I was very fortunate this year to be invited to a wine trip in the region of Beaujolais. I know what you’re thinking, I had never heard of it either. Located just slightly south of Burgundy, and north of Lyon (the closest airport) it is a wine region in France.
Located in Vonnas, we stayed in a Relais Chateau hotel called du Bois Blanc, part of the Georges Blanc gourmet village built on the river bank. In this village, there are hotels, a spa, cafes, shops and the infamous Georges Blanc 3 Michelin Star restaurant. As you drive up to the hotel, you approach a manor that looks Italian crossed with a French Riverara feel. It was quintessentially French, in an orange and yellow colour. On arrival we were greeted by receptionist who checked us in and then quickly disappeared. We soon found out that in fact the hotel is normally closed on Mondays and Tuesday and that they opened especially for us. The rooms we were staying in were in fact not based in the main building, instead we were staying in these four red colour chalets located around an outdoor pool within the grounds.
The rooms themselves were modern, spacious and very very red. Yes red. I normally find this colour incredibly tacky in hotels however Georges gets it right. Red is everywhere, in the bathroom, in the robes, the slippers, the guest book. Having the outdoor pool so close was a luxury. Within a 40 second walk from your room you could take a dip in the pool at ease.
Breakfast at the hotel was served each morning in the main building. Inside, the décor felt like you walked into an Italian home with painted alfresco style walls and a very lived in vibe. The breakfast was small but served very traditional French cuisine, by this I mean a lot of patisserie and so much chocolate. We even could have a chocolate tart for breakfast if we wished to.
Our first stop was lunch at the L’Ancienne Auberge restaurant. This restaurant was rustic in design, as though you stepped straight in to the 1900’s, the look achieved is a converted horse barn with hay mangers still on the walls. Checked napkins and authentic artefacts and artwork all around give a timely feel.
The frustrating thing about visiting a more traditional part of France is that they do not understand (or like) vegetarians. Each time I informed them of my dietary needs, I got one reply… ‘legumes’ or vegetables in English. This meant that this meal and every meal that followed on this trip was predominantly vegetables. The best part of the meal was the dessert, a chocolate pudding. Thank god they love their chocolate pudding in France otherwise I would be wasting away!
The first evening was spent dining at the same restaurant we had lunch at. We made the mistake of going there for lunch and didn’t know we would be here again! This could only mean more legumes. Luckily I managed to wangle a bowl of plain rice. It was a great evening and a great experience with lots of food and wine.
The second day was the start of the official wine tours. Our first visit was to Domaine Liquet. A 6 generation vineyard and distillery. Set in the centre of the historical village of Fuisse, the Domaine produces delicious white Burgundy (called Pouilly-Fuisse).
After the tour, we gathered together in their wine tasting cellar and sampled a many of their wines over the various years that have been made. There were a lot of wines but fortunately they gave us bread during each sip to keep us sane!
For lunch we made our way to this idyllic location called the Chateau de la Barge, a 17thcentury 4* chateau in Burgundy. We sat outside in the terraced area, under a beautiful canopy. It felt as though we were in the French Rivera. The sun was shining. My main course was exceptionally colourful with purple potato and saffron rice. Delicious. What was even tastier was the dessert. Yes you guessed it. It was chocolate although I have forgotten what exactly it was. The afternoon was so relaxed and the wine just kept coming.
The afternoon took us to our next wine tasting. This was not booked as part of our itinerary but was highly requested by many people in the group. Henry Fessy is known for its moustache logo and for its production of the Beaujolais Crus. Located in Brouilly, Henry Vessy are owners of many vineyards and are very popular producers in the UK. After a tour of the vineyard, we proceeded to a tasting room where we sampled a number of their wines. Yes by this point I can safely say I was tipsy.
The evening was spent at a modernised traditional French brasserie in Bourg-en-Bresse called Brasserie Le Francais. This has the feel of Balthazar in London, and was exceptionally busy. The ambience was modernised and vibrant, and the food was traditional French, offering the likes of Frogs legs and Escargot (not for me). You guessed it, more wine.
The third day began at Chateau Thivin in Manoir du Pavie. This was a unique tour, offering the chance to see cellars that dated back to 1383. The date is still seen above the door to the cellar. Their wine, the Cote de Brouilly was some of the best wine that I had tasted on this trip, in particular the 2016. We tried various ages at the tasting, had a selection of breads and meats to nibble on and were even fortunate enough to have them open a bottle from 1980 to allow us to try. That is a wine that is almost 30 years old.
During the day we went for a walk around the grounds which included a lake and a pond, an jet also sat on the lawn.
The last evening was the night where we were going to dine at a 3 michilin star restaurant, Restaurant Georges Blanc. Based within the gourmet village where we are staying we didn’t have far to go. On arrival we were taken to the Les Halles, which was an outside hall with curtains for walls where we were having pre drinks. It gave us time to enjoy the warmth outside and to look around the grounds of the village. Dinner was an exceptional experience. This is my first time eating in a traditional 3 michilin star restaurant where the service was exceptional and the price were high. The best thing about dining at a restaurant such as this, they are traditional and the ladies are always served first. It also meant I was first up at the cheese board which filled me with dread. The meal consisted of a starter, a main, a cheese course, a pre dessert, dessert and then canapes and coffee. It was an exceptional experience I will never forget.
On the last day, we spent it just driving around Beaujolais, looking for a viewpoint to get some pictures. We finally came across mountain hike, and nstead of following the path like you should do, we went the wrong way and ended up crossing downed fences. We ended up walking though a tree covered path where hundreds of caterpillars hung down like Christmas decorations, it was horrid trying to fight them off.
We made it to the top, in the wrong shoes, and got some fantastic views of all the vineyards around Beaujolais.
Also on the drive we made a quick pit stop in the small village of Saint Amore, supposedly all to do with love. There were a lot of love hearts around and restaurants all pointing to that theme.