France Trip - Week Two in the Northern Rhone

The second half of our Rhone River cruise took place in the Northern Rhone. In my last blog, I shared our experiences in the Southern Rhone. We transitioned from the Southern Rhone, into the Northern Rhone as we passed the vineyards of St. Peray and Cornas. And arrived in the town of Tain L’Hermitage.

St Joseph
The fourth day of our river cruise started at 10:00am, as our group gathered in Tain L’Hermitage and walked across the pedestrian bridge that connects with Tournon-Sur-Rhone. We walked along the streets, past the Tournon Castle, to the trailhead that headed up the hill to the vineyards of St. Joseph. It was a fairly steep climb along switchbacks. At the top, we reached the Tower Pierregourde. This is one the few remaining ramparts of the old city walls. We were told that at one point the local clergymen made rope for the ships that would travel up and down the Rhone River. Pirate invaded the town, and hung the priests from the tower for everyone to see from the river. It was a warning not to stop here. As we walked further, we arrived at the terraced vineyards of St Joseph. The vines were staked with a single post, and tied with twine. The pruning was done to encourage the clusters to grow towards the bottom of the vine. They were terraced in rows of three to four vines deep on “Challe or “Challa”, depending on the dialect. The cost of land on this side of the river is about 30% lower than the Tain L’Hermitage side. Winters on this side are colder, due to the north facing slopes and more shade.

We headed back down toward the river crossed back to the Tain L’Hermitage and headed up into the vineyards of Hermitage (more about Hermitage in a blog to follow). We hiked up to "Les Bessards", just below the hermit’s chapel. We then walked down to the "Le Méal" vineyard, and had a wine tasting.

Cote Rotie
After the tour, we made a quick trip to the Valrhona Chocolate factory (considered the best chocolate in Europe). Made it back to the ship just before we set sail for Lyon. We gathered in the Leopard Lounge, at the back of the ship for the Dragonette Cellars wine pairing dinner. During dinner, we kept going out on the back deck to get views of the vineyards at Condrieu and Cote Rotie.

Lyon from Notre Dame de Fourviere Cathedral
In the morning, we boarded a bus in Lyon, and crossed the Saone river, then headed up the hill on the west side of the city and arrived at the Notre Dame de Fourviere Cathedral. The views from the top overlooked the entire city, and our guide was pointing out all the features and areas below. 

Les Halles Grand Hôtel-Dieu
The next stop as at Les Halles Grand Hôtel-Dieu, where we had a small cheese tasting. The old hotel was actually an old hospital that was built in 1184. There is some concern by the locals that what was originally a free hospital for the public is now being turned into a business enterprise. They were still in the process of refurbishing the place, but there are numerous little markets and restaurants on the river side of the building. All the food shops were very new, and offered all sorts of baked goods, cheeses, and meats. There were also wine shops, and fish markets.

Vieux Lyon
We next stopped at the Halle de la martineire. Here we had a cider tasting along with a smoked fish pate. We then walked down the street to see La Fresque des Lyonnais, which is a large mural on a 3-story building, that outlines some of the historical figures of Lyon.

Our last stop was back across the river in the old part of town, the Vieux Lyon, where we walked the old cobblestone streets. We walked down Rue des trois Maries, then walked through one of the traboules that took us out to Rue St Jean, where we stopped at the Boulangeriedu Palais, to taste pink praline cakes, which are made with caramelized almonds. 

For more on the food of France, check out my food blog.

The Abbey at Cluny
During the night, we headed up the Soane River, and arrived in Macon. In the morning, we joined a small group of people from our Dragonette Tour group and hopped on a bus to explore the Maconnais and Beaujolais countryside.

We drove past the Abbey at Cluny. Along the road, we saw many of the Charolais, white cows, that are an AOC beef.  First stop was at a Goat Cheese factory: Chevrerie La Trufiere, in the village of Lys. Cheese and wine tasting Wines were presented by the winemaker: Christophe Perrin, of Domain Christophe Perrin. He presented five wines, which were served with different aged goat cheeses.

Black Truffles
Next stop was at a truffle farm: Les Cos Piguet. The owner (Oliver Devevre), and his 15-year old dog (Chinook) gave a black truffle digging demonstration beneath the hazelnut trees. He grows nine different types of truffles in numerous locations. This time of year, the truffles were dried out. The season is really in the fall. After, we went to his house for lunch and wine pairing, where we met winemaker, Kerrie de Boissieu. Kerrie and her husband own Chateaude Lavernette. Kerrie presented a number of wines, including one of the finest St. Amor Beaujolais I have ever tasted.

Domaine Nadine Ferrand
Our last stop was at Domaine Nadine Ferrand, just outside of Macon. They only make white wines. Very modern tasting room, with some the vineyards right outside the tasting room.

As we drove back to the ship from the tasting, we saw many of the Macon and Beaujolais vineyards along the highway. Back aboard the ship. We met with the rest of our wine group in the Leopard Lounge for final drinks together, before heading to the main restaurant for the farewell dinner.
Our Wine and Food Trails Tour Companions

Check here for segment three of our trip to France, as we explore Lyon, Dijon and Burgundy.

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