Oasis in the Rhone-Alpes

With dramatic rock formations, turquoise waters and many French villas tucked into the greenery, the Ardeche Region of France is an oasis for lovers of the outdoors and all things French. It may be a step away from the sophistication of Parisian chic, but the south-west corner of the Rhone-Alpes is no less French, encompassing the je ne sais quoi of French society that exists in every pocket, from the sophisticated cities to the rural farming communities.

Ardeche Gorges and Caves

One of the main drawcards of the region is the dramatic gorges, rent through the region with turqoise rivers in their base. The gorges follow the southern border of the department and eithr driving over the top of the gorges and looking down, or paddling through the rivers in a canoe and looking up provides amazing views.

The best town to stay to easily explore the gorges is Vallon Pont d’Arc and the nearby Pont d’Arc has a beautiful river beach to enjoy in the summertime.

There are also a great number of caves to explore, some of which show evidence of ancient peoples. All close to Pont d’Arc, three caves in particular are some of the most significant in France. The Aven d’Orgna has three large ‘rooms’ open to the public; the Grotte de la Madeleine has impressive floor to ceiling rock formations; and the Chauvet caves have some of the oldest prehistoric paintings in Europe. The Chauvet caves are currently closed however to the public in order to protect these paintings.

Ardeche is also the home of many other gorgeous natural sites including the extinct volcano Mont Gerbier-de-Jonc, that provides great views from the summit. It is also where you’ll find the source of the Loire River, the longest river in France that has many a chateaux on its banks.

Ardeche Villages of Character

Not only home to sites of natural beauty, Ardeche has some of the most picturesque towns in France. The local tourist board has listed the towns of particular note in an easy ‘villages of character’ list. This designation is given to towns that have a focus on preserving their vestiges of French provincial life among beautiful settings.

Some of these towns have even been classified as among the ‘most beautiful of France’.

There are 17 ‘villages of character’: Ailhon, Alba-la-Romaine, Antraigues-sur-Volane, Balazuc, Beauchastel, Banne, Boucieu-le-Roi, Chalencon, Desaignes, Jaujac, Labeaume, Meyras, Naves (near Les Vans), Saint-Montan, Thueyts, Vinezac and Vogue.

As with much of regional France, Tempo Holidays has a huge range of ready-made itineraries or we can tailor-make an exploration of this fascinating area just for you.

UK Summer Food Festivals

The English Summer and its new season of produce is upon us, which spells one thing; a fresh crop of brilliant food festivals popping up across the country. From all-out foodie extravaganzas including music and banquets at Port Eliot and Big Feastival, to niche, relaxed fare at the Isle of Wight’s Garlic Festival, whatever your gastronomic preference, Britain has it covered…

Pommery Dorset Seafood Festival – Dorset, South-West England
8 – 9 July 2017

Brits know how to put on a fantastic seafood festival and the award-winning Dorset Seafood Festival is a fine example – the largest seafood festival in the country and free to attend. Taking place in Weybridge Harbour, this year it has a focus on cuttlefish and how to cook them. There’s a brilliant range of events and tastings, and talks from everyone from Mitch Tonks to Pete Murt, head chef at Rick Stein. There will also be a lobster and champagne pop-up, demo theatres and stages made from upturned boats!
Getting there: Weymouth in southern England, a two-hour and 45-minute train journey from London – or why not stop by the festival on our Discover South West England rail itinerary?

Port Eliot – Cornwall, south-west England
27 – 30 July 2017

Port Eliot  is the sort of festival that feels like the world’s most magical secret garden party. Set in the rolling Cornish countryside, within the grounds of the quintessentially British Port Eliot House and Gardens, it’s so pretty that Napoleon once claimed it ‘the most beautiful place in England’. The festival is also renowned as a foodie lovers’ favourite with a long list of celebrated chefs attending every year. Taste some of the freshest just-caught fish from the atmospheric fairy-lit Oyster Shack in the walled garden.
Getting there: St. Germans is in Cornwall, south-west England, a three-hour and 40-minute journey from London.

Isle of Wight Garlic Festival, southern England
19 – 20 August 2017

If there ever was a niche food festival, then the Isle of Wight Garlic Festival is it. Celebrating the endless versatility of the little white allium, the Great British Bake Off’s TV star baker Jane Beedle will be among the chefs giving cooking demonstrations and signing books. Of course, it’s not just garlic, there’ll be other delicious local produce on offer, like meats, cheeses, honey and cider. Don’t miss the chance to tickle your taste buds and try some garlic fudge!
Getting there: The Isle of Wight sits four miles off the coast of Hampshire. Portsmouth in Hampshire is an hour and 40-minute train journey from London. Regular ferries run between Portsmouth Harbour and the Isle of Wight.

Big Feastival – Cotswolds, south central England
25 – 27 August 2017

Every year, Blur’s bassist-turned-cheesemaker Alex James opens up his farm in the Cotswolds for the Big Feastival. The aptly named festival really is a feast for all the senses, as up on the bill of celebrity chefs are Rick and Jack Stein, Antonio Carluccio, Nathan Outlaw, Neil Rankin, Romy Gill and Gizzi Erskine. There’ll be feasts and banquets, a food and drink market, street food, table sessions, a ‘cookaholics’ cookery school and Alex James’ famous double-decker cheese hub.
Getting there: Kingham is in the Cotswolds, an hour and 25-minute train journey from London, or you can visit the beautiful area on our Cotswolds & West Country rail itinerary.

Gastronomy 101: Swiss Food

When we think of Switzerland invariably we think of chocolate, cheese and the beautiful Swiss Alps. Rightfully so, Swiss Chocolate and Cheese are some of the best of its kind in the world, but there is so much more than these delicacies to enjoy in Switzerland.

Due to Switzerland’s history, there is no one dominant cuisine: rather, region’s have local dishes that have been adopted on a national level or they borrow from nearby countries’ cuisines and make it their own. Two of Switzerland’s most famous dishes, raclette and fondue, gained national popularity because of the Swiss Cheese Union’s push to boost cheese sales in relatively recent times. A similar tactic was undertaken to boost the flagging consumption of Reblochon cheese, a nutty soft cheese from the Haute Savoie on the French/Swiss border when tartiflette began to feature on menus thanks to the Union.

Many Swiss dishes therefore use rustic ingredients and are rather simple, with an emphasis on hearty, warm meals to sustain you throughout the day. Larger meals are usually consumed at lunchtime, with dinner being lighter, often with salad or cooked vegetables.

Cheese Dishes

Although there is definitely more to Swiss food than cheese, it does feature heavily in many delicious meals. Fondue – a pot of melted Gruyère and Emmental cheese with wine and garlic bubbling over a flame – is iconic, while raclette – cheese grilled slowly slice by slice then scraped onto boiled potatoes, gherkins and pickled onions – is almost as internationally known. Gruyère comes from Gruyères, a picturesque medieval town in Fribourg and also home to one of the most famous castles in Switzerland. On the famous Chocolate Train line, you can hop off in Gruyères to tour the dairy and see the castle.

Less known outside of Switzerland but no less celebrated within the country  are the cheese dishes of Älplermagronen, Vacherin Mont D’Or or the aforementioned tartiflette.

Älplermagronen, or herdsman’s macaroni, is made from all that has been easily accessible to shepherd’s in central Switzerland for centuries: macaroni, potatoes, onions, cheese, milk or cream and applesauce on the side. Vacherin Mont D’Or is a decadent cheese that is only available from September to April – a soft, pungent cow’s milk cheese that is covered with white wine and garlic and roasted in its wooden casing to then be smothered over boiled potatoes.

Finally, tartiflette is scalloped potatoes with onions & lardons, baked covered with reblochon cheese and is popular in French border towns such as Annecy too.

Most of these cheesey delights are widely available on and off piste. After a hard day in the Alps around Zermatt or St Moritz, this gooey goodness definitely hits the spot!

Regional Food & Wine

If cheese isn’t really your thing, never fear, there are many other options in Switzerland. Every region of Switzerland seems to have its own sausage. In fact, there are other 350 variations of sausage in the country! Papet Vaudois features the saucission vaudois – a loosely stuffed, fat sausage, crimson in colour, that is served on top of a bed of leek and potatoes that has been cooked for hours.

Down in Ticino near the Italian border, polenta has been a staple for centuries. Polenta is traditionally served with delicious braised beef, cooked in large cauldrons over an open fire until it is thick and hearty, full of flavour.  Saffron grows in the canton of Valais and also forms a staple in Italian speaking Switzerland, often in a fragrant risotto. Ticino is on the Gotthard Panorama Express Line, a stop on the way to the Gotthard tunnel.

Back up towards the German border, Zürcher geschnetzeltes is a Zurich specific dish of diced veal and sweetbreads sauteed in a gravy of onions, butter, white wine, cream and mushrooms. Try this dish, as well as many other Zurich specialties on our shortbreak Taste of Zurich itinerary.

Sometimes zürcher geschnetzeltes is served with a potato rosti, grated potatoes fried into a crispy cake. Typically a breakfast for farmers in Bern, rostis are now all throughout Switzerland in various forms.

Basler mehlsuppe of Basel is a roasted flour soup that acts as a staple and fortifying dish. Made simply from flour, butter, onion, beef stock and a smattering of grated gruyère, legend claims that it was created when a chef got momentarily distracted and accidentally browned his flour. Fasnacht, the Basel carnival, is officially opened by serving of the mehlsuppe at 3am.

Sweet Delights

Switzerland is the perfect country for chocoholics. Ever since the 19th century when Swiss chocolatiers first  rose to prominence around the world for their work with cocoa, Switzerland and chocolate have gone hand in hand.

There are an abundance of chocolate shops everywhere you go, where you can choose from plain chocolate to truffles to chilli chocolate and more. Even in a regular supermarket, the quality of chocolate on offer at a small price tag far trumps what we have!

To fully immerse yourself in the ultimate Swiss Chocolate experience you can’t go past the Chocolate Train, taking you to the town of Broc where you can tour the Cailler-Nestle chocolate factory (and yes, there are tastings along the way).

There are many other sweet treats available in Switzerland too. Our favourites include lekerlis biscuits (spiced gingerbread-like biscuits made with hazelnuts), zopf (plaited sweet bread eaten on Sundays); bündner nusstorte (rich caramelised nut cake) and, towards Italy, many dishes featuring marroni (sweet chestnuts).

Are you ready for your Swiss food tour….?

For a full culinary experience while in Switzerland, try our Swiss Food Trail rail journey over seven days. Enjoy traditional farmhouse fondue overlooking views of the alps; a cruise on Lake Thun with fresh perch for lunch; the Chocolate Train; an Interlaken farmhouse three course dinner with wine – you can even assist in the preparation; and a wine tasting at the UNESCO listed Lavaux vineyards, among other experiences.

Alternatively, let us craft your very own culinary adventure through this beautiful country. Between the cheeses, the sausages, the chocolates and the wine, you might just get to do a little sightseeing too!