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Getting a Taste of Europe at Home

Revised October 17, 2010

The reality is that if you want to experience Europe, you have to travel to Europe. It is not only the sites and scenery that make travel such a meaningful experience, it is the chance to meet people who have different ideas, different priorities and move at a different pace. I never understood what made me an American until I spent a few days in Europe.....we were the first ones on the street, the last ones back in our rooms at night and until we were able to adjust to European timing, we moved at a more rapid pace than the locals.

But in a world of increased globalization, it is possible to find bits of Europe here at home, whether it is watching cyclists in the Tour of California, tasting a great batch of chocolate at a local shop, or uncorking a memorable new wine with a tasty dinner. And as a growing awareness of the importance of fresh food, it is possible to shop in farmers' markets like the ones you find throughout Europe and to learn to cook like the French in many cities in the US and Canada as cooking schools have joined with the famed Cordon Bleu of Paris to teach those skills at local culinary academies.

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Wines and Wine Tasting Regions of the US

Napa and Sonoma, California

The most famous wine producing region of the US is the Napa and Sonoma Valley areas of Northern California. Like the Burgundy region of France, a popular way to visit some of the wineries is on a bike. You can throw your own on the back of your car or find a local company that organizes tours. A more unique but wonderful, less European way to taste the local vintages is on a kayak paddle along the Napa River. Or you can simply visit the region by car, driving your own or hiring a limousine so no one in the party has to opt out as the designated driver. Just north of San Francisco, these areas are popular places to honeymoon, spend a romantic weekend or do some serious wine shopping and there are excellent restaurants in the area that serve French food with a California accent.

We recently spent time in the Napa region, taking the tour at Beringer. The main highway north of Napa toward St. Helena is lined with wineries. Major producers like Beringer, Sutter Home and Domaine Chandon invite guests to tour their facilities. Dramatic buildings house the tasting rooms where you'll find blends not available through other retail outlets. By the time you've dropped into a few wineries, you realize that the tours and tasting provide another revenue stream to the winemakers of the region. While it is a pleasant way to spend a day, the crowds of Napa make for a different experience that you would have if you were visiting family run vineyards in Europe.

Oregon Wine Regions

We have found that the wineries of southern Oregon and the Willamette Valley have a more low-key approach to their wine tasting operations. My highest recommendations go to the folks at Foris Vineyard in Cave Junction, Oregon, who make wonderful wines including a Gerwurtzraminer and Early Muscat that top my gift giving lists. Foris is located in a small valley south of Grants Pass, Oregon, and is a pleasant detour if you are traveling to or from the Redwood Parks of coastal California. In the same area, you'll find other small producers sharing their wine.

If you get off I-5 and travel Oregon Highway 238 between Medford and Grants Pass, you'll drop into a beautiful river valley, the Applegate. Over the last 10 years, many boutique wineries have blossomed along its banks. You'll find a "sake champagne," unique dessert wines, and many hand-crafted wines that make you appreciate the lure of winemaking.

You'll find a number of small vintners in the Eugene, Oregon area where you can have a pleasant afternoon sampling unique reds and whites produced from locally grown grapes. The little known "Chateau Loraine," just a bit southwest of Eugene, produces some boutique wines at very reasonable prices while Sylvan Hills makes a sparkling Early Muscat that is a great alternative to champagne or Prosecco, just across the road from Sweet Cheeks Vineyards. King Estate is a larger winery where you can catch a meal, enjoy a great view of the Loraine Valley and sample its many interesting offerings.

Sampling European and European-style Beers

Though we usually associate Germany, Holland and the Czech Republic with the best European beers, the small country of Belgium has elevated beer production to an art form. One popular tourist activity in Brugge is to visit the many small breweries iin town (numbering approximately 100) and sample some of each house's best blends. Many American producers have started to replicate some of the best European beers, using similar ingredients and techniques, producing small batches of uniquely flavored brews. In recent months, I've had the pleasure to sample a delightful "Belgian Brown" beer produced by the Lagunitas Brewing Company which markets its products in the West, Massachusetts, New York and the DC area. If you are already in the San Francisco Bay area to tour Napa or Sonoma, the Petaluma brewery is just a short detour from the wineries.

A good place to get information about local producers of European-style beers is at the Brewers Association's website which holds a biennial international conference to identify the planet's best beers. The Great American beer festival will be held in Denver in October, providing beer lovers with a chance to taste some of the best suds this side of the pond.

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Bits of the Mediterranean in the US

If you are willing to spend what you saved on airfare for hotels on the beach, you can get a little taste of life on the Mediterranean at some properties that dot the Orange County Coast in California. The beaches are beautiful, the weather is delightful most months of the year and the architecture is inspired by Italy and southern France. Marriott has a property that tries to recreate an Italian Villa with great facilities and access to one of the county's nicest beaches. But if you drive Pacific Coast Highway, you quickly realize you are still in the US, not a quaint coastal village in Europe. A good meal at one of the many quality restaurants you can find in nearby Newport or Laguna Beach may add to the feeling of life abroad. For my money,though, I'd spring for airfare to Italy and save on lodging by camping on the Punta Sabbioni near Venice.

Islands of Britain in America

Most folks in the US forget that Canada is part of the British Commonwealth and that you can sample bits of Britain by simply crossing the Canadian border. Find a bit of England in Ottawa, a bit of France in Quebec. Across the U.S. you can find a bit of the U.K in many places that honor Britain's greatest playright with summer festivals. You'll find theaters that replicate London's Globe Theater at the Old Globe in San Diego, California, the Globe of the Great Southwest in Odessa, Texas, and the extremely popular Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon.

Cooking Schools

It was with great anticipation that we arrived at the Cordon Bleu school in Paris. As a home economics teacher, I was eager to see how the best chefs taught their classes. One of the answers was: IN FRENCH. But aided by a translator who spoke English for the tourists and American students in the class, and bilingual handouts, the chef taught and prepared a fantastic meal that included mushroom-stuffed trout and a sweet brioche for dessert. In recent years, the Cordon Bleu has expanded to campuses around the world including a school in Ottawa. You can become a full time student or you can simply sign up for a short demonstration class at the Ottawa campus and then share those new skills with friends and family.

Museums and Galleries with Great Collections of European Art

The major museums in New York, Los Angeles and at the Smithsonian in Washington DC house impressive collections of European art, but in addition to those great collections, some of Europe's most famous pieces are brought to the US and Canada from time to time. For more information on museums and what they are currently displaying, go to the University of Michigan's list of American museums

Recipes for European Favorites to try at home

The classic Moules et Frites of Belgium. Try this recipe for mussels steamed in white wine and serve a side of oven-baked fries and mayonaise for dipping. This is a favorite drops into Brugge for an evening. Top it off with a great foreign film and you will have a wonderful European evening at home.

Bring home truffles from Croatia, Italy or France and use this easy recipe to stretch the savory flavors.

Long Distance Bike Racing and The Tour de France Diet

With its great wine regions in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and near Monterey, its alpine beauty in the Sierras, and spectacular coastal beauty, the Tour of California is a fitting American spot for long distance cycle racing. The eight day race, sponsored by Amgen, visits northern and southern California. Spectators tend to assemble at the start and finish points of the race, while cycling groups tend to follow the racers from spot to spot along the course. This race gives you a great chance to see some of the world's best cyclist as they race by.

If you are saving for next year's trip to Europe but want to enjoy a bit of the Tour de France and lose weight at the same time, start your summer mornings with the television coverage of the bicycle race as you pedal your exercycle. Since we watched Lance Armstrong win his third jersey in Paris in 2001, we've had a sentimental spot for the race that starts in early July. The official website is and will provide you race details and a map showing you where the teams are pedaling. But if you can't make it to the stages, you'll enjoy the televised coverage on Versus that lets you ride behind race leaders as you exercise. Recent coverage of the Tour de France has recognized that many of us watch the race for the scenery and the competition. Using both motorcycle and helicopter cameras, Versus showed the competitors' view of the race while pointing out beautifully churches and castles along the way. For me, the three weeks of the Tour de France are a good time to limit calories while working off calories. An hour at high speed on the cycle can work off 500 calories and by eliminating at least 300 calories from my typical day, I can feel pounds peel off. Unfortunately, once the tour ends, its harder to put in the same amount of time on the bike.

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