles de Montmirail. 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 Chateau Juvenal a young domaine producing organic Côtes du Ventoux in a lovely setting.
Lunch on our way to the Mont Ventoux. The Mont Ventoux offers a breathtaking view 360˚ 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 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.
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.
* Tuesday June 27:Drive to Saint Gilles on the edge of Camargue and visit of Chateau Cornut producer of Costières de Nimes.
After lunch After lunch we will head toward the Saintes Maries de la Mer, the mythic capital of Camargue, and on our way and back we will experience the unique beauty of the Rhône estuary.
We will 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. We will enjoy a guided visit (in English) with a privileged tour of the third story of the bridge that will both offer a beautiful view and a captivating perspective on the history of this edifice. It will be possible to have a swim in the river.
A team of historians and oenologues have been able to reproduce wines like the ones Romans were drinking and which were quite different from our contemporary ones. So 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 palates.
Dinner at the Restaurant in front of the illuminated du Pont du Gard.
* Wednesday June 28:Two hours drive to Ampuis in the north part of the valley and visit of the Domaine de Rosiers, producer of Côtes Roties. Those wines grow on steep terraces challenging what may be humanly achieved. The result are almost pure Syrah wines with silky smoothness and intense aromas of black currant, blackberrry and violette. Those wines are some of the most sumptuous wines produced in France.
Lunch in Ampuis. Then 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.
* Thursday June 29: Farewell to our hosts and drive to the Domaine de Grangeneuve 40 minutes away for a visit and tasting. We are now on the northern edge of the wine producing southern part of the valley, and the wines here are a little bit fresher and less jammy than in Vacqueyras or Chateauneuf. The Domaine de Grangeneuve produces very enjoyable wines including a 100% grenache full of red fruits flavors and an old vines wine of rare intensity.
Drive to the Domaine Mucyn, about one hour away, north of Tain l'Hermitage. We finish our visits of wineries here, with a return to the northern part of the valley. The domaine produces Croze Hermitage, Saint Joseph and Cornas wines, which are in the very top tier of Rhône wines, 100% Syrah for the reds, Roussanne and Marsanne for the whites. Syrah is original from this part of the valley and feels at home there, developing its richest aromas. We will have lunch at the domaine.
From Valence we will take a high speed train to Paris (about 375 miles north) where we will arrive roughly 2 hours and 11 minutes later.
Couscous is French people's favorite dish, so we will have a couscous dinner in one of Paris' best couscous restaurants not far from our hotel and then a stroll in Paris at night for those up to it.
* Friday June 30:Free range for those who wish. Light lunch.
Departure to Paris Roissy Airport at 12:30.
Those wishing to book additional nights in Paris can do so through me, either touring the town with me or on their own. They may also arrange for themselves 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.