Each August, over a period of two days, two-hundred volunteers serve 3,000 dinners in two hours each night. Four thousand bottles of Saumur-Champigny are opened and ten different vintages can be tasted. For the past fourteen years the town of Saumur has welcomed people from all over the world to join in its celebration of life in the Loire with a meal by the river in the open air accompanied by its most famous red wine, Saumur-Champigny.
It’s All About the Wine
Saumur-Champigny is a red wine only appellation of 1,550 hectares and its vineyards are located in eight communes perched on a plateau above and around the lovely market town of Saumur. This is the land of Cabernet Franc and although a little Cabernet Sauvignon and Pineau d’Aunis are also permitted in the blend, most wines are 100% Cabernet Franc. It’s a dry spot with low rainfall (around 450mm a year), beautiful wild flowers grow between the vines in springtime and it is a perfect place for cycling. Each year around 100 growers give a percentage of their grapes that are then vinified together to create the special wine that is served during the festivities the following year. It’s a wine created to have mass appeal with ripe fruit and supple tannins and be representative of the appellation.
And the Place
Saumur is a delightful market town perched on the banks of the river Loire. It is home to the Cadre Noir (France’s national riding school) and future officers of the Armoured Cavalry Branch Training School. It is a town dominated by the elegance of officers on horseback and also by sparkling wine. Here, in the early nineteenth century, the first sparkling wine producer Ackerman was founded. Today you can spend an entire day just exploring the sparkling wine houses that made Saumur their home and took advantage of the miles and miles of limestone tunnels created long ago when the stone was quarried for building the great chateaux of the Loire valley.
And of Course the Food
Wine and food are inextricably linked and this extraordinary dinner party combines the best of both. Tickets for the dinner can be bought in advance from the tourist office to ensure you won’t be disappointed on the day. A modest twelve euros gives you a three-course meal and a glass to enjoy the different Saumur-Champigny wines on offer. Each year, local businesses contribute their expertise and you’ll find a selection of delicious fresh produce served throughout the evening. Expect to find creamy local goat’s cheese and juicy stuffed mushrooms, delicious crusty bread and fresh pastries. This simple produce is lovingly prepared and served up to thousands of hungry revelers.
Tucked away in a quiet side street, a ten-minute walk from the centre, is the Pot de Lapin (the rabbit pot), a favorite haunt of locals and winemakers alike. A great range of wines by the glass is on offer and you can choose to eat tapas style or go for a more traditional meal depending on your mood. In the centre of town, L’Alchimiste offers inventive but traditional cuisine in a contemporary setting and for gastronomic dining the Gambetta (which has a Michelin star) is hard to beat. The Bistro de la Place in Place St Pierre is always buzzing and is a great spot to enjoy a glass on market day.
Where to Stay
If luxury is what you’re after then the Chateau de Verrières is a wonderful spot. More private home than hotel, it has 10 rooms, exquisitely decorated and the owners know how to make their guests feel truly at home. There is no restaurant but don’t let this put you off. Perfectly positioned in the center of town, you have the freedom to take advantage of the numerous restaurants close by including the Michelin starred Le Gambetta which is just a 5 minute walk away. A favorite bed and breakfast is Le Patio. Overlooking the river Loire and with a tiny private wine bar only available for use by guests, Romain Legrand the owner has to be one of the most smiley positive people you could hope to meet. The 5 rooms are quirky and authentic and there is a delightful interior courtyard where you can sit and read a book. Value for money can be found at Le Londres. Recently renovated, the 25 rooms and two apartments are clean and contemporary, service helpful and the location super central. A five-minute drive away is Chateau de Beaulieu, a lovely bed and breakfast owned by Irish couple Mary and Conor Coady-Maguire and the Manoir Plessis Bellevue, perched high on the hill with spectacular views over the river.
What else is there to do?
Be sure to pay the Combier Distillery a visit. The oldest distillery in the Loire valley, it retains its charm and a look around the old copper stills and a tasting of its delicious Triple Sec is sure to set you up for the day. Hire a bike and head off up above the town into the vineyards of Saumur Champigny. Cycle through the miles and miles of vineyards and stop off to discover the ancient walled vineyard of Antoine Cristal. This vineyard, one of two in the region, contains a series of walls built between 1898 and 1904 and is unique. Vines are planted on the north side of the wall and then trained through holes that bring the foliage out on the south side. And yes, the grapes do achieve a higher level of maturity than others in the region – stands to reason with the extra heat retained by the walls. If riding is your passion then do pay the National Riding School a visit where you can visit the stables and see the beautiful horses and don’t forget to call in on one or two of the sparkling wine houses located close by.
Les Grande Tablées du SaumurChampigny | www.saumur-champigny.com
Wednesday, August 5th and Thursday August 6th, 2015
Tickets 12€ for the meal & tasting glass or 6€ for a tasting glass
Reservations can be made via the Saumur Tourist Office and must be made in advance for the meal.
Tickets are dated and non-exchangeable.
How to get to Saumur
Take the TGV from Paris to either Tours or Angers and with one change you can be in Saumur. Alternatively hire a car and make the most of the Loire valley. It’s a beautiful region that is long and sprawling and has much to offer.
Chateau de Verrières | 53 rue d’Alsace | Saumur | 49400 Saumur | http://www.chateau-verrieres.com
Le Patio Saumur Bed & Breakfast | 31 Quai Mayaud | 49400 Saumur | http://www.lepatiosaumur.fr
Le Londres Hotel & Apartments | 48 rue d’Orléans | 49400 Saumur | http://www.lelondres.com
Chateau de Beaulieu | 98 Route de Monsoreau | 49400 Saumur | http://www.chateaudebeaulieu.fr
Manoir Plessis-Bellevue | 15 rue Allix | 49400 Saumur | www.manoirplessisbellevue.com
Other Points of Interest
Le Cadre Noir Saumur (French National Riding School) | See www.cadrenoir.fr for information on visits and special events
Combier Distillery | 4! Rue Beaurepaire | 49400 Saumur | Guided visits available from April to October | http://www.combier.fr/fr/visite-maison-combier
Le Clos d’Entre Les Murs (walled vineyard of Antoine Cristal) | http://www.closdentrelesmurs.com/
Bouvet Ladubay (sparkling wine house) | St-Hilaire-St-Florent | Open 7/7 for tastings and visits (2€ per person) | www.bouvetladubay.com
Langlois Chateau (sparkling wine house) | St-Hilaire-St-Florent | Visits April to October (5€ per person) | www.langlois-chateau.fr
Le Pot de Lapin (closed Sunday and Monday) | Les Ardilliers | 35-37 rue Rabelais | 49400 Saumur | Tel: +33241671286
L’Alchimiste (closed Sunday and Monday) | 6 rue de Lorraine | 49400 Saumur | www.lalchimiste-saumur.fr
Restaurant Le Gambetta (closed Sunday evening, Monday and Wednesday) | 12 rue Gambetta | 49400 Saumur | www.restaurantlegambetta.fr
Bistro de la Place | 16 Place St Pierre | 49400 Saumur | www.bistrotdelaplace-saumur.com