A Trip Through Provence et le Cote d’Azur

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Part 3: Burgundy, the Maconnais, Beaujolais, Lyon

Day 11 BURGUNDY, the MACONNAIS, the BEAUJOLAIS. Now we’re in the Burgundy region, and the wine-growing hills of the Maconnais, famous for white burgundy (chardonnay).  I’ve arranged a private tour for Steve, myself, and another couple, fellow passengers, Californians who share our passion for wine. Minutes from the dock we are the only car on a winding country road amidst acres and acres of  rolling vineyards, in the white burgundy growing region of Pouilly-Fuisse. Our tour guide Frederic is a delight, and so knowledgeable about wine. It’s a beautiful morning and we make our way along quiet country roads framed by golden vineyards in a lovely valley. We stop to examine some vines and smell the rocks that contribute the flinty, minerally flavors and bouquet of the delicious wines from the area. We stop into a tiny family winery, Domaine des Boutirnes, where the proprietor pours us tastes of crisp, acidic, lively Pouilly-Fuisse. A second stop is at Phillippe des Roches where we enjoy a 2003 Grand Pre Pouilly-Fuisse (Solutres-Pouilly), a fine wine for a mere 11 euros a bottle. We continue up to the foot of a famous prehistoric site, the rock of Solutres, which dominates the valley of the Saone and the vineyards of Pouilly-Fuisse. We’ll never forget this wonderful morning, and the wines that tasted just like the landscape, if you know what I mean.

Back on the ship by noon we’re motoring again for a few relaxing hours. We take some lounge chairs on topdeck  to enjoy the voyage. By now we’ve come to fully appreciate the unique experience of river cruising: the slow pace of our journey; the simplicity and ease of this mode of travel; the charm of the river towns, and above all, the beauty of the river landscapes. Arriving Trevoux, we board the tour bus for an excursion through the Beaujolais wine-growing region. Soon we are winding through an area that is truly spectacular, past the vineyards above the Saone valley. Along the way we take in a panoramic view of vineyards, hills and tiny valleys where pretty villages nestle around their church spires. In Oingt, a medieval fortified town, we walk along the old paths, visit the simple church and enjoy the views of mountains and valley below.

Our last night of the cruise, our ship returns to Lyon after dark, and to our delight, the basilica on the hill, the bridges that span the two rivers, the entire city—is illuminated. It is a wonderful sight from top deck, and a memorable end to a truly enjoyable river cruise.

For the traveler who has not yet tried a river cruise on one of the rivers of Europe, this is definitely a travel experience as well as a mode of travel to be considered. For the traveling wine lover, this particular cruise on the Rhone and Saone rivers, with its opportunities to explore several important French wine regions—this trip will not disappoint.

Days 12-15 Lyon. We fell in love with the beautiful city of Lyon. This city is only 2 hours by TGV from Paris, but in climate and style, it feels like what it is, the gateway  to Southern France. We were very glad we gave ourselves a few extra days to enjoy the city at leisure. Lyon is a city for walking, for roaming. We took photos and bought gifts at the artists market along the riverbank of the Saone. We wandered the food markets along the Rhone’s Quai St. Antoine, admiring the produce and tasting artisan aged cheese.

We visited some of the city’s many museums, including the Musee de Beaux Arts. We wandered the Croix-Rousse, the vieux quartier, and discovered some of the traboules (covered passageways). We climbed high above the city into the neighborhoods built for the former silk-workers, admired the view of the city, and took the hundreds of steps down again to the center. We lunched in a classic Lyonnaise restaurant and dined in a famous Paul Bocuse restaurant we loved—Le Sud. It seemed we walked for days, stopping only briefly to rest our tired feet and snack on cheese and bread, pears and black figs and olives, until finally it was time to taxi to the airport for home. Happily, in the secured gate area for our Air France flight, we were able to buy some souvenirs: four bottles of good French wine, from the Rhone and Burgundy of course.

The surprising and perhaps fortunate fact about Lyon as a travel destination is that it’s still relatively undiscovered–the stunning city center remains a hidden treasure. Although the city’s vitality is perceptible in ancient streets with restored buildings, there are still many pockets of the city
where renewal has yet to penetrate. These backstreets and courtyards may seem daunting, but the history embodied in so many of them makes even the narrowest of crooked staircases fascinating.

Lyon enjoys a reputation as France’s culinary capital, but the city is also known for its luminosity. Buildings and fountains are beautifully lit at night, creating a magical atmosphere. Cross the River Saone by one of its passerelle bridges on a an evening at sunset, and you’ll see the city glow with a hazy, burnt-orange light.

Lyon has urban sprawl, and some of the most humid summers in France. Still, it’s much more relaxed and friendlier than Paris. Parks in full bloom, skyscrapers and sidewalk cafes, a great transport system, and a nightlife fueled by student energy invigorate Lyon, along with talented chefs, both young and old.

Lyon is the best base for exploring the Rhône region. It has the finest food in France and a historic core unequaled in the region.

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