Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Goldring Travel Revisits Regent Seven Seas Cruises (Seven Seas Voyager: Rome to Barcelona - August 1, 2017) - Part V (Antibes and Marseilles: The Ensemble Experience, Cultural Wine "Tasting" and Sette Mari - Luxury Experiences for Sure)

Our cruise on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager continued with our arrival in Antibes, France to partly cloudy skies, which was quite a relief from the 90+ degree days were have experienced so far.  My continued plan was to experience Regent Seven Seas Cruises “free” tours (which are also noted in the Tour Order Form in your suite as “free”) while leaning toward revisiting places I have previously been with my daughter (for father-daughter time), but not spending entire days doing so.

This day was a four and a half hour tour “Old Nice and Wine Tasting” which was to be 4.5 hours starting in the early morning with a drive to Nice, 1 hour walking tour, 1 hour wine tasting, 1 hour free time (and 45 minute drives to Nice and then back to Antibes).  Unfortunately, the tour was not held in that order (free time was in the middle) and the unexpected rain curtailed the walking tour…but our guide most certainly did her best before abandoning it as nobody had umbrellas…and, after the past days of sun and heat, who would have?!

Moules-Frite in Nice, France
Because the rain – which was an on-off affair ruined most photography opportunities and made wandering around not a lot of fun – there was only one thing to do:  Find a café that was serving Moules-frites (Mussels and French Fries) in the morning…which was made more difficult by the number of tourists ducking into any open café to escape the rain.  But we did it!

Pairing our moules-frites with a local vin de Provence, we not only had a delicious pre-wine tasting snack, we had a pre-wine tasting wine tasting.  I mean we are on vacation, right?

Peaches!
Nice, France
Afterwards we headed to our meeting place for a very interesting, but unique, wine tasting.  The basic concept was to discuss the history of various varieties of grapes while drinking a white, rose and red wine…but with little discussion of the wines themselves. 

Beautiful Venue for our wine tasting...but not a serious one!
Beautiful wine shop next to wine tasting room
It was, in a way, a good Culinary & Cultural event rather than a typical Food & Wine one, where the wine is analyzed, but there is little discussion of why that wine even exists.  And the venue was very nice, as I sat in a big comfortable chair in a dimly lit basement. (Wine colors or structure were not topics that could even be discussed here.)  Quite enjoyable.

It was then back to the Seven Seas Voyager for the afternoon.  But, once again, the tour got back about 1:45 pm and La Veranda closes as 2:00 pm so unless a more rushed lunch immediately upon returning to the ship was desired, the Patio Grill was our only option.  It was, again, a disappointment both in service and cuisine.  We sat down with it being relatively quiet.  Then we waited…and waited…and waited before a bar waiter arrived.  Then we waited…and waited and finally a flagged down a waiter to order food.  “What is the blackened fish of the day?”  “I am not sure, but I think it is snapper.  I will find out.”  Folks, it is 3 pm and if the waiter doesn’t know by then, when would he ever know?  Mind-boggling.

Then our lunch came and I was given a tiny portion of four broken bits of overcooked fish that was not even blacked. In the photograph below you can scale the fish by the size of the French fries. Not good; in fact, shocking! 

The Patio Grill served four broken pieces of overcooked fish
(Use the French fries for scale.)  Not Good!
We attempted to go swimming later in the afternoon, but with some younger children doing cannon balls into the fairly small pool we quickly up.

Once again, we skipped dinner.  We were not only full, but simply not inspired to engage in another mediocre experience.  It was not like we needed to eat, so why do it?

The next day we arrived in Marseille, France.  The last time I was in Marseille we were docked in the Old Port which is walking distance from the fish market and some of the great bouillabaisse restaurants (Marseille is the home of bouillabaisse). However, the Regent Seven Seas Voyager was docked out of town in the commercial port so sneaking into town in the late afternoon wasn’t an option.  (I don’t know if the Seven Seas Voyager is too large or if there was another reason, but this location was disappointing.  Oh well.)  


This day I was hosting an Ensemble Travel Group Exclusive Experience.  It was a truly memorable, luxury, day that I was pretty fortunate to be able to attend…and our group was so nice, that it could hardly have been called work.  (But it was work…Right?)

Les Baux de Provence




Provence, France



Our morning started with a drive to Les Baux de Provence, a beautiful mountain village about ahour from Marseille.  Having endured the crowds in Cinque Terre and St. Paul de Vence it was so nice to wander the cobblestone walks, with our guide giving us just enough history, without being jostled.



We then drove a short distance to Baumaniere’s La Cabro d’Or restaurant for a perfect al fresco Provençale gourmet lunch.  Our starter was gaspacho soup with melon, basil and Muscat wine.  

A gaspacho unlike anything I have enjoyed before.
The style was akin to a bouillabaisse (so my miss in Marseille was sort of rectified).  This was followed by a wonderful fish, the preparation of which is hard to describe.


and finally an over-the-top, but elegant, dessert.  


But we were not done!

We were off to a most unique experience:  Carrieres de Lumieres.  It is hard to describe this, but essentially an abandoned quarry/cave has been turned into a surreal combination of art and music.  Our experience (they change every month or so) was projecting the art (or parts of the art), both static and somewhat animated, of Bosch, Brueghel and Arcimboldi onto the walls and floors of the quarry with a mix of various music from classical to Led Zeppelin.


It was then back to the ship.  Although we were not departing until later, logistically there was just not enough time to enjoyably head into Marseille.  It was a fantastic day…and one my artistic daughter truly enjoyed.

We decided to try Sette Mari, the Italian restaurant La Veranda is converted to every evening.  It was, honestly, the most cohesive, high quality, experience we have had this cruise.  We were quickly seated at a nice window table for two, poured a glass of prosecco, and then Thomas arrived with some charming banter; a first on this cruise.  Bravo, we are people; not just someone to deliver food and drinks to.

Thomas then turned around and asked, “Do you like scallops?” and then walked away.  As he did we were presented with the standard antipasti of olives, parmesan cheese, four types of bruschetta, a nice basket of breads (and breadsticks) and olive oil and balsamic poured into our bread plates.

As we were enjoying this, a scallop risotto with saffron appeared.  Thank you, Thomas.  A very nice touch and very well prepared!

The wine steward came over and asked if I would like to switch to red wine (assumedly knowing what I would be eating).  The red wine was a solid Chianti Reserva.  Another nice touch.

My starter, rigatoni with braised pork, then arrived.  It was delicious.  Finally, properly cooked and tasty pasta! 


My daughter had gnocchi with pesto, which was also flavorful, but if picky was a bit doughy in texture.  For my main course I had the sirloin steak which was delivered perfectly medium rare, but pre-sliced. Devin had the cioppino (fish soup) which was also a good looking and tasty dish.

We both commented that Sette Mari was our favorite dining experience. Whew. 

With an all-round great day from start to finish both Devin and I feel a bit renewed and refreshed.