Touring & tasting in France – tips & recommendations

This summer’s two week trip to France was magnificent in so many ways. Wonderful food, sumptuous wine, delightful accommodation and spectacular scenery. If it hadn’t been for a puncture and shredded tyre at the end of the first week, and an eventful drive home (for all the wrong reasons!) it would have been perfect.

First lets get the bad stuff out of the way! If you need a new tyre in France head for Super Pneus – the service at the Chinon workshop was first class… My own tyre changing skills weren’t too shabby either! And if that wasn’t enough, a damaged air flow regulator certainly made for an interesting and often terrifying 7 hour drive from Sancerre to Calais. We managed to trickle onto Le Shuttle… The car appeared to give up on a bridge 2km short of the station but we talked to it nicely and just about made it. Less than a mile up the M20 on the other side, the car decided enough was enough and a call to the RAC was required. 90 minutes later, Jason had us all patched up well enough to get us home and breath a huge sigh of relief… And a big glass of wine!

And now the good stuff. It takes a balance of things to make a holiday and in the sections below I’ve highlighted some great accommodation, wonderful places to eat as well as some recommended wineries to visit (I’ve also included links to more in depth articles from individual visits).

I apologise that this has turned into a very long article as I have also given you some recommendations for the Rhone, Burgundy and Champagne from last’s year, just in case you’re planning a visit.

The Medoc

For all of the fancy addresses on the left bank of the Gironde, there are very few places to stay! Margaux and St Julien are pretty enough but there’s not much going on, Pauillac is trying to turn itself into a tourist area but it’s all happening slowly. You could always stay in Bordeaux city and travel the hour up the D2 every day for your visits but that’s no good if you want some peace and quiet! Wherever you decide to stay you’ll need a car (or chauffeur!) to tour the Medoc.

Where to stay:

Oeno Lodge is situated north-west of St Estephe in Saint-Germain-d’Esteuil, and is run by the fantastic Isabelle. As well as an excellent location (10 min drive to St Estephe, 20 to Pauillac, 30 to St Julien, 45 to Margaux) you will receive a warm welcome in delightful surroundings. The accommodation is in a refurbished outbuilding and is bright and spacious, with an excellent selection at breakfast. Even better, when Isabelle asks if you’d like her to cook for you, make sure you say yes – her entrecôte and ribs are to die for, as is her chocolate and cherry cake! As well as the proximity of the famous chateau you are a 5 minute walk from Chateau Castera, a wonderful Cru Bourgeois property, and only half an hour from the beach at Soulac.

Where to eat:

My recommendation is to head for the shacks at Saint Vivien de Medoc (La Cabane du Port)! Whether it’s the freshest prawns or a great selection of galettes and crepes, you will find something that fits the bill in the wonderfully rustic and relaxed surroundings.

Where to visit:

If you phone or email in advance you won’t be disappointed. The standard of the tours we encountered were of the highest quality. If I were to pick a favourite it would have to be the juxtaposition of old and new at Chateau Pichon Longueville-Baron, but Langoa Barton, Cantenac Brown and Lynch Bages were all top notch.

Saint Emilion

Quite honestly I just can’t wait to go back. A special place with a special atmosphere, and a must visit for any lover of wine. My favourite stat is that there is a wine shop for every 8 residents!

Where to stay:

Les Logis du Roy is a little paradise inside a bigger one! Located a couple of minutes walk from the central square in St Emilion, it consists of rooms above a wine shop and tapas-style bar, all owned by the same friendly guy (who also makes some excellent wine). Our room had the best shower I’ve come across in France and the decor is very chic. There is a fridge in the room containing quality cheese and ham for breakfast and the fresh baguette, croissants and coffee are left on your doorstop in a basket every morning.

Where to eat:

There are a whole host of great eateries in St Emilion – and don’t be put off by the guidebooks that warn against the “tourist traps” in the central square – we had fabulous meals at both of the big outlets in and the extra €5 or co was worth it for the people watching! But the number one choice would be L’Envers du Decor, right next to Tourist Information. A simple but delicious menu of excellent local ingredients and a fabulous wine list… Which even has plenty of choice from elsewhere!

Where to visit:

I thoroughly enjoyed our tour round the Premier Grand Cru Classe Chateau Figeac, but Chateau Fonplegade, only 5 minutes from the centre of town, is well worth a visit. The American owner knows how to treat visitors and the spin in the buggy around the vineyard is fantastic.

Central Loire

We spent four days in the delightful medieval city of Chinon. I found the pace extremely relaxing and the people extremely friendly. The city has a great mix of bars and restaurants as well as plenty of history to explore and discover. The region may be better known for its red wines made with Cabernet Franc, but I was very taken with the white Chenin Blancs.

Where to stay:

We stayed at Hotel Plantagenet, a stone’s throw from the Vienne river. The hotel is divided into three different sections and we stayed in the medieval themed Villa Bourgeois. Very comfortable and in a quiet location, the breakfast selection was impressive and the staff ever so friendly. Also excellent value for money.

Where to eat:

More by luck than judgement we saved the best for our last night. We ate very well during our stay in Chinon but make sure you get a table at Restaurant At’able, offering a choice of fixed price menus and a comprehensive wine list. The freshwater fish terrine was a masterpiece and how about duck a l’orange pie? OK, they called it a pithivier but it still tasted great! A special mention also to Bistrot de la Place, where we enjoyed a fabulous lunch in a day trip to Saumur.

Where to visit:

We struck lucky twice on our stop in the central Loire with 2 excellent tastings. The first was at Langlois Chateau just outside Saumur, which was a 2 hour lecture, tour and tasting of 10 wines. The second was at Chateau du Petit Thouars, 10 minutes from Chinon, where we met a fantastically passionate winemaker and tries possibly the best value fizz on France.


The home of Sauvignon Blanc and a lovely little town perched on a hill. The views around here are fabulous, with panorama points laid out around the village. There’s not a whole lot going on but it’s a very relaxing place to spend a few days. As it was our last stop the furthest away we got was 2 miles down the road to Chavignol for a visit to Henri Bourgeois and we didn’t venture over to Pouilly.

Where to stay:

A 10 minute walk into the central square of Sancerre, the hotel certainly won’t be in trouble with the Trade Description department as the view from the bar and our room was absolutely stunning. The rooms are very clean, with a decent shower and very comfortable beds. Wines by the glass are very good, the Pouilly Fume was particularly good and the breakfast is excellent. All in all very comfortable with plenty of free parking opposite.

Where to eat:

We got very lucky on our first night in Sancerre when we booked into Restaurant La Tour, situated in one corner of the main square. We bagged a table for 4 without a booking and the food, drink and service was incredible. It was only afterwards I learned it holds a Michelin star – well deserved too. There are a couple of fixed price menus (€35 and €45 I think) as well as a tasting menu. Two of us went for each on the fixed menus and we all left with huge smiles on our faces; the advertised food is terrific, the non-advertised extras were a real treat. A bit more expensive but if you’re planning a special meal this is the place to go. Le Bouchon, just down a side street off the main square, offers possible the best value menu we came across on the entire trip – balanced the meal at La Tour nicely!

Where to visit:

I only went for a tour and tasting at Henri Bourgeois but I am very glad I did. The HB Sancerre Jadis 2008 was one of the wines that got me hooked on the good stuff a few years ago and the visit didn’t disappoint. They said that the minimum number for the tour was 8 people @ €80 so I agreed to pay the €80 for 4 of us and it was well worth the money. The guide was brilliant, the tour was thought-provoking and the tasting was almost endless… Well worth a visit even at €20 a head.


I’ve been here twice now and can safely say it is my favourite place in the world! For me it is the home of wine and I love everything about it. There is a dramatic atmosphere in Beaune and wine flows out of its every pore… I have to stop writing as it is making me want to return!

Where to stay

Hotel Alesia is a 15 minute walk into the centre of Beaune; this works well to drum up a thirst and equally well on the way back to walk off the coq-au-vin! This a lovely, warm family run hotel with Mum, Dad and Daughter on hand for your every need. The bedrooms are beautifully individual and homely – perfect for a few days of sightseeing. Breakfast was great (€9 each) with plenty of choice and endless drinks. Car parking is excellent.

We also stayed a few nights at the Hotel de Vougeot if you fancy staying in the Cote de Nuits – a beautifully run hotel by a lovely, caring family. The real treat here however is the terrace at the rear of the hotel overlooking the Clos De Vougeot. Order a bottle and sit amongst the vines one afternoon.

Where to eat

Lots of choice in Beaune but Caves Madeleine will forever be my number one choice. A big communal table down the middle, a daily changing menu and a living wine list is the order of the day. We sat next to an Italian and a Danish couple and laughed all night, the food was some of the best I have ever eaten, and you pick a bottle your from the wall display… then another one!

Where to visit:

On our 2 week tour of the Rhone, Burgundy and Champagne, the visit to Drouhin was without a doubt the highlight. Don’t think anything of the €35 cost;
it will be the best money you spend all holiday. The cellars underneath Beaune are absolutely amazing and the commentary is truly informative and interesting. We ended with a tasting of 9 mind-blowing wines, the highlight being a 2006 Clos du Beze.

Southern Rhone – Vacqueyras

We were initially going to stay in Avignon but I’m so glad we decided on sleepy Vacqueyras. A couple of hotels, a couple of restaurants, a few shops and loads of winemakers… What’s not to like?

Where to stay:

Le Pradet is a brilliant family-run hotel full of charm. Bedrooms are spacious and comfortable, there are two wonderful outside areas to sit and relax, as well as a very clean pool area. Breakfast is delicious and reasonable priced and the owners are very helpful and friendly. Also a good selection of wines from local winemakers at very good prices.

Where to eat:

There are only 2 restaurants in the village and they’re both excellent!

Where to visit

Domaine le Couroulu’s tasting room is situated smack-bang in the middle of the village and offers a delightful tasting of rose, white and red Vacqueyras (it is the only appellation in the Rhone with AOC for all 3 colours). Their Cotes-du Rhone rocks but their Villies Vignes is sublime.

Northern Rhone – Tain Hermitage

When you park in a public car park to get your bearings and realise you are at the foot of the great hill of Hermitage, you know this is going to be a good stay. Tain is very bustly but don’t leave it too late to discover Tournon on the other side of the footbridge over the Rhone.

Where to stay:

We stayed at the Hotel Les 2 Coteaux for only 2 nights but were made to feel ever so welcome by the great husband and wife team. We were lucky enough to get a Rhone facing room which was absolutely magnificent, but don’t worry if your room is at the back as you’ll still have a magnificent view of the mighty hill of Hermitage.

Where to eat:

We discovered Tournon on our last day in the area which was a shame as this is where all of the best restaurants are. For something a bit different, head for Carafes-en-Folie (translated as the crazy carafe!). Really passionate owners, great food and a fabulous selection of wines by the glass.

Where to visit:

He has his detractors, but the visit to M Chapoutier was the highlight for me. The tasting started off a little slowly but as soon as the server realised our enthusiasm the good stuff came out!

Champaigne – Reims

We stayed here for a couple of nights – it’s a great city. We stayed in a chain hotel and ate in some very good places but whatever you do, you have to visit Ruinart:

It’s the best and most personal visit available at any of the Champagne houses in the city. You are made to feel like welcome visitors and the lady who showed us around was warm, knowledgable and very funny – she certainly had the measure of her audience straight away! This is a fully working operation and the deep cruyers are phenomenal. The tasting the end was excellent where we had the chance to taste both vintage and NV Blanc de Blancs and vintage and NV rose. Some of the big brand houses are certainly enjoyable to visit but Ruinart is the real deal.

Happy holidays!

About Confessions of a Wine Geek

Posted on August 14, 2013, in General, Travel. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Will be adding Ruinart to our itinerary for September!

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