Whether you are picking up wine from one of our vineyards, or simply planning a quick spring getaway in France, it’s the perfect opportunity to enjoy a detour to some of the fabulous cities and towns close by. Travel writer and best-selling author Janine Marsh shares some of her favourite spring visits with us…
Alsace in the north east of France takes in pine-clad forests, the Vosges Mountains and fairy-tale-like hamlets. Discover vineyards in the enchanting villages of Turckheim and Eguisheim, and be spoiled for a choice of beautiful sights. Eguisheim is the birthplace of wine making in Alsace and its pointy roofed buildings, dripping with colourful flower displays make it officially one of the most beautiful villages in France. If you happen to be there at Easter you’ll see that all the houses are decorated with baskets, colourful eggs and chicks! And don’t forget to look for storks – there are six nests on the rooftops of Turckheim!
A short detour to the old town of Colmar, the capital of Alsatian wine, is a must for a bit of history, culture, gastronomy and sheer loveliness. Half-timbered houses, Renaissance buildings and Gothic churches line the cobble stone streets. This is the perfect place to visit a Winstub – an Alsatian wine bar. Brenner (1 rue Turenne) serves a traditional menu and has a charming terrace which opens in spring and overlooks the canal known locally as Little Venice, where you can also take a boat ride.
Close to 3D Wines’ Beaujolais vineyards, Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France so when it comes to eating out the only challenge is – which restaurant to choose. In the old town go for a Bouchon Lyonnais, the traditional restaurants which are easily distinguishable by their red and white check table clothes.
Burn off the calories with a leisurely spring bike ride. You can hire a Velo’V City Bike. There are hundreds of bike stations in Lyon, the first 30 minutes of use on each new trip are free. If you want something a little more relaxing, hire an electric bike from the tourist office.
Chill with a picnic in the sun at Le Parc de la Tête d’Or which is home to the largest botanical garden in France, and don’t forget to pack an intoxicating chocolate cake from the legendary patisserie Bernachon (42 Cours Franklin Roosevelt).
In spring the town starts to come to life after its winter slumber. The cultural landscape and vineyards of the area have UNESCO World Heritage Site status, and it’s no wonder more than a million tourists visit each year. In spring though, the town is tranquil, and its maze of wiggly stone streets are peaceful. Quaint squares, flower-laden terraces and medieval houses vie for your attention. Climb the 118 steps of the Roman Tour du Roy for magnificent views over the city then sit and watch the world go by with a glass of local wine from a terraced café to create magical memories.
Don’t miss the chance to sample a sublime Saint-Emilion macaron from the shop of the same name. They are made to a secret 17th century recipe which has been passed down through the generations (9 Rue Guadet).
Beaune is the unofficial wine capital of Burgundy where 3D Wines has several vineyards. It’s a small town and easy to get around and there’s plenty to see and do.
An absolute must-see is the Musée de l’Hotel-Dieu, also known as the Hospices de Beaune. Built in 1442, the spring sun reflecting off the famous glazed tile roof is a mesmerising sight. There are fabulous works of art and an ancient interior complete with hospital beds showing what this in-its-day state of the art hospital looked like, simply stunning.
Burgundy cuisine is world famous and in Beaune you’ll find restaurants that are so good, you won’t want to leave. A short walk from the Musée de l’Hotel Dieu is the small and authentic bistro Ma Cuisine (Passage Saint-Hélène). The locals love it for its traditional dishes and a seriously impressive wine list that features 850 different bottles. Book a table in advance if you can because Ma Cuisine is very popular, and you don’t want to miss the chance to experience classic Burgundian cooking at its best (and that monumental wine list!).
With 3D vineyards close to Epernay, known as the capital of Champagne the drink, and to Reims, the capital of Champagne the region, the only difficulty is which of these cities to visit. But why choose – visit both!
UNESCO heritage sites abound in Reims, perhaps the most well-known is the iconic Cathedral of Notre Dame. 25 Kings were crowned in the Cathedral, one of the most famous being Charles VII in 1429, accompanied by Joan of Arc. This is a great city to see the sights – from the remains of Roman life to Champagne cellars galore. Enjoy lunch at the Café du Palais, a 4th generation family run restaurant that has been pleasing punters since 1930. Dishes pair perfectly with bubbles of course. The 3 course menu €39.00 includes a glass of Champagne. (14, Place Myron Herrick).
When you go to Epernay you have to take a stroll down the world-famous Avenue de Champagne. You can ogle at the famous names and beautiful buildings of the Champagne domaines that line this long road. Take a tour with greeters.com, an initiative in which local people, passionate about the area where they live, share their local knowledge with visitors. It’s free of charge and you’ll get a real insider’s view of effervescent Epernay.
The Loire Valley is made up of orchards, vineyards and farmlands, châteaux and picturesque villages. In spring the fruit trees burst into colour and so do the châteaux gardens. Intoxicating detours are plentiful in this region but not to be missed are these three historic towns:
Angers: Lively, buzzing and festive, this remarkably compact city is one of the greenest in France. The massive Chateau d’Angers, a Plantaganet stronghold, is home to a unique masterpiece: the 14th century Tapestry of the Apocalypse. Just as extraordinary, Le Chant du Monde, a series of ten tapestries is housed at the Gothic Hopital Saint-Jean close by. Wine lovers will enjoy the smallest vineyard in Angers, within the castle walls.
Tours: The city makes for a great base for touring the Loire. Place Plumereau is perfect for an aperitif, in fact it was once voted the square most loved by the French for just that reason! Lined with half-timbered buildings of the 15th century with plenty of lively bars, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. There are several cultural venues in the town including the fabulous Centre of Contemporary Art Olivier Debré.
Chinon: A magnificent royal fortress, in which Richard the Lionheart was born, sits majestically watching over its domain. It is located high on the banks of the river Loire, right in the centre of the city. In the old town medieval houses line winding cobble stone streets, rue Voltaire is particularly beautiful. Place General de Gaulle is great for restaurants and it’s close to the elevator that takes you up to the château, saving you a climb.
After a bit of a sleepy winter when visitors are scarce, Avignon awakens with a burst of colour. In March cherry trees are blossoming, the sun is warm, the air is fresh. In April the poppies start blooming and by May the roses explode into colour. This includes Avignon’s most famous landmark, the giant Gothic Palace of the Popes. It’s the location for a celebration of roses called Alterosa, a must for flower lovers (19-21 May 2018).
If the joys of spring get to you, dance on the Pont d’Avignon like in the famous nursery rhyme. Grab a basket full of delicious cheese and baguette from the local market Marché les Halles. Enjoy a picnic in the beautiful Rocher des Doms garden overlooking the Rhône river. Don’t miss a visit to the newly opened Carré du Palais. Here in an 18th century mansion house, is one of the most elegant wine bars in Provence. It’s the perfect location for an introduction to the wines of the Rhône Valley. Buy a tasting card with a refillable glass and sip some delicious wines with guidance from the onsite sommeliers.
Take the pace down a notch and head to Gigondas via Carpentras and Sorgues, both worth a stop off. It’s a tiny village nestling amongst vineyards which produce some of the finest red wines of Provence. Don’t miss a visit to the Lencieux Chocolate shop (2126 Chemin de Lencieu) and indulge in heavenly handmade chocolates.
Janine Marsh is a travel writer, editor of www.thegoodlifefrance.com and author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream.
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