We have stayed at three locations within France that are part of the France Passion scheme - it has been excellent. You purchase a one year membership with French Passion for about $40 Australian which entitles you to stay at over 800 farms or wineries in France for one night per place at no cost. You don’t book – you just turn up in the afternoon and if there is a space for your fully self contained motorhome (this is a requirement), you have a place for the night.
The France Passion booklet has very basic information so you take your best guess. We chose Domaine de Maisons Neauve for our first stay – it’s in the Rhone/Alps area of France – lower middle. To get there we decided to head in the general direction just using the GPS. On the way we drive through gorgeous French villages…flowers in the window boxes, shutters and old houses built right on the road. Then the grape vines start appearing. We arrive down a skinny road with some apprehension imagining we will be put somewhere at the back of the winery. Instead Francoise says bonjour, offers a tour of his cellars and is the genial host for over an hour. Prior to the tour he asks to park at the top of the winery with 360 degree views of the French village below. The church bells ring, the distant village lights begin to glow as night falls. Francoise specialty is Beaujolais (although he does a lovely methode traditionale champagne style wine too). Francoise’s family has had the winery since the French Revolution…The Beaujolais is delish. He confesses that he also does some ‘bag in box’…We don’t understand but then realize he means cask wine! We head back to the motorhome and find that a Dutch couple have turned up in their motorhome so we drink wine and chat till midnight.
Thinking we have hit the jackpot with the first night we hope for the best for night two by heading for a French farm called La Petit Corfeil in La Tangiere (about the middle of France). We meet a delightful French family who own the farm. We book a home cooked French farm meal with them for 8pm. They specialize in duck and have many ‘chevaux’ (horses in the paddock). They realize we are ‘Dostralee” (Australian) and are very happy as we are their first Aussies. They look at us and say ahhh “Crocodill Dundee’’!! They give us a five course meal with duck, French salad, terrine, vegetables, main course, 3 fantastic homemade cheeses, chocolate mousse, cherry pie and coffee. We chat till midnight and fall into bed. The next morning they offer a free ride on one of their beautiful horses. We exchange gifts and email addresses and say au revoir.
This is so good, it couldn’t get better, could it? Day 3 we head to the Champagne region about 100 kilometers east of Paris. We choose the Champagne winery of Henry De Vaugency in the small village of Oger. At first we can’t find the place as all we can see is a French mansion and a Musee de Mariage….turns out that the family own the mansion, the marriage museum (one of three in France celebrating ‘marriage’) and a large spread of champagne vines on the hill above. We drive into the mansion feeling like trespassers and are greeted by Pasquale. Stepping out of his Mercedes he greets us like old friends (what’s going on here we wonder, is this a for real) and immediately suggest glasses of fine French champagne (the real stuff) for all. He shows us around the most incredible French garden that is perfectly tended. The next day we get a full tour of the wine ‘cave’ (or cellar as we call it). We are free to roam the grounds and enjoy the village.