Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! - a weekend cycling in the Beaujolais
Thursday was Beaujolais Nouveau day, and in the spirit of cultural immersion my husband and I went to taste the new harvest. I don't know whether I've been more of a hermit this year but I haven't noticed as much marketing as last year, although there were still the usual marquees up in Place des Terreaux and promotions in bars.
So a quick synopsis of (my understanding of) the Beaujolais Nouveau tradition: Beaujolais Nouveau is a red wine which comes from the Beaujolais region just north of Lyon. Unlike most wine it's only fermented for a few weeks and is meant to be drunk young, ideally while still within the harvest year. It's very light and should be drunk slightly chilled. A lot of vineyards make a 'new' wine (or primeur) to celebrate the end of the harvest, but it's normally just sold locally.
However some canny person in the Beaujolais region had the idea to turn it into a marketing opportunity and a race to get the first bottles to Paris started.
So on the third Thursday of November the corks are popped all over the world and everyone tries that year's batch.
The wine doesn't have a good rep, and last year I remember thinking it was pretty nasty, but since perseverance is so admired I thought I'd give it another go. I don't know whether this year is a good harvest, or the bottle I had was a particularly good quality, or even because it was the middle of the day, but I really enjoyed it this time around. We had a pot of wine and a St Marcellin cheese between us at Broc'Bar, one of my favourite café-bars in Lyon.
As well as the Beaujolais Nouveau, there's a lot of other wines produced in this region - mainly reds but some whites - and it was these that we went to sample in September when we spent the weekend in the Beaujolais region.
There's lots of guided tours you can take which has the advantage of having someone knowledgable explaining everything to you, but it's easy enough to tour by car or bike and visit the vineyards independently. We spent one day driving and one day cycling. All route information is available at the tourist info office in Beaujeu, from where we also hired the bikes.
From Beaujeu there is a 14km circular voie vert, basically a path for cyclists, pedestrians and wheelchair-users that takes in some pretty landscape, but to get out to see a bit more of the countryside and vineyards you need to get on to the road.
There are three loops of varying lengths that are well signposted, however with a good map of the area (see below for links) you'd have no trouble creating your own circuit. The route we took was easy, only one big hill and not much else on the road apart from us - not even many other cyclists.
It's a really good way to see the area. The September leaves were just turning rusty and the weather was still warm; my favourite time of year.
We stayed in Ouroux, at Les Folies de la Serve, a beautifully renovated guesthouse where the main accommodation is in vardoes, or Gypsy caravans (roulotte in French). We stayed in the 1920s Roulotte des Manèges. My husband's feet stuck a fair way out the bed but it was the perfect size for me. The interior of the caravan has original wooden fittings and stove; there is even a suitcase filled with letters, postcards and schoolbooks from the era (I don't know if they belonged to the caravan's original owner or are unrelated).
Each Gypsy caravan has its own plot with a fire pit, and there is electricity and a heater, so it's secluded and cosy. There are bathrooms and a kitchen in the main guesthouse (as well as bedrooms if you don't fancy the caravans). I'd really recommend this place - the owners were lovely, they bought the house as ruins and have slowly built it up over the years - lots of photos around the property show the amount of renovation work they've undertaken.
The main house is bordered by a vegetable garden and a smaller potager of herbs and vegetables for guests. Breakfast consists of homemade everything: jams, juices and breads. There is a wood at the edge of the property where you can collect firewood for your fire pit. They also have a massive fluffy dog which is always an incentive to go somewhere.
Cycling, Wine, Gypsies. Perfect weekend.