Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bubbly, Blue Cheese, and many Baguettes

Colmar & Epernay, France: June 22-June 24, 2011

Miguel and I were headed north to the famous Champagne region. This area is peppered with small towns known for their champagne, desserts and local fromageries. We were excited to view the vineyards, learn about the specific process of producing champagne, drink REAL bubbly, and stuff our faces with a variety of fresh French cheeses.

To add to my excitement I was going to be able to see one of my dearest friends from childhood, Andrea Thorton. Andrea and her family currently reside in Germany and she was willing to make a 5-hour drive to join us for dinner. I jumped at the opportunity and was thrilled Andrea was willing to be so generous with her time…she is a wife and mother of three!  Even though Andrea and I hadn’t seen each other in 10 years, we continued right were we left off! We didn’t miss a beat. She looked amazing and just how I had remembered her. Thank you Andrea….seeing you was a highlight!!!
"Old" Colmar...felt like we were in Germany
Cheers to great friendships!

Colmar's famous son, Frederic Bartholdi architect of the Statue of Liberty
One of our favorite spots of our Champagne region tour was the town of Epernay. Here we found the famed Moet & Chandon and Dom Perignon production sites.  Many other champagne producers share the same residence and the cellars are housed right below (literally) the main street of Epernay. Thousands upon thousands (the actual total number is a secret) of champagne bottles line the underground. We were told the value of the underground is worth more than what lies above ground.

Sunflower fields for my mom!

In Epernay and the surrounding areas are the famed vineyards that produce local and internationally distributed champagnes. Many of the smaller production sites only supply France with their bubbly beverage. We got the chance to visit Dom Perignon’s tomb, tour vineyards, and visit the cellar of Moet and Chandon/Dom Perignon. During our cellar tour we learned why the cost associated with the drink is so high. Champagne is produced using 3 kinds of high quality grapes grown only in this region. The Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier grapes are used to give the specific color, fragrance, and taste.  The grapes are hand picked and harvested once a year. The actual production process is VERY specific and takes years to complete. After all of the romancing of the product I wanted a bottle. I was told the most economic way to purchase champagne, specifically Dom Perignon, was to buy a Magnum sized bottle. On average (depending on the age of the D.P.) the cost is $8000. I laughed and said, "No, Thank You!"
Tomb of the famous monk, Dom Perignon, who accidentally invented his world renowned drink  
Interior of the church

I loved this lazy dog....he had too much champagne.

Enjoying some Champagne in Champagne
The gorgeous vineyards

Home of Moet & Chandon and Dom Perignon
There are over 36 KM of cellars!

Aging Champagne

Finally found a bottle big enough!

Aging Magnums of Dom Perignon
After we satisfied our champagne craving we began our search for cheese. Miguel and I both have a true love for ALL kinds of cheese. We found multiple fromageries that provided tastings at no cost! We would try 10, purchase 4, grab a fresh baguette, and voi la dinner is served. Top cheeses found: Strong blue cheese, hard goat cheese, and creamy Munster (not be confused with the American version).
Inside an amazing fromagerie

Not only did we truly enjoy our cheesy treats, but it was also a very cost effective way to eat. On average we spent $7 on cheese and $1 on baguettes. We loved this budget friendly meal plan because our time in France was getting so expensive. After the ridiculous high cost of toll roads (we spent over $350) and $9/gallon on gasoline…we were thrilled to find something delicious and affordable!

All in all, our visit was worthwhile and delicious! We ate and drank our way through Northern France. It was fun, educational, and truly divine. Northern France is a great area to explore the culture through your stomach! I would recommend it to any food-loving traveler! Bon App├ętit!


Saturday, August 27, 2011

From Crappy to Happy

French Riviera: June 14-June 22, 2011

Poor Miguel and his terrible travel day! I felt so badly, but I must admit I was happy to not be the one with the tummy problems for once. He finally got a taste of the misery! I reminded him at least he wasn’t stuck on a Chinese train with no toilet paper!

We ended our 12-hour drive in the beautiful “Old Town” section of Nice. We were walking distance from the famous promenade that runs parallel to the equally as famous stretch of rocky beach. Even though we were exhausted we were so excited to explore our new digs.

Shops in Nice
I loved the narrow streets

The main harbor that houses the beautiful yachts

The sights we passed on our way to the beach
We rented a one-bedroom apartment for a week and were so thankful to have a fully equipped kitchen.  A refrigerator, stovetop and oven are so rare in our daily lives, that I welcomed them with open arms! I have never wanted to cook my own meal so badly.  We quickly filled the refrigerator and our bellies with delicacies of the region and were ready to plan our daily adventures.
You know you're in France when you walk down the street with a baguette
We have learned (the hard way) that it is imperative to rest. We are constantly moving and finally made time for some much needed R&R. The French Riviera is the perfect spot because it is lined with many different beaches and sweet seaside towns. So, each day was spent finding the perfect beach spot, bringing a picnic, and lounging all day long. I’m a professional relaxer….I’m very good at it, but Miguel reached his peek in the Riviera. This place some how helps even those self-proclaimed non-relaxer types to unwind. It’s the laid back, go with the flow, enjoy yourself attitude that takes a hold of your spirit the second you arrive.

Our favorite spot for watching the sunsets
The packed rocky beach of Nice
The restaurants of Old Town
Sandy beach at Villefranche
Our favorite section of beach was the glamorous Tahiti beach in St. Tropez. We really didn’t know what to expect, but heard great things. When we arrived and parked our Ford C-Max we were in the company of almost all Ferrari’s. Miguel was so excited…I think I heard “THIS IS AWESOME!” like 10 ten times.  I was a little nervous to hit the beach….I wasn’t sure what kind of set-up we were going to find, but to my surprise it was the most unpretentious pleasant beach we found on the Riviera. It was full of couples, families, girlfriends, and buddies drinking beers. The atmosphere was so relaxed and everyone was having a great time. We spent “another day at the office,” enjoying our spectacular views and savoring our fresh baguette sandwiches.

Miguel's dream garage

Our delicious homemade baguette sandies!
Miguel gets an A+ for relaxing!

One of the many private helicopters that landed behind the beach...dropping off beach goers. 
Getting my nap and tan on...
Entrance to the BEST BEACH EVER!
Streets of St. Tropez

Many sailboats line the harbor in St. Tropez
Our favorite one...beautiful!
We spent the evenings watching the glorious sunsets over the ocean in Nice and then after heading for coffees or cocktails in the city center. The main pedestrian street is lined with multiple restaurants, coffee shops, bars and it’s the BEST people watching ever! It is full of the “see and be seen” and is so fun to watch! Everyone is tan, full of jewelry, and ready to party.
Every sunset looked like this....all just as pretty as the next
I will always be thankful for our week in the French Riviera! Miguel and I had such a great time. We relaxed, we ate, we drank, we celebrated my handsome husband’s birthday, and we had the opportunity to just play! It was wonderful and much needed. Summertime in the Riviera is a must and so sensational!!
The typical mode of transportation
Monte-Carlo Casino
One of many fountains:) 

Monaco Harbor

The beautiful residential area of Monte-Carlo