If you’re on the hunt for a beautiful French wine region that’s close to a major city, there’s nowhere like Beaujolais. Under an hour from Lyon, the country’s self-proclaimed gastronomic capital, this rolling region is perfect for either a day trip or a longer stay. It’s a pleasure all on its own to get lost on winding roads amid hills and vines. But turn any corner, and you’ll find small, buzzy villages and wineries that welcome visitors. As the quality of the wines has increased, so have the guest facilities. Fine dining and local restaurants abound, as do comfortable hotels with their own restaurants. Go now, before it becomes too popular. —Roger Voss
The north of Beaujolais is the place for the finest wines, which include the Beaujolais cru vineyards and villages of Morgon, Fleurie, Juliénas, Saint-Amour, Chénas and Chiroubles. Moulin-à-Vent has no village but great wines. Each cru offers its own expression of the great Gamay grape, which is the foundation for the region’s wines. Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent boast all-around power, while Juliénas is structured. Fleurie has more initial fruit, and Saint-Amour is closer to Pinot Noir in taste. For those who like low- or no-sulfur wines, Beaujolais is the place to visit. Further south, in the Pierres Dorées region, the mountains are steeper and the wines more rustic. This is a major source of Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau.
Where to Taste
Domaine Chasselay, founded in 1464, has been run by the Chasselay family for 14 generations. Try its light-hearted “Beaujolais Is Not Dead” bottling, as well as the more serious Côte de Brouilly L’Héronde and Morgon. Château du Moulin-à-Vent is a grand house with a well-appointed tasting room, highly rated wines and views from close to the windmill of Moulin-à-Vent across the Saône Valley. In Morgon since 1590, Domaines Piron produces some of the greatest wines from the cru.
Where to Dine
In the village of Fleurie, the classic Auberge du Cep restaurant is at the top of its game. Situated at a mountain pass that overlooks the Morgon vineyards, Auberge du Col de Truges in Villié Morgon is the place for both A-plus local food and an amazing view. And, in the hilltop hamlet of Ville-sur-Jarnioux, Auberge de la Place Eric et Claudie celebrates traditional cuisine, with tables that line the village street in warm seasons.
Where to Stay
Auberge du Paradis in Saint-Amour-Bellevue offers modern rooms and an upmarket restaurant serving food from French family recipes. In Romanèche-Thorins, Hôtel les Maritonnes Parc & Vignoble is set in a park and has a fine-dining restaurant. For those who prefer to stay in town, the Best Western Plus Hotel Plaisance in Villefranche-sur-Saône is a straightforward spot in the capital of Beaujolais.
When to Go
Visit in May, when the fruit trees are in bloom and last year’s Beaujolais has just been bottled.
Climb or drive to the top of Mont Brouilly for a view of Mont Blanc in the Alps and a visit to the chapel of Our Lady of the Grapes. Or, closer to Fleurie, venture to La Madone chapel at the top of the iconic vineyard of the same name. Stop by the Les Pierres Dorées villages in the south of Beaujolais to take in golden-stone buildings, especially Oingt, which is considered one of the most beautiful villages in France.
Hameau Duboeuf is a wine-centric theme park created by Georges Duboeuf, the largest producer in the region. Kids will like the 19th-century railroad car or mini golf, while adults can enjoy the winery, tasting room and shop.