About nutmeg

Ginger and Nutmeg is a Food and Travel blog for Active Foodies hooked on travelling. We love food, history and digging into cultural traditions. This is a blog with a bit of humour, informative travel information and some great recipes.

Hiking Trails in the Estérels, French Riviera

Estérels French Riviera

Located in southeastern France, the Estérel coastal mountain range straddles both the Var and Alpes-Maritimes departments. Of volcanic origins, the massif is roughly 32,000 hectares of rugged terrain awaiting exploration. Mont Vinaigre is the highest peak at 618 metres. According to the Estérel Côte d’Azur tourism office, there are 72 trails for biking (road, gravel and mountain), hiking, and walking that crisscross the range, including many within the protected Forêt domaniale de l’Estérel. We highlight here a few of the popular trails. From the coastline Sentier du littoral (previously the customs footpath) to the forested hills of the Pay de Fayence there are many hikes in the Estérels for all ability levels.

French Riviera Hiking in the Estérels

Les Gorges du Blavet ©Estérel Côte d’Azur

French Riviera Hiking in the Estérels

Sentier du littoral ©Estérel Côte d’Azur

A Quick Visit to Constanta Romania

Romania was not at the top of Nutmeg’s bucket list, and neither was a 3-hour Ryanair flight from Marseille. The flight was a glimpse back to before Covid-19 days in its crowded boarding process and disorganized gate check. It was a mosh pit. Hopefully, no one lied on the pre-flight vaccine forms…
 
They arrived in Bucharest at midnight local time, so there was not much to see. The Hilton Airport Hotel could have been anywhere in the world and thankfully spotless. 
Constanta Romania History and Archaeology Museum
 
The next day G&N picked up a rental car + TomTom unit and headed to Constanta. Unfortunately, the TomTom died (no battery) about 30 minutes into what should have been a 2 1/2 hour drive but now looked like a 3-4 hour excursion due to traffic. The roads are slowly improving thanks to huge EU infrastructure funds (read debt). In the meantime, the truck and car snarls are significant. From Bucharest to Constanta, the scenery for over 200km is mostly farmland with slight variation. We passed enormous fields, ploughed at this time of the year. Romania is the 3rd largest agricultural producer in Europe and crops include wheat, corn, sunflowers, potatoes, and even a few grapes. 
Constanta Romania Port Tomis
 
Constanta in July and August is probably a scene that Nutmeg never wants to experience. The white sand beach stretches for 50km, lined by hotels, bars, restaurants etc. Yet, at this time of the year, it’s quiet, just a few walkers, dogs and swimmers in wet suits. Today the black sea was calm, but based on the infrastructure at the port, doubtful that is always the case.
 
The city itself is a bit of a contrast study with some beautiful old historical buildings, crumbling structures and partially constructed developments. Nutmeg had lunch on the water’s edge in Port Tomis, definitely a trendy area with lots of restaurants and good coffee. After lunch, she climbed the crumbling stairs covered in graffiti back to the hotel and called it a day.
 

24 hours in Bucharest, Romania

Travel to Romania

When the idea of travelling to Romania initially bubbled to the surface, G&N talked about a road trip. It seemed like a decent plan, given that their car had been almost idle since 2019. In addition, they could explore some new countries (Slovenia, Hungary) along the way. Also of interest was that the route would practically trace the Orient Express. We discovered this fact quite by hazard at the Recontres d’Arles Photography show in August. However, that was probably when they both realized just how far away Constanta was from Eygalières – 2,500+ km one way.24 hours in Bucharest Romania ParksBucharest Romania Carol I Statue

Pre-COVID and with a more extended stay in Europe, they would have gone ahead with Plan A. However, the reality of different COVID rules in each country and thousands of potential touchpoints became clear. So instead, they decided on Plan B and booked a Ryanair flight from MRS to OTP.

The flight from Marseille to Bucharest is only about 3 hours. But of course, you need to allow enough time for the airport scrum that comes along with discount flights, COVID paperwork and airport parking. Note to self: always book airport parking at MRS in advance to reduce the pre-flight stress level (a story for another time).

Bucharest Romania Parks

Tell Us About Romania

Here are a few fast facts on Romania. The name emerged from the significant Roman presence in Dacia (106-275 AD) when they exploited the region’s mineral deposits, including gold and silver. Romania has a long history of turmoil and domination under the Romans, Goths, Ottomans, Soviets and Nicolae Ceaușescu. In 1989, the country shed the shackles of communism and their terrible ruler and had the first free elections in 1990. However, it has been a long road for Romania to reach its current level of prosperity with an even longer journey ahead. Romania joined the EU in 2007 and is the fastest-growing economy. The country ranks third in European agricultural production. There is also a solid manufacturing base (cars, electronics), petroleum exports, alternative energy generation, and the fastest 4G network in Europe.

Bucharest Romania

Tourism in Romania was an essential economic driver before COVID-19 dealt a blow. Romania has three distinct geographic areas, roughly divided in thirds between mountains, forests, and rolling hills and plains.

Bucharest Romania Parks

24 hours in Romania’s Capital City

There is no question that the weather and a lovely hotel influence Nutmeg’s travel experiences. They arrived in Bucharest just after lunchtime on a sunny October afternoon. The drive was thankfully uneventful after the traffic jam that they had encountered two days before. The walking tour guide from Interesting Times Bureau, Bogdan, was far from surprised by G&N’s traffic story. Although it could be an urban myth, he said there are 100,000 parking spots in Bucharest and 1 million cars.

Bucharest Romania Dâmbovița River

It is quickly evident that during Bucharest history’s mega-money has been spent. EU funds for upgrades to roads, infrastructure and essential structures continues. However, it was King Carol I whose vision largely shaped today’s urban plan with wide boulevards, sizeable city parks, glorious fountains, and imposing public structures. A decisive French influence is evident in Belle Époque buildings, glass arcades and domes. Sprinkled between these beautiful structures are utilitarian apartment blocks, graffitied walls, stark reminders of unhappy times, and nondescript office buildings. A surprising number of churches and monasteries remain and are still active.

Bucharest Romania Church Cloisters

According to their guide, the most beautiful building in Bucharest is the Romanian Athenaeum (Ateneul Român), a concert hall that first opened in 1888.

Romanian Athenaeum Bucharest

And, its ugly sister, only slightly smaller than the Pentagon, is nicknamed “The Monster.” The Palace of Parliament (Palatul Parlamentului). According to the Guinness World Records, the People’s House (Casa Poporului) is the heaviest building on the planet. At 240 meters long, 270 meters wide and 86 meters high, it is truly enormous.

Quick Visit to Bucharest Palace of Parliament (Palatul Parlamentului)

Would They Go Back?

#1 As a coffee lover, Nutmeg always gives star points for great coffee. As it turns out, Francesco Illy, the man who invented the espresso coffee machine, was born in Timișoara, Romania.

#1a Ginger likes the Romanian beer.

#2 Generally, the food was good, and so was the wine.

#3 There is plenty to see, and G&N barely scratched the surface.

So, in conclusion, G&N hope to return to Romania, spend longer in Bucharest, and visit the mountains and the Daube delta the next time. Besides, they did not see Dracula.

Discover the Alpilles Vineyards in Provence

AOP Les Baux de Provence

Launched in 1995, Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) Les Baux de Provence was a bold step for a group of winemakers. They joined forces to carve out a unique identity in the ocean of, at that time, mediocre Provencal wine. Previously (since 1972) these wineries fell under the umbrella of the AOP Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence. The les Baux vintners felt that their production was blurred in the vast volume produced by that large AOP. Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) Les Baux was re-established in 1995 reverting to the original appellation formed in 1956. Today ten vineyards are members of the AOP and follow the same guidelines for making wine.

Discovering vineyards of the Alpilles Provence

The Stunning Alpilles

The landscape of the Alpilles is not exactly the land of milk and honey. Rather this is a harsh alpine climate that supports the growth of grapes, almonds, herbs de Provence, and olives. Known as the Alpilles (small Alps), this 30km band of jagged limestone cliffs and scrub brush is a protected regional park infused with wild aromas of herbes de Provence. At its highest point, the ridgeline of the mountains is only 498m (1,634 ft). Yet the gnarled limestone fingers reaching towards Provence’s blue heavens are simply arresting. The Park and its unscathed terroir are why the vineyard owners felt that their wines would be better served under the AOP Les Baux de Provence banner. Continue reading here for information about these vineyards in the Alpilles.

Alpilles Vineyards in Provence

Happy Holidays Enjoy the Festive Season from Ginger and Nutmeg

Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas 

Happy Hanukkah

Happy Holidays Ginger and Nutmeg 2017

Thank you for following Ginger and Nutmeg all over the map! Click here to check posts by map pin points.

We travelled to Australia (Melbourne for foodies, a 3-day visit to Sydney, and give Nutmeg Brisbane any day).

Parapont Noosa Headlands Sunshine Beach Sunrise Noosa Headlands Alexandra Bay Views Noosa Headlands Noosa Surfers Noosa Headlands

Then again Provence is always close to Nutmeg’s heart from sunflowers to cherry season recipes (clafoutis). Planning a trip to Provence in 2018? Check-out the G&N Perfectly Provence Touring Tips. And for new Provence temptation everyday skip over to Perfectly Provence for information on everything from food and wine to expat living. Find out where Pablo Picasso is buried and the legend of a monster and a castle in Tarascon.

Market Spices #FoodieTravel #TastesofTravel @GingerandNutmeg

 

Music fans should plan a visit to New Orleans for Jazz Fest. While you are in the “Big Easy” here are G&N’s tips for 5 Things your should do in New Orleans during your visit. Some extra reading before your visit: 5 Essentials for New Orleans Jazz Fest and New Orleans Jazz Fest A-Z for Foodies.

Shoes Jazz Fest @JazzJest #JazzFest #NOLA #NewOrleans Bourbon Street @JazzJest #JazzFest #NOLA #NewOrleans Umbrellas Jazz Fest @JazzJest #JazzFest #NOLA #NewOrleans

Of course there is always a place for Paris in Nutmeg’s heart. Our Paris Favourites list for your next trip and a shopping tour by Kasia Dietz.

Kasia-Dietz-@KasiaDietzBags kasia-dietz-handbags-rive-droite-rive-gauche @kasiadietzbags

Here are some recipe ideas for the holidays and entertaining.

Happy Holidays! 

Clos de Montmartre a Vineyard in Paris

Nutmeg had read about a small vineyard in Paris, located in the shadows of the Sacré-Coeur spires. The last time either Ginger or Nutmeg had been to Montmartre was in the 1980s. After a crazy taxi ride complete with construction bottlenecks, pre-Christmas traffic, impossibly narrow streets and hills only fit for funiculars they arrived in the middle of a mob scene. A clear Saturday afternoon right before sunset, it was immediately obvious why there had been a 30-year gap since their last visit.

Sacre Coeur

Continue reading

Calisson d’Aix a Sweet Almond Candy for a Queen of Provence

Calisson is a specialty candy from Aix en Provence made with almonds. There are several versions of the story surrounding how, and when this sweet treat was first made.

The French are certain the invention was theirs. It may have been as early as 1473 in honour of the King, Roi René’s second wedding, or later on as production, trade and development expanded. The first story involves a bride who was to be queen. She appeared dour, possibly unhappy with her lot in life. The tale whether true, or not, is that she smiled when she tasted candies.

Calissons d'Aix Continue reading

Easy Visit to Bordeaux and the Famous Vineyards

Some time ago (number of years not to be disclosed here) Nutmeg travelled to San Sebastian, Spain via train. At that point, backpack travel was heavily influenced by “Europe on $20 a Day” and where your Eurail pass would take you. So, she and her travel companion spent a total of two hours in Biarritz and about the same in Bordeaux.

A visit to France’s southwest was long overdue.

This time G&N are not travelling on Eurail passes or sleeping in hostels. They were booked on a six-day guided walking tour through the Pays Basque. Nutmeg convinced Ginger to visit Bordeaux, its famous vineyards and venture to the Atlantic coast for a few days before the walking trip started. As their available time shrunk, so did the itinerary. In the end, they decide on two nights in Bordeaux, two in wine country and two in Biarritz. Spain would have to wait for another time.

The drive from Provence to Bordeaux is a relatively painless journey on super-highways. Just over six hours later they arrived in Bordeaux’s historic centre at the Mama Shelter. The hotel is close to shops, historic sights and it has a long cocktail list. What more do you need? G&N decided to go for a short pre-dinner stroll to orient themselves and do a bit of sight-seeing in the dying September daylight.

Bordeaux Street Art

Beautiful Bordeaux

If you could fall in love with a city, it might be Bordeaux. A pedestrian-friendly walking and cycling path stretches the length of the milk chocolate coloured Gironde River. Along the way you see skateboarders, box lacrosse players, hip-hop dance moves and much more. Bordeaux has a young vibe thanks to its university (Nutmeg says, “Wish I had thought of that”).

Bordeaux Panorama

However, the city is not young. Traces of human settlement in the area date to the 6th century BC. Burdigala was the Roman name for Bordeaux an important trading post in the “the land of waters” – present day Aquitaine. We can all thank the Romans (not Robert Parker, but that is another story) for the birth of the wine trade in this region.

Bordeaux Gros Cloche Gate

Other than the sweeping bend of a muddy river the first thing that struck Nutmeg upon arrival in Bordeaux was the gleaming limestone buildings. It is no wonder some call the city “little Paris.” UNESCO awarded Bordeaux World Heritage status for its notable 18th-century architecture in both private and public buildings.

Bordeaux City Hall Hotel de Ville

The next day dawned with a threatening sky, but the Weather Channel App challenged nature with a sunny forecast. The app was correct. G&N headed to the tourist office to purchase the 24-hour version of the Bordeaux City Card. Once activated the card allows for access to many historical sites, museums and the use of public transit. The only issue is on Mondays (the day they bought their passes) several places are closed. Buyer beware!

Bordeaux Monument aux Girondins

Their timing was perfect to join the 10 am walking tour which starts at the main tourist office. The tour (in English) lasts about two hours. It is an informative overview of some key events in Bordeaux’s history and main sites. Highly recommended by G&N. However, the guide’s lack of enthusiasm for her job was evident. Perhaps she wanted to do the French tour, or stay in bed? Who knows.

Bordeaux Pont Chaban Delmas

Bordeaux Cité du Vin

The balance of the day G&N walked and walked and walked. Although their phone logs disagreed, their total walking distance was between 17.8 and 19.5km. Certainly, far enough to justify the glass of wine that is part of your entry fee to the Cité du Vin (museum, shops, restaurants and exhibition space dedicated to wines of the world). And, the bottle they shared at dinner.

Bordeaux Cité du Vin Belvedere Wine Tasting

Bordeaux Eglise St Louis de Chartrons

Exploring Bordeaux Wine Country

Day two. It was time to head to wine country, which is literally on Bordeaux’s doorstep. Their first stop was Pomerol and then onto Saint Emilion. There were plenty of signs for renowned vineyards, but few indications that degustation (wine tasting) was welcome. The winemakers were in full harvest mode and hosting tourists to sample their wines was not a priority.

G&N had been warned that these wine country villages lacked charm, except for Saint-Émilion. Situated on a hilltop surrounded by stone terraces, the remains of rampart walls and this village oozes with medieval history. Saint-Émilion is also brimming with wine boutiques and other opportunities to part with some of your hard-earned cash. G&N arrived in time to join the guided “Underground Tour” which includes a visit to the monolithic church. In 90-minutes they had gained a better appreciation for Saint-Émilion’s history – don’t miss this tour. Tour details here.

Adjusting Travel Plans

Their dinner reservation at 20h left just enough time for a little wine shopping and relaxation. Thanks to Visa the shopping part was executed without any trouble. The relaxation part, however, took a turn for the worse, Nutmeg strained her knee (it’s an old age thing), and basically, dinner plans were thrown in the air. What was to be a gourmet dining experience, turned out to be Ginger searching for pizza. Ever the boy scout he returned with pizza, grilled veggies and a bottle of Bordeaux red. Nutmeg was virtually immobile in the second story apartment that they had rented.

The next morning was bright and sunny but clouded by Nutmeg’s immediate vision. How was the heck was she going to get down two long flights of stairs? And, then scale the uneven cobblestone street. Ginger to the rescue! He executed a masterful car-jockey move and managed to drive through the tiny streets during the morning delivery “window” and before the roads were closed to pedestrians.

Blaye Visit Cut Short

Nutmeg’s virtual friend J.Christina suggested that they visit the citadel at Blaye before crossing the Gironde River by ferry. Unfortunately, walking more than 100 meters, even with hiking poles, and anything that looked like stairs was out of the question, so a visit to this remarkable site was not going to happen. The following is from J.Christina’s original blog post “Blaye, France: Le Citadelle de Blaye.

Blaye rampart walls-J.Christina

Let me introduce you to Blaye, France, a petite but mighty hamlet, sitting at the southern tip of the Gironde estuary, formed by the confluences of the nearby Dordogne and Garonne rivers. Blaye is a historical and powerful commune from medieval times, where the Citadel of Blaye and its military fortifications sit majestically over the waters of Western Europe’s largest estuary.

Le Citadelle de Blaye, a medieval fortress, along with Fort Médoc and Fort Paté, formed a military defense system during the 18th and 19th centuries to protect the downstream port of Bordeaux from sea invasions and wars. It is a legendary example of engineering genius and Romanesque architecture designed and built by the famous engineer Vauban and named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. A picture-postcard town, with scarred ramparts that bear witness to battles and conflict through this gallant maritime route.

Enchanting Blaye-J. Christina

Nowadays, the citadel is a living monument, where inside the bastion, a warren of cobblestone streets, stone houses, artisan shops, cafes, and wine shops, still thrive. From atop the medieval walls of this photogenic Blaye Citadel, there are stunning panoramic views of the estuary and across to the famed Médoc. It’s a place here photographers return time, and time again to catch a shot of the golden light that reflects on the estuary waters.

Please click here to read the balance of her post.

Crossing the Gironde estuary by ferry takes 15-25 minutes, depending on the tides. As described by J.Christina, at this point the Garonne and Dordogne rivers have joined, and the roiling, tan water is heading towards the Atlantic. The ferry captain must manipulate tidal forces and river’s current to execute a sweeping crossing of the estuary. Once on the other side, the famed chateaux of Médoc are within easy driving distance. However, in most cases, an appointment (or guide) is required to visit these “temples” of wine.

Over the week, Nutmeg’s knee got progressively better helped by many terrific wines.

Bordeaux Wine

Image credits: Photos of Blaye citadel and street scene in Blaye by J.Christina


Key websites for trip planning:

Bordeaux Tourism 

Saint-Émilion Tourism

A Visit to the Tarascon Castle and the Legend of a Monster in Provence

The Heart of Darkness or Niger Focus (later Nerluc) might have been an appropriate name for the hamlet located on the shores of a murky, swampy river. The muddy, opaque waters fueled rumours cultivating the nightmares of residents who asked was the beast:

A huge serpent?
A dragon?
A fierce half-lion?
A vicious turtle?

Tarascon Monster #Tarascon #Tarasque #ProvenceLegends @GingerandNutmeg

Continue reading

Pablo Picasso at Rest near Aix-en-Provence

Château de Vauvenargues is located in the village by the same name, a few kilometers from Aix-en-Provence. This castle has a lengthy history.  The present structure was built on the site of a former Roman settlement. Over the centuries, Provencal counts and then the Archbishops of Aix occupied the castle. Clearly, it pays to be the doctor of a king; in 1474 Roi René gifted the Château to his physician Pierre Robin d’Angers.

chateau-de-vauvenargues

Continue reading