Luxe Adventure Traveler http://luxeadventuretraveler.com Adventure Travel With a Glass of Wine Fri, 31 Jul 2015 17:19:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.3 How to Holiday on Italy’s Amalfi Coast http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/italy-amalfi-coast/ http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/italy-amalfi-coast/#respond Fri, 31 Jul 2015 17:19:46 +0000 http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/?p=66263 Luxe Adventure Traveler

Italy is filled with amazing ruins, museums and churches, but sometimes even the most cultured traveler wants a little sun and nothing to do but sip cocktails. That’s when you head to Italy’s famed Amafi Coast. It’s here that colorful fishing villages cling to the cliff side and cars, buses and vespas vie to get [...]

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Italy is filled with amazing ruins, museums and churches, but sometimes even the most cultured traveler wants a little sun and nothing to do but sip cocktails. That’s when you head to Italy’s famed Amafi Coast. It’s here that colorful fishing villages cling to the cliff side and cars, buses and vespas vie to get by one another on the road with 1000 bends. The honking and the plunging cliffs are stomach wrenching, but the views of the azure Mediterranean, the cool sea breeze and the incredible sea food make the traffic jams on the barely two-lane wide coastal road worth it.

Villa RufoloRavello

Ravello is my favorite of the towns on the Amalfi Coast. Set 350 meters above the other towns like Amalfi and Minori, many people never make the trek up. On one hand, it’s a shame because the views from Ravello are like no other. On the other, Ravello is a blissful retreat from the madness of tour buses and cruise ships far below.

Cannelloni at Cumpa Cosimo

Cannelloni at Cumpa Cosimo

Where to eat

Cumpà Cosimo is a rustic family-run restaurant that has regularly served the likes of some of the world’s glitterati like Jackie O. In the family for four generations now, it’s Netta Bottone that is at the helm of the kitchen. When we dined, Netta herself even delivered our second courses as she toured the restaurant to ensure all her patrons were happy. The menu changes according to whatever is in season and inspires Netta, but no matter what you try it is sure to be delicious.

We Recommend

Off the Beaten Path in Ravello

Cumpa’ Cosimo is sometimes closed on Mondays and reservations are essential. Via Roma 46, Ravello, 84010

Villa Cimbrone Ravello

Sipping Prosecco at Villa Cimbrone in Ravello

Don’t Miss

It’s no wonder that the rich and famous hole up at Villa Cimbrone. With its spectacular views over the Bay of Salerno, fabulous pool and romantic gardens, Villa Cimbrone is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in Italy. Don’t miss the Terrace of Infinity for one of the most jaw-dropping views on the Amalfi Coast (the other is from Villa Rufolo).

Villa Cimbrone‘s gardens and Terrace of Infinity are open to the public daily from 9am – sunset. Admission is €7 per person. 

Conca dei Marini

Perched on a cliff not quite as high above the sparkling sea as Ravello, Conca dei Marini is another quieter of the charming fishing villages. The small village is surprisingly home to a number of the Amalfi Coast’s most beautiful buildings, monuments and artworks. You’ll even find part of the skull of St. Barnabas the Apostle here, which is one of the most important relics of the Amalfi Coast

Conca dei Marini

Seafood paccheri

Where to eat

The Calajanara Restaurant has a stunning sea view terrace open in the summer months. While you never really get a sunset on the Amalfi Coast as the sun sets behind the mountains, the sky dazzles in shades of pinks and purples. Book a table for around sunset and feast on specialties like the seafood paccheri and stuffed squid.

 Calajanara Restaurant, Via Smeraldo 35, Conca dei Marini 84010

Don’t Miss

The sfogliatella is a pastry that was invented in the 17th century at the Monastero Santa Rosa when the now luxury hotel was a monastery. While you can find the pastries throughout the Amalfi Coast, there’s no better place to try one than in the very place they came in to existence. The secret recipe the nuns created is still used today.

Amalfi

The small beach at Amalfi

Amalfi

Amalfi is exactly the opposite of Ravello; sitting at sea level it is the Amalfi Coast’s busiest town. It’s so small that its hard to grasp that this village was once a maritime super power and an independent republic. Once home to some 70,000 people, you can now explore Amalfi from end to end in about 20 minutes. It doesn’t make sense until you learn of the earthquake of 1343 when most of the old town and its population simply slid in to the sea.

Where to eat

Walk to Pier Darsena and look for a boat that says Santa Croce. The free boat, which operates frequently between 9am – 5pm, will whisk you to the Santa Croce restaurant just down the coast and only accessible by boat or a very long staircase down from the main road. The menu changes daily based upon the fresh fish and ingredients available that day.

Amalfi Duomo

The Duomo

Don’t Miss

Dating back to the 11th century and sitting mightily atop a staircase, the Duomo (Saint Andrew’s Cathedral) is the heart of the village of Amalfi. You can visit the interior, richly decorated in golds of the late Baroque style and be sure to descend the stairs to the crypt where a tomb holds a portion of the relics of the apostle Saint Andrew.

Cetara, Italy

Overlooking Cetara from its tower

Cetara

Cetara is so different from the tourist ladden Amalfi and the elegant Ravello. This is what all of the villages must have been like when they were all traditional fishing towns. Tourism hasn’t got its grasp on Cetara yet and its the only town remaining with a working fishing fleet. The beach has just a smattering of locals on it mid-week and its blissfully quiet.

Acqua Pazza Cetara

Tuna carpaccio with kiwi

Where to eat

In Cetara the anchovy is king. Head to Acqua Pazza with its smattering of outdoor tables with a view of the beach and small port. I’m not personally a fan of anchovies, so thankfully the menu features other fresh fish like the tuna carpaccio with kiwi that I tried. But if you are an anchovy fan, this is definitely the place to try them. The small shop also sells anchovies and an anchovy fish sauce.

Acqua Pazza, Corso Garibaldi 38, Cetara 84010

Cetara, Italy

Enjoying lemon granita on Cetara’s beach

Don’t Miss

Amalfi has the best lemons in all of Italy and on a hot day, there’s nothing better than a lemon granita. Pop in to Bar Miramare just a few meters from the beach for a granita limone.

This #SalernoC2C Amalfi and Cilento Coast trip was provided by the Confesercenti Provinciale di Salerno in partnership with To Salerno in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own.

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8 Best Up-Close Animal Encounters http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/best-up-close-animal-encounters/ http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/best-up-close-animal-encounters/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 20:43:06 +0000 http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/?p=66217 Luxe Adventure Traveler

This week Cecil the Lion made news when American hunter Walter Palmer baited and killed Zimbabwe’s beloved human-loving lion illegally on private land. To say Tim and I are saddened and outraged in an understatement. We’ve been on safarai, and even if we hadn’t, we just can’t fathom how anyone could kill our majestic and [...]

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This week Cecil the Lion made news when American hunter Walter Palmer baited and killed Zimbabwe’s beloved human-loving lion illegally on private land. To say Tim and I are saddened and outraged in an understatement. We’ve been on safarai, and even if we hadn’t, we just can’t fathom how anyone could kill our majestic and endangered species like Cecil the Lion (or the polar bear, rhino, leopard and other number of species Palmer has killed) just for a trophy on their wall.

There are lots of ways to enjoy our planet’s wildlife, but there’s no need to bring home a trophy. You don’t need it. Trust me, the memories of up-close animals encounters will be as vivid as the day you had them for the rest of your life. And if you need something to bring home (or put up on social media for bragging rights) “shoot” as many animals as you want – WITH A CAMERA. To give you a little inspiration, we rounded up the best up-close animal encounters where you can capture plenty of braggable photogenic moments.

Serengeti National ParkLions

Where to find them: Serengeti National Park

When to go: Year round

How: By vehicle

The Serengeti is vast and has plenty of food for the King of the Beasts. We saw so many lions in our five days in the Serengeti that we lost count. They were everywhere. We saw them hunting, napping, playing, climbing trees and making a little love. We even heard them roaring as they called their pride to come feast on an elephant that had died near our safari camp. Elewana maintains two permanent luxury safari camps inside Serengeti National Park (Serengeti Migration Camp and Serengeti Pioneer Camp) and it is definitely worth a couple of nights at each.

Tundra Buggy®

Photo courtesy of Frontiers North

Polar Bears

Where to find them: Churchill, Manitoba

When to go: October – November

How: By Tundra Buggy®

The Churchill Wildlife Management Area is said to be the best place in the world to see polar bears up close. We have a number of friends that have gone on the Tundra Buggy® excursion and they’ve all seen polar bears. We, on the other hand, have been to Svalbard where the polar bear population outnumbers the human population and didn’t spot any. Frontiers North offers a Churchill Polar Bear Enthusiast 5-day trip with two full days of Tundra Buggy® excursions tracking polar bears.

Grizzlies at Brooks Falls

Photo courtesy of Katmailand National Park

Grizzly Bears

Where to find them: Katmai National Park, Alaska

When to go: June – September

How: By foot

We’re a bit bear obsessed and regularly watch the Brooks Falls webcam. Each summer grizzlies flock to the Brooks River to fish for salmon on their spawning run. The Brooks Falls webcam can provide us hours of entertainment, so no doubt having a front row seat on the viewing platform would be a thrill. The Brooks Lodge offers 1 – 3 night bear viewing packages and the lodge is walking distance from the viewing platform.

Stingray CityStingrays

Where to find them: Stingray City, Antigua

When to go: Year round

How: By boat

The highlight of our visit to Antigua was our visit to Stingray City. Southern Rays swim and feed on a coral reef in the crystal clear waters off the Caribbean island and speedboats whisk you out to it. We had an amazing time feeding the rays squid right out of hands. Their mouths are like vacuums that suck the squid right up.  Stingray City tours last about 4 hours and are great for both cruise ship passengers or visitors staying on the island.

Snow Leopards

Snow leopards at Norden’s Ark in Sweden

Snow Leopards

Where to find them: Ladakh, Northern India

When to go: Winter

How: By foot

You’ll need some clementine cake to bribe the warlords to pass in to ungoverned Afghanistan. Just kidding. But you will have to traverse the rugged Himalayas in Northern India to spot the most elusive big cat in the world. This one is truly for the adventurous as you camp in the Himalayas while tracking and searching for evidence of the cats. Natural World Safaris offers an 8-day Quest for the Snow Leopard safari.

Giraffe Manor

Photo courtesy of Giraffe Manor

Giraffes

Where to find them: Nairobi, Kenya

When to go: June – April

How: By foot

Giraffe Manor has a resident tower of Rothschild giraffes and it’s the only hotel in the world where you can feed a giraffe right from your bedroom window. The tower (the name for a herd of giraffes) lives in the 140-acre forest sanctuary of the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife’s (AFEW) Giraffe Centre and often visit the hotel in the morning or evening time looking for a treat. Of course, if you want to get up close with giraffes in the wild you go on safari, though none definitely came to eat out of our hands.

Happy #CaptionFriday everyone! Let’s start the weekend off with a laugh…what’s going on in this picture?From the passenger slideshow (name unknown) on our Explorers & Kings voyage, March 2014.

Posted by Quark Expeditions on Friday, May 15, 2015

Penguins

Where to find them: Antarctica

When to go: November – February

How: By cruise

Penguins are curious, often checking out the passengers that get to step foot on the seventh continent. If you sit quietly, the penguins might even crawl right in to your lap, poke at bootlaces or playfully pull your hair. Quark Expeditions, the leader in Polar travel, offers the option to camp on the continent and get up-close with a variety of penguin species.

Panda

Photo courtesy of Natural Habitat Adventures

Pandas

Where to find them: Chengdu, China

When to go: March – September

How: By foot

I couldn’t round out this list of the best up-close animal encounters without including another of our favorite bears. Sadly, there are only around 1600 pandas left in the wild and nearly half of their population can be found in the Minshan Mountains. This area of the world isn’t the easiest to explore on your own, but Natural Habitat Adventures offers a 12-day Wild Panda Nature Odyssey trip that includes time for getting panda hugs at Chengdu’s Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding and heading out in to the wild panda reserve to try to get a look at them in their natural habitat.

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5 Things to Do in Bucharest http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/things-to-do-in-bucharest/ http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/things-to-do-in-bucharest/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 19:14:04 +0000 http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/?p=65192 Luxe Adventure Traveler

Bucharest and I were like my college boyfriends. We had enough things in common to get along for a short bit, but somehow it just didn’t really work. It would never be true love. Frankly, I found Bucharest to be mediocre at best. The food was bland, the buildings were crumbling (and not in a [...]

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Bucharest and I were like my college boyfriends. We had enough things in common to get along for a short bit, but somehow it just didn’t really work. It would never be true love. Frankly, I found Bucharest to be mediocre at best. The food was bland, the buildings were crumbling (and not in a charming way) and it really felt like an over-congested city lacking much character (except for the 90-year old granny that nearly clocked me for trying to use a bathroom; now she was definitely a character).

Perhaps if I were a millennial backpacker in to the nightclub scene, I’d have had a better time. There were certainly no shortage of clubs serving up cheap drink where you could party until dawn. The smoke filled clubs and staying up until the sun rises (unless I’m Northern Lights hunting) just isn’t my thing these days.

Bucharest and I parted ways and, expect for a few bottles of good Romanian wine now in my collection as a reminder, the trip is already a faint memory. If, like I often do even when I’ve been warned off places, you still have the burning desire to check the Romanian capital off your list, here’s my round up of the best things to do in Bucharest (and read to the bottom for the bathroom brawling granny story):

Things to do in Bucharest

Looking out over Boulevard Unirii from the terrace of the Parliament Palace

Tour the Parliament Palace

Romanians proudly tell you that the Parliament Palace is the largest administrative building in the world…with a caveat. Technically, the Pentagon in Washington D.C. is the largest administrative building in the world. Romanians will argue that the Pentagon is actually multiple buildings and that the Parliament Palace is one building, ousting the Pentagon from the claim.

Either way, the Parliament Palace has been at the center of controversy since its construction from 1974 to 1989 when dictator Nicolae Ceausescu demanded that it only be built from Romanian materials. And while I found the tour of the interior mostly underwhelming (a lot of the tour is focused on the guide explaining exactly which part of Romania the marble and other materials used to build and decorate it came from), I can’t deny that the views from the Parliament Palace’s terrace are pretty spectacular.

Romania seems to have a bigger is better outlook. You can get a feel of that as you gaze upon Boulevard Unirii from the terrace. The boulevard was Communist Romania’s answer to Paris’ Champs-Élysées, though it is both wider and longer than its French counterpart.

Tours of the Parliament Palace are available daily from 10am – 4pm. The tour with terrace access via the elevator is approximately $9 USD per person. Reservations are required to visit the Parliament Palace and can be made by emailing cic.vizite@cdep.ro. You must present your passport when visiting.

Romanian Athenaeum

Romanian Athenaeum

Take in a Concert at the Romanian Athenaeum

Known for its superior acoustics, the Romanian Athenaeum is Romania’s most prestigious concert hall. It currently hosts the George Enescu Philharmonic. If you ever wanted to get dressed up to go see a philharmonic concert, this is the place with tickets for the best seats in the house at just $15 USD.

Check the philharmonic’s website for information and to purchase tickets.

Revolution Square BucharestStroll Around the Old Town

While I found most of Bucharest to be a crumbling mess of ugly Communist-era buildings, the Old Town was surprisingly charming. There are cute shops lining the pedestrian street Strada Lipscani, lovely churches and an assortment of cafes with outdoor seating where you can blessedly escape the blanket of smoke in the restaurants. You’ll even find a statue of Vlad the Impaler, who Dracula’s character was based off it, in the old town.

Don’t miss Revolution Square, where the former Royal Palace (now the National Museum of Art), Memorial of Rebirth and Library of the University of Bucharest are located. The square is also home to the building of the former Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party. It was from this building that Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife fled by helicopter on December 22, 1989. After Ceaușescu fled, the crowds in the square celebrated and it essentially ended 42 years of Communist rule.

Carturesti Carusel

Quiet on a Sunday in Carturesti Carusel

Carturesti Carusel Bookstore

My absolute favorite place I visited while in Romania was the barely one-month old Carturesti Carusel (meaning carousel of light) bookstore. Perhaps because I’ve been living in Italy for many years now, but this reminded me of the grand Barnes and Noble bookstores that I could lose a few hours in. Italy is seriously lacking in any bookstores I want to spend some time hanging out in. It’s located in a beautifully restored 19th century building on a lovely pedestrian street and it does carry books in English.

But not just books. No, I found an impressive selection of loose leaf teas and Romanian wines, as well as other cool gadgets and trinkets. There is a top level cafe that serves many of the loose leaf teas sold, coffees, drinks and pastries. I grabbed a book all about wine and relaxed for a few hours on a very quiet Sunday morning with a pot of tea and a green matcha tea crème brûlée (totally acceptable for breakfast) in the cafe. Oh, and did I mention the free wifi? This bookstore was definitely my slice of heaven in Bucharest.

Carturesti Carusel is open daily from 10am – 12am and is located at Strada Lipscani 55.

Peles Palace

Getting my first peek at Peles Palace

Gawk at Romanian Castles

While not in Bucharest, you can take a day trip from the city to two of Romania’s beautiful castles.

Bran Castle was at the top of my Romania bucket list and while the exterior and surroundings are striking, I much preferred Peleș Castle. It is considered one of the most beautiful castles in all of Europe, after all. The castle might remind you of German castles and that’s because it was built by a German prince who became King of Romania. The castle has over 170 rooms, though the hour long tour only takes you through a small sampling of them.

Each room is unique with the style mostly German Renaissance, but there are other elements from the Italian Renaissance, French Rococo, Gothic and German Baroque styles. I tend to skip the inside of most castles these days because if you’ve been in one, it’s like you’ve been in them all. But the eclectic mix of ornate mirrors, secret escape routes, armory and spiral staircases definitely kept me interested.

Sinaia Monastery

The “new” Sinaia Monastery

The surrounding area is also beautiful and the Sinaia Monastery is well-worth a stop. The monastery is comprised of two Byzantine-style churches, one from 1695 and a newer church built in 1846. The interiors reminded me quite a bit of churches we visited in Russia with their ornate paintings.

Bran Castle

Bran Castle isn’t spooky at all

Bran Castle is much older than the 19th century Peles Palace, dating from the 14th century. Of course, Bran Castle is famous as the setting of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, making it Romania’s number one tourist attraction. Even on a quiet April weekday when I’d hardly seen any other cars in the Romanian countryside, we arrived to tourists by the busload at Bran Castle.

Though I think Romania could really capitalize on the Dracula connection, there’s hardly a mention of the infamous vampire at the castle. It disappointingly looked like many castles I’ve toured in Europe. The castle was occupied by Vlad the Impaler’s family, but Vlad himself never even actually lived there. It’s sparsely furnished and a tiny exhibit of photos on one wall on the top floor mentions Hollywood’s fascination with Dracula.

While I had rushed through Peles Palace in order to have time to visit both castles, Peles Palace had far more interesting items throughout. I can’t dispute the beautiful setting of Bran Castle though.

Peles Palace is difficult to reach via the train. You can book a guided day trip to Peles Palace and Bran Castle with Click2Travel.

The Bathroom Brawling Granny

I was in Bucharest with a group on a media visit and there were about 30 of us. We had lunch at <insert name>, which is the most touristy restaurant in the city. Aside from the charm of the oldest building in Bucharest, just avoid it. The food was not good and the bathroom attendant made it a horrible experience for me.

The bathroom is located in another building in the restaurant complex, so I went with two other bloggers to use it before our walking tour. The first time I went up, a little old woman that I towered over (I’m 5’2″ by the way) stopped me in my tracks and told me “nyet.” I walked away since I thought she was going to clean it.

Standing 20 meters away or so in the courtyard, we watched for a bit. Finally some other people went it to use the bathroom, so the other bloggers urged me to go.

Off I went to the door the bathroom and the flower-smock wearing granny materialized in front of me again out of no where. “Nyet!”, she told me more forcefully this time. I pointed to the other people that had just breezed past in the bathroom and this time she forcefully shoved me backward. I was completely taken aback!

In the meantime, some of the other bloggers had gone off to get our group guide. Heated words were exchanged between him and the granny. Marching back over to me, Toma explained that I would not, under any circumstances, by using that bathroom. Thankfully there was a Starbucks across the courtyard and I was more than welcome to use their bathroom.

In the heat of the moment of a granny that had to be 90 years old getting physical with me, no one realized that she had been screaming “Nyet!” Nyet is Russian for no. We determined she must of thought I was Russian, even though I was speaking English (and really, what Russian is 5 feet tall?). Bitter much?

My #EnjoyBucharest trip was provided by Eventur Bucharest with the support of ARCUB, Bucharest City Hall , Blue Air and Intercontinental Hotel in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own.

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Sipping Saint-Émilion Grand Cru at Château Cantenac http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/chateau-cantenac-saint-emilion/ http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/chateau-cantenac-saint-emilion/#respond Wed, 22 Jul 2015 20:46:10 +0000 http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/?p=66095 Luxe Adventure Traveler

Bordeaux is France’s largest fine wine region in both production and vineyard acreage, with over 9000 producers and 60 Bordeaux appellations recognized by the AOC (the Appellation d’Origine Controlle). Saint-Émilion, both a town and appellation in the Bordeaux, has a history that dates back to Roman times and is the oldest still active wine producing [...]

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Bordeaux is France’s largest fine wine region in both production and vineyard acreage, with over 9000 producers and 60 Bordeaux appellations recognized by the AOC (the Appellation d’Origine Controlle). Saint-Émilion, both a town and appellation in the Bordeaux, has a history that dates back to Roman times and is the oldest still active wine producing appellation in the Bordeaux region. Naturally, I was disappointed to see that wine tasting in Saint-Émilion wasn’t part of my Viking River Chateaux, Rivers & Wine itinerary. Thanks to the powers of social media, a reader connected me with her friends who are wine makers and owners of Château Cantenac in Saint-Émilion.

My Viking River ship was docked in Libourne and Chateau Cantenac is well located on the main road between Libourne and Saint-Émilion, so AJ kindly picked me up for a visit to her family’s winery. I already knew from our Facebook messages that AJ, an American from California who studied wine making, had gone to Saint-Émilion to do her internship at Château Cantenac. It was there that she met and fell in love with her husband, the youngest son in the family business.

Château Cantenac Saint Emilion

Photo courtesy of Château Cantenac

On the short drive from the ship, she told me a little more about the history of their winery. Château Cantenac is actually owned by AJ’s mother-in-law, Nicole Roskam-Brunot. Though the winery dates back to 1870, it was in 1937 that the family acquired it.

Visiting Château Cantenac with AJ was a real treat. With her in-depth knowledge of wine making, I learned more than I had on all my winery visits in the last few years combined.

Château Cantenac Saint Emilion

The oldest vine at Château Cantenac

Though it was a misty morning, which is very typical for Saint-Émilion and excellent for the grapes, we had a wander around the vineyards. Now 15 hectares, Château Cantenac started with around just four hectares of vines. The average age of the vines used for production of Château Cantenac‘s Grand Cru are 35  and their oldest vine is 65 years. The expansion is important because even though older vines mean a higher quality production, as they age they also produce less yield.

Château Cantenac Saint Emilion

The concrete tanks date back to the original winery from 1870

AJ shows me the various types of tanks that they have at Château Cantenac. I’m no stranger to steel tanks, but I’ve not seen concrete tanks before. She explains that each type of tank has their own pro and cons. They utilize the concrete tanks during the fermentation process and the steel tanks for storing wine to top up the barrels during the aging process. The concrete tanks essentially never have to be replaced, though someone has to hop inside and manually shovel out the skins and seeds after the first fermentation. See how small that door is on the tank? I bet you can guess who gets that job.

Château Cantenac Saint Emilion

The barrel room at Château Cantenac

One of my favorite parts of a winery tour is the barrel room. AJ hasn’t even unlocked the door to the cellar yet and I can already smell the wonderful aromas. There’s just something about French oak and aging wine!

At Château Cantenac, the wine is aged in barrels for 12 – 18 months. And even this is a laborious manual process. The barrels have to be topped off from the “angel’s share,” or very nice way of saying evaporation. The sediment also has to be cleaned out of the barrels and the wine must be emptied out in order to do that.

After aging, several blends are made and the family gets together to blind taste test and decide the best blend for the vintage.

Château Cantenac Saint Emilion

It’s bottling day at Château Cantenac

I’m surprised to learn that no wineries in Saint-Émilion have their own on-site bottling facilities. All the chateaux work out a bottling schedule and a mobile bottling facility makes the rounds to each chateau for the bottling process. I’m in luck and Château Cantenac is bottling during my visit.

AJ pauses near the bottling truck to ask her husband if he’s set aside Imperial bottles, which are special six liter bottles. They’re bottling the 2013 vintage, the birth year of their eldest daughter, and it’s family tradition to produce some Imperial bottles of the vintage of each child’s birth year. They’ll open the bottles and enjoy them all together many years from now.

Château Cantenac Saint EmilionThe barrel room is a tease of what’s the come, and finally I get my opportunity to taste Château Cantenac’s vintages. We try the 2010 Château Cantenac Grand Cru, which is 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The percentages are representative of the percentages of grape varieties planted in their vineyards. 2010 was a really good year and produced an exceptional vintage. I couldn’t resist buying a bottle to bring home and it will be fantastic for drinking in three years.

Château Cantenac also has a label Selection Madame 2011, which is Nicole’s own label. It is 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet, the grapes were picked in 2011 and the wine was bottled in 2013. It’s great for drinking now.

Chateau Cantenac Saint-Émilion

AJ and I

Since my ship was sailing while passengers were out on excursions, AJ drove me to Saint-Émilion to meet back up with my assigned group for the day. She was even kind enough to show me a bit of Saint-Émilion, including where she got marries, and to join me for lunch. L’Envers du Decor in the heart of Saint-Émilion is a a favorite of AJ and her husband. We enjoyed Château Cantenac Grand Cru over a lunch of foie gras and steak.

I had a seriously fantastic day thanks to AJ’s hospitality! And while she doesn’t usually just pick people up, visits are possible even if  you’re visiting Libourne and Saint-Émilion on a river cruise by booking an appointment and taking a taxi. If you’re in the Bordeaux region, definitely don’t miss a visit to Château Cantenac.

Winery Visits
Tours and tastings at Château Cantenac are available by appointment in English, French, Spanish and Cantonese. Visits last about 1 hour and are 6 per person for 2 tastings or 9 per person for 3 tastings. Email reservation@chateau-cantenac.fr to make an appointment. The Wine Shop is open Monday – Friday from 9am- 12pm and 2pm – 6pm.

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Craco: The Crumbling Italian Ghost Town http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/craco-italy/ http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/craco-italy/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 22:45:47 +0000 http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/?p=66043 Luxe Adventure Traveler

Mounds rose up on either side of the deserted road. We hadn’t seen another car for well over an hour as we drove toward Craco, Italy. “It looks like Texas,” my Texan friend Leah Travels remarked. I haven’t spent much time in Texas other than to fly through Houston Intercontinental Airport, but it looked like [...]

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Mounds rose up on either side of the deserted road. We hadn’t seen another car for well over an hour as we drove toward Craco, Italy. “It looks like Texas,” my Texan friend Leah Travels remarked. I haven’t spent much time in Texas other than to fly through Houston Intercontinental Airport, but it looked like what I imagine the Badlands of South Dakota must look like.

Half expecting a tumbleweed to blow across the road, we weaved around the mounds for a while before eventually turning off on to a dirt road. A faded sign you’d miss if you blinked announced Craco was indeed in this direction. This wasn’t like anything I’ve ever seen in Italy or imagined the instep of Italy’s boot would like like. The coast and sea were a mere 25 miles away. I wasn’t too far off in my likening the mounds to the Badlands. They are called calanchi, meaning Badlands in Italian and have been formed by intensive erosion to the area.

Craco, ItalyRounding a bend, our first signs of civilization came in to view. A town stood majestically on a hill overlooking the valley, and from this vantage point you’d never know anything was amiss.

Craco, Italy

You can only visit Craco with a guide

Arriving at the village, which is quite literally under lock and key, you realize that all that is left behind is a shell of what was clearly once a magnificent hilltop town.

Craco is not open to the public because of safety concerns and because the homes are still privately owned by many of the families that were forced to abandon them between the 1960s and 1980. It is partially accessible on a guided tour, and a very knowledgeable guide named William even gives tours in English.

A Brief History of Craco

Our tour actually started in the small Visitor Center with a short history of Craco. It was founded in 540 AD by the Greeks who had moved inland in the Basilicata region. William told us he would point out some of the tombs that had been found dating back to the 8th century once we entered the town.

The buildings we see today above the tombs date back as far as 1060. A university was established in Craco in 1276 and the population grew from 450 to over 2500 by the 16th century. The town had been continually expanded and by the 19th century, it had reached its threshold of expansion. Little did the townspeople know the stress the expansion was putting on the hillside beneath their palaces, squares, school, cinema and shops.

Craco, ItalyThe Evacuation

This area of Basilicata has long been plagued by intensive erosion, landslides and earthquakes. But the urban expansion of Craco primarily caused the devastating landslide of 1963. The remaining 1800 residents that hadn’t already immigrated to America after dealing with the hardships of farming in the unstable clay soil were forced to leave their homes for safety reasons.

The displaced families moved to Craco Peschiera in the valley below. For years they were forced to live in tent cities while the government struggled to create housing options for them. The clearly visible hilltop Craco served as a daily painful reminder to what they had to hastily leave behind.

Exploring Craco

William unlocked the gate and we stepped inside, pausing briefly to put on hair nets and hard hats for our own safety. The hour long tour would take us along the exterior of the town and then inside it, climbing up to the highest point, the Torre Normanna.

Craco, Italy

The bakery

Within only a few minutes, we were peeking inside the abandoned bakery. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t scenes with furniture and machines left behind. It was then that I realized that this “ghost town tour” was something entirely different than I thought it would be.

Craco, Italy

A shepard passes through with his flock

As we walked, William told us the sad stories of the people that lived here. One man even refused to leave when Craco was evacuated and he lived out his days there until he was over 100 years old. Just as William pointed toward where the man had lived out his days, a shepard passed through with his flock of goats and donkeys. Another reminder that Craco became a ghost town really not all that long ago.

We continued on in to the town. Inside, many of the buildings have been completely closed off for both safety reasons and because thieves have stolen the ancient statues, frescoes and artifacts from inside.

Craco, Italy

Concerts are held in this spot to help fund the upkeep of Craco

I’m surprised to learn that even in its decayed state, Craco is host to concerts and other cultural events which help to bring in money to preserve the town. William points out a beautiful spot where outdoor concerts are held. As only 35 people are allowed inside of the old city at one time, I imagine the concerts must be intimate affairs.

Craco, ItalyAs we wander a bit following William from one beautiful viewpoint to the next, I can see why Hollywood has also embraced Craco. The town has been the movie set for scenes from Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, James Bond 007 Quantum of Solace, a handful of other Italian films, and commercials including a Pepsi commercial that was filmed just earlier this year.

Craco, Italy The old town in its various stages of decay might be perfect for a haunted Hollywood tale, but there are absolutely no ghosts here. William is adamant about it. He explains that up on the hill it is often windy, and the inevitable creaks and groans a slowly crumbling town makes have previous tourists spinning tales.

Craco, Italy

Stunning views of Italy’s Badlands from Craco

As we climb up to the Torre Normanna, I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone by. I linger as long as possible gazing out over Italy’s Badlands thinking just how painful it must have been for the former townspeople to leave such a beautiful place. There may not be any ghosts haunting the town, but the very town itself stands as a haunting memory of a childhood home to many now living in the village below.

Though the tour turned out to be different than what I had in my mind touring an Italian ghost town would be like, it was fascinating. Craco is definitely off-the-beaten-path and well worth a visit.

Know Before You Go

Getting ThereCraco Tours
Craco can only be reached by car. The GPS coordinates are 40°22′43.16″N 16°26′25.25″E and our Garmin GPS with European Maps easily took us right to the town. There is parking on the roadside near the gate.
Visits are by guided tour only and tours are available from 10am until sunset daily. The tours run approximately every hour and are about 1 hour in length. English tours are 15 per person. You can find contact information for the guides on the Comune di Craco website.

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Exploring Bordeaux with Viking River Cruises http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/exploring-bordeaux-with-viking-river-cruises/ http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/exploring-bordeaux-with-viking-river-cruises/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 19:59:48 +0000 http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/?p=65969 Luxe Adventure Traveler

In the words of HM The Queen, Bordeaux is “the very essence of elegance.” It’s a revived cosmopolitan city at the center of a legendary wine growing region. With modern fusion cuisine, some of the world’s finest wines, culture like theater and art museums, and skiing, stunning beaches and hiking all within 2 – 3 [...]

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In the words of HM The Queen, Bordeaux is “the very essence of elegance.” It’s a revived cosmopolitan city at the center of a legendary wine growing region. With modern fusion cuisine, some of the world’s finest wines, culture like theater and art museums, and skiing, stunning beaches and hiking all within 2 – 3 hours of the city it’s easy to see why Bordeaux was selected as Europe’s Best Destination 2015.

Bordeaux was the docking point for the Viking River Cruises 8-day Chateaux, Rivers & Wine cruise I was about to embark on. I only had one day in the city and in true French fashion, most shops and wine bars were closed because it was a Sunday. Actually, due to the high water from the rains the week prior, we were staying docked in Bordeaux for two nights instead of sailing after lunch as had been planned on the itinerary.

I made the most of my time in the city by taking the additional time to explore on my own after the guided city tour; I wandered the various markets going on, cooled off in the miroir d’eau and ate macarons to my heart’s content. I saw enough to know that I definitely need to come back to explore this city more.

Hôtel Gobineau Bordeaux

Flatiron Building? No, it’s the Hôtel Gobineau in Bordeaux

When in Bordeaux, first things first. I was dying to sip a glass of red. I really loved the Hôtel Gobineau, home to Bar a Vin, right in the heart of Bordeaux. The building reminded me of the Flatiron Building in NYC and has outdoor seating with lovely views of the carousel, Grand Theater and Grand Hotel. Glasses of wine are quite reasonably priced with Margaux and Saint-Emilion appellations starting at €6 per glass.

Georges Larnicol Bordeaux

Eating macarons and people watching on a quiet Sunday in Bordeaux

Just across the Place de la Comedie and on the corner of the Grand Hotel, I popped in to Georges Larnicol. The shop is known in France for its chocolate masterpieces like the bottle of Bordeaux wine entirely made of chocolate on display, but it was the macarons that I couldn’t resist.

The macarons gave me sustenance for wandering Rue St Catherine, France’s longest pedestrianized street. Though on a Sunday most of the shops that line the street are closed, I did find a few cute boutiques to browse. Plus, I rationalized, the more I walked meant the more macarons and foie gras that I could eat without guilt.

Bordeaux Victor Hugo Jaguar

What’s wrong here?

Bordeaux also has wonderful public art sculptures and installations around the city. Sometimes they aren’t even that obvious, like the Jaguar hanging out of the Victor Hugo parking structure complete with twisted metal and concrete smashed to pieces. A local told me that the art piece is meant to poke fun at the British for their bad driving.

BordeauxJust about half of the center of Bordeaux is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Each cobbled street has its own charm with beautiful buildings that have been lovingly restored. They honey-colored stones of the facades practically glowed a golden hue with the sun blazing overhead. It was hard not to fall in love as I wandered the quiet streets.

Bordeaux

A food market selling cheeses, foie gras, salami and ham

Bordeaux marketThough the streets are mostly quiet on a Sunday, the markets are in full swing and I came across no less than three going on. There is a flea market every Sunday with everything from antique furniture to clothes spread out on the tables. But it was the food markets that lured me in with the delicious scents of French cheese and foie gras wafting on the air. There were even little pop-up stalls selling fresh oysters on the riverbank. Going hungry is one thing you definitely won’t do in Bordeaux!

Bordeaux parkI saw many locals picking out cheese, salami and baguettes. With a bottle of wine and a blanket peeking out of their straw bags, off they would go presumably to one of the city’s 10 public parks. I took some of my own French finds and followed suit.

Bordeaux Water Mirror

Blue hour at the Water Mirror

The most happening spot in Bordeaux on a hot Sunday afternoon is the miroir d’eau . Kids run squealing through the shallow fountain as it changes from dancing spurts to mist and everyone brings blankets, baguettes and wine to just enjoy the lively environment. There was a music festival going on when I visited and I happily spent a few hours just reading, resting my tired feet and waiting for sunset so that I could snap the Palais-de-la-Bourse as the lights of the city twinkled on. It was the perfect way to end my 24 hours in Bordeaux before setting sail in to wine country.

In the end, the Bordeaux excursion offered by Viking was my least favorite of the inclusive excursions on my itinerary and I was really glad for the extra time we were docked so that I had time to explore Bordeaux a bit on my own. The Bordeaux excursion had included a driving tour, a museum visit and a short walking tour in the center to point out some of the main sights. If you’re visiting Bordeaux with Viking, I recommend skipping the excursion and just exploring on your own.

Know Before You Go

Viking River CruiseGetting Around Bordeaux
The 8-day Chateaux, Rivers & Wine cruise starts from $1856 per person and includes 6 guided tours and breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Bordeaux is a very walkable city, but they also have an excellent tram system. The tram picks up right in front of the quay only steps away from where my Viking ship was docked and a day ticket costs just €4.50, giving you unlimited rides until 1am.

My Chateaux, Rivers & Wine cruise was provided by Viking River Cruises in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own.

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Luxe Adventure Home: DIY Wine Barrel Coffee Table http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/diy-wine-barrel-coffee-table/ http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/diy-wine-barrel-coffee-table/#respond Wed, 15 Jul 2015 09:33:01 +0000 http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/?p=65951 Luxe Adventure Traveler

Tim gave me perhaps the coolest birthday gift he’s ever given me this year. Technically I asked for a wine barrel coffee table I had seen online for Christmas. Instead of ordering me one and risking a scene like in Friends when Rachel and Ross buy the exact same apothecary table mass manufactured by those [...]

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Tim gave me perhaps the coolest birthday gift he’s ever given me this year. Technically I asked for a wine barrel coffee table I had seen online for Christmas. Instead of ordering me one and risking a scene like in Friends when Rachel and Ross buy the exact same apothecary table mass manufactured by those “bastards” at Pottery Barn (I actually love Pottery Barn), he decided to build me one.

I think he had actually found the barrel by Christmas and then after some nagging…and more nagging…he finally buckled down and built me my wine barrel coffee table in a couple of weekend. There may have been a few near heart attacks after he’d text me that he cut his finger off and I’d go racing out to our garage turned wood workshop. He didn’t; he just wanted me to bring him a beer. But it was worth the bad jokes when my table finally was done.

We chronicled it on our Facebook Page and one of our local readers even bought the other half of the barrel after Tim cut it. Since you were all so interested, he put together this tutorial on how to build a wine barrel coffee table for around $200.

Wine barrel coffee tableWhat You’ll Need

DIY Wine Barrel Table

Wine barrel coffee table

We found this barrel at a local winery for €30

1. Visit your local wineries to find a used barrel to purchase. In Italy a wine barrel can be purchased from 30 – 100 depending on the condition its in. Of course, the better condition the barrel is in, the less prep work you’ll need to do. I found a local winery that was selling their old barrels for 30, so it needed a lot of TLC.

If you don’t have a local winery nearby that sells used barrels, you can also find them online like this solid oak one from Napa Valley on Amazon.

2. Wash the barrel thoroughly with a hose and mild soapy water. Be sure that the cork is in the barrel as you don’t want water to get inside it. A pressure washer can work well too. Allow the barrel to completely dry for 1-2 days after washing.

Wine barrel coffee table

Progression of sanding the barrel

3. Depending on the look you are going for, you could lacquer the barrel for a rougher vintage look. Or sand and stain it for a more refined and clean look. We sanded and stained our barrel.

Start with a low 60-80 grit sand paper and move up to a 200 grit or higher sand paper depending on how much effort you want to put into sanding it. Make sure to have some type of padding or cardboard underneath as any rough surface will damage the surface of the barrel and cause more work for you. A shop vacuum comes in handy to clean up as you go, as well as to be used as a blower to dust off the barrel between sanding.

Wine barrel coffee table

The rings will really shine with a sanding sponge

If you want to clean the rings up a bit, I found the 3M sanding sponge worked great and left the rings with a nice clean finish.

4. Once you’re satisfied with the prep of your barrel, you’ll need to screw in the rings around the barrel. This is a crucial step as once you cut the barrel in half, there is nothing to hold it together. Self tapping sheet metal screws work great.

You’ll need to drill a starter hole through the ring making sure the holes are no larger than the diameter of the screw. Try not to drill into the wood as you need screw to have something to bite into.

Wine barrel coffee table

Cutting through the rings with a Dremmel

5. Now comes the fun part: cutting the barrel in half. I found a Dremel with cutoff wheel worked great to cut the rings. Then I used a jig saw to cut the rest of the way along the slats.

Wine barrel coffee table

Use a tie-down strap to hold the barrel together while you saw it in half

Use a tie-down strap to hold the barrel together once you have the first side cut. Only minimal sanding should be needed along the slats once the barrel is cut.

Wine barrel coffee table

Use cardboard to trace a template to make your stand

6. Once the barrel is cut in half, it’s time to make the stand. Purchase wood of your choosing from a lumber yard or store like Home Depot and cut it to the shape of the barrel. I found that taking a big piece of cardboard and slowly trimming it to the shape of the barrel worked great as a template.

Trace your cutout onto the board and use a skill saw to shape it. Attempt to cut it at a slight angle to account for the curvature of the barrel. Make a brace to connect the two ends of the stand under the barrel using the same cardboard template method.

Once it is cut to shape and fits the barrel nicely, sand it progressively just as you did the barrel. Use wood glue and dowels to attach the stand together. This makes for a much nicer presentation than using unsightly screws.

Wine barrel coffee table

Staining the barrel and stand

7. We wanted a finished look so chose a medium-colored stain called Noce Rustico Brillante. I chose to stain it after I cut it in half as I could make each barrel a separate color and pick which one we liked best. One trick to staining which I sadly didn’t know ahead of time is to take a clean rag and wipe the excess stain off as you go. This allows for a much cleaner look than just a brush alone.

8. Get a piece a glass from a local window or hardware store. A glass table top will cost about $80-$130 depending on the thickness and whether it is tempered glass or not. Tempered glass will break in much larger shards and is safer (if you have kids at home, tempered glass is the only choice).

Attach the rubber spacers as feet for the stand, as well as for the glass table top to rest on.

Wine barrel coffee table

Our finished wine barrel coffee table

9. You’re not done just yet! What’s a barrel without a few corks to fill it up? Time to drink up and start saving those corks because it will take about 1500-2000 to fill it up nicely. Save a few of your favorite bottles from special occasions and nestle them in the corks to display.

If you’re not quite up for drinking 2000 bottles of wine, don’t fret. You can also order bulk wine corks online.

We Recommend

Luxe Adventure Home: DIY Wine Cork Catcher Lamp

It’s quite a bit of work to craft your own wine barrel coffee table, but when all is said and done you’ll have a beautiful hand-crafted wine barrel table for around $200. Alternatively you could order this one for $800.

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Italy’s Best Kept Secret: The Cilento Coast http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/cilento-coast/ http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/cilento-coast/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 22:35:57 +0000 http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/?p=65643 Luxe Adventure Traveler

The Cilento Coast is one of the most unspoiled parts of the Campania region and it’s just two hours south of the chaos of Naples. Yet, this part of Italy is still hugely off the tourist radar. With hardly a blip about Cilento in the guide books, American and British travelers flock to the popular [...]

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The Cilento Coast is one of the most unspoiled parts of the Campania region and it’s just two hours south of the chaos of Naples. Yet, this part of Italy is still hugely off the tourist radar. With hardly a blip about Cilento in the guide books, American and British travelers flock to the popular (and over-crowded, if you ask me) Amalfi Coast.

I once wrote why I thought Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast was better than the Amalfi Coast and once again, I found the Cilento Coast to be more my speed. You see, it’s not that I don’t agree that the Amalfi Coast is stunning. In fact, I adore Ravello. But to be honest, I find it a bit boring.

Long a retreat for the chic Italians to holiday and stay cooler than in cities like Rome when the temperatures soar, the Amalfi Coast has kept its traditional Italian seaside retreat vibe. The whole point of a holiday there is to sit on the (mostly) rocky beaches, then indulge in a long lunch, shop, have an apertivo and then indulge in another long dinner. Open some kayak or stand-up paddle boarding rental shops and I’ll likely be singing a different tune.

The people of the Cilento seemed to be a bit more like the coast itself: wild and rugged. Here is where the Italian adventurers have been hiding, or rather, flocking each summer. But in true Italian fashion, even the adventurers can appreciate the finer things in life.

Paestum

The Cilento Coast has miles of sandy beaches

Paestum

Less than one hour from Salerno, Paestum is home to some of the best preserved ancient Greek temples in the world. Paestum is also home to a cluster of buffalo farms that produce Italy’s best mozzarella di bufala.

Wait. What? Greek temples and buffalo?

Paestum

Looking through the three side-by-side temples

Paestum was founded by the Greek Achaeans around 600BC under the original name Poseidonia. It became Paestum in 273BC after the Graeco-Italian Poseidonians sided with the loser, Pyrrhus, in war against the Romans. It was a major ancient Greek city with a system of roads, temples and defensive walls.

Paestum

Temple of Neptune

Today, the most notable features of the archeological site are the three extremely well preserved templates that have been excavated.

The buffalo haven’t been around quite as long as the Greek temples and it isn’t exactly known how they got here. Some say that the buffalo were brought to Sicily from Egypt; others say that the Goths brought them. Either way, they’ve been around for many centuries.

You might be surprised to know that the buffalo are actually water buffalo that can be found wallowing in swimming holes in Asia. They aren’t the big bison we have in the US.

It also wasn’t until the 18th century that their fatty, rich milk was turned in to cheese. Since the milk is too fatty and rich to drink like cow’s milk, it’s perfect for making the creamy mozzarella di bufala.

Barlotti buffalo farm in Paestum

Mozzarella di bufala doesn’t get any fresher than this!

Buffalo mozzarella is made from the unpasteurized buffalo milk and has a shelf life of about 4 – 5 days. Though I can pick it up at any grocery store here in Italy, I’ve never tasted a little ball of mozzarella as good as when I visited the Barlotti farm in Paestum. It’s best to visit the farms in the early afternoon so that you can purchase that day’s freshly made mozzarella di bufala.

Barlotti buffalo farm in Paestum

The balls of mozzarella drop in to a vat of boiling water

The unpasteurized milk is allowed to ferment for about three hours. It is then chopped in to pieces and covered in boiling water. A machine forms the tiny balls of mozzarella. Sometimes the pieces are even braided, as one of the workers showed us.

Barlotti buffalo farm in Paestum

Workers bag the finished mozzarella di bufala

The balls of mozzarella get a salt water was and then are returned to their whey, which the liquid they soak in to keep moist when you buy a container or bag from the store.

Aside from stunning Greek temples and delicious mozzarella di bufala, Paestum also has miles of beautiful white sand beaches. And unlike the Amalfi Coast where nearly every sunbed was occupied even mid-week, there were barely a handful of people on the beach.

Oleandri Resort Paestum

A pastry stuffed with mozzarella di bufala and ricotta with pumpkin sauce at Oleandri Resort

The Oleandri Resort is just a few minutes drive from the archeological site and has a private beach for guests. They also have a restaurant and we enjoyed lunch there. The pastry filled with mozzarella di bufala and ricotta with a pumpkin sauce is a must try.

Palazzo Belmonte

The toughest decision at Palazzo Belmonte is pool or private beach

Palazzo Belmonte

We travel a little further south down the Cilento Coast to the village of Santa Maria di Castellabate. Not only does the village have a sandy beach steps away from its center, it also has its very own prince in residence, Angelo di Belmonte, who lives in the 17th-century Palazzo Belmonte.

Lucky for me, Palazzo Belmonte is also a luxury hotel. It has a few suites in the oldest part of the castle and more modern rooms in an annex building above the gardens. I felt like a princess as I climbed up the stairs to my suite in the castle.

Palazzo Belmonte

The sunsets are just better in Cilento

Imagine my surprise as the phone rang and I answered to be told that Prince Belmonte himself was waiting in the garden to have an apertivo with us. Over a glass of wine and with a view of the stunning sunset, I learned a bit about the palazzo’s history and the Prince’s vision for his guests to enjoy this little slice of paradise.

Though in a small village far away from the tourist services of the Amalfi Coast like ferries, Palazzo Belmonte can arrange boats to take guests directly from the palazzo to Capri or the Amalfi Coast.

Acciaroli

Touring the port of Acciaroli

Acciaroli

Heading even further south along the Cilento Coast, we came to the village of Acciaroli. The tiny fishing village was a favorite of Hemingway, who came here in 1952 after he’d finished writing “The Old Man and the Sea”. Hemingway would spend hours in the bars along the seaside promenade.

The village is small and there isn’t much to do but wander the little shops like the shoemaker who makes custom shoes for you or the handcrafted pottery shop.

It is charming though and worth a few hours to explore, perhaps relaxing on the seaside promenade with a spritz Aperol or having a lunch of fresh fish.

Cape of Palinuro

Even further south in Palinuro the coastline is rugged and riddled with sea caves. This is Italy’s most extensive cave system and divers flock to explore the underwater cave network. Well, mainly Italian divers.

Grotta Azzurra Palinuro

The water glows from an underwater light source

Capri’s famous (and packed) Blue Grotto isn’t the only place to see water so blue that it takes your breath away. The Cape of Palinuro has a cave by the same name and the water is illuminated from below. From Palinuro’s port, you can hire little boats to take you out along the peninsula to five of the sea caves and our boat was the only one there.

Unfortunately, the sea was rough on the day I went out and we weren’t able to visit to the other caves. I was looking forward to seeing the Blood Cave, where a red algae makes the cave walls appear that they are dripping blood.

Palinuro Natural Arch

The Natural Arch

The Natural Arch is one of Cilento National Park’s most important natural monuments. Unfortunately, heavy rains and natural erosion caused a partial collapse on the upper facade back in 2007. The netting has been put in place along with safety measures such as the passage so that people can still enjoy its beauty. But go soon because geologists predict that there is no halting the natural destruction of the arch.

Palinuro

Hiking along an old mule track in Palinuro

The Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park of Palinuro is a haven for rock climbers and hikers. There are many hiking trails, including coastal paths that hug the rugged sea cliffs. Not only can you see stunning sea views, there are many interesting watch towers that stand in various stages of ruins. You can even find a lighthouse or two. Check the Park website for recommended itineraries.

Know Before You Go

Getting ThereWhere To Stay
Naples is the closest airport to the Cilento Coast. The regional trains do run along the coast to Castellabate, Paestum and Palinuro. Check Trenitalia for time tables. A car is highly recommended for traveling the Cilento Coast and I recommend Carrentals.co.uk.

This #SalernoC2C Amalfi and Cilento Coast trip was provided by the Confesercenti Provinciale di Salerno in partnership with To Salerno in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own.

 

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Blend Your Own Cognac at Camus Cognac http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/camus-cognac-master-blender-workshop/ http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/camus-cognac-master-blender-workshop/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2015 18:00:18 +0000 http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/?p=65877 Luxe Adventure Traveler

Cognac isn’t just an after-dinner drink. It’s a charming town in the Poitou-Charentes region of southwestern France, where I’m told the sun shines no less than 330 days of the year. Though I would have loved to spend time wandering the town, which gives its name to one of the world’s most famous types of [...]

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Cognac isn’t just an after-dinner drink. It’s a charming town in the Poitou-Charentes region of southwestern France, where I’m told the sun shines no less than 330 days of the year. Though I would have loved to spend time wandering the town, which gives its name to one of the world’s most famous types of brandy, I was on a mission. I was headed to Camus Cognac (pronounced CAM|ooo), where I’d be blending my very own Cognac.

What exactly is cognac? Technically speaking, it’s a type of brandy made from double distilling wine and then aging it in wooden casks. Why not just call it brandy then? Just like Champagne can only be labeled Champagne if it was produced in the Champagne region of France, Cognac can only be labeled as such if it was produced in the Cognac area and under very strict regulations.

Camus CognacI learned all this and more at the small museum at Camus Cognac, which has been run by five generations of the Camus family since 1863 and is the sixth largest Cognac producer in the world. After the short lesson about what exactly Cognac is and how it is produced, it was time to get down to business…the business of blending my very own Camus Cognac XO.

The first question I had as someone basically new to Cognac, was what did the XO mean? These letters indicate the quality and are controlled by the length of time the Cognac ages in their oak barrels: VS (Very Special), VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) and XO (eXtra Old). Of course, I’d be blending the highest quality Cognac.

Camus Cognac

Now, this is the kind of science I can get in to!

My questions answered, the blending session began with Master Distiller, Jacques, guiding me through a tasting of the four different Cognacs I’d be using to make my blend: Fins Bois, Borderies, Petit Champagne and Grande Champagne. Each, just like wine, had their very own tasting notes. I scribbled away on my notepad, noting percentages of each with the hope of blending a delicious Cognac.

Camus Cognac

Why wasn’t science class this fun?

Camus Cognac

Recording my blend in the Camus registry

Fins Bois, Jacques told me, is a great base to help the other Cognacs express themselves. Borderies is the most important Cognac in the Camus blends because these grapes come from the family’s very own vines. It has notes of vanilla and cream, and is naturally sweet. Petite Champagne is aged about 20 years in the cask and is masculine with spicy notes of cinnamon. Grande Champagne, aged 40 years in the cask, is a fully mature Cognac with rich notes of leather and cigar.

Finally deciding the percentages I would use, I grabbed my beaker and took it to the casks to fill it up with each of the four Cognacs. I was then instructed to pour it in to another beaker and swirl it around to blend all the Cognacs together. Finally, I funneled my blend in to its bottle and recorded it all in to Camus’ official registry book. With my recipe recorded, I can re-order a bottle of my very own Cognac any time.

Camus Cognac

Affixing my Camus Cognac label

My label was affixed to the bottle, the bottle sealed, and it was packaged away in to a lovely wooden box for safe keeping. It will need to stay there for at least six months while it further blends and ages in the bottle before we can try it.

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I’ll admit that even after my visit to Cognac and blending my very own unique bottle at Camus Cognac, I’m still not much of a fan. Cognac is just a bit strong for my tastes (it is 42% alcohol after all!), but the blending course was like doing a really fun science experiment. Maybe my very own blend will change my mind? I guess I’ll find out in about six months!

Booking
  • The Camus Cognac Master Blender Workshop is available as an additional excursion on Viking River Cruises’ Chateaux, Rivers & Wine and is 184 per person, which includes transportation from and to the ship.
  • If you are visiting Cognac, you can also book the Master Blender Workshop with Camus Cognac and it is 160 per person.

My Camus Cognac Master Blender Workshop was provided by Viking River Cruises as part of my Chateaux, Rivers & Wine cruise  in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own.

Luxe Adventure Traveler

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Making Macarons in Paris http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/making-macarons-in-paris/ http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/making-macarons-in-paris/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 10:11:02 +0000 http://luxeadventuretraveler.com/?p=65613 Luxe Adventure Traveler

Macarons are one of my favorite things in the world. There’s just something about the colorful meringue cookies with luscious fillings like black currant or strawberry sandwiched between them that I simply can’t resist. I’m hardly ever in France for more than a few hours before I have a little bag of macarons stashed in [...]

Luxe Adventure Traveler

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Luxe Adventure Traveler

Macarons are one of my favorite things in the world. There’s just something about the colorful meringue cookies with luscious fillings like black currant or strawberry sandwiched between them that I simply can’t resist. I’m hardly ever in France for more than a few hours before I have a little bag of macarons stashed in my purse and there’s even less chance of those macarons lasting more than a few hours. Obviously I couldn’t resist when Cook’n with Class invited me to learn how to make my very own. Making macarons in Paris had been on my bucket list.

Why Paris? Though the origin of the macaron is debated, there are records of Catherine de’ Medici’s pastry chefs bringing the macarone (Italian meringue) to France with them in 1533 when she married Henry II. But the double-decker jam or ganache filled macaron is indisputably accredited to Pierre Desfontaines of the pâtisserie Ladurée in the early 20th century.

As I donned an apron and gathered with my four other classmates around the table, Chef Constance told us that we’d be making four different kinds of macarons: raspberry and rose, salted caramel, mint chocolate ganache and passion fruit infused chocolate ganache. We started with the easy part – the fillings.

Making macarons in Paris with Cook'n with Class

Melting chocolate for the ganache

I remember unwrapping a bowl full of individually wrapped Brach’s caramels that my mom and I would melt in the microwave when we baked Christmas cookies. There would be none of that in my macaron making lesson. We made salted caramel from scratch, as the French do. We also chopped up and melted chocolate and then infused the two batches with mint leaves and passion fruit juice to make the ganaches. And we made home made raspberry jam.

I was thrilled to get to taste each. Isn’t licking the bowl the best part of baking?

With the fillings made and cooling on plates over on the counter, it was time to get down to the business of making the delicate little macaron shells. Chef Constance explained that the ingredients must all be precisely measured or the shells might not puff up properly. So we measured everything out with a kitchen scale.

One of the ingredients in the cookies is almond flour and the oil in it causes it to clump. As Chef Constance handed me a shift and set me to work shifting the almond flour not once, but twice, I quickly realized why a single macaron at Ladurée costs nearly 2. This part was, admittedly, my least favorite part of making macarons.

Making macarons in Paris with Cook'n with Class

Making sure the temperature is just right with a candy thermometer

Once only the finest bit of the flour was in the bowl, out came a Kitchen Aid mixer at least twice the size of the one I own at home. The Kitchen Aid easily whipped egg whites in to a meringue at the same moment that sugar water was being heated to an exact temperature with a candy thermometer. Finally we folded in the dry ingredients and divided the mixture in to four bowls.

The shells themselves aren’t actually flavored. We used pink, yellow, green and orange food coloring pastes to color each of the bowls. Like the precision of mixing the ingredients, we folded in the paste bit by bit to evenly mix it and not alter the texture of the meringue.

Making macarons in Paris with Cook'n with Class

Ready to pipe out perfect macaron shells

The meringue was finally put in to pastry bags and we were ready to pipe it out on to the baking sheets. And just like taking no short cuts in making the fillings, we didn’t get any stencils to pipe out the perfectly sized shells either. I tried to eyeball it and make each macaron shell the same size.

Making macarons in Paris with Cook'n with Class

Not bad without a stencil!

Finally our baking sheets were ready to be placed in the convection oven. Macarons are high maintenance! There’s definitely no walking away and coming back when the timer dings. No, we kept watch to ensure the shells wouldn’t crack. The perfect macaron shell is slightly crispy on the outside, still slightly chewy on the inside and has a “foot”.

Our macaron shells did indeed come out with feet. We applauded like a plane full of Italians landing at the airport. But there was still more work to be done.

You see, you have to unstick each macaron shell from the parchment paper without the foot tearing off. The five of us must have spent 30 minutes alone gently massaging each macaron shell until it slid off the parchment paper all on its own.

Making macarons in Paris with Cook'n with Class

Piping the salted caramel on to the macaron shell

Making macarons in Paris with Cook'n with Class

Looks like a success to me!

The jam was the easiest of the fillings to pipe on to a shell since the jam spread a bit on its own. I didn’t have to press much to complete the little macaron sandwich with the top shell. The chocolate ganache, on the other hand, was harder to work with and I had to take extra care not to crush the shells as I handled them.

Making macarons in Paris with Cook'n with Class

A few of my favorite things: red wine and macarons

Making macarons in Paris with Cook'n with Class

Maybe I have a new career as a macaron maker?

Three hours after I arrived at Cook’n with Class, it was time for my favorite part of the class: tasting our handiwork. Chef Constance even poured us each a glass of Le Sudiste, a merlot-syrah blend, that paired wonderfully with our macarons. Even with each of the five us tasting one of each flavor, there were still more than a dozen for each of us to take home with us.

Though I’ve never even batted an eye at the cost of a macaron (they’re my indulgence), I certainly never will after following a recipe that had more steps than the 387 it takes to climb to the top of Notre Dame. And yet, the work involved hasn’t detered me. I love macarons so much that I am definitely going to give making them at home a try.

Booking
Cook’n with Class Paris offers a variety of dessert and market classes, including the macaron making class. The Macaron Making in Paris class is 130 per person and 100 per child 12 – 16 years of age. The class lasts 3 hours.

I was an invited guest of Cook’n with Class in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own.

Luxe Adventure Traveler

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