There is no substitute for experience when it comes to being able to offer good advice about campervan trips to our clients, so we at France Motorhome Hire like to practice what we preach from time to time and take a trip with friends to explore new areas of France.
One of our favorite excuses for a campervan trip is a wine buying mission – which we do at least once a year with some close friends who own an up-market charter-boat in northern Burgundy. Last year we visited Bordeaux so that they could restock their cellars with the finest wines from that region but this year we wanted to try a region even closer to home so picked upon Southern Burgundy, exploring the Maçonnais and Beaujolais regions with a few stops in the Côte Chalonnaise en-route.
The famous Burgundy wine region starts an hour’s drive from home and yet it could be thousands of kilometers away in terms of architecture, heritage and customs, cuisine and the style of the wines. It never ceases to amaze us just how diverse a country France is and how much there is to see so close to home.
We know the northern Burgundy wine region very well so in our quest to discover a new new area, an easy drive away, the southern Burgundy region ticked a lot of boxes.
Our November trip took the four of us (driving two 2/4 berth “SKY 20” motorhomes) via the famous Burgundian towns of Auxerre and Beaune into the heart of the “Cote Maconnais” regions, just 250kms south of Paris. Here we found a wine history which is more complex and far more extensive than our wine knowledge had led us to imagine.
It would be possible to spend many days, weeks or even months roaming around this area visiting and tasting at the thousands of individual “vignerons” or winemakers, let alone the time you could spend at glorious chateaux, churches and at any of the famous regional markets.
Even the truly hardened wine buyer has to take time off occasionally and with so much else to see and do, in a week long trip we were never even close to running out of options to include in our daily schedule.
Motor-homing in this part of France outside of the traditional tourist season can be a little more challenging if you want to stay on campsites but with the independence a campervan brings, finding great places to park for a night or two is never a problem. On this trip we took full advantage of membership of France Passion (all France Motorhome Hire motorhomes come with free membership of this great scheme where you can stay for free at winemakers, farms, tourist attractions etc, see www.france-passion.com for details).
Each of the sites we stayed on for free welcomed us with open arms as if they were missing the passing traffic they see in the summer! Happily, all the facilities they offer are still available even in the off-season months so we were able to service the motorhomes and refill water tanks etc. whenever we needed to.
On a couple of occasions we wanted to sample particular restaurants but couldn’t find campsites nearby so we did the obvious thing – we simply parked nearby in a quiet market square (or for one night, in the grounds of a medieval church). France really has a live-and-let-live attitude to motorhomes, especially outside of the main summer months so it never feels wrong to park wherever the mood takes you.
One highlight of this year’s wine trip was a visit to a private chateau estate whose wines were specifically recommended in a well known guide book. We made arrangements in advance to visit the chateau winery mid-afternoon thinking that we would leave afterwards (probably having purchased the odd bottle) but as soon as we arrived, it was obvious this would be an idyllic spot to spend the night. When we arrived, we met the owner who immediately offered us a parking spot for the night, right in the chateau grounds before taking us on an incredible voyage of wine-discovery in the chateau cellar.
Dinner that evening was a typically campervan-style choice of the things we love to eat (Beef Bourgignonne purchased form a local “Traiteur with mashed potatoes, local Epoisse cheese and a stunning Apricot Tarte with crème fraiche that we picked up from the “Boulangerie” when we bought our lunchtime bread) accompanied by a delicious wine that none of us had even heard of, let alone tasted – and bought direct from the winemaker himself.
The following morning we were woken by a particularly vocal Donkey in a nearby field to glorious sunny views from our private campsite spot. The sun rising over the fog-shrouded chateau vineyards with not a soul in sight (let alone any passing traffic) absolutely typifies the natural beauty of this region and the exceptional experiences which can be enjoyed in a motorhome. We left with 16 cases of wine between us (most of it for our friend’s charter-boat, of course!).
On this trip we travelled south from Beaune then followed the well-documented (and clearly signposted) “Route de Vins” through the Maconnais and Beaujolais regions, almost to Lyon.
The famous names just kept on coming; Givry, Mercurey, Rully, Bouzeron, Pouilly-Fuissé, St Veran, Fleurie, Morgon, Brouilly, Viré-Clessé, Macon-Villages – a selection which would do any Michelin-Starred restaurant wine list justice.
The “Route Des Vins” not only takes in the best the wine producers but also passes many other highlights of the region as it winds its way through spectacular countryside with vineyards, chateaux and medieval towns at every turn.
As always in France, one of the best sources of information and inspiration for a motorhome trip comes from the “Office de Tourisme” (the nationwide government sponsored Tourist Information service) who will provide maps, guides and information about individual tourist attractions anywhere in a particular region. The headquarters of the Burgundy region is in Dijon, see http://www.visitdijon.com/en/
The wine trail is a well-documented subject too. Here is the “Route de Vins” we loosely followed:
http://www.route-vins.com/ (Maconnais and Beaujolais routes)
Each wine region has it’s own routes to offer so if you are planning on taking in other regions just visit the website of the Office de Tourisme or Wine Marketing Board for that region and you’ll find the routes. Some tourism sites also offer heritage trails too so if you would like a bit of contrast (and the odd day off from wine tasting!) request the alternatives too and you will finish up with a wealth of information and places to choose from.
Our recent motorhome trip took us to parts of France which, although not far from major routes and cities, for us typify all the reasons not to simply head for the major tourist hotspots by following the Autoroutes. Our route was shorter (and involved a lot less driving!), cheaper (we stayed at free camping spots throughout and avoided Autoroute tolls by sticking to smaller roads) and we met truly charming and engaging local folk who happily taught us a great deal about the true culture of this area.
And, since on this trip, we only covered a small percentage of the fabulous French countryside, we have plenty of ideas left for future trips!
To see some of the other highlights of our trip, have a look at the following websites:
Beaune; considered the wine capital of France: http://www.beaune-tourism.com/
The Romanesque Abbey at Cluny: http://www.burgundy-tourism.com/unmissable-sights/sites/abbey-church-of-cluny-INCONBOU000V500221
Chalon Sur Soane (a vibrant river side city divided in two by the fast flowing reaches of the River Saone): http://www.achalon.com/
The “Roche de Solutre”: http://www.france-voyage.com/travel-guide/roche-solutre-limestone-escarpment-1218.htm
Here is the address and phone number of the chateau where we visited and stayed the night: Chateau de la Bruyere, 71760, Igé, France. Tel: 03 85 33 30 72.