Champagne tasting in Aÿ, France

The Goutorbe family presents its exquisite bottles which contain your most secret dreams. All the love of the earth, all the mystery of creation.

These are the words written in the brochure for the champagne house of H. Goutorbe, located in Aÿ – famous as a centre of the production of Champagne.

It is no secret that the French are proud of their wine. And the reputation of champagne has given the region with the same name even more of a reason to be proud. Marketed as a luxurious beverage, this sparkling wine is so much more than just sparkling wine. Champagne is a protected trademark and a symbol of France as a country of high quality produce.

We visited the house of H. Goutorbe because we needed to buy a few bottles of Champagne for our upcoming Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebration. We could have just gone to the nearest supermarket to buy a few bottles, but as my partner’s parents live just a one hour drive away from the Champagne region, we figured we’d might as well join them and buy our golden bubbles straight from the producer. My partner’s parents are loyal satisfied costumers who visit this particular producer annually to stock up on the good stuff. It was easy to see why.

Along with a group of British tourists, we were given a tour around the production site before heading to my favorite part of the visit: the champagne tasting. The guide described the traditional way to produce champagne compared to the modern way, the process of fermentation, bottling, and explained the difference between vintage (blend of grapes harvested in a particular year) and non-vintage (blend of different wines from different years) champagne. She took us to the cellar and explained the process of the second stage of fermentation. I’m not gonna tell you everything as there’s already a great video on their website documenting the entire process!

During our tour we noticed a fun detail that made me like this family even more. A gallery full of gorgeous travel photos. Just like me, they love to travel. Once a year they travel to a new destination and bring a bottle of their trademark champagne with them. Wherever they go, they capture a photo featuring a bottle of their champagne in front of beautiful landscapes, a volcano in Hawaii (!), monuments and even in front of penguins and glaciers in the Antarctic. How cool is that?!

Moving on to the champagne tasting we were welcomed to a cozy room with a large fireplace, and ended the visit with a taste of the golden bubbles before placing our order and taking home some fine bottles waiting to be shared in good company while celebrating those special occasions with our loved ones.

Would you like a tour?

Website: H. Goutorbe 

Visit: 9 bis, rue Jeanson / F. 51160 Aÿ-Champagne

Phone: +33(0)326552170

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The old press device

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The modern ones

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The cellar

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Champagne Bubbles: Christmas market in Reims, France

Starting the afternoon with a champagne tasting in the region of Champagne, followed by a trip to the local Christmas market in Reims – now, that’s quite something!

According to multiple articles online and offline in local newspapers, the Christmas market in Reims ranked better than all the markets in the French capital. Reims, a city known as one of the centres of champagne production, is already quite touristic and already knows how to attract guests….besides the golden bubbles!

With the Christmas market centered around the beautiful Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – you’re already off to a good start. Stay until darkness falls, and watch the magical sound and light show that illuminates the Cathedral. Make sure you find a good spot to watch it from, as the market gets very crowded in the evenings!

Are you visiting with small children? Do they like ponies? Who am I kidding…who doesn’t like ponies, right? At the Christmas market in Reims the little ones can go for a pony ride. I wanted to take a selfie with one of the ponies, but they were all surrounded by kids who wanted to pet them, so I decided to be an adult and walk away.

Speaking of entertainment for the little ones: they can meet Santa Claus here!

With over 120 chalets displaying local produce, ornaments, souvenirs and ideas for Christmas gifts (I fell in love with a backpack that I didn’t buy) it is certain you’ll find something to take home with you. And if you’re hungry for a sweet treat, there’s plenty of cookies, nougat, candy, churros, Belgian waffles and crêpes for you to dig in. However, if you want something savory, your options are limited to tartiflette, raclette and panini sandwiches. But don’t worry, there are quite a few restaurants conveniently located right next to the market, which gives you the option to leave and come back, just as you want.

And in terms of champagne tasting; you can do that at the Christmas market and around the corner from it too – whichever you prefer!

more information: Reims Tourism

when: until December 24th

where: Reims city centre (TGV train to Reims Centre)

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Why You Should Visit my Hometown, Stavanger (Norway)

As a teenager, I couldn’t wait to grow up and move away from my hometown. A boring, old-fashioned city with bad climate. How anyone could possibly fall in love with that place, was beyond me. But times have changed. Now I fall in love with my hometown again and again, every time I come back to visit. Let me introduce you to Stavanger, a charming little gem in the southwest of Norway.

The city is primarily known as the Norwegian oil capital, which has shaped the identity of the city in many ways. For example, one of the main tourist attractions in the city is the Norwegian Petroleum Museum, the local hockeyteam is called “Stavanger Oilers” and the city’s nickname is “Oljebyen” which means “Oil city”.

But there’s more to Stavanger than that. The region is blessed with spectacular nature. Visit the beautiful Norwegian fjords, Kiragg mountain and the pulpit rock. And when you’re done hiking or finished your tour with the Lysefjord sightseeing cruise, there’s plenty of cozy coffee shops where you can go to relax with a good cup of coffee in Stavanger city. Norwegians love their coffee, and they take their coffee-culture very seriously. Don’t forget to order one of the local pastries like kanelbolle (cinnamon roll), skolebolle/skolebrød (bun with egg cream) or solskinnsbolle (cinnamon roll with egg cream) to go with your beverage – to get the true Scandinavian coffee-break experience. 

Take a stroll along the picturesque Old Town, where all the houses are itty bitty and painted white. Visit the little galleries and charming boutiques and imagine you’re back in the early 1900s. Here you’ll also find the Norwegian Canning Museum, which displays a typical factory from the 1920s.

And for a completely modern approach, visit Øvre Holmegate, more familiarly known as “Fargegata” (Colorstreet). This colorful neighborhood is home to some of the most chic bars, cafes and boutiques in the city and is a joy to visit. It’s a good spot to take some cool Instagram snapshots too!

Dining in Stavanger can be expensive, but totally worth it – as long as you select your restaurant wisely. My personal favorite is the Renaa restaurants, Re-naa; a gourmet restaurant which has been recognized for its excellence and awarded with a Michelin-star, and Renaa: Matbaren, which is the cheaper option – but with the same, high quality and a relaxing atmosphere. Another favorite is Døgnvill – Bar & Burger, for when I want a delicious gourmet burger accompanied by a tasty milkshake.

Should you check out the nightlife in Stavanger? If you want an awesome night out, yes! Believe it or not – and this is coming from someone who has lived in Oslo (the capital) too – I’m not the first person to say that Stavanger has better bars and clubs than many other Norwegian cities. And most of them are centered around the port! Check out Checkpoint Charlie , Gnu , Chevy’s and Folken if you wanna hit up the indie/rock/metal scene. If you’d rather dance the night away to the beats of the latest house/pop music, check out Alf&Werner , Hall Toll or Hexagon. If you prefer dancing to a more underground style of electronica and indie music, check out Cementen. If you just wanna hang out and drink craft beers in a more relaxed and mature atmosphere, Cardinal is the place for you. Or Circus , if you want a beer bar with a younger vibe.

The best time to visit Stavanger is between May and September. Every year in late July, there’s the annual food festival Gladmat (which is great fun if you’re a foodie) and the Tattoo Convention (for the alternative crowd). Next year – in May – there will be a wine festival too!

So what are you waiting for?

Visit my hometown in Norway. Visit Stavanger!

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Why your next holiday should be Zanzibar Island!

In collaboration with Love & Dove Africa, I’m excited to tell you all about the place that could be your next holiday destination, your honeymoon, family trip, romantic getaway – or at least for now, the new addition to your bucket list. Welcome to Zanzibar!

(all images  in this post are copyright to Love & Dove Africa)

The Zanzibar Archipelago is located in the Indian Ocean, 15 miles off the coast of Tanzania. Zanzibar is the ultimate Indian Ocean Paradise with a fascinating history, with its magnificent old city Stone Town and incredibly spectacular beaches. Zanzibar is a rich cultural and artistic hub. During your visit to this beautiful island you will be awed by the rich culture, artistry and history. Over centuries, different cultures have influenced Zanzibar to become what it is today. Sumerians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Indians, Chinese, Persians, Portuguese, Omani Arabs, Dutch and the British have settled here at one time or another and influenced the local culture into its present fusion. The beautiful Swahili language is spoken on the Zanzibar island. Stone Town, Zanzibar City’s old town, was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in year 2000.

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Zanzibar is a perfect destination both for those who want a relaxing holiday and those who want adventures. Here you can combine spectacular safari adventures with calm days on the beach on this magnificent tropical island. A holiday in Zanzibar is ideal for marine junkies and water sports enthusiasts. You can choose from activities like snorkeling, scuba diving and deep sea diving (among others). You will enjoy the graceful shorelines of Zanzibar islands, with views of exotic ancient dhows in full sail. Enjoy casual walks while soaking your feel in warm, shallow waters along the edge of the white sandy beaches. Zanzibar is a marvelous destination for retreats with its “home away from home” atmosphere. To add even more luxury and relaxation to your trip, enjoy the wonderful spa treatments. And prepare yourself for great Swahili cuisine!

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Cultural Tours in Zanzibar

Listed below are some inspirational experiences and touristic activities that one can engage in while in Zanzibar. These activities are not only enjoyable but also culturally and historically informative. You can take day tours with the assistance of a tour guide.

Tour of Spice Plantations and Markets

Some have referred to Zanzibar island as the “spice island”. These tours are uniquely special because the local guide will aid you in learning more about the history of the spice trade in the region. There are several spice farms spread out on the island. For those of you foodies out there, who are interested in venturing into obtaining some knowledge on the Swahili culinary culture, a spice tour on a farm is an ideal activity! Under the supervision of a local guide, you can take approximately four tours to any of the several spice farms and learn more about the growing process of the spices. Some spices grown include cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla, cardamom , chilies, saffron, curries and gloves among others. Fresh fruits are wildly grown on the island – such as coconuts, oranges, limes, lemons, jackfruits and durians among others. It’s a beautiful experience strolling down the narrow farm paths, taking in the aroma of several fresh spices. Especially if you’re a foodie, like myself! At the end of the tour, you may even enjoy some delicious traditionally prepared Swahili dishes, directly from the fresh farm produce. You may also purchase spices, which are reasonably priced. You can’t get more organic than that!

Stone Town Seaside front

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Arts and Crafts Tours

Zanzibar island has a rich fusion of artistry inspired by African, Omani Arab, Persian, European, Indian and Portuguese influences among others. You can take a tour in Stone Town visiting several vibrant workshops dealing in handmade textiles, woodwork and fine arts. You will find tailored textiles made from the local Khanga, a local cotton textile which is traditionally worn by young girls and women around the region. These textiles come in amazing colors and prints and usually have special Swahili inspired expressions printed on them. At the wood workshop, you’ll see how the beautiful oriental inspired wooden beds – and the famous Zanzibar majestic doors – are made. The wood works have such magnificent intrinsic hand caved details, which is a special artistry of the island. On this tour you’ll take a stroll down the narrow alleys of the Old Town, you’ll enjoy the sights of the splendid, historical architecture. You can also visit local markets at Darajani, Mwanakwerekwe, the bazaars and ruins of the Sultan palace. The Old Town is filled with amazing restaurants and cafes where you can enjoy fresh seafood and juices prepared the special Shawili way. Some of these cafes and restaurants are overseeing the picturesque Indian Ocean view, which will give you a soothing feeling after a great morning or afternoon tour. Bring your camera!

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Arts Zanzibar

Seafood Stall at Forodhani Gardens

Tour to Prison Island

Visiting the “Prison Island”/Changu Island is a great daytime excursion in Zanzibar. The Sultans used the little island sanctuary as a jail for rebellious slaves in the 1860s. In the late 1800s the British built a prison here, which was used as  a yellow fever quarantine center and not as a prison as commonly believed. On the island, you walk down the footpaths and visit the Aldabra Giant Tortoise sanctuary, which are originally gifted from the Seychelles and they’re supposedly 100 years or older – and at a hefty weight of 200 kilos! You can also see some different bird species, butterflies and duiker antelopes. This island is also a perfect location for snorkeling, with its white sand beach. A beautiful restaurant and resort is also located here.

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Watersports Activities 

The turquoise waters along the coast of Zanzibar and Pemba Island are also packed with abundant sea life and coral reef for snorkeling and diving and several water sports. For those of you who have a big sense of adventure and love water sports, these activities are a must do. Besides snorkeling and diving, other activites include jet skiing, windsurfing, kayaking, parasailing, fishing, and dhow cruising (especially in the evening) and more.

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Visit the Old Slave Market & Anglican Cathedral

While in Stone Town, a visit to the old slave market is an informative trip about the horrifying treatment of slaves in Zanzibar. You will get to see the appalling conditions of the dingy slave chambers where slaves were held captive and shackled. Outside, by the Cathedral, there’s a monument depicting how slaves were shackled in a pit. It’s historical and worth seeing while in Stone Town. For a small fee, a guide will give you a tour. On the same compound, is the Angelican Cathedral, which is constructed on the location of the former slave market. The altar of the cathedral is the specific site where the whipping post is located, where slaves were punished.

Slave Monument

Slave Market Catheral

I don’t know about you, but my head is already in Zanzibar, daydreaming about snorkeling, safaris, eating Swahili cuisine and smelling those fine spices, buying handmade merchandise and learning about local history. 

If you wanna learn more about these tours and Love & Dove Africa’s other tours or just get inspired by their photos, check out their website , follow them on instagram and  twitter !