Archive for the ‘France’ Category

My new favorite wine is wienerful!

December 19, 2009

I have a new favorite wine — the most wienerful wine in the world! Alas, from what I can tell, it’s not available in making its way throughout the Northeast and, soonish (2011/12) across the United States. I’m counting on my readers to investigate and report back.

I spotted the French wine Longue-Dog Grenache Syrah while checking out wines in the Netherlands, at the Super de Boer, a basic Dutch supermarket chain (just bought by Jumbo, FYI). I screamed, in that way that I do when I see something so wienerfully wonderful.

Here are the things I love about Longue-Dog. First, the dachshund, duh. Its image is not only stretched across the front of the label but continues around the back. Snazzy. There’s also a cute little wiener head on the neck label.

Longue-Dog Grenache Syrah, the most wienerful wine in the world

The name, too, is fun. It’s a play on words — for the Languedoc region of France. Languedoc, in the south, supplies a third of the country’s grapes and is France’s largest wine region — though its least known. I assume (but don’t know) that Longue-Dog comes from Languedoc grapes. Apparently the region is trying to become more known by consumers.

I have a brilliant idea. Start selling Longue-Dog in the United States. That would bring tail wags all around!

The bottle label has a tail-wagging part two

According to the small print on the back of the label, Longue-Dog is made by Boutinot, a wine producer and distributor based in the UK and started by Frenchman Paul Boutinot. I emailed Boutinot’s customer service address, but didn’t hear a bark back. (UPDATE Jan 22, 2010: Heard from Boutinot today. They’re “nearing” a launch in US. Yee-haw! )

Can anyone help, s’il vous plait?

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Untours is unparalleled in the travel industry

February 24, 2009
Sampling Dutch street food is among the Untours travel experiences

You, too, can sample street food in Leiden (in this case, herring) on an Untours trip

Even before I knew much about Untours, the Pennsylvania-based (un)tour company, I loved their travel offerings and attitude. Untours supports longer-term travel with a home base, so visitors have a chance to dig deeper than the usual surface tourist activities.

They provide accommodations for one or two weeks, mostly in Europe (they just added a couple North American locations). For a reasonable fee, you get lodging (with a kitchen), air travel (rare) and an English-speaking local host (unheard of). It’s similar to independent travel, but with someone to hold your hand if needed.

Rome is among the travel destions in Italy

Rome is among the destinations in Italy

Also terrific are Untours’ off-the-beaten path destinations. In Holland, untourists stay in the charming university town of Leiden instead of the big city of Amsterdam, in Greece it’s Nafplio instead of Athens, and in Switzerland Untours offers up Ticino, Oberland and villages between Interlaken and Lucerne. It doesn’t ignore big cities completely, especially in Italy and France, the top destinations. Italy choices include Rome, Florence, and Venice, but also Sicily and Amalfi. It’s similar for France. You can choose among Paris, Normandy, Alsace, and more.

I was surprised when Untours, now in its 34th year, recently added New York City and Quebec City to its offerings. Makes me wonder what’s next. Exciting!

Paris at night with its monuments bathed in illumination

"The Eiffel Tower at night is magical," reported one Untours traveler

While I haven’t traveled with Untours, I’ve interviewed several people who have, and they’ve all loved the experience of feeling like they were living in a community instead of merely passing through. For those of you who just have to be on the move, there are ways to combine destinations with Untours “Samplers.” Untours aren’t cheap, but from what travelers tell me, they’re a bargain when you factor in meals, airfare, etc. Check out the prices for yourself and let me know what you think.

Hal Taussig on his daily ride to work

Hal Taussig on his regular ride to work

Like I said, I’ve already loved Untours for years because I had a great feeling about them and their business practices. So I wasn’t surprised but I sure was impressed when last year I learned about Untours founder and president Hal Taussig, 84. Despite his very successful business, he and his wife live in a modest home. Since 1992 they’ve given $5 million in profits from the business to the Untours Foundation, which they founded to help enterprises around the world that create jobs that improve the lives of the poor. Untours has been engaging in “travel philanthropy” way before it became de rigueur. Hal has gotten some great press lately, but you can tell that he’s not in it for the publicity. Thank you, Hal, for inspiring us as travelers and as human beings!

Lock by lock, they cruised southern France

February 11, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published Feb. 10, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

From Di’s eyes: Navigating all those locks would drive me crazy, too, but it did sound like a great trip. What Mary Heller said, which I hear from travelers time and time again, is that although she saw wonderful sights, the highlight of the trip was connecting with people from all over, especially during an impromptu world cocktail party. 

WHO: Mary, 68, and Bart Heller, 65, of Canton, Mass., and Madeline and Michael Trotta, both 61, of Sharon, Mass.

WHERE: Southern France by barge.

WHEN: One week in September.

WHY: Mary Heller learned about the weeklong barge trip along the Canal du Midi when she saw a photo exhibit by someone who had done the ride. “I planned the same trip,” Mary said.

THE CREW: The Hellers, Trottas, and three others, from Chicago and Oregon, shared the barge. “We’re all motor-Lock in St Roch on the Canal du Midihomers, so we’re used to living in 600 or 800 square feet,” Mary said. “Several of us had had boating experience, and Michael had owned a boat.” He served as captain, and everyone had assigned roles. “That made it very easy. There was not one moment of discontent.”

STRAIGHT AHEAD: “The canal was fairly narrow and the sides were sandy banks,” Bart said. “The boat could go only 8 or 9 miles an hour. All you had to do was go forward, though parking takes a little learning. There were no turns, so you couldn’t get lost. We embarked from Castelnaudary, near Toulouse, and ended at Port Cassafières. Most of where we went through was very rural, quaint French villages and lots of vineyards. Sometimes we went through the towns and other times you could see them in the distance.” They took bicycles to use in town and on the gravel path that runs alongside the canal. Along with French tourists there were many international visitors in the country for the Rugby World Cup.

WATER WORKS: The barge, rented through Crown Blue Line, had two bedrooms in the front and two in the back, with three bathrooms and a small kitchen. “It was a bit disconcerting to realize there’s no sanitation system,” Mary said. “What you put into toilets and sinks goes into the canal. I put on rubber gloves when I was handling ropes.”

Castle at Carcassonne, FranceMEDIEVAL MAGIC: “Our main stop was Carcassonne,” Bart said. “We tied into the little port area for two nights. We walked up to the medieval walled city high on the hill, their major attraction. They have a castle that’s been magnificently restored. ”

LOCKED IN: “We had to go through about 60 locks all week,” Mary said. “Each lock has a lockkeeper. They usually hold two to four boats. You tie up, they lower the water, take the ropes off, open the gates and you go through. You learn to do that quickly, but still it could be half an hour.” At first they were fascinating, Bart said, “then it got to be work. If you got to go an hour without tying or untying, locking or unlocking, you were lucky.”

World Happy Hour in Bèziers; CLICK TO ENLARGEWORLD HAPPY HOUR: In Bèziers, they struck up a conversation with a couple from Cape Cod. “We said, ‘Come have a glass of wine,’ and we all sat down,” Mary said. “Then along comes a couple from South Africa, then another group, mostly from Australia, with several from England. There we were on the side of the canal, watching the sun going down. For me, that was the highlight of the trip, meeting people from all over.”