Category Archives: Roman occupation of France

Loire Valley Wine Tasting in Chicago at the W Hotel on Lake Shore Drive

French red wine from the Loire Valley region o...

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What a great day for the Loire Valley French Wine Tasting on the 33rd floor of W Hotel on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. It was definitely a Vino con Vista opportunity with plenty of French wine and wine-makers. The central part of the  Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes-sur-Loire in France was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List  in  2000.


The Loire is the longest river in France and it is characterized by elegant historic chateaux and 300 miles of distinctive terroir that supports numerous vineyards along the river banks. This region is the leading producer of white French wines. The region is cloaked  with lovely vineyards and microclimates that produce distinctive varietals and wine styles. It is one of the most diverse wine regions in France with 69 appelations that include red, white, elegant sparkling wines and refreshing rose wines. There are distinct climates and a variety of soil types that divide the Loire Valley into 5 distinct regions.

The first vines were probably planted during Roman occupation 2000 years ago. Afterwards, the Augustinian and Benedictine Brothers enhanced the wine-making practices in this region.

I tasted some interesting Rose wines and plenty of earthy 100% Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Franc is one of the world’s major red grape varieties and was introduced to the region in the 11th century. It  is frequently blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to produce a Bordeaux style wine. In the Loire region, it is  not blended with other grapes so it is lighter in color than Bordeaux blends. It is used in the development of Chinon and certain roses in the Touraine appelation.

Today I spoke to Philippe Porche, a charming wine-maker from the Saumur-Champigny region in Parnay located on the south bank of the Loire River decreed an AOC in 1957.  Cabernet Franc is the predominant grape in the area.  He and his viticulturist wife founded the estate in 2005 and produce some interesting Cabernet Franc wines. I favored the garnet-colored full-bodied and velvety  “Le Fou du Roi” that was aged in oak.  This lovely couple is looking for an importer @ Feel free to contact them if you are interested in importing  luscious wines from this region. Tell them that Vino con Vista sent you.

There is a breathtaking view of Lake Michigan, Navy Pier and Chicago’s Landmark high rises from the former “Pinnacle Room” of the hotel where I spent my Senior Prom.Chicago Illinois It’s always exciting to re-live your youth.

Chicago Architecture

Domaine de Roche Ville Winery

Lake Michigan

It was such a beautiful spring day that I decided to stroll down Ontario Street heading westbound after the wine-tasting. I longingly gazed at the wide array of restaurants on Ontario Street that I patronize. They run the gamut from divine to sublime. Here’s a sampling of my “Chicago Foodie Nation” favorites:

Les Nomades is an outstanding French Restaurant that offers a Prix Fixe menu of four courses for $115 in a swanky turn-of-the-century brownstones mansion on Ontario Street. It is the perfect place to enjoy French cuisine after a Loire Valley wine-tasting event at the W Hotel down the street.

Chicago Restaurants

Chicago French Restaurants

Another one of my favorites is the Capital Grille Steakhouse where I can’t stop eating the crunchy potato chips at the bar. I love the grilled salmon served over a bed of  veggies with a side of creamed spinach. They have an extensive wine list and have won numerous awards for their outstanding burgers!

Chicago RestaurantsOntario and St. Clair in Chicago

Capital Grille ChicagoChicago Restaurants


Italian Restaurants in Chicago

Chicago Italian Restaurants

Across the street from the Capital Grille, I enjoy dining on the outdoor patio of the Coco Pazzo Cafe when the weather is nice. They have an outstanding lunch menu and recently won an award from the Italian government for their “Authentic” Italian cuisine. Quartino was another “Authentic” Italian-award winning restaurant. I took cooking lessons with the chef and he taught me to add some water from the pasta to my sauce–what a novel idea!! The Red Head Piano Bar is another one of my favorites night spots. They have great wine-tasintg events.

Authentic Italian Restaurants in ChicagoRestaurants in Chicago

There are plenty of famous classic Chicago  “Steak-Houses” on Ontario. Lawry’s serves an incredible Prime Rib and I love the “Aged Filet Mignon” and mushrooms at David Burke’s Primehouse in the James Hotel. The Chicago Chop House has a wide array of delicious “sizzlin steaks.”

You will never be hungry or thirsty on Ontairo Street in Chicago. This city is a haven for Foodies!

Chicago is a Haven for Foodies

Chicago Steak HouseDavid Burke's Primehouse

Stop in at the the Hard Rock Cafe if you’re up for some live music. There are also some landmark fast food joints on Ontario including “Rock and Roll” McDonalds with a Rock and Roll Museum filled with memorabilia that my guitar-playing son adores.

Portillo’s has a great Italian Beef sandwich and classic Chicago hot dog and the drive-thru is always packed. Make sure you try the decadent chocolate cake . Chicago DestinationsM Burger is another fast food option that people are raving about.

Chicago Hot Dogs and Beef Sandwiches

Burgers in Chicago

Plan a trip to the Loire Valley and explore some of the majestic castles with spectacular medieval architecture: Chambord, Cheverny, Villandry and Chenonceau.


1. Villandry was built by the same man that designed much of Chambord (François I Finance Minister Jean Le Breton). Villandry is actually most renowned for what is outside of the castle. However, while Chambord remains Le Breton’s main achievement in construction, it is Villandry where he used all of the Renaissance gardening tricks he had picked up while working as an ambassador in Italy. The castle remained in the Le Breton family until the early 20th century, when it was purchased by Joachim Carvallo, who spent a whole of time, money and devotion to rebuilding, expanding and repairing the beautiful gardens. Today the gardens at Villandry are considered one of the best examples of Renaissance style gardens in the world and boasts a water garden, flower gardens and vegetable gardens laid out in formal patterns created with low box hedges—making it a must-see on any castle tour of the Loire.

2. Chambord is one of France’s most recognizable castles known for its distinct French Renaissance architecture, which blends late French Gothic and newer Italian Renaissance motifs. Chambord is also the largest castle in the Loire. Chambord was first built by King Francois I as a hunting lodge (I know you picture a hunting lodge as being more of a log cabin than a magnificent model of French Renaissance architecture, but it was a KING’S hunting lodge, after all).  Chambord has 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces and 84 staircases. It is most known for its façade, which through more than 800 sculpted columns was designed to look like the skyline of Constantinople, with 11 kinds of different towers and different types of chimneys. Chambord also has a double-helix staircase that serves as the centerpiece to the castle and was rumored to have been designed (or inspired) by Leonardo da Vinci during his time at nearby Clos de Luce.

4. Chenonceau is one of my favorite castles in the Loire Valley. Chennonceau was built in 1513 by Catherine Briçonnet and later embellished by Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de’ Medici, the Chateau de Chenonceau contains exquisite interiors and has idyllic gardens that look over River Cher.

Originally a small castle along the banks of the River Cher, the castle got its current design in the 16th century when it was seized by the crown for unpaid debts. In 1547, King Henri II offered the castle to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. and she had Chenonceau’s  arched bridge built. It spans the river. She is also responsible for the gorgeous flower and vegetable gardens set in buttressed stone terraces.

Upon King Henri II’s death in 1559, his clearly bitter widow and regent Catherine de Medici had Poitiers expelled from the castle and she moved into the scenic spot herself, adding even more extensive gardens. Since then the castle was privately owned for years and even used as a make-shift hospital for soldiers during WWII; its gallery bridge’s southern door provided access to the unoccupied Free Zone while the castle’s main entrance was in the Nazi occupied zone. Chenonceau today is one of the most visited and popular of the Loire castles and its Renaissance architecture and well-lit gallery and beautiful gardens.

5. Amboise is perched up on a strategic point along the Loire River and was originally built as a fort. In 1434, the castle was seized by King Charles VII after its owner (from which the castle got its name), Louis Amboise, was convicted and killed for supposedly plotting against the King. In the 15th century that the castle was lavishly rebuilt and added onto, starting with its late French Gothic architecture, until Italian builders were brought in and the castle’s style changed to Renaissance.While the castle became a favorite retreat for many French Kings (King François I was raised primarily at the castle), Amboise’s most famous guest was Leonardo da Vinci, who came to the castle in 1515 as a guest of the King and stayed in nearby Clos de Luce. What is most notable about Amboise, however, is known for its unique blend of Gothic and Renaissance architecture and large formal garden.

6. Blois was always a favorite getaway town for French kings; the castle in this quaint little Loire town is best known as the birthplace of King Louis XII as well as the primary residence for Henri IV’s exiled wife Marie de Medici, and later for the Duke of Orléans (brother of Louis XIII and uncle of Louis XIV). However, the castle has a long and prominent history and its Renaissance architecture and picturesque spot along the banks of the Loire make it a definite worthwhile stop on your Loire castle tour. In fact, the castle was the main resort for the French court during the 16th century and was also the location for the famed States General meetings held by Henri III in 1576 and 1588, where several prominent nobles were sentenced to death. The castle also plays a role in the famous Three Musketeers series by Alexandre Dumas as an important retreat for some of France’s most famous and powerful kings.

7. Cheverny was also given to Diane de Poitiers by her lover, King Henri II. Chenonceau was her favorite and primary residence. Poitiers sold Château de Cheverny to the former owner’s son who had originally built the castle between 1624 and 1630. The castle passed between owners until 1914, when the owner made it the first castle to be opened to the public; the family still owns and operates the castle to this day. The castle is renowned for its beautiful interiors and collection of furniture, tapestries and rare objects d’art. There is also a pack of about 70 dogs that are kept on the grounds and taken out for hunts twice weekly.


8. Clos Lucé is not really a  “Château de la Loire”; it is a large mansion located just 500 meters from  the Château d’Amboise by way of an underground passageway and is notable mostly for its most famous resident, Leonardo da Vinci. In 1515, King François I invited the Italian painter and inventor to Amboise and offered him the manor to use as a home and studio. When Da Vinci arrived in 1516 he came with three paintings, including the famed Mona Lisa, and lived in the mansion for the last three years of his life. Visitors to Amboise should not hesitate to hop on over to Clos Lucé, where you can peruse a museum that includes forty models of various machines designed by Leonardo.

9. Langeais is a perfect example of Medieval French architecture. It is located near the Brittany frontier and had a significant role in the battle between the French and English. The structure dates back to the 10th century and was built on a cliff which offered a strategic location overlooking the Loire River. The castle was actually fortified and expanded under the rule of Richard I of England (when English kings ruled this region of France) until King Philippe II of France recaptured the castle in 1206. The castle was also where Anne of Brittany and King Charles VIII wed, thus uniting France and Brittany. Today, the dark and ominous looking castle is replete with a great collection of Medieval tapestries.

Château de Langeais



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The Vino con Vista Village of Saint Paul de Vence is an Artists’ Enclave in Provence

A section of the walls around Saint-Paul de Ve...

A section of the walls around Saint-Paul de Vence, Alpes-Maritimes department, France. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The cemetery of Saint-Paul de Vence, Alpes-Mar...

A replica of The Thinker in Saint-Paul de Venc...

A replica of The Thinker in Saint-Paul de Vence, Alpes-Maritimes department, France. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Saint-Paul-de-Vence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saint Paul, Alpes Maritimes, France

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Saint-Paul-de-Vence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Saint-Paul (Saint-Paul de Vence) Fran...

English: Saint-Paul (Saint-Paul de Vence) Français : Saint-Paul (Saint-Paul de Vence) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saint-Paul de Vence is a village in southeastern France. It is one of the most beautiful villages in Provence. Saint-Paul was founded in the 9th century which makes it one of the oldest medieval towns in the French Riviera.


Saint Paul de Vence


Statue: St. Paul de Vence

The exceptional light and quality of life has inspired famous artists, painters, writers and poets. There are many charming shops and art galleries selling unique items in this lovely town.


Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Place Général de Gaulle

Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Place Général de Gaulle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a golden Vino con Vista opportunity. Stop at one of the cafes for lunch and have some chilled Cotes de Provence Rose wine with your “Plat du Jour”. This wine region is between Nice and Aix-en-Provence. Try some Domaine Gavoty or Domaine Richeaume.




Marc Chagall lived in Saint-Paul from 1966 to 1985. You can visit the artist’s grave in the cemetery. Saint-Paul has always promoted art and creativity. Some of the other well known  artists who  flocked to Saint-Paul include: Matisse, Soutine,  Renoir,  MiróSignac and Modigliani. The galleries and shops are filled with artistic displays and inspired merchandise.


Marc Chagall's grave (top) in the cemetery of ...

Marc Chagall’s grave (top) in the cemetery of Saint-Paul de Vence, Alpes-Maritimes department, France. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The  community of artists have sponsored well-known modern and contemporary art museums and galleries including Fondation Maeght, a museum dedicated to 20th century modern and contemporary art. The Foundation is situated in a garden decorated with outdoor sculptures and exhibits works of Joan Miro and Alberto Giacometti. In July 1964, the Fondation Maeght was inaugurated by André Malraux. It was the joint creation of Aimé and Marguerite Maeght.


Scrutinize the village map as you enter the town through the Vence Gate (Porte de Vence). Pay attention to the “Historic Monument” markers as you stroll within the ramparts and meander through the charming maze of streets








The love the Provencal style Grande fountain on Rue Grande. Rue Grande is a former Roman Road. The fountain was built  by Martin Melchior, a stonemason in the village. It  is one of the most famous fountains in France and it has  inspired many painters and photographers.


Fountain in St. Paul de Vence

The Collegial Church of the Conversion of St. Paul was erected in the 12th century in early Gothic style and is dominated by its square bell-tower that was reconstructed in 1740. The church occupies the highest point of the village. It houses some treasures including twelfth century gold pieces, reliquaries and a scroll signed by King Henry III. It also contains the relics of St. Clement. The church was originally designed in the style of a basilica, with a semi-circular apse and a single nave. The chevet and the arched beams in the main nave date from the beginning of the 14th century.


Collegiale Church in St. Paul de Vence

The entrance leads to four chapels: St.  Clement (a masterpiece of baroque art), St.  Mathew, the Chapel of Mary of the Rosary and the Chapel of the Souls in Purgatory with an altar from 1677.  The church’s treasures include precious items of silverware, reliquaries and a parchment dating from 1588. In the Chapel of Saint Clement, there is a beautiful painting of St-Catherine of Alexandria in a magnificent red cloak with her sword by Tintoretto.








This church has an extraordinary collection of paintings representing The stations of the Cross. These paintings depict the final hours (or Passion) of Jesus.








I was also impressed with the lovely light fixture that reminded me of Gaudi’s Altar of Christ ascending into Heaven in the Sagrada Familia  Cathedral in Barcelona. I wonder if this was the inspiration for the altar in Barcelona?



Some of the other sacred churches are : (1) Saint-Michel (12th century) located within the cemetery; (2) Sainte-Claire Chapel (16th century) dedicated to the patron saint of Saint-Paul, standing opposite the entrance to the village;  (3) Notre-Dame de la Gardette (also called Chapelle Saint-Georges) gets its name from a place that served as a refuge for the inhabitants during the Middle Ages; (4) The Chapel of Saint-Charles and Saint-Claude chapel (17th century);  (5) the Chapelle des Pénitents with an amazing three-sided bell-tower, dating from the 17th century is located between the Place de l’Eglise and Rue Cassette. In front of the Chapelle Saint-Charles-Saint-Claude there is a painting by Marc Chagall “Le couple au-desssus de Saint-Paul” which depicts a couple embracing above the town with a bouquet of flowers. In front of the chapel Notre-Dame de la Gardette you will find another Marc Chagall painting “La Table devant le Village” with a table set in front of the town.


Marc Chagall “Table in front of the Village”

Marc Chagall “Couple above St. Paul”

St. Paul watches over the entrance of his Church

Roman aqueduct can still be seen from the chapel circuit. Supported by brick and limestone arches, the aqueduct channelled water from natural springs to the mills and washhouses. Queen Jeanne, Countess of Provence, gave her permission for the community of Saint-Paul to use the water in 1349.


Dr. EveAnn Lovero writes Travel Guides @



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