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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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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Review: Country chic at Les Vieilles Tours

Where it is: Lafage, 46500 Rocamadour (Le Lot department, France)

 

Website: http://www.vtrocamadour.com/

Who is it suitable for: couples, families.

Thumbs up for…: friendly staff, amazing food

Thumbs down for…: the outdated furniture/decor in our room.

**

As we entered the lobby, we were completely alone. No one at the front desk, and only a dog – a calm and quiet Labrador – was guarding the driveway. We searched high and low for anyone, any person at all, who worked there and could check us in.

…That was until we realized how little we had paid attention to the small but quite  obvious details on the reception desk. A button to push and something in the lines of “call me” written on it. We blamed our ignorance on being tired after a long drive. Only seconds after we’d pushed that button, the hostess arrived and welcomed us.

Welcome to a charming 17th-century manor house and its 2 annex buildings, located in a tranquil environment. Each room is individually decorated in the style of country chic and features en suite bathrooms. Our room had an extra bed in a separate room, which is nice for those who travel with a third companion. Families with one child, for example.

I like country chic decor and vintage interior. But our particular guest room could need a change of furniture and textiles. The brick wall, however, gives the room a rustic and cool look, and the exterior of the annex is idyllic and gorgeous.

It was too chilly outside to try the outdoor swimming pool. I was – for a brief moment – considering giving it a try, until I realized I’d probably catch a cold if I did.

The restaurant was my highlight of the stay. The atmosphere was relaxing and perfect for a romantic evening. The decor was simple and classic – as classic as the menu. Those who love French gastronomy will appreciate everything served here. Those who don’t really know the French kitchen that well; give the menu a try and you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise!

Our waiter was a lovely man, always with a smile on his face. We weren’t sure which red wine to choose and asked him for advice. He recommended one that tasted absolutely exquisite. A little fruity, not too dry, not too strong – it was perfect for us.

The breakfast served the following morning was as French as the meal we enjoyed the night before. A glass of juice, a cup of coffee and a few pastries later  and it was time to get back on the road and leave the country chic environment – for now.

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Moldova: A small country with a big heart

Yesterday I wrote about my experience as a volunteer in Moldova in my diary. So if you want to know what a week of volunteering on a community development program in Moldova is like, read all about it here. I highly recommend Moldova both as a destination for your next volunteer project, but also as a destination for a future holiday.

So, if the country is that great, how come we never read about it in travel magazines or hear much about it in general?

So here’s my guess. Lack of marketing. Just like our tour guide at the award-winning prestigious Purcari Winery said; “The only difference between wine from Bordeaux and wine from our winery is marketing”.

Moldova was like a blank canvas to me, and I was ready to start painting a picture. My own picture, without any ideas or outside influences.

Let’s talk about wine, shall we?  Moldova has a well-established wine industry, and was in 2009 the twenty-second largest wine producing country in the world. In fact, 67 million bottles of wine are exported annually. A lot of the Moldovan wineries offer tours and wine tastings, and I got to visit one that offers all of that – and more. How about a night in one of Purcari Winery‘s luxury suites? Or a romantic dinner in their restaurant?

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Purcari Winery dates back to 1827 and still has their original wine cellars. If you want to relax in the sun before or after the wine tour, what place could possibly be better than here? You might even see a black swan there (not captured in the photo, though).

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While in Moldova, you should also visit Chisinau, the capital city. If you’re interested in handmade jewelry and macrame handbags, then check out the Chisinau Souvenir Bazaar. I didn’t take any pictures there, but I can assure you, you’ll love it. I bought a black macrame bag there, and now I can’t go anywhere without it. I love it.

Are there any nice parks in Chisinau?

Yes! I didn’t have time to visit more than two of them, as I was only in Chisinau on a day trip. But the parks I did visit were both lovely.  First we visited Stefan cel Mare Central Park.

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This is a memorial of Monarch Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great) who ruled Moldova between 1457 and 1504.

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The other park we visited was the lovely Parcul Dendrariu. A popular spot for wedding photography, couples photography and any other kind of photography where you want a gorgeous backdrop.

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On my last day in Moldova, I left Moldova without technically leaving Moldova. I think it depends who you ask. Let me explain.

I crossed the border from Moldova to Transnistria and stayed in Transnistria for a couple of hours. Maybe not even two hours. But just enough time to look around, buy a fridge magnet and return to Moldova.

Wait…. Doesn’t Moldova border to Ukraine and Romania, and nothing else?

Officially, yes. Transnistria is actually right there on the border between Moldova and Ukraine but is not recognized as its own country, and is only partially recognized as its own state – within Moldovan territory. They have their own currency, their own president, their own flag – and they speak Russian, not Romanian (Moldova).

Before visiting Transnistria, I was told to be careful with what I do, as there’s military soldiers everywhere. But as it turned out, the soldiers were all friendly and were smiling and helping us with directions. They are there to protect the citizens and make them feel safe. In other words, as long as you don’t break the law, you’re fine. I was also told it’s illegal to take pictures of any official buildings. Because of that, I was too scared to photograph anything at all, and ended up taking only one photo in Transnistria. Not even a good one. But at least I have one now. A photo taken from a bridge, of people sunbathing, swimming and having fun (although you can’t really see the people that well).

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The parks, the bazaar, the wineries – they are all good reasons to visit Moldova. But the main reason why I now love Moldova as much as I do, is because of the people. They are some of the friendliest and most hospitable people I’ve ever met. My host family, the local community – even strangers on the streets.

An old lady said to me in Romanian (and a Romanian speaker translated for me): “We are happy to see tourists here. Next time, bring your family and your friends. You are all welcome in Moldova”.