M. L. Longworth

On food, writing and life in the south of France

Autumn in Piedmont

It was an unplanned mini-break; one of those last minute trips that turn out fantastic—not life changing, but almost. Inspiring, relaxing, good for the soul and body.

I had just turned in the manuscript for my eighth book and our daughter, Eva, who works in diplomacy in Paris, called to say she had a week off at the end of October. Should we do a quick trip somewhere? I was waiting for the copy edits to arrive from New York, so the timing was perfect. It was also a chance to spend a week with Eva, who, as a busy Parisian, has friends with whom she normally travels. Yes! I answered. We decided on Piedmont.

We love Italy, and can drive to Piedmont from our house in Provence (the end of October is the Toussaint holiday in France—All Saints’ Day). But here it’s a two week school vacation which makes it really hard to go away last minute. The French are VERY organized at vacation planning and they line things up months in advance, a lesson we found out the hard way years ago when we booked a last-minute apartment in Rome that smelled like cat pee (now we only reserve in Rome with an outfit called Romeloft.com. Highly recommended).

But our bible for travelling in Northern Italy is Faith Willinger’s 1998 book “Where to Eat in Italy.” I got it out and tried to reserve a few places near Alba, but guess what, it’s the white truffle season on top of being the Toussaint, and everything was booked. I re-read her chapter on Piedmont, and saw that she loves a place further north, in the Monferrato hills, a bed and breakfast, Azienda Agricola Il Mongetto, in the village of Vignale Monferrato. I contacted them and they had one room left. Hurrah! We drove most of the day, as we made a stop in the hills near Barolo, south of Alba; but those famed villages, although beautiful, were swarming with tourists (including Italian tourists), so we arrived in Vignale only around 7:00pm. Here’s the dining room, just before dinner:

For dinner it was candle-lit.

Our dinner, in typical Piedmontese style, was about eight courses (at the ravioli we realized that we were only half way through the meal, as it was only the pasta course!). Carlo, who runs the place (it’s his ancestral home) also makes very good Barbera wine. Sylvia, a woman from the village, works in the kitchen. The place was packed, with Italians (multi-generational at the big tables), the two of us, and a group of British wine enthusiasts. One of the desserts (there was also Sylvia’s chocolate cake) were these mini rum babas soaked in limoncello:

Our bedroom:

and our kitchen the next morning (we were given an apartment on the top floor) :



Talk about rustic charm! We were in love. Carlo made us an excellent breakfast (his bright-yellow scrambled eggs are the best I’ve ever had; he makes them using mostly the yolk—as Sylvia had used the egg whites the previous evening in her artichoke flans, covered in local melted cheese. That was course three…or four?)

We decided to walk that day, skipping lunch. Neither of us are very sporty, but the day was so warm and sunny, the fall colours so beautiful, that we decided to walk from Vignale to the next town, Camagna (a distance of about eight kilometers; it took an hour one way). The views:

Camagna in the distance, with its monumental church spire.

Walking into the village.

By the time we got to Camagna we were thirsty (still not hungry). Luckily, the village’s only bar was open and we each had a glass of Prosecco for three euros, with some peanuts. We sat outside and watched the villagers go about their business, and yearned after this lovely house across the street:

This is their terrace, through the blue door, with views off onto the Monferrato hills).

Back on the road, just past the cemetery…

…we came across a man picking crab apples. He waved and ran across the road and gave us a handful, explaining that the tree was on communal village land. We had snacks for our walk home, although bitter ones. This man would be just one of the very kind people we met that week, and we would run into him a few days later, on the same walk.

Back in Vignale we made friends with a local shop owner who sells local wines, food products, and vintage clothes! Eva tried on a few stellar leather and suede coats from the sixties, long and very fitted. Think Catherine Deneuve, or Jane Birkin. We also visited Vignale’s “Infernot,” a centuries-old cellar built into the rock cliff under the village; it was used for storing food and wine, or for the villagers to hide from attacking neighboring townsmen.

After another glass of Prosecco served, as with most aperitifs in Italy, with a generous selection of local cold cuts and focaccia, we wandered into a strange premises with a sign on the window: Biblioteca Privata. Enter Franco, owner of this private library, who has catalogued over five thousand books, some dating back to the 1600s. He doesn’t loan them out, but loves showing people around.

Eva and Franco (Eva’s face was still flushed from our walk, and the surprisingly sunny day!).

Franco’s wife is a psychiatrist, hence the Le Corbusier lounger next to his books! And, Carlo told us later that night, Franco is Vignale’s mayor.

Vignale may be our new favourite small town in Italy! Warm friendly people, a few local eccentrics, beautifully preserved architecture, and a good choice of trattorias and cafés. Perfect.

A street leading into town.

The view from Vignale’s highest point, the Belvedere.

The next day we decided to explore the surrounding villages, including visiting a few wineries. We were not disappointed and ended up meeting yet more great people (partly thanks to their excellent English, or French, and Eva’s Italian!). One of our most enjoyable stops was at a family winery called the Cascina Gasparda (Cascina is local dialect for ‘domaine’ or ‘farm’).

Brothers Roberto and Mauro make red wines out of the unsung varietals of Monferrato, including the more well known Barbera, but also light and fruity Grignolino and the even lesser known, and delicious Freisa that has a violet/rose bouquet. Roberto, who was a graphic designer in Milan for fifteen years before coming back home, spoke very posh English, thanks to a stint working in the UK, and later, Australia. Here he is with his wines:

And again the Piedmontese hospitality hit us, with Roberto’s mother who kept trying to feed us chunks of Parmesan cheese and bread sticks, even though we had pulled up in front of their house unannounced. The same thing happened the next day, when we visited, by chance, the winery Canato, where the wine-maker’s 91-year-old father had just celebrated his 72nd harvest. He was in fine form, and kept calling us bella donnas.

Wine and food are all-important in the Monferrato hills, and the cuisine somehow feels so autumnal (in its richness and warmth?). And most of the restaurants we went to, even small ones, offered dozens and dozens of local wines, which is a real joy:

In a nearby village, Calliano, at the Osteria L’Antico Granaio. One of our best meals; very refined. All local ingredients and products.

Inside the Osteria L’Antico Granaio, featuring the red-brick vaulted ceilings present in many Piedmontese interiors:

We didn’t just eat and drink! Honest! One day we drove to a medieval abbey, Santa Maria at Vezzolano, but Eva took the photographs that day. And on our next-to-last day we re-did our walk to Camagna, where our crab-apple friend pulled over his car so that he could properly chat with us, and the vintage clothing boutique owner did the same when she drove by, and the waitress and cook at Camagna’s only restaurant, La Rocca, chatted with us for a half an hour after our lunch, amazed that we had walked there, and so charmed by a young blond Parisian who speaks Italian. Mama (me that is) looked on, beaming! and once again, with a very full stomach. But most of all, so happy to have spent a week with my daughter in such a beautiful part of the world, where people know true generosity and kindness. Piedmont, you are amazing.

One last view on the road between Vignale and Camagna:

Our favourite places:

To stay:

Dré Castè, Azienda Agricola Il Mongetto: www.mongetto.it

Azienda Agricola Cascina Gasparda: www.cascinagasparda.com

To Eat:

Dré Castè (especially if you have a room there) in Vignale.

Trattoria Serenella on the main square in Vignale.

La Rocca di Camagna in Camagna.

Osteria L’Antico Granaio in Calliano.


Il Mongetto

Cascina Gasparda


Twenty Years Living in Aix-en-Provence

Twenty Years in Provence: A Tribute to the Classics

The chapel of Sainte Catherine de Sienne, where our daughter went to elementary school.

Our decision to move to France was fueled by wanting our then three-year-old daughter to grow up bilingual, as my husband had, and partly by some words left in the guestbook at the Hotel Cardinal in downtown Aix-en-Provence, “Une nuit, une femme, chambre 11, le bonheur…” I knew enough French to get the romance in that elegant script, and shoved the page into my husband’s face. “We have to move here,” he said in agreement. We were in Aix, on holiday, for a week, and my husband managed to get an interview with a local French company that needed a bilingual Web engineer with Silicon Valley experience. Two days later he was offered the position, and in the rest of our photographs from that trip we look dazed and confused, or at worst moments, as if we had been punched in the gut. “Be careful what you dream for,” my mother said, laughing. That was late November, and by mid-February, two weeks after our daughter’s fourth birthday, we were living in Aix.

Aix in 1997 was a sleepy provincial town. You could park your car on the Cours Mirabeau, which at that time still had some mom-and-pop shops. Nowadays, only international chain stores can afford the rent of one of France’s most beloved main streets, and the obligatory underground parking garages can be full by noon. Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” was only eight years old (I devoured it on the plane moving here), and Occitane didn’t yet have a shop on the rue Espariat, nor in airports around the world and in downtown Dubai and Tokyo and Helsinki.

Twenty years later, here’s a nod to nine Aix classics that are still going strong:


1) Two Cafés: Le Grillon and Les Deux Garçons

The faded and elegant Les Deux Garçons, with mirrored walls lined in gilt, has been a café since 1792. Cézanne and his best friend, Emile Zola, were regulars, and the café with its over-priced restaurant was visited by Churchill, Picasso, Edith Pïaf and Catherine Deneuve. Newcomers to Aix inevitably drift to Les 2 G’s, as I did, where I’d sit on the terrace and imagine MFK Fisher here in 1960, chatting with her girls after they got out of school at Ste-Catherine de Sienne. She wrote, “The little girls drank lemonade and I beer in complete and sudden ease: we were in the right place at the right moment, and we knew it would last.” Nowadays I prefer Le Grillon down the street (Le Mazarin in my books), where I began writing my first novel in the early mornings after dropping my own daughter off at Ste-Catherine. Mornings are best here, inside its elegant interior of ochre-painted patina walls and saw-dust covered tiled floor, under the hush of clients’ whispers and the thudding noise of the espresso machine. Local lawyers arrive before 8:30am and throw their black judicial robes over the backs of chairs before heading off to court. And one of the best things about breakfast at Le Grillon, despite the mediocre coffee, is the fact that they serve buttery moist croissants from Béchard across the street.


2) Two Shops: Patisserie Béchard and the Fromagerie Savelli

The best pastries in Aix are found at Béchard’s, and the best cheese at Savelli’s, and I defy anyone to challenge me on this. Béchard’s, on the Cours, is an institution, as the queue that flows out of the shop and onto the street during certain fête times will testify. I love their springy brioches glacés for breakfast, and for dessert the simple Chantilly-filled sponge cake Le Tropezienne. My friend Philippe once found in his 17th century home’s attic a receipt from Béchard, for two brioches. It was handwritten, of course, and dated 1902. Cézanne himself might have been in the same queue along with Philippe’s ancestor. On the other side of town, near the town hall, is the Fromagerie Savelli. Sylvie Savelli, a dark beauty, is a cheese affineur, meaning she ages her chevres, bleues, and tommes in three separate subterranean cellars beneath her shop. I never buy cheese at the supermarket anymore—it’s just never as flavorsome, or perfectly aged, as Sylvie’s—essentially, not worth the calories.


3) The Fountains

Philippe (the same) remembers his grandmother filling up jerry cans with the healing waters of the Quatre Dauphin fountain, then lugging them, no matter the weather, back to the family mansion on the south side of the Cours. There are 23 fountains in Aix, each one has its own story, its own charm. The fountain Des Neufs Canons in the middle of the Cours was permanently damaged in 1944 by an Allied tank; its neighbor, the fountain d’Eau Chaude (La Moussue to locals as it is covered in moss from which steam rises up in winter) was also once damaged, in this case by “young imbeciles drunk on wine.” That was further back, in 1670. The most photographed fountain must be the one in the Place d’Albertas; it’s not a particularly old fountain, but the square, paved with small rounded river stones and lined with charming 17th century mansions, is one of the city’s most beautiful.

The Place d’Albertas

4) Cathedral Saint-Sauveur

Aix’s cathedral may not be the city’s prettiest church (that prize goes to the smaller Saint-Jean de Malte) but it’s the oldest, work having begun in 500AD on the site of the abandoned Roman forum. Slender red Roman bricks, and tall columns from a temple, were reused in building the Cathedral; the columns are now in the baptistery, the bricks on the exterior façade. Saint-Sauveur also houses one of the city’s most tranquil spots: a 12th century cloister that is lined by twin sets of columns, each capital exquisitely carved with biblical stories. There’s a restored sculpture of Saint Peter that is almost identical to one found at Saint-Trophime in nearby Arles. Here the Saint, who holds the keys to heaven, is full of personality; his face, hair and short curly beard are finely carved; his robes a mass of crisp vertical pleats from the layers of fabric he wears. It is assumed that the talented 13th century sculptor travelled from parish to parish, working freelance. He would have trudged up these same neighboring streets, narrow and twisting, that remain unchanged since his time.


5) The Markets

You know a real food aficionado in Aix if they talk about the market stall of Mme Martin. She doesn’t sell bananas or pineapples; only fruit and vegetables locally grown on her farm outside of Aix. She’s a reoccurring minor character in my books. Mme Martin can be found in the enormous thrice-weekly market located on the Place des Prêcheurs, soon to be relocated for three years, because of construction works, on the blvd Sextuis (sadly one of Aix’s only dingy streets). So instead, go to the daily market, in fact smaller and more intimate, on the Places des Herbes. In spring one producer proudly displays mountains of asparagus, thin and fat, white and green; another, in fall, sets up stacks of wild mushrooms. A group of nuns sell a small selection of dainty floral bouquets and some vegetables, very good quality if over-priced. At 1pm waiters in neighboring cafés hover, until the square is cleared and cleaned, then quickly set up their tables and chairs.

6) Atelier Cézanne

At the turn of the century Paul Cézanne’s art was called, by an influential Aixois, « sale peinture » (dirty paintings), and the Musée Granet’s director vowed never to have Cézanne’s work exhibited in the museum. Aix thus missed out on owning a priceless collection. It’s a shock to think that Cézanne’s widow Hortense sold his work after his death at rock bottom prices, so that she could have a bit of fun on the Côte d’Azur. Nevertheless, Cézanne’s spirit is felt all over town, nowhere more than at his atelier. The dusty studio, located on a hill in the city’s north end, was left untouched after the artist’s death in 1906. The Provençal clay pots, colorful tablecloths, and stone cupids that starred in his revolutionary still-lifes fill the room; his hat and black coat hang in a corner. Up the street, wide stone steps lead through lavender and rosemary to a lookout with a view of Montagne Sainte-Victoire. From here Cézanne painted some of the one hundred-odd versions of the mountain, always feeling he never got it quite right.


7) Oratories

Aix has one of France’s largest collections of oratories (92)—niches carved into street corners or façades that contain stone statues, sometimes accompanied by candles and flowers. Their purpose? To ask the saints’ intercession with God to prevent another deadly outbreak of the plague from entering the city. They were also reminders to say prayers, and possibly locations of blessings or even mass. Most of the oratories contain the Virgin and Child; there’s a black virgin on the corner of the meter-wide rue Esquicho Coudre (Street of Squeezed Elbows), carved in 1663, and four statues of Saint-Roch, the patron saint in times of plague. Roch carries a staff, and points to an open wound on his leg. A small dog sits before him; it’s the dog who nursed him back to health. If you’re in Aix with children, the oratories can be used as a game. How many dogs? How many pilgrims? (find the scallop shells).



8) Montagne Sainte-Victoire

In 1958 Picasso telephoned his agent to tell him he had just purchased Cézanne’s Sainte-Victoire. “Which one?” his agent asked, thinking Picasso was referring to a painting. “The original!” replied the Spaniard. And he really did buy a big chunk of the mountain, along with a château in Vauvenargues. The white craggy limestone mountain, which extends for 11 miles, is a beacon to the east of Aix. “I see it! I see it!” our daughter would call out as we drove home after a holiday. During kids’ camps, in Aix’s museum of natural history, she would be permitted to gently hold large reddish-colored dinosaur eggs that are still found on the mountain. A walk to the top takes about three hours, and for the less sportif there are a few stone tables around its base, perfect for picnics. The air smells of the garrigue—small shrubs of wild rosemary, lavender, and thyme—and amongst the limestone base are bits of Mont Sainte-Victoire’s marble; once it’s polished it is a riot of bright orange and yellow spots. Many of Aix’s fireplaces and kitchen sinks are made with the distinctive stone.



9) The Cours Mirabeau

Aix’s main street, bordered by a double row of tall plane trees, was given its new name in 1876 to commemorate Count Mirabeau, who moved to Aix in 1772 after seducing a local noblewoman twenty years his junior despite his renowned ugliness (he had a deformed foot and over-sized head). Besides being an infamous ladies’ man Mirabeau was also a politician, gifted orator and writer who criticized the French monarchy but died young, at 42, while Louis XVI was still king. Before being paved in 1899, the Cours was dusty in summer and muddy in winter. Now, it’s best avoided on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, when market stalls selling polyester clothing made in Bangladesh fill its wide sidewalks. But it remains the pulse if Aix (you typically rendezvous with friends in front of Monoprix) and on September 11, 2001, it was there that I headed. I needed to be with my fellow Aixois, surrounded by the rhythm and beauty of the town.


Epilogue, 2017: Our daughter is now twenty-four and works in diplomacy in Paris, and we keep on loving our French life. Aix has changed, but it’s still the place where, when we get home late from a weekend away, we sigh on seeing its old fashioned street lamps turning the stone of former mansions into gold. Cézanne wrote to a friend in 1896, “When I was in Aix, I thought I would be better off elsewhere. Now that I’m here, I regret Aix…when one is born here, that’s it, nothing else appeals.”



Warsaw: Constantly Surprising and Enchanting

It’s been a long time since my last blog post (sort of sounds similar to being in the Confessional when I was a young girl!) but I’ve been busy teaching, writing, editing, and…being invited to Warsaw to promote the Polish edition of Death at the Château Bremont, the first in the Provençal Mystery series. And what a time it was!

It was my third time in Poland, which surprised and delighted my hosts. They hadn’t expected that I would have already visited Poland, and as a tourist at that!

I went for four days in mid-March, arriving in the city on a freezing cold Saturday evening. We were met at the airport by Anna, my wonderful contact set up through the Polish publisher, Smakslowa, and soon my daughter Eva and I were downtown at our hotel, The Rialto, an Art Deco gem.

Our room at the Rialto. We went crazy over the 1930s furniture; it has been restored with love, right down to the Bakelite light switches!

I would be having two full days of meetings on Monday and Tuesday, so Eva and I explored the city until then. We first came  to Warsaw over ten years ago, and although we found the Old Town charming–it was rebuilt, brick by brick, after WWII–it was the vibrant and less-pretty “new town” that we adored. That hadn’t changed on this trip. Funky bars, hip restaurants, and Polish-designed craft and fashion shops share the streets and alleyways with mom-and-pop shops stuck in time; some of them selling a few vegetables and bouquets of flowers out of small wooden kiosks. Hand-crafts are still revered and practiced here, like in this shop below:

This is a tiny shop across from a bustling Mediterranean restaurant called Tel Aviv…

The proprietor didn’t speak English, but did manage to tell me, “Grandfather make brushes, father make brushes, I make brushes.” He makes hair brushes, brooms of all sizes, and lovely shaving brushes. I bought some hair brushes (ten euros a piece); a teenager toting a backpack and bike helmut came in to buy a scrub brush. This is what so delighted us the first time we visited Warsaw, and on this trip we were just as thrilled by the city.

That night we rubbed shoulders with well-to-do locals and some trendy young Russians at one of Warsaw’s best restaurants, Nolita:

It was worth the splurge! Eva and I had the six course tasting menu–Polish ingredients fused with Japanese influences is the best way to describe it–and we ordered the wine pairing as well. We explained to the sommelier that we live in France, so could we have some wines from different countries? He grinned and replied, “How about Polish wines?” The two Polish wines he poured us–one a dry white, the other a sweet mead–were fantastic, and set us on a quest to track more down. And we did find some, at a more low-key and in some ways better restaurant, Butchery and Wine, the following day:

The Polish have always been masters at poster art. There’s a Poster Museum in Warsaw that we visited on our last trip. Oh, and that’s Eva! Our 25-year-old daughter who works as a Communications Officer at a foreign embassy in Paris.


A Polish Pinot Noir that was outstanding.

Here’s a photo of Eva in the royal park, the Belvedere, right downtown. You can get an idea of how cold it was, but sunny too:

The next day Eva flew back to Paris, and I went into writer-mode as interviews with journalists began bright and early. It was thrilling to meet so many people who had read Death at the Château Bremont and had so many generous comments and interesting questions about it! On that first day I had interviews with press journalists, and after the first two interviews something very odd began to be apparent: I was being compared to the “Agatha Christie of Poland,” Joanna Chmielewska. She was a prolific writer who died a few years ago, after selling tens of millions of mystery novels in Poland and Russia. I had been forewarned by Anna that this may happen, as she too had thought the same thing after reading Château Bremont; she had, luckily, filled me in on Joanna’s books (they are not translated into English or French) before the interviews began.

From what I can gather, we share these similarities: 1) Joanna’s books are funny, and I hope that mine are too, especially as the series progresses. 2) Joanna writes about her fellow Poles with all of their blemishes, quirks, and shining qualities, and I’ve been told by French friends that I capture our fellow Aixois in the same way. 3) Lastly, Joanna was often “present” in her books, as a character named Joanna, or one who looked like her, or by a female architect (she was an architect before turning to writing). I guess I may be a bit present through Marine Bonnet, who teaches in a university as I do; but I’m also present in Antoine Verlaque who loves cooking and eating well. What do you think?

Here we are in the bar at the Rialto, where some of the interviews, in Polish, took place:

Me on the left, Anna on the right, and our translator Weronika.

The next day it was again early up and out the door as a Polish television station invited me on their breakfast slot; but instead of filming in their Warsaw studio the show’s host, Klara–a huge French enthusiast–chose a château an hour outside of Warsaw, the Palace Mala Weis:

Anna outside the palace; again, another cold and sunny day!

The room we filmed in was gorgeous, and in its warm colors and simplicity reminded my of a Provençal château or manor house, so it was a perfect choice:


Klara’s questions were interesting and insightful (she spoke perfect French and English), so I had a great time and my nervousness quickly went away. It was a full day of shooting; we got back downtown at 3:30pm, just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat before the radio interview!

That night I was on my own, so I returned to a bar, Koko and Roy, that Eva and I had discovered our first night there, just down the street from the hotel. It was like being amongst old friends–did I mention how friendly and sincere the Polish are?–and I got to chatting with the barman; other patrons; and the co-owner, Koko, a dynamic Polish woman who lived for years in Brooklyn before coming back home.

One quick meeting the next morning, before my flight, in a converted produce hall turned into restaurants and food shops, with my Polish-rights agents from Macadamia (“We are nuts for books”!) :

Kamilla and Magda, who did the great job of finding a home for my Polish-translated books with Smakslowa.

If you’ve never been to Poland, I recommend it highly! I’m retuning in August, with husband and daughter, to a literary festival in Sopot on the Baltic Sea. Can’t wait! And if you have Polish friends who had read both my books and Joanna Chmielewska’s, ask them what we have in common!

Celebrating a rosé wine made in…Paris

A wine made from Parisian grapes? Yes! And it’s for sale this weekend in Paris at 50 euros a bottle (friends who have bought it tell me it’s more to celebrate the occasion and the history of Paris’s famous Montmartre vineyard than for the quality of the wine). There are 2,000 vine stalks (mostly Gamay and Pinot Noir) planted in a gorgeous vineyard located at the foot of la butte, the first vines having been planted as early as 944 A.D.


The harvest has been celebrated since 1934, always during the second weekend of October. All kinds of festivities are taking place over the weekend, organised by hard working and passionate volunteers who make up the many Montmartre community groups. There’s even a Harvest Choir made up of 200 singers; they began singing this morning at 10:30 in the vineyard and then made their way down the hill to begin the parade. Our daughter lives not far from this lively neighbourhood (quickly becoming my favourite place in Paris, in particular the north side of the hill, where the vineyard is located) and she sent us some photographs of today’s parade:




There are 1,000 bottles of rosé made each year; the vines are taken care of by the City of Paris and its Espaces Verts department (the equivalent of Parks and Rec). The wine is made by the city’s chief eonologist, Sylvaine Leplâtre, a woman 🙂 and a harvest ball ends the weekend, held outside in the Square Louise Michel then overflowing into the streets. Here’s an old photograph of the bal:


Whatever you are doing this weekend, have a great time enjoying the fall weather, and if you open a bottle of wine, pretend that you are in Paris.



Four days in Krakow, and a Wedding

We have been to Poland twice, each time for a wedding. The first wedding was a few years ago, near Warsaw, that reconstructed city whose destruction by the Germans during WWII the Russians watched in silence from the east bank of the Vistula. 98 % of Warsaw’s Jewish population was murdered, as were 25 % of the Poles, many who were trying to hide their Jewish friends and neighbors. (Those statistics come from a great book about Poland I’m reading, Michael Moran’s A Country in the Moon, published by Granta in 2008). This summer’s wedding was in the countryside (a gorgeous old barn) just outside of Krakow. A friend and colleague from New York, who teaches with me at NYU, was marrying a local beauty (and brain).

Our French guidebook referred to Warsaw as the “brains” of Poland, and Krakow the “heart.” Seems right. I love both cities, Warsaw for its contemporary art and pride at being both old and very new. Krakow was relatively undamaged during the war, has an ancient university and many museums, and its old town is splendid:


We had a day to walk around the city before the wedding (which was a two day affair, as are many French weddings). Given the joyous occasion we were there for, and our limited time, we decided to go to Auschwitz on our next visit. Instead, we stayed downtown, visiting a museum of 19th Century Polish art (which like many countries had their own branch of Impressionists, painters who had been to Paris, falling under the magical spell of painting en plein air). Then, off to a museum of history of the city, which my husband and I both found drab and uninteresting (we later discovered that the more interesting history museum is underground and just a few steps away!).

It was very hot (31°C–88°F–with high humidity, which we’re not used to), so we got away from the main squares, where there are many touristy restaurants, and fell upon by chance Albertina, a restaurant we would almost travel back to Krakow to eat in. Contemporary cuisine with Polish ingredients, including trout caught in rivers in a nearby national park. Oh, and each dish came paired with wines, two of which were Polish whites!

This was our favorite, Solaris, from up on the Baltic coast.

This was our favorite, Solaris, from up on the Baltic coast.

After lunch we visited a 16th century Gothic-Renaissance palace built for the Bishop Erazm Ciolek that now houses sculptures and paintings from the 14th to the 16th century. We were the only visitors. Below, a 14th century wooden sculpture of Jesus that we found very striking:


In Warsaw the museums and art galleries we visited were charged with excitement. Museum workers would follow us around and ask if we needed help. Gallery owners jumped up from their contemporary-designed desks, welcoming us and explaining the current exhibition. In Krakow, the museum employees could barely even look up at us. That’s part of the reason we got mixed up in locating the underground history museum, as our questions were usually answered with a shrug of the shoulders. In Michael Moran’s book he has the same experience in 1992, just two years after the fall of Communism. He writes, while trying to buy a car, “There is never an official reply in Poland, just a series of non-answers.”

When in Warsaw I fell in love with the paintings of Edward Dwurnik, a national treasure. Born in 1943, Dwurnik studied art in Warsaw and is known for his provocative but sometimes humorous paintings. He now paints almost exclusively bird’s eye views cityscapes, a series he calls “Hitch-hiking”, but I prefer his politically charged earlier work from the 1970s and 80s.

A cityscape of Edward Dwurnik. They are really big, and impressive, when you see them in person.

A recent cityscape of Edward Dwurnik. They are really big, and impressive, when you see them in person.

An earlier painting from the 1970s, below, which focussed on the Communist everyman (and in the 80s the tragic destinies of Polish people caught in the political turmoil of the age):


Well, after our religious art museum, and a cocktail on the Planty (the park that rings Krakow’s old town) we met up with our daughter who had just arrived from Paris and went out for dinner. The restaurant Pod Baranem (“Pod” meaning something like “Chez”) got great reviews from our Michelin guide, and also from the Guardian. But Pod Buranem also had an added attraction: the restaurant is full of Edward Dwurnik paintings!

A bit of Pod Baranem's interior. I had the Beef Stroganoff; delicious!

A bit of Pod Baranem’s interior. I had the Beef Stroganoff; delicious!

The next morning we got up early and took a tram to the south side of the Vistula to Krakow’s newly opened contemporary art museum, the MOCAK, then raced back to our hotel for the wedding shuttle pick-up. The wedding, in the countryside 45 minutes south of the city, began at 4:30pm and we got back to the hotel at 6:30. AM!


The lit-up LOVE sign amongst hay bails, were the children had a grand time.

The lit-up LOVE sign amongst hay bales, where the children had a grand time.

The food was endless (the last dish, a cold beet soup, was served somewhere around 3:30am) and delicious. As was the vodka. (no one was drunk from what I could see, helped by all the food and dancing).

We were out-dressed and out-danced by our Polish friends.

We were out-dressed and out-danced by our Polish friends.

We slept a few hours and the next afternoon dragged ourselves to Wawel, Krakow’s hilltop royal castle. After a guided tour of the grounds, we paid for tickets to see Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine,” one of the four female portraits painted by the artist in his lifetime. The subject of the portrait is Cecilia Gallerani, painted at a time when she was the mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, and Leonardo was in the service of the duke. Unlike visiting the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, there were only six of us looking at the painting. I love the black background; it sets off Cecilia Gallerani even more (she was an accomplished poet too). The painting was stolen by the Nazis and rescued in 1946 by Americans, who returned it to Krakow.


That night those of us who had energy and were still in town, including the bride and groom, met up on one of the restaurant boats that line the banks of the Vistula. Our view that evening, as we drank Polish wheat beers and re-hashed the wedding:

IMG_6298 (1)

And this photo seems like a good place to sign off! Here also seems like a good place to announce that the Polish rights to my books have been sold, and I’m thrilled! The publisher is Smak Slowa, located in a small town, Sopot, on the Baltic Sea. The publishers know that I live in Europe, and asked my agent if I could come to Poland once the books are released to do a promotional tour. Could I? Would I! Twoje Zdrowie!

My Own Cannes Film Festival 2016: Youth, and 45 Years

May is always exciting in France (along with asparagus and strawberries in the market, and the first cherries!) as the Cannes Film Festival opens and the newspapers are flooded with photographs of stars, and news of films that wowed the jury, and films that went bust (this year, Wow’s are going to Romanian director Cristi Puiu’s Sieranevada and Boo’s to Jodie Foster’s Money Monster).

The Festival always gets my husband and I back out to the cinema and talking about which films we loved this year (we are lucky as Aix has two theatres that show art-house films from around the world in their original language). Here are my two favorites.


directed by Paolo Sorrentino (filmed in English)

Our daughter, when she began studying Italian in junior high, introduced us to the films of Paolo Sorrentino. Back then (our daughter is now 23 years old) Sorrentino only had one or two movies, and we adored, and were amazed by, his 2005 film, stylish and yet meditative, The Consequences of Love. Youth, released at the end of 2015, is stylish like Sorrentino’s previous films, and admittedly less profound; “an entertaining but minor work,” wrote my favorite film critic, Peter Bradshaw, in The Guardian. But I LOVED it anyway!

Music plays an important part in Sorrentino’s films, and Youth begins with a band playing a fantastic upbeat song while on a turning stage (the film is set at a luxurious Swiss hotel). I was glued from the beginning seconds.

Sorrentino didn’t cast his usual leading man, Toni Servillo (if you haven’t seen Servillo in The Great Beauty, please do now!), but Michael Caine is elegant and thoughtful as Fred Ballinger, a retired conductor staying at the hotel with his daughter and best friend. Ballinger is visited by a representative of Queen Elizabeth, who would like Ballinger to conduct his Simple Songs for Prince Philip’s birthday. Ballinger obstinately refuses, for reasons we find out later on.

Michael Caine as Fred Ballinger.

Michael Caine as Fred Ballinger.

The many close-ups of the faces of the cast are visually stunning. Sorrentino likes faces (and bodies) of all kinds, from the beautiful to the grotesque. It’s one of the things I admire about his films. There’s an obese former soccer star, obviously at the hotel to lose weight; and a skinny, very odd-looking masseuse who gracefully dances in front of her television at night; a Miss Universe who’s smart and well-spoken; and Jane Fonda who has a great cameo role as an brash street-smart famous actress. Those wonderful faces—combined with the ennui the characters (and staff) experience at that Swiss hotel, the stylish music, and breathtaking cinematography (beautiful mountains, including a gorgeous and heart-breaking flashback to Venice, where Ballinger once conducted)—made this one of my favorite films this year.

And yes, you do hear the Simple Songs at the end of the film, played before the Royal Family. It gave me goosebumps, as I had never heard Sumi Jo sing, nor did I know anything about the music of contemporary Los Angeles composer David Lang. I found this video clip, not a trailer, of David Lang, Sorrentino, and Sumi Jo explaining the importance of music in the film and what it meant for them. Sumi Jo said that the music gave her goosebumps, too. You can see that, and feel it, when she sings in the final six minutes of the movie.

45 Years

Directed by Andrew Haigh

Well, if there is any film more opposite to Paolo Sorrentino’s films, then this must be it. Or is it? As both films deal with the past, and with aging. Both are set in quiet places where people live out their routine lives (albeit Sorrentino’s cast in a super posh hotel, but dull all the same). In 45 Years Kate and Geoff Mercer are planning their 45th wedding anniversary party. They are retired and live in beautiful but flat and bleak Norfolk, in the east of England. Geoff is working class; a former union steward. Kate was the local school’s headmistress, and even the postman, a former student, is still in awe of her. There are lovely details of their days: breakfasts together, taking walks with the dog, sneaking cigarettes out by the back shed. But, in the same role as the Queen’s messenger in Youth, a letter from Switzerland arrives one morning and turns their quiet life upside down.

Ever since I saw Tom Courtenay in the 1960s film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (as a teenager with my best friend Bev in the late 1970s) I’ve longed to see him in another role as interesting and well written. And this is it! Geoff (Courtenay) receives news that the perfectly-preserved body of his first love, Katya (sounds just like Kate, right?) has been discovered in a ravine, where she fell to her death while on holiday with Geoff in 1962. Geoff has to reveal to his wife Kate (played with a wonderful severity by Charlotte Rampling) that he has been contacted because the Swiss believe that Geoff is Katya’s next-of-kin: he admits to Kate in a chilling scene that he and Katya had pretended to be married while on holiday so that they could share the same hotel room.

The film’s stress mounts as the party date gets closer, with both Geoff and Kate, but especially Kate, reexamining their lives, and marriage, and all of its secrets, even after 45 years.

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay

When I began writing this blog I laughed to myself, thinking how different these two films are. But now I’m not so sure. Have you seen either of these films? What did you think?



When in…Aix-en-Provence

The following post was inspired by the feature in The Economist’s cultural magazine Intelligent Life:

When in…


Do begin your visit at either end of Aix’s tree-lined main street Le Cours Mirabeau (the bottom is at the fountain, La Rotonde; the top at the statue of Good King René). Walk up and down it once or twice, before settling in on the terrace of Le Grillon (Le Mazarin in my books) to people watch.

Don’t eat meals in any of those cafés or restaurants on the Cours Mirabeau.

Do, later in the day, drink a much better coffee at Aix’s only coffee roasting house, La Brûlerie, on the Place Richelme. If you’re not a coffee drinker, they make a delicious hot chocolate.

Do visit Cézanne’s atelier, left exactly the way it was found in 1906 when the artist died. Thanks to funds collected in the United States, the studio was bought from private owners in 1954 and given to the University of Aix-Marseille, passing onto the city of Aix in 1969. In 1955 Marilyn Monroe wrote in the visitor’s book, “a wonderful visit.”

Do visit the newly opened Hôtel Caumont Centre d’Art in the chic Mazarin neighborhood. Their temporary exhibits have been quite good (including a Canaletto) and the restaurant is a wonderful place to eat, either inside the early 18th century restored rooms, or on the terrace overlooking the manicured French garden. Beginning in May, the exhibit will be on Turner!

Do try to get same-day cheap seats for the Opera festival if you’re visiting in July. If you can’t get an opera ticket, find out from the tourist office (at the Rotonde) what free music concerts are being offered over the summer.

Don’t think that the more expensive, or Michelin-starred restaurants, are the best places to eat in Aix. I think that one of the city’s best is an inexpensive Moroccan restaurant on the Rue Van Loo. Write to me for the name.

Do try and get east of Aix to see Cézanne’s obsession, Mont Ste-Victoire. If you don’t have a car, check the local bus schedule (available at the tourist office).

Don’t waste any time or money walking around Aix’s latest mistake, a shopping mall called Les Allées de Provence, located at the foot of the Cours Mirabeau. It’s full of chain stores that can be seen in any city, including probably yours.

Do wander into some of Aix’s mom-and-pop stores, greeting the employees with a “bonjour” when you enter and an “au revoir, merci” when you leave. The best ones are on the rue Thiers, rue de Montigny and the rue Boulegon.

Do buy picnic food at the market. There’s a market every morning on the Place Richelme, and on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday is the giant market on the Place des Prêcheurs. Avoid the fruit and vegetable stands selling asparagus in December or strawberries in October. The organic stands are marked with the word Bio, short for biologique.

Do go to an Aix rugby game (no hooligans in sight), if you like sports and want some local color. Or, go to the Stade Yves Blanc (on foot from downtown) to watch Les Argonauts, Aix’s amateur American football team.

Don’t resist the temptation to buy baked goods and sweets from Béchard on the Cours (Michaud’s in my books). Their brioche glacées are melt-in-the-mouth goodness, as are their calissons, an almond-shaped candy invented in Aix. Calissons make a great gift to take home, too.
















Paris or Rome? Which is Better?

At a recent dinner party in Aix (the menu: a starter of scrambled eggs topped with black truffles on artichokes, followed by a lamb ragout), we got into a discussion (it’s never an argument in France) over which city is superior, Paris or Rome. Our hosts had just been to Rome for the first time in many years. They were struck at how multicultural and international Paris is while Rome felt like, to them, a small provincial town. They were smitten.

We talked about many things that evening, but kept coming back to the Paris vs Rome discussion. We were split down the middle of the table, with most of us wafting back and forth between the two. Here are some bits of our discussion/analyses:

Rome is physically more beautiful, thanks to its colorful façades.


I love this photo, with the statue's foot in the foreground.

I love this photo, with the statue’s foot in the foreground.


And yet, at night Paris is stunning:


and its wide Haussmannian boulevards don’t make Paris a claustrophobic megatropolis:


We all agreed that Paris is more cosmopolitan. But for me, this was a negative. Do I need Oregon-style craft beers, or Australian-style drip coffee, when in Europe? I love that Italy, and even Rome, sticks to what it knows best, and stays very local (especially when it comes to food). Most of my French friends disagreed with me on this point. Below is the window of a Parisian (Brooklyn-style) bakery, the food offerings written entirely in English. Urgh!


A plus for Paris, for tourists, is that it is lovely any time of year, even in the summer, when it can be cooler than other parts of Europe, and in August the Parisians are gone (but, that also means that many of my favorite businesses are closed that month). Rome, on the other hand, is impossible for me in July and August: too hot, and too many people. I have definitely felt like these girls below, in Rome in the summer:


Paris has more contemporary art and architecture. Yes, for sure. But Rome is catching up.

Richard Meier's Ara Pacis in Rome.

Richard Meier’s Ara Pacis in Rome.

When Meiers won the competition for the Ara Pacis, he said, “Rome has not seen a modern building in half a century. It is frozen in time.”

Zaha Hadid's MAXXI Museum of Contemporary Art.

Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome.


And in Rome, the churches are full of Renaissance masterpieces, for free.

Caravaggio's "The Calling of St Matthew", part of the St Matthew cycle of paintings in Rome's San Luigi dei Francesi.

Caravaggio’s “The Calling of St Matthew”, part of the St Matthew cycle of paintings in Rome’s San Luigi dei Francesi.


By now, you must think that I am routing for Rome…but it’s not that simple! As we ate dessert, we kept talking…

Paris has more parks, and they are outfitted for everyone.


The Seine is more user-friendly than the Tiber.

I walk along this bit of the Seine, a sculpture park, to and from the Gare de Lyon train station and NYU's campus on the blvd St-Germain.

I walk along this bit of the Seine, a sculpture park, to and from the Gare de Lyon train station and NYU’s campus on the blvd St-Germain.

Bars and restaurants along the Seine (most of them are closed during the winter months)

Bars and restaurants along the Seine (most of them are closed during the winter months)


Both Rome and Paris have a long way to go to catch up with London: 47% of London is green space, accessible to all its citizens.

The bike-sharing program in Paris, Vélib’, has been a resounding success. I think that says a lot about its citizens. In Rome, it was a disaster:


I recently read an article in Bloomberg Business which tries to understand the failure of the bike-share program in Rome. The city has 978 motorized vehicles — cars, motorcycles, and scooters — per 1,000 inhabitants. That compares with 398 vehicles per 1,000 Londoners and 415 per 1,000 in Paris, which has over 20,000 bikes and 1,800 stations. I laughed out loud when one Roman was quoted as saying, “Romans don’t like to show up for work sweaty.” I totally agree! To be honest, that’s one of the reasons I walk to work or hop on a bus.

Rome has better coffee (I’m talkin’ espresso here). No contest.



We moved into the salon for digestifs, and I tried to remember the The Venerable Bede quote, “Rome will exist as long as the Coliseum does; when the Coliseum falls, so will Rome; when Rome falls, so will the world.” I still have my university copy of Bede’s book somewhere on the bookshelf. And then a slew of quotes followed about Paris, from Montesquieu to Hemingway to Gertrude Stein, who said, “America is my country and Paris is my hometown.”

I’m never bored by Paris, even having worked there now for eight years. Every time I walk out of the apartment, or NYU’s doors, I discover something new, like the Perigord restaurant around the corner from the school where a generous home-cooked two-course lunch with a glass of wine costs 15 euros. As I paid the bill at the zinc bar I noticed about fifty wooden cubby holes, each one labelled with a name: inside were linen napkins belonging to regular customers. At that moment Paris felt like a small town, or a hometown as Stein called it.

It was late, and time for coffee… Illy, from Italy, of course!

What are your thoughts about Paris and Rome?






Civilized Burgundy

One of my favorite all time films (even with its faults; that would take another blog post) is the documentary Mondovino, perhaps because I’m so thankful that Jonathan Nossiter managed to capture so many great quotes from Burgundian winemaker Hubert de Montille. There’s a tricky scene in the film when Montille’s daughter Alix describes Hubert’s wines as ‘difficult to get to know’ and ‘unfriendly’. She stares at her father as she speaks. Gulp. Hubert de Montille laughs off her remarks, probably because he realizes the truth in it, for the bald, suspender-wearing old man is very clear and uncompromising in his convictions: that low yields make the best wines; that the French are in danger when US imperialism imposes its culture and tastes, exactly as the Romans did; and that wine growing/making is a sign of civilization.


on our first walk; moss-covered vine trunks.

on our first walk; moss-covered vine trunks.

I had chills down my spine on our first walk. All around us—the nestled villages each with a low, hunkered down Romanesque church to the moss-covered vine trunks—spoke of centuries of civilization and hard work, at the hands of people like Hubert and Alix (she makes stellar white wine that I cannot afford).



Our gîte (the best way to travel in France…the original Airbnb!) was in the village of Dezize-lès-Maranges, just southwest of Beaune. The villages in the hills of Maranges make great white and red wines, less expensive than their neighbors Santenay, Meursault, Chassagne Montrachet (which we had to drive through whenever we went to the highway or get on the road to Beaune), and the Montille’s village, Volnay. From the gîte we could walk in any direction and rarely come across cars (impossible in Aix-en-Provence), and on our second day there we discovered the voie verte, unused railway tracks paved over for walking and biking. On one walk we visited the chapel of Saint-Jean in Santenay:



A smiling carved face on one of the corbels.

A smiling carved face on one of the corbels.

The chapel was closed, as they usually are in France, but the walk was beautiful, part of it through Santenay’s upper village:


One of the many winemakers in the area; we never made it back to buy wine here, but loved their sign.

One of the many winemakers in the area; we never made it back to buy wine here, but loved their sign.



A winemaker's mural.

A winemaker’s mural.

The vineyards in Burgundy, especially the Premier Crus, are split up into small plots, each owned by different vintners, and each with their own gate leading up into the vines:


The Maranges hills are favorites of hang-gliders.

The Maranges hills are favorites of hang-gliders.

Luckily some churches are open to the public, and one of our favorites is Saint-Philibert in Tournus, which my husband jokes that I always remind him was on page one of my art history textbook. Begun in the 10th century, it’s a beautiful Romanesque church with great thick stone columns running up the nave, lots of carved figures perched high up on those columns, and an exquisite cloister.





Saint-Philibert's cloister.

Saint-Philibert’s cloister.


Saint-Philibert’s cloister and steeple.

I don’t think there’s ever been a trip to Burgundy when we haven’t visited the Romanesque church in the village of Chapaize, or not eaten at the Relais d’Ozenay just down the road. Florian Giraud is a fantastic chef, and his midweek lunch menu at 22 euros is an unbelievably good deal. Giraud also sells some dishes to takeaway, and we bought 200 grams of his terrine de foie gras which is the best foie gras I’ve ever had.

The last church we visited that day was a tiny chapel in an equally tiny village, Burnand. The caretaker lives next to the church, and so every time we’ve visited it has been open. There are remains of 800-year-old frescoes near the altar (I did not take photos for fear of damaging them), and I love the church’s interior furnishings, untouched for decades:




There are so many things I still haven’t written about Burgundy and that trip, for example a lunch we had at the Bernard Loiseau restaurant in Beaune, younger sister to his three-star shrine up the road in Saulieu (Rudolph Chelminski wrote a super biography about the late Loiseau in 2006, The Perfectionist, published by Penguin). Or the many great wines we drank and bought, in barns and centuries-old stone cellars and modern tasting rooms, all great. Monsieur Montille, you are right; those who make wine are civilized, but especially Burgundians :-). Even Napoleon, thoroughly Corsican, loved Burgundy and its wines, “Nothing makes life look more rosy than to contemplate it through a glass of Chambertin.”

Hubert de Montille in a scene from Mondovino, in his Volnay vineyards.

Hubert de Montille in a scene from Mondovino, in his Volnay vineyards.

Hubert de Montille died in 2014 at the age of 84 whilst having lunch with friends, a glass of his own wine in his hands.

A Canadian Wine Tour (of sorts)

When we left Canada, in 1989, there were only a handful of Canadian wineries: in southern Ontario, and a few in a valley in British Columbia known as the Okanagan. There are now over 800. We went back to Canada this summer, and in between spending wonderful times with family and friends we spent two days visiting wineries in the Niagara region of south-western Ontario. Wow. Were we impressed. So is Jancis Robinson, my go-to critic and favorite wine writer. She was recently paid a visit by Janet Dorozynski, an official of the Canadian High Commission, who came to Robinson’s London home with dozens of bottles of Canadian wine. Robinson writes that she has always thought Canadian whites more impressive than the reds, but thanks to what is probably global warming, the reds are “no longer pale apologies for wine…” We agree! Here’s a quick look at some of our favorite Niagara winery visits:


Winemaker Emma Garner

A beautiful location, the winery buildings clad in barn board, with a charming woman serving. Wonderful reds and whites. Jancis Robinson rated highly their Steel Post Vineyard Riesling, 2010.

The view from the tasting room at Thirty Bench. Most of the wineries we visited had lovely picnic spots.

The view from the tasting room at Thirty Bench. Most of the wineries we visited had lovely picnic spots.



Lake Ontario as seen from Thirty Bench's vineyard. Toronto is on the other side.

Lake Ontario as seen from Thirty Bench’s vineyard. Toronto (if you squint you can see it on the left) is across the lake.



Winemaker: Paul Pender

In March of this year England’s prestigious Decanter Magazine named Tawse’s Chardonnays one of the world’s (outside Burgundy) best five (Tawse is in the middle in the photo below).


We were at first offput by the Napa Valley-styled building and grounds, but loved the wines, especially the Chardonnays. The tasting room is very elegant, and the wines served in big Riedel glasses. Love it!




Winemaker Jay Johnston

Super friendly staff (especially Ted!) and good, reasonably-priced wines, both red and white, although we loved the buttery non-oaked Chardonnays. Wines in Ontario are, alas, expensive (even with our Euros), so Flat Rock was a welcome visit.

The tasting room at Flat Rock.

The tasting room at Flat Rock.


We spent the evening in Niagara-on-the-Lake, home to the George Bernard Shaw Festival Theatre. As you can see from the photos, the houses and streets have retained their 19th century (and earlier) charm:







Back to the wines:


The winemaker, Derek Barnett, renowned for his Burgundy-style wines, has just left Lailey. Friends tell me that it was as if, for Ontario wine lovers, he had died. The new owners have unfortunately decided to concentrate on ice wines. Such a shame. If you are in the region, I’d suggest going to Lailey and stocking up on the remaining Barnett Pinot Noir and Chardonnays. They are sublime. The building, contemporary and clad in wood, was my favorite on the wine route.



Former winemaker Derek Barnett.

Former winemaker Derek Barnett.





Winemaker: Wesley Lowrey

Our desire to visit Ontario wineries partly stemmed from a Globe & Mail article about Five Rows. One of the highlights of our trip. This is a small family-run winery not open to the public as their wines sell out the year before, when still in the barrels. If you book ahead, and order your wine ahead, they will greet you with warmth and generosity, as we were treated by the winemaker’s mother, Wilma. The Lowrey’s have always been grape growers, selling their fruit to big Ontario wineries. Wilma told us, “we finally got tired of our grapes winning awards for other people’s wines” so in 1984 her husband planted five rows of Pinot Noir for their own bottling. Their son Wes is now the winemaker, and they continue to win awards, but now with their own wine; Jancis Robinson would be pleased to know that the Five Rows Syrah is a blockbuster (and I live in Syrah country!).





Winemakers: Peter Gamble and Shauna White

This is a big estate, with an award-winning organic restaurant, elegant tasting rooms in  200-year-old house, and even a shop selling epicurean delights. Great place to eat, or stock up for a picnic. In the tasting room you are served by your own knowledgeable host. Very good Rieslings, and heavy reds. Bring lots of money.

The tasting room.

The tasting room.


A gorgeous old barn next to Ravine.

A gorgeous old barn next to Ravine.



Winemaker: Ann Sperling

As you can see from the pictures, Southbrook is worlds away from the Lowrey family’s modest farm, but their outlook is the same. In fact, Southbrook has biodynamic status (not to be confused with ‘biologique’ which is French for organic). Biodynamic is one step beyond organic, where the whole farm is treated as a single living entity: the balance and interrelationship of the farm’s soil, plants, and animals are carefully kept in balance to grow low-impact vibrant crops. Developed by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), biodynamic farming is popular in France (especially Burgundy) where it includes understanding the ecological, the energetic, and the spiritual in nature. Some farmers also follow the lunar cycles, especially when harvesting and bottling.




Southbrook’s servers are called ‘wine lovers’ and we chanced upon one who studied French at our university Aix in 1968, just in time for the student riots!

Here’s a look at the turbulent Ontario summer sky, just as we headed off, the trunk full of wine, to eat dinner back at home. The Niagara reds were just fine for the thick Ontario steaks! Not a pale excuse for a wine in sight.