sorrento & the amalfi coast …

When we last visited in 2007, I swore to never attempt the suicidal drive along the Amalfi coast again … so this time, in the air-conditioned comfort of a minivan and under the careful guidance of Robbie and ‘husband’-cum-driver Pasquale on the 1-day Amalfi Coast group tour from Sorrento, we were finally able to fully appreciate the splendour and beauty of the towns of Positano, Amalfi and Ravello … and the drive back to Sorrento via the SP1 mountain road, giving us stunning views of Vesuvius and suburban Naples.

Positano, in addition to being uber charming, is also known for its high quality linen – so having purchased the obligatory presents for grand nieces/nephew, we fought our way through tourists and porters, snapping the picturesque alleys of overhanging wisteria and bougainvillier, stopping for a granita to cool down in the 32°C heat before heading down to the black sanded beach to catch our ferry to Amalfi. Positano may be the epitome of postcard prettiness, but as I shared my previous observation with a fellow traveller in our group, it is best appreciated from the sea.

The town of Amalfi once boasted a population of over 70,000 until the Venetian Republic and a tsunami in 1343 reduced it to no more than local importance. Today, only St Andrew’s cathedral provides a compelling reason to visit. On the other hand, a street food lunch of fritto misto from Cuoppo d’Amalfi satisfied our hunger and a less traditional but super expensive lemon sorbet equally quenched our thirst.

The 25-minute drive to the hilltop town of Ravello invariably involved one-way traffic controls on very narrow roads and numerous hairpin bends. Despite the paralysing heat from the scorching afternoon sun, the mood in our minivan was lifted by Bocelli’s Con te partirò (Time to Say Goodbye) wafting from the minivan’s speakers, luring us into an emotional grand finale to our tour. After a brisk walk around town, passing Villa Rufolo which is now home to the Ravello Festival (aka Wagner Festival – it was here that the composer felt most inspired when writing the Parsifal), we sought refuge under the shade of the abundant umbrella trees surrounding the main square … but not before we were randomly photo-bombed by a tourist!

The drive back to Sorrento afforded great views of lush, green mountain tops, vineyards and the unmistakable double-peaked sleeping volcano that is Mount Vesuvius … and as I continued snapping the beautiful landscape, Mei had already begun to wonder about dinner 🙂

auxerre …

I last visited this town some 20 years ago but the memory of the tagine we enjoyed in one of the many morrocan restaurants here still fills me with anticipation! This time, the visit was short and served as a convenient lunch stop/break (at Chez Louise) on our way back to Paris.

Auxerre has not changed much, but somehow the colombage (half-timerbered) houses now seem to ooze more charm than I remember.

from white gold to golden wine …

A last minute panic to find a COVID test centre brought us to Salins-les-Bains where the presence of salty waters here – explained by the existence of a sea which covered Jura over 210 million years ago – became salty through contact with rock salt and then, by pressure, rose up naturally on surface to give birth to salty springs. The salt or so called “white gold”, obtained by evaporation, accounted for half of the region’s income and rose to became the second town of the region Franche-Comté.

No trip to the Jura is complete without a detour to the mecca of vins jaunes – Château-Chalon. The town itelsf sits proud atop terraced gardens and provides commanding views across a patchwork of vineyards below.

Jura’s vins jaunes – of which Château-Chalon is considered the finest example – are unique to the region and must be made exclusively from Savagnin grapes which are late harvested (but not botrytized) to ensure maximum ripeness and flavour. Often compared to sherry, vins jaunes are oxidatively aged under a blanket (or voile) of naturally developing yeasts.

Just for the sake of frivolity, we ventured as far as Lons-le-Saunier, home of la vache qui rit or laughing cow cheese. Here, we discovered that Swiss researchers (who had finessed the pasturisation process to ensure the resulting soft chesse can travel) and pioneering product marketing strategies of the founding Bel family (who had based the logo on a travelling meat wagon during the first World War called “La Wachkyrie”, itself a play on the word for Valkyrie) created a global brand that is as infamous for taste as it is famous for covenience.

chasing waterfalls …

The Jura is known for vin jaune and Comté cheese but where you have mountains, you invariably find waterfalls … and the ones here didn’t disappoint especially when there hasn’t been much rainfall recently.

Baume-les Messieurs is undoubtedly the jewel in the Jura crown and we ended a long day of mountain hiking with ice cream at the cirque – a horseshoe shaped canyon just a short drive from this pretty village.