Last night we sailed from Barcelona to Marseille (as in Marsay), the second largest city in France after Paris and the center of the third largest metropolitan area in France after Paris and Lyon. Humans have inhabited Marseille and its area for almost 30,000 years, palaeolithic cave paintings in the underwater caves date back to between 27,000 and 19,000 BC and recent excavations near the railway station have unearthed neolithic brick habitations from around 6000 BC.
Our tour today is called Food & Wine Trails: A Country Vineyard in Provence and will be about 8 hours including a bus ride to the countryside, visiting a winery where we will have a tour and have lunch, a tour of a historic town called Aix (as in X) and then a bus ride back to the port. Spending 8 hours on a bus ride is not exactly Margaret’s dream day but it turned out to be a wonderful time. We had breakfast in the room. It was a nice sunny day…we had heard that two days earlier the Mariner had this as their last stop before heading to Barcelona and that is was cold and very windy….the winds here are called the Mistrals and can blow up to 70 mph.
After turning in our tour tickets we got off the ship and met our tour guide Petra at a beautiful big, modern and perfectly clean coach. We were VERY impressed. This company has each driver in charge of the cleanliness of their busses and it showed. The drive through the outskirts of Marseille was on freeways that went past houses that all looked remarkably similar…all had tile roofs and all were basically rectangular cubes and of slightly different hues of pink and beige. We passed the largest shopping center in France that also happens to be open on Sundays which is a big deal in France. Finally we reached the countryside dotted with vineyards and olive trees, more what we had in mind when we thought of Provence. We reached the entrance to the Chateau Val Joanis in about an hour and 15 minutes. The entrance had stone columns and our bus barely cleared them.
The winery tour was conducted by a pretty French girl with thick, dark haired named Jennifer. She took us through the cellar and explained their method for distilling and fermentation. In U.S. wineries they typically give you a little taste of something as they walk you through the wine making process, but here we had to wait, and wait, and then wait some more to try the wine. The original owners of the winery had also planted a magnificent garden area that we were able to tour and enjoy the beautiful day (although still we had no wine to taste). In the garden we saw many of the elements that our designer Scott had told us we must have in our new Carmel house garden including a steel arbor.
We congregated on the patio area where we were to eat lunch, and yes sample some wine, when suddenly a baby bird flew into Jennifer’s hair, probably thinking it was a huge nest! After watching it try to escape the courtyard area we finally got to taste the white (Roussane and white Grenache) and rose (Grenache) wines. They were both pretty good although wine does taste better when you have been parched waiting for it! We sat on this glorious day under the plane trees and had a perfect meal with a quiche starter and chicken main course paired with both the Chateau Val Joanis’ 2012 and 2009 Syrah. They rounded out the meal with dessert paired with late harvest wine. Yum!
Speaking of plane trees. I had never heard of them. They look like and are related American sycamore trees having the same variegated bark. Napoleon planted these trees all over France because it provided shade for his troops. So, you’ll see them lining the main streets of towns everywhere. They tend to trim them pretty severely here so you see a lot of fairly short plane trees as in this garden although they can typically grow to between 100-165 ft tall. We also had some time to shop in their store before heading off to Aix for a walk-a-bout. We’ll cover this in the next post.