Our Trip to the French Wine Region of Beaujolais

Our Trip to Beaujolais - Love & Lemons

In 2015, I had the amazing opportunity to visit vineyards all over the Rhone Valley. I loved every bit of it – the hilltop views, the lavender fields, the food, the wine (of course)… the only thing missing was my better half, Jack, who was stuck at work. This past fall we not only got to go to Beaujolais together, but it happened to fall on the week of our wedding anniversary. It was picture perfect, except the little mishap in the beginning where we missed our flight.

Oops.

We scrambled to get on a flight the next day, landed in Paris, ran to catch an Uber to make our train, and suddenly, after nearly 24 hours of not sleeping, we were here: Château du Moulin-à-Vent, the first stop of our Beaujolais experience. This chateau was like a picture out of an oil painting. It was dark and stormy outside, but we cozied up to the wine inside and breathed a big sigh of relief that we made it. Now I will breathe a sigh of relief, as Jack wanted to tell the rest of the story. Here he goes!

Our Trip to Beaujolais - Love & Lemons Our Trip to Beaujolais - Love & Lemons

Our first meeting with ​at Château du Moulin-à-Vent was the perfect way to start our trip. It was very emblematic of the Beaujolais region as a whole – the chateau was beautiful, steeped in tradition, and humble all the the same time. The current owner, greeted us with their wine and a few of the traditional foods and pastries of the region, including the pink pistachio pastries pictured above.

He was more than happy to tell us about the chateau, the windmill that the region was named for, and how they tend to the grapes. But he seemed most proud of various old artifacts from the chateau’s past. His family only recently bought the property, but he has been scouring ebay for old menus, invitation cards, and other pieces of the chateau’s past. It feels like everyone in this region seeks to maintain a connection to the past, even those who have only recently arrived.

Our Trip to Beaujolais - Love & Lemons Our Trip to Beaujolais - Love & Lemons Our Trip to Beaujolais - Love & Lemons

The next day, we were hosted by Jean-Luc Longère for a hike through his vineyards. We were in Beaujolais just after most growers had harvested their grapes, but there were still plenty on the vines, and we were able to try them. For some reason, I expected the grapes to be bitter, but they were delicious.

As we hiked, Jean-Luc pointed out his vines, and his friends’ vines as we just walked out in the open. Jeanine asked if his grapes were organic, to which he replied “well, yes, but not officially… I like to spend my time in the vines and not in the office doing paperwork.” Then he pointed out how his soil had grass growing through it and explained that many of the winemakers find that letting things like grass and other life into their soil is better than “dead” soil and pesticides. But again, the paperwork…

Our Trip to Beaujolais - Love & Lemons Our Trip to Beaujolais - Love & Lemons

We then arrived to something that seemed out of The Bachelor – a small table in the middle of the vineyard where we were to have lunch. He opened his backpack and out came wine and a picnic lunch prepared by his Michelin star chef friend Romain Barthe of Auberge de Clochemerle. While we were enjoying the food (including the one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had) and Jean-Luc’s wine, I jokingly asked if he could point out which grapes went into that bottle. Without missing a beat, he said “the ones about 5 meters behind you.” 

Note: if you come to Beaujolais, you must call up Jean-Luc and have this same hike and picnic experience. Call at least 3 days in advance to book it.

Our Trip to Beaujolais - Love & Lemons Our Trip to Beaujolais - Love & Lemons

The first few nights of our trip we stayed at the Château de Bellevue (pictured above – see more on instagram here), who both bottle their own wine and run a bed and breakfast.

Our Trip to Beaujolais - Love & Lemons

At every turn, each view looked like a postcard. We wandered through the above entryway, through Château Thivin, to emerge to this dreamy back yard view…

Our Trip to Beaujolais - Love & Lemons

Not bad, huh? Mont Brouilly is the largest hill in Beaujolais and the vineyards all around it in Côte de Brouilly gave us some of our most breathtaking vistas on the trip.

These sorts of views were always stunning, but never really got boring. Even though the region is relatively small with a shared history, I felt like everywhere we went was beautiful but distinct. In fact, that’s how their wine is – they have four completely different types of soil that yield very different wines, but largely one type of red wine grape – Gamay. It’s fascinating to see how one people, one grape, and one region can be both so alike and so different over the span of about 35 miles.

Our Trip to Beaujolais - Love & Lemons Our Trip to Beaujolais - Love & Lemons

This is Château Thivin, where we met Claude Geoffray, one of the nicest people I have ever met. He welcomed us into his home, where I got to hear wine singing for the first time.

What does this mean? He took me down into the cellar where I noticed a bunch of wine barrels, each with a single leaf placed on top. This piqued my interest – we had seen plenty of wine barrels on this trip, but none with leaves like this, so I asked him about it. Since the harvest had just happened, he had the wine in aging in barrels for a few weeks. He took the leaf off of a barrel and it was covering a hole. When I leaned over and listened inside, I could hear the wine bubbling. Aggressively, like a low hum. This was the wine singing, and I’d never heard anything like it. I asked why he put leaves on top, to which he said that’s what his father and their fathers did – they put a Gamay leaf over the hole. Does it do anything? Who knows, but they did that so he does that.

We all then sat, talked, thumbed through some old family photo albums, and admired the countryside. All while tasting his wine, of course.

Pictured above: The future Love and Lemons garden.

Everything in Beaujolais looks like a painting. This is the town of Oingt (pronounced wahnt, I think) in the Golden Stones region of Beaujolais. Remember how I said everything is distinct here? Well it’s true. It turns out that a lot of the stone and soil in certain parts of the region is gold-colored, so a few towns, like Oingt, are totally built out of it, and it’s beautiful.

We had a great lunch in town at La Table du Donjon. It’s a great way to end a stroll through the town and the restaurant has a stunning view.

The final night, we stayed at Château du Bagnols, which is an ancient castle on a hill that’s been renovated into a 5-star stunning boutique hotel. We had a fantastic dinner that night at their Michelin Star restaurant, 1217, where they must have known about my weakness for mushrooms, because I don’t think I’ve had a better mushroom tart. We wished we didn’t have to leave.

We finished the stay with a lovely walk on the grounds.

Also, in case you thought we only drank wine on the trip – we had plenty of pastries too. Breakfast of French champions.

Of course, our final morning, we just couldn’t get enough castle time, so we hit one more giant ancient castle, Chateau Montmelas (and one more 9:30am wine tasting!) before rushing off to the train station.

Beaujolais was an absolute dream. It’s small enough to be approachable, but distinct enough to never be boring. Nothing ever felt “touristy” and the people were so genuine and welcoming. The views are stunning, the people friendly, the food fantastic, and the wine is like nothing you’ve ever had before. Jeanine and I fell in love with the Gamay grape, and we recommend bringing an extra suitcase, as the wine is ridiculously affordable for how good it is.

We got to explore, eat, drink, learn about people, and see views that are as amazing as any view we’ve seen. We were welcomed into peoples’ homes with open arms, a sincere smile, and a bottle of wine. What’s better than that?

If you’re in Paris or Lyon for a bit and want to take a few days to relax with some of the nicest people on the planet, head on over. Or if you want to rent a car and take a week out to learn about a life you wish you could live, do that too. Either way, I’m sure we’ll be back one day, leaving with bags at least 8 bottles heavier than when we started.

Other favorite recommendations (not pictured):

Au 14 Février in Saint-Amour
Michelin Starred French-Japanese(!) restaurant – one of our favorite dinners of the trip!

Chataeu De Pizay
A hotel with a gorgeous garden that felt like a scene from Alice and Wonderland, wine tasting, and a fun interactive game to test your wine-tasting palate.

Domaine JG Chasselay
Inspiring tour and tasting with Clair Chasselay, an award winning female winemaker. I really wish we got better pictures, because she was a fantastic host and taught us a lot about the science behind the wine-making process.

Dinner at Calad’in Comptoir – Super nice owner, fantastic food, and just a great local spot.
+33 4 74 68 56 04

400 Route Nationale 6, La Chartonnière, 69400 Gleize

Domaine Jean-Jacques Paire
A fun wine museum with an amazing collection of bottle openers :). We loved our tasting with Jean-Jacques. Even though we thought we knew how to taste wine, we didn’t – but JJ was a great, funny teacher!

Special thanks to Atout FranceInter Beaujolais, Air France, and Rail Europe for sending us on this trip of a lifetime.

My Guide to the Rhone Valley, part II

My Guide to the Rhone Valley, part II

Last week, I spent six days in the Rhone Valley(!) The trip was so packed that I decided to break this into two posts. If you missed part one, click here. If you’re planning a trip to the south of France, I hope you find these posts helpful!

My Guide to the Rhone Valley, part II

Day 4:

After a lovely breakfast at Hotel de la Villeon, we headed to Maison Chapoutier which is a short walk from the hotel. This area, the northern part of the Rhone Valley, produces more complex wines that are less fruit-forward than the wines I tasted further south. Maison Chapoutier is a great place to taste a big variety. I also learned more about biodynamic wines and I found it fascinating how they use the moon as a guide to grow and harvest the grapes.

We then walked to the Valrhona Chocolate museum. If you’re traveling with kids, put this one on your list and come with a sweet tooth.

As if I hadn’t overindulged enough, we had a fancy lunch at Vineum Paul Aine Jaboulet. It was one of my favorite meals of the trip. We had the 3 course lunch menu with wine pairings – the one I loved most was the lemon curd & strawberry dessert pictured at the top of this post, although the menu changes based on the seasons.

After lunch came the vineyards of Domaine du Tunnel. This place was really different because their cellar is stored in an old train tunnel (hence the name). It was really neat to see. The cool, humid space is the perfect temperature to store wine barrels.

My Guide to the Rhone Valley, part II My Guide to the Rhone Valley, part II

Day 5

This was my favorite day of the trip. In the morning, we headed to Domain de la Croix Blanche and visited the vineyards (and a tour of the area which includes a massive scenic canyon area) in a vintage car.

I had a leisurely afternoon lunch with the family – they made homemade tapanade using olives from their olive tree, olive oil that they produce, and garlic and basil from their garden. They also served stuffed zucchini, meats, and cheeses. We sat outside for hours, eating fresh food and drinking amazing wine. Before we left, we strolled through Aigueze, which was named “Most beautiful village in France” in 2016:

My Guide to the Rhone Valley, part II

Before ending the day, we visited Laudun Chusclan Wineyards and drove to the top of their vineyards which was where I captured this amazing view (all photos are taken on my iPhone, btw):

My Guide to the Rhone Valley, part II

That night, I stayed at Domained des Clos, an 18th century wine estate that is now the most chic & peaceful boutique hotel. The grounds are so gorgeous and I loved my modern-provencial style apartment. I wanted to move in! I’ll definitely be coming back here with Jack one day.

My Guide to the Rhone Valley, part II My Guide to the Rhone Valley, part II

Day 6

The very last vineyard we visited was Château du Mourgues du Grès. We hiked to the top of the hill, tasted wine and ate peaches and plums from their nearby trees.

We ended the trip back in Avignon with a fancy lunch at L’Agape, which was another one of my favorites (be sure to make a reservation for lunch or dinner).

My Guide to the Rhone Valley, part II My Guide to the Rhone Valley, part II

Special thanks to Atout FranceAir France & Rail Europe for sending me & to my new friends at Inter Rhone for taking me around!

My Guide to the Rhone Valley – Part I

The Rhone Valley, France

Last week, I spent a whirlwind 6 days in the Rhone Valley. I loved meeting many of the winemakers, hearing their stories, walking through the vineyards, and driving to the tops of (so many) peaks. There was so much to see in addition to the wine – olive trees, lavender, cherry trees, apricot trees, wild vegetables, and herbs growing everywhere. It’s a heavenly place to visit if you love fruit, vegetables, and wines as much as I do.

All of the vineyards listed here are open daily for tasting. If you call in advance you can schedule a more personal tour or another activity (segway tour, picnic, etc). To get around in the Rhone Valley, I suggest you rent a car with a navigation system in Avignon.

The Rhone Valley, France The Rhone Valley, France

Day 1:

I spent the morning on my own in Avignon, after arriving on train from Paris the night before. It’s such a charming city that I had fun just wandering the streets. I walked through the Les Halles d’ Avignon covered market before heading to brunch at L’ Amuse-Bouche, a cute cafe that serves their food on shareable boards. I started my trip with croissants & chocolate mousse.

In the afternoon I took a tour of the Palais des Papes. I recommend getting the helpful audio guide, which is available in a few different languages.

The Rhone Valley, France The Rhone Valley, France

In the evening, my guide drove me to Domaine des Peyre in Luberon. It’s a gorgeous vineyard with 5 newly renovated apartment-style rooms and a beautiful infinity pool. I was surrounded by cherry trees, almond trees, and olive trees. My room had a view of the vines – it was basically heaven. We tasted the wines before the winemaker Patricia took me to her home for dinner where they served ratatouille – which I love – and apricot cheesecake with chocolate. I was pinching myself the entire time.

The Rhone Valley, France The Rhone Valley, France

Day 2:

We visited Domaine de la Citadelle in Menerbes. The winemaker took us through his corkscrew museum (with over 1200 unique types of corkscrews!) After that, we visited his gardens (hike up a little bit and the view is amazing) and tasted the wines.

I then went to Cafe Fleurs for lunch. It’s a lovely spot in the Isle sir la Sorge. Their menu changes seasonally – everything was delicious, especially the gazpacho with savory tomato sorbet. I skipped dessert but regretted it later when I took a photo of my guide Clemance’s cake (pictured above) with lemon curd and strawberries. After lunch, we walked around the town and visited some of the many antique stores.

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Later in the afternoon, we went to Vacqueyras to the Rhonea Winemakers club of Beames, Venise and Vacqueras wines. You can take a tour in a 4×4 of the nearby villages and vineyards (about 2 hours total). Because I’m a wimp, skipped that and drove straight to the top of Beaumes de Venise to taste the wines on top of the mountain.

The Rhone Valley, France The Rhone Valley, France

Day 3:

After spending the night in Vaison la Romaine, I woke up and visited the big street market that takes place every Tuesday morning during the summer. Whenever I travel, visiting markets is one of my FAVORITE things to do and this one didn’t disappoint. I took pictures of pretty vegetables and bought a few olive wood cutting boards.

The Rhone Valley, France DSC02944

We then drove to Domaine Rozel (one of my favorites). The family has been making wines for 22 generations! The winemaker Matthieu walked us through the vineyard showing us the farmhouse where he grew up as well as the lavender field, olive trees, wild asparagus, wild fennel, and wild honeysuckle. We were supposed cover this ground on Segways – but alas, I’m still a wimp, so we walked. Afterward we tasted wines – I especially loved their rose.

We had lunch at a cute cafe in the village of Valaurie. (I can’t remember the name, but it was the only cafe you see see walking up to the village – pictured below).

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After lunch, we had a tour of Suze la Rousse, a medieval chateaux which is now a wine museum and also a wine university. The photo below is the view from the castle. Driving in this area was one of my favorite parts of the trip because there are lavender fields everywhere.

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Later that night, we drove further north to Tournon-sur-Rhône and stayed at Hotel de la Villeon which I LOVED. It’s a very very nice boutique hotel in an 18th century building that was recently renovated. My room had a view of a castle, and we had dinner outside in the garden. They had a lovely breakfast in the morning too.

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Stay tuned for more!

Special thanks to Atout France & Air France for sending me & to my new friends at Inter Rhone for taking me around!

hello from France!

Rhone Valley France / Love & Lemons Rhone Valley France / Love & Lemons

Hello from France!

This past week, I’ve been in the Rhone Valley touring vineyards, tasting wine, taking in amazing views and of course eating great food. I’ll be back later this week with a new recipe, but for now here are some photos from my trip – of course, follow along on Instagram to see more!

Au Revoir!

Rhone Valley France / Love & Lemons

Special thanks to Atout France & Air France for sending me & for my new friends at Inter Rhone for taking me around!