Exploring the Côtes du Rhône

This past Thursday was a public holiday in Switzerland for Ascencion. On top of that, most people faire le pont  (“make the bridge”) and take off Friday as well in order to have a 4 day weekend off from work. Last year we went to Paris for the long weekend. This year we made the bridge a little longer and took ourselves on over into France’s Côtes du Rhône wine region to stay in a little B&B in Séguret from Tuesday 23 May – Sunday 28 May 2017.

Transportation: Séguret is about a 4.5 hour drive from Lausanne without traffic and we rented a car for the trip. A car was necessary as we were out in the countryside and public transit wasn’t widely available. The drive home on Sunday took us over 7 hours. We quickly learned that the northbound traffic coming from the South of France on the Sunday after Ascencion is verrrry similar to traffic after popular beach weekends in the U.S.!

Accommodation: We sought a small B&B nestled in vineyards, within reasonable walking distance of restaurants. We found our little gem, the Maison Sadina. A small B&B with 5 guest rooms, it is run by a husband and wife (and cat – Coppet!) who recently took over operations of the house. The hosts were so endearing and hospitable, it was a treat to stay somewhere in such a gorgeous location and to relax away from it all.

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The Maison Sadina. + Coppet! (pronounce “co-pay”)

We especially loved their outdoor spaces, with a cabana in the backyard overlooking the pool and vineyards, and a spot on the side of the house beneath a tree perfect for viewing the sunset over the valley of vineyards. A lot of time was spent outside sipping wine and enjoying the scenery!

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One of our favorite spots at the Maison Sadina, overlooking the vineyards at sunset.

Eats: In an effort to watch our budget and not over-eat, we only ate out for dinner twice while in France. We ate some simple dinners at Maison Sadina outside in the courtyard, which itself was a nice change of pace and enjoyable. We  picked up salads, crackers and cheese for dinner one night from the grocery store and carryout pizza another.

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The courtyard where we had breakfast each morning and our two “at-home” dinners

Le Mesclun: Sitting on the edge of the hillside village of Séguret, this was a 30 minute walk from Maison Sadina for dinner on Thursday. The view from our table on the shaded terrace overlooked the Rhône valley.

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Top – first course: foie gras; bottom left – main course: shredded lamb in a thin puff pastry; bottom right – dessert: nougat and ice cream. Strawberries were in season locally and SO sweet!

Domaine de Cabasse: A hotel restaurant at the foot of the hill of Séguret’s old city. We were unimpressed by the food for our dinner on Saturday night. On the bright side, the terrace was perfect to enjoy the night outside!

The terrace at Domaine de Cabasse
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Walking back to Maison Sadina from dinner through the vineyards. Dreamy!

Activities: 

We were in France for 5 nights. We left after work on Tuesday and arrived late in the evening. We had left early to avoid the Wednesday evening mass exodus’ traffic for the holiday weekend and it worked well in our favor. We worked remotely from the B&B on Wednesday – much to the confusion of our host and other guests. Who are these young Americans sitting inside on their laptops on a gorgeous day in Provence?? At 6pm on Wednesday as we closed our laptops down, we officially began the vacation with one of our favorite ways to see a new place. We laced up our shoes and hit the road for a run through the vineyards.

Andrew running through the vineyards. You can see the nearby village of Sablet up ahead on the hill (see the tower poking out). Also, on the left are the rocky peaks of the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains.

Thursday we set off on a bike ride adventure through the Côte du Rhône. We started in the village of Vaison-la-Romaine, went through the vineyards, to hilltops, through the valleys and up to the heights of the village of Crestet. It was challenging and a great way to see the little villages and countryside. The region is a favorite for cyclists, especially because we were near the famous Mont Ventoux, which has been part of the Tour de France several times.

bike ride

Here is an excerpt from my Garmin app to show our bike ride stats and the loop. It was super fun!

On Friday we drove 45 minutes to see the Pont du Gard, the largest intact Roman aquaduct in existence in the world! It was impressive to see and they had a great museum on site that explained how the Romans used to build these massive structures and the role of water during the days of the Roman empire.

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Pont du Gard – there were many people swimming and kayaking on the other side of the bridge – a perfect way to cool off on a hot spring day.

Afterwards we headed into the city of Avignon to tour around for the afternoon. We had a late lunch in a shady cafe on a square then did two short walking tours with our trusty Rick Steve’s guidebook. We didn’t actually go in any museums or sites, despite the fact that Avignon is home to the Palais du Papes. Did you know that Avignon was home to the popes (and not the Vatican) for 100 years while the Catholic church had a French pope?

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Palais du Papes

On Saturday we did a small group tour (7 people) of the notable Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards with François of Avignon Wine Tours. We did a mix of lessons in wine tasting, learning about the terroir and some actual tasting of wines. It honestly wasn’t our favorite wine tour as it was more of a tour and less wine tasting than we had hoped for (yes, it’s possible to not have enough wine on a wine tour), but it was a nice time seeing the region and having the guidance of a local.

Our guide, François, showing us his six steps to taste wine. He did a great job helping us to learn how to taste the wine and guess its age.
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Andrew and I in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

On Sunday we sadly had to end our magical time staying at the Maison Sadina. We left shortly after breakfast and made two brief stops. One to see the village of Gigondas, a reputable village for its wines and tucked underneath a mountain ridge. Secondly, we stopped in the village of Orange to see the Roman Theatre, a local treasure which has the sound wall completely intact and is the largest intact ruins of a theater in western Europe. So, turns out we saw two well-preserved Roman sites during our trip in France!

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The Roman Theater of Orange

In summary, a fantastic time in France yet again. The country never ceases to show us new things, new wines, new foods, lessons in history and a wonderful vacation. For now France is not in our near future travel plans, but I absolutely hope to continue travelling to this amazing country more in the future!

Next up: Ticino! I’ll keep you posted 🙂

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