Category Archives: Luxury Travel

French Wine Tourism

Romance and Wine in the South of France

Exclusive for Vagobond, story and photos by Linda Kissam

International Wine Travel

Many of us think we need to travel to Paris or Champagne to experience what France has to offer in the way of wine travel. I’ve been to both, and they were great for family holidays, but I find the small, less known wine regions featuring family owned wineries to be much more intriguing.

There’s a story behind these out-of-the way spots that call to the soul of people who love wine, food, and the soft adventure activities that support that mindset. And if you seek the unique captivating sense of discovering a rock star in the making, then I guess I now have your attention.

I often receive wine samples to review. I love that, but the true test of understanding a wine is to visit where it is made and to get to know the people who made it. As luck would have it I received an invitation from one of the most influential and visionary French vintners — Gerard Bétrand – to visit him on his turf – in the South of France. I would be his guest for 4 days to experience the food, wine and jazz Bétrand style.

Who could resist that invitation? Not me. In a few short days, I was off from San Diego, California to the South of France (SUD) to taste SUD wines as they are meant to be experienced. Follow along my friends and then recreate this trip for yourself.

I’ve interviewed my share of winery owners, winemakers and growers. Some have passion for the wine, some have dedication for the business of wine, some for the pleasure of wine…and then there are those that have the vision not only for the wine they make, but for the place that wine comes from. It does not take long to understand that I was in the presence of a man who could easily be called a wine visionary for the South of France. The man, his wines, and his wine region have presence, passion, and potential oozing from him.

Wine Travel in France

Gérard Bertrand owns five estates in what many consider the best wine regions of the Languedoc: Château Laville Bertrou, Domaine de L’Aigle, Domaine De Villemajou, Cigalus, and Cháteau L’Hospitalet. Each features its own terroir and wine program.

While I was fortunate to visit three of those Chateau’s, my main focus was on Château l’Hospitalet. Lying between Narbonne and the Mediterranean on what was once an island, Château l’Hospitalet Gérard Bertrand’s headquarters is comprised of 978 hectares of moorland and 82 hectares of vines in a beautiful sea-view location in the heart of the Coteaux du Languedoc – La Clape appellation.

It is 2.5 miles from the sea and 4 miles from Narbonne’s center. This facility is the perfect spot to base your 3-4 day exploration of the region. It is the third most visited tourist attraction in the region. The top two are the old city in Carcasonne and an African themed safari park. Those of you who favor or support Eco Tourism will be glad to know Mr. Bertrand has adopted a strict carbon neutral sustainable approach to his vineyard management while offering eco-friendly wine-tourism related activities.

The regional character of the Chateau L’Hospitalet will charm you. It’s Mediterranean hip, edgy and comfortable all rolled into one. Enjoy the pleasant atmosphere of the small modern bistro, the comfortable dining room, and the lounge bar for relaxing breaks and (in season) smokin’ jazz evenings. I especially appreciated the luscious meals and snacks made from regional products (olive oil, olives, jams, honey, etc.) The restaurant serves Mediterranean cuisine and premium wines. Unwind in the comfy lounge bar armchairs, enjoy some music, and taste some Tapas along with a glass of premium regional wine.

French Wine Tourism

Chateau L’Hospitalet has 38 spacious rooms accommodating 2 to 4 people. The hotel is set on a large property overlooking a small park-like area, gardens, and vineyards. All rooms feature lovely amenities such as spacious beds and flat screen TV’s. You’ll enjoy the swimming pool and the short walk to the tasting cellar. Get adventurous and take a hike up the hill for a breath taking view of the sea and surrounding vineyards.

Château l’Hospitalet definitely is a wine estate with a strong sense of self based on hospitality focusing on the Mediterranean lifestyle: cellar visits and tasting of course, but also make time for to explore the art exhibitions, crafts workshops and an annual jazz festival on the first weekend in August showcasing the facilities at the Château. Try booking your visit during the August Jazz Festival (held at Chateau L’Hospitalet) if you can. If it’s booked, try one of the local hotels located on small waterways and beaches where you can become part of the local scene. Don’t expect big fancy accommodations. Think small family friendly vacation rooms.

Barrels of Wine in France

A key focus of my short stay was a 3-day pass to the International Jazz event. Located on the Chateau’s property, the event is designed entirely to promote ecotourism. Five concerts, 6,500 attendees, 5 gala dinners on the Chateau’s gorgeous grounds, means this is THE place to be the first week of August. A typical night’s schedule includes a 7 p.m. tasting, 8 p.m. Mediterranean dinner created by some very talented chefs, a 10 p.m. concert, and a midnight after party at La Cave ? Jazz. Wow does not do this justice: spectacular maybe, or once in a lifetime perhaps.

This was their 8th annual festival, so I would expect it to go smoothly, but this was more magical than smooth. Think premium wines (I actually got to taste a 1936 Gérard Bertrand Rivesaltes- bottle 623 of 869), French food at its most local and finest, vineyards everywhere, the waft of sea air, a big French moon, and the most glamorous people ever as my dining partners.

Jazz Night in France's Wine Country

The Jazz talent is handpicked each year by Gérard and his team. He told me he tries not to repeat any act so that each year guests can look forward to something new and exciting. Each performer had their own vibe and that made each show an experience in itself.

What wine travel adventure would be complete without a discussion of the wines? The wines bearing the Gérard Bertrand signature share a common identity: balance and elegance, they truly express the thoughtfulness of the winemaker and the South of France terroir.

There are 4 levels or ranges to meet the needs of the different markets:
1. Vins de Pays and Varietal Wines: pleasure guaranteed
2. AOC wines for more character and complexity: culture of flavor
3. Great wines: experience the emotion
4. Natural Sweet Wines and Sparkling Wines: region’s softer side

Gérard Bertrand wines win tons of medals bearing testimony to the consistent quality of his products. Awards include: the Paris Agricultural Show, the official reference in French quality wines ;the equally-prestigious Brussels Concours Mondial ; the Grands Vins de France Competition in Macon, Vinalies “OEnologues de France”, the Blaye Bourg International Wine Challenge, the Wine Challenge (UK and Japan), and the Anivit National Vins de Pays Competition organized by the Union of French Oenologist.

French Wine Tourism

As nice as it is to have all those words of praise from your peers, the true test comes in the hands of the consumer. Trust me; you’ll love any one of them no matter where you are on your wine journey – novice to aficionado. On a warm French evening under a romantic moon my favorites included Cremant de Limoux Brut, Natural Grenache (Organic), Cigalus blanc, and the yummy Gerard Bertrand Banyuls. These are great value wines and can be found worldwide. Conclusion? You haven’t completed your wine journey – be romantic or more pragmatic – until you join Gérard in the South of France at l’Hospitalet to experience his vision of ecotourism as you groove to sweet & sassy Jazz, dine in culinary excellence, drink inspired wines from sustainable vineyards, dance under French moonlight, and be pampered at the l’Hospitalet hotel. Check out the Gerard Bertrand Web site for other interesting events like the L’Art De Vivre in June and the exquisite Truffle Hunt in December. A vote santé!

cruise ships off of Santorini ccImage courtesy of Nunavut on Flickr

Escape with Mediterranean Cruises in 2014

If you ask any seasoned travel expert what the most popular cruise destination is, chances are they will tell you that it is the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean has long held this esteemed position in the cruising world, and it does not look like it is going to give up its reign any time soon. Sure, some people are more inclined to go cruising in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, preferring sunny deck chairs and umbrella drinks to Europe’s historic landmarks and ancient port cities.

cruise ships off of Santorini ccImage courtesy of Nunavut on Flickr

Not every traveller wants a cultural holiday, and sometimes the frivolity of sun, sand and surf is exactly what the doctor ordered. On the other hand, not everyone likes the beach and blazing ninety-degree days. For them, a two-week trip to the tropics is like a journey through the rings of Dante’s Inferno. In the end, the Mediterranean has more diversity, and this is what makes the region such a huge draw.  There are some great deals on Mediterranean Cruises. Give them a look over if you’re planning on visiting the Mediterranean, you might find a suitable package faster than you’d think.

So Many Countries, So Little Time

The Mediterranean not only offers abundant amounts of sunshine and tranquil waters, but you will have the chance to get your passport stamped in numerous countries. Many of the world’s best tourist sites are located in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean. In a sense, the Med is like a highlight reel of the best that Europe has to offer. Whether you are embarking on a honeymoon or taking the kids on their first European holiday, cruising is an organized and affordable way to see the sites. From romantic Venice and Felliniesque Rome to glitzy Monte Carlo and Barcelona, cruising is the easiest way to see the world.

The Western and Eastern Med

Spain, Portugal, France and Italy are the major countries in the Western Mediterranean, and these countries have some of the busiest cruise ports in the world. What makes the Western Med so popular? There are stunning beaches, glamorous ports of call and all of the big sightseeing attractions are easily accessible. In other words, one day you are sunbathing in Nice and gambling in Monaco, and the next day you are visiting the Trevi Fountain in Rome. In the Mediterranean, diversity is the number one attractions.

Cruising in Style ccImage courtesy of Theo0023 on Flickr

While the Western Mediterranean may be more popular amongst travellers, the Eastern Med is not without its charms, especially if you want to beat the crowds in the middle of summer. Highlights in the east include Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Malta and Croatia. The beach resorts in the east are more laid-back that their western counterparts, and the cities, although less travelled, are every bit as magical. If you have never climbed aboard a cruise ship or visited the Mediterranean, make 2014 the year of the cruise.

York Romance

Romantic Britain : 4 Valentine’s Getaways for Romance

by Tom McShane

We all know that Valentine’s Day is kind of a big deal – 141 million cards are exchanged worldwide and, in the UK alone, more than £1.3bn is spent each year on cards, gifts, flowers and chocolates. And while romantic preconceptions we all have would conjure up images of fine dining at the top of the Eiffel Tower or gazing into each other’s eyes while slowly making your way down the Venetian waterways in a gondola, there are many equally romantic Britain holidays to be had too.

Perfection needn’t require jetting off hundreds or thousands of miles away and this latest guest post, supplied by touring caravan supplier The Caravan Company, runs through four of the best choices to ensure a successful Valentine’s.

1. Stratford-Upon-Avon: Soak up the culture
Of all the historic towns and cities in Britain that are responsible for the growth of culture, Stratford-Upon-Avon is perhaps the most important of them all. Famous for being the home and birthplace of William Shakespeare, the town has been a hub of British theatre, culture and history ever since – and the variety of unique things to do make it an absolutely perfect location for a Valentine’s getaway.

Romantic Britain

The traditional and historic charm of the town has changed little, with countless shops, restaurants and tea rooms boasting the quintessentially historic British Tudor style. Shakespeare’s birthplace is a fascinating insight for couples interested in history, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is a hub of theatrical culture for those dying to check out a show performed on these historic boards, and the town centre is perfect for dining in either classic British restaurants or something a little more international.

2. Cornwall: Explore the Cornish coast
A far cry from the stereotypical British seaside getaway, Cornwall swaps piers, fairground rides and suspiciously difficult arcade games for miles of picturesque coastline, rolling moors and countryside, and quiet beaches.

Cornwall Romance

Cornwall Romance

You can opt for quintessentially British hotels further inland or, for a truly coastal experience, stay right next to Millook Haven Beach – a picturesque piece of Cornish coastline surrounded by imposing cliffs and boasting a remote and solitary luxury beach hut.

The hut is relaxing and features traditional amenities like log burning fires, and is perfect for a private and unforgettable Valentine’s.

3. York: The Romance of UK history
Britain is renowned for being steeped in history, with countless key moments contributing to a rich and varied past, and nowhere is this truer than the city of York. From Roman settlers and Viking invaders through to Tudor era, industrial revolution and the modern day, York’s history is apparent throughout the entire city.

York Romance

Whether it’s taking a humbling walk through the awe-inspiring York Minster to gaze over the city from its top, exploring the tight winding pathways of the medieval streets known as The Shambles or enjoying a romantic meal at the countless independent restaurants that are abundant in the city’s centre, there’s something for everyone.

4. Talacre (Wales): Relax in a luxury Caravan park
Now, bear with us on this one – when you’re looking for romantic getaways, not least luxury ones, then a caravan park isn’t exactly what might first spring to mind, but the Talacre Beach caravan park, situated on the tip of the North Welsh coast, is not like any other site in the UK. The site boasts an absolutely amazing range of luxury facilities, including fixed lodges for sale too, that will make your romantic coastal getaway unforgettable.

Romantic Britain

Relax in the pool, enjoy fine food in the restaurant or unwind in the evening with some drinks in the modern bar or the exclusive over-21s lounge – this trip is bound to change your view on caravanning!

This guest post was written by Tom McShane – UK-based blogger, writing on behalf of The Caravan Company, who are the UK’s largest supplier of touring caravans.