French Connection


 An account of time we regularly spend in and around Mâcon published in Practical Caravan entitled "French connection" January 2011


Like many others we used to regarded the Mâcon area of Southern Burgundy as merely a useful night halt, a couple of days drive from the channel ports and a day north from the south coast, but now we stay a few days every year en route to and from the Mediterranean.

We became firm fans after drifting into the Mâcon tent at our local agricultural show. Mâcon is twinned with Crewe where we live, we have no idea why as the towns seem to have nothing at all in common, but the generous helpings of excellent wines and well aged goat cheese caused us to linger and then make a mental note to look closer at the town next time we passed that way.

 

Being at a natural crossroad from Northern France, Germany, Holland and Switzerland, Mâcon's municipal site is a very popular transit site being adjacent to the N6 and close to autoroute junctions. There is a large influx each night and an equally large departure the following morning, but it's well worth staying a bit longer to take a closer look at a very attractive area.  It's a large site that shouldn't be full except in the high season and even then there should be room if arriving early.  The site has a restaurant and take-away and there is a hypermarket in walking distance.

 

 
   


Pitches at the lower end of the site look across a meadow to the river Saône where quite often the cruise ships that explore the Saône and Rhone pass by. The Quay Lamartine opposite the Hotel de Ville provides a berth for these large ships and is also the site of the Saturday markets and Sunday "Flea Markets". There is a large underground car park beneath the quay but from the site it is just as easy to take a short cycle ride or walk along the banks of the River Saône.

 
   




Quai Lamartine - river cruisers dock




Even for a short stay there are one or two "must see" visits nearby, 9 km to the east is the village of Solutré-Pouilly set amongst the vineyards that produce the well known Pouilly-Fuisse wines and overlooked by the dramatic limestone escarpment known as Roche de Solutré

This is one of the most important Stone Age sites in Europe, at the base of the rock, bones of thousands of horse and reindeer have been found along with the stone tools used to kill and butcher them. It used to be thought hunters drove their prey off the cliff to kill them as was practiced elsewhere in the world but it is now thought that the lie of the landscape channelled migrating herds into the valley and the awaiting hunters and that life continued here like this for around 25000 years. It is now a national monument and has a museum of the artefacts found there. Even if not visiting the museum a gentle footpath from the car park to the summit is well worth following for the panoramic views of the surrounding country..

 

A day exploring the signposted Mâconaise-Beaujolais wine road will take in village after village with names better known from wine labels and present lots of opportunities to taste and buy direct from the producers.With UK tax adding at least £1.30 to a bottle, buying in France will always be cheaper than the same bottle at home but since we are transporting it five or six hundred miles it seems pointless bringing back plonk.  Spend roughly the same as UK supermarket price and you will be getting something much nicer. We particularly like this area as even the best wines are not "eye watering" prices and there is good value at the lower end of the list unlike famous areas such as Bordeaux where the big names seem to inflate the prices of everything and the cheapest can be pretty nasty.

 

As usual in wine producing areas the narrow lanes around the vineyards are lined with notices inviting one to visit the "Château" (often a fairly ordinary looking bungalow) for "Degustation" but on the odd occasion we tried it, we didn't greatly enjoy the experience, it felt a little intimidating having the producer stand over us whilst we tried his wares and feeling obliged to either buy at least a case or tell him we didn't like it.




However there is none of this at the cooperative caves, these are as the name suggests, wine producers owned and operated by their members who grow the grapes.  The full range is on offer to taste without obligation or minimum purchases and we have found staff most helpful and even occasionally English speaking

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                             Juliénas Co-op


Through this area there are quite a few co-ops to choose from, located usually in the village bearing the varieties name such as Fleurie, Chénas, Juliénas etc.

By trial and error, considerations of distance and opening hours we have narrowed our visits down to two or three of the villages for Beaujolais Red; and for Mâcon white, one or two to the north of the town where they mainly concentrate on Chardonnay.

 


                       Chénas Co-op


With some of the villages a bit off the beaten track, its worth checking opening hours with tourist information or the internet before setting out, as is usual in France they may be closed on Monday (or another day) and of course there is always the long lunchtime closing to catch you out.

 This link from the Tourist Office Site has Information on wine producers, opening hours, how to find them and their particular varieties.

http://www. Mâcon -tourism.com/uk/gastro-cellars.php




 
 
 Tasting at Georges Dubœuf

In addition to the Co-ops, anyone who has even a passing interest in wine should visit the premises of the man regarded as the "Father" of the Beaujolais brand, Georges Dubœuf.  The Hameau du Vin at Romanèche Thorins on the N6 10 miles south of Mâcon has a visitor centre but we pass on this to concentrate on the boutique (i.e. supermarket) at the rear. This is a wine shop like no other, with free tasting and advice from English speaking staff, again with no obligation or minimum purchase.


Cost and weight rather than customs allowances limit how much can be brought back. Even one person's nominal allowance of 90 litres (120 bottles) weighs over 100kg and to avoid overloading the van we try to use spare payload capacity of the car before loading any in the van and then spread the weight evenly around the axle if possible. 


The couple of days of our homeward journey spent revisiting our favourite caves, accumulating our stock (and getting our loyalty cards stamped) is something we look forward to each year and when we open a bottle in the winter months, the pleasure of re-living days around the vineyards is priceless.

 






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