• Experience exchange: Northern Wine School tours the Peak District with Peak Performance Hire

    The Magnificent Porsche Boxster

    Porsche Boxster from Peak Performance Hire. Touring Derbyshire

    Porsche Boxster from Peak Performance Hire. Touring Derbyshire

    When I was offered use of a Porsche Boxster for a few days, courtesy of Peak Performance Hire, I leapt at the opportunity! Now, we aren’t massive sports or supercar buffs, but the friendly briefing from Liam quickly put us at ease. As he mentioned, despite the engine size and speed, it was just like driving any other car- Albeit a bit fancier than the Hyundai we use to trundle across Manchester, carrying our wine tasting gear!


    Zipping around the Peak District in a sleek supercar certainly helped to inspire our research into finding exciting new cheeses, to feature in our popular Cheese & Wine Matching Evenings. The Peak District is alive with artisan producers.


    We decided to camp out in the motorhome at the lovely, picturesque and very rural site, The Firs, near the town of Belper. This gave us an excellent base for exploring the many beautiful local villages and country lanes. We discovered the lovely Old Cheese Shop in Hartington, which had a great range of locally made pickles, beers and cheeses. We settled on a few interestingly flavoured cheddar truckles and a generous wedge of Hartington Stilton.


    Practicalities

    I was amazed at the immense boot space available in a Porsche! As the engine was situated in the middle, behind the driver, this left room at both front and rear. Although the car could only accommodate two people, it meant there was plenty of space for our haul of wine and cheese!

    Peak Performance Hire-Plenty of Room for Wine in the Boot

    Peak Performance Hire-Plenty of Room for Wine in the Boot


    Unfortunately, the patchy showers limited the number of times we could have the soft top down during this adventure. However, the sunny spells in between the rain allowed us to briefly feel the wind blowing through our hair. We could have got used to that! A handy feature of this fabulous car, is that the roof can quickly be opened and retracted at speeds of up to 30mph. Useful for those famous English summer sudden showers!

    Hood Down for those Sunny Derbyshire Days

    Hood Down for those Sunny Derbyshire Days


    The Joy of the Open Road

    Thoroughly enjoyed this unique experience, and the time had flown by. Sadly, It had all ended too quickly. What a treat it would be to hire one for 3 or more days to fully explore all the Peaks have to offer. Left feeling like giants now, due to how close the Porsche was to the ground- It took a couple of hours to get used to being high up again! However, the view the Boxster afforded of the panoramic, sweeping countryside, especially when we roared effortlessly up the steepest of hills, definitely gave us a different perspective on things! There really is nothing quite like gliding round those tight Derbyshire bends in a beautiful supercar.


  • Four of the best wine regions in Europe to visit

    Europe is home to some of the world’s most famous wines, and a tour of its beautiful vineyard regions makes for the perfect holiday for any aficionado.If you want your next getaway to be centred around delicious food and drink, then make sure to keep our pick of the continent’s best wine regions in mind. All accessible to tour by car, by boat and on foot.

    shaped La Cité du Vin. 10-story museum dedicated entirely to wine

    The decanter shaped La Cité du Vin. A 10-story museum dedicated entirely to wine

    Bordeaux, France

    Bordeaux is one of Europe’s largest wine regions, and its people have been fermenting its Cabernet, Merlot, and Malbec grapes into delicious wines since the eighth century. If you like your plonk packed with flavour and full of history, then a stay in this region is a must.While you’re here, make sure to stop off at the city of Bordeaux, where you can enjoy a visit to the decanter-shaped La Cité du Vin — a 10-story museum dedicated entirely to wine. It has just recently opened, so is very popular. Book your tickets in advance on the Bordeaux tourist site to avoid the queues.

    Cruising up the Douro is one of the best ways to take in the spectacular scenery. Glass of wine in hand, of course!

    Cruising up the Douro is one of the best ways to take in the spectacular scenery. Glass of wine in hand, of course!

    The Douro Valley, Portugal

    Portugal’s Douro Valley is not only one of the most underrated wine regions in Europe, but also one of its most underrated tourist destinations. The region is famous for Port, the nation’s most famous culinary export. Typically a sweet, deep red desert wine, many foodies are unaware that it also comes in distinctive dry, semi-dry, white and even rosé varieties! A visit to this region will allow you to sample the best it has to offer on its heralded wine tasting tours.The best way to enjoy this region is with a cruise along the idyllic, UNESCO World Heritage listed, Douro Valley. It is lined with steep, terraced sun-drenched vineyards filled with the luscious Touriga grapes that are transformed into the region’s famous wines. The River Cruise Line offers an eight-day cruise along this magnificent river, on which you’ll not only glide past the vineyards and get to leisurely take in the picturesque surroundings- but also have plenty of time stopping to get a unique chance to see the vineyards up close. You'll enjoy some once-in-a-lifetime sightseeing opportunities and wine tastings.

    The picturesque vineyards of Tuscany. Some of which haven't changed much in centuries!

    The beautiful vineyards of Tuscany. Some of which haven't changed much in centuries!

    Tuscany, Italy

    When most wine-lovers think of a vineyard, they imagine the picture-perfect hills of Tuscany, where some of the most distinctive wines in the world are grown. Whether you’re a lover of deep, red chianti or the great Italian white Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which received DOCG status (the highest status in Italian wine) in 1993, a trip to Tuscany covers all bases.If you choose to tour the idyllic vineyards or head straight for the bright lights of its foremost city, Florence, it’s hard to find a bad wine in this region, which is renowned for its fantastic food and drink. If you’d like to fully experience both sides of this enigmatic province, then you’ll be best served by hiring a car while you’re there to get from city to vineyard. If you’re planning to do this, make sure to read Discover Tuscany’s guide to getting around Tuscany by car so you’re as prepared as possible.

    Thought of being covered in squashed tomatoes your idea of hell? Colour yourself fifty shade of purple instead at Haro's annual Wine Fight!

    Thought of being covered in squashed tomatoes your idea of hell? Colour yourself fifty shades of purple instead at Haro's annual Wine Fight!

    La Rioja, Spain

    La Rioja is Spain’s principle wine region, and it’s known across the world for a range of wines that get their distinctive character from the oak-aging process that is favoured throughout the province. Both the whites and reds from this region are known for their pronounced vanilla notes and smooth flavour, making them a firm favourite of wine lovers across the world.To get the full Rioja experience during your visit, make sure to splash out on a bottle of Rioja Gran Reserva, as these wines have been aged at least two years in an oak cask and three in the bottle. Many of these can be patiently cellared for decades developing great complexity, yet still be at prices well below most other fine wines from its French neighbour. This is the rioja wine in its purest form, so make sure to sample the best this region has to offer while you’re here.Visit this magnificent region at the end of June and you’ll be able to join in with one of the most unique celebrations of wine in the world. For one night, the quaint town of Haro well and truly lets its hair down during the Batalla de Vino (battle of wine), where thousands of wine lovers climb one of La Rioja’s mountains and celebrate St Peter’s Feast Day by having a food fight with wine. Book your tickets to the alcohol lover’s answer to Buñol’s famous La Tomatina festival on the official Haro wine fight website.

    No matter which of Europe’s premier wine regions you choose to visit next, make sure to stick to our wine tasting dos and don’ts while you’re there — although it’s probably safe to disregard these rules if you’re visiting Haro at the end of June!

  • Three Choirs Vineyard Tour

    Taste English Wine in Gloucestershire

    Three Choirs Winery

    This is one of the oldest wine estates in England, having helped pioneer the English wine movement in the early 1970's. Situated in the rolling Gloucestershire countryside it is one of the country's major producers. Cool-climate techniques are used similar to those practised in New Zealand. 

    The Vineyard Tour

    Three Choirs Vineyard, Newent runs tours every day at 2.30 pm. Unless your party has eight or more people in it, you don't need to book. At the time of writing the tour costs £12.50 for a taste of four wines and a one hour guided tour of the estate and winery.

    The tour was interesting and the wines delicious. This is very much a tourist facility and is probably a major part of the business along with the on site restaurant, shop and hotel. The tastings are held on almost every day of the year, even during September when they may be working 24 hours a day during harvest!

    We thought it was reasonable value, but compared to some of our visits in France (see below) relatively expensive. It's obviously more accessible than crossing the channel!

    At the moment we believe that Three Choirs only supplies Waitrose among the supermarkets. Most of their produce is sold direct and to farmers markets and high end restaurants etc.​

    The Wines we Liked

    Siegerrebe

    Delicious rich dry white with a lovely fresh finish. Very fruity & spicy.

    Ravens Hill

    ​A red wine made from grapes that ripen well in the English climate. Stored in oak to produce a medium bodied ruby wine. Has a lovely aroma of cherry & blackcurrant.

    Bacchus

    A dry aromatic white wine with delicious aromas of elderflower, nettles, herbs & asparagus.

    Wine Cooler

    ​There were lots of nice things to tempt you in the shop. We treated ourselves to this hand made terracotta wine cooler made in Suffolk.

    Useful Links

    Three Choirs

    Website

    Saumur Tasting

    See Blog Post

    Montsoreau Cave

    See Blog Post

  • Champagne in All But Name

    Tour of Louis de Grenelle Cellars, Saumur

    We were given a free ticket  at the campsite  for this tour and tasting. What a bargain! You will get a guided tour of the cellars if you go, showing you how the famous local sparkling wines are made.

    Even though they are made by the same traditional method as Champagne, the wines are not allowed to use that name. They are just as delicious however.

    The on site bottling plant was in operation and we were shown how the lees (dead yeast resulting from the fermentation ​in the bottle) is removed by freezing it in the bottle neck.The lees then sticks to the plastic base of the crown cap and can then be disgorged (removed). The bottles are sealed with the familiar cork after that.

    Louis De Grenelle Sign

    Louis De Grenelle Sign

    Bottling Plant

    Bottling Plant

    Crown Cap

    Crown Cap

    Cellar Tasting Area

    Cellar Tasting Area

    Of course we bought quite a few bottles in the shop. While we were there an English couple ordered several cases of bubbly for a wedding back home.

    Did You Know You Can Buy Direct?

    You can buy direct from France and only pay the tiny French wine duty. Of course this only applies to purchases for personal consumption. Here's a link to Louis De Grenelle. There are many more suppliers you can research in France of course, but we can tell you that having sampled most of the range it really is delicious stuff! Contact us if you want any more details.

  • Resources We Use When Staying on French Campsites and Aires

    After using our motorhome (referred to as camping cars in France) to travel in France for some years now, we thought our experiences may be of use to you.

    You don't need to own a motorhome and may use tents, caravans  or hire a camper van. 

    Many sites have permanent facilities, such as cabins and even small camping pods on stilts you can hire by the week. In our opinion though using these will make it harder to explore a region as we do.​

    Why Wine Lovers Should Use French Camping Facilities.

    • You are able to stay within or very close to places of interest.
    • You can stay at low cost. using their great facilities, showers, laundry etc
    • Although it's best to plan your trip, you can change your mind at any time as there is no need to book. This is especially true outside July and August.
    • We have travelled up until mid July, and only once experienced a fully booked site. We were already staying there ( the fantastic municipally owned one at Beaune Burgundy). The full signs were put out during our stay mid July in 2014, but even then they were still able to accept tent users! A couple of days later-the signs were gone.
    • The number of commercial sites, Municipal sites and Aires (more about these later) is truly enormous. You have a fantastic choice of places to stay anywhere in France!

    Montsoreau after a Change of Plan

    Just to show how a change of plan can end well, we had driven to Bourgueil, a famous wine town but were disappointed with the site. Someone we met  had mentioned another nice site so we went to Montsoreau in June 2015 after a last minute decision. This market town with its castle has a superb position where two rivers- The Loire and The Vienne meet.

    The view of the castle in our photo is a short walk from the back gate of the town ACSI camp site. At the other end of town you can walk to some caves where local wines can be tasted. This was a lovely cool place to visit on a very hot day!

    Wine Tasting Montsoreau

    Wine Tasting Montsoreau

    Château at Montsoreau

    Château at Montsoreau

    A List of the Resources we use:

    ACSI Camping Card

    A simple but effective system. You buy the book (it has grown to two volumes now). Punch out the card from the cover and fill in your details. You need to buy a new copy each year-it comes out early December for use for the year beginning 1st. of January. More sites are added every year.

    Visit any of the participating campsites from all over Europe listed and use your card to get the discounted price (12,14,16 or 18 Euros per night in 2015). A large number of the sites are in France.

    ​This covers 2 people, a car and a caravan/motorhome/tent, 6amp hook-up, VAT, a pet and use of showers. Small charges can be made by the campsite to cover tourist or environment taxes and waste disposal.

    The discount period is usually most of the site opening times except the last 2 weeks of July and all of August. This does vary from site to site though, so check carefully.​

    Municipal Campsites

    There are still a large number of sites owned by local communities in France. Some have been sold off to private owners in recent years, but many remain.

    You will have to do more of your own research on these using Google etc. The Caravan Club 2 volume book called Caravan Europe is very useful for these. This has changed and the 2015 version has a dedicated book for France now.

    Caravan Club Members review sites in Europe, many of them French Municipals.

    Some of the sites can be pretty basic ( although some like the Beaune one we mentioned earlier​ have fantastic facilities).

    They are always clean and well kept however.

    The one at Chablis sticks in the mind. Although the sanitary block was a bit basic​ the beautiful short walk into town and large attractive pitches more than made up for this. Great for a tour and tasting at the world renowned William Fèvre winery in Chablis!

    Aires

    Their full name is Aire de service/stationment pour camping car. "Service area/parking for motorhomes" in English. You will usually see this sign showing a camping car emptying waste water when these are nearby.

    The word Aire simply means area in English.

    These are only available to Camping Car Users.​

    IMPORTANT-WHATEVER YOU DO DO NOT STAY OVERNIGHT IN MOTORWAY AIRES! Many of them seem attractive, but only use them as rest areas on your journey. Vehicles are frequently broken into at these during the night!​

    There are many thousands of Camping Car Aires in France. For a small fee you can stay for up to 48 hours, take on water and empty waste.​ Many local communities provide these because they believe they help the local economy in their town or village.

    Many Camping Car users only stay at these, but most aires don't supply electricity or allow you to wind out an awning or put out table and chairs.

    They do provide great freedom to travel throughout France in your motorhome however. Many users are like us and use Aires and Camping Sites as well. On the whole we like the comfort of sites and the ability to use their facilities.​

    Sometimes if you want to stay within walking distance of a town you will find there are no nearby camp sites. An Aire may be available however.​ A good example is the town of Vouvray, where the Aire is virtually in the town centre!

    France Passion

    Again this system is for Camper Van users only as no facilities are provided so you have to be self contained. There is no charge for staying however- although the owners will be hoping to sell produce! There is no obligation to buy though.

    You are supposed to stay only for 24 hours.​

    Like the ACSI book, this comes with a card you detach and use. It is also produced yearly.

    The listings are not camp sites ​but are wine growers, farmers restaurants with land or even fellow motorhome owners.

    See full details at Vicarious Books who distribute the English language version.​

    Produced in the Netherlands, the English version is available from Vicarious Books. £13.50 plus p&p. in 2015.

    Also available from Vicarious Books. Amazon have it too.

    The Caravan Club have a special deal on all three of their European camping books including the French one. I'm not sure whether this is for members only though.​

    This is a 2 volume book written for the British market. The authors run Vicarious Books and obviously that is where you can get it from. Great advice on how to use Aires if you are new to this.

    There are books written in French with many more Aires listed. Vicarious have some of these as well. ​

    Vicarious Books stock the English version from March each year.

    Driving in France

    Fuel is cheaper than in The UK, with diesel (called gazole in France) being cheaper than unleaded. In June 2015 we were paying around 1.17 euros per litre for gazole at the supermarket outlets. The good exchange rate at the time meant that this was around 85 pence.

    Many of the quickest and best roads are toll roads however. The tolls are called peage in France. Many of the booths are unmanned these days. However we can now buy a tag in the UK from the operator Sanef making paying the tolls simpler​. See details here on their UK website.

    Wine Tasting Montsoreau

    Wine Tasting Montsoreau