Thursday, November 16, 2017

The best wines of Spain. And about visiting the winery of Pingus, just outside Valladolid

Serious wine enthusiasts may know of the cult winery Pingus, just outside the beautiful city of Valladolid. It's a 20-minute drive from the city. We were lucky enough to get a peek at this small Spanish winery with impressive R&D facilities.

Pingus wines

Extremely private, bordering on secretive, the Pingus winery usually doesn’t accept visitors and they produce wines in such small batches that these wines are very hard to get. 

You must often begin your search for a bottle of Pingus way in in advance and you must be prepared to wait for one for a very long time, as most bottles rarely make it even into the finest wine stores

The Pingus winery near Valladolid

The Pingus winery doesn’t even have a sign, and the winery looks just like a regular village house. Mara, our private guide, said: "There's no sign. But everyone in the know knows that this is the Pingus winery."


The Pingus winery near Valladolid

Pingus achieved cult status when one of the Pingus vintages became the first ever Spanish wine to receive 100 points from wine critic Robert Parker. I can understand why as these are very exclusive (and pretty expensive) boutique wines made with a combination of feeling and scientific winemaking data. For a very small winery, they have incredible state-of-the-art equipment.


Yulya, the Russian winemaker at Pingus winery

Yesterday, we drove over for a private visit — a very rare occurrence in this winery. We met with Yulya, the Pingus winemaker, who happens to be a Russian who studied wine making in Moscow and then went on to more wine-making studies in the Loire Valley and in Bordeaux. This Russian connection certainly gave the meeting a warm feeling. 

After talking about wine and visiting the Pingus cellars, we spent the afternoon doing wine tastings straight out of the barrel, living and loving a #Travelife.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A road trip to Central Russia and authentic Russian banya experiences

I could not have asked for a more perfect holiday, driving around the Golden Circle of Russia where we saw birch tree forests and small wooden houses with delicate paintings and lattice work, until we reached the landmark towns in Russia, full of history and architectural beauty overshadowed by colorful Russian Orthodox churches and massive Kremlin fortresses.

A stay in a farm in Yaroslavl, Russia


After exploring the thousand-year-old town of Yaroslavl, right by the mighty Volga River, we drove in search of a farm where I’d booked a simple log cottage for a night. I’m not really into spartan lodgings, but these were just about the best accommodations in Yaroslavl we could find.

Our 60-square meter wooden cottage costs $60 along with a buffet breakfast and afternoon tea. In cities like Tokyo or Paris, this is the equivalent of a modest lunch for two; so you can understand my initial trepidation at having nowhere else to lay my head down on unless I preferred a bed at a nearby monastery in the town of Rostov or a small room with a shared bathroom in a private guesthouse.

A stay in a farm in Rostov

Well, this farm stay in Rostov Russia provided me with a new perspective. We also stayed at exclusive resorts favored by Moscow’s elite on this particular trip, you see, in mind blowing contrast to this farm; interestingly, it is this little place with chickens and goats that made me happiest.

A stay in a farm in Rostov


I loved this experience of ordinary Russian life. We walked in quiet fields and paddocks of no particular beauty, and then we had homemade cheese and fried bread with fresh herbal tea picked from the garden on our porch

A stay in a farm in Rostov

In the evening, we sat outdoors very happily with Russian vodka and a tray of hearty appetizers including brown bread, pickles, sour cabbage, dried meats, and pâté. Even sleeping on rough cotton on a plumped up mattress on a hard bed was not as dreary as I expected.

Russian appetizers to eat with vodka


The next day, we rented the farm’s sauna cottage for my first authentic experience of a Russian banya. The farmer had already fired up the sauna with logs when we walked over, and so the place was ours. 

Inside was a table with fresh tea and beyond this was the famous Russian sauna clocking in heat at 120 degrees. 

We were to sit in this sauna for several minutes with felt caps to protect our heads; then we were to get out and quickly stand under an improvised shower that was really a wooden bucket filled with freezing water, with a string attached to it. You get the picture.

Extreme heat, extreme cold. And then back again for more. Afterwards, I felt ever so fine in Russia, living a #Travelife.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The best jamon in Spain. And about the University of Salamanca.

We're on a great food trip through Spain, living a #Travelife. Follow our adventures, on our road trip from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela.

Salamanca, Spain

One of our stops on this gastronomic road trip through Spain was a sweet one in Salamanca, a small but exquisite town with ancient origins. Salamanca is known as a university town as its home to the University of Salamanca, which is one of the oldest universities in Europe, along with the University of Bologna, the Sorbonne in Paris, and Oxford University in England.

The University of Salamanca is really a beautiful and historic school.


Salamanca, Spain

However, Salamanca is also a great foodie destination in Spain. There are so many wonderful restaurants in Salamanca, most serving really delicious dishes without pretense. 

Salamanca is also one of the best places to buy the best jamon in Spain as the famous Iberico pigs are bred in the areas around Salamanca, where they roam freely and mainly eat acorns.

So, of course, I had to buy some Iberico jamon to bring back to Asia.


There are many kinds of local ham in Salamanca and most of them are very good. However, if you want the very best, this is ham from 100% Iberico pork that has been cured for around four years. I tasted a slice of this before buying it, and it was pure heaven.



So right there and then, I got the butcher to cut off a good part of a leg of ham and then divide these into three parts, each to be vacuum packed. Apparently, the ham will last for as long as a year, as long as you don't open it.


The butcher in Salamanca, at a jamon specialty store, said to me: "You must serve the jamon at room temperature, and warm the plate in the microwave before placing the ham slices on it. The jamon will just melt in your mouth."

And that is just what I intend to do.