The cheese course has arrived and the proprietor’s wife, Sophie, is busy reading our daughter, Emma, bedtime stories on a sofa in reception.
We’re outside on the terrace. The sun is setting and a light breeze gently rustles the leaves of the tree above our table as we sip beautifully buttery Chardonnay from the Domaine Andre Bonhomme winery just 400 metres away and work our way through les fromages, which are divine.
Yes, it’s safe to say we’re already feeling right at home at Hotel Frederic Carrion – a characterful 10-bedroom former coaching inn situated in the pleasing-on-the-eye village of Vire in southern Burgundy, just north of Macon. And we’ve only been here a couple of hours.
Ted Thornhill checks into Hotel Frederic Carrion (above) – a characterful 10-bedroom former coaching inn situated in the pleasing-on-the-eye village of Vire in southern Burgundy, just north of Macon
Ted and his family are given a flamboyant ‘love suite’ (not the official description) at odds with the country-style facade of the property
The homely vibes are largely down to the charm of Sophie and her husband, chef-owner Frederic Carrion himself.
Emma adores Sophie and we parents are wallowing in the attentive yet fuss-free service during our tasting menu experience.
Frederic presents each dish himself and explains how they’re put together. His English isn’t great, so he does all this in French, but luckily my partner is a native, so she translates the descriptions of Frederic’s creations, which veer from the sublime to the slightly surreal.
One of Hotel Frederic Carrion’s more rustic bedrooms, complete with a gnarled wooden beam
On the left is an asparagus dish in the tasting menu Ted experiences and on the right one of the wonderful breakfasts served on the terrace
The hotel’s ‘spinach martini’, consisting of pureed spinach in a martini glass
I’m not quite sure, for instance, about the pureed spinach in a martini glass and he seems mildly obsessed with asparagus – the vegetable pops up in three dishes. But as well as the cheeses, we love the tender beef main course with super-rustic poultry juice and the clever cheese-ice-cream dessert.
Frederic’s soft spot for the slightly unconventional reveals itself in our bedroom, too – a flamboyant 80s-esque ‘love suite’ (not the official description) at odds with the country-style façade of the property.
There’s a huge round bed; passionately rouge dividing wall (with a big hole in the middle), lamp, curtains and furniture – and very shiny black tiling.
It all feels quite Austin Powers.
Each morning we return to the terrace, with its pretty foliage and iron lampposts, and feel the boutique Burgundy vibe once more – and experience Mr Carrion’s wonderful breakfasts.
There’s no need to order anything, as a matter of course a huge spread is laid out. The core elements are a vast pot of coffee, yoghurts, a basket of croissants and pain au chocolat, cherry cake, a cheese and charcuterie board, and bread and jam, with bowls of raspberries coming off the subs bench now and again.
Post-breakfast we partake in one of the principal activities in Burgundy – wandering around the bucolic villages you’re not staying in.
One gem we explore is Brancion – a minuscule medieval hamlet where cars are banned.
Brancion – a minuscule medieval hamlet where cars are banned. It’s a short drive from Hotel Frederic Carrion
Brancion is a lost-in-time cluster of buildings, including a fortress, connected by cobbled pavements and roads
There’s a car park 100 metres or so outside the perimeter, from where we saunter into a lost-in-time cluster of buildings connected by cobbled pavements and roads.
An absolute joy.
There’s a fortress to explore, a small gift shop and a delightful restaurant called Sandwicherie Les Granges Mathpieu. Here bottles of the local red and white wine (a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay by Domaine Debreuille) are brought out with the cutlery whether requested or not, the owner insisting guests at least try a mouthful of each (they are supreme).
Time stands still here.
There’s a car park 100 metres or so outside the perimeter of Brancion
Size isn’t everything: Ted describes minuscule Brancion as ‘an absolute joy’
The delightful restaurant Sandwicherie Les Granges Mathpieu restaurant in Brancion. Here, says Ted, bottles of the local red and white wine are brought out with the cutlery whether requested or not, the owner insisting guests at least try a mouthful of each
POUR BLIMEY: 5 BRILLIANT BURGUNDY WINES – RECOMMENDED BY YOU MAGAZINE’S WINE EXPERT CHARLOTTE KRISTENSEN
YOU Magazine’s wine columnist Charlotte Kristensen
Domaine la Croix Montjoie, Crémant de Bourgogne, Brut, 12.5%, £19.95 at Berry Bros & Rudd
Elegant and refreshing Burgundy bubbles made in the same method as Champagne but at a great price. A blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir with floral and citrussy notes and a delicious creamy mousse. Perfect for an aperitif or with delicate seafood dishes.
Definition White Burgundy 2020, 13%, £10.99 at Majestic
Approachable white Burgundy at an unbeatable price. This wine is an IWC 2022 winner and ticks all the boxes for a classic Burgundian Chardonnay – with flavours of ripe apple, fresh lemon and white peach with a buttery texture and a nuance of toasty oak on the finish. Perfect for a Sunday roast chicken.
Maison Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet 2019, 13.5%, £55 at Laithwaites
A full-bodied, complex and ageworthy white wine from the famous village of Chassagne-Montrachet in the Cote de Beaune. Voluptuous and creamy with notes of candied lemon and yellow apple that evolve into tropical flavours of melon and pineapple. Pair with gastronomic dishes such as fish with beurre blanc or grilled lobster.
Domaine Rois Mages, Rully ‘Les Cailloux’ 2018, 12.5% (on offer until August 9), £20 at Waitrose Cellar
Made by passionate family winemakers from the village of Rully in the Cote Chalonnaise. Fresh and characterful red with pure flavours of raspberry and cherry with earthy and mushroom undertones. The Cote Chalonnaise can offer great value wines as an alternative to those from Cote de Beaune and Cote de Nuits.
Domaine Berthaut, Vosne-Romanee 2015, 13%, £54 at The Wine Society
A refined and perfumed red Burgundy made by a leading female winemaker from the excellent 2015 vintage. Red berry fruit on the palate with nuances of cinnamon spice and smoke. With seven years of bottle age, subtle leather and forest floor notes are developing. An excellent pairing with truffle or game dishes.
We also explore one of the jewels in Burgundy’s tiara – Beaune.
This stunning medieval city sits slap-bang in the middle of Burgundy’s Route des Vins (‘Wine Route’), a narrow band between Dijon to the north and Santenay to the south, of 38 picturesque wine villages – including Pommard, Meursault and Chassagne-Montrachet – that produce some of the finest wines on the planet.
Cobbled streets wind past wine shop after wine shop selling the region’s sublime produce – and even the cheapest-looking restaurants sell legendary Burgundian wines.
Ted and his family explore one of the jewels in Burgundy’s tiara – Beaune (above). ‘This stunning medieval city sits slap-bang in the middle of Burgundy’s Route des Vins (“Wine Route”),’ explains Ted, ‘a narrow band between Dijon to the north and Santenay to the south, of 38 picturesque wine villages’
For a bit of fun, we board the ‘Visiotrain‘ – a tourist ‘train’ (note, with French-only commentary) that rumbles and bounces around Beaune’s oldest and most intensely cobbled areas and out to some nearby vineyards.
Before heading back to our Hotel Frederic Carrion lair there’s just enough time at a touristy cafe with an authentically brusque waitress for a seven-euro croque monsieur and a glass, for my non-driving partner, of Meursault – one of the finest Chardonnays available to humanity.
The following morning, we bid a fond farewell to Frederic and his story-weaving wife, bringing this chapter of our French trip to a reluctant end.
Ted is hosted by Hotel Frederic Carrion, where rooms cost from around £140 a night via Booking.com.
PROS: Charming hosts, good food, great wine, relaxing terrace area, lovely location.
CONS: The restaurant dishes can be a tad quirky and some rooms are more rustic than others.
Ted uses the superb Blacklane chauffeur service to transport him between Paris Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon for his TGV connections to and from Macon. It has a brilliantly user-friendly booking system and operates in more than 200 cities around the world. Visit www.blacklane.com/en.