Garden side dining at famed Burgundy restaurant

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

The view from our table

The view from our table

My visit to Burgundy earlier this year began with a brief stay at Domaine de L’Espérance Marc Meneau in the village of Saint Pere sous Vézelay (see Boutique Burgundy hotel offered elegant accommodations, gourmet meals, area tours). While there I dined at the owner’s namesake gourmet restaurant twice and met the famous chef and Francoise, his wife, who together developed the hotel and restaurant concept. The chef and Pierre, his son, about to open his own restaurant in Paris, had just returned from an international culinary event in the United States.

Senior staff at L'Esperance Marc Meneau

Senior staff at L’Esperance Marc Meneau

I loved the setting. The restaurant occupied the right rear corner of the hotel’s main building, facing the Serge Gainsbourg Garden named for a friend of the chef’s. In the chill of early spring glass walls allowed diners to enjoy the comfort of indoor dining with the views and ambiance of a garden side meal.

Green asparagus appetizer

Green asparagus appetizer

Pretty tables with elegant dinnerware, silverware and glassware and attentive staff enhanced the experience. Dinner at L’Esperance Marc Meneau was well prepared, artfully presented, and served with great care. Some of the dishes, such as the John Dory, were prepared at the dinner table or table side, lending the meal a festive flare.

Fillet of John Dory on the hot stone from "St. Pere" prepared at the table

Fillet of John Dory on a hot stone from “St. Pere” prepared at the table

Dinner began with pre-appetizer bites of Couteaux farcis avec poulpes, bulots et crevettes, Guimauve concombre and tararna d’oursin. The meal proper started with Asperge Verte de Petuis a la Goret, a green asparagus appetizer; followed by fish cooked at the table atop a hot river stone from the nearby Saint Pere River, Le fillet de St.-Pierre Cuit sur “la pierre chaude de St. Pere.” A 2009 comté and 2010 Gruyere cheese course from Mr. Antony served with a small mixed salad was next.

Scallop appetizers at L'Esperance
Scallop appetizers at L’Esperance

A small salad with the cheese course

A small salad with the cheese course

To accompany the food we were served 2010 Vezelay “les vignes blanches” Marc Meneau and 2008 Chablis Bougros Domaine Brocard. For dessert I sampled La Fraise Marie-Antoinette, a dish the chef created for a Sofia Coppola film about the famous queen. Petit fours completed the meal: Meringe praliné, Pate de fruit poire, Macaron chocolate, Financier orange et cerise confite, tartellette a la pomme and tuille.

The main course assembled at the table

A land and sea main course

The main course was prepared table side and assembled at the table

The following night, I had lightly cooked scallops for the starter and for mains a sea and land combination with potatoes and sweet onions. An Epoisses cheese was next followed by a mille-feuille (Napoleon pastry) dessert.

Petit fours at the end of the meal

Petit fours at the end of the meal

Both meals at the restaurant were outstanding. L’Esperance Marc Meneau Grand-rue, Saint Père sous Vézelay, 89450, France, +33 (0) 3 86 33 39 10, fax +33 (0) 3 86 33 26 15,,

Three days at rejuvenating Tuscan spa resort

By Laura Scheiber
Photos by Matthew Harris

Tuscan countryside surrounding Adler Thermae

The Tuscan countryside surrounding Adler Thermae

As if the idyllic Tuscan countryside was not enough reason for my husband and I to visit the Val d’Orcia region of Italy, we could not wait to enjoy the natural thermal waters in the town of Bagno Vignoni, recognized for their healing benefits since Etruscan and Roman times. With thermal waters in mind we spent three wonderful days at Adler Thermae Spa & Relax Resort in Tuscany, Italy. With access to the local thermal springs, and couched between Pienza, a Tuscan medieval town specializing in pecorino cheeses, and the town of Montalcino, home of Brunello wine, the resort was ideally located to take advantage of many Tuscan delights.

For us, the highlights of Adler Thermae Spa & Relax Resort were the views of the breathtaking scenery, the consistently friendly service, and the endless opportunities to relax and rejuvenate. By the time we left, we felt mentally and physically recharged. Promising ourselves that we would return to this family-friendly haven, we have since recommended the resort to several friends and family members in search of a restorative getaway.

Brunello wine, Montalcino

Brunello wine from Montalcino

Arriving on a sunny hot day in June after an hour’s drive from Siena, we checked in at the front desk, where Federika, one of the friendly receptionists, gave us an overview and map of the facilities, keys to our room and information on how to pick up our spa towels, size appropriate robes, flip flops, and a beach bag to be used throughout our stay.

The bellman escorted us to room 328, a 35 square meter room facing the pool area, with excellent views of the Tuscan countryside. The air-conditioned room was comfortable and pleasant. Had there not been so many wonderful facilities to explore, we happily would have kicked our feet up and relaxed in the sun-filled room, which had two twin-sized beds pushed together to make an oversized bed, and a small sitting area with a couch, tea table, arm chair, desk and chair.

Enjoying complimentary cocktails on the outdoor patio of Adler Thermae, Tuscany

We enjoyed complimentary cocktails on the outdoor patio

After settling in, we went to the bar area for a complimentary welcome drink. Taking in the unobstructed views on the outdoor patio, I drank a refreshing fruit juice while my husband enjoyed a mixed drink made of Prosecco and Martini rosé. Since we had been steadily eating our way through Italy for the previous four days, I decided to take advantage of the indoor gym before dinner. Just like our room and the bar lounge, the most delightful feature of the well-equipped indoor gym was the fantastic view of the Tuscan countryside.

A bike ride through the Tuscan countryside

A view of Pienza while riding bikes through the countryside

The next day we were anxious to explore the landscape, so we reserved some of the complimentary mountain bikes the hotel offered. The receptionist gave us safety helmets and a map of several nearby bike routes. Within minutes we were on a secluded trail, surrounded by open fields of wheat and cypress trees swaying in the breeze, all beneath a perfectly blue sky. After conquering a few small hills, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of Pienza, atop a hillside 17 kilometers from Adler Thermae. Though we wanted to cycle to the peak we conceded to the 95 Fahrenheit degree heat and headed back to the resort for some pool time.

The outdoor spa area, Adler Thermae, Tuscany

The outdoor spa area at Adler Thermae

After napping on the white loungers next to the 25-meter sports pool, I decided to take a dip in the outdoor thermal pool, sourced from one of the local thermal springs. I had read that the minerals had positive health benefits for joints and bones so I slipped into the 98.6 degree Fahrenheit water and made my way over to one of the areas where a row of thick iron rods served as a lounging seat. Water shot out of the side walls in twenty minute intervals, providing a massage of sorts. I laid my head back to take in the Tuscan sun and slipped into a wonderful state of relaxation.

On our last day at Adler Thermae, we wanted to take full advantage of the resort’s many facilities. I began with some laps in the outdoor 25-meter sports pool at a refreshing 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Although tempted by the 30-minute hydro bike class (one of six daily exercise classes offered by the resort during our stay), I opted for the outdoor treadmills just a few steps away from the pool area. Even after three days at the resort, I still marveled at the beautiful scenery and understood why the Val D’Orcia region of Tuscany was made a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Outdoor treadmills at Adler Thermae, Tuscany

Outdoor treadmills at Adler Thermae

After working out, my husband and I visited the sauna and steam rooms in the garden area of the spa. Located in a serene outdoor space of the resort, several humidity rooms surrounded an attractive thermal water pool. We visited the Olivae, a Finnish sauna, made from terracotta and olive trees, and the Grotta de Filosofo, a Turkish steam room with refreshing scents inside a hillside cave. Neither bathing suits nor bathrobes were allowed in the facilities, but guests had the option of wrapping up in a towel if they desired. There were pegs immediately outside the rooms where we hung our swimwear and bathrobes. After an afternoon alternating between 15-minute sessions in the humidity rooms followed by a cold shower and then a lie down on one of the single waterbeds in the neighboring relaxation room, I felt as if I had reached a new dimension of harmony. While my body was relaxed, my mind felt calm yet alert.

What stole the show for us at Adler Thermae was the beauty of the surrounding countryside. The thoughtful design of the building allowed us to enjoy outstanding views virtually anywhere in the resort. We also appreciated the many exercise options. This suited me well because I like a holiday that combines some type of physical exercise interspersed with opportunities to unwind. Just as important were the friendly and professional staff, who seemed dedicated to pampering guests and ensuring a relaxing and healthy getaway. We left rested and re-energized, with plans to return in the future.

FatCat offered lightweight power insurance for travel

Article and photos by Gary Cox

The FatCat mPower PowerBar 4200

The FatCat mPower PowerBar 4200

The FatCat mPower PowerBar 4200, a battery charger for small devices, packs a lot of power into a small convenient package. With a lithium polymer battery that holds about twice the power of a smart phone (4200 mAh) and special circuitry designed to protect the devices it charges, this sleek 4 ounce package can keep the movies and music playing on a long flight, or keep a phone going at that critical moment. For day to day use, we find it much handier than keeping all the various wall chargers on hand when going out with phones, iPad and MiFi unit. It is comforting to know that even if the phone gets a lot of use, or does not get charged the night before, the PowerBar is there to make up the difference. Smaller than a deck of playing cards, the PowerBar 4200 has earned a slot in our laptop and tablet bags.

The PowerBar, priced at $69.95,  arrived with a partial charge I was able to top up in four to seven hours plugged into a standard USB port. According to the manufacturer, the battery is good for 500 charge/discharge cycles with recommended topping of the charge at least every three months. The smooth case feels solid and there is a charge indicator on the front that shows a light for each 25 percent of charge the device is holding. We tested a black one on domestic travel. As of this writing the PowerBar is offered in five colors adding blue, red, orange and silver to the front of the case.

The accessory tips and cable came with a cloth bag

The accessory tips and cable came with a cloth bag

The package included a cloth drawstring pouch to hold the selection of tips and the cables. The tips included micro USB, mini USB, male and female USB, iPhone and DC 3.5×1.3. The website indicated less frequently used tips may be available. Most devices that will work with this charger will have a USB cable supplied that can be inserted into the female USB tip. So far all our USB devices have been compatible with the FatCat and the tips that were included. Made by Infora, the FatCat was designed in Sweden and manufactured in China. The company (Infora, 44 Amity Rd, Warwick, NY 10990, +1-845-258-9027,, website lists a two year warranty.

Boutique Burgundy hotel offered elegant accommodations, gourmet meals, area tours

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

Hotel Marc Maneau

Domaine de L’Espérance Marc Meneau

We landed at 8 a.m. at Charles de Gaulle Airport on the outskirts of Paris, France following an overnight flight from the East Coast. From the airport I made my way to the Gare de Lyon train station in southern Paris for a 3 p.m. high speed TGV train to Burgundy. As soon as the train stopped I descended quickly at the small Montbard Station dragging my wheeled luggage down the steps from the platform and out onto the station entrance. After a one hour road transfer through verdant and rain soaked winding roads I arrived at Domaine de L’Espérance Marc Meneau (Grand-rue, Saint Père sous Vézelay, 89450, France, +33 (0) 3 86 33 39 10, fax +33 (0) 3 86 33 26 15,,, tired and jet lagged.

The living area in my junior suite

The living area in my junior suite

One of the amenities of my junior suite

After settling in in my junior suite one floor above the reception area I pulled on energy reserves to carry me through dinner at the famed L’Espérance de Marc Meneau restaurant, the hotel’s signature dining establishment. It was worth it.  To allow my body to adjust to the new time I requested light options from the menu and refrained from imbibing any wine with dinner. The meal was just what I needed and the setting, facing a landscaped garden in the dim light of evening, was beautiful even in the rain and cold of early spring.

The bedroom

The bedroom had an Africa theme

The 32-room four-star hotel was spread into several buildings within easy walking distance from the two-story main building where reception, the bar and restaurants were located. One of my favorite areas of the property were the manicured gardens. Even in early spring they were striking. The gourmet restaurant, the bistro and many of the common area of the main building faced or had a view of the gardens named in memory of Serge Gainsbourg, a friend of the owners who had spent time at their property.

The hotel garden named for Serge Gainsbourg

The hotel garden named for Serge Gainsbourg

One of the attentive staff members of the hotel

My elegant Africa themed junior suite, one floor up via circular stairs, was well appointed and pretty while at the same time comfortable. Although the view of the main parking lot from my room was less than stellar I was glad to be in the main building with quick and easy indoor access, sheltered from the nonstop rain, to hotel facilities.

The bathroom in my junior suite

The bathroom in my junior suite

 The junior suite, Room 106, had a spotless and spacious bathroom with a bathtub and separate shower. I appreciated the modern conveniences such as complimentary high speed WiFi, television, DVD player and a sound system; and amenities such as thick bathrobe, slippers, Italian toiletries and bitter almond scented Keiji soap, welcome fruit bowl and a box each of house nougat and caramels. Sounds carried. Inside my room I could sometimes hear voices in the hallway and the voices of my next door neighbors, wood creaking, staff cleaning in the morning, and mostly the daytime sounds of drilling and hammering from the construction work on the top floor, right above my suite.

A view of the gardens from Le Bistrot Gainsbourg

A view of the gardens from Le Bistrot Gainsbourg

There were two types of breakfast, served in a garden facing lounge and in the library from 7:30 a.m. until 11 a.m., Continental (28 euros) and Complet (35 euros). After a few minutes a friendly and attentive server brought me fresh squeezed sweet pulpy orange juice, bowl of fresh fruit (grapes, kiwi, tangerine, strawberries, pear), bowl of mango, small bowl of yogurt, basket of bread and pastries (croissant, pain au chocolate), three types of jam, two small slices of Croque Monsieur (grilled ham and cheese sandwich) and my choice of hot beverage. I ordered chocolate which was served in a large bowl with extra chocolate in a carafe. Although the temperature was hot the chocolate flavor was a bit weak. Breakfast was quite satisfying.

Francoise Meneau

Francoise Meneau

The hotel areas were light filled with ample views of the adjacent gardens

Although I generally prefer exploring independently I sometimes take advantage of tour options. That was the case on this trip. The hotel offered tours of area attractions. During my stay, I had time for an escorted walk, in the rain, around Saint Pere, the tiny village that is home to the hotel and restaurant, and to visit Vezelay, its better known popular neighbor. I would gladly return to the hotel (and restaurant) and dedicate more time to exploring the environs.