AK Travels: Rhone Valley, Southern France
The Ambitious Kitchen team spent eight days in France learning about the food and wine culture for the #HertzSuperStart scavenger hunt campaign. During part one of our trip we explored the Rhone Valley region of Southern France. This trip was sponsored by Hertz Europe, Air France, Briggs & Riley, Rhone Valley Wines and www.visitfrenchwine.com.
As you may have seen from Insta Stories, our trip started a biiit earlier than we had planned for. We were having a regular work day organizing and getting ahead on things before we *supposedly* were leaving the next day, when Abra told me to take a look at her computer. After downloading our boarding passes to Paris we realized that our flight was at 5pm THAT DAY.
It was 12:30 and neither of us were packed.
SO we ran around, packed all of the summer clothes & shoes we could shove into our bags, miraculously remembered adapters, and got our butts to the airport (with plenty of time I might add!) I fit all of my stuff in this awesome suitcase from Briggs & Reilly. It has a hard exterior, which I love, and comes in a few different colors & sizes. Had to go with fiery red.
We flew Air France from Chicago to Paris, and then from Paris to Marseille where we picked up our Hertz rental car. They hooked it UP with a Mercedes, which was thankfully automatic. Abra and I were about to be rollin’ in style, and were ready to kick off our 8-day scavenger hunt across two regions of Southern France.
We met up with our guide for the next few days, Louisianne, who was a literal gem during our first few days in France helping us translate, navigate, and inform us about what we were eating.
We safely made our way through the streets of Avignon, and landed in our first home of the trip: an incredibly charming bed and breakfast called La Petite Saunerie. This place looked like a castle with it’s indoor + outdoor vibes, gorgeous courtyard, stone walls, and high ceilings.
We snapped a photo in the halls as one of our scavenger hunt clues. After finding a late dinner in Avignon, we did our best to get to sleep early and beat the jetlag.
The next morning we were up early to feast on homemade baked goods, jams and coffee from our wonderful hostess. This is where I had probably the BEST, and largest, croissant of my life. France was off to a great start.
For our first full day in Southern France we toured the local market called Halles d’Avignon, and then drove about an hour to visit the tunnels of Sernhac. We toured two tunnels called Perrotte and Cantarelles, which were built back in 50 AD (only a little old). The tunnels were the main source of streamlining water throughout the entire region for everything from bathing to wine-making! Clue #2 had us take a pic in one of the tunnels here:
We ended our tour with our first wine-tasting of the trip at Domaine De Poulvarel.
From there we headed to the famous aqueduct, Pont du Gard – built by the Romans over 40 centuries ago. We picnic’d on the grounds and explored the massively beautiful structure. Apparently it’s a pretty hoppin’ place to kayak, tube and chill, and I wish we brought our suits!
Finally, we winded the ol’ Mercedes to a region called Ardéche, which is known for its lush national parks, trails, and famous caves. We landed at Notre Dame de Cousignac – another super cute bed & breakfast owned by Rafael and Rachel Pommier and their 5 adorable kids.
Rafael is a 7th generation organic winemaker in the region, and he prides himself on doing things the old fashioned way without pesticides or synthetic chemicals. He relies on nature, the elements, and human hands to craft his beautiful wines, and the way he spoke about his relationship with the land around him was truly inspiring.
Another scavenger hunt clue checked off while we relaxed by the pool.
After enjoying some sparkling wine, olives, cheeses, and a little marco polo with the kids, we had one of my favorite dinners of our trip with Rafael and Rachel. It started with a fresh gazpacho with homemade goat’s milk ice cream, which had an amazing flavor profile. They also cooked up fresh zucchini and tomatoes from their garden stuffed with delicious lamb meatballs and a light, flavorful broth (all paired with his incredible wines).
We finished the meal with homemade ice cream with blueberry jam, and I was in heaven.
They are fully organic and farm-to-table, and are actually opening a full-service restaurant later this summer! If you’re ever in this region, their B&B is a MUST stay.
After a late dinner it was off to bed because we were going CAVING with Rafael and his team the next morning.
We woke up early and had some more croissants, bread & homemade jam (are you sensing a theme here?) with Rachel before heading to the famous caves where Rafael keeps some of his wines. We stopped to snap a few pics of the Gorges de l’Ardèche – these huge gorges where the caves were located. People were actually biking on these crazy roads above the gorge, and we’re guessing they were training for the Tour de France.
Okay then we went caving aka spelunking and it was INSANE. The cave was called Grotte de St Marcel d’Ardeche, and so far they’ve explored 57 km of it. That’s 35 miles underground. That’s crazy.
We wore some stylish caving suits for crawling, hiking, and sliding through the cave. Rafael kept some of his wines in the cave because the temperatures remain at 14 degrees C (57 degrees F) year-round, aka perfect conditions for some delicious wine! The cave was so big that it had actual rooms in it, and of course we stopped in a room to do a blind tasting without any lights or noises. Quite the experience (and quite the photo for our next clue):
By this time we had worked up quite an appetite, so we parted with Rafael (literally the sweetest man ever). And headed to Grignan for lunch and wine at Le Clair de la Plume. There we met Melina, a winemaker at Domaine de Montine Grignan.
This was probably one of the most exotic meals we had. It was about 5 courses, which included everything from foamed tomato over croutons and burrata (pictured below) and liquid-y, fried blood sausage (hmmm) to delicious cheese and lovely win pairings.
By the end of it we were stuffed, but ready to try some more local wines!
Melina drove us in her adorable car to Domaine de Montine Grignan where we toured the beautiful grounds, and learned about her family’s 4th generation winery. Melina and her Camille are taking over the Domaine after their fathers, and we were excited to hear about their #girlboss journey.
We tried about 5 of the wines, and they had names like: “Seduction,” “Emotion,” “Red Muse.” Their wines are a mix of Syrah and Grenache in the region, and they were lovely. Melina also gifted us real, fresh truffles that are grown on her vineyard and I’m dying to find something to cook with them. Any suggestions?
On our way out we stopped in the most beautiful lavender fields. They were seriously straight out of a dream!
That night we headed to Sainte Cécile les Vignes and stayed at Rouge Bleu – a bed & breakfast owned by Thomas Bertrand and his Australian wife, Caroline. They lived on a lovely biodynamic winery where they did everything by hand and without pesticides. I loved that all of these vineyards utilized the environment and a team of people to create something so amazing!
We tried a few of their wines made with grapes from the region: Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvédre, and then had dinner in town with Thomas. Abra and I both had a a really interesting salmon dish that consisted of thickly sliced salmon filets that were cured in a mix of spices and served with a cucumber + burrata salad.
We followed that up with a delicious, flaky white fish served with roasted veggies and a flavorful risotto. Oh, and ended with dessert wine & chocolate ganache, of course.
WE’RE SO FULL.
Theme of the day: what day is it?! We rolled out of bed on the 23rd (oh, it’s Saturday), had our daily croissant and coffee, and headed to the town market called Marché de Sainte Cécile with Louisianne.
There we check out all of the fresh produce, tried on our fair share of hats, and then were off to a beautiful vineyard in Beaumes de Venise in a mountainous region called Massif des Dentelles de Montmirail.
We drove up and around the massive vineyard, Rhonea, with a guide in a 4×4 and had quite the time off-roading. All of the grapes in this region were also picked by hand, which was insane! The gravel roads winded around cute little towns, and we stopped to check out the fresh rosemary & capers growing nearby. This region is known for its Muscat, so we tasted a some sweeter wines and a lovely red.
Next up on our scavenger hunt – snap a pic with our badass 4×4!
Our 4×4 adventure was followed up with another large lunch at Le Dolium. Three courses consisting of:
- fresh tuna topped with pickled veggies and a scallion pancake
- a kabob of grilled jumbo prawns and veal
- some sort of strawberry sorbet with sweet macarons on top
These were all paired with the local wines and ended with a sweet Muscat. Two hours later, we were pretty much rolling out of lunch.
We ended the first half of our trip back in Avignon, where we had a two-on-one wine tasting at Carré du Palais with a sommelier from University of Suze la Rousse. The sommelier taught us all about using all 5 senses to taste wine, so we tested our knowledge of different smells and tastes and are pretty much sommeliers ourselves now.
Hint of pine, a bit of sweet raspberry, a smoky aftertaste – yeah, I’m a pro.
We grabbed a late dinner in town, and then it was a off to our home for the evening – a lovely hotel in the center of Avignon called Hotel de l’Horloge before part TWO of our weeklong adventure.
Things we learned, Part 1:
1. Lunches can last up to 2.5-3 hours, and can be pretty heavy. After our usual throw-together-a-salad or eggs for lunch, Abra and I had to quickly adapt to the midday feasting.
2. The fresh produce in Southern France is incredible. It was peach season while we were there and we were in love.
3. There are super strict regulations for wine (and most other products) to be considered organic, which is why winemakers like Rafael, Thomas and Melina have their craft so refined. Everything is from the earth and done by hand.
4. It’s acceptable to drink wine all. day. long.
5. Pay attention to the million roundabouts and narrow streets everywhere – thank goodness for GPS!
Read up more on the wines and regions we toured here, and if you’re visiting Southern France, be sure to head to the Rhone Valley region to check out some of these amazing places.
Thank you to everyone we met in the Rhone Valley region for the lovely food, wine, and company. Part TWO coming to you soon!
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