Fleurie has good food, vineyards, a chateau ... what more is there?
By GAYLE S. PADGETT | SPECIAL TO STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 13, 2007
Culinary curiosity took us to Fleurie. The charming chateau and stellar countryside were unexpected bonuses.
Nestled in the gently rolling hills of the Beaujolais region of France, just south of Burgundy, the village of Fleurie is home to the Auberge du Cep restaurant.
Last year, the inn was included on a New York Times critic’s short list of favorite restaurants worldwide — something the Times called meals worth the price of a plane ticket. For us, it was conveniently located on our way from Germany to Provence, so we reserved a table for our anniversary dinner.
I was confident we would have a spectacular time at Le Cep, but was clueless about the region and lodging possibilities. All the hotels I called were booked, but one kind receptionist suggested Chateau de la Chapelle des Bois on the outskirts of the village. The price was right and the Web site appealing, so I booked it, making a silent prayer it would be acceptable.
As we left the autoroute and began making our way on narrow two-lane roads toward Fleurie, we became hopelessly lost. What luck! As we looped repeatedly through the same villages, we had plenty of opportunities to marvel at the area — vast undulating vineyards and snug villages with names like Julienas, St. Amour and Chiroubles.
When we finally made it to Fleurie, we used that same looping technique to spot the sign for the Chateau de la Chapelle des Bois. As we wound down a curvy drive, my fears about the place melted away: The chateau grounds were lovely and the rose-colored building gleamed impressively.
Our next happy surprise was our hostess, Agnes Morateur, who greeted us with a beaming smile. She showed us around the chateau and to our room, which was huge and decorated with antiques, dominated by an enormous canopied bed. The expansive views over the vineyards were gorgeous and the two-level marble bathroom sparkled.
Agnes offered loads of advice on local vintners to visit and offered to pick us up after dinner at Le Cep if we were too tired to walk home.
In anticipation of the evening’s feast, we decided to burn off a few calories beforehand. As we walked into town (just 10 minutes), we marveled at the dreamy expanse of Beaujolais vineyards, destined to produce the fruity red wine that has a reputation for being easy on the palette and the pocketbook. We passed the Cave des Producteurs des Grands Vins de Fleurie (wine cooperative), where you can taste and buy a variety of Beaujolais wines.
We continued to a hilltop chapel housing a statue of the Virgin Mary, built in the late 19th century to protect the vines from disease. It’s a bit of a hike but definitely worth it. Spread out as far as the eye can see are the verdant vineyards of numerous area wine estates.
We arrived at Le Cep right on time, ready to be wowed.
Our expectations were high since the owner, Chantal Chagny, is a bit of a local legend.
Her restaurant had once achieved two Michelin stars, but a few years ago she’d given them up to concentrate on less pretentious dishes. She got rid of the lobster and truffles and changed the menu to feature ingredients from the area, including local fish, fowl, spring lamb and soups made from herbs.
We were not disappointed. We indulged in delicately crisp frog legs, and the highly prized Charleroi beef served with an intense wine sauce that was glorious. It was accompanied by some of the local Beaujolais wine.
As the menu warns, Le Cep champions a slow food policy, so there’s an extended pause between courses. The waiters are quite proper, albeit a bit stiff, the décor understated and the atmosphere somber. Yet all is forgiven when you begin to eat.
Our visit had one more gracious touch. To help celebrate our special night, the owner brought out the dessert scattered with flickering candles and led the restaurant in a spirited rendition of happy anniversary.
We blew out the candles, offered multiple “mercis,” and tucked into the glorious chocolate mousse.
Gayle S. Padgett lives and works in Heidelberg, Germany. You may e-mail her at email@example.com.
Know and go ...
• Auberge du Cep, 69820 Fleurie-en-Beaujolais, France; Web site www.le-cep.euro.st (in French), includes menu, map and telephone numbers for reservations. Three-course menus run from 45 to 95 euros, wine is extra.
• Chateau de la Chapelle des Bois, 69820 Fleurie, www.chateaudelachapelledesbois.com (in French), or through the regional tourist office, Web site www. cc-regionbeaujeu.fr/article. php3?id_article=259& retour=back (English version planned).
• Cave des Producteurs des Grands Vins de Fleurie (wine cooperative), Web site www.cavefleurie.com. Local wineries recommended by Agnes Morateur: Clos de la Chapelle des Bois (next door to her chateau), Domaine de la Chapelle des Bois, and Domaine de la Maison Fleurie.
— Gayle S. Padgett