Cheers! Salud! Prost!

Grapes and hops … plums and pears … lemons and corn. For travelers, the local drink – culled, crushed, liquefied, and fermented from these pearls of the land – is as vital to a place’s culture as a plate of Puglia orecchiette pasta or a Slovenian struklji pastry. So we thought it would be fun to raise our glasses to some of the fine vintages, brews, and concoctions that VBT travelers have the pleasure of tasting during our vacations. Bottoms up!

Italy

Italy has been producing wine for 3,000 years. Today, hundreds of indigenous grapes are grown throughout the country. Here are some traveler favorites:

Chiantis, Vino Nobiles, and Morellinos of Tuscany. These world-renowned vintages are most closely associated with the Sangiovese grape, known for its spicy and strawberry flavors. The grape is also used to make bold “Super Tuscan” wines. Tuscan Hill Towns by Bike, The Tuscan Coast, Tuscany by the Sea

Gewurztraminer and Blauburgunder. These floral-noted wines are produced in the cooler climes of South Tyrol – an unsung wine region amidst the Dolomites. They are, if not easy to say, then easy to sip. Italy: Cycling the Dolomite Valleys

Malvasia. The Po River Valley in northwestern Italy has brought new life to a vine imported from Greece – it makes a sweet wine with a nice finish. Italy: Po River Valley and Lake Garda

As dessert in Italy goes, perhaps nothing compares to this famed post-meal digestivo.

Limoncello. The truest version of this potent liqueur (it averages 35% alcohol) is made from the Sorrento lemon peel and served in small ceramic glasses. The Amalfi Coast & Capri

France

Centuries ago, a group of devout monks in Burgundy “invented” red wine. All it took, they discovered, was macerating the skins of grapes during the wine-making process and – voila! – their wine resembled the blood of Christ. France still produces divine vintages.

Cabernet Franc. In Bordeaux along the Dordogne River, this grape is grown for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but is vinified on its own in the castle-dotted Loire Valley. Bicycling Bordeaux & the River Dordogne

Chenin Blanc. This white grape is also grown in the Loire, where it is valued for its malleability in making everything from sparkling wines to sweet dessert wines. Loire Valley

Spain

Sangria. This refreshing drink, perfect for warm Mediterranean days, is typically served in a pitcher for sharing and made with red wine, chopped fruit, sugar or honey, and a small amount of brandy or triple sec. Spain: Under the Andalusian Sky

Pedro-Ximenez. The climate, soil, and sunshine of Andalusia give rise to sweet, fortified sherries. Among these, the Pedro-Ximenez grape (PX for short) is believed to have Moorish origins and been brought to Spain from the Canary Islands. Spain: Under the Andalusian Sky

Portugal

Port. Portugal’s port has been shipped to England since the 1670s. It wasn’t until the 1800s that shippers fortified it with brandy to preserve it for the long trip. Walking Portugal’s Douro River Valley

Vinho Verde. Its name translates into “green wine” for its green-ish tint, is often grown off the ground – up trees or fences – so that vegetables can be grown below the vines. Walking Portugal’s Douro River Valley

Croatia

Plavac. An ancestor of the Zinfandel grape, Plavac yields rich flavors of blackberries, dark cherries, and pepper. Croatia: The Dalmatian Islands, Walking Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands

Prosek. Plavac’s white counterpart is more expensive since it requires seven times more grapes to produce. Its sweet dessert wine is made throughout the Balkans. Croatia: The Dalmatian Islands, Walking Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands

Holland & Belgium

Beers and Ales. Amstel. Heineken. Grolsch. While pale lagers like these make up 95% of production in Holland, many brewers also make special brews like witbier, or white beer. Belgium has been brewing beer since the Middle Ages. Today, 125 breweries dot the landscape of this small country. From Trappist and Abbey beers to brown and blonde ales, it seems there’s no beer that Belgians can’t brew. Holland and Belgium Bike & Barge, Netherlands Bike & Barge

Ireland

Stout Porter. Arthur Guinness founded a brewing company in Ireland 250 years ago. His enterprise remains, producing more than 10 million glasses each day, for pubs around the corner and around the world. Ireland: Galway & Connemara Coast, Ireland: Walking the West Country

Hungary

Palinka. Don’t be alarmed in Hungary if someone wishes you “Palinkas jo reggelt!” They’re merely wishing you “Good morning with palinka,” which goes to show you the importance of this fruit brandy in their culture. The cordial can be made with plums, pears, peaches, and apricots. Hungary & Slovakia: The Best of the Danube

Peru

Chicha. The Inca used this corn-based brew in rituals and drank it in large amounts during religious festivals. In today’s Peru, it is usually prepared with purple corn, resulting in a sweet, unfermented drink. Peru: Machu Picchu & the Sacred Valley

 

A Meal in Provence

Recently Chris Skilling, our Director of Worldwide Product, was inspired by a typical Provencal meal prepared by VBT Trip Leader Vero.  Check out his post below.

france bicycle vacation “Food is my religion!” exclaimed Vero as we discussed the prevalence of processed food. Even in France.  “Never in my home,” she offered up.  We were in her garden, behind her home in Avignon. The heat of the day had passed, and a table for four was being set on the patio. My offer to help was met with instruction in setting a table “the French way” (fork with tines facing down to the left of the plate, knife on the right, spoon at the top of the plate and only with dessert).

We were in for a treat.  Vero is a veteran VBT trip leader, and a trained French chef.  She had prepared dinner for us, using fresh ingredients bought at the local market that very morning.  While her meal preparation certainly differed from my own, I learned that this is how Vero operates whenever she is cooking, even if just for herself.  Food is better than religion, I’m thinking!

The food was chosen for its color on the table.  Each ingredient is included to complement the others.  Wine is selected and attention is paid to what is in-season and fresh.  The result is a meal that appeals to the eye as well as the tongue.

The evening raced by, time passing too quickly, and it was all just so enjoyable.

These wonderful food experiences (they are, after all, so much more than a meal!) took place over and over for me during my four days in Provence.  Sitting down to fresh food, prepared thoughtfully and presented with care, had breathed new life into something that had become all too routine at home.

Meal time in Provence had reminded me of just what taking an active vacation is all about.  Why not join Vero on a VBT biking or walking trip in Provence, and be inspired too!

Menu

An aperitif of Pernod & water on ice

A chilled Semillon (white wine)

Locally grown olives

Fig spread and hard cheese

The day’s bread, grilled with olive oil

A local Merlot (red wine)

Roasted red and yellow peppers

Beef Daube (slow cooked Provencal beef stew)

Potato Gratin

Cheese tray, including a local Banon

Apricot compote

Chocolates

Herbal teas/coffee