Loire Valley Wine Region

This Loire Valley Wine Guide was written for the Destination Guides section of www.shermanstravel.com, according to their rather rigid formatting guidelines. The article is reproduced below.

Amboise

Rich in natural beauty, French history, and diverse yet lesser known wines, the Loire Valley is most famous for its many renaissance chateaux.

1. Cities and Towns

Tours The largest city in the Loire is a vibrant university town with lively cafes, nightlife, extensive shopping, and a historic medieval quarter.

Orleans The most famous of the several cities associated with Jean d’ Arc, Orleans was the capital of medieval France. Though heavily bombed in WWII, the largely pedestrianised town center still has a number of historic buildings and pleasant squares and gardens.

Sancerre Atop a high hill, this charming town offers spectacular views of the surrounding vineyards. Several excellent Sancerre wineries offer tastings in town.

Chinon The ruined 12th-century fortress-chateaux of Chinon towers over this picturesque town on the banks of the river Vienne, in the heart of the Loire’s most famous red wine region.

Bourges Somewhat off the beaten track in the southeast berry region, the town of Bourges is notable for its well-preserved Gothic architecture.

Saumur With a fairytale chateau towering above the river, Saumur is filled with architectural treasures dating to the 12th century. Noted for mushroom cultivation and sparkling Saumur wine, it’s also home to the French National Equestrian School.

Angers A lively and populous city spanning the river Maine, the imposing Chateau d’ Angers is a massive fortress of 17 towers enclosing delightful gardens and parks.

Amboise Well located as a base for touring the Loire chateaux, the small town of Amboise offers a fine selection of hotels and restaurants. Towering above is the jewel like Renaissance-era St. Hubertus chapel.

2. Things to Do

Chateaux of the Loire The most famous attractions of Loire Valley are its many historic chateaux, which range from medieval fortresses to elegant Renaissance palaces: Chambord, Chenonceau, Azay-Le-Rideau, Villandry and Saumur are open daily.

Cycling and walking The region has the longest network of dedicated cycling and hiking paths in France, with many following picturesque rivers and connecting important towns and historic sites. A scenic nature ride might take you along from the historic Briare canal bridge to Sancerre, but maps for many itineraries are available on the official website.www.loireradweg.org

Abbaye de Fontevraud Founded in 1101, this aristocratic abbey is the largest and perhaps most beautiful in France, with Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance buildings, extensive grounds, and even a hotel and restaurant in the old hospital. Fontevraud, l’Abbeye; 33 2 4251 7141; www.abbeye-fontevraud.com; daily 10-5; $10

Gardens The Loire region is dotted with dozens of spectacular gardens. Vegetables have nowhere looked more decorative than at the formal potager jardins at the Château de VillandryVillandry; +33 2 4750 0209; www.chateauvillandry.com; and acres of flowers await at Parc Floral de la Source du Loiret Orleans; Avenue de Parc Floral (8km sw); 33 2 3849 3000; www.par-floral-la-source.com. See all the gardens at www.jardins-de-france.com.

Troglodyte caves Carved into the soft tufa rock in the region around Saumur, the so-called “troglodyte” cave dwellings are unique to the Loire Valley. These unusual caves, some dating to the 12th century, often have elaborately carved facades, and house barns, wine cellars, churches, and even residences. Well preserved dwellings can be visited in the village of Montsoreau (near Saumur); ruelle Bussy d’Amboise and Chemin du Coteau; www.ville-montsoreau.fr

Son et Lumiére These nighttime sound and light extravaganzas are a feature of many Chateaux from June through September. Part spectacle and part theatre they combine light, music and actors to create interactive experiences that can range from kitschy fun to breathtaking beauty. The Songes et Lumiéres at Château Azay le Rideau is one of the best, and can be explored at your leisure. Azay-le-Rideau; rue de Pineau; 33 2 4745 4204; http://azay-le-rideau.monuments-nationaux.fr; entry from dusk to midnight nightly, July and August, fri-sat June and September. $10

3. The Wines

Sancerre Flinty, world-class Sauvignon Blancs; the Pinot Noirs are usually light, but can be excellent in good vintages. The road to the village is lined with producers, but one of the absolute best has a friendly shop on the town square—where they will insist you taste everything that hasn’t already sold out. Alphonse MellotSancerre; 33-2-4854-0741; www.mellot.com

Muscadet A coastal white varietal, and the perfect wine for shellfish. A warm welcome awaits at Michel Petiteau. Vallet; 451 La Chalousière; 33 2 4036 2015; www.domaine-chalousiere.com

Pouilly-Fumé Distinctive, smoky Sauvignon Blancs, among the Loire’s best whites. Welcoming producers (www.pouilly-fume.com for a comprehensive English language website) include Marchand Eric et PascalPouilly sur Loire; 8 et 9, Rue des Pressoirs, Les Loges; 33 3 8639 1461

Vouvray Dry, off-dry, or sweet Chenin Blanc; off-dry Vouvrays are especially versatile with food. Typical of the many small French producers, the Daniel Jarry winery looks unimposing, but creates a range of excellent wines. The winemaker himself, if available, will guide your tasting and perhaps offer a tour of the cellars. Daniel JarryVouvray; 99 rue de la Vallée Coquette; 33-2-47-52-78-75.

Coteaux du Layon A sweet Chenin Blanc with a complex flavor and a 1,500-year-history.Domaine Cady offers daily tastings along with other Anjou wines. St Aubin de Luigné;
33 02-4178-3369;
www.domainecady.fr

Bourgueil Friendly reds with a hint of bell-pepper, made from Cabernet Franc (a spicier cousin to Cabernet Sauvignon). Try the excellent wines of Pierre-Jacques Druet. Benais; Le Pied Fourrier; 33 2 4797 3734

Chinon Versatile Cabernet Franc reds; locals swear they can detect an aroma of violets. A fine producer in a spectacular setting, Château de la Grille is also easy to find on the road above Chinon and maintains normal business hours. Château de la GrilleChinon; Route de Huismes; 33 2 4793 0195; www.chateau-de-la-grille.com

4. Hotels

Chateau de la Verrerie Part museum and part private residence, the 12 spacious rooms at this Renaissance chateau will have you living like royalty. Aubigny-sur-Nère; Ozion; 33-2-4881-5160; From $250; www.chateaux-france.com/verrerie

Le Clos d’ Amboise A beautiful 16th-century manor house set in a walled 3,000 square meter park in the heart of Amboise. Swimming Pool. Amboise; 27, rue Rabelais; 33-2-4730-1020; From $130; www.leclosamboise.com

Hôtel de L’ Abeille This quirky budget hotel in the heart of Orleans has much to recommend it – low prices, friendly reception, a pleasant lounge/bar, free wi-fi, and a terrific location. Orleans; 64, rue Alsace Lorraine; 33-2-3853-5487; From $85; www.hoteldelabeille.com

Hostellerie Gargantua This inexpensive family-run hotel occupies a 15th-century former palace and each of its seven rooms is unique. Chinon; 73, rue Voltaire; 33-2-4793-0471; From $90; www.hotel-gargantua.com

Hostellerie du Chateau de l’Isle, Chivray A charming, quiet hotel in a renovated 18th-century manor house on the banks of the Cher, only few minutes drive from the famous Château de Chenonceau. Civrey de Touraine; 1, rue de l’écluse; 33-2-4723-6360; From $120; www.chateau-de-lisle.

Manoir de la Giraudiere A pleasant country hotel in a 17th century manor/farm surrounded by Chinon vineyards. The 25 rooms are simple but pleasant and the hotel is especially family friendly; Located among vineyards a short drive from Chinon. Chinon;Beaumont en Véron; +33 2 4758 4036; from $90; www.giraudiere.com

5. Restaurants

Pavillon des Lys An amazing, creative, gourmet restaurant at a reasonable price. Two fixed multi-course menus (one vegetarian) change nightly. Amboise; 9, rue d’Orange; 33-2-4730-0101; set menus at $40 and $48; www.pavillondeslys.com

L’Epicerie This cute, family-run restaurant has an extensive menu and a long list of local wines. Offering good food and excellent value, it’s packed with locals. Amboise; 46, place Michel Debré; 33-2-4757-0894; Entrees from $16

Au Plaisir Gourmand At this elegant 19th-century townhouse, the chef handles elaborate preparations flawlessly; nothing disappoints. An extensive wine list showcases the great Loire wines. Chinon; 2 rue Parmentier; 33-2-4793-2048; Entrees from $30

L’Aigle d’Or Near the Chateau of Azay le Rideau, the regional cooking here is excellent: country terrines, veal with morels, fresh fish, and sweetbreads. Good desserts and great service, too. Azay le Rideau; 10, avenue Adélaïde Riché; 33-2-4745-2458; Entrees from $21

Auberge du XIIe Siècle Drawing on the astoundingly rich culinary history of the Touraine area, chefs Thierry Jimenez and Xavier Aubrun offer an absolutely classic French dining experience. Saché; 1 rue du Château; 33-2-4726-8877Entrees from $32

6. When to Go

High season July—August

All of Europe is on holiday, leading to major crowds and traffic; and the Loire is a particularly popular summer destination.

Low season November—April

If you’re lucky with the weather, November, and especially April, can be great. No crowds, but some establishments close during the chilly winter months.

Shoulder season May—June and September—October 

The best of (mostly) good weather, beautiful scenery, seasonal foods and events, but with limited crowds. Still, make reservations in advance to avoid disappointment.

7. Getting There

Airports Almost all flights from the U.S. will arrive at the sprawling, and somewhat confusing, Charles de Gaul (CDG) airport outside Paris, with a convenient high speed rail link to Tours. There is a regional airport at Tours, but it is irrelevant: even flights booked from the U.S. directly to Tours will connect by train from CDG. There are also frequent trains from central Paris.

Airlines All major airlines fly from the U.S. to Paris, with Air France offering the most direct fights from the most U.S. cities. Connection to the Loire Valley from either CDG or central Paris is by train.

Flight times 11 hours from the west coast, 7 hours from the east coast. Allow an extra 3 to 5 hours for flights involving a change of plane. The TGV train trip to Tours takes approximately one hour.

8. Tips

Wine tastings Winemakers in the Loire are generally welcoming. Larger producers have shops with tastings in right in the towns of their appellations. For smaller producers, follow the signs for the route des vins—here you may meet the winemakers, but consequently opening times are erratic and English is rare. Note that it’s considered polite to buy at least one bottle.

Rent a car A car is essential in the countryside. French roads are meticulously maintained, and well signposted. Still, a detailed map or road atlas is essential. Reserving your car from the U.S. will save you considerable money.

Meal times You must arrive for Lunch between 12.30 and 2pm and for dinner between 7.30 and 9.30pm. Outside of those times, your only option is likely to be a (delicious) take-away snack at a boulangerie or charcuterie. Making reservations for dinner is polite – and often essential.

Explore regional wines in local restaurants Even modest establishments in wine areas will have an extensive list of local wines. Ask advice and be adventuresome.

Double check your train station Trains leave Paris from six different stations – as well as CDG airport – and many regional cities have more than one station. Tickets should be stamped at machines on the platforms immediately before boarding.

Don’t want to go it alone? Organized tours abound. Choose from everything from expert wine tasting tours to escorted bicycle tours. Detours in France can do it all for you: wine, bike and walking tours; group and self-guided; in three different price/comfort levels. From $800; +33 3 8022 0603; www.detours-in-france.com

Getting wine home Wineries will generally not ship to the U.S. due to complicated state and federal regulations, and you can no longer pack wine in your carry-on. Pad your bottle in a hard-sided suitcase and it will likely survive even the roughest luggage handlers.

Hotel restaurants Most country hotels also have restaurants, many of them excellent. While they can range from rustic to gourmet, most feature regional specialties and fresh local products. The Chateau de la Verrerie, Chateau de Marcay, Hostellerie du Chateau de l’Isle, Manoir de la Giraudiere all have fine restaurants.

9. More Info

The French Government Tourist Office Comprehensive website with travel information, events, listings, and newsletters. Once in France, there’s a tourist office in almost every town to provide local information and assistance – all in English. http://us.franceguide.com

The Loire Valley Tourist Board Maintains its own comprehensive website with plenty of trip planning aids, including a monthly e-newsletter filled with events and discounts.www.visaloire.com

The Rough Guide to French Hotels & Restaurants an English translation of GuideRoutard, the reliable and annually updated guidebook used by the French (no relation to UK-based Rough Guides).

Le Centre des monuments nationaux Information on government-owned historic monuments and sites. www.monum.fr

Logis de France This association of 3600 independently owned hotel-restaurants is an invaluable travel resource; last-minute bookings available by phone or online. 33-1-4584-8384; www.logis-de-france.fr

Chateaux & Hotels de France An association of privately owned luxury hotels and restaurants, Chateaux & Hotels represents over 500 historic hotels, châteaux, and resorts throughout France. An easy to use website (in English) enables you to browse properties and their amenities, search by a wide range of criteria and book online.www.chateauxhotels.com

Burgundy/Rhone Valley Wine Region

This Burgundy and Rhone Valley Region Wine Guide was written for the Destination Guides section of www.shermanstravel.com, according to their rather rigid formatting guidelines. The article is reproduced below.

Burgundy|Rhone Wine Guide

Stretching a lengthy north-south route from Dijon to Avignon, The Burgundy/Rhone wine regions are home to some of the worlds most popular and famous reds and whites. It’s also a time capsule of French culture and history, encompassing the art and architecture of Roman, medieval, renaissance and Belle Époque France. It’s also a time capsule of French culture and history, encompassing the art and architecture of Roman, medieval, renaissance and Belle Époque France.

1. Cities and Towns

Dijon Gateway to Burgundy, Dijon is a thriving administrative center and vibrant University town. Its magnificent palaces and churches span the 13th to 18th centuries.

Beaune The medieval town of Beaune, with its fine restaurants and colorful and elaborate Hôtel-Dieu (15th century Hospital),) is at the heart of the famous Côtes de Nuits and Côtes de Beaune reds.

Chablis This charming village in the heart of the Yonne is the perfect stop for exploring the ancient villages and rolling vineyards of Burgundy’s famous chardonnays. Don’t miss tastings at the wine cooperative Le Chablisienne, right in the town.

Lyon France’s second largest city, capitol of Roman Gaul and gateway to the upper Rhone, is a World Heritage site. As the city expanded outward rather than upward, it preserved its Roman ruins as well as virtually intact gothic, renaissance, 18th and 19th century districts.

Vienne Among the vineyards of the Northern Rhone, Vienne offers a 1st century Roman temple and theater as well as choice examples of early Christian architecture.

Orange In the center of the great Côtes du Rhône vineyards, Orange is a thriving market town. Its perfectly preserved first century Roman Amphitheater is still in use as a concert venue.

Avignon With its intact city walls, Avignon is rich in medieval history and architecture. The lavish 14th century Palais de Papes, home to the Catholic church Church for most of the 1300’s14th century, is well worth a visit.

2. Things to Do

Cluniac Monasteries As Roman influence declined, Monastic orders increased in power and wealth, lead by the order at Cluny. See superb examples at Paray-le-Monial (tourist office +33 3 8581 1092), the Abbeye de Fontenay (www.abbayedefontenay.com) and Vezelay (www.vezelaytourisme.com).

Roman Ruins The Rhone region is filled with Roman ruins –— as well as surviving temples, arches and amphitheaters. Roman theaters and Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine: Lyon; 17 rue Cléberg; + 33 4 7238 8190; www.musees-gallo-romains.com. 1st century monuments and Musée de la Ville: Orange; Rue Madeleine Roch; +33 4 9051 1760; www.ville-orange.fr;

Wine tastings Follow the many road signs for dégustations (tastings) to find wineries that open their cellars to the public. Be aware that opening hours can be erratic, some producers require appointments, and not all speak English. Note that it’s considered polite to buy at least one bottle.

Lyon City Tour Walking tours of Vieux Lyon take you through the “traboules”, hidden passageways through gothic and renaissance buildings and courtyards. Offered daily through the Lyon tourist officePlace Bellecour; +33 4 7277 6969; www.en.lyon-france.com

Cycling Burgundy, though hilly, is very popular region for cycling. Bike shops in Beaune and Chablis will not only rent you a touring bike, but also supply maps and itineraries for various day trips. Bourgogne Randonnees, Beaune; 7, avenue du 8 Septembre; +33 3 8022 0603; http://www.detours-in-france.com/bourg-rando.php

Markets Outdoor markets are a feature of every town and village, featuring dazzling arrays of local produce, cheese, pastries and other delicacies. Occurring different days in different towns, they are ubiquitous; you’re likely to come across more than one.

Barge tours Traveling the extensive canal network by private or semi-private barge  is a relaxing and elegant – —if expensive – —way to tour Burgundy. Itineraries must be booked well in advance. Abercrombie & Kent; 1 800 554 7016; www.abercrombiekent.com

3. Hotels

Hotel de la Poste Located in the heart of Beaune, an easy walk to everything, this elegant hotel features a relaxing courtyard, a bar, a bistro and a highly regarded gourmet restaurant. 36 spacious and rooms and suites decorated in an elegant, traditional style in an historic building from the 17th and 19th centuries The four-star hotel features all the modern comforts, including air-conditioned rooms and a private parking garage. They are a member of the Chateaux & Hotels de France. Beaune; 1-5 boulevard Clémenceau; +33 3 8022 0811; www.hoteldelapostebeaune.com

Chateau Bellecroix Fairytale castles are a dime a dozen in the French countryside, and most of them have been turned into hotels. Chateau Bellecroix has the expected charms, but adds all the modern conveniences, a lovely pool, a fine restaurant, a warm welcome and a very handy location near Beaune–all at very un-regal prices. Chagny; 20 Chemin de Bellecroix; +33 3 8587 1386; www.chateau-bellecroix.com

Hotel de Luxe le Cep The Hotel de Luxe le Cep began as a 16th century “hotel particulier” (a private mansion). Now it’s a fine hotel, belonging to the reliably excellent “Small Luxury Hotels of the World.” Located within the walled center of the city, the Cep makes an elegant and convenient base for exploring the town and the region. The rooms are well-appointed and the public rooms are welcoming. There’s a well-regarded restaurant, as well. Beaune; 27, rue Maufoux; +33 3 8022 3548; http://www.hotel-cep-beaune.com

Cour de Loges Lyon’s most luxurious boutique hotel has been constructed within a series of fine 14th to 17th century residences and renaissance courtyards in the heart vieux Lyon. The 62 rooms, suites and apartments feature period details in combination with every modern luxury including large bathrooms, cable TV and wifi, and fine linens. Some rooms have fireplaces or private gardens. The hotel also has a sauna, indoor swimming pool and rooftop terrace with panoramic views. A spectacular arched courtyard, now enclosed, is the centerpiece of the hotel. A gourmet restaurant completes the experience. On a pedestrian street, the hotel is a short walk from most of Lyon’s historic sights, shopping district and fine restaurants. Lyon; 2,4,6,8, rue du Bœuf; +33 4 7277 4444; www.courdesloges.com

College Hotel Though it looks rather plain, set at the edge of fanciful gothic and renaissance manors of Vieux Lyon, Once inside, the moderately-priced College Hotel exudes hip charm. The hotel’s quirky conceit—recreating a boarding school atmosphere with vintage furniture and ironic touches such as textbooks in the rooms—actually comes across as stylish and comfortable. The 39 rooms are all in white, lending a bright and spacious quality, and come with modern baths (all white too, of course), flat screen TV, wifi and white metal lockers instead of closets. A three star hotel, all rooms are air-conditioned and some have balconies or large terraces. On the ground floor, a spacious lounge/library is outfitted with long tables, club chairs and lots of books. Lyon; 5 Place Saint-Paul; + 33 4 7210 0505; http://www.college-hotel.com

Hotel Le Cloitre St. Louis This boutique hotel offers an oasis of luxury within the walls of Avignon. A former 16th century cloister has been completely transformed into a modern hotel with a perfect blend of the historic and contemporary. The 80 spacious rooms and suites occupy both the historic cloister and a dramatic modern addition. The hotel features a tranquil courtyard, welcoming bar, lounges, swimming pool, internet and parking, as well as a striking modern restaurant in an historic vaulted room with a view of the garden. Moderately priced for the level of quality. Avignon; 20 rue du portail; +33 4 9027 5555; www.cloitre-saint-louis.com

Hotel d Angleterre This simple, inexpensive hotel is located on a quiet street about a ten minute walk from the bustle of the place de Horloge and Palais des Papes. It’s easy to navigate to by car and offers free parking—a real premium inside the walls of old Avignon. Rooms are comfortable and offer the standard amenities, with more charm and better rates than the many slightly more central lodgings. A member of the Logis de France.Avignon; 29 boulevard Raspail; +33 4 9086 3431

Hostellerie des Clos 26 suprisingly inexpensive rooms are attached to chef Michel Vignaud’s luxury restaurant. The rooms are small but comfortable and attractively furnished. A rarity in Europe, especially in the countryside, the hotel is very wheel-chair friendly, with a large elevator to the rooms, all of which are on the second floor. Breakfast, served in a former chapel, is excellent. The pleasant village of Chablis is nice base for exploring the surrounding region, and the restaurant itself is reason enough to overnight here. Chablis; Rue Jules-Rathier; +33 3 8642 1063; www.hostellerie-des-clos.fr

Chateaux & Hotels de France An association of privately-owned luxury hotels and restaurants, Chateaux & Hotels represents over 500 historic hotels, châteaux, and resorts throughout France. You’ll find unique properties offering the highest levels of comfort, service, and fine dining in historic castles, manor houses and grand estates which have been renovated to become top quality hotel/restaurants. An easy to use website (in English) enables you to browse properties and their amenities, search by a wide range of criteria and book online. www.chateauxhotels.com

Logis de France An invaluable resource for pleasant hotels and restaurants, Logismembers are mainly located in smaller towns or in the countryside, but as there are more than 3600 of them, they cover the country. All the Logis are independent, family-run hotels. All have restaurants, which specialize in fresh regional cuisine. All Logis members display the distinctive green and gold fireplace logo. This is a great advantage when motoring through a remote place when you suddenly find it’s lunchtime—a random stop can yield a memorable meal. Hotel rooms can range from adequately pleasant to truly excellent (and life-saving last minute bookings are possible through their central reservation number.) Since all Logis are independent, they tend to offer plenty of character, as well as friendly service and good value. Logis de France has a good, easy to navigate website in both French and English. It lists all the member hotel-restaurants, provides basic information and even allows you to book on-line. Though it does lack detailed descriptions of the rooms and restaurants, member hotels often have their own, more detailed websites. +33 1 4584 8384; www.logis-de-france.fr

Gîtes de France The Gîtes de France is an association of 56,000 privately owned rural guesthouses, offering spacious, inexpensive home-like accommodations throughout the French countryside. Though rural, most offer easy access (by car) to nearby towns and attractions. Geared to longer stays, most gîtes rent by the week or weekend, though bed and breakfast accommodations are available for shorter stays. The experience is more like renting a home than staying in a hotel and are a great choice for families with children and budget travelers. Because every property is unique, accommodations and amenities vary greatly, but with so many rentals available, there is likely something for every taste. The easy to use website (with English language version) makes it possible to search for accommodations and reserve online; You can also order printed guidebooks and receive their email newsletter. http://www.gites-de-france.com

4. Restaurants

La Compagnie des Comptoirs Renowned restaurant owners Jacques and Laurent Pourcel (famed for their 3-star flagship La Compagnie des Comptoirs in Montpelier and the chic Maison Blanche in Paris) are the creative force behind what is possibly Avignon’s finest restaurant. Located in a 14th century cloister in the heart of the walled city, an historic setting is combined with elegant and sophisticated décor. Chef Christophe Fluck turns out inventive tasting menus based on seasonal ingredients and South of France traditions. Avignon; 83 rue, Joseph Vernet; +33 4 9085 9904; www.lacompagniedescomptoirs.com

L’auberge du Pont de Collonges Any Frenchman will tell you that Lyon is the Gastronomic capitol of France. One reason is the flagship restaurant of world-famous chef and restauranteur Paul Bocuse, a culinary establishment holding 3 Michelin stars for over forty years. One of the most renowned restaurants in France, the finest ingredients combine with flawless preparation to create an unparalleled dining experience. With lavish prices to match the lavish experience. The restaurant is located on the banks of the Soane, 4 km north of Lyon. Collonges; 40 Quai de la Plage; +33 4 7242 9090; http://www.bocuse.fr

Café des Fédérations The traditional Lyonaise Bouchon is a classic, simple restaurant of a type found no where else in France, and this is one of the best. Not suitable for vegetarians, the typical Bouchon is all about meat; and much of it is all about organ meat—tripe, and the famous andouillette and rosette and Jesus sausages (made from the intestinal bits of the hog. Even the salads may come served with bacon and a poached egg on top (the classic salad Lyonnaise). As soon as you arrive (and it’s a good idea to book ahead) the staff with begin filling your table with starters like the classic salad Lyonnaise, deep-fried pork skins, potatoes with bits of herring, a tray of cold-cut sliced sausage meats, and more. Wash it all down with a pot (a uniquely Lyonnaise unit of measure—about 2/3 the size of a usual wine bottle) of the local Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhone. Then the jovial waiter will rattle off the evenings main course specials, all of which will be classics, like fish quennelles (a local dish, much like a large dumpling) or battered tripe. Be bold and prepare to be delighted. English is spoken—sort of—but having some elementary grasp of French wouldn’t hurt. Expect a fun, festive night surrounded by cheery locals. Lyon; 8-10 Rue du Major Martin; +33 4 7207 7452; www.lesfedeslyon.com

Jardin de Remparts Beaune The most satisfying restaurant in Beaune, le Jardin de Remparts serves elegant and adventurous food, in a beautiful but cozy atmosphere. In fine weather, the garden is the place to be; if it’s cold or rainy, the dining room is a welcoming haven. There’s an extensive wine list which, not surprisingly, features the local Cote d’Or wines. Beaune; 10, rue de l’Hôtel-Dieu; +33 3 80 24 79 41; http://www.le-jardin-des-remparts.com

Hostellerie des Clos A very fancy restaurant in the totally unpretentious village of Chablis. The restaurant is the creation of chef Michel Vignaud, who uses luxury ingredients and inventive preparations to create dishes that superbly complement his extensive cellar of vintage Chablis and Burgundy wines. Dishes may include morel mushrooms stuffed with foie gras; cold cantaloupe soup; pike with crayfish; veal kidney in chablis, lamb medallions or line-caught fish. Everything is excellent and this is a definite “destination” restaurant. The a la carte selections are expensive, but the two set menus a day offer value, as do the excellent, reasonably priced wines. The large, modern dining room, overlooks a pretty garden, but is loaded with luxury touches—fine china, linen and silver, and the food arrives covered with cloches! The large staff, attired in black-tie, is a youthful lot, so the service tends to be proper without being stuffy. Chablis; Rue Jules-Rathier; +33 3 8642 1063; www.hostellerie-des-clos.fr

Hotel Restaurants Most hotels also have restaurants, many of them excellent. While they can range from rustic to gourmet, most feature regional specialties and fresh local products. The Hotel du Poste and The Cour du Loges—as well as many country inns—have fine restaurants.

5. The Wines

Burgundy Complex, peppery Pinot Noirs and rich, buttery Chardonnays abound, with a confusing patchwork of names. The friendly Marche aux Vins in the center of Beaune offers daily tastings of 15 grand vins de Bourgogne for a entry fee of $13. Beaune; 2, rue Nicolas-Rolin; +33 3 8025 0820; www.marcheauxvins.com

Chablis Brisk, flinty, refreshing Chardonnays from the very north of Burgundy, quite different from their southern neighbors. La Chablisienne, a cooperative of small producers, offers a warm welcome and daily tastings without reservations Chablis; 8, Boulevard Pasteur; +33-3-8642-89-89; www.chablisienne.com

Cotes du Rhone Red Fruity, approachable reds made principally from Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache; great with grilled meats. Domane E. Guigal is one of the largest Rhone producers and offers tastings and a 2 hour guided tour. Very visitor friendly and multi-lingual. Ampuis; Route National 86; +33 4 7456 1022; www.guigal.com; mon-fri; closed August.

Beaujolais Easy-drinking, buttery young Gamay reds that go with almost any food. Most of the villages have a cave offering tastings; Try Villié-Morgan, with tastings in the cellar of the 18th century Chateau in center of the town; Villié-Morgan; Route des Crus du Beaujolais

Cotes du Rhone White Friendly, sunny whites made from obscure local varietals. Condrieu is famous for its unique, flowery Viognier. Domane E. Guigal is one of the largest Rhone producers and offers tastings and a 2 hour guided tour. Very visitor friendly and multi-lingual. Ampuis; Route National 86; +33 4 7456 1022; www.guigal.com; mon-fri; closed August.

6. When to Go

High season July-August

All of Europe is on holiday, leading to major crowds and traffic. Crowds increase the farther south you travel. The Avignon Theatre Festival (www.festival-avignon.com) brings large crowds in July.

Low season November-April

A very quiet, if chilly, time. If you’re lucky with the weather, November, and especially April, can be great. No crowds, but some establishments close during the winter months.

Shoulder season May-June and September-October

The best of (mostly) good weather, beautiful scenery, seasonal foods and events, but with limited crowds. Still, make reservations in advance to avoid disappointment.

7. Getting There

Airports Almost all flights from the US will arrive at the sprawling, and somewhat confusing, Charles de Gaul (CDG) airport outside Paris. It’s possible to fly to Lyon or Avignon with a change of planes at CDG, but lengthy connections make the connection by fast train a faster, more convenient, and more flexible option.

Airlines All major airlines fly from the U.S. to Paris, with Air France offering the most direct fights from the most US cities.

Flight times 11 hours from the west coast, 7 from the east coast. Allow an extra 3 to 5 hours for flights involving a change of plane. By train it’s approximately ninety minutes to Dijon, 2 hours to Lyon and 2.5 to Avignon. Driving time from CDG to Beaune is about two hours.

8. Tips

Rent a car A car is essential in the countryside. French roads are meticulously maintained, and well signposted. Still, a detailed map or road atlas is essential. Reserving your car from the U.S. will save you considerable money. Your U.S. driver’s license is valid for France.

Meal times You must arrive for Lunch between 12:30 and 2pm and for dinner between 7:30 and 9:30pm. Outside of those times, your only option is likely to be a (delicious) take-away snack at a boulangerie or charcuterie. Making reservations for dinner is polite – and often essential.

Explore regional wines in local restaurants Even modest establishments in wine areas will have an extensive list of local wines. Ask advice and be adventuresome.

Double check your train station Trains leave Paris from six different stations—as well as CDG airport – and many regional cities have more than one station. Tickets should be stamped at machines on the platforms immediately before boarding.

Don’t want to go it alone? Organized tours abound—everything from expert wine tasting tours to escorted bicycle tours.

US customs You can only import one liter of alcohol per person duty free, however there is no limit on the quantity you can actually bring back with you – declare it at customs and pay a duty of 3% of the total value. The more difficult issue is transportation: wineries will generally not ship to the US due to complicated state and federal regulations, and you can no longer pack wine in your carry-on. well-padded bottles in a hard-sided suitcase will likely survive even the roughest luggage handlers.

9. More Info

The French Government Tourist Office offers a comprehensive website of travel information, events, listings and newsletters. Once in France, there’s a tourist office in almost every town to provide local information and assistance—all in English.http://us.franceguide.com

Vins de Bourgogne Official site of the Burgundy wine growers association has comprehensive information in English about the wines, producers, and events.www.burgundy-wines.fr

Vins de Vallée du Rhône Official site of the Rhone Valley wine growers association has comprehensive multi-lingual site with information about wines, producers, and events.www.vins-rhone.com

Regional Tourism Boards These comprehensive sites (available in English, of course) offer plenty of trip planning aids. Burgundy: www.bourgogne-tourisme.com; Rhone: www.rhonealps-tourisme.com; Lyon: www.en.lyon-france.com; Avignon: www.ot-avignon.fr

The Rough Guide to French Hotels & Restaurants an English translation of GuideRoutard, the source the French rely on. Updated annually and very reliable.

Le Centre des monuments nationaux Information on government-owned historic monuments and sites. www.monum.fr