Passing the Torch

Ahem…excuse me…is this thing on?  

Welcome to my first post as the new owner of Adventures in Italy. I’m Michelle, and I’m really excited to be here.

Adventures in Italy has just completed its 15th season of leading tours in Orvieto, Italy, so it’s no longer a baby. The founders, Kristin and Bill Steiner, have created something truly wonderful. Combining artistic pursuits with the culture and history of Italy make Adventures in Italy trips unlike your average Italian holiday. It’s travel that transforms.

Imagine sitting and tasting wine made from grapes feet from where you sit, and having the vintner sitting next to you!

Or enjoy a meal combining olive oil with wine pairing in the family-run shop of the olive oil producer.  

You’ll have plenty of time to relax and enjoy the neighborhood, too.  Say hi to Alberto making sculptures in his workshop…

Federico and Hannah in the leather shop…

And stop by and say Ciao to Antony and Romina and grab a coffee at the Blue Bar.

Neighbors soon become friends.  I feel like I’m returning home each time I walk through the archway into our neighborhood. You will, too.  

I fell in love with Orvieto and the format of Adventures in Italy when I first took a trip in 2013. I couldn’t wait to return, and I can’t wait to share the beauty of this magical hilltop town with you.  Tours are open for 2018, I do hope you’ll join me!

Michelle Logue
Michelle Logue leads cultural and creative adventures in Orvieto, Italy. With a mandate to provide "travel that transforms", Adventures in Italy gives guests an immersive experience. After more than 15 years of return trips, Orvieto has become a welcoming home base surpassing the typical Italian vacation.

Adventures in Italy operates trips in May and September, with two options: Artistic Enrichment nurtures creative expression, while Discover Orvieto invites visitors to focus on the history and culture of Orvieto and live as locals. Find out more about tours and special offers by following Adventures in Italy on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and visit www.adventuresinitaly.ca.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.
Posted in European Travel, Food, Italy, Orvieto, Slow Travel Tours, Umbria | Leave a comment

The Magic of Christmas Markets in Poland

Planning to spend Christmas in Poland? Nothing can be more magical than spending the Christmastime in Poland! Throughout the entire country, major cities, towns and villages celebrate this special time of the year in the most festive of ways. From Christmas tree decorating in charming market squares, to caroling in the streets and churches, to holiday food at Christmas Markets and traditional Christmas Eve – “Wigilia” Dinner, to gift shopping for one-of-a-kind handicrafts made by local artists, Christmastime in Poland is truly unique and magical!

Christmas Market in Wroclaw, Poland

Poland Culinary Vacations has launched a 10 days/9 nights “The Magic of Christmas Markets in Poland” tour so that our guests can experience the festive Christmastime in Poland in top cities starting in Warsaw then on to Poznan, Wroclaw and ending in Krakow with a day visit to Zakopane, the winter capital of Poland.

International Ice Carving Festival in Poznan, Poland

Here are just some highlights of what’s included in the trip itinerary:

– Small groups, maximum group size no larger than 16
– Visits to Christmas Markets in Warsaw, Poznan, Wroclaw, Krakow and Zakopane
– Visit to the International Ice Sculpture Festival in Poznan –
this is a two-day weekend event so not available on all dates, please see specific trip itinerary
– One-of-a-kind Christmas gifts shopping
– Polish Christmas cookies baking class
– Polish Christmas Eve Dinner – “Wigilia” dishes cooking class with local chef
– Charming boutique accommodations
– Leisurely paced itineraries everyone can enjoy
– Scenic and breathtaking sights including UNESCO World Heritage Sites
– Local, expert, English speaking guide on each tour

Traditional Polish “Wigilia Dinner borscht with “uszka”

Here are locations for each of the Christmas Markets in the cities we’ll be visiting and 2017 open dates – the Christmas Markets are scheduled at about the same time each year with some date changes possible for special festivities and events:

WARSAW

Where: Christmas Market in Old Town & Royal Castle Square*
When: November 25 – January 7

*Warsaw has more than 10 Christmas Markets scattered throughout the entire city so one can easily spend an entire week exploring those markets just in Poland’s beautiful capital alone!

POZNAN
Where: Poznan’s Bethlehem in Old Town & Freedom Place
When: November 18 – December 22

International Ice Carving Festival in Poznan
December 9 -10

WROCLAW

Where: Christmas Market on Old Town Market Square
When: November 25 – December 23

KRAKOW
Where: Christmas Market on the UNESCO Old Town Market Square
When: November 25 – December 26

ZAKOPANE
Where: Market by Gubalowka & Krupowki Street
When: Opened every day, morning till evening hours

Krakow’s traditional Christmas creches or “szopki”

Polish folklor Christmas tree ornaments

Plan a getaway to POLAND with FAMILY & FRIENDS November 28 – December 7, 2019 on “The Magic of Christmas Markets in Poland” tour with Poland Culinary Vacations (our 2018 Christmas Market trip to Poland is SOLD OUT but please email us at info@polandculinary.com if you’d like to be added to a waiting list in case of any cancellations). This 10 Days/9 Nights Christmas Markets adventure in Poland will start in Warsaw and end in Krakow/Zakopane with stops in Poznan and Wroclaw along the way! All of those cities have spectacular Christmas Markets with plenty of additional holiday festivities.

Merry Christmas! – Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia!


Malgorzata (Sarna) Rose, is a native of Poland. Poland Culinary Vacations grew out of her love and passion for travel and everything Polish, including fine Polish cuisine, eventually blossoming into a first-class culinary travel company. While growing up in Poland, she experienced the great joy of cooking with family and friends. Using her grandmothers' recipes and fresh ingredients from their gardens, they prepared food for weddings, parties, and traditional holidays. Now, through Poland Culinary Vacations, she wants to share that experience with you, and show you the best of everyday Polish living: the special people and their hospitality, and the heritage and traditions unique to each region. Only a native can help you discover and fully experience the authentic Poland!

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.
Posted in Cooking, Cracow, European Christmas Markets, European Travel, Events, Food, Holidays in Europe, Krakow, Malgorzata "Sarna" Rose, Poland, Poznan, Sarna Rose, Shopping, Slow Travel Tours, Travel Tips, Warsaw, Wroclaw, Zakopane | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eating Out in France (Part 2): The French Meal and Other Tips

In our last blog post (Part 1), we discussed the different types of eating establishments in France and what you can expect at the three daily meals.  In Part 2, we’ll look more closely at lunch and dinner and offer tips to help you most enjoy eating our in France.

Drinks with Your Meal

At most eating places, you’ll be asked if you want an apéritif, a before-dinner drink. The French normally don’t order wine before dinner, but enjoy certain kinds of drinks such as champagne, Crémant d’Alsace, pastis, or a kir royale. We often enjoy an apéritif with a special dinner. This drink is usually served with a salty snack… perhaps a little dish of olives or nuts.

Wine is an important part of the meal in France and is seen as an accompaniment to the food. Wine is rarely drunk without food. We recommend ordering a local wine when you’re in one of the wine producing areas. There is often a local house wine that can be ordered by the quarter, half, or full liter and is quite inexpensive. And of course you can order wine by the bottle, sometimes more expensive than the actual meal.

You can also order a beer (biere) with your meal. Many of the beers available in France are from Alsace; we like a Kronenbourg 1664.

You may also want water with your meal. Tap water in France is definitely drinkable. If we order wine with our meal, we typically also ask for a carafe d’eau (a pitcher of tap water). If we’re not drinking wine or beer, we order bottled water, since we just feel we should pay for a beverage. We like sparkling water as a primary beverage. You can also ask for bottled water sans gaz (without gas). Popular bottled waters include Badoit and San Pellegrino, often ordered by name.

You can order a soft drink with lunch but these are typically not served with dinner. Soft drinks are more expensive than house wine, and there aren’t unlimited refills. If there’s ice, you’ll just get one or two cubes. Iced tea is sometimes available in grocery stores and cafes, but it’s the Lipton variety, often peach-flavored and pre-sweetened. (We suggest skipping iced tea in France.)

Bread with your Meal

You’ll likely be served bread with your meal, sometimes a basket of slice baguette or more interesting roll, depending on the type of establishment.

Butter is never served with bread at lunch or dinner… only at breakfast. Bread is normally used to mop up a sauce or to eat with the cheese, not something you munch on before your first course arrives. Don’t fill up on the bread like you might at home, because the best is coming!

And although olive oil is very prevalent in the south of France, it’s not provided for bread dipping like you see in American restaurants.

The French Meal

You can choose a simple eating establishment and just have one dish for lunch or dinner, perhaps with a dessert that might be as simple as a dish of ice cream.  But part of the pleasure of dining in France is enjoying a meal organized into several different courses.  When we’re guests for a meal in a friend’s home, this same structure typically applies.

You do not have to order all the courses unless they are included in a “menu” of defined options you select. If you’re dining with others, we’ve found that it’s usually easiest if everyone orders the same number of courses, though this is not required. The French don’t typically “share” dishes.

Offerings and menus may change on a regular basis, since many restaurants work only with fresh ingredients and feature whatever is in season. Many small establishments offer a more limited menu, and you may have only a few choices for each course.

These were the options for the excellent and very economical 24 euro three-course lunch at the Cafe de la Poste in Goult on a recent Sunday afternoon in May… two choices for each course.  It was also possible to order à la carte, as a few at our table did.

French Meal Courses

Amuse bouche: In more upscale restaurants, at the beginning of your meal you’re often served a very small hors d’oeuvres or soup, offered complimentary by the chef.  The photo below was the amuse bouche served at our lunch a few years ago at L’Atelier du Peintre, a gastronomic restaurant in Colmar (Alsace), France.  This beautifully-presented plate of three different items was shared by two people.

Entrée (first course): Although Americans use the French word “entrée” to describe the main course, in France this is the first course: the “entry” to the meal. An entrée may be a soup, salad or plate of charcuterie (cold sliced pork), or can be a more substantial and creative dish, often beautifully-presented like my entrée (below) at L’Arôme restaurant in Bonnieux during a recent Luberon Experience week, featuring a cured filet of trout. In some areas foie gras is often served as an entrée.

Plat principal (main course): The main course usually involves meat, poultry or fish with some type of starch (potato, pasta or rice) and/or vegetable. Side dishes are selected by the chef, not listed as options that you choose. Even if it is not shown on the menu, you can ask for a vegetarian main course, though it is good to alert the restaurant to any special dietary needs when you make the reservation.

This was a delicious plat principal at the restaurant of Hostellerie Schwendi, the hotel for our Alsace Experience week. The Schwendi offers several different “menus,” at different prices. The sesame-crusted rack of lamb was from their 55 euro menu, one of four courses. (It’s also possible to order à la carte.)

Fromage (cheese course): In a full meal, the cheese course precedes dessert. Depending on the restaurant, you may be served a pre-set plate of a few cheeses. A cheese tray may be left for the table to cut their own selections. Or the server may bring a cheese tray or cart for you to indicate your selections and he or she will serve you. You should select just a few cheeses… probably no more than four. The cheese may be eaten with a knife and fork or on bread; the French normally don’t eat cheese with their fingers in a restaurant.

If the cheese is round, cut it in wedges like a pie. If the cheese is served in a wedge (like a slice of Brie), don’t cut the end off… cut your piece so that the point is preserved.

This is a beautifully presented cheese tray at Domaine Faverot, where our Luberon Experience group enjoys a private meal.  Everything on the tray is a goat cheese (fromage de chevre) from the local region.  But it’s important to cut the round cheese in a small wedge… don’t just slice off an end!

Dessert (dessert): In finer restaurants, desserts in France are quite elaborate and beautifully presented. In simpler cafes, you will likely have a choice of traditional desserts: crème brulee, mousse au chocolat, some type of fruit tart, ile flottante, and so on. Ice creams and sorbets are also often choices and are very good. If you like whipped cream, ask for chantilly. Cheese may be an option as your dessert course.

This was one of the dessert options for a special dinner for our Périgord Experience groups this past summer, at Manoir d’Hautegente outside the village of Coly: a pavlova featuring meringue, homemade strawberry ice cream, and fresh strawberries and other fruits.  Delicious!

Café (coffee): Coffee is offered after the meal, never with dessert. You can ask for deca, (decaf) or thé (tea). After-dinner coffee is normally a small cup of strong espresso, and you can add sugar if you like. The French do not drink coffee with milk or cream after dinner. (You can ask for this, but it’s not typical.)

Bite sized desserts or chocolates (called “mignardises”) are often served with the coffee.  This is what our Alsace Experience group was offered with coffee at L’Ami Fritz, a gastronomic restaurant in the village of Ottrott… a second dessert after our main dessert!

Other Tips for Eating Out

Choosing an Eating Place

Menus are posted outside the restaurant, along with prices. Daily specials are often noted on a chalkboard. Many restaurants also now have websites, Facebook pages, and online booking. We like to look for eating places with lots of local people; these often offer authentic cuisine and good value. You can also look for recommendations on Trip Advisor, ask friends for their suggestions, or look for ideas on travel or foodie websites.

If you’re on a small group tour, you can be sure that your organizers have done a thorough job of testing and choosing eating places!  (It’s one of the favorite parts of the job for us as we develop new trips.)

Closing Day

Restaurants and cafes usually close one or two days a week so that the staff can have time off. The closing day is posted outside the restaurant and on websites; guidebooks also usually note the closing day. In tourist areas some restaurants may be closed in the off-season or closed for a month or more of annual vacation.

Reservations

We always recommend making reservations for dinner, and reservations are also necessary at special restaurants for lunch.  You can often make dinner reservations that morning or the day before unless it is an especially popular place or during “high” season. (You may need to make reservations months in advance for  Michelin-starred restaurant.)  A reservation assures that you will get a table and is a gesture of respect to the restaurant owners so they can plan ahead. If you do not have a reservation– even if there appear to be many empty tables– they sometimes will not be able to take you.

French restaurants don’t typically try to “turn” tables.  Your table is typically “yours” for the duration of the meal

How to Order

Most French restaurants don’t have the number of servers you’re probably accustomed to at home, and the pace of a meal is much more leisurely anyway. The waiter or waitress will come to you when they are ready to take your order; don’t try to signal them when you are ready. It’s sometimes helpful to close your menu as a signal that you’re ready.

Try to be efficient when you place your order and ask any questions. Unless you’re fluent in French, we recommend not trying to make lots of special requests.

Ordering Meat

The French eat their meat quite rare. If you prefer it less rare, ask for medium (medium or à point) or well done (bien cuit). In our experience, medium is more like “medium rare” in the USA. And you may get a raised eyebrow if you ask for bien cuit; the French think this ruins the meat.

Timing of the Meal

Your courses may be slower to arrive than you’re accustomed to. This isn’t a reflection of poor service! Meals in France have a more leisurely pace, and in addition to fewer servers, usually there are fewer people in the kitchen too. Courses for everyone at the table usually arrive at the same time, but not always.

In some eating places, you’ll be asked to order dessert at the start of the meal, but normally the server will take your dessert order after the main course.

Servers normally don’t clear dishes until everyone at the table is finished with a course. Place your utensils across the plate to signal you are finished. If you don’t eat everything, be prepared that your server may be concerned that there was a problem with your meal.

Leftovers

In January 2016 a law was implemented in France that all larger dining establishments must now provide a “doggy bag” if customers ask to take leftovers away with them. This isn’t a cultural tradition in France, but the new law is intended to help reduce food waste. So if you do have enough of your meal left to take away with you, you can now ask for “un doggy bag.”

Paying and Tipping

The server won’t bring your bill automatically, and you’ll have to signal that you’re ready to pay. To ask for your check, say “l’addition, s’il vous plaît.” Despite what you’ve seen in old movies, you should never summon the server by calling out Garçon. This would be extremely rude! Proper etiquette is to call a waiter Monsieur, (sir), a very young waitress Mademoiselle, and any waitress above their early 20’s Madame.

If you pay by credit card, the server will bring the credit card machine to the table. In some small places you may be directed to pay your bill at the cash register. Or if the server is very busy, you can go to the bar/cash register to pay.

Tips are left on the table in cash/coins, not added to your credit card. Restaurant personnel are paid a full wage with benefits, so tipping is handled quite differently than you may be used to. In high-end restaurant, if the service was excellent, you might leave 5%. Otherwise, leave a few coins to express your appreciation. Because we often visit the same eating places many times, we often leave one euro a person, but you can certainly leave less.

Other Etiquette tips

The French tend to be very polite. Always remember to say s’il vous plaît (please) and merci beaucoup (thank you very much) to your server.

And if you’re dining with a group, it’s important to be sensitive to other diners, especially at evening meals, when eating indoors in a small space, or at a more upscale establishment. The French tend to be quieter and more discreet in restaurants and may take offense at lots of loud talk, laughing, and photo-taking.

Eating out is one of the great pleasures of spending time in France. Whether you dine in a simple cafe or in a gastronomic restaurant, you can enjoy a delicious, well-presented meal and an important aspect of the French culture. Take your time and savor the experience!

Bon Appétit!

Kathy and Charley woodKathy Wood and her husband Charley lead European Experiences, week-long “slow tours” in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe, including The Luberon Experience in Provence, France. National Geographic Traveler magazine named The Luberon Experience one of their "Tours of a Lifetime" for 2012, the top 50 tours in the world.

Kathy and Charley offer Experience weeks in the Luberon, the Chianti region of Tuscany, Alsace, the Dordogne, and the Cotswolds. In 2017 they're offering a new European Christmas Experience trip, and in 2018 they're launching The Cornwall Experience in southwest England. See their 2017 and 2018 schedule here.

Kathy and Charley have been traveling in Europe for over 25 years and love sharing their special places in Europe with other travelers. They've hosted 85+ Experience groups since they launched in 2006. They now live part-time in their beloved village of Bonnieux in the Luberon. Read more about Kathy and Charley here.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.
Posted in Alsace, Dordogne, Food, France, Kathy Wood, Provence, Restaurants, Travel Tips, Travel tips | Comments Off on Eating Out in France (Part 2): The French Meal and Other Tips