Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Castelnau des Fieumarcon - mist falling on the rolling hills, figs, pear and rosemary. A very special place to stay....

The main reception room at Castelnau des Fieumarcon

Introducing a new location in South West France where we will be hosting painting, photography, walking, singing and cooking holidays. An estate tucked away in the rolling hills of historic Gascony, we are lucky enough to stay in France's only, privately owned, fortified village with 13th century origins. Lovingly restored over a period of twenty five years by the wonderful and eccentric owner Frederique, it is now run by charming Didier Billes who will be your host, along with your tutor for your weeks stay.

Stunning sunsets and views from Castelnau

The Authentic Adventures team stayed here for a long weekend at the end of September with two journalists and travel councellors who were invited to experience, and write about, a weekend of cooking. We had an inspiring time soaking up the atmosphere of Castelnau, enjoying the landscape and culture of Gascony and cooking and tasting with Anneli Faiers - our fantastic cook. We visited Chateau Monluc, tasting wines and Armagnac, lunch in nearby St. Puy, a gorgeous restaurant - our group took a table outside and enjoyed scallops with leek puree and other delights. A trip to the local town of Fleurance with its pretty market, and a memorable visit to Domaine d'Arton -the prettiest vineyard and elegant and charming hosts Patrick and Victoire de Montal.

Our cooking holidays at Castelnau des Fieumarcon are not cooking courses or classes, they are a complete 'culinary experience' with a chance to soak up everything that is wonderful about the landscape, food and wine of the region. Anneli is passionate about where she lives, and gave us an interesting history of Gascony cuisine, in particular their love of duck. Follow my next blog to read about it, and use a local recipe of 'Cake aux lardons avec figues et noix' - delicious.

Anneli Faiers - our cook at Castelnau

Anneli & Didier

We couldn't be more excited about launching cooking holidays from Castelnau des Fieumarcon!

The interior décor in the drawing room is stunning

This cottage is called Pressaic (where I stayed) - amazing views, high quality interiors.

All the bedrooms are decorated uniquely, and are comfortable. No tea making facilities or televisions!

A peep into another cottage - the evening light was beautiful!

Castelnau has won various awards for its restoration with beautiful detailing.

The lovely market at Fleurance

Linda Kember - our Operations Manager enjoying a cold drink

Our happy group outside Chateau Monluc - John Brough, MD, far left, Didier Billes - our host, next to him, Sarah Edmonds, Marketing Executive, far right.
One of our guests, Antonia, enjoying a cooking session

Enjoying the sunshine outside Chateau Monluc

A brief history of Castelnau des Fieumarcon:

The Castelnau des Fieumarcon is a private fortified settlement built in the 13th century, far away from noise and pollution. Located in the historical land of Armagnac in the South West of France and easily accessible from Bordeaux and Toulouse airports, the village lends itself perfectly our group holidays in all our specialist areas: walking in the beautiful countryside known as 'the Tuscany of France', singing in the grounds of the estate with use of the intimate, private chapel, painting - both the landscape and details of the ancient buildings, and cooking with local chef and award winning food writer Anneli Faiers.

The beauty of the Castelnau des Fieumarcon is the ability to have an entire world of your own where you can think, and explore uninterrupted, and of course enjoy the 'party house' feel in the company of other like-minded people who share your passion. Our aim is to provide a place in which to relax, or be as busy as you wish, use the swimming pool, enjoy the privacy of your own cottage, or paint, sketch, photograph, edit and discuss your work in the comfortable communal spaces. We feel that Castelnau perfectly exemplifies the style of an Authentic Adventures holiday - the décor is stylish, but not overdone, not overtly modern, no televisions or coffee making machines - it's more 'authentic' than that. A beautiful artistic retreat.

The stronghold is a perfect example of sensitive (and sensible) renovation. Built in the 13th century by local feudal lords, the village saw its population rise to 240 in the 17th century. As time went by and lured by the attraction of better living the inhabitants moved slowly away in direction of bigger towns. In the early 1960’s the population had all but vanished leaving most of the houses and the chapel in ruins.

The rebirth of the Castelnau began in 1978 when the Coustols family, local entrepreneurs, decided to change the fate of the village. 16 out of the original 32 houses were rebuilt, and the remaining space planted with scented and fruit gardens. The restoration followed the principles of the DaST (Design a Sustainable Tomorrow) Compass and the Venice Charter, the Castelnau received the VMF Award in 1992 and the RICS Award 2001 in London.

A quarter of a century, a lot of love and tenacity were necessary, not only to bring new life to medieval structures, but also in the particular attention that was given to the interior decoration. Furnishings, objects and tapestries (all sourced in Gascony) blend with more contemporary furniture designed by the owner, allowing history and present to combine harmoniously.

When John discovered Castelnau des Fieumarcon, he knew he had found something special - a place where our clients could enjoy themselves, relax, absorb the culture of this region, delight in Gascogne food and wine and share their passion for photography, painting, singing, walking or cooking.

For more information follow this link:

Wine - we taste alot of it on our holidays in France & Italy - here's a potted history!

An introduction to Italian and French viniculture by Celestine Bridgeman of
The Oxford Wine Company.  

In September, we exhibited at the Tetbury Food & Drink Festival, and hosted a talk and wine tasting during the event in association with The Oxford Wine Company. For those who are wine lovers (aren't we all?) this is a potted history of French and Italian viniculture and the wines we tasted. We had a great evening - a good crowd of interesting people who loved hearing about our adventures, our new cooking holidays and the kind of wine we will be tasting and enjoying with our meals.

A view from Castelnau des Fieumarcon, the estate where we stay in France.
John Brough, far left, MD with Linda Kember far right, Operations Manager with our group outside Chateau Monluc which sells wine and Armagnac, in S.W France.

Italy is home to some of the oldest wine making regions in the world – it has been producing wine longer than France!

French wine originated in the 6th century BC, with the colonization of Southern Gaul by Greek settlers. (A large area that included France)

Wine making developed in Europe with the expansion of the Roman empire throughout the Mediterranean, when many major wine producing regions that still exist today were established. During the Middle Ages, monks maintained vineyards and, more importantly, conserved wine-making knowledge and skills during an often turbulent period.
Monasteries had the resources, security, and motivation to produce a steady supply of wine both for celebrating mass and generating income.

Improved production techniques in the 17th and 18th centuries resulted in the emergence of finer qualities of wine, glass bottles with corks began to be used, and the corkscrew was invented.

The French wine industry took off at this point, racing ahead of the Italians, with particular recognition being given to the clarets of the Bordeaux region. The French have since worked hard to improve their wines, with huge success. (cultural, economic etc)

In 1935 numerous laws were passed to control the quality of French wine. They established the first AOC system (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée), which is governed by a powerful oversight board. (Institut National des Appellations d'Origine, INAO)

Consequently, France has one of the oldest systems for protected designation of origin for wine in the world, and strict laws concerning winemaking and production.

In contrast, the Italian classification system although developed around the same time, was far less strict resulting in quantity rather than quality wines. With improved rules and adherence this is now changing.

However there is a general acceptance that the French produce some of the best wines in the world. In terms of a wine economy this is hugely important.

A view across the vines from Domaine d'Arton - a vineyard you will visit if you come on a cooking holiday in France with us!


A proud region in South West France

Today comprises of Armagnac country and wines such as Madrian, Jurancon and those we are tasting.

The name Gascony appears on labels of the highly successful Vin de Pays

South West France is a rather heterogeneous region in terms of its wines and how they are marketed.

It is rare to see wines being sold as Vins du Sud-Ouest. Rather, the smaller areas and individual appellations market their wines under their own (smaller) umbrella, in contrast with common practice in e.g. the Bordeaux region.

Gascony covers a large area with different climatic conditions. The areas closest to Bordeaux produce wines in a style similar to those of Bordeaux, and largely from the same grape varieties.

Further south, wines are still rather similar to those of Bordeaux, but several grape varieties not used in Bordeaux are common, such as Tannat.

Finally, in the areas closest to the Pyrenees (where the French wines tonight are from) wines are made from local varieties, such as Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng.

Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano), Colombard 10.5% (Domaine Tariquet)

Domaine Tariquet lies at the foot of the Pyrenees in the Armagnac region in Gascony in the village of Ercé.

The region has a temperate climate that plays a crucial role, its mid-August warm days and cool nights encouraging the development of aromatic precursors.

Domaine Tariquet has been independent hands since 1912.  It started life in the tradition of Armagnac making Bas Armagnac brandies.  In 1982 the family diversified and started producing quality white wines – forerunners in the region

Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano Italy) (also known as Clairette Ronde) is France’s most planted white grape variety, far outnumbering Chardonnay’s area. 

Globally, this variety produces more wine than any other.  It was imported from Italy, probably during the 14th Century.

This copious, thin, acidic dry wine also washes through the stills of the Cognac (Charentais north of Bordeaux) and Armagnac regions.

Colombard produces a fruity white wine of both dry and sweet characters.

It would take some sorcery to transform this into an exciting wine on its own, but pleasantly lively innocuouness is well within reach for those equipped with stainless steel and temperature control.

It is used as a blending grape for its tropical light fruity flavours and citrus aromas.


Superbly intense for a dry fruity white, its bouquet reveals floral and citrus aromas with nice touches of tropical fruit. Light and well-balanced, this wine is a thirst-quenching pleasure.

Serve chilled. Very refreshing at any time of the day, as an aperitif or with starters, seafood or fish.

Les Premières Grives, 11.5% (Domaine Tariquet)

Gros Manseng

Gros Manseng is a Basque grape, brought to the region by the Basques who originally  inhabited Gascony.

It is a large yielding white grape that produces a less rich wine that that of its relation, Petit Manseng.

On its own it has the potential to produce intensely flavored wines with high acidity, apricot and quince fruit along with spicy and floral notes.

The time of harvest will play a large role in the type of wine that the grape will produce – lower alcohol levels (11.5 – 12%) produce characteristics of fresh fruit and flowers and if picked later (with higher alcohol levels) the flavours will be much more intense and powerful.


Harvested in autumn, mature grapes packed with sweetness produce an elegant wine with good typicity.

Medaille d'Or, Berliner Wine Trophy February 2013.


Ugni Blanc and Clombard, two of the ten different grapes authorised for use in the production of Armagnac.  Indeed, Domaine Tariquet started life in the tradition of Armagnac.

Armagnac is a distinctive kind of brandy distilled from wine usually made from a blend of grapes that including, Colombard, and Ugni blanc.

The production of Armagnac uses column stills rather than the pot stills used in the production of Cognac. The resulting spirit is then aged in oak barrels before release.
John Brough (left) and Didier Billes (middle) in the wine cellar at Chateau Monluc, S.W France, with guests.
Oak wine barrels in the original cellars at Chateau Monluc, S.W France.
If you are interested in cooking and wine tasting, please have a look at our new cooking holidays:



Tetbury Food & Drink Festival - September 2013

Sarah Edmonds (me) manning our stand at Tetbury Food & Drink Festival

As part of our launch of NEW COOKING HOLIDAYS in 2014, we exhibited at the Tetbury Food & Drink Festival for the first time this year. We felt it was important, not only to introduce a new genre of holiday for Authentic Adventures, but also to support our local food festival. We are lucky enough to live and work in the Cotswolds which is prosperous and entrepreneurial, in a region that is lucky enough to enjoy a variety of fresh, locally grown produce and excellent restaurants. The food festival is growing year by year thanks to the careful guidance and effort of Kathryn Limoi, whose passion for the town keeps her up late at night for weeks in the run up to the festival. She introduced us to The Oxford Wine Co. with whom we collaborated on an evening event during the festival - a talk to introduce our new holidays with wines to taste from the regions we visit - Puglia (S.E Italy) and Gascony (S.W France). The event was a great success, with our founder and Managing Director John Brough delivering an inspiring talk with ease and flair (he has a natural talent for it!), whilst Celestine from The Oxford Wine Co. introduced a short history of French and Italian vinification with tastings of Colombard, Gros Manseng, Primitivo, Negroamaro, Sangiovese and a delicious glass of deep, orangey Armagnac to finish. (For more information about the wines that come from these regions, take a look at the following blog!)

John Brough (MD) talking about our new Cooking Holidays in Italy & France

The following day was spent talking to old friends and clients, meeting new people and prospective customers. We were delighted to sell a holiday to a very excited couple who had wanted to learn cooking in Italy for a while. They were even more excited to learn of the £100 discount for any new customer booking a seven night holiday! They will be travelling to Puglia in May to enjoy a week of cooking with a local 'Mamma', staying in delightful Masseria Provenzani, a converted farmhouse set in beautiful olive groves near the gorgeous town of Lecce known as 'The Florence of the South'.

Our 2014 brochures have just been printed, and only one week after posting them, we have already sold seven places for cooking holidays in Puglia. We stress that our cooking holidays should be classed as "culinary experiences" and are not just cooking courses/classes - we have incorporated other aspects of food appreciation including visits to local markets, farms, vineyards, plenty of wine appreciation, Armagnac chateaux, picking fresh produce on our estate in France (figs, pear, rosemary), cheese and olive oil tastings - it's a complete foodie itinerary. Book your place before they're all gone!


Ben handing out brochures

busy Tetbury

John and guest discussing wines!

John Brough

Our banner showing Ylenia Sambati cooking in Puglia

Queuing up to see us!!

Sarah laughing with local artist Richard Callingham
Our wine tasting and talk