Imagine a day where you sample wines in the morning and taste fabulous Lyonnaise cuisine in the afternoon. OMG, that’s exactly what I did during day two on my Viking River Cruise to Lyon and Provence. As I noted in previous posts, the Viking team invited me for an 8-day voyage on the River Rhône this past May. My sister N was my traveling companion.*
With the mountainous vineyards in the countryside, the wine is forever flowing in the Rhône Valley. More than 55,000 acres of vines are planted in a 34-mile stretch of land between 7 and 9 miles wide. The locals say that River Beaujolais never dries up. Couple that with 4000 restaurants in Lyon, plus farmer’s markets, a grand food hall (Les Halles), boulangeries (bakeries), fromageries (cheese shops), charcuteries, and chocolatiers filled with an abundance of fresh and handcrafted delicacies, and you can quickly see why it’s easy to fall in love with what is considered France’s gastronomic capital.
Visiting one of France’s most beloved wine regions
“Bonjour,” said our guide Perrine as we boarded the bus for our ride through the Beaujolais wine country. We headed out on the motorway which was packed with cars. “Many people commute through the tunnel,” she said. “There are more houses now in Southern Beaujolais so people live outside the city and take the train into Lyon for work.”
Perrine pointed out different areas of interest in the region including: Provencal towns along the Tour du France; Bleu Beaujolais, the flat land where vegetables and other produce are planted; and Red Beaujolais, where red wine grapes are grown.
Learning about Beaujolais wines at Château de Nervers
After a rest stop at La Maison du Terroir Beaujolais and quick walkabout in the medieval town of Beaujeu, we were off to Châteaux de Nervers for our wine tasting. Perrine introduced us to the 7th generation of the family who now live on the property. “Each year the family hosts a show about the history of Beaujolais. It attracts 6000 people,” she said.
It was chilly in the Châteaux gardens that morning and I was glad when it was time to warm up in the cellar where the wine barrels were aging.
Perrine explained the different types of Beaujolais. “Ninety percent of wine produced is red. Gammy grapes produce red wine. White makes up 6 percent and it’s more of a sweet fruity white wine like Chardonnay. Rosé makes up the rest.”
Next she schooled us on the wine-making process: “Each wine has a different personality based on how the owner processes the grapes. Alcoholic fermentation happens first. The more contact with the skin brings the deeper flavor and color. It takes 10-15 days of maceration in the vats before they age the red wine in barrels.”
Sip, sip, sip sampling Beaujolais wines
”Let’s taste wine,” said Perrine. We sampled four varieties. The first was a 2018 wine without sulfites or preservatives. The second was a full-bodied 2022 wine. The third was a 2017 wine from a Bleu stone plot and the fourth a 2017 with more elaborate flavor. Perrine said 2015 and 2018 were some of the best years for Beaujolais wines. Not being red wine drinkers, N and I did a few sip, sip, sips and declined to buy any souvenir bottles.
Soon we were back on the bus for our hour-long return. (I should really say hour-long nap as my eyes closed the minute I hit the seat).
Bon appetit, let’s go eat
By afternoon, we were hungrily awaiting our Flavors of Lyon food tour. It was an extra Viking excursion that we had opted in on.
“We’ll be mapping about 2-3 miles and make stops at several places along the way,” said our guide Jeremy. Once over the bridge into the town, we turned left and followed our leader to the Main Street of Rue Victor Hugo. On the corner would be our first taste of Lyon’s famous Voisin chocolates.
Starting on a sweet note
Voisin Maitre Chocolatier is one of the premiere chocolatiers in Lyon. It’s been around since 1897 with shops in Lyon and Paris. We sampled three favorites:
– The Coussin, a square green marzipan filled with ganache chocolate. It was the best marzipan I ever ate and I don’t even like marzipan.
– Quenelle Blanche, a hazelnut chocolate enrobed in white chocolate.
– Madagascar chocolate, an intense chocolate made with 70% Madagascar dark chocolate.
Each chocolate was so good, so good, so good!
Of course I had to purchase a few Voisin chocolate bars, Coussins and Quenelles for gifts. My BFF L and BF E are both big chocolate enthusiasts.
From chocolate to cheese
“Cheese is a religion in this country,” said Jeremy as we approached Mons Fromager Affineur, a family cheese shop. Who doesn’t love French cheeses I thought. And then I remembered that my BF E doesn’t like cheese. No wonder his cholesterol numbers are low. Not mine. I love cheese and so does N.
“Many of the French cheeses come from the Lyon area. More than 1000 cheeses are made in France,” said Jeremy. “Our terrain and mountains are good for the animals. We have everything to create a culture for cheeses. Milk comes from the small farmers. The cheeses are unpasteurized and very fresh. We have a European protection with a standard label on our cheeses. The French are very protective because food is a big part of our heritage.”
Bring on the cheese. Champagne was poured and we tasted two goat cheeses and Comte, the most popular cheese in France. Each was so good, so good, so good!
From savory to sugary brioche
Onward we went. There was more Lyonnaise cuisine to conquer. “We’re going to Brio bistro, which means ‘with excellence’ in French. “At Brio the chefs make savory brioche filled with homemade sausage. Brioche is a celebrated French pastry made with eggs and butter. The server brought out one of the largest brioche I had ever seen and cut a slice for each of us. It was so good, so good, so good!
Our last stop was at Maison Antoine boulangerie/patisserie. It was hard to resist buying any of the scrumptious French pastries on display. Our final taste was sweet brioche with praline. N and I had seen the pink-colored pastries in boulangeries all over Lyon. It was very sugary. We agreed that we preferred croissants to pink praline brioche.
While I had seen the renovated Les Halles, named in honor of Lyon’s late Michelin-starred chef Paul Bocuse, during my last stay in Lyon, there was no time to visit the food hall on this trip. “There are not enough hours to do everything,” I told N. “We’ll have to come again sometime.”
Back on board Viking Hermod
For now, we would be taking the bus to meet our fellow cruisers at our next port in Vienne. There was more French food to manger that evening. Viking Hermod chefs prepared a festive Taste of France menu and after dinner entertainment featured “La Vie en Rose” French Chansons live music with Philippe and Caroline.
It was a lovely way to end a lovely day in Lyon. Tomorrow we would be visiting more Provencal towns. Stay tuned.
* Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” Viking Cruises provided me with a complimentary press trip on the Viking River Cruise to Lyon & Provence. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.