There are days when everything goes wrong and then there are days like today, when even if the sky fell I would be fine! I’d done my research, chose my tour provider, and was now ready to savor the moment(s).
I woke up early and in anticipation of my private, customized tour of vineyards and neighboring towns of Provence. I called my travel buddy and we both went to meet the driver who was waiting for us. After we got settled in the car, we discussed what we already had confirmed (2 winery appointments at 2 & 4 PM) and how we wanted to spend the morning. We decided on visiting the Abbaye de Thourton, the little village of Entrecasteaux followed by lunch in Cotignac.
This is the beauty of a private tour, you get a knowledgeable guide armed with advice/suggestions, all centered around your individual interests. Of course, as with all things, customization comes at a price.
You can book many different types of tours – large group, small group, private and custom. This was a custom tour in every sense of the word – I chose the date, the time, pickup and drop-off locations and what it is I wanted to experience.
So do you remember how I said nothing to could spoil this day? Well the moment we stepped into the car the rain started, not pouring sheets, just misty drizzly rain that annoys you and make you feel silly for using an umbrella. But who cares right? The grapes need the rain and I love the grapes hence I love the rain.
Abbaye du Thoronet Provence France
This abbey was started by Cistercian monks who moved to the region from the Mazan Abbey in the Ardèche around 1140. It is the second of the Three Provençal Sisters of Provence that were founded in the 12th century: Senanque Abbey, Thoronet Abbey and Silvacane Abbey. The abbey buildings, church and cloisters were built in the 12th century (1160-1190). In the 14th century, religious wars and politics resulted in the abbey being abandoned; however, in the 1850’s, the state bought the abbey and began rebuilding it.
There’s an entrance fee to visit, which allows you to roam freely inside or join a guided tour. We paid the €7.50 and roamed around freely while listening to Pierre our tour guide. The abbey is all stone, and includes a church, adjoining chapter house, dormitory and store room, and cloisters. The church is built of stone blocks devoid of any form of grandiosity, cut and assembled by hand, without the use of cement or mortar and reflects the roman influences in the arches. An absolutely stunning monastic abbey. Its simplicity and size created a calm and serene beauty.
Our guide pointed out the moat and other tools of fortification/defense as well as the engineering marvels to be found. The acoustic was amazing and I was happy I got the opportunity to enjoy a portion of the mass.
The village of Entrecasteaux is very picturesque! It is the quintessential older Provencal village with narrow winding streets, small shops and restaurants and the requisite cathedral. The difference here is that the streets are extra narrow, to the point of requiring a one-way traffic light. Probably the tiniest traffic light i’d every seen and would have missed it if Pierre hadn’t stopped for the light. There is also a castle, no kidding, with a garden that houses a small fountain with a sundial. Very interesting village with quaint streets and spectacular views.
The village of Cotignac sits in the trees at the base of its famous cliffs. At the top of the cliffs, a pair of square, medieval towers (the “sentinelles“) have been standing guard over the cliffs, the town and the surrounding countryside since the 12th and 13th centuries. While it was quite a beautiful village, we did not get the opportunity to explore because we spent too much time at both the Abbaye and Entrecasteaux and we were hungry and it began raining again.
Pierre guided us to a family owned restaurant, La Table des coquelicots (really tasty) and repeatedly pleaded with the waiter to hurry our lunch along. Now as you may or may not know, but in France, hurry and eating are never ever used in the same sentence. Food should be lingered over and savored and should never be rushed. But it was 1:15 PM and we were 20 minutes away from our afternoon appointment so it was chop chop time!
I love wines. I love big bold complex reds, but then there are times when those won’t do and you gotta pair your wine to your activity (think lounging by the pool versus by the fireplace) location, meal and really even to the weather. Which is why i’m here in Provence learning about a type of wine I typically shy away from.
And as an added bonus, I learned about Eau de vie de Marc which is a drink distilled from what is left over after pressing the grapes used in wine production—the skins, pulp, seeds, and sometimes stems, and then aged in oak barrels, typically 10 to 20 years, giving the spirit its typically orange-ish caramel color. The average alcohol by volume (ABV) is around 43%, this is the type of drink that puts hair on your chest and clearly not for the faint of heart. Actually, it tasted a little like brandy and a little like whisky. You may know Grappa, Italy’s version of marc, since unlike marc, it is commonly found in the USA and elsewhere.
Château Carpe Diem
Of course we rushed, the restaurant rushed but ultimately we had to give up. There was no way we were going to make our appointment and so we collectively agreed to change plans. Pierre got on his phone and quickly got us a private tour and wine tasting at a smaller vineyard, Château Carpe Diem which was quite amazing. We met the owner and she quite passionately explained the wine making process, their vineyards and wines. I’m officially a rosé convert, you see, I usually would prefer to drink a Riesling than rosé, but now that I know how to pick these Provencal wines, look out world.
Château de Berne
Château de Berrne is a 277 acre wine estate which produces 1 million bottles of mainly white and rosé wines. The property also houses a 5-star Relais & Châteaux Hotel & Spa which while I did not get to view the insides, it looked quite fabulous from the outside. The grounds of this estate was quite beautiful and I couldn’t wait to taste their acclaimed Côtes de Provence AOP (Protected Designation of Origin) wines.
Now on to the tasting! Our sommelier was quite knowledgeable about the history of the estate as well as the correct way to drink and enjoy their wines. Frankly this was much more than a tasting, it was truly a wine lesson and I felt like an Oenologist at the end of the tour.
I sniffed, swished and swallowed, yep swallowed, 6 glasses of whites, rose and reds at both vineyards and was extremely thankful for my driver and shades! It was quite an enlightening day, really fun and the drive into Nice was beautiful. I learned a couple things about Provence:
- The wines of Provence are delicious
- Its a lovely step back in time and I’ll be back…