Saturday, December 31, 2011

Another day out from Aix en Provence.... a la plage!

Cassis is a small fishing port just over 30mins drive from Aix.  Motorway almost all the way, which means one gets there quicker.

It does not have the same glamour and large yachts as St. Tropez. However it is probably more like what that port was like prior to Brigitte Bardot!
It is a great place to go to for the day or as an overnight short trip.We found a great place to stay there,
Chez Nino with windows overlooking the port. We had the 2 windows at the top of the red part, which one enters from a small cobbled street behind!

It has a fantastic Michelin rated restaurant!  Great food, good choice of local Cassis wines and views!  We can definitely recommend the Domaine du Paternel wines which we discovered there!
Ask for a table at the window (outdoors in summer months)!!
The rooms are simple but comfortable.

And the night-time view from our room was superb!!

The following morning's drive up the Cap Canaille was also a drive to be remembered.....

But was better experienced before lunch which we had at the Michelin starred Villa Madie.

  This is to be recommended for its fantastic food and also its location and views.

It has 2 restaurants.... the very expensive one and the (slightly!) less formal part with a great lunchtime menu at a very reasonable price! We have eaten at both and can definitely recommend both, although the expensive part is very expensive!! But worth it as one gets to sit outside and admire the view/ambience.

And no visit to Cassis would be complete without visiting the Calanques.

The Calanque de Sormiou has an interesting restaurant Le Lunch at water's edge

 but one definitely needs to recover from the drive down if going by road! Not advised to stop as one might not have the courage to continue!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Day out from Aix en Provence( with an Irish influence!!)

We were amazed to find that the Chateau La Coste in La Puy St Reparade, about 15 to 20 mins north west of Aix had been bought some years ago by an Irish man and was now open to the public since May/June 2011 and is a very Hip place to go in the area!

Its an amazing find!  He wanted to have a special place where Art and Architecture could come together and so invited many of the best names in the WORLD to come there, explore the beauty of the landscape, choose a spot and come up with a creation!

Now it means that one can go for a 1 hour to 2 hour hike(depends on how many stops you make to take photos/admire the view etc!!)

 and view art/sculptures by well known names!

It is owned by Patrick(Paddy) McKillen, friend of Bono, part owner of The Clarence, Dublin and Claridges, London and he bought it, apparently, because his sister lives in Aix!!
There are plans to build a 28 room hotel.... but that is in the future! Now it has the hike, the cafe overlooking water and the possibility of hearing a concert in Frank Gehry's music pavillion.

As the place only opened to the public this past summer they have only as yet had one concert. However they do plan on having others in the future.......U2 perhaps!??!! Definitely worth keeping an eye on!

And the lunch there was great! Food and location!

Its beginning to be written about.  The New York Times had an article about it in September.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Irish Presidential election week!

We decided to go over to Dublin for a few days and were very happy with our choice of hotel, the Fitzwilliam. It had the advantage of being on St.Stephen's Green, so there was a beautiful park just across the street. And it is at the top of Grafton Street with its great department store Brown Thomas
(think Harrods  in Dublin!) and the trendy boutiques, cafes and restaurants in the Powerscourt Center.

The lobby of the hotel with its fire was a great place to meet with people....

 there is a great reading nook to enjoy the newspapers...

 and we enjoyed the quirky photos in the rooms!

 The Citron restaurant within the hotel was fantastic, and the staff were very patient with young children at the table!! And as it was raining so much we were very thankful to be able to stay indoors for the evening!
In fact we can thoroughly recommend the hotel in terms of location, comfort of rooms, extremely helpful staff and the food!
We also tried 2 new restaurants.... there seems to have been a chef swap which has taken place!
Conrad Gallagher is now installed at the Art Deco SLH La Stampa hotel...........and one of its prior chefs  has moved into the premises Conrad occupied  on Aungier Street and opened his own restaurant!
We tried both! The Whitefriar definitely wins in terms of ambience! The Dining Room/Tasting Room at La Stampa was a tad formal and subdued!  But we were there for the pre-theatre priced dinner... so a little on the early side!  But as we had flown in from France we were operating as though it was one hour later!!  But we definitely preferred the food at the Whitefriar Grill!

Weather was, as it often is in Ireland, well, RAINING!!
But everyone was out shopping anyhow. This is one of the few places we have found in Europe with all shops open on Sundays!  They have embraced the American 24/7... almost!!
The following day had more rain in one day than it usually has in one month!!

And after 21 years of having a female President at the helm the Irish have finally got a male one! 

Friday, November 25, 2011


We decided to return from  Switzerland with a stop in the Barbaresco wine area. Lunch, we decided, should be in Laglio on Lake Como....

in hopes of running into George Clooney, who has a lakeside home there! ( Supposedly he likes to dip in the lake with fellow actors/actresses and we were hoping!!!) Needless to say we did not see him!  But probably went past his home!

We had lunch at the restaurant La Locande del Cantiere which may have been fairly close by!

It was fine for lunch but their photographs of their location relative to the lake leads one to believe that they are overlooking it! They are....... but the main lakeside road is in between!!! No problem... we enjoyed our lunch there!
Then on to our hotel near Barbaresco, after a brief stop in Asti ( which was OK.. we didn't feel we were missing anything by not staying longer!!).
We chose this particular hotel because we have had Barbaresco wines in the past and have liked them! Knew nothing really about the area!
Al Vecchio Tre Stelle  was more a roadside inn with rooms than a hotel in its own right!!

 However we were very surprised and delighted to find that the food was wonderful!  The dining room was completely full for dinner, almost all Italians! The bedroom was rather outdated, but had a certain charm!  And a fantastic view over the vineyards.

It was also very close to Alba where we had decided to spend a day...
They also own a boutique hotel in Alba, the Palazzo Finati which we might be tempted to try next time!

While in Alba we found that it had a surprising 'outlet'....... Missoni!!  I was delighted to find that it was open on a Sunday, but only because of the Donkey Palio(!) which was being held that day.

Before you go rushing off to Alba for Missoni! was still very expensive!! But about a third of normal prices! And had definitely more choice for me than the Prada 'outlet' south of Florence! This seems to have become a size 2 and has a 'young girl' orientation! Some years ago I bought a lot there. This year nothing! However I had better luck at Missoni!! The people at Missoni, Alba were not too enthusiastic about the quality of the Missoni clothes now being marketed by Target!
We ate at a Michelin rated restaurant in Barbaresco the second night, the Ristorante Antine

 and wished we had stayed in the hotel!! It only had  people  at  3 of its tables...  and no-one was Italian!! And the food.... it was OK good, but not exceptional!  We definitely had better food on the prior night! And were annoyed with ourselves for not staying in for the second night!!Also we were definitely not too impressed as to how they handled the wine.  The red was only opened after a long time.... sitting there being watched (diligently!) by us!! And trying to catch their eye to open it!!And it wasn't as if they were exceptionally busy!! And we were in Barbaresco!!!
The local Enoteca for their wines was interesting!

They obviously decided they had one church too many and it would be more productive selling their wines!!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Palio degli Asini, Alba

The Donkey Palio is held the first Sunday of October each year in Alba and is very enjoyable to watch. Many of the donkeys are assigned only on the morning of the race to each rider....

so they don't have too much time to become acquainted with each other!  Which becomes obvious when the donkeys are unwilling to run! And show how stubborn they can be!

In fact many of them seem to want to get rid of their riders as soon as possible!

The judges........

sit in the middle of bales of hay....  and assign points!  For performance???

And the award at the end, the Palio, is given to the winner by the Medieval judges, the Bishop having by now totally fallen asleep!!

Alba's Medieval Festival

We chose to stay in the Alba/Barbaresco area because of its wine.  However quite unexpectedly we found that we were spending a weekend there when they were holding a medieval festival and a donkey palio! It is always held on the first Sunday of October, just after the wine week and before the truffle fair. October is obviously the time to visit Alba!!

Our first view, when we entered the square with the Duomo.....

Then we started seeing people in medieval dress.....

                            Who were throwing their flags in the air!  And catching them!

Wandering around the streets was fun, one never quite knew what would be around the corner!

We then found out that in the afternoon there would be an enactment of life in times gone by. Each ward were putting on a show and the best performance would win.

 One ward's celebration of time's gone by!
 And a more elaborate performance!
 And wine is to be revered!!