France: A tour of the Beaujolais wine region

I spent a lovely day exploring the Beaujolais wine region during my recent trip to Lyon, in the Rhone department of France. Beaujolais is made up of picturesque rolling hills covered with vines and there are plenty of delightful caves for wine tasting.

People have been making wine here since Roman times and nowadays there are over 18,000 hectares of vines. My previous reference point for Beaujolais wine was based around the Only Fools and Horses television show and 1980s yuppies so I was delighted to ‘discover’ this unspoilt and attractive region with its light-bodied wines.

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If was very quickly added to my favourite regions of France, right up there with exquisite Menton, on the French Riviera.

The recommended place to start is Villefranche-sur-Saone, an attractive town with a tourist office that has plenty of information about Beaujolais in its Espace des Vins du Beaujolais. The staff were helpful but if you are pressed for time I’d just head straight into the countryside and follow my route.

Look out for the Beaujolais Wine Route signs along the roads and you won’t get lost, or at least not unpleasantly so…

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First stop was the village of Vaux-en-Beaujolais perched on a hillside above a patchwork of vineyards. La Cave de Clochemerle is a friendly introduction to Beaujolais wines. The gentleman here explained how they are only made from gamay and chardonnay grape varieties.

The wine is drunk fairly fresh and even the red wine is served at a cooler temperature (very pleasant on a hot summer’s day). It cost 4 euros for a tasting of four wines and this is refunded if you make a purchase.

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Outside the atmospheric cellar the colourful courtyard offers views as far as Mt Blanc – jutting up from the horizon like an enormous iceberg.

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Driving onwards we could see the Chateau de Montmelas sitting atop a hill looking like a pink Disney citadel. This stronghold dates from 1566 but you have to make an appointment to visit so we carried on.

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We had lunch at the next village – Le Perreon. This was an impulsive stop after spotting La Cloche restaurant as we drove past. Who could resist:

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Run by a franco-anglo couple, this is your perfect, friendly French restaurant with fabulous food made from local produce. I feel hungry just thinking about that meal even now, especially this pistachio-studded saucisson:

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A little more winding through gorgeous rural roads leads past many tiny wine producers offering tasting and sales. You start to get an idea of the richness of this region, with its 12 Appellation d’Origine Controllee wines.

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The Chateau de la Chaize is another wonderful stop, with its beautiful (private) chateau set in formal gardens and equally historic tasting cellar. Here you can taste the prestigious Beaujolais Cru wines.

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Next, head via Odenas up, up, up to the top of Mt Brouilly. From here you can see the whole Beaujolais region from a height of 485m. There is a chapel on the summit and if the weather is fine there are bound to be picnickers spreading their tables and deck chairs beneath the trees.

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The capital of the region used to be the village of Beaujeu and there are a number of producers here making excellent wines. The Caveau des Beaujolais-Villages near the town hall is the perfect stop as it has various local winemakers presenting their wares.

The final village in this day trip around Beaujolais is Morgon, yet another attractive golden-stone settlement. In the centre is the Caveau de Morgon, housed in the 17th-century château de Fontcrenne to taste some robust red wines.

From here it is a short distance back to the A6 autoroute, along which we whizzed back towards Lyon.

What a wonderful day trip in the Beaujolais wine region and a perfect way to spend a day in France!

By Natasha von Geldern

Have you visited Beaujolais? Do you have any recommendations?

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