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As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine March/April 2001

Renting a Gîte: A Taste of Paradise in France

By Anne Woodyard

Romanesque church in the countryside of Beaujolais
A Romanesque church in the countryside of Beaujolais.

The millenial Beaujolais Nouveau wine is now a memory. But before it was released to the world on the third Thursday of November we enjoyed a sneak preview, straight from the harvest. The tiny area of Beaujolais, dense with charming villages and patterned with neat rows of vines, is easy to explore and tempts you to discover for yourself the home of this much-touted drink-it-early wine.

In the tiny town of Denicé, a few kilometers west of the Villefranche-sur-Saone exit on the A6, Bruno and Sylvaine Chevalier welcomed us to their charming chambre d’hôtes (bed and breakfast), part of Domaine de Pouilly-le-Chatel, the wine estate where Bruno’s family has been making Beaujolais for generations. Here Bruno almost single-handedly produces 50,000 bottles of Beaujolais. And across the lane from the winery in their farmhouse kitchen he proves he’s also a fine cook.

Each year Bruno brings home the first bottles from the press’s spigot, called Paradis, and uses it to prepare some of his special recipes. Our meal was truly “bon petits plats” (loosely translated: tasty dishes prepared just for you) as described in the Chevaliers’ entry on the Gites de France website. Each course was accompanied by a red or white Beaujolais from the Domain de Pouilly-le-Chatel.

As we ate, Bruno and Sylvaine answered our questions about their beautifully restored old farmhouse, and the making of Beau-jolais. They told of Bruno’s part in presenting each year’s product to the National Assembly in Paris, and they suggested villages to see while we were in the area.

Domaine de Pouilly-le-Chatel is in the southern end of Beaujolais. Although the most famous “cru” wine villages, are further north, the most picturesque villages are in the south. The area’s hills are covered in wave after wave of vineyards, impressive chateaux built by 17th century silk merchants from Lyon, and hamlets that have hardly changed appearance in hundreds of years. Almost everyone is involved either in the growing of grapes or making and selling of wine.

Ready to explore, we awoke to a bountiful breakfast served on a private terrace overlooking gardens and vines touched with the colors of fall. Bruno was in the winery cleaning the press that only days before had produced the Beaujolais Nouveau. In his rubber boots and long apron, he walked us through the process, which he learned from his ancestors, of getting the juice from grape to bottle. He works alone most of the year, from the pruning, harvesting, and pressing, to the bottling, corking, and labeling. The area of the ancient building where the labels are fixed to the corked bottles is the scene of the Chevalier’s annual Beaujolais Nouveau party, which always features an invited local artist as well as the star of the show, the wine.

The Chevaliers list of “don’t miss” villages took us first to the ancient town of Salles-Arbuissonais-en-Beaujolais. Through an impressive wrought-iron gateway we strolled into a quiet and spacious green surrounded by trees and handsome old town houses. A tall stone bell tower marked the way toward a quiet cloister, part of a centuries-old priory. The peaceful spot, overflowing with hydrangeas, was edged with beautifully carved arcades, an invitation to just relax and enjoy.

Driving from one village to the next, we’d often pull over and gape at the magnificent countryside filled with fabulous 360-degree vistas of chateaux, vineyards, tiny hamlets, and fortified farms of ruddy or golden stone.

Anne Woodyard writes from Herndon, VA.

Related Topics
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Living in France: Articles, Key Resources, and Websites
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Apartment Rentals in Europe
Slow Travel: Settle Down in a Temporary Home
Rent a Gîte in a Forgotten Region
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