Late summer wine tour through France

What does a girl do when she’s expecting a baby, her husband has recently bought a Mercedes two-seater convertible, naming it Dollar, and there is only one summer left before life changes forever? She goes on the most romantic trip she can think of: in our case, roaring through the Gallic countryside with the wind in our hair, the promise of fine food, historic places to stay and wine from experts for whom the word premier cru has nothing to do with football. We had two weeks to sample what France is best at, returning with an appreciation of the science and magic of the winemaker, a thirst to know more and an extremely full car boot.

Day 1
Route London, SW11 to Noizay, France Via The Channel Tunnel and lunch at Gill in Rouen ( Stayed Château de Noizay, Noizay (

Notes Fear not, the thick fog that greets you at Calais burns off eventually. Don’t miss the pool in the walled garden at Château de Noizay, and, if you have time for some wine-tasting, head to Château de Valmer and its glorious gardens

Day 2 Route Noizy to Onzain Via Château Chenonceau
Stayed at: Domaine des Hauts de Loire, Onzain (
Notes If you only manage one château in the Loire, make it this one. Known as the Château des Dames, Chenonceau tells the story of the six exceptional women who breathed life into its stone walls. I could have stayed for a week at the charming Domaine des Hauts de Loire

Day 3 Route Onzain to Romorantin-Lanthenay Via Amboise, Leonardo Da Vinci’s grave in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, Château du Clos Lucé and the châteaux of Cheverny and Chambord
Stayed Grand Hôtel du Lion d’Or, Romorantin-Lanthenay (

Day 4 Route Romorantin-Lanthenay to Boismorand Via Sancerre
Stayed Hôtel Auberge des Templiers, Boismorand (
Notes There’s a great picnic spot on the road into Sancerre on the D923. Buy a feast of Chavignol goat’s cheese, a baguette, tomatoes and ham, and take in the view across the vineyards to the town crowning the far hill. A demi-bouteille of chilled Sancerre fits perfectly into the drinks holder of Dollar’s dashboard

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Tastings Domaine Alphonse Mellot, Sancerre (; Henri Bour-geois, Chavignol (

Day 5 Route Boismorand to Joigny
Via Lunch at La Tour in Sancerre ( and a whistlestop tour of Chablis
Stayed La Côte Saint Jacques, Joigny (
Notes The hairpin bends on the road from Irancy towards Chablis are well worth seeking out, especially in a fast, responsive car.

Tastings La Maison de Ladoucette (; Château de Tracy (

Day 6 Route Joigny to Saulieu Via Chablis
Stayed Bernard Loiseau, Saulieu
Notes Having gathered a picnic and another demi-bouteille, we headed up into the grand cru vineyards behind Chablis. There is a little road just outside the village of Fey that doubles back on itself heading up into the hillside, and then peters out. Take it and climb up into the band of the grand cru vineyards. The three Michelin stars of the restaurant’s namesake, the late Bernard Loiseau, were said to have been won by his frog’s legs

Tastings William Fevre, Chablis
(; Albert Bichot, Chateau Long-Depaquit, Chablis (; Régnard, Chablis (

Day 7 Route Sailieu to Chagny Via Lunch at Loiseau des Vignes in Beaune
Stayed Maison Lameloise, Chagny
Notes Do book for dinner at the Maison Lameloise. We recommend the snails in parsley cream in a pastry shell

Day 8 Route Chagny to Culles les Roches Via A drive up the Côte D’Or to Dijon
Stayed at Les Quatre Cheminées, Culles les Roches (

Notes On one side of the busy D974 lie the world-class vineyards of the Côte de Nuit, and, on the other, farmland rolls out as far as the eye can see. Every few hundred yards, there they were-signs to villages whose names are whispered in hushed tones, such is the greatness of their reputation.

Take the road into the village of Vosne-Romanée and, on the other side, there in front of you, is the Holy Grail of wine lovers the tiny plot that makes Romanée-Conti, one of the world’s greatest wines.
There is just a stone engraved only with the words ‘Romanée-Conti’ and beside it is a simple notice: ‘Many people come to visit this site and we understand. We ask you nevertheless to remain on the road and request that under no condition you enter the vineyard. Thank you for your comprehension.’ Despite the lack of fanfare, it’s definitely worth a visit.


Day 9 Route Culles les Roches to Vonnas Via Cluny and lunch at Georges Blanc, Vonnas
Notes Enjoy the chance to take in the rolling Burgundian countryside and admire the statuesque Charolais cattle

Day 10 Route Culles les Roches to Bouzeron Via Rully and Chassey-le-Camp

Notes The drive from Bouzeron back to Culles-les Roches is worthy of note. Take the back road through Chassey-le-Camp and Chamilly, put the roof down and enjoy the evening sun sinking into the golden vines

Tastings At Domaine de Villaine, Bouzeron (, Pierre de Benoist met us at the gates of the Domaine A&P de Villaine with two griffons at his heels. His shy exterior melted away as soon as a sip of his Bouzeron crossed his lips. Suddenly, we were fluent in the local lingo and words tumbled from our lips as he spoke of the ‘memory’ of the wine for the sunshine and the rain of the passed seasons. We left inspired to devote the rest of our lives to the Aligoté grape of Bouzeron, and just a little bit in love with the winemaker himself

Day 11 Route Culles les Roches to Aloxe-Corton Via Corton-Charlemagne

Notes We met Guy Delepau with our bikes ( beside the church in Aloxe-Corton, and, with a picnic in the saddlebags, set off up through the vineyards above the village. Take the steepest route you can manage (we pushed the bikes up a rocky path), so you reach the top vineyards and cruise the rest of the way around and down the hillside. Tuck into your picnic among the vines of Corton-Charlemagne

Tastings Pierre André, Chateau de Corton André, Aloxe-Corton (

Day 12 Route Culles les Roches to Pouilly-Fuissé Via Puligny-Montrachet

Notes The back route (avoiding the autoroute) between Cluny and Fuissé (D212) is not for the faint-hearted. The single-track road snaking its way between hillside villages dives up and down sheer wooded valleys and around hairpin bends until it reaches the vineyards of the Mâconnais. Get the roof off and pray for a clear road ahead Tastings Georges Burrier, Pouilly-Fuissé (

Day 13 Route Culles les Roches to Beaune Via Hospices de Beaune

Notes The 15th-century hospice is the setting for the annual charity wine auction, held in November, now run by Christie’s. Sit in the courtyard and soak up the atmosphere

Day 14 Route Culles les Roches to Épernay Via Domaine Laurent-Perrier
Stayed at Hostellerie La Briqueterie (

Notes The story of Laurent-Perrier is that of a family and, in particular, one man, Bernard de Nonancourt. A hero of the French Resistance and the man to open Hitler’s ‘cellar’ at The Eagle’s Nest, de Nonancourt devoted his life to Laurent-Perrier and created the Champagne we know today. The house is now run by his two daughters, Alexandra and Stéphanie

Tastings Laurent-Perrier, Tours-sur-Marne (

Day 15 Route Épernay to Reims
Via Chez Max for lunch (, Reims Cathedral ( and the House of Krug (
Stayed Hostellerie La Briqueterie

Notes It’s worth going to Reims just for lunch at Chez Max

Day 16 Route Épernay, France, to London SW11

Flora and Rupert Howard travelled from London to France via the Euro Tunnel ( in Dollar, their Mercedes SL55 AMG, which is now for sale, from September 8-23