South Island bistro offered well prepared lunch, pretty vineyard setting

South Island bistro offered well prepared lunch, pretty vineyard setting

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

 

Cardrona Valley lamb neck, garlic yoghurt, pea, umami served with Amisfield Pinot Noir 2016

Grilled apricot souffle, lemon verbena

Because I spent most of my trip off the beaten track, on a private Aroha Intrepid tour, my main impression of New Zealand fine dining was derived from lunch at Amisfield Bistro & Cellar Door (10 Lake Hayes Road, RD 1, Queenstown 9371, +64 3 442 0556, amisfield.co.nz, bistro@amisfield.co.nz, cellardoor@amisfield.co.nz), a South Island bistro near Queenstown, where I spent one night. The vineyard side meal was well prepared and well presented, the setting pleasant and pretty. Should I be in the area and in search of a fine dining option I would return, and I would recommend the restaurant to friends and acquaintances traveling to the area.

Kingfish, Horseradish, Cucumber

My travel companion and I had lunch there on a breezy and sunny summer day. It was crowded. The restaurant could accommodate up to 100 guests at lunch and 40 at dinner. There were people indoors and outdoors. All the tables I could see from where we sat in the terrace, thankful for the shade of a large umbrella, were occupied. Our table faced a water feature on one side and a green lawn adjacent to the estate vineyards. Despite a mild chill in the air I saw more than one guest take advantage of the respite offered by stacks of sunhats on the edge of the water feature.

Guests took advantage of the respite offered by sunhats on the edge of the water feature.

This dish included edible “soil”

A shellfish delicacy

We both had the 5 Course Trust the Chef tasting menu with a partial wine pairing and a couple of extra bites sent from the kitchen: Zucchini flower Toasted corn; Amisfield Brut 2016, Amisfield breads; Tomato sandwich Amisfield Pinot Gris 2018; The paua pie, Amisfield Fume Blanc 2016; Kingfish, Horseradish, Cucumber, Amisfield Chenin Blanc 2018; Cardrona Valley lamb neck, garlic yoghurt, pea, umami, Amisfield Pinot Noir 2015; Grilled apricot souffle, lemon verbena. Several staff rotated at our table. Whenever a server brought a dish he or she listed the ingredients. Some staff were friendly although service was sluggish. Lunch was inventive, aesthetically oriented and satisfying.

The terrace where we sat for lunch was popular

A view of the restaurant built with 1,500 tons of Glenorchy schist and railway sleepers

The two story building was constructed with 1,500 tons of Glenorchy schist and railway sleepers salvaged from a deconstructed bridge in Southland. Headed by Vaughan Mabee, executive chef, the restaurant offered seasonal dishes made from one hundred percent New Zealand ingredients. All meat on offer was grass fed, according to a restaurant spokesperson who responded to questions by email. I liked that the restaurant had an organic produce supplier. The staff only bought sustainable species of fish. Everything was made from fresh, never frozen, ingredients, and the only wines on offer were produced by Amisfield, according to the spokesperson. In 2013, Amisfield began an organic conversion, using as little intervention as possible. The winemaker produced two wines of the natural expression: Amisfield Burn Pinot Gris, an orange wine, and Amisfield Pétillant Naturel.

New Zealand glowworm cave rafting more fun than I expected

New Zealand glowworm cave rafting more fun than I expected

By Elena del Valle
Photos courtesy of Underworld Adventures*

We rode a small train for two kilometers to reach the Metro Cave in the Paparoa National Park in the South Island, New Zealand.

I had been looking forward with a bit of trepidation to Underworld Rafting, a hiking, glowworm viewing and river rafting experience in the Metro Cave Te Ananui Cave of the South Island of New Zealand since Veronika Vermeulen, owner of Aroha New Zealand Tours Ltd. (539C Key Road, RD1, Kinleith, Tokoroa 3491, New Zealand, +64-21-890 611, https://www.arohatours.co.nz/, info@arohatours.co.nz) and my guide in New Zealand, recommended it for inclusion in my custom itinerary. She said if I was open to new experiences and able to hike a short distance in the heat of summer I would like it. I trusted her judgement and agreed to go. When the day arrived I applied liberal amounts of insect repellent to protect me from the New Zealand sandflies as well as sunblock and set aside any concerns. I was glad I did because it was outstanding.

From start to finish the four hour soft adventure within the 430 square kilometer Paparoa National Park in the West Coast was far more fun (and at times more challenging) than I had expected. Following a short drive from Birds Ferry Lodge and Ferry Mans Cottage, where I was staying near Westport, Veronika and I arrived at Underworld Adventures (State Highway 6, Charleston 7892, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand, +64 3 7888 168, www.caverafting.com, contact@caverafting.com) in the late morning.

Wearing wet suits we hiked 131 steps to the cave entrance carrying a tube like the ones in the photo.

Mira Schwill, co-manager with Ray Moroney, greeted Veronika warmly. Following introductions we sat at a table in the Underworld Adventures and Café, a sunlit space with a towering ceiling that was the home of Underworld Adventures, to complete our sign-in on a digital tablet. Minutes later we descended to the lower level of the building, where we changed into wet suits and met Peter, our guide. The staff handed each of us a helmet with a light. Although Veronika and I were on private tour with Peter we had to make our way to the cave and back with a tour group. We saw them in the changing area, but they spoke no English and kept their distance when we greeted them. While we waited for the tour group to join us Peter, an energetic and enthusiastic young man who liked to surf as a hobby, outlined our activities and easily answered all my questions.

Once everyone was ready we climbed aboard a weathered van with a small European family. The tour group went on a second van. Ten minutes later most of us boarded a small train with two engines, one gas and another diesel. I later learned the engines, called Dorothy and Cecil, had been built for the company in 2002.

We covered two kilometers with the train. Its leisurely pace allowed me to admire the rain forest vegetation along our path. From the platform we walked about one kilometer along a well marked uneven path to the cave entrance. On the way we picked up large tubes, which while lightweight (they weighed between two and a half and three kilos) were awkward to balance while walking on the slippery ground. This was especially true in the steep last section of 131 steps to the cave entrance and inside.

Some of the thousands of stalactites and stalagmites we saw that day

While it had been too warm to zip our wet suits on the way up during the walk inside the cave we could see our breaths in the light of our helmets. It was the only light within the cave. Although I was glad for protection the helmet provided my head It fit loosely and shifted around constantly. We only walked one and a half kilometers of the nine kilometers of the cave. It was slow going due to the low light, pebble strewn uneven surface of the path, shifting helmet, varying height of the cave ceiling and tubes we carried. More than once we were forced to crouch down, while negotiating our balance with the large tube in tow and the helmet moving to an fro.

When we exited the cave we floated on our tubes along the Waitakere Nile River.

Inside the cave it was silent and filled in places with thousands of stalactites and stalagmites. There was no sign of the tour group. Peter showed us the cave formations and told us about the man who had discovered the cave. In the serenity of the cave it was as if we were the only ones there like the man who first discovered them carrying matches to break the deep darkness of the unknown within.

Peter watched our slow progress, describing the noteworthy sections of the cave, and offering assistance in particularly tricky segments. After a while I heard the soft sound of moving water. It was almost disappointing because I knew we would soon depart the wondrous world of the cave.

Glowworms in the cave ceiling in the Paparoa National Park in the South Island, New Zealand

But, the glowworms stole the show. We lay atop our tubes, turning off our lights and staring up at the ceiling, which moments earlier had appeared bare. As my eyes adjusted to the dark I began to notice pale worm shapes a few feet above us. When we turned the lights back on I examined the arachnids with interest. From there we walked to the water’s edge and climbed aboard our tubes, making our way past thousands more of the glowing creatures. It was unexpectedly moving.

Sun filtered through thick greenery where we floated out of the cave in our tubes.

Peter, our guide, and Charlie, who guided the tour group

I was thankful for the wet suit, which kept the chill of the water from cooling me down too fast. The sound of water grew louder and before long we were back in the early afternoon sunshine. The hot sun felt good. I was glad I had sunblock. Around us the river was clean, the water clear as I ran webbed mittens, too large for my hands, in an inefficient yet effortful attempt at steering over the rapids. Peter reminded us to take care as the current carried us one kilometer down the small rapids to our exit point. I was tired and smiling when I walked out with my tube in hand, glad I had followed Veronika’s advice.

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Veronika on her way down the small rapids

Our guide had received company training and worked as a guide for three seasons. Underworld Adventures, established in 1987, was owned by Geoff Schurr, Ray Moroney, Stue Berendt, and Graham Howard. It employed nine staff during the off season and fourteen during the high season.

I would recommend Underworld Rafting to my friends who are steady on their feet (there were numerous places were it would have been easy to twist an ankle or loose my footing) while carrying a three kilo tube and a helmet on their heads and in good health. Emergency aid inside the cave could take one to two hours to arrive. Having shared space with a stand offish group during part of the tour I particularly appreciated that mine had been a private tour.

At the conclusion of the tour Underworld Adventures made the photos from that day available for download free of charge. They also provided me with two small printed souvenir photos in an Underworld Rafting sleeve.

*Because I wore a wet suit and didn’t have a waterproof camera I left my camera at the cottage. Additionally, an uneven path and low light conditions in the cave meant special equipment and extra time were necessary for publication worthy photos. Our guide took photos with company equipment during our adventure. The folks at Underworld Adventures kindly allowed us to publish them here along with other photos taken on other dates.

Outstanding guitar concert at handsome new concert hall on outskirts of Paris

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

La Seine Musical

On our most recent trip to Paris, France we discovered La Seine Musicale (Ile Seguin, 92 Boulogne-Billancourt, France, www.laseinemusicale.com, + 33 1 74 34 53 53), an events venue opened in 2017 on the outskirts of the city.

The venue is on an island in the center of the Seine River just outside Paris.

The building, situated on the Seguin Island, has a distinctive architectural design. Inside natural lit filtered past wood and glass walls, drawing us our gaze across the river. The high ceiling gave the building a sense of space.

There was a huge sculpture of a thumb in front of the building.

We attended a one hour and fifty minute guitar performance by Liat Cohen accompanied by tenors Rolando Villazon and Charles Castronovo, soprano Sandrine Piau and the Orchestre Pasdeloup. They performed works by Joaquin Rodrigo, Enrique Granados, Jules Massenet, Gabriel Faure, Francisco Tarrega, Isaa Albeniz, Manuel de Falla, Fernando Sor, Tomas Barreras, Rafael Calleja and Tomas Breton. They were fresh from recording Paris-Madrid, an album, that year. It was available for purchase outside the concert hall. Liat’s guitar playing was excellent, earning her repeated applause. It was my favorite part of the show.

The stage minutes before the start of the performance.

According to her biography Cohen earned First Prize at the Paris Conservatory, graduated from the Schola Cantorum and the École Normale de Musique de Paris; and was the first guitarist to have received the Nadia Boulanger Prize from the Foundation of France.

The seats were comfortable and solid.

Our seats (Category 1, E8-10) were comfortable and the view to the stage was unobstructed. Due to photography restrictions we were unable to take photos once the musicians began playing and singing.

The backs and arms of the seats were blonde wood.

I had read in advance about La Seine Musicale’s rooftop garden, but despite several attempts on arrival and departure it was impossible to visit the garden. Once inside the staff said we couldn’t reach the garden and weren’t allowed to exit and re-enter. At the conclusion of the afternoon show the staff member I spoke with indicated the roof garden was closed.

The walls and ceiling of the theater were covered with a variety of textures and materials.

The theater had two halls with a maximum capacity of 6,000 during 150 shows and an approximate annual attendance of 350,000. The name was derived from the River Seine and the French name for stage, Scène. It was a public private partnership owned by STS Evenements, a joint venture between TF1 and Sodexo.

The interior of the dome looking out through solid wood supports

The greatest challenge was that from the Left Bank in central Paris it took us about one hour to reach La Seine Musicale. For a worthwhile performance I would attend a concert there again and recommend it to friends.

An afternoon workshop at Paris jeweler

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox and Elena del Valle*

The exterior of the Maison Tournaire shop steps away from the famous place Vendome

It was a chilly and clouded Friday afternoon when I arrived at Maison Tournaire (7 place Vendôme, Paris, France, +33 4 77960884, www.philippetournaire.com, mathieu.pallay@philippetournaire.com), a stone’s throw from the famous Place Vendome in Paris, France for a small group half-day workshop in French. Perhaps because of the well-known venue and crowded streets it was the kind of activity I suspect most tourists never know exists. It had been raining on and off all day. Despite rushing I was five or ten minutes late. As soon as I entered the boutique the staff made me at ease, explaining the workshop had yet to start. While I was still near the door another attendee arrived, distressed at being late. She had been circling the area in search of a parking place for a long while, she explained, making me feel better about my own tardiness.

The meeting room where the workshop took place

The interior of the shop was well lit and populated with jewel filled glass cases. It was elegant without being intimidating, adult yet youthful. Marie, one of the two staff members, put away our wet raincoats and umbrellas, offering us welcome hot beverages in exchange.

Some of the tools and materials we used during the workshop

After greetings from our host Mathieu Tournaire we climbed one floor upstairs where we sat at a conference table. Mathieu and I had an opportunity to chat earlier that day when he explained everything the company makes is Tournaire-ized. “We don’t just make jewelry, we tell stories,” he told me with a serious expression in between private appointments with clients. The clean shaven jeweler had a quiet confidence that bellied his youthful appearance and the easy manner of a salesman.

We initially discussed a ring design that could include my yellow and orange sapphires and possibly a large house stone.

Some 15 percent of Tournaire sales were custom orders, he explained. He and his father, Philippe Tournaire, were the creative engines of the firm and both lived outside of Paris. In addition to the Paris location there were stores in Lyon (4 rue Childebert) and Savigneux (2 rue des métiers), where they lived. Whenever he was in town his calendar was full of client appointments.

Stones Mathieu selected for the ring

More than half of the attendees had cancelled their workshop reservations because of the soggy weather or the ongoing Yellow Vest demonstrations that riddled France for weeks and peaked on weekends so in lieu of the original nine we were only four. The small group and easy manner of the other attendees made the workshop intimate, allowing each of us to hold tools, rough stones and gemstones in our hands, and observe them with loopes.

Mathieu demonstrated the use of a device to test diamonds

Mathieu held up a tablet to show us photos, discussing weights, measures, gemstone classifications, varieties and hardness, diamond colors, cuts and facets and demonstrated how to test a diamond with an electronic device. He explained that in France only diamonds, emeralds and sapphires (including rubies) are precious stones. He also discussed opals and star sapphires in passing. Time flew and before I realized it the workshop had ended. At its conclusion we each received a stamped certificate or Certificat de Participation as a souvenir.

Tournaire 3D

An image of the 3D model for the ring Mathieu designed (*courtesy of Maison Tournaire)

The ring setting Mathieu designed without stones, just the yellow gold part

Once the workshop was over Mathieu spent private time with several of the attendees. Earlier in the day he and I had discussed an idea for a custom made ring. He had drawn a Tournaire-ized concept on a piece of paper and shown me some small gemstones for possible inclusion (diplomatically rejecting my own stones). If all went well, he would share a 3D design via email before making a ring to show me before I left France.

Outside it was dark, but at least the rain had slowed to a drizzle. I didn’t mind the rush hour crowds and wet pavement so much as I walked back to the rue de Rivoli and south toward the Left Bank remembering my fun afternoon.

Mathieu Tournaire, artistic director, Maison Tournaire

Maison Tournaire was founded by Philippe Tournaire, a self taught jeweler, in 1973. Mathieu, the artistic director, joined the team in 2008. Maison Tournaire creations were designed to be easily recognized. I had an opportunity to see several of the lines and try on some of the pieces at the shop such as Engrenage (Mathieu wore a distinctive ring of that line), Alchimie, Pensée Sauvage, French Kiss, and Architecture. The ring he created reminded me of the Marélie line, a favorite along with French Kiss.

I liked that Tournaire products were made 100 percent in-house and in France. I appreciated the warm authentic service and efficient follow through. Where attendants at other shops I visited in the place Vendome area were solicitous their welcome was superficial, their demeanor stiff and cool. For example, an eager saleslady on the rue de la Paix offered tax free processing, but could not answer simple questions about the treatment or provenance of her gemstones. Mathieu answered my queries quickly and candidly. One overly inquisitive vendor at a nearby luxury boutique promised to email me information about items they expected to receive, but I never heard from him. In contrast Mathieu and his staff were helpful and responsive without ever being pushy. After the workshop he followed up promptly with the drawing and 3D design we had discussed. Likewise Marie was in touch promptly to schedule a new appointment.

The stones resting on the setting allowed us to see how the finished ring might look.

Two weeks later when Mathieu returned to Paris he brought a 12 by 15 millimeter 18 karat yellow gold ring to show me. It weighed 8 grams and was priced at 3,900 euros. The stones he selected were: 5 millimeter tourmaline rubellite (a red tourmaline), 3 millimeter round red sapphire, 3 square millimeter orange sapphire, two color diamonds of 0.06 carats each, and a white 0.04 diamond. The ring was unfinished, but by placing the gems in their settings it was easy to imagine what it would look like. I especially liked that the diamonds were slightly elevated to protect the other stones. As the hardest stones diamonds would take the brunt of any impact if the wearer banged the ring by accident.

The ring was temptingly pretty. It reminded me of a friend’s redesigned and repurposed wedding ring after her divorce. Every time she looked at it her eyes sparkled with delight. Despite my interest by then my budget had already been fully allocated. Who knows, the next time I am in Paris and have a milestone to celebrate I might pop into Tournaire and say hello. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the workshop to friends with an interest in French jewelry wanting an off the beaten track experience in Paris. I would also recommend the shop to those in the market for the brand’s distinctive style.

Why I liked natural first aid ointment

Article by Scott S. Smith
Photos by Gary Cox

Curoxen was made by an Italian homeopathic medicine company, according to the manufacturer’s website.

A couple of days after receiving a half-ounce tube of Curoxen: First Aid Ointment in the mail, I accidentally cut myself. The ointment soothed the cut immediately. My skin seemed to heal so fast I wasn’t even sure exactly when it happened, perhaps faster than my standard antibiotic ointment. A week later, I couldn’t even remember exactly where the cut had been. I would take Curoxen First Aid with me on my next trip, rather than my usual ointment.

The Curoxen tube said it uses a natural approach as an alternative to conventional treatments to prevent infection, heal and reduce pain for minor wounds, burns, cuts, and scrapes while relying on homeopathy, a European philosophy of “likes cures like” developed in the 18th century. I agree, as the box notes, that “overuse of antibiotics is a global problem.”

According to the company website, Curoxen is available over-the-counter at pharmacies. The half-ounce tube retailed for $9.99 and the one ounce size for $14.99. The active ingredients, per the package were olive extract “2X HPUS and calendula 3X HPUS.” This refers to the standards of the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States. Homeopathy uses minute amounts of organic substances, which homeopathic doctors believe help specific problems. The 2X and 3X indicate the number of times the ingredient was diluted in the process of making it, so that there is one percent of the olive extract and just one-tenth of a percent of the calendula. The inactive ingredients were oxygenated olive oil and pure essential oil of lavender. The box indicated there were no petroleum products or preservatives. 

The back of the package listed the active homeopathic ingredients and other important information.

According to the website of Curoxen’s parent company OrganiCare (2101 E. St. Elmo Road, Austin Texas 78744, +1 512-401-3572, www.curoxen.com, info@organicare.com), independent in vitro lab tests show that this product “kills over five times more bacteria than antibiotic ointments.” The formula was based on an Italian university discovery of the healing benefits of olive oil when combined with oxygen. Curoxen was manufactured by an Italian homeopathic medicine company, according to the website (I could not find the country of manufacture on the package).

Per her bio, Caroline Goodner, chief executive officer, OrganiCare, founded two genetics companies and was chief executive of a firm specializing in wellness products for new moms. David Shockley, chairman, was described as a biologist focused on innovation in medical devices. Eleanor Piel Womack, M.D. was listed as board certified in internal medicine and anti-aging and regenerative medicine and the company’s medical advisor on the Curoxen website.

Having worked with integrative doctors, who relied on conventional and unorthodox medicine, I have heard of many patients claims to be helped by homeopathy. Also, I have heard anecdotes from pilots who swore by the formula for jet lag, and people who massaged painful legs with an ointment they claimed worked better than anything else. While I don’t believe the effectiveness of homeopathy has been proven in humans, it’s hard for me to dismiss my experience with this ointment as purely psychosomatic.