Perhaps you've heard of this summer's requisite summer holiday? The "staycation," a clumsy if apposite description of holidays spent at home, thus summing up the prevailing mood of impecunity. Farewell conspicuous consumption, hello stomping through mud. If you're revisiting some of life's simpler pleasures, but have jettisoned the idea of staying at home I'd highly recommend signing up for a vineyard walk in France. Deploy a bit of ingenuity and you can avoid the extortionate fees 'wine travel' companies charge for a swanky gourmand holiday - after all, it's perfectly possible to be frugal and still have fun.
Our escape from the "staycation" took us to southern Burgundy. My father, a fiendishly fit Scandinavian Francophile, suggested that we join family friends in Macon last summer for the annual 'promenade gourmande' up in the picturesque hills of Beaujolais. Certainly I love nothing more than hiking through mountains or walking briskly along the seafront, but a walk with the explicit intention of, well, eating and drinking had thus far eluded me. It goes without saying that this 5km promenade is the ideal way to feast sans guilt which is just as well given Beaujolais' reputation for producing delicious food and easy-drinking wines.
Our wine and food walk began at the civilised hour of 11am on a blissfully sunny Saturday. The village of Chiroubles saw 750 participants showing up at 15-minute increments to avoid a scrum at the start of the walk - most were Beaujolais locals, along with a respectable contingent of Brits, Swiss, Belgians and us. The continentals donned rather serious-looking hiking boots; totally unnecessary as we were facing a 5km walk through gentle rolling hills, not the vertiginous heights of Mont Blanc. Quand mme, good idea to wear comfortable walking shoes as the terrain is varied enough to exercise one's feet. Loose-fitting clothing, with all that scoffing, is essential - we may be feeling the pinch from the credit crunch over here but happily the portions in Chiroubles are generous!
After receiving pouches to hang around our necks containing a wine tasting glass, notes on the wines and a menu we were off. Our first station was 5 minutes into the walk, in case anyone was in need of sustenance. The promenade was inaugurated with an 'Aperitif Chiroublon', local Beaujolais wine with a smidgeon of Cassis, and a few nibbles of 'grattons', or pork scratchings. So far so good.
From station 1 we meandered our way through the valley and up to the second station where music was already playing. A super garlicky sausage whetted the appetite and was complemented by a chilled sample of Beaujolais Blanc 2007. Not a spectactular wine, but drinkable, particularly with the garlic-rich saucisson!
Thereafter started the incline, albeit a gentle one, to our third station - we started marking the vineyards at this stage, and the route was well-marked so no danger of veering off into a neighbouring village. At station three we were greeted with a tarte paysanne, a simple egg and ham tart, with salad, and a glass of Chiroubles. By this stage the Belgian contingent were merrily singing along to the local musician and a real festive spirit had infused the walk's
We certainly needed the sustenance for the steep-ish climb that awaited on the way to oue fourth station at Verdy. This took us mostly uphill and through some spectacular steep vineyards. Arriving at Verdy we were treated to a delicious cuisse de canard braise avec sauce Chiroublonne. Or braised duck leg with Chiroubles sauce - a real delight. Needless to say this was accompanied by another glass of Chiroubles, and involved listening to more music. The view of Mont Blanc in the distance made for the perfect backdrop to our 'summit' lunch.
We certainly needed a walk after the duck - thankfully there was a good stretch between the summit and station five - the cheese station in Pontheux. The wines got better - and older - here, and the quality of local goat's cheeses on offer was second-to-none. I could happily have stayed there for the remainder of the afternoon.
Our final stop was to sample the Ambassadeur sponge cake with raspberry coulis and a pink crmant de Bourgogne. This was actually a let-down, especially after the cheese and main course. The cake was fine, but superfluous - by this stage everyone was so stuffed that some simply prepared fresh fruit would have capped the day perfectly. Also the crmant was too tart for the cake and tasted rather acrid after all the reds we’d been enjoying.
Still, the verdict was unanimous: we all decided we would definitely do it again. The walk was well organised and all the vintners and their families who manned the various stations were incredibly hospitable, even with us pesky foreigners. They would be in a cheerful mood though, after everyone had completed the promenade, all the organisers and locals of Chiroubles had a party in the evening to look forward to.
The next promenade de Chiroubles is on July 11th this year (2009) so do sign up on their website if you're planning to be in the area. We drove across, stopping off in Epernay, and Troyes, but you could also go via Eurostar to Paris and then connect with a local TGV train to Macon or fly to Lyon and hire a car.