Visiting Sancerre

Sancerre is the quintessential paradise of country France. It is only two and a half hours from Paris by car, but it might as well be on another planet. This is a peaceful place that runs at French small-town pace. I can’t recommend a vacation here highly enough and wanted to share some of the highlights of my ten days there.

Everything within the town of Sancerre proper is walkable, and a walk around the ramparts of the town is a must. The views are simply breathtaking! It is a small place with a population of about 1500, yet is loaded with great places to eat and just the right amount of stuff to do if you don’t want to do too much! Visiting many of the producers will require a car, as many are outside the town. That being said, some producers have tasting rooms within the village if you don’t feel like driving.

If you decide to stay in a hotel, the newly refurbished, fully modern Panoramic is a spectacular place to stay. All the rooms below the ground level share a fantastic view of Chavignol and the other villages of the AOC Sancerre in one direction and the of sound deadening earth in the other. This is an ideal place to sleep in and then wake up to a wonderful view. I can’t say that I have ever been quite as successful at sleeping in as I was here. It is lovely quiet! The pool is nice, the wine list is extensive, and the location just within the ramparts is perfect. There are also many good gite and Airbnb options available at very reasonable prices. We spent half our time in each—it was perfect.

No trip to Sancerre would be complete without three stops: the Maison des Sancerre, the Bar Arcandiers and the Tour des Fiefs.  The Maison des Sancerre is owned by the producers of Sancerre, and a visit will teach you all you want to know about the geology, grape varieties, climate and know-how of winemaking in the region. Inside they have a room-sized topo map that they project a presentation on that can’t be missed. The “4D” movie is a wild ride- watch out for the snake!

All of the vignerons go to the same bar—the simple Arcandiers, owned and run by Gerald, the biggest sports fan in the Loire. It is located at 1 Rempart des Dames, and you will come across it when walking the Ramparts, on the quiet backside of town. The view out his little window is nothing short of jaw-dropping, his one tap handle, Peleforth, pours fierce and his very good by the glass Sancerre blanc is so cheap it almost seems free. I met lots of producers here while enjoying my aperitif and took in more than one football match here.

The Tour des Fiefs is a watchtower that was built in the 14th century. It is a sporting climb up a lot of old wooden stairs to get to the top, but worth the hike. It is easy to imagine that the medieval inhabitants that were assigned to watch duty up here might have thought that they were on the very top of the world. It is very prominent, and you can see all of the major wine villages, including the ones on the other side of the river.

One of the top five restaurant meals of my life was here in Sancerre, at a restaurant named after that medieval site. Restaurant La Tour is a Michelin one star, but the food is executed at the highest level imaginable, in a style that is much lighter than most places you will find in France. It reminded me of the best cooking at home in California with its freshness, but the execution was all French. We had the tasting menu, and everything from the gazpacho to the pigeon was excellent. The standout for me was the turbot, which was by far the best I have ever had. The wine list is extensive and full of the best producers of Sancerre, but also the rest of France, and is very reasonable. I didn’t spend much more here than I would at a “casual” restaurant in SF!

Two restaurants in the village that stand out for fun.The first is right on the main square of the village and has some great outdoor seating. It is called La Taverne du Connétable at 1 Place Nouvelle Place, and it was here that I discovered La Planche, a big cutting board of delicious meat, melted cheese, frites, and veggies. This is now a tradition that continues at home! The food is very good, simple grilled meats and well-executed sides, with beer on tap and excellent Sancerre on offer. The other is a pizza place- yes a pizza place- right next to the Tour des Fiefs called Sacripanti. The address is 10 Place du Connétable If you have been in France for a while and you need a break, this extremely well-executed pizza is delicious and goes very well with Sancerre Rouge.

Like anywhere in France, it is best to make an appointment before visiting wineries, and often essential. There are some wineries in town that have tasting rooms that you can drop in on, but for the real experience, it is best to plan, right after booking your hotels. Just a five-minute drive out of Sancerre in Bué, Franck Millet, is my top recommendation for a winery to visit, and you can read my report on my appointment here. If you have a car in Sancerre, this should be your number one destination, as the wines are excellent and nobody in the wine world is could be nicer than Franck and Betty Millet. Also, just out of town is La Clef du Récit, owned and run by Anthony Girard, a super fun, young winemaker. His family also owns a goat cheese farm, La Bête de Noire, which is just five minutes out of Sancerre and a must-visit place if you like cheese!

We import several other great producers in Sancerre, and all of these will make great visits as well:

Domaine Franck Millet

68 Rue Saint-Vincent, 18300 Bue

 

Domaines de Cotes Blanches/Francois Millet       

2 Rue de Venoize, 18300 Bue

http://www.millet-francois-vin-sancerre.com/en/

 

Domaine Tabordet

52 Rue du Carroir Perrin, 18300 Verdigny

www.domaine-tabordet.fr/en

Domaine des Chasseignes/Aurore Dezat

253-246, Chappe, 18300 Sury-en-Vaux

I hope you will all get a chance to visit this wonderful part of the world!

A toast to you,

Gary Westby

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Gary Westby