May Day in France
Growing up, the first of May was celebrated by placing bouquets of flowers on people’s doors, well the neighbors we liked. I don’t really know where this tradition came from, but that is what we did. I do know that its origins date back to Roman and Celtic times and was a celebration of the beginning of the growing season. Now in Europe it is Labor Day and a national holiday in most countries celebrating the rights of workers and the 8-hour workday.
We are headed to the heart of the Bordeaux wine region today and will not be impacted by the holiday, both lunch and dinner reservations are secured. Today also marks the halfway point of our trip. We will shortly be in Brittany and the primary focus of our retirement home search in La Rochelle and Brest. So far, we have four potential cities we could live in: Carcassonne (from our 2019 trip), Millau, Figeac and Brive. Later this year we will be spending three weeks in Spain to research potential cities there, Tarragona (no he wasn’t named after this city) being the leading candidate so far. The goal is to
have picked a place by the end of the year.
Speaking of Tarragon, this is the first big trip we have taken since his passing. We can’t help but think of him often and miss our daily photo/video from our cat sitter showing that he was doing all right. We had hoped that he would make the move to Europe with us, as he would have loved the smells and fresh air of the countryside.
Breakfast at the hotel in Brive was very good, the owner actually baked the pastries (not the bread but other tarts and the like), in addition, there were scrambled eggs, bacon and all the standard fair, even some crepes to add your own goodies too. The coffee was very strong, especially since he came from one of those fancy machines that you press a button and it makes espresso, cappuccino, café au lait, etc. I had two strong cups.
The drive to Saint Emilion was just under two hours, overcast most of the day. The last 30 minutes before we arrived at our lunch destination, was nothing but vineyard after vineyard. Lunch was at Chateau Grand Barrail Hotel & Spa.
A beautifully Chateau, that I am guessing is not really original, looks far to new. It was still a nice setting for lunch in wine country. There was a bond on the grounds with ducks, swans, and the loudest frogs we have ever heard. The swans were obviously very comfortable as they were sound asleep on the ground under a tree and not in the water.
When we were first seated there was only one other table, by the time we left it was packed. Before I get to our lunch, it is time for my first Rant of the trip. (It will not be the last, keep reading there is another on coming later in this same blog.)
We are not fashionistas, but we know how to dress appropriately. To us, if you are having lunch in a Chateau that is part of a 5-star hotel, you should dress appropriately, not a tie & jacket, but dudes, sweats and t-shirts are not acceptable. And ladies, your spanx and way to tight joggers are not appropriate either. Is it really so hard for men to wear slacks and a collared shirt and women to wear a nice pair
of slacks and blouse. The very sad thing, these were not Americans, they were the actual French. We haven’t really even run into another person from the States since Lyon.
That over, lunch was really good. Jerry had a very simple leek salad with a citrus vinaigrette and a bit of cheese on top. I started with the pork terrine of the day, very nice and finished with Armagnac. The mains were also very nice, I of course decided to ware some of mine. I had herb incrusted cod with a really good carrot mousseline, guess which part ended up on me. Jerry had a really moist and flavorful chicken thigh on top of a crispy potatoes cake, which was on a bed of confit onions. We each had a different glass of wine, Jerry and Grand Cru Saint-Emilion (more on that later) and I had a very dry white Bordeaux.
After lunch we made our way to our wine tasting and tour. It was only 11 minutes away and we had at least 90 minutes to kill, so we just drove around the vineyards, taking pictures and enjoying the scenery. There were several bikers (not motorcycles) biking
through the countryside, the roads are pretty narrow so when passing them you hope there isn’t an on coming car, or someone isn’t going to fair to well.
Our tour and tasting were at 3, but we arrived a bit early and no one was there, so we just admired the great infinity pool that was outside the tasting room. Our host for the day was Baptiste, a very knowledgeable young man who also happened to be the vineyard manager. We learned quite a bit about the Saint-Emilion wine making process, the most surprising was that it was allowable to it to be made out of 100% Malbec, and still be called a Saint-Emilion. We were under the impression that it had to be a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet Franc. In fact, it can be 100% merlot. The traditional method is 70 to 80 percent merlot. The other very interesting fact was the Grand Cru basically means nothing in the Saint-Emilion region. It is not an indication of how good the wine is, but more to do with the age of the vines. Finally, 2015 was a great year for Saint-Emilion wines.
When we were
in the barrel room, we got a nice surprise we got to taste to wines right out of the barrel from the 2022 harvest, a merlot and a cabernet franc. In the tasting room we had three different tastes.
Just before the guide for our tour arrived, I got an e-mail from the place we had reserved 4 months ago for dinner. I confirmed 1 week out, as she asked, and at the last minute, she e-mails, or Its May 1 a holiday, we will only be open for lunch. Nothing like a bit of warning. She ended the message with thanks for understanding. Well (yes, the rant is coming) we did not understand, and felt it was a pretty crappy thing to do a few hours before our reservation, especially because it was a holiday, and it was going to be next to impossible to find something open at this late date. We did manage to find a place for tonight, but they were actually packed, (of course they are if you’re the only game in town) but said we could eat at the bar. We will see how that goes.
The only thing left was to
drive into the village and check in to our hotel. The entire village of Saint=Emilion is a UNESCO world heritage site. The streets are narrow and tourists everywhere. We were lucky that our hotel had parking in the back of the building and check in parking directly in front of the hotel. The front desk clerk was very friendly and helpful. To get to the parking area we had to take a little tour of the village to get back to the entrance, as the streets are mostly one way. The driveway and the entrance gate were very tight, but I maneuvered the care with out a scratch to the back parking lot.
The hotel really nice, has a huge garden area in the back and a pool. I would have loved to jump in (yes, we have our suits) but I do not have a really good body image at the moment and there were several other guests already enjoying. We di have one flight of stairs to hall the luggage up, but the room, it is almost as big as last nights. In fact, there is an adjoining room that you can only get to through our
room so it can be made into a family unit, with kids, or maybe Christina, in the extra room.
Our only remaining task was getting some water, which we luckily good buy at the bar downstairs in the lobby, and to find a place to eat. The front desk clerk (William) gave us several suggestions of which only one was actually open, Chai Pascal. He made a reservation for us, at the bar as I mentioned earlier. This is when we learned that because it is Labor Day, if you work you have to be paid double time by law. I guess they would rather forgo a bit of profit to avoid paying their staff more. Seems very French, well they are upset about having to work 2 extra years before they can retire all the way to 64.
At the moment, just finishing up the blog and then will get ready for dinner.
Karma has a way of working out just the way it is suppose today. Our original reservation may have abruptly been canceled, but we ended up at a much better restaurant for dinner. It was on
our initial list when planning, but for some reason at the time, we decided against it. Turns out, it was meant to be. It was just a quick two-minute walk, so we didn’t have to rush. When William made the reservation the only thing they had was at the bar, which was fine, at least we would get to eat. We started at the bar, but they moved us to a table in about 10 minutes after arriving.
The restaurant is owned by three different wine makers in the region but ran by a husband-and-wife team. They were both very friendly and she made the most perfect wine suggestion, a big bold 2015 Saint-Emilion, it went perfectly with our meal and most definitely was helped by decanting to mellow it just a tinge.
We started with the local sparkling, very light and refreshing. The amuse buse was a celery and probably pea soup. Tasting and again refreshing. Just as we finished the soup, they had a table ready for us.
We moved to the table and a few minutes later our first course arrived. As we dined, we watched couple after couple be turned away, as there
was no room at the inn. May day is certainly not the day to do the walk and find a place to eat and we were just lucky we got in at all. Jerry started with the perfect egg, what was lost in translation was that it was the perfect egg in a very light cream based mushroom soup, the richness of the egg yolk made it the best mushroom soup since Old Wives Tales Hungarian Mushroom Soup, in Portland (Oregon not Maine.) I had Squid with shiitake and chorizo, not your Rhode Island Calamari. Both were excellent, and the wine just set them off even more.
For our mains, Jerry had a duck Confit with a bit of foie gras, it was very flavorful, but the duck skin could have been a bit crispier. I had the lamb cooked two ways, a nice petite chop and braised, both melted in your mouth. Again, the wine (a Chateau Dassault 2016) was just perfect with the mains.
Dessert was The Strawberry, a cross between cake and strawberry ice cream, very good and the strawberries were, well, almost Oregon. Cherry had a crispy Chocolate Mousse, which turned out to be
the dish of the day, rarely does dessert get this honor.
Toward the end of dinner, it was getting a bit warm, so it was quite nice to step in to the night air and stroll back to our hotel. We did make a slight detour into the heart of the city for some photos, we just happened to walk by were we had a great lunch 11 years ago. To our horror, it turned out to be the place that canceled on us earlier in the day. Jerry walked down and discovered that they had completely gutted the inside and it was probably now run by new owners, so Karma was in fact looking out for us.
Now back in the room, with some wine and finishing up the blog. Tomorrow we are off toe Jarnac, the home of Courvoisier, perhaps Tim Meadows aka “The Ladies Man” will be there.
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