In my last post, I wrote about my love for Monet’s Gardens in Giverny, France. I’m not sure there’s ever been a place that – for some reason – completely put me at ease and at peace. My second all-time favorite place to visit happens to be in France as well.
The Beaujolais region of France is located north of Lyon in eastern France. A few years ago, we ended up in Lyon after a whirlwind tour of Geneva. One of our days was dedicated to finding a village in the Beaujolais region that we had heard about that did wine tastings. Unfortunately, we never stopped to think that the particular day we decided to do this was on Good Friday.
After driving about an hour or so from Lyon and all through this quaint little village several times, we could not find any open wine tasting rooms. We were about to give up when we stopped in a little bakery to see if they could give us some guidance. The owner of the store did not speak English and we do not speak French. Fortunately a lady buying her day’s bread overheard our attempt at conversation and knew enough English to understand what we were asking. She made her bread purchase and waved to us, indicating we should follow her. Little did we know the lady and her husband owned a vineyard and we would end up in their house for a personal tasting of their wines.
Needless to say, the wine tasting was not your typical tasting. This complete stranger welcomed us into her home, stepping over shoes and daily life clutter, through the living area to a room with boxes and cartons of wine. She introduced us to her husband, Alain Chanrion, and we spent the next two hours communicating – in broken English with some Spanish thrown in – about the wines and their family owned vineyards. There was a lesson to be learned that day – if you are willing to put the time into communicating with someone who speaks a different language, you will somehow understand each other.
We talked about their small vineyard, his father and brother who also own vineyards, and how they hand pick their grapes. We had been in Napa several years ago, so the opportunity to learn about how this small operation compared to the large operations in California was priceless. They were so excited about our interest that they invited us to follow them to their building to see their grape press and vats.
Their equipment was housed in a stone building in the middle of the village, built in the 1600s, dirt floors still intact. It was not quite what we were expecting, but certainly full of charm and history. There was one grape press on the main level and three vats on the lower level. Alain demonstrated how the press worked before leading us down centuries-old dirt stairs to the lower level, where we tasted wine from all three vats to understand the variances of taste throughout the wine making process.
More wine consumption led to the realization we were in dire need of food. Our hosts sent us on our way to their favorite restaurant, a little diner at the foot of the hills. Again we were met with open arms and became the center of attention. Everyone wanted to know where we were from, what brought us there, what we thought of the wine, etc. We ate delicious food, sampled delicacies of the region and interacted and laughed with the neighbors of our new friends from the vineyard.
To this day I have no idea how we were so lucky to stumble into this great experience. Not only did we learn about the manual handpicking process that is specific to the vineyards of the region, we also were also blessed to experience hospitality in its truest form, experiencing a taste of the daily life and culture.
We are truly thankful to have had an experience like this and realize it would be one that would be impossible to recreate. Memories like this are why we like to travel off the beaten path, away from the jam packed tourist areas, to explore on our own.
My biggest piece of advice to friends is always to research your destination, determine what you most want to see, then figure out how to get there – whether it’s by car, train, bus or taxi. The normal tourist traps are fine for a day or two, but then explore the area on your own. Get to know the people and the culture. Eat in the out of the way diners. Truly experience your destination and make your trip your own!
I would love to hear your favorite experience. Sharing stories and memories often inspires others to travel!