Lifestyle

Two travel ideas for the palate - On Travel

By Bill Morton

The long nights and short gray days of winter send me day-dreaming to green valleys in far-off lands where the sun shines and life tastes particularly sweet.

I'm obviously not the only one musing. Two Seattle area travel-lovers have created ingenious and high quality ways for all of us to get more out of our summer around the corner. One is hosted by a master chef in France. The second picks up where the movie ``Sideways'' left off, with a tour of Southern California's not-quite-yet-discovered Santa Ynez wine region. Take a look.

A gourmet vacation in the heart of France's storied Loire Valley

An old Mercer Island friend, Ron Cohn, was on the line. Cohn wanted me to meet one of the best executive chefs he's ever known, and she wanted to talk about food and France.

That got my attention.

Cohn happens to know a thing or two about food. He owns and operates Seattle's Metropolitan Grill, Elliotts Oyster House, Union Square Grill and Sammamish's DC's Grill.

If visions of cuisine and France turned my head, meeting executive chef Sally McArthur can keep me focused for hours -- days -- weeks.

McArthur's honors and Seattle credits include running kitchens at Anthony's Pier 66, Chinook's at Fisherman's Terminal and Cohn's downtown eateries. Her background includes extensive training with several Michelin-starred chefs in France. Plus she has been honored to represent Pacific Northwest chefs at the highly-regarded James Beard House in New York City.

For the second consecutive summer, McArthur is conducting week-long French cooking classes in the heart of the Loire Valley, in the too-beautiful-for-words small town of Chinon.

She has reserved the private Chateau du Rivau for two weeks in June and a week in September, and is looking forward to helping Seattle gourmets and gourmands savor another facet of France. Historically and culturally, the Chateau du Rivau is woven throughout French literature. McArthur could not have chosen a better location to share her skills and passion for classic French cuisine.

I know Chinon, located halfway between Seattle's sister city Nantes to the west and Orleans to the east, from another Seattle friend. Nicole Preveaux represents Rail Europe here in the Pacific Northwest and was born and reared in Chinon. The town itself is an unhurried, secret hamlet off the Autoroute and several kilometers back off the Loire River. It's a place where the French live life one day at a time. Nicole knows Chinon as a kid. McArthur knows it as a chef.

While the accent of McArthur's week-long cooking courses is in the kitchen, all aspects of the food -- from the seed to the saucepan -- is part of the program.

``It's really more of a French food immersion than a cooking class,'' McArthur explained.

Whether her students are snipping spices from the garden, or securing a leg of lamb from the charcuterie, or visiting cheese caves for the ripest chevres, Sally opens amazing doors in the heart of France.

Classes are kept to a maximum of 12 students, so everyone gets very personal, in-depth attention.

Details

Web site: www.frenchchefsally.com

Dates: Classes in France June 5-11, June 13-19 and Sept. 12-18 (McArthur's classes avoid the French summer vacation season, making it easy for Seattle residents to add a week or two before or after for exploring France further).

Cost: $3,590 (U.S.) with a $450 single supplement, not including transportation to and from the chateau.

Contact: McArthur's Web site or call toll-free 1-877-347-5180. Calling will enable you to speak with Judith Freeman, a Seattle woman who has taken both Sally's Chinon chateau class and her Skagit Valley class. You can get all the details by e-mailing Sally or speaking with Judith.

What else? Did I say Skagit Valley? That's right. McArthur returns to the Northwest in July and runs two-day classes in the heart of the Skagit Valley at LaConner Flats. With overnights at the LaConner Country Suites, this is an excellent option for those who can't get to France this summer.

Dates of the Skagit classes: July 21-22, 26-27, and July 31-Aug.1.

Getting `Sideways' with Mercer Island friends

Longtime Islander Ray Meisgeier of M.I.'s Continental Travel has a fun idea for wine travelers. If you saw the Oscar-nominated movie ``Sideways'' and wouldn't mind getting a little sideways yourself, Ray has a package you'll enjoy.

This mini-tour will fly you direct to Santa Barbara on Horizon's new daily non-stop flight from Sea-Tac, and go ``over the hill'' to the Santa Ynez Valley. Over the past decade, the Santa Ynez has become the Napa for Southern California.

One of Ray's childhood friends operates the Story Book Inn in

the Danish hamlet of Solvang. Ray grew up in Los Olivos, just

down the road. The half-timbered, inglenook cutie of a B&B captures the magic of Solvang, which sits at the center of 40 burgeoning wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley. Solvang, by the way, is one of the great shopping towns on the West Coast with lots of high-quality antiques and clothiers.

I've visited Santa Barbara and Solvang several times over the past two years. I like the area, and I like Horizon's flights, which avoid the hassles of flying into LAX and fighting the traffic to get out of town. Santa Barbara also boasts the world's cutest airport.

The Santa Ynez Valley sits 10-20 miles inland, and, as a result, it hardly ever gets the clouds or overcast that frequents Santa Barbara. Still, because it is near the coast, it produces some of the more exotic and fragile varietals including viogniers, pinots, and cab francs. Some of the big name wineries here include Firestone, Kendall-Jackson, and Fess Parker. Insiders know that the best time of year to visit this region is in the fall, when the fogs that cling to the coast have all burned off.

Details

Call or write Ray Meisgeier

Phone: 232-9000 or 1-800-232-1511

E-mail: ray@continentaltvl.com

Dates: Departing in the morning on Sept. 16 and returning the evening of Sept. 18.

Bill Morton can be reached at billmorton@msn.com

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