To the Rhone by rail – ponderings on a 4 day break around Beaujolais and the northern Rhone

After a leisurely departure by Eurostar from London and an onward TGV from Paris, we arrived into Lyon by mid-afternoon giving plenty of time to explore the historic quarters of Lyon. For our first dinner, it was obligatory to sample a Lyonaise bouchon, where the chefs continue to create traditional dishes including pig’s cheek, veal head and of course the Andouillette (tripe sausage). Whilst this is not my preferred dining fare, it is always interesting to taste the classic local cuisine.

The next morning started with a trip to Les Halles Paul Bocuse, Lyon’s famous covered market, inspired by Lyon’s most famous chef. The range of foods on offer were simply staggering and the presentation at every stall was a sight to behold. After sampling cheeses from a prize winning cheese refiner, famous Lyonaise charcuteries and a delicious selection of sweet treats, it was time to move on to the wonderful Café Terroir, a recently opened restaurant cooking only products from the Auvergne Rhone Alpes region. The sparkling pink Beaujolais was a very welcome aperitif to start the meal!

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After lunch, we left Lyon behind and headed into the vineyards of Beaujolais, conveniently located just an hour from Lyon. We enjoyed a tour of the vaulted cellars at Chateau de la Chaize followed by a tasting of their fantastic Brouilly wines. Before we left, there was just time to enjoy a visit to the landscaped gardens where the Marquise continues to work and oversee all of the additional works done on her behalf. Just a few miles from the chateau, the intriguing Beaujolais Geo Park can be found. This new project highlights the varied geology of the region and provides a framework to understand the influence of the different soils on the local wines.

Dinner for the day was served in the brasserie Le Belooga, in Villefranche sue Saone. Whilst the town and hotel can be bettered locally, the food in the restaurant was stunning. Both the presentation and flavours of every dish offered by the chef Hervé Raphanel were outstanding and come highly recommended.

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The following day, wine tasting continued in earnest with a visit to a smaller domain just outside Denicé where we sampled a range of Beaujolais of all colours (white, rosé and red).

However Beaujolais is more than just the crus of the northern half, and as we had learned the previous day, the southern section of the region is characterised by the famous ‘golden stones’. This rich yellow limestone has been used to construct almost all of the buildings in the villages to the south of Beaujolais, and some of these villages are truly beautiful. After a short stop to explore the village of Oingt (classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France), we arrived at the breath-taking Chateau de Bagnols for lunch. We were quickly learning that it Is not for no reason that this region is known as the gastronomic capital of France and lunch did not disappoint. Our only sadness was that we couldn’t rest a while longer by the pool side in the September sun before our onward journey.

The afternoon found us dozing as we passed back through Lyon en-route to the vineyards of the Northern Rhone and the home of Syrah. Upon arrival in Tournon-sur-Rhone, we dropped luggage at the delightful boutique Hotel de la Villeon and set out on foot for the slopes overlooking the river and the world famous hillside and vineyards of Hermitage. Once up above the village, Marie-Josée opened some of the great wines for us to toast the views and start to understand the local Viognier and Syrah varieties.

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With an hour to spare before dinner, we hot-footed it across the Rhone to the Cité du Chocolat – the delightful museum and factory outlet shop owned by Valrhona. In addition to seeing and understanding the chocolate making process, we had the opportunity to sample from over 40 different types of chocolate. This is probably as close as most of us will get to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory!

Not that we were overly hungry, but feeling that we had a duty to ensure that the food of the Ardeche is as good as the food of the Rhone department to the north, we headed out for dinner to the highly regarded Comako restaurant where we were, again, well looked after and very well fed.

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Our final day in the region started with a trip around the vineyards of the Hermitage appellation by tourist train (the less said about this, the better); however the views and the opportunity to see the almost ripe vines made it worthwhile. The vineyard tour was followed by a chance to visit one of the large wine making co-operatives in the centre of the town of Tain to see the full wine making process and appreciate the scale of production. Of course, no visit is complete without tastings, so we headed back into the vineyards for tastings of a selection of wines from Crozes Hermitage, Saint Joseph, Cornas and Hermitage accompanied by a light lunch (and, of course, more great views).

Finally, feeling that we wouldn’t need to eat again until next year, we made our way back to Valence TGV station for the 13.41 train which, after a change in Lille, brought us back to London at 19.39. After four action packed days, I can truly say that the wines, gastronomy and scenery of the Rhone-Alpes region have won my heart.

Viva La Vinotherapy!

We love wine. And we love to be pampered. So as you can imagine, the emerging concept of “vinotherapy” wine spa experiences has truly had us reaching for our fluffy robes and racing full pelt to the vineyards! So what […]