Top quality and freshness of alpine ingredients. Savoie and Dauphiné have often been called France’s best food pantry. The mountain torrents give local chefs trout of every shape and size and the lakes yield carp, pike, char, whitefish, monkfish, eel and crayfish. Hunters bring back chamois, hare, quail, partridge and woodcock, while the alpine cattle that feed on fragrant hay and aromatic berries yield the finest-flavored beef. The pig farms are the source of wonderfully tasty hams that are open-air smoked. The local cuisine is known for its potato gratin savoyard, made with eggs, milk and local cheese, while the Dauphiné version replaces milk with bouillon and skips the cheese. From the southern Dauphiné comes croquette de Valence, a crèpe filled with ham, poultry and wild mushrooms.
The rich aroma of Lyonnais cuisine.
The Lyon area is a popular tourist venue, thanks in part to its reputation as the best-known gastronomic center in France. Lyonnais farms provide the pork that is transformed into ham patés, brawn (fromage de tête) and rosette, the most famous of Lyon sausages. Other specialties include andouillette à la lyonnaise (tripe sausages stuffed with veal and served with fried onions), salade lyonnaise (made with lamb shanks and chicken livers) and cervelas lyonnais (a brioche filled with a mixture of sausage, truffles and pistachio nuts). The neighboring rivers provide pike, which is the main ingredient of quenelle de brochet, a fish-mousse cake cooked in a flavorful creamy sauce.
From Bresse come France’s best chickens, prepared à la lyonnaise: poached in chicken stock and stuffed with truffles that have also been inserted under its skin. Home of Brillat-Savarin––the 19th- century gastronome and author––Bresse is probably the area of France where most of the great recipes are born, including the famous sauce Nantua (a cream and crayfish puree emulsion) that accompanies the local agricultural riches. In Forez, the high culinary tradition of Roanne has led to the development of cooked and vacuum-packed gourmet dishes.
A well-stocked cheese tray.
Rhône-Alpes’ cheeses are many and varied: Tomme de Savoie (a mild-flavored, semi-soft cheese) and Beaufort (the gruyère of Savoie), Chevrotin des Alpes, Reblochon and Dauphinois are the specialties of the mountains. The Vacherin de Chambéry is an extra-creamy cheese that is eaten with a spoon. North of Lyon, Bleu de Bresse and Bleu de Gex are creamy blue-veined cheeses and Chevretons du Beaujolais is made with goat-milk. Desert menus are also plentiful. Alpine sweets include gâteau de Savoie, made with potato flour, and Grenoble’s walnut cake, sometimes doused with Chartreuse liqueur. From Lyon there are bugnes (lemon fritters) and almond-filled puff pastries. Montélimar is famous for its nougat and, across the Rhône, Privas is the capital of marrons glacés (candied sweet chestnuts) used in cakes or simply pureed to make the most delicious creamy filling for cakes and pastries.
The oldest vineyards in France.
The vineyards of the Rhône Valley produce wines whose quality is guaranteed by a skillful blend of grape varieties. The vineyards along the Saône River produce Beaujolais wines that are usually grouped with Burgundies in wine guides. Although some of these can be considered as ordinary table wines, the vineyards near the towns of Juliénas, Chiroubles, Brouilly, Morgon and Chénas, to name a few, are, thanks to their Gamay grape base, the grand crus and very essence of Beaujolais. South of Lyon, the banks of the Rhône between the cities of Vienne and Montélimar are also red-wine territories. In full-bodied wine labels such as Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St.-Joseph, Cornas and Côte Rotie, the distinctive flavor comes from the distinctive Syrah grapes. Included in what is now referred to as “vins de pays” (country wines), the Ardèche vineyards on the western bank of the Rhône produce Côteaux de l’Ardèche––light and attractive wines with a distinctive peppery taste partly due to a mix of several grape varieties.
Potables for mountain meals.
On the slopes of the Ain Valley, the vineyards of Bresse produce underrated red and white wines under the Bugey label. One of the most overlooked French wine regions is definitely Savoie. While the mountains, with or without snow, are the main tourist attraction of the region, their vineyards around the Upper Rhône yield a white wine, Seyssel, that can be either sparkling or still, the latter making a perfect companion to local cheeses and raclette, a cheese fondue. Other Savoyard whites (70% of the production) carry the names of local villages, such as Marignan, Cruet and Chautagne or the label Roussette de Savoie. North of Grenoble, the monks of the Abbey of Grande Chartreuse make the renowned green and yellow liqueur that bears their name. Also called “the elixir of life”, Chartreuse follows a 16th-century formula that includes the essence of no less than 130 plants.
For non-wine-drinkers, the region’s springs offer a great choice of mineral waters that tumble down from the Alps. Evian-les-Bains is both a spa and the bottling site of Evian, the water that is sold worldwide, and the springs of Thonon-les-Bains treat kidney and bladder conditions. From Uriage, in the Chamrousse Mountains, comes the isotonic water that cures skin diseases. Across the Rhône, Forez is home to the Badoit springs in the town of Saint-Galmier.