Travelers can now get their fill of French favorites via 459 (and counting!) different culinary experiences along the country’s new Vallée de la Gastronomie food trail. (No marathon required.) It’s a food and wine lover’s road trip dream come true – and summer and fall offer up some of the trail’s best experiences.
In France, food and wine are key parts of cultural identity. The unique terroirs, agricultural traditions and tastes from each region and department weave together to create a culinary fabric that is undeniably French. This importance even led to the addition of the French gastronomic meal to Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list in 2010. Last year, the designation was even awarded to the French baguette.
Exceptional wine varieties, escargots in bubbling butter, herbaceous aperitifs, seemingly infinite styles of cheese, delicate pastries, spicy mustards, aromatic black truffles and (yes) chewy, crusty baguettes: consider these merely the amuse-bouches on a long list of quintessential French specialties available on this culinary trail, which stretches from Dijon through Lyon to Marseille.
Gastronomic delights, 459 ways
Rolled out locally in 2020 and internationally in 2022, the 459 vetted activities along the Vallée de la Gastronomie are designed to allow expert gourmets and casual epicures to design their dream food-and-wine road trip. Travelers can book experiences as they see fit: perhaps just a meal or two at a Michelin-starred restaurant to enhance an already planned trip, or else a purpose-built journey with multiple stops along the 385-mile trail. Activities range from winery visits with grand cru tastings, indulging in the menu at an all-chocolate restaurant and stomach-busting food tours through France’s gastronomic capital of Lyon, to off-the-beaten-plate experiences like Périgord truffle hunting, crafting your own mustard in Dijon or creating a bottle of your own vintage blend from regional Côtes du Rhône, chardonnay or Burgundy varietals.
Travelers can incorporate as many elements from the trail into their itinerary as they desire and make their way through the Burgundy, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Provence regions of eastern France at their own pace. Although the trail’s main artery connects cities along the A7 highway, participating hosts for the Vallée de la Gastronomie are sprinkled throughout the surrounding countryside, giving travelers delicious detours and behind-the-scenes looks into the smaller communities and producers behind some of France’s most epic food and wine products.
Personalized itineraries can be built out on the Vallée de la Gastronomie website, where travelers can search and filter experiences, then contact participating hosts to book. It’s a completely customizable exploration into what makes French gastronomy so unique. Many of the activities are not only accessible by car but by bike, foot and train as well.
New experiences added in 2023 include a visit to a working goat farm to meet the kids and learn about goat-milk and -product production; idyllic picnics and semi-gourmet meals made from hyper-local ingredients; an ultimate cheese pairing experience; and winery tours and tastings at Château de la Chaize, one of Beaujolais’ most beautiful wine estates (by the same architects and landscape designers behind the Château de Versailles).
2023’s most delicious experiences
August and September offer pleasantly sunny weather that’s perfect for a sensory experience – yoga, chic picnics or relaxing massages – set in the fragrant Drôme Provençale lavender fields at Domain L’Essentiel de Lavande. Summer is also the perfect time to test your “speleoenology” (caving and wine tasting) skills by descending into the cool, natural caves of Ardèche’s Grotte Saint-Marcel for an underground wine tasting in complete darkness.
On the coast, an afternoon trip with local fishermen from sustainable fishing company Côte Fish takes you off the land and out onto the Mediterranean for a revitalizing skip across the water and fresh-caught lunch aboard the boat.
From August through October, as summer transitions to fall, Domaine Michelas Saint-Jemms offers the remarkable opportunity to live out a wine enthusiast’s dream of working in a Northern Rhône Valley vineyard as a grape harvester for a day.
Where to stay along the way
Where you recharge between eating, drinking and adventuring will depend on your chosen route. Still, a handful of overnight stays are officially a part of the Vallée de la Gastronomie and an experience in their own right.
In Burgundy’s village of Charolles, the Maison Doucet provides a privileged place to lay your head: in Chef Frédéric Doucet’s renovated childhood home, right above his Michelin-starred restaurant, where you can indulge in a tasting menu of the region’s produce – including its famous Charolais beef. Trace your protein with a pre-dinner trip to the farm, and be sure to save room for Maison Doucet’s extensive cheese-cart offering.
Speaking of Michelin stars, why only plan a meal or cooking class at the three-starred Maison Pic when you can make a night of it? The Pic House has smart, contemporary rooms, convivial communal spaces and a serene garden courtyard and pool area. On the opposite end of the spectrum yet no less memorable, the Domaine Notre dame de Cousignac in Ardèche lets travelers stay on-site at the winery family’s residence, where organic meals, lively and passionate conversation, bucolic views and wine are all plentifully available.