Monday, October 24, 2011

The secrets of love and raspberry wine

While I do love the beach it is mountains and forests that make me feel most in tune. The cool air and lush vegetation fills my senses as I arrive at Cases a Gardenias guesthouse in the Montagne Bois Noir (Black Wood Mountain) region of Rodrigues island.

Marie-line guides me through her stylish garden past a koi fish pond and into her French colonial style home beyond. It is a surprise to discover such a European sophistication on this simple tropical island. Over a cup of tea and home made chocolate chip cookies Marie-line tells me that she and her husband Fernand lived in Bordeaux for 35 years before seeking out the stillness of Rodrigues. They brought along all of their favourite antique furniture and a whole lot of interesting travel stories to fill their extended home at Cases a Gardenias: "The extra rooms were for the children at first but I enjoy having a home full of people and they can't visit all year round. So we started a guesthouse and now Fernand is also building some villa style accommodation next to the main homestead."

Later, when Fernand gets home from the building site, Marie-line treats us to some raspberry wine. It's a perfectly sweet and subtly tangy aperitif. She made this herself, thanks to a science background and the interest she took in wine making during her time in Bordeaux: “All our friends had vineyards there and I took the time to experiment with different fruits in my cellar.”

In Rodrigues she has had success with making wines from tropical produce such as star fruit, tamarind and hibiscus and likes to experiment with anything that will grow abundantly in the rich volcanic soil around Cases a Gardenias. The raspberries are from her garden too. Fernand never knows what to expect next from his beautiful wife and it certainly keeps their relationship exciting and his taste buds tingling. Marie-line is also a bee keeper that markets her own honey as well as sweet and savoury preserves under the Marie Island Products label.

As night falls, the candles and lights in the garden turn the patio into a serene romantic space. While the warm night air certainly sets a tropical tone, this could be anywhere in the world. Elegant company, interior style and the promise of gastronomic excellence... Marie-line’s table d’hôte is well praised for incorporating local and European cooking styles and I am looking forward to trying it out.

“I will make, for instance, French pork rillette and add a bit of cinnamon; or make pain d'epice [spiced bread] the traditional way but adapt the recipe to include different spices. I also make a selection of preserves to use with foie gras, such as onion and dates from the garden.”

Dinner opens on a finely flavoured prawn broth which balances nicely with the main course of rich, creamy farm chicken served with perfectly al dente tagliatelle. The subtle French way of balancing flavours is evident and offers an exciting addition to the Rodriguan culinary scene. Marie-line and Fernand are also wonderfully warm hosts and I get the feeling of visiting family or old friends. Dessert is a slow cooked papaya crème brûlée, bowling me out with its utterly decadent fusion of French and tropical elements.

We stay around the dinner table chatting deep into the night over some coffee liquor, which, of course, Marie-line made herself, with local Rodriguan coffee beans. We talk about love, love and more love and they share a few secrets of how to make it last: "Number one rule: never take any problems to the bedroom," says Fernand, "number two: always light a candle and enjoy a glass of wine together at the dinner table."

After my fair share of raspberry wine and coffee liquor I vehemently agree with their sentiments that love is the only thing truly worth aspiring to. Only, while they stare admiringly into each others’ eyes, the chair next to me at the intimate 4-seater table is still free.

1 comment:

Hanli Langenhoven said...

Oh wow, sounds so romantic. Made me in the mood for a romantic holiday.