Sea, Seafood and Service in La Rochelle

La Rochelle also stood out for its service, beauty and food. If you are in the area or even if you are not, it is worth the trip.

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As more people know by now, I love France and its wine. Well love may be too weak of a word, Obsessed? Adore? all apply.  A friend once asked me why did I keep going back to France, as there are so many other places to see (she is right and I plan to see them) but my answer? There are so many places in France I haven’t seen. Which is true. Many people pick Paris, The Cote d’Azur or Bordeaux off and then are done with France. And there is so much more to see.

So back in 2014 on a visit to France, I decided I needed to see new parts of France. So we decided to see Paris (again), La Rochelle, Langedoc, And Burgundy (I know, I know but I added Bourg en Bresse so that was new) I can’t remember exactly why I picked La Rochelle except it was on the Bay of Biscay and close to Cognac for @Benton8tor.

So setting out from Paris, @benton8tor agreed to drive through France. I told him it was a 2 and a half hour drive. Sure it is closer to 4.5 hours but…Side note: Being slightly less truthful the time it take from point A to B is not advised. The driver can get a bit cranky that you sleep while they drive for hours. Arriving in La Rochelle, we immediately headed for the marina. The marina is beautiful as is thumbnail_IMG_7759the old city with its arches and interesting shops.I was excited for La Rochelle as I love seafood and it is plentiful! I have often visited seaside towns only to be disappointed by the  options available. Not so in La Rochelle where my only regret is that I didn’t eat more. Our first night we spent around the marina where there are restaurants galore. This can be tricky as many of them cater to tourists so you will need to watch for quality. We picked one which promised the freshest and best seafood. They didn’t lie.Our dishes were amazing. Well most of our dishes. @Benton8tor loves salt and thumbnail_IMG_7763often seasons his dishes before tasting as he assumes they haven’t added salt. On this occasion he did just that. as he starts to eat he tells me ‘ its good but a little sweet, I need to add more salt’ Which he does, and continues to eat it and complain about the sweetness. Finally after the third time he tries the salt shaker. Sugar not salt. The server was mortified, Ben was gracious and I just laughed and laughed, felt guilty and then laughed again. he had better luck our final night when we wandered away from the marina past the museum and found a wonderful little restaurant with lovely wines from Bordeaux and the nearby Loire valley and even more fabulous amuse bouches.

But there is more than just seafood in La Rochelle. It borders the cognac region to the southwest and Rochfort is a few minutes drive to the south. In La Rochelle Pineau is widely available. Pineau is an aperitif made with cognac and has a variety of flavours and is the aperitif of the Charentes Maritime region (LA Rochelle is the capital). I strongly suggest trying as many as you can! The flavour range from fruit flavours to sea salt and caramel. And if you are this close to Cognac, take a day trip. Only an hour away, Cognac is worth a visit and as I mentioned before Remy Martin gives one of the best tours available. http://www.remymartin.com/agegate/?u=/

We stopped at Remy Martin. Prior to that visit, @benton8tor was a Courvoisier cognac drinker. He says drinker, I said snob but you know potato/ potato. Afterwards he had a new appreciation/love for Remy Martin. Not only were the cognacs impressive, anyone working at Remy Martin from the chef, to the cashier to the tour guide has a love, understanding and passion for the cognac and the process of making the cognac. Some of the cognac was hundred of years old. Those cognac makers knew they would never get to taste the finished product that is now worth thousands on the market. Unfortunately that cognac is not included in the tasting but we tried!

Hennessy is also worth a visit.Not quite as luxurious a tour as Remy Martin it is still informative with great tastings. https://www.hennessy.com Cognac the town is easily walk able thumbnail_IMG_7762and quite beautiful. I had the best croque mousiuer sandwich in Cognac.

Back in La Rochelle, it is also worth noting that its situation on the Bay of Biscay makes for a fascinating boat tour. We booked a day trip to ile d’Aix Island. That is a blog for another time but I would say definitely take the tour. http://www.inter-iles.com/

La Rochelle also stood out for its service, beauty and food. If you are in the area or even if you are not, it is worth the trip.

Top 5 Alcohol Tours (non wine)

I have had many amazing non wine related travel experiences. Most of them involve musicals or food. Probably a lot of shopping (and pottery).And meeting amazing people. But sometimes they involve other forms of alcohol

Wines tours and tasting are my favourite part of travel. Recently I booked a trip to Portugal concentrating on Porto for its location in the Douro Valley wine producing region and for its Port Houses. Many of my friends who are Portuguese or have been to Portugal have lovingly described Lisbon, or Lagos or the beaches. I meet it with a blank stare and silent judgement, it simply never occurred to me to look elsewhere, wine is where it is at ( well wine and France, I did try to see if I could sneak in a quick visit to France but alas I will have to wait to next time. Next time better come pretty quickly). But as my friends are somewhat  wrongly quick to remind me, there is more to drink than wine. And it is true, I have had many  amazing non wine related travel experiences. Most of them involve musicals or food. Probably a lot of shopping (and pottery).And meeting amazing people.  But sometimes they involve other forms of alcohol. So I have put together my top 5 favorite alcohol tours (non wine).

5. The English Whisky Distillery Norfolk. https://www.englishwhisky.co.uk/. Located in Roudham Nofolk, United Kingdom, this  independent whisky distillery is one of 2 independents left in England.img_4810 We were visiting family back in 2015 and as anyone who has stayed an extended time with family, knows just how important a drink can be, so one day we ventured out and literally stumbled upon the English Whisky Company. We got a private tour complete with four tastings. I am not much of a whisky connoisseur so when I say I could actually drink it, that is a glowing review!!! That said I definitely preferred the Bailey’s Irish Creamesque Norfolk Nog. It was delicious! the staff were friendly and passionate about their product. It has a lovely gift shop as well. I bought my Scotch loving friend a whisky embossed bib for his baby. So thoughtful. @benton8tor actually bought him whisky and other more appropriate gifts.

4. Guinness Tour Dublin Ireland.https://www.guinness.com/en-us/                                  Guinness is synonymous with Ireland and should you find yourself in Dublin is well worth the visit. In fact I would recommend it as my top tour in Ireland, whether you like Guinness or not.

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@benton8tor with his perfect pint

I recommended it to my own parents when they visited Dublin and my beer hating mother took the tour 2 years ago and adored it! My dad adored it too and not just because he got my moms extra Guinness. The Guinness tour is fairly affordable at 20 euros a person. Upon entering at the St James gate location in Dublin, you will view the 9000 year lease Arthur Guinness signed. Dispelling the popular myth, Guinness is not made from water from the Liffey river but rather from the Wicklow mountains. The tour takes you through the beer making process and allows you to taste the roasted barley that gives Guinness its distinct flavour. But the favourite moment in when you get instructed as to how to pull the perfect pint of Guinness. After that you enjoy your perfect pint in the top floor cafe with 360 stunning views of Dublin. Fun fact, despite its filling flavour, Guinness has slightly fewer calories than skim milk or orange juice.

3. Tio Pepe Sherry Jerez, Spain http://www.tiopepe.co.uk/  Tio Pepe is one of the largest Sherry producers in Spain.

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The big barrel is meant to represent Jesus

I was hoping to try many of the smaller producers as well but alas, we ran out of time. However Tio Pepe is a lovely introduction to Shimg_4217erry. The highlights of the tours are the barrels saved for or signed for famous individuals and the truly stunning grape lined streets. The barrel room has barrels named for disciples at the last supper and arranged just so. The Sherry’s range from very dry to very sweet so there is something for everyone.

2. Beer Tour Munich It was only fitting in Munich, home of Oktoberfest and the beer purity laws, that we do a beer tour.Jared our guide as nothing short of amazing. I had a good feeling about the tour when I saw a guy in a vintage CBC t shirt and instantly knew he must be Canadian.thumbnail_img_6258 Turns out he was and was from a town quite near to where i had lived as a kid. Instant best friends at least for the next 2 hours. We started at the beer museum where we learned all about the history of beer in an amazing building.http://www.bier-und-oktoberfestmuseum.de/en We found out all about beer purity laws (what ingredients can go into beer), and finished with a tasting including dunkelweiss, weissbier, fruit beer and an ale. We then

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St Augustine beer

proceed to an authentic beer hall (hint not  hofbrauhaus) where we had authentic beer hall food and more beer!!! Both the beer and pretzels were terrific. After the hall, we proceeded to the actual hofbrauhaus for a quick view and heard about its storied, somewhat alarming and kind of gross history. We were then advised to cross the street to the better St Augustine’s brewer for a final beer nightcap, which we did and it was amazing.

  1. Remy Martin Cognac France.http://www.remymartin.com  If you want to know more about cognac, go to Remy Martin, If you want to feel fancy, go to Remy Martin, If you love cognac, go to Remy Martin. There are many reason to go to Remy Martin and it is my #1 choice for a reason. Not only is it set in beautiful palace like grounds, Remy Martin tours have the unique ability to make you feel fancy with out ever being condescending. You can know nothing and still love this tour. Unlike anywhere else with the exception of the wine producers in Burgundy, Remy Martin staff are involved, invested, in love with their product. They care about producing the best they can. In fact some of the producers know that the best cognacs they are producing, they will never live to taste, as those cognacs are aged for hundreds of years. (no I didn’t get to taste those ones) We learned all about the production, the cognac grapes, the angels share and the good luck of black mold on the walls in the cask room. Finally time for tasting. We learned about how different cognacs are prepared for different markets and what to look for in a tasting. My first tasting, my throat was on fire, all that artistry and I hated it. We were then given an appetizer prepared by the Remy Marin chef and told it will compliment the cognac. I tried my cheese appetizer and then bravely tried another sip of cognac. It was transformed. Effortlessly smooth and silky I couldn’t believe it was the same drink.@benton8tor who loves cognac considerably more than me liked all of it. We had some additional tasting of progressively smoother cognacs. Upon finishing the tour, we visited the gift shop and spent what I thought was an obscene amount on cognac, until i saw what I fellow tour mates spent. Where upon, I left the tour feeling like a much more informed and happy cheapskate.

There are many more tours that are excellent, so do your research, ask for recommendations or simply take a chance. The thing about tours like these is that the experiences and the feelings associated with the tour last a lifetime and you may just find a new interest. And that is one of the best gifts that travel can give.