Nice Day For a Promenade

why not pass the afternoon with a glass of rose, a deep blue sea and some of the best people watching along the Promenade d’Anglais? In fact we did just that.


Ahhh Nice, jewel of the French Rivera, epicenter of the Cote D’Azur, home of the very very rich. Well Nice does have its share of very very rich people (as evidenced by the cars driving in to the city) but Nice has lots to offer anyone and everyone. I have always wanted to go to Nice but I had a harder time convincing @benton8tor, who prefers the small villages and quaint towns. However I won out and it was as fabulous as I thought. Nice is the 20160908_1725155th largest city in France, a great spot to visit the Alps, Cannes or St Tropez, Italy or Monaco but why not just stay in Nice? It has lots to offer with Mediterranean influenced food and wine from the nearby Cote De Provence and Bellet AOC’s of Provence, why not pass the afternoon with a glass of rose, a deep blue sea and some of the best people watching along the Promenade d’Anglais? In fact we did just that.

@benton8tor and I had different ideas in mind when visiting Nice. I wanted to scope out the local restaurants, drink wine , and walk the Promenade d’Anglais, @benton8tor wanted to swim in the Mediterranean. Fortunately you can do all of that easily. Nice unlike Cannes, or Bandol has a shale beach which 376934_10151083535225140_1877818484_ncan be somewhat surprising. As well many of the beach sites are private belonging to certain hotels and reserved for guests. However a walk down the fabulous and breathtaking Promenade d’Anglais will give you the opportunity to scope out public beaches or cafes on the beach. we did just that. Though a hot day, I wasn’t particularly interested in swimming, but I was interested in relaxing on the beach so we struck a deal,  I found a beach front bar complete with Provencal tapenade and Provencal wine and @Benton8tor could swim, Parfait! It was perfect for him for a post swim wind down as well.

As I keep mentioning the Promenade d’Anglais is amazing! We walked it for hours stopping at the opulent yet uber friendly Westminster hotel right on the Promenade for a drink. The terrace overlooks the Mediterranean and is all white marble. The wine list is extensive and you can enjoy the renowned Provencal roes to your hearts content. I however lobby for trying the Provencal reds. 255332_10151083552590140_2006220291_nOften overlooked, the reds depending on their area of production can be light fruity and easy drinking to bigger, bolder reds. Not as well known but excellent value, Provence reds are suitable for all most any occasion. And while you are on the Promenade stop in at the beautiful and famous Hotel Negresco.

You’ll have to eat and I highly recommend getting off the Promenade and going into the city itself. La Trattoria isn’t far off the Promenade but is tucked away and offer superb Italian offerings. though Italian it has Nice specialties and a wonderful selection of Provencal wines. Service is fabulous and you won’t be disappointed. But travel further inland to the Restaurant L’Authentic for some fabulous Nicoise dishes with even more fabulous wine.


Our second visit to Nice took us to the Place Messana just off the Promenade d”Anglais. A beautiful square with fountains to run through and a gorgeous gardens to tour, Unfortunately  we had to leave and Nice also has one of the most beautiful airports right on the Mediterranean. Sitting in the airport bar we met my favourite Niciose character, though he was a North American. I am still not sure what he does but suffice to say, he’s an extrovert. Traveling on his own for business, he spent the next 30 minutes regaling us with stories and pictures of his day on some random guys yacht, the fish they caught, the cars they drove etc.. We eventually left and as we board the flight to London, who is there but our new found friend with armfuls (literally) of rose wine that he was passing out to his other new friends. ‘Hey’ he screams pointing at us ‘there ‘s my friends’. Uh ok. and where was our rose? Upon boarding the plan, he then makes friends with he flight attendants and comes back to is seat with cans of beer which he proceeds to pass out. I don’t know who he was but he is the best story.Every time I leave Nice, I keep thinking if only I had one more day but when it comes to Nice I am not sure I will ever have enough.


5 Recommended Vineyard Wine Tastings in Provence

Pick up a bottle of your favourite, buy some local cheese,a baguette and some fruit or olives and head for the hills and enjoy a wonderful French picnic. Afterwards head back to Bandol for a dip in the Mediterranean and you will have had the perfect Provencal day. Just remember to stop and smell the lavender

Provence the land of lavender and honey And wine of course! Provence has itsown  AOC wine designation and alsocovers part of the the Southern Rhone AOC as well. So your opportunities for tasting are endless, but where to start? Well that can be the confusing part. Do you do a wine tour? Do you just drive up to a winery? How do you manage the tasting? How do you know which are the best? Well a wine tour is a great way to introduce yourself to the region but how to really find those off the beaten path smaller wineries with  delicious wines? Well your best bet is to go to a local tourist office and ask for a map of wineries. My preferred method is get a map, pick one winery and set the GPS. En Route  I will see several other wineries and scream “degustation (taste) stop!”  and order @benton8tor to stop. Side note, this is not @benton8tor’s preferred method. That said, he will be the first to admit that we have discovered some amazing wines this way. Including his all time favourite Provencal rose. So with that, here are my top five recommended stops in Provence.

5. Domaine Le Galantin: Located in the famous Bandol wine region, Domaine Le Galantin is a small tasting room but heavily favoured by locals. Which is always a good sign. We pulled in for a tasting and were warmly greeted by the proprietor. We tasted Cuvee D’Achille white, red and rose. I was a fan of the red.IMG_4968 As with many Bandol wines, it was bold with dark fruit overtones and easily drinkable. But the rose, which was @benton8tor’s favourite was delicate, fruity, bright, and refreshing. The tasting room itself was rustic, welcoming and a definite must stop in Provence. Pick up a bottle of your favourite, buy some local cheese,a baguette and some fruit or olives and head for the hills and enjoy a wonderful French picnic. Afterwards head back to Bandol for a dip in the Mediterranean and you will have had the perfect Provencal day. Just remember to stop and smell the lavender.

4. Crous St Martin is in the very famous Chateauneuf du Pape of the Southern Rhone. Just 10 minutes North of Avignon, this region produces some of the most interesting, bold yet delicate and complex reds. Crous St Martin was our introduction into Chateauneuf du Pape. It was one of the best introductions, you could ask for with a total of 6 tastings you get to appreciate the full range of their wine. The wine we bought was delicious. This is Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah territory. Our favourite was spicy with hints of tea and tobacco and lingered pleasantly on the palate. Again what you taste is arbitrary. So many of my friends worry that they aen’t tasting the same thing. My advice is do you enjoy it? Good then drink it and taste what you taste. which as my friend Jeff says it is usually red wine he tastes So relax and enjoy  and remember that Crous St Martin is  a great introduction to Chateauneuf Du Pape. .

3. Chateau Calissane- A fabulous Provencal winery near Lancon de Provence. Producing both wine and olive oil for purchase and taste, Chateau Calissane is a delight. A beautiful bright tasting room with local products for sale. However try the winIMG_4806es. These Provencals reds and roses are amazing. 34565_447569215139_4041028_nEasily drinkable, especially in the hot weather, your only challenge will be how much you can fit in your suitcase. The red was my favourite of course with its light spiced, soft cherry notes. This is an excellent wine to try if you are just starting to drink reds! The olive oil was also amazing and Chateau Calissane is a very worthwhile stop. Prepare to spend about a hour here. The grounds are also beautiful.

2. Domaine de L’Olivette- Another Bandol standout and my one of my favourites. This winery is warm, welcoming and beautiful. The wines are amazing as well and inexpensive. Both red and rose are delicious. the red is bold, fruity with complex undertones. the rose is floral, bright and crisp. Again perfect for a picnic or just because. The tastings are generous and you will be back for more! the white wine is also delicious and a rarity in red dominated Bandol. Again as one of the smaller wineries (small being subjective) it has an some wonderful wines to offer that may otherwise be missed so make sure to stop.

  1.  Chateau De La Nerthe – Located in a stunning setting just outside of the Chateauneuf du Pape village, Chateau De La Nerthe offers beautiful wines in a beautiful tasting room in a beautiful setting. I think you get the picture. Chateau De La Nerthe was picked by my trusty Degustation shouting system. Yes I saw a sign that said Degustation and screamed stop. In this case, we stumbled upon one of the very best places to stop and taste wine. The wines are amazing. Spicy with dark fruit and leather flavours, these wines will make you come back again and again. The proprietor is welcoming and passionate about the wine and very willing to answer any questions you may have about the wine including ” May I try another”. A stop at Chateau De La Nerthe is a guaranteed fabulous tasting experience.

Provence is a fabulous opportunity for drive up or walk up tasting. A drive anywhere off the motorway almost guarantees you multiple signage offering degustations. So take advantage of it,  stop and enjoy.  After all you are in Provence.

When The Best Laid Plans Go Astray…and Lead To Auch, Mende, and Killybegs

We made our way to the store and the owner was a very sweet knowledgeable woman who loved Armagnac and wanted you to love it too. This included several tastings that she recommended. Her ultimate goal was to find you the perfect Armagnac and she got so excited when we liked one

I love to travel obviously and part of that love includes planning the trip. I mean after all, who doesn’t love investigating what restaurants to eat at in Paris, what’s the best New York food tour? What wine tour in Beaune? This is all well and good but it completes lacks spontaneity  and spontaneity is the best part of travel. So sometimes it may be best to throw those plans aside and see where travel takes you.

In 2010 we were driving from Salon de Provence to Beaune. A 4 hour drive. We were leaving in the morning so we would arrive in plenty of time for wine tasting, eating and exploring. @benton8tor lobbied for us to take a different route, one that would take us on smaller roads and avoid tolls. It will be prettier he argued. We agreed and off we went with our first stop in Ales, a beautiful town at the entrance to the National Park of the Cevannes Mountains.

Road to Mende

OK very pretty, I thought for the first 10 minutes , until fear took over. The roads were small, well not small but tiny and twisty. I spent the first 30 minutes clutching the door handle and screaming “slow down”. A quick look into the back seat and my dad was also gripping the handle, his face white. And My mother seemingly unaware of the fear, kept her remarks to ” oh my gosh so pretty, look did you see that.” Through it all @benton8tor just kept trying to drive. Eventually he pulled over and we got out. A few deep breaths and when we looked around, the scenery was stunning. This was a truly beautiful part of France we would not have seen if we stuck to the motorways. After getting back in the car we made our way to Mende. You don’t so much drive in to Mende as parachute in, but Mende is stunning. mende-23383_w600Beautiful tree lined streets, stone buildings and bridges and a lovely river. Mende was amazing. As was lunch with wine of course from the Languedoc. I remember it being full bodied, delicious and crazy inexpensive. Despite being terrified all the way to Mende, both my dad and I are at the forefront of saying we should go back. And we should, there is so much more to see and do in Mende. Though it took us twice as long to get to Beaune, it was worth it for the side trip to Mende.

The Mende experience definitely influenced us in Ireland as well. Upon arriving in Donegal on the West Coast, we were sure we would spend all of our time there. Donegal is beautiful with lots to see and do but we decided we should keep going and drive to Killybegs further west, with its harbor on an inlet leading to the Atlantic. We figured the fish would be amazing and had heard Mathew Broderick had visited once. Obviously a reason to go. Well there were no Mathew Broderick sightings buts lots of opportunities for fish and chips, Unfortunately it was raining but the Bay View Hotel provides a warm welcome, good wine list and beautiful spot to relax, enjoy the world cup or the view of the harbor. For a small side trip, Killybegs was worth it.

In 2014 after dropping my parents at the Toulouse airport so they could enjoy Ireland while we stayed on in France. We were supposed to head back to Carcassone and spend the day there or Limoux but on a whim  we decided to scrap that plan and head west into Armagnac. Arma10387455_10152536476050140_2615767293228875328_ngnac, similar to Cognac is grown its the Armagnac region n the South West of France. Armagnac is a distilled wine. @benton8tor swears it is more interesting, more diverse taste and more to enjoy with Armagnac.We started in Auch. Auch is famous for food, pastry, Armagnac and D’Artangnan of 3 Musketeers fame. Oh and it Cathedral atop a hill and its L’Escalier monumental, 234 stairs connecting upper town to the river. It is worth it because it is beautiful and you will needs lots of pastry and Armagnac to finish it!

Auch is gorgeous, the square by the cathedral is usually an foodie area I would recommend avoiding but with Auch, absolutely not. The square offer many excellent restaurants for a lunch or dinner with beautiful views. The tourist office was extremely helpful and recommended a local store to start our tasting  and a map of producers. We made our way to the store and the owner was a very sweet knowledgeable woman who loved Armagnac and wanted you to love it too. This included several tastings that she recommended. Her ultimate goal was to find you the perfect Armagnac and she got so excited when we liked one. We bought one and headed out to visit producers. We got on smaller and smaller roads, the GPS lost where we were and with a sign every now and then guiding us, we kept going.

Bas Armangac

No doubt remembering the drive to Mende, @benton8tor was wondered why I wasn’t freaking out. Probably because the land was gently rolling not crazy mountains but mostly, it just felt right. We ended up at Michael Baylac Domaine Grand Comte. Driving into what looks to be a farmyard, we were surprised to enter a large modern tasting room. Another point in favour of Armagnac is the production of wine as well as Armagnac. 22195962_10155569272900140_2698639497014957267_nThe grapes lend themselves well to wine production. Our tastings included wine, Armagnac and the delicious Floc de Gascogne, a wine flavoured with Armagnac. It is regional and truly tasty. Like many Armagnac producers, the Domaine De Comte was no different. they love your product and want you to love it to, the tastings are generous, and they go out of their way to find the perfect wine for you. Domaine Grand Comte is well worth a visit.

We made our way back to Auch for more pastries and shopping before finally heading back to Carcassone, promising one day we” be back. And we will.

Prosit!!! Tips for Eating and Drinking in Germany

However, I grew up, expanded my culinary horizons and soft pretzels in mustard? Delicious!!! Especially if those pretzels come from one of the vendors at the Viktualienmarkt in Central Munich.

Ah Germany, home of beer, currywurst, and a history of both joy and extreme shame (as it should be). For the longest time certain members of my or@benton8tor’s family refused to travel to Germany because of the atrocities leading up to and World War II itself. It is a tough call, you don’t want to forget but you also don’t want write a country off. Germany is a lot more than World War II, rich in culture, heritage and amazing food, wine, and beer. It also acknowledges its past and atones for it. Side note, if you haven’t visited the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Go now. It is the most moving chilling monument and deeply disturbing although you will be forever thankful you experienced it.  In our current global political climate, I find it even more important to travel experience other cultures, embrace diversity and celebrate. Which is exactly what I did in both Munich and Berlin. So changing tack to the more celebratory side, if you read this blog you will know by now food and wine is especially important to me as I travel. So with that in mind here are my top 5 picks for must have German food and where to get it!

  1. Currywurst- Berlin’s popular street food. It is the German bratwurst sausage topped with a curry spiced ketchup. Even if you don’t like curry or you don’t like sausage, it is worth a try asthumbnail_IMG_6034 the currywurst is like nothing you have tried before. Though it pains me to say this… its best served with beer and not wine. Germans are famous for their beer and enjoying a currywurst with a local German beer? It will be fabulous. That said you should also try other German sausages and try the mustard too!
  2. Soft Pretzels- ‘But I can get those anywhere you think’ and technically you are right but like the famed Guinness always tastes better in Ireland, so does the soft pretzel in Germany. When I was very young, the only pretzels we had were the hard crunchy ones. I didn’t know about the soft pretzels. So when I read a book and one of the characters loved to dip her pretzels in mustard, I thought the sophisticated 8 year old that I am would try it. Don’t it is gross. However, I grew up, expanded my culinary horizons and soft pretzels in mustard? Delicious!!! Especially if those pretzels come from one of the vendors at the Viktualienmarkt in Central Munich. They are amazing and I am sure would pair well with wine but as a predominant street food, it is hard to walk around with a glass of wine (However if you are anywhere in France, this doesn’t seem to be unusual).
  3. Rotskohl and Sauerbraten- @benton8tor and i were walking around Berlin one evening. We were on Blvd Friedrichstrasse probably because of my obsession with the movie Cabaret. Once we crossed the river there were so many places to eat. Overtired and hangry we couldn’t agree or decide on a restaurant. so we moved a bit further away from the river up Blvd Friedrichstrasse to the Blvd Friedrichstrasse Berliner Restaurant. 10449938_10152521226770140_3118025089284171774_nWhere we did something I never ever ever do when traveling. the food was so good I went back two nights in a row. I never do this because I don’t want to miss out on what a city/country has to offer but this restaurant was sooo good, I wanted to eat the entire menu. The sauerbraten a roast beef that has marinated for days in a vinegar spice mixture is the tastiest way I have ever eaten roast beef. Paired with Rotskokl, the red cabbage side that is bursting full of flavours of wine, apple and vinegar is out of this world. @benton8tor incorrectly believed he didn’t like red cabbage. This rotskohl changed his mind. The restaurant is beautiful and a throw back to earlier times without appearing dated.
  4. Rouladen- Another beef dish! but this rolled beef dish stuffed pickle, mustard, bacon and paprika. It is equally amazing and where should you have it? Blvd Friedrichstrasse of course! 10438992_10152516782655535_2669096692882747273_nWhat should you pair it with? A German red of course? You might be asking, “is she serious? German red are sweet and frankly undrinkable’ and you are right but in Germany? Their actual red wines are surprisingly more diverse than you think. In fact some of the red wines from the Black Forest/ Baden Wurttemberg region are dry, tasty and complex drinking more like Napa wine. You should really try it.
  5. Goulash soup or pancake soup- 2 different soups but both equally good. Filling, amazing and a meal in a bowl. Ramen noodle soup is the current trend but it is just a matter of time before the food trend shifts to the aptly named pancake soup. We had both soups ( I preferred the heartier stick to your gills goulash) at Ratskeller in Munich, A beautiful restaurant serving Bavarian specialties and one of my favorites in Munich, Excellent wine selection of course.

Honorable mentions would go to wiener schnitzel and toasts. Yes toasts. Upon arriving late into Munich we were hungry. We asked our hotel for recommendations. “Well “she said “we serve many nice toasts” What? turns out it means toasted sandwiches and yes they do serve many nice toasts and my favourite German red. Black Forest. Seemingly hard to find (so hard to find I think I dreamed it) it is a complex, spicy dry German red. YUM YUM

As well you can’t go to Germany and not try the beer so head to the Auguststiner Am Platz for more authentic German beer. Their selection is amazing. I preferred the Auguststiner Dunkel. IMG_3737

German food and drink is regional, diverse and delicious. So find a beer garden, order up and enjoy. I didn’t do Germany justice when it comes to wine tourism, so I guess I will just have to go back. For research of course.

Beaune Appétit!

Try more wine, eat more food. just enjoy after all that is why we go to Beaune in the first place.

Beaune the heart of Bourgogne/Burgundy. The epicentre of Borgogne wine, home of the Hospice de Beaune, seat of the former Duchy of Burgundy and culinary mecca. If you haven’t bee there yet, go now. Seriously I will wait while you book your ticket. Ok you are back? Good, so sit back and read about Beaune and get all sorts of ideas for your upcoming trip.


As I am sure you know since you just booked your ticket, Beaune is and hour and a half north of Lyon, 3 hours east of Paris and 2 hours northwest of Geneva. Even shorter by train! And it is amazing. @benton8tor and I have been twice and can’t wait to go again. Beaune in the heart of Bourgogne (the French term, Many English speakers know it as Burgundy but in recent years there has been a movement to reclaim its French name worldwide). Bourgogne along with Bordeaux in the South West are well known as the powerhouses of the French wine industry. And they are very different in their approach to wine. Bordeaux has Chateau, and the Chateau are ranked. In Bourgogne, it is Domaines and the vineyards themselves are ranked.IMG_8971 Bourgogne unlike Bordeaux can have very small vineyard lots and a Grand Cru vineyard can be tiny. Bourgogne is home to the Cote d’Or including the more northerly Cote de Nuit home of the famous Romanee Conti vineyards and the Southern Cote de Beaune home to Pommard and Puligny- Montrachet. In fact some of the vineyards fame eclipses that of the village so the village has added the name of the vineyard to its Village name (see Puligny Montrachet). Famous for the Chardonay and Pinot Noir grapes, nowhere else in France does the terrior play such a prominent role.

Understanding Bourgogne wine can be overwhelming at first that is why I have a handy dandy guide to help you navigate the awesomeness of Beaune so:

  1. Go the Marche aux Vins which should be the first thing you do after you check on into your hotel.because you will want a drink and why not wine? After all you are in the most prestigious wine region in the world (don’t tell Bordeaux though, or other countries after all you don’t want to hurt feelings) Marche aux vins in located in the center of Beaune near the Hospices to Beaune. Marche aux vins allows you to taste 20 Bourgogne wines in the cellars and Abbey in central Beaune. Even better there is a sommelier to explain the Bourgogne labeling, terrior and vineyards so you can really understand and enjoy . what you are tasting.

  2. DO a wine tour. Beaune has tons of tours to pick from but @benton8tor and I chose Vinetours. It was amazing. We went to both Cote de Nuit and Cote de Beaune. Our guide was amazing explaining the history of the vineyards and vines (including vineyards that have been continually planted since Charlemagne’s time) we drank wine in the vineyard ( my fav!!) saw the old huts where the wine harvesters would rest and toured the  domaines. It was amazing.
  3. Beaune Market as I mentioned Beaune is a culinary mecca so go to the market, olives, seasonings, jams, bread,IMG_8986 cheese, produce, goods. It is all here and it is spread out and easy to navigate. the only difficulty in the market is dragging @benton8tor away from the array of mustard.Yes that is right IMG_8985, Beaune is in Bourgogne as is Dijon so Dijon mustard is easy to get and spectacular. Also go to  Emond Fallot for mustard.
  4. Did I mention Beaune is a culinary mecca? Oh I did? well it is. Famous for Bouef bourguignon, Coq au vin, gourgeres, Charolais Beef, Chicken in Mustard and its terrines. Where to start. Well you can go high end such as 21 Boulevard and Le Cheval Noir and your food will be amazing or you can go to an everyday or mid range restaurant and still have an out of this world meal. My personal favourite places to eat were La Grilladine with its Charolais Beef, Boeuf bourguignon, Chicken, Ham terrine and pears in wine. It was delicious with exceptional service.

    Le Brasserie le Carnot has amazing gazpacho, beef tartare, and jambon au beurre. In fact we went here with my parents once and my mom ordered a jambon au beurre  and salad. What she got back was a huge baguette and salad. ‘ How am I going to eat all of this? I ordered too much’ she tells us. We go on enjoying our dinner and she is remarkably quiet. In fact we look over at her and not only dd she finish everything, she kept insisting on finding a restaurants that served the jambon baguette every other place we went. However we finally got her to try the chicken in mustard and then she switched to that instead. She is definitely a creature of habit and a finicky eater so if she likes it, you know its good. Bonus point Brasserie le Carnot has that beautiful French look and feel that makes you feel as though you are in a movie, drinking out of this wold wine and eating delicious food.


    We also frequented le Concorde. It has the very best croissants and features superb (Beaune is so good, I am running out of superlatives) Cremant de Bourgogne, Bourgogne’s sparking wine which is delicate, toasty (I know but it is) and extremely enjoyablethumbnail_IMG_8426. Though my favourite part was people watching, including the locals that went there at 10 am every morning for their 2 beers.

  5. GO to the Villages. This is where you find the wines and the villages themselves are beautiful. Puligny Montrachet is a short drive from Beaune and it should be your first stop. Olivier Leflaive is located here and it is all kinds of fabulous. We booked for lunch and wine tasting. ‘Would we like a tour of the vineyard first’ its probably not appropriate to scream ‘hell yes’ so i settled for ‘mais oui’. The vineyard tour gives a great overview into winemaking process and of course the impact of terrior and micro climate on the grapes. You move onto lunch and oh my gosh go hungry because your five courses will be so ridiculously good and well paired that you will continue to eat and drink no matter how full you are. We had gorgeres, carrot souffle (simply one of the lightest, tastiest, most delicious dishes I have ever tasted) ham terrine, and chicken along with dessert. The wines were perfectly paired. The whites were crisp, citrus and full bodied. the reds were silky, velvety and I wanted more. It is a definite must visit ééééé

You’ll need to stay somewhere in Beaune and both @benton8tor and I recommend Hotel Henri II. It is a beautiful hotel with old oak beams, the nicest bathroom ever and the friendliest service that will dispel any stereotype you have heard about France in 11 seconds. It has an beautiful bar which is a great place to relax and drink some wine at the end of the night while watching the world cup. Side note: probably don’t tell the other guests they are cheering for the wrong team even if they are, it can be awkward. But all kidding aside staff and guests were all kind and we had so much fun.


There is still more to do in Beaune, go shopping, visit the Hospice de Beaune, see more villages, Go to Bourg En Bresse for chicken, Try more wine, eat more food. just enjoy after all that is why we go to Beaune in the first place.IMG_8968

Azores, Portugal’s Not So Hidden Gem

The Azores offer food, wine, and relaxation in a stunning setting. Why not go?

Last spring, I was lucky enough to visit Portugal. I really can’t remember why we thought we should also visit the Azores, an island chain in the Atlantic that belongs to Portugal. The Azores are well known as a holiday spot to North Americans (no doubt due to their location, it is only a 4 hour flight from Toronto) but seems largely unvisisted by the rest of Europe save for Portugal itself. In fact when we told people in England we were heading for the Azores, they looked puzzled and said ‘ The Azores? isn’t there a weather station there?’ or ‘ The Azores? Why not Madeira?’ Which is a legitimate question as Madeira  is rumored to be beautiful.

But so are the Azores. Stunningly beautiful in fact. We stayed in Ponta Delgada, the largest city on Sao Migeul the largest island. There are 9 islands in the Azores and Sao Miguel has the largest population. We didn’t get a chance to see the other islands, that is for next time especially Pico known as the black island for its volcanic sand as it main island for the vineyards. Getting between islands can be challenging due to weather conditions via boat and air can be a challenge as well but it is well worth it to try!

Back to Sao Miguel, the Green Island,  where to start? Well I would suggest using the Pure Azores tour company. They were the company we used,426 though there are lots of excellent ones to choose from. Sao Miguel is a small island I strongly suggest doing both the East and West tours of the Islands. The tour in the West takes you to the Pineapple Plantation as the  pineapples grown in the Azores are delicious. You also get to see the amazing Sete Cidades volcanic lakes complete with an abandoned 5 star hotel. This tour takes you to the hotel as well and you can see vestiges of its former glory and get the best views of the lake.

The East takes you to Furnas, bathing in the natural  thermal ponds heated by volcanoes (amazing but wear a dark suit the minerals in the water can stain), eat cozido a meat upon meat stew with cabbage and potatoes made in the ground and cooked by volcanic activity. You also visit one of the islands 2 tea factories. the baths were my favourite and my skin felt amazing afterwards, @benton8tor was looking forward to the meat stew but… it might have been to much meat. all he wanted to do after that was nap and then nap again.

We wanted to see more of the island so @benton8tor decided the best way to do that was to rent a scooter. I interpreted this idea as certain death but @benton8tor assured me that they were safe and I would enjoy it. Despite secretly hoping for rain which didn’t happen, we set out on the scooter on a bright sunny day. . We made it to Ribeira Grande the second largest cit on the island (approximately 32,000) to visit Fabrica de Licores  Muhler de Capote, a factory that makes gin and vodka and infuses a lot of the product with local fruits. Tastings are amazing and it is well worth the visit. From there we visited the second and smaller tea factory but I swear the tea was better, the factory beautiful and the view? Out of this world so check out the Cha Formoso

/principal_ingles.php. Afterwards we made it to the small town of S Vincente Ferreira to visit th Quinta De Jardinete vineyard. It can be very hard to find so trust your GPS/google map and you will need to make an appointment. The tour is really good and I feel completely comfortable in saying that Quinta de Jardinete produces the best Azorean red wine that I tried. In all @benton8tor was right and the scooter was the best way to see the island. I did get really comfortable on it.

Finally the food, the Azores are a meat and dairy lovers paradise. They are famous for their cheese and with good reason, the cheese is ridiculously good. Taberna Acor has a great selection of cheeses to try (and wine) as well as local Azorean delicacies including pork bites and sausage. Reserva wine bar also has great cheeses and meat to try along with wine and finally Calcad de Cais was my port in the storm as I needed a break from the rich food and they offer some more veggie options along with the Azorean specialties including some amazing pineapple chutney.

In Ponta Delgada itself, there is shopping, markets etc… There is also a incredible botanical garden to check out with giant fig trees .

The Azores also offer hiking, water sports beaches etc.. there is lots to do and it is a cruise ship destination so it can get busy. It is best to book ahead. I could write and write about the Azores but really the pictures are what sell the Azores . The Azores offer food, wine, and relaxation in a stunning setting. Why not go?


Wine Tasting in Kansas City, Its Kind of a Big Deal

Kansas City is a perfect place for BBQ but its also a perfect place to start your wine journey. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll taste.

On a recent trip to Kansas City to celebrate Southern Barbecue, I took a chance and googled wineries, hoping to find some but thinking I’d be out of luck. I thought I’d check anyway. Turns out there are quite a few wineries in both Missouri and Kansas. Who knew? Well apparently lots of people, just not me. In fact Missouri is the oldest wine region in the United States and the first region (predating both Napa and Sonoma) to receive it’s AVA designation. However Prohibition dealt almost a death knell to the wine industry in Missouri and Kansas for almost 100 years. Missouri before prohibition was well on its way to being a recognized and lauded wine region with emphasis on its unique Norton grape. It took until 1965 with the re opening Stone Hill Winery  in Missouri ( the oldest winery in the United States) and until the 1980s in Kansas for the wine industry to grow again. I as a proud connoisseur  of French and European wines indeed owe a huge debt to Missouri’s wine industry. It was Missouri’s State entomologist Charles Riley along with the French Botanist J.E Planchon who discovered that grafting European grape vines onto American root stock would save the vine from Phylloxera that was devastating French and European vines in the late 19th century. Indeed it was Missouri root stock donated to graft the vines. My taste buds can not thank them enough!

Back to present day, @benton8tor is bound and determined to enjoy Kansas City BBQ and craft beers. Now we will just add a few vineyard stops along the way. Our first stop took us to Vox Winery noted for their wines and using Native American grapes including Norton.IMG_8734 However we made the mistake of going to the Vineyard itself not the tasting room back in Weston Missouri so we didn’t get a chance to sample ( you can sample at the vineyard if you call ahead to make and appointment). Though I didn’t get to taste it, I would recommend it as its reputation is stellar. The tasting room is in a creamery which features local cheeses as well.

Onward to Rowe Ridge Vineyards in Kansas City, Kansas. The wines maker/ proprietor greeted us. It was in fact through her, I first found out about Kansas and Missouri’s storied wine past. Rowe Ridge is a small vineyard with exceptionally friendly service.IMG_8735 Tastings are $6 for 8 tastings and you keep the glass. The grapes are all French/ American hybrids or American grapes (yes including the Norton). Of all the tasting which included St Julian, Norton, Traminette, Sevyal., The Norton is was favourite. Traminette is a sweet wine but for those who don’t like sweet wines, Traminette may still be a good option as it is not cloyingly sweet but bright and round in mouth feel with honey and citrus flavours.  Rowe Ridge has immense pride in their wines and work with the other wineries to promote Kansas wine. A quick tour of the vineyard (complete with a grape taste) we were on our way for BBQ but I wanted more of the wine.

So the next day, @benton8tor and I started our touring with a tasting at the Amigoni Winery in Kansas City. This tasting room is located in the old Drover newspaper office of the stockyard district of West Bottoms (since gone).IMG_8794 The vineyards themselves are located an hour east of Kansas City. If you could only go one place in Kansas City, go here. @benton8tor would say Boulevard Brewery and although amazing he is wrong! For one thing you can get Boulevard beer tasting along with other craft brews at the winery. IMG_8791And most importantly the wine is amazing. Using grapes such as Viognier, Cinsault, and Petit Verdou to name a few, the wines are interesting, complex and fascinating. They are remarkably well balanced. Tasting are $6 for 5. The Viognier was my favourite of the whites. Bright with citrus, it also had butter, toast like undertones. The Urban Bianco was also an easy drinking refreshing wine. Of the reds, the Urban Cepages was fascinating. Considered an almost red, the wine is peppery, vibrant and balanced. The Cabernet Sauvignon is delicious but the Cinsault grabbed my attention with its balanced yet bright bold flavours. However, I opted to do an additional tasting for $1. The Urban Drover a blend was awesome. Balanced, dry, bright and vibrant with complex flavours, I bought 2 bottles. I even got to taste the Drover Telegraph, also a beautiful wine. The tasting room itself is stunning, with balconies, old detailing from the original building and modern finishes. The service is impeccable. A Bachlorette party was there at the same time, and we still received outstanding service, could chat about wines and the wine making process. Everyone had an amazing time.Seriously you should go.


You’ll have to eat in Kansas City and that is a whole other post but I strongly recommend the Genesse Royale Bistro, literally a minutes walk from Amigoni. featuring fresh, farm to  table food in a fun setting, you can’t go wrong.  Likewise the Majestic restaurant features Kansas City steaks in a cool, retro speakeasy feel with an well sourced wine list. Slaps gives an authentic BBQ with amazing flavours, delicious food and a beautiful patio. Go hungry and enjoy.

Kansas City is a perfect place for BBQ but its also a perfect place to start your wine journey. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll taste.

Under the Tuscan Sun

Tuscany is all rolling hills, romantic vistas, tasty food, and amazing wine.

When I was really little, I wanted so badly to visit Italy. This might have been because I loved Italian food, though when I was really little I thought Italian food was Chef Boyardee. So that’s embarrassing but luckily by the time I reached middle school, I actually understood Italian food bore no relation to Chef Boyaredee. However I still loved Italian food and still wanted to visit Italy. It wasn’t until 2014 that I actually did visit Italy. Italy, like most countries has a varied cultural landscape and even more varied culinary flavours and wine regions. Where to start?

As a self confessed Francophile, I have an understanding of France, its food, wine regions etc… I even have a basic understanding of Spain and Portugal wine regions, even Germany a bit, but Italy was largely unknown to me. Italy is famous for its wine and even more famous for its food but its wine remained a mystery to me. I didn’t know how to pick it, what I was looking for or how to pair it. So when going to Italy, people had tons of advice on where to start. Milan, Almafi Coast, Bologna, Florence, Naples, Romes, Sicily ect.. but all roads led back to Tuscany. Famous for its wine, including the very famous Chianti, Tuscany promised beautiful countryside and amazing food. Logic would have dictated we stay in Florence but we picked Pisa. Though we did go to Florence, as you should. Florence is home to the beginning of the Renaissance. has some of the the best and most famous art work anywhere, fascinating architecture and out of this world  shopping, food and wine.

Pisa however was our base, famous for its tower (which is stunningly beautiful) Pisa also has amazing food with both pasta, pizza, game and seafood being represented.

Oh and amazing olives. We lucked out with our uber trendy hotel the San Ranieri with its beautiful patio, deluxe fresh breakfast buffet and amazing pasta. I still wanted to know more about wine  so we booked a Tuscan wine tour from Florence. The tour took us to a vineyard in the heart of Tuscany for 6 tastings with food followed by a stop in the famous town of Chianti. So off we went, speeding ticket and all. In Florence waiting for the tour bus, I happened to spot an amazing little dress shop. Waiting for the bus to load and causing @benton8tor heart palpitations, I ducked into the shop, tried on the most lovely dress, bough it and was back on the bus before it finished loading. It is my talent.

Once on the bus, the guide began to explain about the different vineyards and grapes in particular Sangiovese and Trebbiano.thumbnail_IMG_8668 He was good too, he drowned out the 4 young women on the bus who had been drinking steadily since the morning. I  hoped they were well stocked on Advil, as it would be needed for them I am sure. Once at the vineyard we were treated to a tour of the grounds and beautiful chateau. In the vineyard, there were also lemon trees and olives. Sitting down to taste the wine, it became very apparent that Italian wines are complex and there is enormous pride in paring properly with food or appertivos. The wines, in particular the chiantis were somewhat tart, a bit smoky and very interesting. They paired very well with our bruschetta. The whites were high in acid, citrus (almost lime) and cut through richer cheese flavours. The tastings were fabulous, hosts warm and welcoming, but I left thinking I had so much more to learn. I also left slightly drunk. Italian wine is extremely varied and complex. On wards to Chianti, sampling more wine and back to Florence for amazing pizza served in a 14th century coach house. Again the pizza was paired perfectly with the wine so if you aren’t sure how to pair, ask your server, they will know.

Tuscany is all rolling hills, romantic vistas, tasty food, and amazing wine. Rome to the South offer more variety but Tuscany should not be missed.

Islands in the Stream (or Sea)

, Ilse d’Aix offer bikes to see the island. Easy to ride with out worrying about traffic, you can get that baguette, cheese, and bottle of wine and bike with the wind in your hair to a beautiful spot to enjoy your very French picnic.

Islands are a popular tourist draw. Especially islands located in warm climates with sun, sand sea. Islands in the Caribbean remain a popular tourist draw. However amazing sun, sand and sea are, islands offer much much more. In fact in big tourist crowds aren’t your scene, it might be worthwhile to check out some of the smaller or less well known islands that are off the beaten path and enjoy all that they have to offer.

Isle of Wight in England is actually a well known island for its delicious produce, maritime feel, famous music festival,  and for being the favourite vacation spot of Queen Victoria at Osborne House. Isle of Wight is accessible by ferries from Southampton, Portsmouth, or Lymington to the north, east and west of the Island. the Island is roughly 389sq kilometres. There is lots to do but I recommend checking out Freshwater Bay with its stunning cliffs, beautiful beaches and tasty restaurants. Church at BrookIsle of Wight is home to many artisans and local pottery (my favorites!) and some of the best pubs in the UK. The pubs are often old, but clean (extremely so) and serve Delicious food and drink. Take a drive over to see Osborne House or just explore the island. Check out the Horse and Groom pub for a truly delicious meal.

The Ile de Porquerolle is just a short 10 minute boat ride from Hyeres off the Cote d’Azur in France. Though the boat ride is expensive and the Island busy, it is beautiful and well worth it to visit this beautiful island with its clear Mediterranean waters. Ile de Porquerolles offers lots to do.IMG_4935 It does have the aforementioned beaches but also world class restaurants overlooking the harbor serving local ingredients and local wines because yes you can visit vineyards too!!! You can walk through forest, bike the hills or simply hang out and shop. After biking on Ile d’Aix (more on that later) I thought myself an expert and was ready to bike on the Porquerolles. The Porquerolles are very hilly so if you aren’t an experienced biker, maybe stick to walking or as in my case drinking. Ether way the Porquerolles are beautiful and provided me with the best salad I have ever eaten, a tomato salad complete with poached egg, local ham and a from of forcaccia esque bread that I still dream of that bread. check out L’Orangeraie for its salad, views, wine and exceptional service.


The Azore Islands really need their own blog post but because the are so underrated they get a mention here and their own post (coming soon) The Azore islands belonging to Portugal are about an hour or so plane ride from mainland  Portugal. Located directly in the Atlantic, the Azore Islands are an Island chain, San Miguel is the largest. 440The Islands are well worth a visit (also a popular cruise ship port) for their food (cheese! milk! pineapple!) wine (multiple producers), gin, and tea (2 plantations). The scenery is stunning, ideal location for hikes, biking, and swimming or surfing ( I prefer to drink wine on the beach that surf and that is encouraged too!) make sure to tour the Islands (and or islands) enjoys the natural hot springs through out the island, visit the Cha Formosa smaller tea factory with excellent service and vies. Visit the Quinta de Jardinete winery eat the stew prepared in a volcano. Best places on San Miguel to eat was the Taberna Acor  which is best for local amazing food with stellar service, Calcada do Cais with lighter options and amazing gin and tonics, Reserva Bar with an out of the world selection of wines highlighting but not limited to Portugal and the Azores, and finally Boca de Cena, with the best tuna and chef who serves, cooks and makes sure you have an amazing meal.

Ile d’Aix in the Atlantic is about an hour boat ride from La Rochelle in France. The island is small, no cars allowed. Accessible by boat, this is a island with a population of 600 and the perfect place to enjoy a laid back day away from the crowds, easily walk able with hiking baths, beaches and lovely restaurants, thumbnail_IMG_8633 Ile d’Aix offer bikes to see the island. Easy to ride with out worrying about traffic, you can get that baguette, cheese, and bottle of wine and bike with the wind in your hair to a beautiful spot to enjoy your very French picnic. The restaurants are small but good and you can enjoy some shopping for local goods too! Check out La Bar Beau Teint for some really delicious food. thumbnail_IMG_8632

Check out islands for a day trip or longer, the pace of life is often slower, and culture different than the mainland. Islands are a great way to enjoy, relax and really savor your getaway.

British Good Eats, Fact or Fiction?

Bangers and Mash? Give it a try and you won’t be sorry and possibly just possibly, a convert.

British food has a bad reputation. Not a completely undeserved one either (read below for the lasagna story). Seriously it is either fried or brown, sometimes both. In all honesty they have a sauce that they literally refer to as brown sauce. But, well done British food can be quite spectacular in taste and in its place on the world culinary scene. A fact I would not have found out until I visited. @benton8tor is British and is a foodie despite his love for fruit pastels a British ‘candy’. And despite my British heritage which has manifested itself in a hatred of roast beef, @benton8tor insisted that I have an open mind about British food before traveling to England for the first time. ‘OK’ I agreed in theory, certain I would be proved right along with all the internet trolls, turns out British food is more interesting, tastier, complex than I originally thought.

I have visited England 10 times. I have been told to try the obvious: fish and chips (meh), Sunday roast (pass), prawn cocktail crisps (surprisingly tasty chips), bangers and mash ( even more surprisingly delicious if strangely named sausages and potatoes). Here are my recommendations for the top 5 British food must trys… because if like me, you can shed your preconceived judgy notions, you will be very pleasantly surprised and maybe even astounded at the amazingness of British food.

5. The Scotch Egg – Ok not my favourite but wholeheartedly @benton8tor’s all time favorite, the Scotch Egg is Scottish in heritage. You take a soft boiled egg, wrap it in Sausage meat, coat in breadcrumbs and deep fry. Scotch eggs range all the way from on the go snacks you buy at Marks and Spencer on the way to the tube to high end gastro pub fare. Either way, it is worth a try. (So I am told)

4. The Full English. If you see this on the menu, it means a full English breakfast full of eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, bread, fried mushrooms, fried tomatoes, black pudding (which you will give to @benton8tor) and sometimes potatoes. It isn’t the healthy choice but it is the delicious choice! So don’t miss out. thumbnail_IMG_8514My dad and I love to find a pub, order the full English breakfast and tea and just enjoy. @benton8tor in recent years has stopped ordering the full English. When I asked why, he told me my dad and I rarely finish everything so if he ordered breakfast and finished both of ours, he wouldn’t be able to eat again. It should be worth noting a English breakfast is extremely filling!

3. Bangers and Mash- Ah the aforementioned sausage and mash potatoes. It seems like it would be fairly standard but British sausages are surprisingly diverse and delicious. Cumbrian and Lincolnshire sausages tend to be my favourite. They are diverse in Ingredients nd flavour but always deliver. Vegetarian sausages are readily available and also quite tasty. Sausages who knew?? Also the Bear and Staff just off of Leicester Square offer some very good sausages . The best we have tasted where at the Queens Head in Askham Cumbria and at a variety of pubs on the Ilse Of Wight.

2. Meat Pies- Whether the traditional British Cornish Pasty ( a pastry containing, minced meat, potato, onion and turnips) or a baked meat pie the combination of pastry, meat, and sometimes gravy or potato is intoxicating. No doubt it is  the quality of ingredients that make these pastries sing but they are truly truly tasty. Served in pubs, restaurants or in small town the post office, try a meat pie today. @benton8tor swears the best Cornish pasty he ever had was from the lunch counter in the post office in Kirkbride in Cumbria.

  1. Ploughmans Lunch- When I first saw the ploughmans lunch on the menu, I was all WTF? but turn out a Ploughmans (named for serving farmhands during the workday) is cheese, bread, Branston pickle (if you are North American, not a pickle but some sort of uber yummy brown paste?), pickled onions and sometimes ham 040and boiled eggs. British cheese is vastly underrated. The British produce some of the tastiest  cheese there is from Red Leicester to Shropshire blue to sage Derby to Cheshire it is amazing!!! Seriously try it as soon as you can. I guarantee it will knock your socks off!

I have obviously omitted favourites such as fish and chips. I know I know but fish and chips are readily available and offered everywhere. The result is often mediocre fish and chips unless you know where to go. Chicken Tika Masala is also not on the list, . Although a part of British cuisine today, I still think of it as an Indian dish but you can get good chicken tika masala allover England. Steak, sticky toffee pudding, fish pie, pork pie, trifle and crisps should also be on the list. thumbnail_IMG_8512As should lamb with mint sauce. High tea will be its own post and seriously my favourite British tradition and food ever. So So so good. like amazing, out of this world good.

Be wary of ordering Italian food in pubs, stick to restaurants. Up in Norfolk, needing a change of pace, In a pub, I  ordered lasagna. It was made with gravy and served over chips. I am still perplexed as to why this happened.

That said, fresh fish at a pub can be amazing. Look for independent pubs like St Stephens Tavern in London that serves the best cheese sandwich ever. Like so tasty that you can’t believe something as simple as a cheese sandwich can taste that good and you have to stop yourself from going there for every meal because you can’t actually eat a cheese sandwich for every meal good. Or any food at the Blacksmith Arms in the Isle of Wight.

England loves its Sparking wine, in particular Champagne though Proseco is also easy to find. I in particular love that as why shouldn’t a ploughmans lunch be accompanied by a glass and/or bottle of Champers? But to only drink wine would be to ignore England’s reemerging ale scene. In fact many of the pubs such as the Bree Louise are part of the real ale campaign, which is hankering back to providing local craft brews on tap and not mass market beers owned by conglomerates. The ales are often interesting, diverse, and can please any palate. The are unique and unlike other beers you will taste.

As well English Whisky as in the English Whisky Company in Norfolk is producing some complex and multifaceted whiskys, Well worth a try at a fraction of the cost. Norfolk is @benton8tor’s birthplace. Though he doesn’t make lasagna with gravy.

So to summarize English/British food often suffers from a bad reputation that is undeserved. An open mind and an empty stomach in England can ensure you have a fabulous culinary experience. Bangers and Mash? Give it a try and you won’t be sorry and possibly just possibly, a convert.