Heather On Her Travels: 12 Culinary Highlights Of Our Burgundy & Provence River Cruise
From Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France, to the Mediterranean flavours of Provence, our river cruise with Uniworld and Titan Travel took us through some of the best wine growing and food tasting regions of France. We found world class Burgundy wines, tasted both gourmet and authentically home cooked dishes and brought home a few sweet treats and piquant souvenirs. We enjoyed fabulous food on board the SS Catherine too, reflecting the local flavours of the Rhône valley we were passing through. Here are some of the culinary highlights of our Burgundy and Provence Uniworld Cruise that will make you want to discover this part of France for yourself.
The elegant taste of Lyon at Institut Paul Bocuse
Paul Bocuse is the godfather of gastronomy in Lyon, the much revered local chef, who at the age of 90 has maintained 3 Michelin stars at his luxury restaurant for the last 50 years. One of the special Uniworld excursions took us to the Institut Paul Bocuse, the school of cookery founded by the chef, who also runs a hotel and several other restaurants around the city. Here we were treated to a demonstration of some classic Lyonaise dishes, expertly created before us by top chef, Philippe Jousse.
Under Philippe’s culinary direction, we were encouraged to have a go at stirring, whisking and poaching the perfect egg for the Salade Lyonnaise. Of course we got away without having to do any of the washing up! At the end of the demonstration, we sat down to a delicious meal, although we could barely take any credit for it, of pike quenelles with crayfish sauce and a soft meringue set in vanilla custard topped with a delicate nest of spun sugar. It was a delightful introduction to the gourmet traditions of Lyon.
The best quality produce at Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse
In the modern part of the city we wandered around Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, the food market named after the chef that is packed full of delicious speciality produce. We drooled over everything from cheeses to oysters, chocolates to fois gras macarons (yes really!) and in various corners found small restaurants serving the produce of the market. As our Uniworld guide explained, this market sells only the very best of everything and it’s the sort of place you go shopping when you are hoping to impress your mother-in-law who is coming to dinner.
Authentic home cooking at a Bouchon Lyonnais
For cuisine in Lyon that’s less Michelin star and more salt of the earth, look out for the homely restaurants known as Bouchon Lyonnais in the old quarter of Lyon. You’ll recognise these restaurants by the sign with the puppet Gnafron, who is a well-known comic character in Lyon, similar to the Punch and Judy puppets that we might see at the seaside.
The restaurants serve typical Lyonnaise cooking, specialising in meaty dishes, where andouillette sausages and offal feature heavily. You’ll recognise them by the old fashioned feel with mismatched wooden chairs, red check table cloths, and dusty old pictures on the wall.
Wine tasting at a Burgundy Chateau - Chateau de Rully
A wine tasting in a local vineyard is certainly part of the Burgundy experience and at Chateau de Rully we were guided through a tasting by the Compte de Ternay whose family had run this vineyard for 22 generations. In the cool cellar we were able to compare two of the Chateau de Rully white chardonnays, the Appellation Village and Premier Cru wines. No surprise that the Premier Cru with aromas of honey and orange blossom came out top.
The final tasting of red wine was left to try at our lunch in one of the converted chateau outbuildings where we dined on the classic local dish, a hearty boeuf bourgignon made with the chateau’s own red wine. Although the meal was simple home-cooked fare, we really enjoyed being invited into the Count’s home and hearing the stories of his family who have lived here and worked these vineyards for centuries.
A Wine tasting class at Chapoutier in Tain Hermitage
For a more structured wine tasting experience we stopped at M.Chapoutier in Tain-Hermitage, one of the leading wine producers responsible for great wines such as Chateauneuf du Pape and Crozes Hermitage. They allow informal tastings in the wine shop but we had the full experience upstairs in one of their classrooms. Interesting that the Syrah which is a typical grape of the region was quite different to the wines we normally buy from Australia and we found it light and acidic. I’m afraid it was not our favourite although the fresh whites, made from the Viognier grape, slipped down nicely!
The delicious food on our Uniworld cruise
One of the delights of the food on our Uniworld river cruise was the local flavours that were incorporated into our daily menus, in the Regional Highlights section, such as roasted chicken with morel mushroom sauce or roast rack of lamb with a crust of herbs, garlic and olives from Provence. The wines were beautifully matched too, from the regions of Burgundy that we were passing through and each evening our sommelier would talk us through the food and wine pairings before dinner. On prominent display was also the cookery book by Uniworld owner Mrs Bea Tollman, who had collected her favourite recipes from a lifetime as a hotelier and some of these featured on each day’s menu.
All the dishes were beautifully cooked and presented, with a daily vegetarian menu and a low calorie ‘Traveling Lite’ selection, providing something for all tastes. A real treat was the afternoon tea laid out in the Van Gough salon where we inevitably made a beeline for the delicious macarons, which were impossible to resist.
Sweet treats to bring home - Les Anis de Flavigny
Although I try not to weigh myself down with too many purchases when I travel, I do enjoy scouting out local food specialities to bring home as souvenirs. In Beaune we spotted the delightful Anis de Flavigny. These locally made sweets are packed in pretty little tins with a vintage feel, like something your French grandmother might pull out of her apron pocket to give you as a child. They are made with a tiny seed of anis at the centre which is covered with a hard candy coating in ten different flavours such as violet, lemon and rose. We bought a few tins in Beaune, but they didn’t last long once we got back home. You can read more about them on the Anis de Flavigny website.
The piquant Moutarde de Beaune
You’ll have heard of Dijon mustard, but look out for the traditional Burgundy mustards made by Edmond Fallot. The company are reintroducing the production of mustard seeds to Burgundy, since most are now imported from abroad, to make a completely Burgundian product. We bought a jar of their Moutard de Beune which is made with wine rather than vinegar and had a smooth but piquant flavour. You can visit their museum and factory in Beaune for a tasting and find out more on the Fallot website.
An aperitif made of Creme de Cassis
You’ll see many varieties of Creme de Cassis on sale in Burgundy as well as other fruit flavoured syrups and liqeurs. The Creme de Cassis is made from blackcurrants soaked in alcohol and often drunk as an aperitif; aKir mixed with sparkling white wine or Kir Royale with champagne. Just like wine, the liqueur has a regional designation so you may see the labels marked with Creme de Cassis de Dijon or Cassis de Bourgognewhich is made with the local Burgundy variety of blackcurrants. We enjoyed a glass of Kir on board SS Catherine as an aperitif before dinner on one of the special dining evenings that showcased the local cuisine.
Chocoholic’s delight - the Valrhona Cité du Chocolat
On our Uniworld cruise we stopped at Tournon-sur-Rhône and Tain-l’Hermitage, both historic wine towns on opposite sides of the Rhone. The final stop of our walking tour was the Valrhona Cité du Chocolat where they have a discovery centre and extensive gift shop. The best part of the visit was tasting the many different samples laid out in bowls around the shop so you could try the different flavours before buying. Valrhona was a chocoholic’s dream, with counters of chocolate truffles, bars of single variety chocolate as well as chocolate for drinking and cooking. Needless to say almost everyone came out with a bag full of chocolate to take home.
The rosé wines of Provence
As our Uniworld river cruise took us further south the white chardonnays of Burgundy gave way to the light and easy-drinking rosé wines that are the summer drink of choice in Provence. We were offered them first as an aperitif together with local pâté and charcuterie at the end of our walking tour of Viviers in the rose filled garden of our guide who lived in one of the old town houses.
Soon I started to see the rosé wines everywhere, as if to mark the start of summer. Apparently the majority of the wines produced in this south-east corner of France are rosé, with plenty of sunshine and the mistral wind blowing in from the north to dry the vines and clear the air. The rosé colour is created when the red grapes are pressed and the skins left in contact with the juice for just a few hours, allowing the pale pink colour to develop.
The Olives of Provence
Another typical produce of Provence are the lovely plump olives that we found in so many varieties in Les Halles, the food market of Avignon. Of course there were other things there too; fresh fish on ice, beautifully polished tomatoes, pink radishes, asparagus and frisée salads, the ready prepared traiteur dishes to buy and take home and macarons flavoured with kiwi or framboise. But the olives were the star, in red and green glistening piles, studded with red peppers or golden onions, stuffed with anchovies and pimentos.
Another olive based speciality that you’ll find everywhere in Provence is tapenade, a paste made of finely chopped olives, both green and black. The olives are pulverised in a pestle and mortar, sometimes combined with anchovies or capers and served on rounds of baguette as a canapé with your glass of rosé. The tapenade is served in restaurants and bars, but you’ll also find jars that you can buy to eat at home, for a reminder of the sunshine of the Mediterranean and Provence.
Our river journey with Uniworld and Titan Travel ended at Avignon but there were so many delicious things to eat and drink that we could happily have continued our exploration of the food of Southern France. I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for many more delicious food discoveries on your travels.
This article was originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com.
Article published on: 27th July, 2016
Heather Cowper is a travel blogger at heatheronhertravels.com where she shares the culture, food and history of the places she visits, uncovering the authentic charm of each region while enjoying the little luxuries of life. Heather can be found on gourmet city breaks, hiking in the mountains or cruising the rivers and oceans of the world.