Getting around, finding a place to stay, and of course, which wine producers to visit while in Beaujolais, France.
Beaujolais is France’s best kept tourism secret. Known locally as “la petite Toscane” – “little Tuscany” – it is an absolutely magnificent region with incredible people, wine, food, and views for days. And it’s rebounding. After decades of being overshadowed by Burgundy, Beaujolais has finally revived its reputation for making stunning, age-worthy reds as well as easy-drinking wines for everyday. If you’re choosing to go to Beaujolais, you won’t be disappointed.
GETTING IN + AROUND
Before venturing out to wine country, I spent the weekend in Lyon, a lovely city located just south of the region. Like many other destinations within France, Lyon is only about two hours away from Paris on a direct TGV train. You can book your tickets in advance on the French government’s official train website, the SNCF. I always recommend going through the SNCF website to purchase tickets because you know you’re getting the best rate, most up-to-date time schedule, and you won’t be spammed with sketchy emails afterward. There’s even an English version of the site to make things easy-peasy for Anglophones.
After spending a weekend in Lyon (read more about that adventure here!), I took a train to Villefranche-sur-Saône and picked up my rental car. While it’s easy to get around by train in between the small towns, driving is a necessity to get to and from vineyards and tasting rooms. At the time of writing this, Beaujolais does not have a robust oenotourism structure so there aren’t a lot of drivers-for-hire in the region, but once you get used to the roads there’s no need to worry.
DRIVING + PARKING IN BEAUJOLAIS
Since I’m not a super confident driver (or at least, wasn’t when I first arrived!), I was pretty worried about driving in Beaujolais – but I didn’t need to be! This is a small, country region so the traffic in the villages and outside of major highways is not congested. Most of the time, we were the only people on the roads – even in the early summer when tourist season was just starting to peak. That being said, make sure you take time to adjust to the hills – especially in Fleurie and the south near the Pierres Dorées and Oingt area. It can get a little crazy with hairpin turns and switchbacks!
Our Airbnb had ample parking space and most of the restaurants we went to did as well. The wineries are often in smaller towns and off tiny side streets, so I’d recommend giving yourself additional time to get in and out of wineries before and after appointments. I generally found that the people in Beaujolais are very easy-going and friendly, so unless you’re literally parked in a main road or blocking something, parking is pretty straightforward. Just make sure you rent a sedan or a smaller vehicle!
WHERE TO STAY
While the Beaujolais region in general is no stranger to a wide variety of gîtes (French bed & breakfasts), I have to admit the place where we stayed truly took the cake. It’s located in the very north of Beaujolais on the border of the Mâconnais in a small hamlet called Leynes. Known as Le Vieux Château within the town, it’s actually a 13th century monastery that was converted into a massive Airbnb by François Chabot, the proprietor. The views here are absolutely stunning! If you’re lucky, you might get to spend time with François, his donkeys, and his granddaughters. They’re always off on impromptu adventures through the French countryside. (You think I’m kidding but I truly lived this myself!) I cannot say enough about my experience here. It was like something out of a daydream. You can book it directly on Airbnb or you can save 20% by booking via email with François: firstname.lastname@example.org (and tell him French Wine Tutor sent you!).
The natural beauty in Beaujolais – and all the landmarks that go along with it – is something you simply can’t miss. I recommend going up to La Madone at the top of Fleurie, gazing at or climbing up (if you’re an ambitious hiker!) Le Mont Brouilly, or even just taking long walks around the area where you’re staying.
Oingt-en-Beaujolais is a MUST visit while in the region. Voted one of the most beautiful villages in France, Oingt is a medieval town constructed with the famous pierres dorées of Beaujolais. It has absolutely breathtaking views overlooking southern Beaujolais vineyards and down to the Rhône and Lyon. It is home to several wonderful restaurants and has a vibrant artisan community of jewelers and craftsmen of all kinds. You can read more about it and plan your trip via their website.
RESTAURANTS + WINE BARS
If you stay at François’ beautiful Vieux Château, I highly recommend cooking or grilling on site and enjoying at least some of your meals on his beautiful patio al fresco. My fellow traveler Steph and I did this almost every evening and it was divine. It’s not only a great way to save money but this way you and whomever you’re traveling with can both enjoy a few glasses of wine and not have to worry about who’s driving home safely. Instead, our strategy was to eat lunch out in between tasting visits, with dinner at home. Check out a list of our favorite spots below!
Le Coq à Juliénas – everyone loves this local watering hole and several people recommended it to us when we first arrived, so we stopped by for lunch on our first full day in the region. This place is an institution and the food is fabulous. It is a little on the pricier side, but definitely worth it. See if you can get a table outside – the patio is stunning!
La Terrasse du Beaujolais – talk about a view! This place is perched right on top of a beautiful hill and overlooks several of the crus of Beaujolais. You can even see Mont Blanc and the Alps on a clear day! Service is superb and the food is great – especially when paired with a local Beaujolais blanc or rosé. Go here on a sunny day to get the most out of the panorama that surrounds you.
Le Morgon – this place is a local favorite, especially for those with kids. It’s a more casual, relaxed ambiance and their specialty is pizza. As the name might suggest, the restaurant is right in the middle of the Morgon village so it’s a perfect place to go to in between tastings in that area. Fun spot to go for a happy hour too!
La Table du Donjon – you’re probably sick of me mentioning places with incredible views but this one is seriously one you can’t miss. Nestled right on a hilltop in the heart of Oingt, one of France’s most beautiful villages, La Table du Donjon has some of the best, classic French food we ate during our time in Beaujolais. The menu is curated and top-notch – you won’t have to ask me twice to order sole meunière. The terrace of the restaurant overlooks the whole southern half of the region and there’s even a little goat farm just beneath it that makes for some mealtime entertainment.
Les Maritonnes – Restaurant Rouge & Blanc – nestled within a 3-star hotel in Romanèche-Thorins, the Rouge & Blanc restaurant is situated right in the middle of a hectare and a half of vines, so you really do feel like you’re in the heart of Beaujolais. It features a modern French menu with several vegetarian and pescatarian options, plus a fabulous wine list.
THE WINE REGION
Beaujolais is in the middle of a renaissance. After decades of fighting an uphill battle to prove their red Gamay wines are high quality and age-worthy, it feels like they’ve finally arrived. The energy is palpable. We were truly stunned by the diversity of wines we tasted, which represented a diversity of farming styles (from lutte raisonnée to biodynamic and natural), and wine expressions (from simple Beaujolais to 15-year-old Moulin-à-Vent). There’s truly a style for every wine drinker. You wouldn’t think that one grape or even one region could do all that – but this is the secret of Beaujolais. And producers can’t wait for you to try it.
We started our first day in Beaujolais with a visit to Domaine Clos du Fief, owned and operated by father-son team, Sylvain & Michel Tête. The winemaking philosophy focuses on lutte raisonnée in the vineyard, which means the domaine avoids the use of chemicals as much as possible and only uses them when absolutely necessary. One of the things I really enjoyed about Domaine Clos du Fief is the fact that they’ve set up a mini-cooperative and sales association with other small winemakers in Beaujolais who share their same vineyard philosophy and approach to winemaking. We were lucky enough to taste through some of those producers as well and thoroughly enjoyed a few in particular from Steeve Charvet and Domaine Aufranc. Domaine Clos du Fief has a lovely tasting room and is more than happy to welcome visitors from everywhere. Make sure you try the Chénas 2022 and Fleurie 2022! You can book directly through the contact form on their website.
After lunch at Le Coq in Juliénas, we headed down to Clos de la Roilette in the heart of Fleurie. The domaine is subtly hidden away at the end of a long road that effectively leads you directly into the vineyards. It’s incredibly calm and rustic, located directly opposite of its namesake, the Clos de la Roilette in Fleurie, overlooking the eastern half of the appellation. Alain Coudert, proprietor and winemaker, greeted us and took us directly to the cellars for our tasting. These wines show a more rustic, traditional side of Beaujolais. They’re robust; meant for food, and have an edge. Terroir-driven and very sensitive to vintage, many also show a unique finesse that I didn’t find elsewhere in Beaujolais. Our favorite was the 2021 Fleurie – we both went home with a few bottles.
For our last visit of the day, we stopped by Anne-Sophie Dubois‘ home a few miles away, this time in the middle of the stunning Fleurie hills. Anne-Sophie’s energy and passion for winemaking and the terroir she tends is simply magnetic. We climbed up through her organic and biodynamic vineyards, accompanied by her trusty cat and dog, just as the sun started setting. I can honestly say I loved every single one of her wines. Every single one is a pure expression of the heart of Beaujolais – modern, authentic, not overly “natty”, fruit-forward – yet refined. I highly recommend the 2021 l’Alchimiste Fleurie and the 2020 Les Cocottes Fleurie in particular – but to be perfectly honest, it would be hard to be disappointed by any wine Anne-Sophie has made.
We had some time before our planned visits on our second morning, so at François’ recommendation, we booked another visit with a winery located within the villages of Leynes where we were staying: Domaine Chardigny. The Chardigny family has had their hand in or ownership of vines since the 18th century but never quite had a domaine of their own, until recently when the three brothers decided to create their label in 2013. Deeply committed to organic and biodynamic processes, they now have 20 hectares that span both the Mâcon growing regions and northern Beaujolais, with cuvées representing Beaujolais-Villages, Saint-Amour, Saint-Véran, and Bourgogne Blanc. They’ve just started exporting to the U.S. with The Source Imports! I definitely recommend picking up a few bottles. The Beaujolais-Leynes and the Saint-Amour À La Folie were among my favorite cuvées from our trip. This domaine is one to watch!
After lunch at the stunning Terrasse du Beaujolais, we headed over to Morgon for a visit with Mee Godard. These wines are a cult classic among many in the NYC wine and food scene – and for good reason. Mee’s six hectares of Gamay are focused on some of the most unique plots in Morgon, but the singularity of her wines are tied to her philosophy and life story. Like many of some of the most revered crus in the region, she is a newcomer and many would consider her an outsider, similar to Anne-Sophie Dubois. The beauty of Beaujolais is that it is still very possible to arrive in the region with no family precedent, purchase a few plots, and pursue great winemaking. This is certainly true for Mee, who has produced incredible wines year after year, true to her own style and ethic of winemaking. Her Morgon Les Corcelettes 2021 is for me the best expression of a modern Morgon. Organic, refined, soft, spicy but driven by terroir – this is one to buy, keep, and drink. We went home with a few bottles and I’ll definitely be buying it again.
Our last visit of the day was with one of the producers that first got me into Beaujolais: the acclaimed Château Thivin. Having first been truly discovered by superstar importer Kermit Lynch in the 70s after over 150 years of uninterrupted family ownership and tradition, these wines are renowned in the U.S. – and show no signs of slowing down. These Beaujolais are simply classic. Their grounds are stunning and home to one of the biggest and oldest cellars in the region. Practicing lutte raisonnée like many of their counterparts in Beaujolais, Château Thivin is also incorporating other elements of agroecology and biodiversity on their lands. Their exceptional Côte de Brouilly is certainly one to try either stateside or at their tasting room – Château Thivin receives visitors throughout the year. Book via their website here.
A veritable museum of and for Beaujolais, Maison Jean Loron was our first stop on our third day in the region. The seat of the region’s trade association, Interbeaujolais, is located here, so it should come as no surprise that the offices and tasting rooms are home to a massive set of topographical maps and an enormous underground cellar that houses a hundred vintages from every single Beaujolais appellation (plus some in Mâcon). In the U.S., the estates from this producer (which has served as one of the region’s backbones for trade and vine ownership since the 18th century) are better known as individual domaines – one for nearly every cru – like Domaine des Billards, Château de Bellevue, and Château de la Pierre. I recommend a visit here to anyone and especially the vintage nerds like me! Book your visit via their website here.
I’ve noticed and talked a lot about the electric energy in Beaujolais, and our next visit to Château de Pougelon with Famille Descombe did nothing but reinforce this. After nearly 100 years of family winemaking, this group’s ambition to modernize and re-invest in Beaujolais is nothing short of inspiring. The family recently acquired Château de Pougelon, a 300-year-old bourgeois home, and they are in the middle of transforming it into a modern cuverie, offices, and more. All this is done with respect to tradition and local artisans – the beams in ceiling of the winemaking facility are crafted in the same way as some of Europe’s greatest cathedrals, using local wood and carpenters to complete the work. The concept of patrimoine – loosely translated as heritage or shared communal culture – is in everything they do, yet always executed with an upscale modern twist. Famille Descombe is also unrelenting when it comes to their values in the vineyard: only organic, biodiverse plots will do, and they are converting all their plots to farming this way to protect their workers, consumers, and the environment. Their vision and passion is immediately evident in the wines. You can inquire about a visit via their contact form – and I highly recommend adding them to your tasting list!
Following a delicious, convivial lunch at Le Morgon, we headed up to Château du Moulin-à-Vent. This domaine has a fascinating history going all the way back to the 18th century, but is now under new ownership with Edouard Parinet. Edouard has grand plans for the domaine’s future and has an eye toward modernity: the wines are all farmed organically and the domaine is focused on restoring biodiversity to its 37 hectares. Like many of the domaines we visited, Château du Moulin-à-Vent is also committed to vinifying its wine by parcel. This Burgundian approach lends a finesse and sublime elegance to the wines at CMAV. My favorite is the 2021 Vérillats, which has soft, silky tannins yet enough backbone to stand up to a wide variety of dishes. Probably one of the most welcoming and oenotourism-focused of all the domaines we visited, I highly recommend a stop here. For more information, check out their tastings on their website.
For the majority of my trip to Beaujolais, I tried to avoid visits to the infamous “Gang of Four” who spurred a passionate return to natural and organic winemaking after the Beaujolais-Nouveau corporate madness of the 80s. I’m so glad that they were the ones leading the charge to restore the region’s quality winemaking, but the hype in the U.S. for the majority of these wines has, for me, gone a little over the top. Domaine Guy Breton, however, has always felt to me the most humble, and on occasions where I’ve been lucky enough to taste his wines, I’ve consistently enjoyed their conviviality and joie de vivre. Our visit to the domaine was, happily, nothing short of both those things. After a wonderful tasting full of laughs with his team (my favorite was actually the Beaujolais-Villages “Mary Lou”!), we headed over to the cellars for a quick tour and met Guy – or shall I say “P’tit Max” – himself. A tour of these cellars felt like venturing into the heart of Beaujolais itself. They’re dotted with old posters of harvests and festivals from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. A collection of unique glassware and old memorable bottles lines the shelves as you walk in. It seems that the passion for Beaujolais here has hardly dimmed, even after 30+ years of revolution. It was beautiful to see.
After our tasting with Guy Breton, we headed south for the first time on our trip to the famous Pierres Dorées of Southern Beaujolais. If there’s one key learning I have to share during a Beaujolais jaunt it’s this one: do not sleep on the south, and spend at least one full day there. We were only there for a few hours and I really regretted it: the beauty of the south is absolutely unreal. I definitely need to revisit it. We wandered around the stunning village of Oingt and had a fabulous lunch at La Table du Donjon before venturing off to our second tasting of the day at Domaines Chermette.
Domaines Chermette represents significant family-owned holdings in not just the south of Beaujolais but Beaujolais crus to the north as well. This winemaking family can trace its heritage in the wine world to the nineteenth century, but similar to the Famille Descombe and Château Thivin, they are constantly improving, expanding their reach within the region, and adapting to a changing climate. It’s a beautiful domaine to visit in the south of Beaujolais and serves as a true representation of high-quality and classic winemaking there. I loved their 2021 Fleurie “Les Garants” especially! You can book your visit via their website – they also have a wealth of local recommendations for your trip!
We had time for one last morning tasting in Beaujolais before catching our train to Paris, so we drove down to Régnié to meet Prunelle de Navacelle. Prunelle comes from a major wine producing family in Beaujolais-Lantignié (their domaine is called Château du Basty), but decided to strike out on her own a few years ago and works exclusively within regenerative, organic, and biodynamic agriculture. I can’t say I’m the first to write this but I certainly won’t be the last: Prunelle is one to watch. Her wines are vibrant and fresh – even in vintages like 2020 and 2022 where other producers in Beaujolais struggled to temper hot weather. Her Beaujolais-Lantignié is a perfect expression of dark cherry and violet with a soft and supple mouthfeel while her Régniés show a stunning balance of garrigue and raspberry. She might only have three working hectares now but that won’t last – not only does Prunelle have ambition to add Chardonnay to her lineup of wines but we could all use a bottle from her. There is extraordinary life in these wines.
The beauty and the warmth in Beaujolais is truly unlike any other French wine region I’ve visited. Despite climate change and a certain diminishing global interest in wine, there is a sincere optimism and passion here that I’ve not yet encountered elsewhere. The people in Southern Burgundy and Beaujolais truly know that their wines are special and that their time in the spotlight has come. Sound exciting?! Book your trip to the region and you won’t be sorry. It is beyond worth the trek.