Posts Tagged ‘Chateau Volterra’

Lunch in St. Tropez

Nobody was in a hurry to move after staying up late the previous evening to toast the new year. I was up semi-early, and took advantage of the good light to wander the vineyards and shot photos. When everyone woke up we headed out for lunch at a place on Pampelonne Bay, and then to the St Tropez itself.

Here are the pictures:

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Cork Trees, Electric Fences and Surface Archeology

A dull day weather-wise: flat grey skies, cooler than it had been for the past several days, a forecast of rain that never materialized. I knew the forecast since I’ve gotten into the habit of bringing a small radio along on these trips, though there’s now wireless access throughout much of the house, so next time I will bring my computer and just look it up online. In the past I have enjoyed listening to Riviera Radio, which is broadcast out of Monaco, aimed squarely at English-speaking tourists and hip expats with money. On previous visits they tended to play a late of 90s-era Britpop, featuring heavy doses of tunes by The Verve, Blur, Oasis and the like. They seem to have altered format, so now they have a sometime odd mix of music, ranging from 70s disco to low-grade American hip-hop, with heavy doses of M.O.R. Elton John, Queen, Rod Stewart etc. I began to understand why my sister-in-law was so down on this station — listening to this stuff during the last harvest would have driven me batty too.

Very much to its credit however, they still play BBC news at the top of the hour, where I heard more about the student protests happening in various French cities against a newly proposed labour law that would make it easier to fire those in their mid-20s and under. My own feeling is that this is a left-ist policy gone too far, and which the latest government, desperately trying to bring back a level of flexibility and productivity in the workforce, and is adamantly trying to change. I don’t doubt that the students realize that this can only be the thin edge of the wedge, and are digging their feet in. It doesn’t strike me as a situation that is likely to end anytime soon.

After breakfast I headed out with the intention of walking the perimeter of the “north” vineyard, which I have never fully explored. Vanessa joined me, and we had a very pleasant walk around the circumference of the property. I took pictures of anything that took my interest, such as the chateau, small signs at the end of a row of plants bearing the name of the type of grape and the row number, and of any interesting local plants that popped up. It being a grey day none of the pictures were spectacular, but it was a nice walk nonetheless.

Syrah sign
Syrah sign

Dotted at odd intervals around the outside the grounds, and the small electric fence (designed to keep out the roving sanglier at night), were cork trees. Vanessa and I had a close look at them, and I explained how the tree bark was used in the production of cork stoppers for wine bottles. Even though I knew what it was, I was still surprised at how, upon taking off a piece of the bark, it was recognizably the same soft wooden material more commonly found at the top of wine bottles. On one of the trees I saw, the material was easily 6 or 7 inches thick, and came off easily from the relatively smooth and dark heartwood of the tree. The outside of the bark covering the tree is wonderfully wizened and gnarled. They have this ancient look about them, even if they aren’t actually as old as they might seem. Cork trees have the sort of texture that naturally lends itself to photography, even on leaden days like this.

The Thick Bark of Cork Tree on the Estate (The Darker Stuff is Heartwood, So You Can See How Thick the Actual Cork Bark Is)
The Thick Bark of Cork Tree on the Estate (The Darker Stuff is Heartwood, So You Can See How Thick the Actual Cork Bark Is)

By this point Vanessa had taken to collecting wild flowers in order to make a bunch when we got back to the house. Of course the very best wild flowers were on the other side of the electric fence. So every now and then I would lift her over it in order to grab some flowers of interest.

On the final leg of the trip back to the chateau we ran across a roadway which was obviously made from fill derived from a house that had been knocked down and “recycled”. Every now and then a piece of colourful tile would poke up from above the soil. In the end we had a hard look through some of it, and Vanessa was very happy to find a piece of nearly-intact earthen tile that still had the name of the manufacturer clearly stamped upon it. She very happily took that and her flowers back to the chateau, and I had a camera full of more shots that I needed to dump to my 1GB memory stick to look over later.

In the afternoon we took all of the kiddies for a “free-form” version of mini-golf, Cassandra in particular having a blast as she guided the colourful golf balls into their respective holes by any means possible. Annie came up with the “Annie Method”, which basically involved grabbing the golf ball and rolling it from a few inches away so that it almost always went in the whole. Vanessa just tore off and did all of the holes in the shortest available time.

Later we went to a local mini-mart where I picked up a “native” rechargeable battery outlet for the AA batteries my camera requires. The one I had brought with me, along with Erika’s hairdryer, seems to have died a horrible electric death. It’s not enough to have an adapter, but having the proper transformer also seems to be key. We also picked up ice cream for the kids, which went down very, very well of course.

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A Walk Down to the Seaside

The afternoon was pleasant and sunny. Bright and warmish in the direct sun, but cool almost to the point of chilly in the shade.

After yet another marvelous, very rich lunch, we decided to head down to the Mediterranean at the bottom of the estate. This is actually not something undertaken lightly, as the route is a highly circuitous path that winds its way down to the water, via an old, crumbling boat house. The girls love it because there are always shells to collect, and Erika likes it for the substantial exercise it provides when coming back up. I like the photo opportunities it usually provides, so we all went together. Little Cassandra also joined us, and though she was not as fast as the main party, doggedly walked all the way down and a good chunk of the way back as well. The two big Dobermans also accompanied us, despite the fact that both had been mauled and were still recovering from one of the nastier local sanglier that seems to have it in for the dogs on the estate.

The walk down was pleasant, and I took a number of pictures of some of the just-flowering plants, the chateau and the family as the opportunities arose.

The Chateau as Seen from the Terraced Garden
The Chateau as Seen from the Terraced Garden

Trees Blooming Alongside the Path
Trees Blooming Alongside the Path

One of the bet things about being here in the south of France this time of year is the fact that it is not too hot, (which would make the eventual trip back up the hillside easier), and that many of the plants and trees were just coming into their own.

We passed a couple of other people trekking in the area, who were looking into the undergrowth for fresh wild asparagus. We stopped briefly to see exactly what they were picking and where they were picking it from, giving us a better sense as to what to look for on the way back.

We eventually made it to the old boathouse, its concrete launch slowly being crumbled away by time and tide, in the water could be seen bits of old railing and the occasional large piece of gearing or other metal, now rusted and covered in algae, resting in the water.

Rusted Boat Launching Machinery by the Seaside
Rusted Boat Launching Machinery by the Seaside

All of the girls settled in to collecting seashells and beach glass. Erika took off her top and caught some sun while the dogs stood watch. I took my camera and took photos, hoping to spot interesting marine life in the tide pools, but in the end not coming up with much.

Things In The Tidepool
“Things” in the Tidepool

I did find a shattered – and somehow still living – piece of a sea urchin which had evidently been largely munched by something much bigger and not intimidated by its spikes, of which there were only small nubs left between the still-wriggling small feet. It was tossed back in the water, in the likely vain hope that it might regenerate.

On the way back up we started looking for wild asparagus. Erika and Vanessa ventured into the sometimes spiky undergrowth and came back with several handfuls of the stuff. I went ahead and continued to push Annie, who was in a stroller, and little Cassandra marched on up beside us.

Vanessa Proudly Showing Off the Wild Asparagus She's Collected
Vanessa Proudly Showing Off the Wild Asparagus She’s Collected

We met Josef on a scooter when we were in easy striking distance of the Chateau. He first gave Cassandra a ride back, and then in turn a thrilled Annie and then Vanessa.

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Napping in Frankfurt, Sleeping at the Chateau

We arrived at Frankfurt without incident, and after discovering that the gate for our flight to Nice had yet to be posted, we all found a convenient waiting area (gate A26) that was little used and basically camped out there for the several hours we had to wait between flights. The dogs were walked, the girls played with their toys, we all got to stretch our legs, and I picked up instant energy by buying a package of Toblerone chocolates from the nearest duty free shop to us. When pedestrian traffic was light I played with the girls on the “people movers” as well as on some nearby escalators. Everybody (save me) managed to get a nap in as well.

About an hour before our flight was to leave our flight to Nice was finally posted, so Jennifer and I roused everyone else up so that we could make our way to the correct gate for our flight.

The second flight of our trip was on a smaller, more comfortable plane that provided significantly more leg-room for the likes of me.

Erika and the girls napped for much of the flight, while I got to see the tops of the snow-covered alps far below. I noticed that further south we went, the less-snowy the countryside, until it was only to be seen on the tops of the higher mountains. The trip to Nice airport was just about an hour long, so it was a short, pleasant flight.

Despite the palm trees that could be seen dotted around the perimeter of Nice airport when we landed, the temperature was not much warmer than what we had left at home: about 13C.

We retrieved our bags, and then had to wait in line for ages for the rental car that had been pre-arranged for at the Hertz counter. For the record I made note of the other car rental services available at Nice airport, and they are: Sixit, ADA, Thrifty, Budget, Europcar and Avis. Avoid Hertz, and aim for one of these other agencies instead, who could apparently deal with their customers in a *much* more efficient manner than the single attendant at the Hertz desk. Good case in point: she called twice to ensure that the child seat that we had ordered was in fact there, and then, when we got there, Erika had to ask for it again and then I had to install it. Ugh — never again. And this was on top of at least one other call regarding the vehicle itself (which, for the record, was a roomy Peugeot mini-van). This also meant another ride, this time to the other terminal by bus, so there was another round of unloading and loading our baggage again. After having waited the better part of an hour waiting and then dealing with the Hertz representative, we finally got everybody, the luggage and the dogs piled into the rental mini-van, and headed off for the last leg of the trip to the estate near Ramatuelle.

Both girls slept again, which meant that for the first time, neither of them had been sick for any part of the long journey.

When we arrived we were greeted warmly by our hosts, and then we lugged ourselves and our baggage upstairs. We were shown rooms in the west wing, with individual rooms for Vanessa and Annie, as well as one for Erika and myself, so we essentially had an entire wing of the building to ourselves.

Since I was the only one of the group who hadn’t had any sleep over the course of the trip, after helping to sort things out I gratefully hit the hay and conked out for the night.

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