Scenic and unpretentious, Beaujolais is France’s least crowded wine region. Nearly 100 charming wine-producing villages are set among the country’s highest concentration of vineyards. Half the annual yield of 160 million
bottles bears the Beaujolais AOC label, but experts laud all 12 appellations here—including Fleurie, Brouilly, Morgan, and Chiroubles—for the quality and value of their light-bodied, fruity reds, though the craze for Beaujolais nouveau is waning from overexpo-sure and poor vintages. Many of the region’s wineries line the RN6 roadway from Mâcon to Villefranche-sur-Mer. Tourists flock to the medieval hilltop village of Pérouges, whose historic inn, the Hostellerie de Pérouges, overlooks a pretty cobbled square.
For more modern-day luxury cross the draw-bridge of the meticulously renovated 13th-century Château de Bagnols to a world of opulent fabrics, Renaissance-inspired fres-coes, and romantic four-poster beds. Head to Vonnas, near Bourg-en-Bresse, where esteemed chef Georges Blanc holds court; his antiques-laden “traditional-nouvelle” restaurant (where the local Bresse chicken is a specialty) main-tains a cellar of more than 130,000 bottles.The Rhône Valley begins at Lyon,
where the Rhône and Saône rivers join. This is the nation’s second largest wine-growing region and also its oldest: Romans planted vines 2,000 years ago. Along the northern valley’s mountainous riverbanks, vineyards of mostly syrah grapes climb steep hills for use in such wines as Crozes-Hermitage and St-Joseph.
Below Valence, toward Avignon (see p. 125) in the southern Rhône Valley, lavender fields and olive, almond, and pear orchards share the gently sloping hillsides with a marvelous variety of red and white grapes, used in blends such as the renowned red of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.In Valence, sample the ultimate French cooking at Restaurant Pic, overseen by Anne-Sophie Pic,
the third generation of a family that raised traditional cuisine to a gastronomic art form. You’ll dine in a rich, contemporary setting with a less pricey bistro, Le 7, next door.