Château-Chalon is a ridiculously attractive village perched on a cliff edge high on a plateau overlooking vineyards that blanket the valley below. It’s no surprise that it has earned the epithet of ‘lighthouse of the Jura’. There are sweeping views over the village and surrounding countryside from several viewing points, reached by meandering along picturesque streets lined with ancient buildings.
As with neighbouring Baume-les-Messieurs, the village has been awarded the title of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”, or ‘most beautiful villages of France’. It’s not hard to see why. For all that it is an attractive and historic village though, Château-Chalon is mostly famed for its yellow wines. The vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see in the valley below are not just any vineyards, many would say they produce the Jura’s finest wines.
Indeed, sitting in the heart of the Jura wine region, Château-Chalon proudly boasts its own Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, guaranteeing both the traditional methods used to make the wine and its quality. Coming in a uniquely squat bottle, the famed yellow wine known as Vin Jaune de Château-Chalon, is made with the unusual Savagnin grapes and has a taste resembling that of fino or manzanilla sherry. It’s not for everyone, but I like a good a fino.
Known as Jura Gold, the vin jaune was first made by nuns from the village’s abbey, and it has a unique production process. After fermentation, the wine matures in oak barrels for 6 years and 3 months. Unlike other wines, the wine lost to evaporation isn’t replaced by topping up the barrel with more wine. Instead a layer of yeast covers the liquid and stops oxidation. This gives it a flavour like no other French wine.
If you’re in Château-Chalon, it is almost obligatory to try the local wine. We had arrived at lunch and found a nice little cafe-cum-delicatessen, Les Pupitres de Céline, with a terrace where we ate local cheese and ham, all washed down with a chilled vin jaune. It was a hot day and we could easily have stayed on the terrace sampling wines, but the village called and we set off on a stroll to see the heights and sights.
The village isn’t large, it has fewer than 200 residents, and the post-lunch streets were empty of people. The wine trade has been good to the village, and there are many large houses built from the proceeds as well as pretty stone cottages lining the handful of streets that make up the village. The oldest building is the early 12th century church, the attractive Romanesque Église Saint-Pierre.
Close to the church is one of the finest view points in the village, the Belvédère de la Rochette. The panorama from here is extraordinarily beautiful, vineyards stretching into the distance punctuated by the occasional village in the valley below. There’s also a nice view across to another part of the village, terraced gardens climb up the steep hillside to the edge of the village itself.
We took a stroll around the deserted village streets. A tour on foot does not take very long and we soon found ourselves on the outskirts of the village. Here there are the remains of Château Fort de Château-Chalon, an 11th century castle. It was destroyed in 1595 by the first Bourbon King of France, Henri IV. The only thing left today is the ruin of a 15th century keep.
Château-Chalon feels like the sort of sleepy place that would make a relaxing base for exploring the region. As an added incentive, there are several wineries in the village, some do tours, where you can taste and buy Jura wines, including those made from grapes in the valley below.
3 thoughts on “Château-Chalon, lighthouse of the Jura”
What a beautiful place. Looks like exactly the sort of place I’d like to base myself. Love the shot of Église Saint-Pierre with the trough of red flowers in front- exactly the sort of scene I think of when I think of this part of the world.
It’s a tiny place, but so beautiful. I imagine the sunset over the valley is spectacular, definitely a reason to stay there.