Words fail to conjure the emotion felt the first time you set eyes upon or even return to a place like the southern Rhone. We pulled up to a hotel we know quite well, a 16th century castle King Henry built for his mistress but called his ‘hunting lodge’, called Chateau Massillan. Young lavender filled the circle drive and upon opening the car door, the sound of cicadas filled the air. Butterflies were bountiful and busy eating supper. A soft light fell on the pond in the distance near a tree swing just begging to be occupied. My friend nearly cried. I nearly cried! I felt like I was home.
Avignon is the most special place on earth. It is where I always want to be. Immediately I am calm and collected… whole for lack of a better description. As soon as we got in, we unpacked, ate some homemade Jambon & Fromage sandwiches with Rose and lazed by the pool. We had taken to power napping, so today was no different. When we woke, I slipped into some sandals and took a little bike ride round the vineyards nearby. It was heavenly. If you have ever seen an unrealistic movie that is set in Provence or Tuscany and felt ‘that doesn’t exist’… it does. And you need to save all the pennies in your couch cushions to get there as fast as possible.
We took a dip in the pool and got ready for dinner at yet another old favorite: Le Beaugraviere in Mondragon–about 15 minutes away. There is no one dish to get, as the menu changes seasonally. But whatever you order will be splendid. The real attraction, though, is the wine. I wince as I reveal it yet again, as it seems each time we return, the still unbelievably low prices go up ever so slightly… We cut to the chase and ordered an ’89 Fonsalette Syrah. Would you believe it is not ready yet? No color really varied from the core to its rim and this iconic Syrah was dense with fruit character. Oxygen has a battle ahead as it wears down this unshakable 24 year old wine. It is a true testament to the ageworthiness to be found in the hot, sun-kissed South of the Rhone valley. And a Syrah no less!
Making a habit out of our Calvados/Cognac night cap, it was exquisite with the tarte du pommes– little apple tart with ice cream. Again, we were in pain upon leaving and without a doubt 5 pounds heavier than when this trip began, but it was unquestionably worth it.
Morning was a little bittersweet as we drove away. We made one visit Chateau Saint Cosme in Gigondas and took a memorable tour of the vineyards, the chapel and their cellar. We mosied a bit further up the road for a light (yes, light) lunch of languistines and salad at L’Oustalet in the village, then headed back to the TGV station in Valence for our journey back to Paris for a final evening.
That night, we hit up another famous spot for our friend’s amusement: Willy’s Wine Bar. Any place that serves Ravenau Chablis by the glass for a fourth to even maybe a fifth the cost of what it would be in the states is good by me! We were going to dine at the Brasserie across the street–Le Grand Colbert– alas they were filming a movie. We took a short walk to Le Vaudeville and ended our memorable trip on a classic note: steak frites. Well, I had that at least. An average bottle of Bordeaux was just the ticket. When the Frenchy French waiter confirmed that I realized it was a red Pessac-Leognan not a white, I said yes, and as he dipped his hand in to grab my menu, I managed to think he was actually trying to get a fist pump. Needless to say, there was a very awkward moment. When I explained what just happened to my husband and friend, we were in tears.
Looking back to the first day, we were in tears over God knows what walking down the sidewalks of St. Germaine. To me, the mark of any great vacation is just that: laughter to the point of tears to start… and to finish.