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Friday, 25 September 2009

Red, red wine, go to my head

Agriculture has provided a changing back-drop for our journey; olive trees in Southern Italy, rice fields in the north, tall rows of hops in Slovenia and fields of dark green ripening corn in Austria. Everywhere there have been vines, but the scale of the viniculture is most significant here in the Rhone Valley.

This is pleasant cycling country and as we meander around the lanes we pass a field of vines with no more than half a dozen workers in hats harvesting the grapes; farmers in check shirts and green overalls pass us on their tractors, pulling a trailer brimming with bunches of the dark red fruit; the sweet smell of grape juice from the wineries makes stopping to try a glass of red irresistible and we watch the farmers chatting in the sun as their harvest is unloaded.

Each small village we pass is on a hill and has narrow streets circling up to the church at the top. As well as the wine, the villages have patisseries to tempt us with apple tarts and sugary buns, just the thing for flagging cyclists. At a picnic spot we sit watching kestrels fly over the vineyards and crack open the fallen ripe walnuts from the tree we were leaning on.

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