From Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France, to the Mediterannean flavours of Provence, our river cruise with Uniworld and Titan Travel took us through some of the best wine growing and food tasting regions of France. We found world class Burgundy wines, tasted both gourmet and authentically home cooked dishes and brought home a few sweet treats and piquant souvenirs. We enjoyed fabulous food on board the SS Catherine too, reflecting the local flavours of the Rhone valley we were passing through. Here are some of the culinary highlights of our Burgundy and Provence Uniworld Cruise that will make you want to discover this part of France for yourself.
The elegant taste of Lyon at Institut Paul Bocuse
Paul Bocuse is the godfather of gastronomy in Lyon, the much revered local chef, who at the age of 90 has maintained 3 Michelin stars at his luxury restaurant for the last 50 years. One of the special Uniworld excursions took us to the Institut Paul Bocuse, the school of cookery founded by the chef, who also runs a hotel and several other restaurants around the city. Here we were treated to a demonstration of some classic Lyonaise dishes, expertly created before us by top chef, Philippe Jousse.
Under Philippe’s culinary direction, we were encouraged to have a go at stirring, whisking and poaching the perfect egg for the Salade Lyonnaise. Of course we got away without having to do any of the washing up! At the end of the demonstration, we sat down to a delicious meal, although we could barely take any credit for it, of pike quenelles with crayfish sauce and a soft meringue set in vanilla custard topped with a delicate nest of spun sugar. It was a delightful introduction to the gourmet traditions of Lyon.
The best quality produce at Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse
In the modern part of the city we wandered around Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, the food market named after the chef that is packed full of delicious speciality produce. We drooled over everything from cheeses to oysters, chocolates to fois gras macarons (yes really!) and in various corners found small restaurants serving the produce of the market. As our Uniworld guide explained, this market sells only the very best of everything and it’s the sort of place you go shopping when you are hoping to impress your mother-in-law who is coming to dinner.
Authentic home cooking at a Bouchon Lyonnais
For cuisine in Lyon that’s less Michelin star and more salt of the earth, look out for the homely restaurants known as Bouchon Lyonnais in the old quarter of Lyon. You’ll recognise these restaurants by the sign with the puppet Gnafron, who is a well known comic character in Lyon, similar to the Punch and Judy puppets that we might see at the seaside.
The restaurants serve typical Lyonnaise cooking, specialising in meaty dishes, where andouillette sausages and offal feature heavily. You’ll recognise them by the old fashioned feel with mismatched wooden chairs, red check table cloths, and dusty old pictures on the wall.
Wine tasting at a Burgundy Chateau – Chateau de Rully
A wine tasting in a a local vineyard is certainly part of the Burgundy experience and at Chateau de Rully we were guided through a tasting by the Compte de Ternay whose family had run this vineyard for 22 generations. In the cool cellar we were able to compare two of the Chateau de Rully white chardonnays, the Appellation Village and Premier Cru wines. No surprise that the Premier Cru with aromas of honey and orange blossom came out top.
The final tasting of red wine was left to try at our lunch in one of the converted chateau outbuildings where we dined on the classic local dish, a hearty boeuf bourgignon made with the chateau’s own red wine. Although the meal was simple home-cooked fare, we really enjoyed being invited into the Count’s home and hearing the stories of his family who have lived here and worked these vineyards for centuries. You can visit Chateau de Rully on open days in July and August – more details on their website.
A Wine tasting class at Chapoutier in Tain Hermitage
For a more structured wine tasting experience we stopped at M.Chapoutier in Tain-Hermitage, one of the leading wine producers responsible for great wines such as Chateauneuf du Pape and Crozes Hermitage. They allow informal tastings in the wine shop but we had the full experience upstairs in one of their classrooms. Interesting that the Syrah which is a typical grape of the region was quite different to the wines we normally buy from Australia and we found it light and acidic. I’m afraid it was not our favourite although the fresh whites, made from the Viognier grape, slipped down nicely! Visit the Chapoutier website for more information.
The delicious food on our Uniworld cruise
One of the delights of the food on our Uniworld river cruise was the local flavours that were incorporated into our daily menus, in the Regional Highlights section, such as roasted chicken with morel mushroom sauce or roast rack of lamb with a crust of herbs, garlic and olives from Provence. The wines were beautifully matched too, from the regions of Burgundy that we were passing through and each evening our sommelier would talk us through the food and wine pairings before dinner. On prominent display was also the cookery book by Uniworld owner Mrs Bea Tollman, who had collected her favourite recipes from a lifetime as a hotelier and some of these featured on each day’s menu.
All the dishes were beautifully cooked and presented, with a daily Vegetarian menu and a low calorie ‘Traveling Lite’ selection, providing something for all tastes. A real treat was the afternoon tea laid out in the Van Gough salon where we inevitably made a beeline for the delicious macarons, which were impossible to resist.
Sweet treats to bring home – Les Anis de Flavigny
Although I try not to weigh myself down with too many purchases when I travel, I do enjoy scouting out local food specialities to bring home as souvenirs. In Beaune we spotted the delightful Anis de Flavigny. These locally made sweets are packed in pretty little tins with a vintage feel, like something your French grandmother might pull out of her apron pocket to give you as a child. They are made with a tiny seed of anis at the centre which is covered with a hard candy coating in ten different flavours such as violet, lemon and rose. We bought a few tins in Beaune, but they didn’t last long once we got back home. You can read more about them on the Anis de Flavigny website.
The piquant Moutarde de Beaune
You’ll have heard of Dijon mustard, but look out for the traditional Burgundy mustards made by Edmond Fallot. The company are reintroducing the production of mustard seeds to Burgundy, since most are now imported from abroad, to make a completely Burgundian product. We bought a jar of their Moutard de Beune which is made with wine rather than vinegar and had a smooth but piquant flavour. You can visit their museum and factory in Beaune for a tasting and find out more on the Fallot website.
An aperitif made of Creme de Cassis
You’ll see many varieties of Creme de Cassis on sale in Burgundy as well as other fruit flavoured syrups and liqeurs. The Creme de Cassis is made from blackcurrants soaked in alcohol and often drunk as an aperitif; a Kir mixed with sparkling white wine or Kir Royale with champagne. Just like wine, the liqueur has a regional designation so you may see the labels marked with Creme de Cassis de Dijon or Cassis de Bourgogne which is made with the local Burgundy variety of blackcurrants. We enjoyed a glass of Kir on board SS Catherine as an aperitif before dinner on one of the special dining evenings that showcased the local cuisine.
Chocoholic’s delight – the Valrhona Cité du Chocolat
On our Uniworld cruise we stopped at Tournon-sur-Rhone and Tain-l’Hermitage, both historic wine towns on opposite sides of the Rhone. The final stop of our walking tour was the Valrhona Cité du Chocolat where they have a discovery centre and extensive gift shop. The best part of the visit was tasting the many different samples laid out in bowls around the shop so you could try the different flavours before buying. Valrhona was a chocoholic’s dream, with counters of chocolate truffles, bars of single variety chocolate as well as chocolate for drinking and cooking. Needless to say almost everyone came out with a bag full of chocolate to take home. Find out more on the Valrhona website.
The rosé wines of Provence
As our Uniworld river cruise took us further south the white chardonnays of Burgundy gave way to the light and easy-drinking rosé wines that are the summer drink of choice in Provence. We were offered them first as an aperitif together with local pâté and charcuterie at the end of our walking tour of Viviers in the rose filled garden of our guide who lived in one of the old town houses.
Soon I started to see the rosé wines everywhere, as if to mark the start of summer. Apparently the majority of the wines produced in this south-east corner of France are rosé, with plenty of sunshine and the mistral wind blowing in from the north to dry the vines and clear the air. The rosé colour is created when the red grapes are pressed and the skins left in contact with the juice for just a few hours, allowing the pale pink colour to develop.
The Olives of Provence
Another typical produce of Provence are the lovely plump olives that we found in so many varieties in Les Halles, the food market of Avignon. Of course there were other things there too; fresh fish on ice, beautifully polished tomatoes, pink radishes, asparagus and frisée salads, the ready prepared traiteur dishes to buy and take home and macarons flavoured with kiwi or framboise. But the olives were the star, in red and green glistening piles, studded with red peppers or golden onions, stuffed with anchovies and pimentos.
Another olive based speciality that you’ll find everywhere in Provence is tapenade, a paste made of finely chopped olives, both green and black. The olives are pulverised in a pestle and mortar, sometimes combined with anchovies or capers and served on rounds of baguette as a canapé with your glass of rosé. The tapenade is served in restaurants and bars, but you’ll also find jars that you can buy to eat at home, for a reminder of the sunshine of the Mediterranean and Provence.
Our river journey with Uniworld and Titan Travel ended at Avignon but there were so many delicious things to eat and drink that we could happily have continued our exploration of the food of Southern France. I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for many more delicious food discoveries on your travels.
Have you visited Burgundy and Provence or the South of France and what were your culinary highlights?
More from our Burgundy and Provence Cruise
Travelling with Titan Travel and Uniworld Cruises
Uniworld offer boutique river cruising on the rivers of Europe as well as other worldwide destinations. Like their sister company, Red Carnation Hotel Collection, the Uniworld ships feature luxurious furnishings and artworks with outstanding, personalised service.
You can book your Uniworld Cruise through Titan Travel who specialise in escorted holidays and cruises. When you book through Titan Travel you enjoy their VIP Home Departure Service which is included in your holiday, to transfer from your home to your departure airport in one of Titan’s own vehicles.
Heather and Guy travelled on Uniworld’s Burgundy and Provence River Cruise through Titan Travel, on an 8 day cruise from Lyon to Avignon, from £2049 per person. As with all Uniworld cruises, the holiday is all-inclusive and covers meals and drinks on board, daily excursions, gratuities and airport transfers.
Thanks to Titan Travel and Uniworld for hosting our cruise.
I remember the first time I went cycling with Headwater Holidays on my honeymoon. Basking in the September sunshine, we cycled through unspoiled rural France, meandering through gently rolling countryside, past farmyards and quiet villages.
We enjoyed it so much that the following year we booked again with Headwater Holidays, but this time chose the Jura, a rather more mountainous part of France. My memories of that holiday are of me at the bottom of the hill and Guy disappearing over the crest with barely a care for me, puffing and panting behind him. If only I’d known about e-bikes then, things might have been so different!
Fast forward 20 years to my trip to the South Tyrol in Italy and I found myself cycling through the vineyards that surround Lake Kaltern. This time I was offered a choice between a normal bike and an e-bike and although I’m pretty fit, I decided to try the e-bike. Perhaps it was the sight of my super-fit, lycra-clad guide, that made me think that perhaps I’d need a little extra pedal power to keep up.
To the untrained eye there was really little difference between the e-bike and any other. Only the small electric motor attached to the frame was the giveaway. However, I soon realised is that using an e-bike is not the same as a motor bike – the bike does not move on it’s own and you still have to pedal. The controls are like an additional gear lever on the handle bars and when you’re feeling the strain, you just click it on to give you some extra oomph on the hilly bits. Read about Cycling with wine and apples in South Tyrol
If you are reasonably fit like me, perhaps you think it would be cheating to hire an e-bike rather than sweat away up those hills? The leading walking and cycling company, Headwater Holidays recently surveyed its customers and found that 67% of those who responded had a positive experience with e-bikes. Among the reasons given were that they allowed different experience levels of cyclists to stay together, you could travel further and they were great for tackling steep hills.
That last issue of the steep hills was certainly a factor when I tried out e-bikes last year on a trip to Austria where I got the chance to do some mountain-biking in the Tyrol. Normally I wouldn’t be first in the queue for mountain-biking, associating it with fit young men being splattered with mud and every chance of flying off over the handle bars.
On this occasion, however it was a much more pleasant experience, since I was able to put my e-bike on the side of the lift to the top of the mountain and then we gradually cycled down, stopping half way for a lunch with glorious mountain views.
You might think that being downhill all the way, I wouldn’t have needed to use the electric motor at all, but in fact there were several places where we were going uphill and it was a relief to be able to click the lever and suddenly find that everything got a lot easier. As one enthusiastic Headwater Holidays customers said “The way the e-bike sailed up the inclines was really quite amazing”. Read about Heather goes e-mountain biking in Austria
If you’d like to try out an e-bike on your next cycling trip, check out the cycling holidays that Headwater Holidays offer with e-bikes. They are a great option if you;
- Are less fit than you’d like but still enjoy cycling
- Want to keep up with your partner who’s fitter than you
- Are cycling in a group of mixed abilities
- Are debating whether you’ll cope with steep hills and mountainous regions
- Are more interested in enjoying the view than getting sweaty
- Want to get some exercise but also have the option of taking it a bit easier if you need to
On most of Headwater’s cycling holidays you can book an e-bike as an option – take a look at;
Hilltop Villages of Provence – the e-bike will make light work of cycling up to those medieval hilltop villages and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views across the Luberon.
Classic Burgundy Cycling – You’ll be pleased you chose an e-bike if you stop at any vineyards to taste the famous Burgundy wines and feel less inclined to pedal hard afterwards.
Coves and Harbours of Northern Spain – There are traditional fishing ports, farming hamlets but also the rugged Picos de Europa to explore.
Dorset and the Jurassic Coast – Lazy days visiting sheltered bays, with an e-bike to help you on those rolling hills.
So when you’re planning your next cycling holiday, do check out the options for cycling with e-bikes that Headwater Holidays can offer.
Check out my recent article for Headwater Holidays about 10 things to pack on your walking holiday
This article was brought to you in partnership with Headwater Holidays.
Dorset and the Jurassic coast photo credit: CC BY Paul Tomlin / flickr
As we walked along the grassy path, the stone monument stood solid, like an upturned boat, surrounded by a field of wildflowers and glowing in the late afternoon sun. We’d come to visit the Naveta d’es Tudons, one of Menorca’s best known prehistoric monuments, a burial chamber that dates back to around 1000 years BC, built by the people we know as the Talayotic culture.
The Naveta d’es Tudons (Naveta being the Catalan word for boat) was excavated by archaeologists in the 1960s, when they discovered the remains of over a hundred men, women and children who had been laid to rest here together with some of their personal possessions, such as metal hair ornaments or spear heads. Once a body was placed inside the tomb, it was sealed and later the bones and skull would be moved to one side to make way for the remains of the next person.
All over Menorca you’ll find similar burial chambers, towers and settlements that are unique to the island and are now being preserved with the aim of having them declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Since Menorca is an island where stone is readily available, the buildings of the Talyotic culture were left alone for us to visit today, unlike other places where the stone would have been taken over the centuries for other buildings.
On our visit to Naveta d’en Tudons, we noticed how well it had been restored to its original appearance, all except the final stone that seemed missing from the parapet at one end. Local legend has it that two giants sought the hand of the same girl and so to decide between them, each was set a task. One was to build a Naveta, the other to dig a well and whichever could complete their task first would win the hand of the girl.
When the giant building the Naveta was carrying the final rock to place it in position, he saw his rival at the bottom of the well who had just struck water, and in his anger threw down the stone and killed him. Realising what he had done he ran away, so that the girl was left with neither suitor, and of course this explains what happened to the final stone to complete the Naveta d’es Tudons.
While the entrance to the Naveta d’es Tudons was sealed, on another day Zoe Dawes and I were able to go inside a similar tomb at Rafal Rubi where there are two Navetas built close together. These Navetas had not been restored and had a tumble-down appearance of a pile of rocks, since the upper story of the Naveta had collapsed and the stones seemed to have disappeared.
At the south Naveta of Rafal Rubi we clambered through the small, but finely cut square hole to stand inside, under the roof of huge stone slabs. Inside the tomb, it felt rather bare and bleak (probably not helped by the pouring rain), with all remnants of the past taken away to reside in one of the island’s museums. Around the square opening was a lip, cut by expert stone masons, to keep the entrance stone in place that would seal the tomb.
Without our guide, we would never have found this site, hidden away down a grassy path and surrounded by meadows and farm land. It reminded me of how Stonehenge, now complete with splendid new visitor’s centre, must have looked a hundred or so years ago when it was just part of the farming landscape, surrounded by grazing animals.
We moved on to the second of the two Navetas, the northern one, where again the upper chamber had collapsed, but this time we didn’t go inside. Due to the pouring rain, it was not much of a day for lingering so Zoe and I made our way back through the olive trees and stone walls to the road.
In addition to the burial chambers like these Navetas, there are many conical structures around Menorca named Talayot, after the Spanish word atalaya or watchtower. It is from these that the Talayotic culture got its name and these towers demonstrate that the people had come together to live in larger settlements, with a highly organised culture.
At Torre d’en Galmes, I was able to see some of the conical Talayot towers which seem to have doubled as living space with a watch tower on the upper level. The Talayots were normally situated within a settlement and also within sight of each other, so it is thought that they might have been used as a network to signal from one to another in times of danger.
Another unusual feature of the settlements around Menorca are the Taules or T-shaped rocks made of a slab of stone embedded in the ground with another rectangular stone on top. The name Taule comes from the Catalan word for table, perhaps a table where giants would eat. Rather than being a balancing trick, I observed how a slot had been made in the upper rock to allow it to slot into place on the pillar rock, illustrating the advanced skills in working stone of the Talayotic people. These Taules are thought to have some religious or ritual significance, perhaps representing the horns of a bull or religious beliefs, just as Christians use a crucifix as a symbol of their religion.
At Torre d’en Galmes I was able to sense the scale and organisation of the Talayotic settlements, with circular stone enclosures enclosing an inner courtyard, with different chambers and rooms built around the circle for sleeping, storage and keeping animals. The society was clearly well organised with a system of channels to collect rainwater and transport it to the underground reservoirs called Sitjots.
In other places around the site, huge slabs of rock were balanced on stone columns to make shelters that could have been used as storage chambers, topped with roofs of leaves and branches.
I wondered why such large slabs of stone had been used in this way to create walls and roofs, since the effort involved to transport them and lever them into place was so enormous. However Zoe, who knew the island well, explained that Menorca is an island with plenty of stone but very little wood, so stone was used in the same way as huge oak beams might have been used elsewhere in Europe for building.
If you visit Menorca, I hope you’ll take time to visit at least some of these unique prehistoric monuments and settlements that are dotted around the southern half of the island. There are 32 sites that are part of the UNESCO World Heritage proposal and maps are available from the tourism offices around the island. You can also find more information from the www.menorcaarqueologica.com website who arrange regular group tours to see some of the main sites.
Museums in Menorca that cover the Talayotic Culture
While in Mahon, I also visited a couple of museums to learn more about the Talayotic culture.
Ca n’Oliver – Centre d’Art i Història Hernández Sanz
In the Ca n’Oliver house in Mahon there was an interesting exhibition in the basement about the Talayotic culture and on display in one of the rooms were household pots and grinding stones, which were part of the collection of the house’s owner. Carrer Annuncivay 2, Mahon.
The Museum of Menorca in Mahon
The Museum was under renovation when I visited in May 2016, with most galleries closed, but they did have a temporary exhibition about the Talayotic culture which was free. Once the whole museum reopens, you’ll find galleries that cover the whole fascinating history of Menorca from the first inhabitants to the 19th and 20th centuries, including all the Talayotic history. Museo de Menorca, Avinguda del Doctor Guardia, Mahon.
More articles about Menorca
Visitor Information for Menorca and Mahon
If you need a guide to show you the sites of Mahon and Menorca, I can highly recommend Luis Amella of Menorca Guides
Thanks to Menorca Tourism for hosting my stay in Menorca, in a project in partnership with Spain Tourism, Menorca Tourism and Travelator Media