Saint Barthélemy 2016: Nikki Beach

Gustaf III Airport




Our last day in St. Barth’s. We lounged around the villa pool until noon and then drove to Nikki Beach, next door to Eden Rock, for lunch. We had just ordered when the couple from Beaune entered the restaurant. “We meet again,” they said. We continued our conversation about the Burgundy wine region as though it had never ended when we parted company at Bonito the night before https://patkrapf.com//2018/11/08/saint-barthelemy-2016-anse-de-colombier/

We bid the Beaune couple goodbye and left the restaurant. Pleasantly full on sushi, sashimi, and dessert, we made a final sweep of the shops and went back to our villa to pack for the flights home. We hope the island will bounce back from hurricane damage soon, and we would gladly vacation in St. Barth’s again.

For the plane ride from St. Barth’s to St. Maarten, we had booked a charter flight on St. Barth Commuter. At the airport in St. Jean, a representative from Welcome Car Rental greeted us and wheeled our roller bags to the charter desk. Our pilot introduced himself, and soon we were soaring out of Gustaf III Airport on our way to Princess Juliana International.

I asked our pilot how long he had been flying. Needless to say, the airport on St. Barth’s requires special training for landings and takeoffs. He answered, “Six months.” Six months? He went on to specify six months with St. Barth Commuter. Prior to that, he flew as a bush pilot in the Congo. That impressed me and I relaxed, even though he put the plane on autopilot and checked the Garmin on his dashboard. Really? You need GPS for a ten-minute flight? He overshot the runway and immediately explained that he had to line up the aircraft for the right approach; landing at Princess Juliana International takes as much skill as landing on St. Barth’s.

We arrived early in St. Maarten, only to be notified that our plane needed a part from Puerto Rico and the aircraft was en route. The forty-five-minute delay passed quickly and we boarded, but once we arrived in Miami we had to practically run to our gate. Customs had cost us precious time, but we made it, and three and half hours later, we touched down at DFW right on schedule. Interested in seeing what landing in St. Barth’s is like? Check out this YouTube video by pilotdynan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PTzJE8l9BEhttps:// 

November 29, 2018: Love Your Photoblog. Great Travel Blog.

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Europe 2013: The Beaune Ramparts

Beaune Ramparts

Thursday, our last full day in Beaune, we planned to wander the town, see the ramparts, lunch at Ma Cuisine, then relax for the evening as we geared up for our Friday drive from Beaune to Avignon, about a three-hour trip.

One of the gates to the Beaune rampartsDrizzle misted us as we stepped outside of Le Cèdre and strolled through the gardens around our hotel before we set out for town. We began our tour of the defensive walls at Bastion St. Martin, which was built during the Thirty Years’ War (1637). Then we continued on to Tour des Dames, one of four towers built in the early sixteenth century. The tower gets its name from the nuns of the Cistercian abbey, but all traces of the Bernardine convent are now gone. This section of the ramparts used to be a popular walkway for Beaune’s rich. It was a pleasant, peaceful stroll with two-hundred-year-old sycamores towering overhead, their thick canopy sheltering us from a light rain. We continued at a leisurely pace from landmark to landmark until we had seen all of the battlements, bastions, moat, and the wash-house (the Lavoir), built in 1887 at the foot of the ramparts. We stopped at the laundry next to it, which is still in use. Bouzaise River resurfaces from under BeauneHere we also saw where the Bouzaise River resurfaces after disappearing under the Hôtel-Dieu. By now, we had pretty much come full circle on our self-guided tour of the ramparts, so we headed for the Parc de la Bouzaise to work up an appetite for lunch at Ma Cuisine.

Tucked down a cobblestoned alley off the main square, the French bistro was a bit difficult to find, but we soon located it and ducked in shortly before they closed for lunch. We made our way to the last available table near the back of the restaurant and settled in for a relaxing meal. The small operation, which seats approximately twenty-five, was run by a husband-and-wife team. He waited on the tables, and she cooked. We ordered a glass of burgundy from a rather extensive wine list, impressive for such a small establishment. And they had a good offering of wines by the glass. We ordered beef bourguignon. Delicious. We passed on dessert and braved a steady rain as we headed straight for our hotel, where we stayed for the rest of the rainy day, catching up on news from home and updating my travel log.

Model of the rampartsFor dinner we snacked on an assortment of cheeses and breads, and sipped a good port. In the short time we had visited Beaune, I had developed a fondness for the town and was a bit sad to say goodbye, but Avignon beckoned.

Rain fell as we left Beaune and headed south for Avignon on the A6 motorway, ironically nicknamed the Highway of the Sun. We left the verdant vineyards of the Burgundy wine region behind and cruised into Chalon-sur-Saône. From here we motored through the Saône valley south to Tournus, and into Mâcon. We were now at the southernmost terroir in the Burgundy winegrowing region known as the Mâconnais, a landscape of hilly pastures and woodlands renowned for its white wines produced from the chardonnay grape. The area is also serious beef territory, as was evident from the handsome Charolais white cattle that grazed peacefully in the green fields. In Mâcon we followed the Saône, a tributary of the River Rhône, until it joined the Rhône in Lyon, just south of the Presqu’île (peninsula), in the heart of Lyon. In Lyon, we picked up the A7 motorway to Avignon and arrived in the town just as the sun peeked out, a good omen.

After we parked in the subterranean lot, hauled our luggage up the stairs from the underground parking area, and located our hotel, Mercure Avignon Centre Palais des Papes, we were content to simply relax and unpack before we changed for dinner at L’Essential.

We arrived at the restaurant long before the Friday evening crowd, and since there were only two other couples dining, we couldn’t figure out why the service was so slow. This would be the case throughout the entire meal. The couple at the table next to us leaned over and said, “We’re still waiting for drinks.”

There were two three-course prix fixe menus, so Dave ordered one and I ordered the other. For starters, we had foie gras and egg with a black currant jelly, and a melon gazpacho. For mains, Dave ordered red mullet served with roasted artichokes and a stuffed zucchini flower in a truffle broth. I had the spicy duck breast in a rich orange sauce. Dave had macerated strawberries for dessert, and I had the chocolate trio. The fish was delicious, but the duck tough. Before dessert arrived the restaurant became quite crowded, and the service slowed even more. By the time we left, over three hours after our 7:00 p.m. reservation, two large groups had entered the restaurant.

Saturday morning we decided to brave the rain and see the town but only made it to Monoprix, a ten-minute jaunt from our hotel, before the skies unloaded. Monoprix is a major French retail chain similar to the old Woolworth’s stores in the US or today’s Walmart. We scooped up rain slickers and umbrellas for us both, then browsed the aisles. I was checking out store brands on one aisle, names I hadn’t seen since I lived overseas, when Dave said, “Look what I found.” He was beaming. In his hand he held two washcloths. None of the hotels we had stayed in so far had washcloths, and I knew this would be the case from past trips, but we had forgotten to pack any. In France they call them gant or glove. They are made of terrycloth like a washcloth but are sewn like a mitten with no thumb, and slip over your hand. “Get two more,” I told him before we headed to the cash register.

By the time we left Monoprix, the rain had stopped, but halfway to our hotel it started to pour again. Although we were wearing the rain slickers, our jeans and sneakers were drenched by the time we reached our hotel lobby. So we headed straight to our room to change into dry clothes. We waited for the weather to improve, as we wanted to visit Arles, but it showed no signs of letting up, and the skies didn’t clear until early evening, in time to walk to dinner.

Fou de fafaFou de Fafa is a small restaurant that only serves dinner, has only twenty-six covers, will only seat four per table, and when we ate there, offered only one seating per night. Reservations are a must, and book well in advance. As we approached the dark red-and-white exterior, the first thing I noticed was a sign in French: “Totally booked for the evening.” I turned to Dave. “It doesn’t mean us,” he said. “We have reservations.” Just then the door opened and we were greeted by a pleasant woman with a British accent who showed us to our table. The interior was modern, and the decor red and white, simple but tasteful.

Over drinks, Dave told me a British couple owned the restaurant: our hostess, Antonia, and her husband and the chef, Russell. With only one person serving, I anticipated another slow service night, but this was certainly not the case, and Antonia had a relaxed demeanor about her that made us feel neither rushed nor neglected. By 6:45 p.m. every seat in the restaurant was occupied, and Antonia was interrupted at intervals to ask if the restaurant really was totally booked.

For dinner you could choose from a starter and a main, or a main and a dessert, or a starter, a main, and a dessert. I began with salmon tartare with honey, soy, ginger, and fresh coriander. Dave had the goat cheese croustillant with sun-dried tomatoes and black olive jam. For mains, Dave ordered sea bream with saffron cream, fresh vegetable salad, and crushed potatoes. I couldn’t resist having two of my favorite dishes on one plate, so I ordered the pan-seared duck breast with strawberry and balsamic vinegar, served with risotto. For dessert, we enjoyed banoffee pie with banana, caramel, whipped cream, and shavings of dark chocolate. And a vanilla crème brûlée. A delicious meal, and a most memorable evening.


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Europe 2013: Day Two in Beaune

Day two in Beaune. I tucked a rain jacket and umbrella into my backpack and was ready to face the elements for our all-day excursion into the Burgundy wine region. We had hired a local guide for a private tour of some wineries, as well as to provide a deeper understanding of the oenology and the geology of the Burgundy region. Having lived in California for decades, we were both familiar with our local wine regions, so we weren’t new to viticulture or winemaking in general, and while Dave was well-versed on French wine production, I was not. And, I soon discovered, unlike at most wineries in California, you can’t simply stop in for a tasting and a purchase at any French winery you choose to visit.

Our guide met us at our hotel, and we sped away to downtown Beaune, just minutes away. As we walked through the narrow streets of this charming town, she gave us a brief history of Beaune and pointed out significant landmarks along the way. One sight that caught my attention was a model of the Beaune ramparts, which we planned to explore the next day.

We arrived at our guide’s office and settled in for an in-depth discussion on viticulture and vinification, and she was certainly a wealth of knowledge on both subjects. During the hour-long talk we tasted wines from various villages in the Côte de Beaune, which gave us a better grasp of just how important the terroir is to wine growing and how it affects a wine’s taste. The terroir is the symbiosis of grape, soil, climate, vineyard placement, and the human touch, all rolled into one.

“Now we will go on the ground,” said our guide. As an avid gardener, I hoped this meant what I thought it did, and I was right. We drove through the countryside, stopping at intervals to feel the soil in which the grapes grew, learning hands-on about viticulture and how geology impacts wine growing. A side note: 95 percent of all wine produced in the Burgundy region, from Dijon to Lyon, comes from two specific grape varieties: pinot noir and chardonnay.

From the Côte de Beaune region in the southern half of Burgundy, we retraced our route north to the Côte de Nuits. Ninety-five percent of the wine produced in this district is red, predominantly from the pinot noir grape. The most famous and most expensive come from the  grand cru vineyards of Vosne-Romanée and Chambolle-Musigny. The remaining 5 percent is white, but the white wine mecca of Burgundy is really the Côte de Beaune region.

Clos de Vougeot wineryOur first stop in the Côte de Nuits was the Clos de Vougeot, a wall-enclosed vineyard (clos) with a 125 acres under vine. It is the largest single vineyard in the Côte de Nuits that’s entitled to the grand cru designation; a wine of the most superior grade. The vineyard, like so many in the region, was created by the Cistercian monks. The land was either purchased or donated. In 1336 a wall was built around the vineyard, and in 1551 a château was added. During the French Revolution, all vineyard possessions were confiscated and sold to private buyers. In 1818 the château and vineyards were purchased by Julien-Jules Ouvrard and remained a monopole until his death. A monopole (monopoly in French) is an area controlled by a single winery and can be as small as a vineyard or as large as an entire appellation. An appellation is a legally defined and protected geographical indication used to identify where the grapes for a wine were grown. Also note that, unlike in most of the world’s vineyards, single ownership is rare in Burgundy.

After Ouvrard’s death, Clos de Vougeot passed to three heirs but continued to be operated as a single property until 1889, when the heirs sold and the vineyard was bought by six Burgundy wine merchants. This was the first time the land had been subdivided since the creation of the vineyard some seven hundred years earlier. Over the years, the holdings have been progressively subdivided by inheritance or sales, and as of the early 2000s Clos de Vougeot is now split among eighty-six owners. These producers either make cuvées under their own brands, sell their grapes to vintners, or both. And with its array of owners, Clos de Vougeot is arguably one of the most diverse sources of pinot noir in the world.

Next, our guide explained how much the soils can vary even within this 125-acre tract. The soils around the château are chalky and gravelly oolitic limestone and therefore have good drainage. Those in the middle part of the vineyard are soft limestone with clay and some gravel, resulting in moderate drainage. The bottom part of the vineyard is humus-rich alluvial clay and is flat, making for poor drainage.

What about appellation laws and regulations for the French wine industry? I won’t even attempt to go into this, only to say the industry is heavily regulated, and some of your best fine wines are produced here, allowing you to cellar them for years.

Later, when I commented on the size of Clos de Vougeot—large for the region—our guide said most grand cru sites are closer to thirty-five acres, with the average being eleven acres, so the clos is indeed a large grand cru vineyard. And after I checked prices for some of the wines produced in this region, approximately $200 to $3800 per bottle, I can see why Burgundy isn’t popping corks to draw tourists to daily wine tastings. You can, however, plan in advance and make an appointment to tour a specific winery, such as Maison Louis Latour or Louis Jadot.

As I walked through the grounds of the Château du Clos de Vougeot, I was amazed by the tall, sweeping roofs that almost touch the ground, and I marveled at the giant wine presses built by the Cîteaux monks.

My head was still buzzing with wine facts as we approached our last stop of the day—Gevrey-Chambertin, the largest wine-producing village in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or district. While our guide answered the few remaining questions Dave had on viticulture, I took in the scenery and soaked up some rays. The sun had finally appeared to warm the day.

Abbaye de la Bussiere receptionLate in the afternoon our guide dropped us at our hotel, and we immediately prepared for our drive from Beaune back to Dijon, about a fifty-minute trip, as we had dinner reservations at Abbaye de la Bussière. As we wound our way through the Ouche valley, the countryside picturesque and unspoiled, we were glad we had our GPS to guide us. We turned onto one, then another country crossroad and kept going until I was certain we were hopelessly lost, but we soon spotted the Burgundy Canal and knew we were on course. We followed the river, and before long there appeared before us a grand gateway. The drive curved past willow trees and a duck pond, and Shetland ponies grazed on the grass. We parked and were escorted into a main hall.

The front of the Abbaye de la BussiereAbbaye de la Bussière is a Cistercian monastery built in 1131 by Stephen Harding, an Englishman, of the Cistercian Order at Cîteaux. Following the French Revolution, the monks were expelled and the property sold at auction. It remained in private hands until it was returned to the Catholic church in 1921 to serve as a spiritual retreat. In decline and decay, the church decided to sell the abbey in 2005. Today it is owned by the Cummings family and is an exclusive boutique hotel set on fifteen acres of parkland with a lake and a botanical garden. The abbey is surrounded by historic vineyards, Gevrey-Chambertin being one of them. There are sixteen guest rooms, all lavishly decorated, and fine dining is in the main abbey building, a cathedral-like setting with honey-colored stonework, traceries, ornate staircases, and stained glass windows that cast soft turquoise light on the vaulted ceilings and walls.

Stained glass windows from the abbey, the original onesThe abbey’s main restaurant is in the former refectory. Seated at a table tucked into a corner, we settled in for a most memorable meal. For starters I ordered the escargot, served with a garlic-suffused green risotto topped with goat cheese foam. It came in a tapered parfait glass, the green risotto at the bottom topped with the goat cheese foam, and in the center of the topping the escargot. The presentation was as delicious to view as the dish was to eat. Dave ordered the crayfish and smoked eel with a candied quail egg on marmalade tomato and anchovy cream. For the main course, I had trout served with basmati rice, capers, golden raisins, and herbs. The whole grilled trout was expertly filleted at our table. Dave ordered free-range pork, morels, and roasted potatoes, with a light emulsion of green pepper and rosemary. For dessert, we selected our favorite cheeses from the cheese trolley and sipped an excellent French port.

As we drove away from the abbey, I wondered what the Cistercian monks would have thought of the monastery today, knowing no vestiges of their strict monastic orders of self-denial, seclusion, and silence remain today. But it was a fleeting thought, as it was obvious that the Cummings have gone to great effort to successfully restore the abbey to it glorious medieval self and are carrying on the Cistercians’ passion for surrounding themselves with peace and natural beauty, which kept the monks close to the earth of which God had made them stewards.



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