The few people on my flight scattered as soon as we landed; I took full advantage of a totally empty airport to wander its halls – as I don’t know when I will ever have the chance to ever do this again on this continent. The last few times I was here, tour guides holding up signs were greeting hundreds of arrivals, the place was so packed like is so common at airports in Europe in the summer.
I had a number of wineries to visit on both the ‘left bank’ and the ‘right bank’. I immediately discovered that winery owners and winemakers were really happy to see a foreigner, in most cases the first non European visitor they had seen in 18+ months. It was equally strange walking through completely empty streets in the villages of Saint-Émilion and Bages – hamlets that are normally swarming with tourists during the spring and summer months.
By far the most difficulty I encountered were the challenges of finding food – the country had a curfew at 7pm. I can’t stand fast food but at times these were the most convenient and only options – even those places closed by 7pm and several nights I found myself scrounging for cheese, crackers and anything edible from the hotels. Supermarkets were open and I loaded up on groceries when I could.
Highlights were a revisit to one of the most intriguing wineries on the planet, Chateau Pontet-Canet and visits to Chateau Lynch Bages to see their brand new very impressive cellar, Chateau Fonplegade and up in Cognac, the impressive Tesseron Cognac with one of their aging rooms being a former crypt that dates back to the 12th century. Oh and the Tesseron Extreme, an extremely rare and coveted bottling of Cognac containing vintages 100 years old (the youngest) back to 1853. If a drink could ever be called life changing, this one would be a serious candidate for that proclamation.
Later in the trip, I drove through the gorgeous Pyrenees – the only extended sunshine I experienced the entire trip. The days felt alive here – with visual combination of either white snowcapped mountains, bright blue skies and the green vitality of spring. I made a point to spend a little more time in this part of the country – stopping by cold clear flowing mountain creeks.
I also made it down to the French Riviera – did you know there is a beach next to Saint Tropez called Tahiti Plage (Tahiti Beach) with little wooden Polynesian carved statues scattered about. And staring at the gorgeous water, it almost felt like I was back in Tahiti about 6 months prior. People were already in the water swimming despite being so early in the year! And despite the circumstances, people were out and about in a big way – traffic was backed going into and getting out of St. Tropez for at least 1.5 kilometers in each direction!
Highlights in this part of France were a visit to Chateau Saint Marguerite for their lovely rosé wines, Domain de Vassal (a grapevine experimental nursery which provided the Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache bud wood for a variety called Marselan, was of interest to me because I am planting this variety along with a friend, and Department 66 Winery in Maury – a gorgeous town with old vines surrounding the town growing on rocky hillsides.
I felt very priveledged to be in Europe traveling during this time. And due to the people, properties, and timing – this was one of my best trips to Europe. Ever.