|The market at Villefranche-sur-Soane|
Our whistle stop tour of the wine regions of Italy and France would not have been complete without a soujourn in proximity to France’s oft cited “gastronomic capital”, Lyon.
Just north of Lyon, the Beaujolais countryside is a pretty patchwork of amber and red vines, green woodlands, rivers, lakes and windy trails of neat, sandstone villages and grand chateaux. It has a totally different character to the high, rolling hills of Piedmont and the crumbling stone walls we would later discover in Bordeaux. The call of the famous Lyonnaise bouchons, cheese, charcuterie and Bresse chickens beckoned.
Our favourite traditional bouchon was L’Epicerie (recommended by our hosts) in the nearby town of Villefranche-sur-Soane. An easy going, lovely pot of Beaujolais Village will set you back a whole €4 as you soak up the character and charm of the bouchon, with its wooden décor, a clutter of pictures and posters on the walls and a menu filled with piggy and other meaty delights from charcuterie to boudin noir, to huge chickens and andouillette, to layer upon layer of cheesy gratin, quenelles and oozy cheeses.
|Quenelles at L'Epicerie|
As we explored the villages, we stopped for massive salad – a whole lettuce with bacon, poached egg and crispy croutons at Du Bouchon Beaujolais in Vaux-on-Beaujolais. The atmosphere is odd – dimly lit with music clips blaring from a TV screen in the corner – but the big plates of hearty, traditional fare are good.
We also tried Michelin Star chef George Blancs’s casual restaurant, Embarcadere, in Jassans Riottiere. Service is as you would expect in a fine dining establishment, but our food was disappointing – my beef was chewy and lacking in flavour (not a patch on the steaks we’d had at the agriturismo Ulivi in Italy a few days earlier) and despite packing some good flavour, for its hefty price tag TPG’s Bresse chicken breast was tiny compared to the size of the Bresse chickens we’d seen at the local market earlier that day, and compared to the fabulous meaty chickens of at least equal quality we’d already sampled for far less money on the trip. We could have eaten better for less elsewhere. Don’t bother with this one.
By the time we reached Lyon, we were almost all sausaged out but if you do want to eat in a bouchon there book well in advance and you might like to try Le Garet and Le Café Federations (recommended by Eat Like a Girl), Chez Georges, the huge Brasserie Georges, 2* Le Bec or L'Ourson Qui Boit. But in the end we stumbled fatefully across the fabulous little Bistro Au Bon Temps – which just hit the spot. Cosy, poky and charming, it was the perfect setting for our post shopping recuperation over a calamari and tomato salad, an endive salad, TPG's creamy chicken and my braised duck and lentils, finished off with an oozy St Marcellin cheese.
Another good stop is the large Saturday morning market at Villefranche-sur-Soane where you can pick up local cheeses, charcuterie and baked items, while browsing the rows of giant, colourful vegetables, Bresse Chickens, ducks and other temptations.
This is clearly not an area to diet (although I did manage a run through the vines one morning, inspired by the hordes training for the local marathon). A lovely area to visit – and you might like to time your trip with the Beaujolais Nouveau festival, for the first release of wines in mid November each year.
Where to stay:
|The welcoming view of Chateau de Longsard|
We arrived after the long drive (and several painful road tolls) from Barolo, carving our way through the stunning French Alps, to the welcome and impressive sight of Chateau de Longsard, just outside Villefranche-sur-Soane.
|Our spacious room with views over the gardens|
Owned by the Count and Countess Olivier du Mesnil du Buisson, the chateau has a long history, dating from the 16th century. There are 3 spacious rooms like ours in the main chateau, although with the restored coachhouse, the property sleeps 36. The grounds are beautiful – I felt very Pride & Prej as I kicked back with a book by the window overlooking the French gardens with manicured box hedges, leading onto English style country gardens then onto the vineyards beyond. You can also take a turn around the property, past 250 year old cedars, lime tree alleys and an Egyptian obelisk given to previous owners in 1892.
|The view from my armchair|
Our room fast became my happy place, with its soaring ceilings, ornate fire place, comfy armchairs, beautiful views, 4 poster bed, gorgeous white bathroom (complete with spacious bathtub) and a mixture of antique and modern furnishings.
|Beautiful, old dictionaries|
After waking from a replenishing sleep under the 18th century wooden beams, our hosts, the Count and Countess – Olivier and Alex - had prepared a scrumptious breakfast of fresh croissants and bread, fruit, Alex’s lovely home made jams, cereals, yoghurt, local hams and cheeses, OJ and a hot pot of coffee timed for our wake up. Although they have lived in the area for 20 years, Alex and Olivier are well travelled and relics from their many years abroad add interest and character to the traditional chateau.
|The breakfast room|
|Antiques and relics from abroad, |
by the fire in the drawing room
This is a really special place to stay, with its own small winery, and not only is it just 20 minutes from the bouchons of Lyon, but it’s right in the middle of the sleepy Beaujolais villages where your food and wine explorations can begin.
To get there:
We drove cross country, but you could fly or take the train from Lyon and then take the short drive to Chateau de Longsard and the Beaujolais villages from there.
Chateau de Longsard, 4060 route de Longsard, 69400 Arnas, Tel: (33) 474 655 512, www.longsard.com
Greedy Diva was a guest of Chateau de Longsard. Rates start at €130 per night, including breakfast.