One of the things that I have loved in visiting France over the years is that no two cities are ever completely alike. Sure, there is the architecture and food and of course language, but even these are influenced by elements unique to its historical past and region. Even the language is different throughout the country. I haven’t learned to identify the differences, but my French friends swear that they can tell where a person is from based on their accent. Just like in the U.S., just like in so many places.
Mâcon is one of those places with unique traits that make it different from other cities I have visited. Though the colors of the shutters and buildings may remind visitors of Southern France, Mâcon is considered part of the Saône-et-Loire region in Burgundy.The Mâconnais are pretty laid back and easy to smile. They pride themselves in their food, as do most French people, with snails, fish, and Bresse chicken and beef, all locally raised and sourced, being some of their top favorite dishes. Eggs in red wine sauce is also a favorite dish – one which I had the pleasure to learn how to prepare with a local chef – more on that in a later post.
Of course, in addition to the food, there is the wine. When most people think of Burgundy, they think red wine. Of course, the region does produce some fabulous reds from the Pinot Noir grapes, and mostly in Côte Chalonnaise, Côte de Beaune, and Côte de Nuits, north of Mâcon. And though they are the largest producers of red, white wine is king coming from the Chardonnay grape and making up for about 61% of the wine produced in the overall region. There is a smaller percentage of sparkling wine produced here that follow the same standards as the bubbles found in Champagne, but for legal reasons cannot carry the Champagne name.
I started my journey through the region in Mâcon. The weather is warm, but the breeze makes it more tolerable than it is further South of the country. It’s a small city, especially when compared to that of France or even Lyon, but there is a lot to take in.
Most visitors driving through to the larger cities consider only spending a night here, but I would highly recommend more than that for several reasons. Mâcon served as a crossways for Romans transporting grapes and other goods to the surrounding areas and they influenced a lot of the architecture. Many of the ruins, archeological sites, tunnels, streets, and walk ways have a mark to their presence here. It would take you a good solid day to tour the ruins, the churches, gardens, and museums. Another to enjoy the shops and markets. And if you are there in April, then you don’t want to miss out on the annual wine fair. This is also the birth place of the famous poet, Alphonse de Lamartine, considered the first romantic poet of France.
Then there is the food. The Michelin Guide for 2016 lists a total of 41 restaurants in and around Mâcon. I had the opportunity to dine in one of them. L’autre Rive, just across the Saône River on the island of Saint-Laurent-sur-Saône, serves a traditional menu made of locally sourced ingredients. The service was personal, with Chef Vincent Rivon personally greeting and even serving guests in some instances, the food was delicious, and the views of the city were spectacular. This is the kind of place you come to not only indulge in great food, but also in the wonderful wine selections from their own private cellar while taking in the sunset views.
I stayed at the Best Western Hotel Europe and England, in the center of town with views of the river. Our idea of a Best Western in the U.S. is a bit different from what this Best Western is in Mâcon. The building itself has an interesting history. It dates back to 1267 and first served as a hospital which provided food and shelter to those making the pilgrimage to Saint Jacques de Compostela. It later served as a prison, than a warehouse, before finding fame and glory in the late 1920s with Michelin Starred chef, Victor Burtin who got the attention of many famous personalities, from Queen Victoria to Zarafa, the first giraffe to set foot on European soil as a gift from the Viceroy of Egypt to Charles X. The giraffe and its handlers rested here before making their last stop in Paris.
Mâcon was for me one of those off-the-beaten-path destinations that make me love my trips to France so much. You can easily get there by train, though I would recommend getting a car to travel the out skirts of the city as well. It’s important to note that parking is a little tough, so maybe rent the car when you are ready to move on. The city is pedestrian-friendly and pretty easy to navigate with a map that you can get from any one of the very friendly and helpful people at the tourist office there.
More on my trip through Burgundy soon! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my video of this sweet city.
In partnership with Atout France.