Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Le Vieux Castillon Hotel in the Gard, France

Le Vieux Castillon Hotel entrance
Le Vieux Castillon Hotel  swimming pool

As part of my road trip in Southern France, one of the hotel I stayed in, was about 30 minutes drive from Uzès in the medieval village of Castillon du Gard just a few minutes from the famous Pont Du Gard.

Le Vieux Castillon is a magnificent hotel and gourmet restaurant, an excellent example of hospitality located on the old cobbled pedestrian part of the village. It can be an awful idea if you have too much luggage to drag all the way to the hotel, in my opinion, it adds to the charm of the place - I only had a small hand luggage.

The property is light, white and bright, with superior facilities. The decor is modern French chic, with white and light tones and beautiful furniture. The hotel communal areas were clean and well-kept.

Free working  Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, and minibars. My room had Bose sound system and Nespresso coffeemaker, which I took full advantage of. The bed was very comfortable, right size and glorious crisp linen and towels in the perfect bathroom with his and hers sink and toiletries to match.

I was impressed with the service. The staff was very helpful and polite staff throughout my stay. The parking valet was a real nice touch.

There's a gourmet restaurant that has wood beams, a fireplace, and a terrace which overlooks a stunning outdoor pool and a sundeck with vineyard views.  They have an outdoor cinema by the pool in the evenings.  A beautiful and well-stocked bar next to the restaurant.

A meal at Le Vieux Castillon restaurant

Every week the chef creates new dishes with fresh and seasonal products

Smooth Brandade with truffle oil, tomato cake,(sweet) Parmesan marshmallow

Foie gras with red onion and red berries chutney super tender ballotine of chicken

Cod flaky and lovely cooked

Red fruit salad and delightful sorbet great flavour combination
I really enjoyed my alfresco meal, it was a warm evening in the Rhone, the sun still shinning till 9pm with a very light breeze. A very elegant service made this a very special evening.  As for the food the polished off plates said everything!


One part of the restaurant is set up with a massive table where they display the delicious and very comprehensive breakfast.   Have a look at the spread!

Breakfast at Le Vieux Castillon Hotel

My room rate was 250Euros  for one night.
Dinner was 75 Euros from the discovery menu

Le Vieux Castillon
10, Rue Turion Sabatier, 30210

How to get to Castillon du Gard
From Paris, Marseille or Montpellier: A9 ( 5 km away from the hotel) Remoulins exit.
Remoulins, N86 towards Montelimar. Crossing D19A to Alès. Then, on the right, D228 to Castillon.

Nîmes airport : 30 km / Montpellier airport: 70 km / Marseille-Marignane airport : 110 km.

Avignon : TGV : 30 km / Nîmes : 30 km

Disclosure: I was a guest of Le Gard Tourisme at this hotel on this press trip. As usual, all views are my own.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Inn The Park, London

Inn The Park
Nothing like an al fresco dinner on the hottest day of the year so far in London. We have really handpicked this one!  Right in the centre of London St James Park is the oldest of the capital's eight Royal Parks.
Inn The Park, cafe and restaurant,  is located in the middle of lush greenery and opposite a placid pond with a fountain in St James Park, overlooking some of the most remarkable London postcard-worthy scenery, the London Eye and The Horse Guards.

A modern cafe and restaurant Inn the Park is serving British fare in a beautiful setting designed by Tom Dixon. The wooden architecture and decor are in keeping and sympathetic with the mature surrounding the building. The cafe has a separate self-service are  ‘Grab & Go’ bar offering a range of fresh sandwiches, burgers and hot bites to go, drinks and treats.

We went for a leisurely lunch at the restaurant.  It serves seasonal dishes, made from the highest quality British produce. Starters took a few minutes to arrive but the mains took about 40 minutes, the place was lively and full.  Service was very friendly.

We indulged in some fresh and well-prepared dishes like Grilled prawn cocktail and avocado with a modern take with the addition of avocado and dusted the top with a little paprika. Those prawns were big and very juicy.
Grilled prawn cocktail and avocado
squid and smoked garlic emulsion - nice batter!

My fried Newlyn squid and smoked garlic emulsion were appetising and well seasoned.

For mains, we had hearty Dexter sirloin steak - Fred Flinstones came to mind! - with delicious bearnaise sauce and super crisp chips matched with a cold Red IPA from their extensive list of craft beers.

The organic Spelt risotto, peas, lemon courgettes and Berkswell cheese was also a hit. It was light, fresh and very substantial

The dessert menu looked fantastic, chocolate pot, strawberries & cream, Treacle tart, Eton Mess, but we could eat any more!  So we decided to go for ice creams, what else on a hot day?  They are luscious! 
Ice creams

Inn The Park
Afterwards, we also enjoyed a cold rose seating on their lakeside terrace watching the world passing by.   Happy Hot day!

Prices: Small plates from £5.50, Mains: from £13.50 - £22, side: £3.90 and desserts @ £6.50

To book:
Inn the Park,
St James's Park,
London, SW1A 2BJ

Opening hours:
Monday - Friday
Breakfast 08.00-11.00
Lunch 12.00-15.00
Afternoon Tea 15.00-17.30
Dinner 17.00-21.00

Breakfast 09.00-11.00
Lunch 12.00-15.00
Afternoon Tea 15.00-17.30
Dinner 17.00-21.00

Breakfast 9.00-11.00
Lunch 12.00-15.00
Afternoon tea 15.00-16.30

Disclosure: I was a guest of Inn The Park. As usual, all views are my own.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Southern France, Food & Wine adventure in the Ardèche

The Ardèche Gorges

The Ardèche is known for its dramatic scenery, especially the area called the Ardèche Gorges, with steep rocky limestone walls and a river running through it. It's nature's masterpiece.

This area is perfect for adventure and sports holidays including kayaking, canoeing, bike trails including the Great Mountain Bike Route the Mounts d'Ardèche, caving activities and speleology.

This region of France is located where Provence begins along the river Rhône.  Expect lavender fields blooming from the mid to the end of June. There's also a lavender museum near the gorges in The Saint-Remeze Distillery. A region full of lovely smells everywhere you go!

Lunch by via Rhona runs from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean

The via Rhona runs from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean, and there is a cycle route that follows the Rhône (700km) and cuts through the Ardèche and Drôme.

Wine discovery with a Segway is a must. It takes about 5 minutes of practise and it is a lot of fun.   The terraced vineyards of St-Joseph are striking, and the views from the top of the hill over the Rhône and the rural Ardèche are breathtaking. This experience was followed by wine tasting at Terre de Syrah.
Tournon-sur-Rhône is also a port city with a stop for river cruises in the Ardèche.
Walking  on the edge of Rhone on the Ardeche side is spectacular , as you have full view the Drome vineyards on the other side.
At top of the hill in the Ardeche side  overlooking The Rhone and Drome


Charmes-sur-Rhône- A Michelin star meal
A commune about 30 minutes drive from Tournon-sur-Rhône. It was a very quaint and compact place. The hotel and restaurant Le Carré d’Aléthius are centrally located and easy to find. The chef Olivier Samin earned his one Michelin star two years ago. After attending a training kitchen at the hotel school in Chamalières, Olivier Samin began a gastronomic journey through France and the started his culinary journey  at Le Vieux Castillon, the Basque Country and, specifically, the restaurant Firmin Arambide (two stars) "Pyrenees" in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port,
the Maison Pic in Valence during seven years.

During his years working with renowned chefs, Olivier Samin acquired knowledge of beautiful and noble ingredients, perfect techniques, refined his skills, tastes and flavour research.
restaurant Le Carré d’Aléthius :  Carrot emulsion olive and seafood; Asparagus emulsion, sous vide egg  and cucumber, Salmon aubergine mash, coconut emulsion and Samphire, local wines.

Enriched by this experience, Olivier left the Maison Pic to realize his dream of opening his own restaurant and to express his culinary identity. The Carré d'Alethius inaugurated in 2010, and four years later, the restaurant received its first star in the Michelin ® Guide.

Our meal was spectacular. Very creative and inspirational cooking.

Hotel Le Carré d’Aléthius
 4 rue Paul Bertois, 07800 Charmes-sur-Rhône
T. +33 (0)4 75 78 30 52 -
Facebook: Le Carre d’Alethius

St Montan 

Saint-Montan is situated in the southern Ardeche and is described as an Ardeche 'village of character.' It is a small village perched on a hillside, and it has a castle at the top of the old part which is not accessible by car. It's built mainly with 'gold' stones with narrow streets, steep cobbled alleys and paths, vaulted passageways, and picturesque old houses. It is another unmissable place to visit in the area. Arrive very early to find a car parking space.

From Saint-Montan I followed the winding road out of the village towards Larnas. This is a very scenic route winding up into the hills that lead to the Ardèche Gorges.

The Ardèche Gorges 
The Ardeche Gorges

The most beautiful viewpoints are the Serre de Tourre and the Pont-d’Arc.
Pont d'Arc is a large natural bridge, located in the Ardèche carved by the Ardèche River; it is 60m wide and 54m high.

Lunch took place at a roadside restaurant in rural France overlooking more vineyards! La Farigoule, a ‘bistrot de Pays’ in the village of Bidon.
Bistrot de Pays is a French trademark on the food service and drinking establishments that aim to "contribute to the conservation, promotion and facilitation of economic and social fabric of rural areas by maintaining the spirit of village life". They are present in 20 departments, spread over ten regions of France.
La Farigoule, a ‘bistrot de Pays’ in the village of Bidon: local dish: The Brouffado is a slow cooked beef flavored with herbs, anchovies, and capers, Local goats cheese and dessert included a delicious homemade nougat ice cream

Southern Ardèche wine tasting and speleology at the Grotte de St-Marcel d’Ardèche

It was an incredible experience, one not to be missed!  I never in a million years thought I would be doing this kind of sporting activity. 
Guided by Raphaël Pommier, owner and winemaker of Domaine Notre Dame de Cousignac and perhaps the most patient spéléo guide EVER, Nicholas from 

So what is spéléo? It is a hobby cave sports activity, practice in a group which in this case involved ropes, helmets, harnesses and hanging in mid air and walking on ropes.  Completely out of my comfort zone it was the highlight of the Ardeche leg of this trip. Highly recommended - super fun! This activity took place at Grotte de St-Marcel d’Ardèche, discovered in the 1880’s and stretches over 60 kilometers.
wine tasting and speleology at the Grotte de St-Marcel d’Ardèche

An excellent adventure is caving in the Cave St Marcel d'Ardèche. Caving, wine tasting in a friendly atmosphere,  in a secret place to enjoy and understand the flavors of the Ardèche terroir wine - I saw minerality. The cave is a magical place to taste the wine because it brings a neutral room to more precisely perceive the flavours and aromas of the terroir.

Grotte de St-Marcel d’Ardèche is currently holding some barrels of wine suitable for tasting inside the cave. There are some breathtaking views in the cave, including natural pools with crystalline waters.
Grotte de St-Marcel d’Ardèche
Dinner and accommodation were at Raphaël Pommier’s B&B, Domaine Notre Dame de Cousignac, in Bourg-St-Andéol about 15 minutes from the cave. Raphaël and his wife run the B&B as well as the winery, which has a marvelous view of the vineyards. It's a friendly and family oriented atmosphere.
They have four enormous rooms which each have a simple rural French fee with all amenities. A place to relax and a great point to discover the surroundings areas.
They also have an outside building that works as a wedding, party and conference venue.

Domaine Notre Dame de Cousignac, in Bourg-St-Andéol, more wine tasting and eating Caillette d'herbes local speciality minced pork and herbs balls.

Domaine Notre Dame de Cousignac,
Quartier Cousignac, 07700 Bourg-Saint-Andéol
T. +33 0(0)6 16 17 61 64 (Raphael Pommier’s cell phone)
Facebook : Chambres d’hotes au Domaine Notre Dame de Cousignac

How to get to the Ardèche

By train  from Paris to Valence,  Montélimar and Avignon
For more information, destinations and costs:
Twitter : @voyagessncf_uk / FB :
 Instagram: @Voyagessncf #Voyagessncf 

Grenoble, Lyon, Saint-Exupery, Marseille, Montpellier and Nimes.
More information on the region: Ardeche Guide

Planning your trip : Rhone Valley
Previous adventure: Southern France, Savour The Drome
Next adventure: Southern France, Experience the Gard

Disclosure: I was a guest of Ardèche Tourisme on this leg of the press trip. As usual, all views are my own.
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