There is a running ‘joke’ in our household that the last night of any trip is traditionally beset by ‘issues’. This has typically been a failure to book accommodation and finding that there was none available where we wanted to spend the night; or that the only place available was on the outskirts of town on the edge of an industrial park that doubled as the red light district alongside a four lane highway. True story.
Over the years, this has improved. In Mâcon our last night issue wasn’t accommodation but food. After the gastronomic delights of Provence we were determined to go out on a high. There is a Michelin starred place in Mâcon, but we wanted Burgundian food not a 12 course tasting menu. We tried several places: closed, fully booked, not very nice. Some time later we were still wandering the streets hungry and despairing.
Finally, we arrived outside Restaurant L’Ardoise on a pedestrianised street. We’d seen it earlier but it had been closed, now open it looked ideal for our final night in France. The friendly waitress seated us at a table from where we could see the chef hard at work in the kitchen. A menu of regional classics was accompanied by a list of local wines you could try by the glass. It was the perfect end to a day exploring Mâcon.
Sitting on the banks of the Saône nestling amidst one of Burgundy’s finest wine regions – this is the home of Pouilly Fouissé – Mâcon is a small, attractive town with a wealth of history. The vines of this region were first planted in Roman times and have been at the heart of the town’s culture and economy ever since. That both flourished is evidenced by the discovery in 1764 of the Mâcon Treasure, a vast Roman gold collection sadly lost over the centuries.
Another hint at Mâcon’s history is the 14th-century Pont Saint-Laurent, where you can stroll across the river to the small community that lives on the eastern bank of the Saône. The morning we left we awoke to see a vast sea of mist rolling off the river and obscuring the eastern bank. Slowly the sun broke through creating a magical visual effect. It was a wrench to leave.
Not far from the bridge is Mâcon’s oldest house, one of the few wooden structures left in the old town – which is mostly pedestrianised. The house dates from the 15th century and is decorated with intricately carved wooden panels featuring strange-looking people and mythical creatures. A short walk brings you to Mâcon’s old cathedral. Destroyed during the revolution, the spires reman an iconic city symbol.
A stroll along Quai Lamartine (named for one of France’s most famous poets and the town’s most famous son), takes you past a series of attractive riverfront buildings, including Au Comptoir des Halles, another decent restaurant. The nearby Église Saint-Pierre gives the impression of being ancient, but is in fact 19th century. Still, it has a nice interior of pinkish stone.
Mâcon is not a big place, it has around 35,000 inhabitants, and unless you’re using it as a base to explore southern Burgundy, you could visit in half a day. Yet, it’s worth spending a bit more time. At least to visit the Musée des Ursulines in an old convent. On our way to get the car we stopped in La Pétrie, a superb bakery, to get a few items for the trip back to Brussels. We were given an enormous piece of apricot tart for free. We’ll be stopping in Mâcon again.