As I mentioned in the last post, I visited the Santa Ynez Valley for the cycling but also for the food and wine. The area is renowned for good wines, and especially Pinot Noir.

Hitching Post

So it’s no surprise, perhaps, that I should stop in at the Hitching Post in Buellton – location for the restaurant of the same name in the movie Sideways. It’d been 10 years since I’d seen the movie so I might not have thought anything about it but a friend had recommended the place independently and I really enjoyed it.

The Hitching Post reminded me of a family steakhouse I might stop in somewhere in the Midwest. Not fancy at all. Friendly service found me a table immediately and a plate of olives and veggies followed quickly. Veggies included fresh green onions and radishes. That’s the sort of thing I would expect in the Midwest. What you wouldn’t expect though from such a restaurant in the Midwest is a full complement of restaurant produced Pinot Noir. As you can see in the photo above, I got the flight of Highliner wines – in honor of 10 years since the movie.

The food at the HP was great. A fresh salad and then a steak. Nothing fancy, just good stuff.

Trattoria Grappolo

Another of my favorites on the trip was Trattoria Grappolo in Santa Ynez. Aside from the good food and a nice wine list that included several local wines I really enjoyed the friendly service and the vantage point at the bar. The bar looks over a part of the kitchen where there’s a wood fired oven and so you get to watch the production of pizzas and salads. The abundant staff seemed to have it down to a science.

For a main dish, I had the Veal Scallopini. Excellent though perhaps just a little salty, but then I tend to like things with very little salt.

Mattei’s Tavern

Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos was also a fav. Here again, full restaurant menu served at the bar, which is convenient when you’re traveling solo. There’s always someone to talk to. There were also plenty of local wines to choose from.

The photo below is of what Mattei’s calls the ‘Dirty Laundry’. Based on the way the charcuterie is hung with clothes pins, I guess you can see why.

All great places and I hope to visit again one day.

Following my brief Santa Barbara stopover on my recent visit to Calif I made my way to Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley. My intentions were to find back roads to cycle and interesting food and wine. I was not disappointed.

I think I only scratched the surface on cycling the back roads around the area. But a few of my favorites included Happy Canyon Rd east of Santa Ynez, Ballard Canyon Rd between Solvang and Los Olivos and Foxen Canyon Rd out of Los Olivos.

The photo of my bike leaning up against the tree here is on Happy Canyon Rd. This one I would definitely like to do again. I only rode part of it. There looks to be a long and interesting loop ride with some interesting climbing on that road. Plus it was just beautiful scenery. While the weather looks great in that photo, I could tell it was changing quickly, so I did an out and back ride and got back just before it rained (and sleeted).

The other photo at the end of this posting is on Ballard Canyon Rd. Wonderful vistas along that route. Where it ended in Los Olivos turned into Foxen Canyon Rd across the highway. Together they made for a great out and back route.

I’ve heard that the Santa Barbara area was good for both cycling and interesting wineries so with a very slight lull in the work schedule and very little planning in advance I thought I’d take Southwest Airlines up on their ‘wanna get away?’ slogan and take a little break from Austin.

I make a point to note Southwest Airlines because when I travel with my two bike cases that measure at the limit of what’s considered ‘checkable’ luggage they are one of the few airlines that include 2 checked bags with the fare. With fares about the same in any case, it’s been convenient in the past so I booked ‘em for a direct flight to LAX.

As you can see in the photo at right. Santa Barbara also has some interesting people wandering about. This photo was captured at the weekly farmers market in the heart of Santa Barbara. I think it says something about the casual outdoors culture of the city.

My ultimate destination wasn’t actually Santa Barbara, but rather Solvang or more generally the Santa Ynez valley. But with a long flight plus a pretty good car drive up there I opt’ed to spend at least one afternoon and evening bumming around Santa Barbara.

I found a little motel (they call it an Inn but seems like a motel) just a block from the beach called the Harbor House Inn. TripAdvisor led me there – as it often does to the destinations I find – and it was a really great find. Nice room. Clean. Even a little kitchenette. It’s the sort of place you could spend more than the one night I was planning.

It was convenient to everything I was likely to find interesting for one day stay. And by convenient I mean it was easy to walk to beach, to the ‘funk zone’ (as they call it in Santa Barbara) nearby for restaurants and winery tasting rooms and even close to the main downtown State Street with all its shops and things – including that farmers market I mentioned.

It didn’t take me long to venture out and about and take in some of the pier, beach area and one of the tasting rooms. I’d done at least a little online browsing and had concluded I wanted to check out a place called The Lark for dinner. Pali wines was a block or so down and given that the Lark didn’t open till 5 (which was 7pm my time) I pulled in. They had a nice selection of wines and an inviting little space and while the wines were good I wasn’t up for lugging any around or signing up for delivery/club membership.

The Lark turned out to be a fantastic restaurant. I like finding a place like this one – especially when traveling solo – where you can find a spot at the bar and they serve the full dinner menu at the bar. The bar staff was really friendly and helpful. And seated like this inevitably you strike up a conversation with others at the bar. The couple next to me was from Dallas.

Food at The Lark was great. I started with their appetizer of fried brussel sprouts. Nice flavors. Who’d a thought brussel sprouts would ever become so popular? but, it’s a staple of this and many other places I’ve been in the last few years.

The main dish was really, really good. It was a braised lamb served with house made pappardelle. Can’t tell you at this point what all was in the sauce but there was also acorn squash in the mix and it worked really well. It was something really different and delicious.

Fast forward to the next morning… I was up early. That 2 hour timezone change always has me up with the birds when I visit the West coast. It was good though because it would be time I could reassemble my bike. That always takes at least an hour and more like two.

On my walk around town the evening before I’d noticed a nearby bike shop. A little online snooping suggested it was highly regarded so I planned to take the bike over there after assembling so I could get it checked out. It was a place called Hazard’s Cyclesport. Really nice bike shop and some friendly folks. They also let me change into bike gear in the shop dressing room. Handy. From there I took the bike out for a spin up and down the coast and around town a bit.

Santa Barbara Cycling

I didn’t spend too much time riding though. I still needed to make the trip up to Solvang. So I packed up and headed north.

I’m back-dating this posting because I realize I never posted anything about my stay in Annecy, France.

Annecy is beautiful small city south of Geneva situated on a picturesque lake. While it’s touristy and there are throngs of people that visit I really enjoyed my stay there and would go back. I really enjoyed walking around the city and several of the restaurants. And cycling in the area is excellent. There’s a fantastic route that goes along the lake. You can spend hours on that route alone, but the other ride I did there was to bike up to the top of Semnoz.

The Sunday of the weekend I was there turned into one helluva day of cycling. It had its ups and downs both literally and figuratively. I’ll explain…

From Annecy to the top of Semnoz is up hill all the way. It’s quite a climb. But then that’s half the point of choosing such a route. It’s the challenge of it. I went by way of Leschaux to get there. The grade at 4 to 5% is not bad for the first part to Leschaux. From there, it gets interesting and a fair bit harder.

You can see my progression up to the summit in the photos here. Starting from Annecy down by the lake and then winding my way up to Leschaux. The ride up to Leschaux is not too difficult but it makes a nice spot to take a little break in prep for the next leg. There’s a bar/restaurant there where lots of cyclists take a pitstop. You can see a bunch of other riders taking it easy in one the photos.

From Leschaux the climb gets a lot steeper. You can see in the photo right below the one at the restaurant that after a bit more climbing I’m looking back down on the small town of Leschaux. You’ll need to click to view the photo because otherwise the town is too small in the thumbnail.

More climbing … you can see the grade gets to 8% pretty frequently. Then finally, the summit. There’s a couple of restaurants and a ski resort at the top. I pulled in for a coke and a sandwich. It was actually pretty chilly at the top. I was glad I had some gear I could change into for the ride back down.

After starting back, now the bad news: I got a broken spoke on the descent! Ugh! A broken spoke means the wheel was way out of balance and so the wheel wobbled horribly and rubbed the brake on every revolution. That made for a long, shaky trip back to Annecy. Thank God it was almost entirely down hill into Annecy.

Click thru here for route map to the summit, from Annecy.

In my last post, I mentioned visiting the VinoRama. It reminded me a lot of some of my recent visits to regional enotecha in Piedmont. In this case, the VinoRama represented many wines from the Lavaux region.

If you’re just inclined to try wines of the region or are headed to Lausanne or Montreux it’s pretty easy to get to the VinoRama, you don’t even need a car. You can take the train from Geneva (or whereever) to Lausanne and then from there, grab a more regional train to Rivaz. From the train station there, it’s walkable.

There were hundreds of regional wines on display and available for purchase at the VinoRama, which I must say is a pretty great name for a wine showcase. You can also taste a set of wines as well. There are several choices on the tastings. I chose an option that included some bread and snacks with it. The tasting I got included 3 whites (Chasselas) and I think 3 reds as well. Though the guy helping me, Louis, may have sensed I was interested in something else and he brought out the Z Collection you see here. It was my favorite and this was the only one I bought. I wish I could tell you what is in it but my notes are sketchy and I couldn’t find too much of a description of it at the web site I dug up for it.

The VinoRama is set back into the hillside next to a pretty little waterfall. Once you get in, it’s really dark. I guess they’re going for a kind of ‘cave’ like setting. In addition to the wines, there is also a little movie theater that does a show about growing wine in the area. It’s done in a different language depending on what you want to see. I think they do it by request.

My tasting started with a set of 3 of Chasselas wines. I don’t know much about Chasselas wines. In fact, this recent visit to Switzerland may have been the first time I can recall them. Who knows, years ago I was in Switzerland and maybe had some, I don’t remember. These three were good but my memory is that the 2nd one in the photo here was more to my liking. The wines are definitely minearly but more round in texture. I’d try them again if I can find them back home.

If you like hiking, and you like wine, you’d be hard pressed not to like to spend a little time trekking through Lavaux in Switzerland.

I can’t quite recall how I heard about this area but considering I was going to be in Geneva over a couple weekends, I put it on my agenda once I read about it. It’s a beautiful area of terraced vineyards above Lake Geneva.

First of all I had no idea that Switzerland even did wines (though I should have probably figured that it did) and second of all that they would do something else besides white wines in this region. Live and learn. As to whites, they do a lot of Chasselas but they also do a fair bit of Gamay and Pinot Noir.

I chose to stay in the little town of Grandvaux and it turned out to be a fine base. Directly from my stay I could connect up with a walking route that took me through the vineyards. While it may look like it’s just a walk in the park it’s not quite as trivial to go up and down some of the slopes as it might look from the photo here. For the most part you can easily follow routes that are paved like a city hiking trail but there are some places you go up and down where the grade (according to the signs) is upwards of 25%. Trust me, you will use all the muscles in your legs as you go up and down. But the views are spectacular, you can stop in little towns along the way and just do as much as you want.

I’d been given a tip to make my way to Vevey. As you can see in the map below that I got from the B&B owner, Grandvaux is on the far left of the map and Vevey is on the far right. A pretty good hike. As it turns out, Saturdays are market days in Vevey and they have a wine tasting done at the market during the summer at least. I was told that it showcased a different producer each week. So, that’s where I headed.

Now turns out that last section to Vevey is not quite as nicely hikable, and because the wine tasting ends on the dot at 1pm I dropped down the hill to take a local train over to Vevey. I got to Vevey with time to spare and really enjoyed the tasting of a couple of wine from nearby Yvorne. They had both a Chasselas and a Pinot Noir. Both were good.

With the market going on at the same time, I was able to find some tasty pizza to have with my little bit of white and red wine. Hit the spot after the walk over.

Later in the afternoon, I started backtracking and ended up at the “Vinorama”. See the other red highlighted box in the map. More on the Vinorama in another post.

So you’ve come to Geneva and need to get around. Maybe these few tips will help some similarly lost soul when they first arrive here from the US and aren’t used to taking public transport.

Arrival

Before you leave the arrival area where you get your baggage, pick up a pass good for 80 minutes. It’s free, but not once you leave the arrival area. Once you get out into the regular part of the airport, a ticket will cost you something like CHF 3.50 to get a one-way 2nd class ticket that’s good for an hour – which is all you need to get to the main train station in the city.

Once you hit your hotel – if you’re staying at one – ask them for the go-anywhere pass that is given to visitors. If you’re staying like I am – in a rental, it’s not quite so nice. You have to go buy one. In that case, go read this and decide which kind of pass you need.

Routine Use

While you’ll find the passes are rarely checked (so far in a week nobody has asked to see my pass) you can be fined. From what I’ve read, it’s CHF 80 if you pay immediately, or CHF 120 if you are only able to pay later. Sounds like a real hassle you don’t want to deal with. Get the pass from your hotel or buy one.

I found the info desk at the main train station very useful for pointing me in the right direction – and giving me a local transit map. That was enough to get me pointed to the right stops for the routes I was after. Even if you just happen by a tram/bus stop, they’ll always tell you what routes will stop there. And timing. Some have electronic displays that show how many more minutes before your bus/tram arrives.

The thing that I’ve found pretty amazing is how often the tram or bus I need comes by. I may have waited 15 minutes once but more often than not it’s a few minutes. And many times I’ve been lucky and just walked up to find the tram/bus arriving. Also in many cases you can take one of several different buses to get you to the same place. For example, in the morning for me to go to the office, from the location in the photo here I can take the 6, the 10 or the 19. They all go by the office.

Leaving

Well I haven’t left yet but I’m pretty sure it’s not that hard. From the main train station you can take the Geneve Aeroport train. There’s one going all the time – and it’s still in zone 10.

When I went to Grandvaux it was similarly easy though I did need to buy a ticket because my pass was only good for zone 10 of Geneva. You can arrange to get a train to any of the little towns along the lake – at least the north side of the lake all the way over to Montreux.

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