Mâconnais, Burgundy, France

Discover the real France of farmers' markets, Burgundian cooking, country B&Bs and small producers passionate about their vineyards.

Macconais

Maconnais fact file:

Total planted area: 5,814ha
Grape varieties: Chardonnay, Gamay, Pinot Noir
Production in 2011: 354,267 hectolitres
Main soil types: limestone, plus clay and flinty sand

Introduction:

The Macconais region of southern Burgundy tends, at worst, to get overlooked or, at best, tacked onto the better-known bits of Burgundy, such as the Côte d’Or to the north or Beaujolais to the south. It deserves better. Barely 50km from top to bottom and 15km wide, it’s a land of rolling, vine-clad hills, sunny valleys and distant views of Mont Blanc, and its compact size makes it ideal for a short break.

The climate here is warmer than in Burgundy’s more northerly parts – you feel the difference arriving from the north when you catch the first glimpses of the broad, fertile Saône Valley. The architecture starts to hint at the Mediterranean – flattened roofs with rounded Provençal tiles replace the steep slate or glazed-tile coverings of further north. Pavement cafés pop up in summer along the Saône, which marks the region’s border with Bresse, and the towpath between Tournus and Mâcon (renamed La Voie Bleue) teems with cyclists, rollerbladers, horse riders and hikers.

Best of all, because the Mâconnais vineyards are still something of a well-kept secret, the region feels like real France. You won’t find pompous hotels, stiff restaurants, organised cellar tours or train rides through the vineyards; what you are assured of is a good range of welcoming country hotels and B&Bs, restaurants serving the kind of food you feared France had turned its back on, and a willingness from growers to show you their wines and to talk about their region. And there’s a lot to talk about. There’s still a huge cooperative presence here, but the story is increasingly one of independent, small-scale, highly motivated vignerons dedicated to making distinctive whites (plus tiny quantities of red) at seductive prices.

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