Sorry about the post of this without the pictures. Operator error!
Another trip report….
Tuesday, September 18
We traveled from Umbria across Tuscany and up into Liguria today. First big, exciting thing was our stop for lunch at the Autogrill. EXCELLENT lunch. We finished our beer and wine and enjoyed the ambiance. We love the Autogrill. We also passed Carrara which is where most of the Italian marble comes from. The mountain, where they quarry it is snow white. And the quarries are huge! On the way home I’m going to stop there for a photo. Michelangelo went there to get the marble for his sculptures, la Pieta and David.
Since the horrible disaster in Genova with the bridge collapse, traffic is all messed up getting past there. We opted to follow the detour signs and ended up on a 100 kilometer detour! Added at least an hour to our trip. We arrived at our hotel and checked in, happy to be there. Our room is excellent. I got lazy and just looked for Relaise e Chateau properties for our two nights out and two nights back. They are a group and pretty upscale. This one wasn’t too bad. I got 20% off by paying in advance. It made a difference so we got the junior suite with balcony. It’s nice.
First night hotel. Nice room. La Meridiana Hotel in Garlenda, a golf and horse enclave.
Gift upon arrival. A snack.
We had dinner in the restaurant which was pretty pricey. I didn’t have prices in my menu. I really hate that. Food was good but not exceptional. I had gamberi in a beet sauce and tuna chunks with crisp fried eggplant. Wine was Ligurian so interesting. But what they are really proud of is their olive oil. All the hills along the coast are covered with trees. We told the waiter we were from Umbria and loved our oil best. He explained it and Tuscan oil were too strong. I opined that I liked the strong tastes. He brought us each a small dish of their oil. It was very light. You could barely taste the olives. It was delicate and went with milder foods which I can understand. Our oil goes with strong tastes like beef and stews and soups. An interesting tasting lesson.
Wednesday September 19
Overslept this morning! They closed all the shutters and drapes when they did turn down so we didn’t realize the time! 🙄 we headed out to explore the Italian Riviera. We followed the SS1 which is the Appian Way all the way to Rome. A small two lane along the ocean and through the middle of all the little seaside towns. Once, it was the only way to travel through this area. Now the big autostrada A10 which is comprised of bridges and tunnels mostly, high above the coast and towns takes you quickly through. But we enjoyed the slow pace with the top down.
Pretty palm trees lined the way
Many towns very congested. Lots of beaches. But the towns were different. We finally stopped in Rive Liguria which is a very small, calm seaside town. We had lunch in Ristorante Dalla Padella alla Brace. Out of the frying pan, into the fire! It had a nice seaside undercover area. My food started OK with octopus carpaccio with potatoes and olive paste. Quite good. But my Spaghetti con Vongole was a problem. After eating about 1/3 I felt something abrasive in my throat which I managed to cough out…a wire. Then I found another. It looked like steel wool bits. They said the helper had cleaned the clams with steel wool. I said it was not a good idea 🙄. So my lunch was less then satisfactory.
We returned via the A10 in a trice and headed to the IperCoop for a picnic dinner to be eaten in our room tonight. Now it is time for reading, relaxing, and enjoying our room.
Thursday, September 20
Up and out the door by 9:30 because it’s about a 6 hour drive. We made the drive uneventfully. We stopped for lunch (Hippo Burgers) at the Hippopotamus in a rest area. Nice restaurant actually.
We arrived in Carcassonne in the afternoon but hadn’t heard from our landlord so things were iffy. We went to the addrsss but it was in a tiny street and we went the wrong way up a one way thanks to our GPS. 😑 finally I called the owner in England and we managed to check in eventually. Then we had a very hard time finding a grocery. But we did finally. There are small ones nearby which we will explore later. After the epic drive, tomorrow is a planned down day.
Small Plazza with church near us.
Friday, September 21
This day we decided to do a walking tour of the old city of Carcassonne. There is also a vibrant city just across the river from us, the Bastide. And another surprise, the Canale du Midi goes right through town. Lots of barges and boats parked alongside. There’s a lock that they all have to navigate. It’s a pretty canal.
Our apartment is just beneath the walls and towers of the old city. A long stone staircase goes up just near our apartment. We went up it and at the top we were at the optimal viewing spot for the art installation on the walls. We had seen this from a distance and wondered at it. When you view from this spot you can see the actual design. It is not paint. It is tape.
We continued up into the town. There are tons of shops selling all sorts of souvenirs.
We went to the entrance to the walls, the keep, the ruins of the chapel and the crenellated walls.
We first viewed an excellent movie with a quick history of the city. We wended our way through the walls where there were a number of signs explaining in French and English the history and what we were seeing. The history is long and convoluted. And to confuse things further much of the castle was restored/recreated in the 1800s. The man responsible was as good as it gets and did the best he could given the times. The castle had such a history that he had to chose a point in time to which he restored it.
We went to lunch at a tapas place with wines. It was small and very popular. The morning had been very cool, windy, and gray skies threatened rain. We opted for the inside seat in the window. Good place to watch people. We both had the chorizo in BBQ sauce and I had the patates bravas. Local red wine. And I even broke my rule and had the pain perdu for dessert. We continued our walking tour. We visited the beautiful cathedral. It was so reminiscent of St. Chapelle. Not as many windows but super tall and colorful and a lot of them. Two rose windows. All were created in the 1200s and 1300s.
We also did some souvenir shopping for our friends. A cake of wonderful soap, and two pretty bracelets made of polished stones with silver beads. I also got some wind chimes which I’ve missed since my old ones fell apart many years ago.
Tonight we will picnic in again. French TV is definitely worse than Italian in my opinion. Ugh.
Saturday, September 22
Gorgeous Saturday morning! Breezy and perfect. We decided to explore the “other” old town of Carcassone. We walked down our street to where the Pont Vieux begins. It’s the old way into town across the Narbonne river. At the other end you pass the old hospital. In the Middle Ages you were checked before you could enter the town for disease. If you were deemed sick you could go in the hospital or leave. It’s a pretty bridge.
Saturday is market day in Carcassonne. We headed into town. What a vibrant place!!
Sidewalks were made of pretty stone.
Tons of people all about. A lot of locals. But we also heard a lot of Brits. And a couple of Americans. The streets all blocked off except for pedestrians. They have a beautiful street exhibition with hundreds of brightly colored umbrellas suspended over the main streets.
Then we arrived at the market. Wonderful! We compared the differences with the Italian ones. Here there are none of the big veggie stands that go from town to town like in Italy. Here the stands each are focused on a single thing. Like one was all garlic! One was all mushrooms. Some were all vegetables. Some were only eggs. Or cheese. Or bread. It was lovely. I bought a big loaf of bread. We continued down some streets radiating from the main square. We came upon a goat cheese stand. And they sold milk from a tank. You brought your own milk bottles and they filled them for you!
Then we went into a market inside of a huge building. This one was all meats and fish. Stand after stand. All manner of meats. The French do like their offal. The fish looked beautiful and I was drooling with envy over the piles of oysters. Sigh. I do miss oysters.
We also hit a couple of wine stores here and there. We then settled into a table to rest ourselves with a glass of wine and/or beer. And good people watching. It struck noon and we watched the vendors begin to dismantle their stands. We headed off to find lunch but our first choice was fully booked. Sadly as it looked great. We ended up at Freaks. It was pretty good. Unusual. Lots of healthy stuff. I had a cured fish and potato salad thing with lots of sprouts and lettuces. Luther had quinoa and lots of lettuces etc. We had a carafe of the local red wine and coffees. It was a nice and less filling lunch.
We strolled back across the Pont Vieux. I got a good shot of the old city on the hill from there. Then we decided to kick back in our apartment. A lovely day.
This night we decided to have the cassoulet. We bought it in a can. They sell it everywhere in containers. The Langdoc, where we are, is famous for this dish. Also foie gras. Sadly as I do have difficulty with the way this is produced. But it is what it is.
Sunday, September 23
Another beautiful morning. Today we had made reservations for a lunch up in the old fortress town in a Michelin one star restaurant in the nice hotel up there. Beautiful garden. Big trees. Breezy.
On Sunday they have a 3 course prix fix menu. Choice of two starters, two entrees, and two desserts or cheese. Comes with a welcome spritz, two glasses of wine, water and coffee. For €39 a person. For a fancy restaurant that’s not bad. I had a poached fresh egg, with truffles, mushrooms, and more I can’t remember, onglet of beef with Cabernet mayo, itty bitty pickled mushrooms, roasted tomatoes. There was an amuse bouche with three tastes, and good breads. Dessert was pain perdu for me, cheese for luther. Excellent food and full enough not to need a lot of dinner.
Luther is enjoying watching the old Avengers TV shows on French TV every night🙄 In French with French subtitles. We had some cured ham, cheese and olives for dinner.
Monday, September 24
We decided to go for a drive today since we’ve been sticking pretty close to Carcassonne. Chose a 100km driving route toward Narbonne. It was on the Plain of Minervois. It was once a sea but now is called a dried up lake. They grow wine and rice there now. We sort of followed the Canal du Midi. Really pretty and so many boats. You can rent a boat and cruise the canals.
We finished our tour and went looking for lunch. Oddly, the little French towns don’t have much in them. No stores or restaurants. I did see a Post office and of course a school. All the kids were out at recess and spied our car coming. They were so excited! We beeped our horn at them creating pandemonium! Anyway, we headed up towards the low mountains to the north to Minerve. Really cute town built of stone and perched above the gorge cut by the Brian and the Cesse rivers. It has a history. It was an old Cathar bastion that was destroyed by Simon de Montfort in 1210 and the village has a column in memory of a stake at which 140 Cathars were burnt at that time. Minerve is also famous for its wine that has been produced here by local winegrowers for centuries.
We had a lovely lunch at the Les Table des Troubadours. High up above the gorge with nice views. We were on the terrace which is covered with grape vines and umbrellas. It was crowded with mostly bikers. But it didn’t slow things down much. They have a set Menu du Jour and another menu on a chalk board. We chose entrecôte which came with roast potatoes and ratatouille. Perfectly cooked. Also got a small bottle of white wine and a small bottle of red. Both house and both good. It was very windy and grapes kept falling on us as we ate! It was fun.
We headed back to Carcassonne. A really nice day away from the city. Tomorrow we head back to Italy.
Tuesday, September 25
Up and out the door by eight. Pierre was there to take the keys. It was a long day on the road. Stopped for panini just into Italy. Used Google maps on the iPad to navigate through Genova, instead of the 100 kilometer detour our car GPS sent us on when we came last week. We drove right past the bridge that collapsed. Eerie to see the two spans with the big, missing section. Found our hotel Il Bottaccio. It is just next to Carrera where the largest marble mines exist. They’ve been taking marble out of the mountain since Roman times. The mountain is amazing. It is surrounded by smaller forested mountains but the marble mountain has not a trace of soil on it, nor a tree. Just a massive chunk of limestone and marble thrust into the sky thousands of feet. Awesome.
Our hotel is very frufru. Our room is enormous. Twice the size of our living room and dining room. It’s in an old olive mill. I think we are the only guests. It’s owned by an art collector and I think they don’t actually need for it to be profitable.
We had dinner in the dining room and it was very good despite all the bad reviews I read. We had an amuse bouche of bisque with truffles and shrimp. Then I had the scallops with Lardo di Colonnata. This town is just next to us. Famous for the marble mines, chestnut trees and pork products. The Lardo is back fat from the pigs which is aged for months in big marble containers along with spices. The dish I had also had truffles and caviar which were unnecessary. Then I had the house made pici which is the traditional Tuscan pasta shaped like fat spaghetti. It came with a fresh very tomatoe-y sauce. Simple but very good. Luther got sausage stuffed pasta and then lamb. He said they were good.
Believe it or not, this is the dining room. As a reviewer said, who would swim in a pool next to the tables with oriental rugs?
We decided to head home today as we are ready. The hotel won’t mind since we paid for the room already. So Home agin, Home agin, jiggety jog! Always good to return home and I’m sure our cats will agree.
Yeah, ugh. That was gross. I guess it happens anywhere!
Hey Nanc, I had fun reading your trip report to France – felt like I was right there with you! I couldn’t believe the part about pieces of steel wool in your pasta😳. I thought things like that only happened in the states! LOL
It is an interesting area. Lots more to see as we stuck pretty close to Carcassonne. That book sounds very interesting. We saw a statue of him along the Canal Du Midi! Now I know why!
What a nice travelogue, Nancy. We’ve been to that part of France a couple of times and it was a nice armchair journey back there again. And, a welcome escape and respite from the insanity that has gripped the Washington, DC metro area this week. I had meant to take the book ”Passions: The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson” to you last time we visited but forgot it at home. It chronicles his travels, wine purchases, and vineyard visits through that area in the 1800’s. Thank you, —CR
Hah! No I did not. I totally forgot! Geesh. I remembered when we got back into Italy 🙄
Wonderful travelogue! Did you find your tarragon?