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The ancient city of Roanne straddles the Loire River on France’s so-called Holiday Route, the N 7. The city is often bypassed by visitors on their way from Paris to the south, anxious to reach the land of Van Gogh and Cezanne and bask on the Riviera beaches. However, a recent trip to Roanne and the surrounding bucolic region showed me what I had been missing, especially in terms of food.
Maison TroisgrosAcross the street from Roanne’s humble train station is Maison Troisgros. One of the most famous restaurants in the world, Maison Troisgros boasts three Michelin stars and is connected to a boutique hotel. Just around the corner, Le Central is a brasserie styled as a cafe-epicerie that is also part of the Troisgros group. Both the restaurant and the brasserie exude understated elegance. The menus feature, among other things, the juicy, succulent AOC Charolais beef, raised in the Rhone-Alpes, delicate seasonal vegetables and decadent desserts. Much of the fare at Maison Troisgros is highly imaginative, bursting with surprising combinations, while the cuisine at Le Central is less extravagant and more classic.www.troisgros.com
Chocolate Pilgrimage Roanne is a place of pilgrimage for chocolate lovers. Francois Pralus, one of the last three French master chocolatiers to produce his own chocolate from cocoa beans, presides over his artisan factory. The cocoa beans are selected from all over the world, and Pralus identifies the chocolate by place of origin and flavor profile on his brilliantly wrapped confections. His ‘Tropical Pyramid” features a stack of 10 different chocolates, such as one from Indonesia with a woody aroma, a fruity one from Madagascar and one from Trinidad with a hint of tobacco. It is possible, by prior appointment, to visit the factory, or visitors can simply indulge themselves with a visit to one of the company’s two retail shops in Roanne.www.chocolats-pralus.com
Wine in the Cote RoannaisMany of the vineyards and wineries of the Cote Roannais are found north of the city of Roanne, near villages and towns that reflect the presence of the monks who were predominant there in the Middle Ages. Around Charlieu, you can visit a Cistercian church, a Benedictine church and a Franciscan cloister, in addition to local wineries. In Charlieu itself, visit the fascinating silk museum and its shop and then take time for a leisurely lunch at the Restaurant Relais de L’Abbaye de Charlieu. While sipping Cote Roannais wine and nibbling housemade foie gras terrine, visitors can watch the huge white Charolais cattle grazing across the road.
Chateau de Champlong About 10 minutes away from Roanne is the 18th-century Chateau de Champlong and its restaurant, set amidst manicured lawns and gardens. Chef Olivier Boizet sources his ingredients from small local producers, including cheeses from Laurent Mons, a well-known fromager/affineur nearby. In the morning, the dining room becomes the sun-drenched breakfast room, with a huge buffet of local breads, housemade jams, charcuteries and cheeses, and of course, steaming hot cafe au lait. There is even a three-course children’s menu and a teen menu. Clients can also book a massage or a cooking class.www.chateau-de-champlong.com
Wandering among the narrow streets of medieval villages such as Ambierle, strolling along the banks of the Saint Jean-Saint Maurice sur Loire or hiking in the Monts de la Madeleine are other special attractions in the Roanne region. Wherever they go, travelers will find that attention to food and wine, whether at the table or in production, is a hallmark of this beautiful area.