From cider to Champagne on a tipsy tour of France

Christopher Wilson-Elmes Profile Image

Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

5 min read

Touring France and drinking everything as you go would prove ruinous in a number of ways, so we’d probably recommend you only pick off one of these per trip. Which means going back to France time and again – the right kind of headache. Here are a few of our favourite places and reasons to raise a glass full of fine French produce, from the Ciders of Normandy to Champagne’s secret challenger.

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Distilling season, Gascony 

The local tipple in the Gascony region west of Toulouse is the single-distilled brandy Armagnac, and autumn is its season for distillation. The key moment in the process is the lighting of the stills, the so-called Flamme d’Armagnac. There are festivals to mark the occasion: in Éauze, the capital of Armagnac country, the festivities go on for three months and start at the end of October with firework displays and street theatre. Tour the distilleries to meet the families who have made it throughout several generations. Then take a bottle back to your B&B to sip a glass by the fire.  

Stay at: Chateau de Labarthe, a very stylish bolthole and a good base for exploring the local villages. 

Cider and calvados trail, Normandy 

Autumn is also an ideal time to nip over The Channel to explore the cider mills and distilleries that produce Normandy’s signature products. Many are based in the region around Caen and the Pays d’Auge, such as Chateau de Breuil where you can visit their ancient cellars, where aroma of calvados lingers in the area as the ‘angel’s share’ evaporates from the barrels. Meanwhile, the nearby town of Cambremer also has several to visit, including the Manoir de Grandouet, set in 16th-century half-timbered buildings.  

Stay at: The cosy self-catering apartments Nid d’Hirondelles in Caen.  

Wine run, Burgundy 

Serious wine lovers will be familiar with the Burgundy town of Beaune, for its famous auction each November at Les Hospices de Beaune, the medieval hospital. Perhaps lesser known is the half marathon that takes place the week before and sees 3000 runners start in the town and run a trail that takes in villages such as Pommard, Meursault and Volnay. They are spirited along with music and entertainment lining the route, as well as wines for ‘refreshment’.  

Stay at: Maison des Pins south of the town.

Grape harvest for Champagne taste on a beer budget  

Taste one of France’s best-kept secrets, Cremant de Loire, in its home; you’ll find it’s incredibly drinkable, with apple and pear notes, and is a fraction of the price of Champagne at only €6-12 per bottle (despite being made in the same method). 

Stay at: La Grande Maison d’Arthenay near Saumur for a personalised wine tour from owners Micaela and Sue, who know wines like the back of their hands.

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Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

Chris is our in-house copywriter, with a flair for turning rough notes and travel tales into enticing articles. Raised in a tiny Wiltshire village, he was desperate to travel and has backpacked all over the world. Closer to home, he finds himself happiest in the most remote and rural places he can find, preferably with a host of animals to speak to, some waves to be smashed about in and the promise of a good pint somewhere in his future.
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