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Why autumn is heaven for food lovers

Peruse the Belle France menu of autumn itineraries

After the long, languid days of summer comes the autumn. All golden rays of low sun, hedgerow abundance and a sense of closing in, it’s quite a shock to the system after the parched, sultry abandonment of summer.

It’s a time for industrious activity. Time to make ready for the onslaught of winter. There are school bags to be packed, logs to be chopped, fruit to be picked, bonfires to be lit, jams to be made. And that’s just today.

In France the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness permeates every corner of the country. From vineyard to riverbank, from oyster bed to forest, from farm to kitchen. Jobs have to be done, rewards of summer graft have to be reaped, store cupboards have to be replenished.

Autumn is the time for shifting through the gastronomic gears too. No more toying with a goat’s cheese salad, or a simple frittata while sipping rosé on a sun drenched terrace. 

This is the time for gastronomic statements. Big heritage dishes. Family recipes involving heated annual arguments over what exactly does go in grandma’s cassoulet – did she really add tomato? Autumn is the moment for boeuf bourguignon, late fruits like figs, nuts, terrines, more or less anything cooked long and slow. It’s their time to shine. 

And - usually under cover in cellars, sheds and barns - it’s time for pressing, fermenting, filtering, distilling. The output is ciders, eaux de vie, marc, all manner of brandies from Calvados to Armagnac and Cognac and everything in between. And all ideal for warming the cockles as summer slips away through the back door.

At Belle France we have curated a few easy going walking holidays, all with an emphasis on the gourmet (or is that gourmand?), and all offering a slightly different perspective depending on whether you’re travelling in spring, early summer or autumn.

Here’s the menu….

Gourmet Walk in Mâconnais

This is a great walking route through the vineyards of the Mâconnais, at the southern edge of Burgundy and with a distinctive southern accent. The landscape is dramatic and dominated by the Vergisson and Solutré outcrops, while the vineyards seem to stretch for miles, gently turning gold as the leaves turn and catch the sun.

This is also Beaujolais Nouveau territory, still with its place in the vinous calendar and adding an extra layer of urgency to the vendange in these parts.

Foodie tip
First scour the menus for a slow cooked Charolais beef dish, preferably braised in red Mâcon wine – a perfect match of world class ingredients. Perhaps on another occasion, seek out a buttery, rich Mâcon white made from vieilles vignes, old Chardonnay vines around 50 years old.

Périgord Prestige à Pied

With its deciduous woods and lush, fertile valleys, the Dordogne is always a pack leader when it comes to autumnal treasures. Take a gentle stroll through undulating countryside as the leaves begin to drop and the exuberance of summer fades from the pretty streets of Brantôme, the ‘Venice of Périgord’. Indulge in the seasonal truffles and walnuts, scavenge the foodie stalls at the enticing markets and enjoy the slow encroachment of autumn. 

Foodie tip
Be sure to pick up a bag of walnuts, maybe from a roadside vendor. Walnuts have been on the menu here for 17,000 years since Cro-Magnon man was decorating the interiors of his caves and they remain a store cupboard basic to this day. Appearing in salads, pies, tarts and cakes, among other uses, they have their own AOC/AOP system (Appellation d’Origine Protégé) - there is no such thing as ‘just a walnut’. 

Loire Prestige a Pied

As the ‘garden of France’, the Loire valley offers a real gastronomic treat in the autumn, as well as an array of amazing markets stuffed with wonderful local produce. And of course it goes without saying there’s a huge range of sensational wines, both white and red. Hotels are opulent in the classical French style with restaurants that offer the best of autumn.

Foodie tip
In this region of plenty there’s plenty to look out for: magnificent orchard fruits, fresh fish, speciality mushrooms from Saumur, seasonal vegetables and game. Anyone for rabbit stuffed with foie gras, followed by chestnut millefeuille? 

Luxury Sparkling Champagne Walk

This is something rather special: a chance to sip Champagne, while enjoying tours of five champagne houses, including Taitinger, Mercier, Veuve Cliquot. The route takes you from Epernay to Reims and features celebrated restaurants, including the Michelin two-starred Le Parc.

Foodie tip
The Champagne region combines elegant, classical cuisine with influences from Alsace and Lorraine. Autumn menu changes see the introduction of hearty game dishes, epic hams and plenty of fruit preserves. Be sure to try one of the countless fruit-based eaux de vies.

Provence Prestige à Pied

After a hectic summer, few regions wind down to winter more elegantly than Provence. The massive white-stone walls of Avignon’s historic centre radiate heat for weeks after high summer and the majestic Roman Pont du Gard aqueduct is best seen in the golden autumn light. The route provides an exceptional opportunity to taste the best of Provence’s autumn cuisine at the Michelin rated Le Murier and La Cabro d’Or. 

Foodie tip
As the searing heat of high summer fades, so the appetites sharpen. An autumnal dinner based around Daube de Boeuf Provençal, a slow cooked beef stew, usually does the trick, especially with a glass of Rhone red, perhaps a Gigondas or a chunky Cornas. 

Burgundy Prestige à Pied

Synonymous with serious gastronomy, Burgundy lays on a wonderful autumn show. Enjoy stunning views of the yellow-gold vines, admire the deft hands of the grape pickers working on the vendange and taste the superb wines. Strolling through the vineyards of Nuits St Georges, Beaune, Puligny Montrachet and Chagny, you’ll be immersed in world-class wines at the busiest time of the wine-maker’s year. Fascinating. 

Foodie tip
After a pleasant stroll through evocative vineyards, what better way to indulge than with a rich Coq au Vin, prepared with the speciality Bresse chicken. Traditional, world beating and the essence of autumn. 

Grands Vins de Bordeaux

This leisurely walk allows you to acquaint yourself with historic wine properties such as Château Beau Séjour, Château Loubens, Château de la Tour Blanche among others. Stroll past as the vines cuttings are mounded in fragrant bonfires, sip the wines and soak up the visual tapestry of the busy vineyard life. The route takes you through elegant St Emilion and its surrounding vineyards (so much better without the crowds). Discover Entre-Deux-Mers and stay in an indulgent château hotel in Sauternes (famed for the Château d’Yquem dessert wine, one of the world’s most prized wines).

Foodie tip

The south-west is duck country – as they say, everything is used except for the quack. Look out for terrines, pâtés (this is foie gras country) and of course hearty confits and magrets. 

Go all out gourmet