Milan October 12- 15 2010

Overcast - cool -12-15 deg

Milan  - mostly we only pass through this city on our way further north to Mark's family town of Sondrio, but, we have a reason to spend a few days here this visit - we are catching up with our daughter who is attending the Bocconi University. We were of the understanding that she is studying here, but given her knowledge of local bars, restaurants and  shops we are unsure of how much study is happening! However it is good to have first hand knowledge of all the 'cool' places to go.

We eat at a local trattoria, Cantina della Vetra and  we feast on a selection of parma ham and breasola served with a pillow of fried pasta which resembles a roll. Opting for a simple risotto with a twist - my porcini risotto is cooked to perfection then pan fried resulting with a crunchy outside and perfectly creamy inside. The flavour rich with the porcini mushroom and parmesan cheese is intense. The menu in this homestyle tratorria is simple honest fare typical of the Italian cuisine - fresh seasonal porcini mushrooms.

Wandering around the city, you cannot help but be overwhelmed by the beauty of the architecture.  Having seen the Duomo several times before, I am still in awe of the structure and amazed at the beauty of this incredible landmark every time.  We are delighted to discover a Sicilian market tucked behind the main street and enjoy a freshly filled ricotta, plus a stop for another espresso - must be time for lunch?

Milan has a great tram system. Not quite sure how or where to purchase a ticket we just jumped on and off at our leisure - molto grazia Milano - we find our way to the Castello dating back to 1500. After a wander around the castle, our personal guide takes us for a gelato at possibly the best gelati store in Milan - Chocolat. As the name suggests there must be at least one or two varieties of chocolate gelato in this store -there were actually four chocolate varieties - chili chocolate, milk chocolate, dark 70% guarna and rum chocolate. So good is this gelati we visit again after dinner!

Milan is a beautiful city - filled with amazing history - helpful when you have first hand knowledge from a 'local', we wonder whether Nastassia will in fact come home - she loves this city.

Epernay, France - October 19/20

Champagne region approx 160 km from Paris
Cool 8-12 deg - sunny

This is our very first time  to the Champagne region in France, so forgive me for getting just a tinsy bit EXCITED!

I cannot believe how beautiful this little town in the middle of the champagne region is. Epernay is every thing and more than I imagined - tree lined streets - cobbled paths - fountains - little churches - just gorgeous and the best thing of all a street named "rue de Champagne", the avenue that is home to all of the best known champagne houses and runs the entire length of the town.

We stay in a delightful 12 room hotel, Hotel Jean Moet -, ideally located around 200 metres from the train station and around 20 metres from the Ave de Champagne. Perfect for our visits to the Moet Chandon and Pol Roger Champagne houses.

Thanks to our wine merchants in Brisbane we  have two private tours and tastings arranged, one to the each of these champagne houses. Both tours were quite different - Moet + Chandon is the largest  producer of champagne in the region with approximately 29 kilometres of underground chalk lined caves for the maturation of the champagne. Pol Roger is a slightly more boutique production, but both visits were absolutely unique.
Thanks to Matthieu Blanc from Pol Roger for such a wonderful informative tour. There are approximately 100 km of caves running underneath the region at a steady temperature of 10 degrees all of the year.The production line is quite complex and all champagnes are cellared for a minimum of three years before bottling. We are all in heaven and having an experience of a lifetime. The importance and significance of this region and the production of champagne is obvious  and understandable why the French are so protective of their unique product "Champagne".

We eat at a few local restaurants. We enjoyed a typical French meal at La Grillade Gourmande, with chef Christophe Bernard greeting all customers personally ,  I had a wonderful dish of quail and Foie gras - beautifully cooked. 

At any bar or restaurant you can choose up to 20 local champagnes by the glass and enjoy the experience at any time of the day - as we did!

Two days in Epernay - a wonderful experience but barely enough time. We didn't make it to Reims, the larger town , so we are planning our next visit now!