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The gourmet Village Blanc | Vonnas, Ain

Vintage decor at L'Ancienne Auberge, Village Blanc,

Between the magnificent vineyards of Macon in Burgundy and Bourg-en-Bresse Rhone-Alpes, around 50km north of Lyon, lies Vonnas. It’s a small town, with some 3000 residents. But – it is no ordinary small town. It’s here that an extraordinary chef, Georges Blanc, has created an entire gourmet village.

A village dedicated to food. And not just any old food. The best food in France. Two restaurants, one which has 3 Michelin stars, that serve the most delicious dishes accompanied by superb wines. A 5 star hotel and a holiday residence. Plus a magnificent boulangerie/patisserie, wine store and shops dedicated to all things French cuisine – including tableware. Village Blanc in Vonnas is the place to go for foodies.

Village Blanc – a foodie paradise

Chef Georges Blanc is world famous. Visit his 5 star Hôtel Relais & Châteaux Parc & Spa Georges Blanc and you can’t help but notice the walls are  decorated with photos of past guests and those he’s cooked for – presidents, prime ministers, royalty, Hollywood celebrities. But visit the village and you’ll quickly see that it’s not just the rich and the famous who adore his dishes – the village caters to everyone who loves food.

Chef Blanc, who was born in Bourg-en-Bresse in 1943, comes from a chef dynasty – three generations of famous women cooks. His great grandparents 1872 started a lemonade production in Vonnas. Grandmother Elisa Blanc was known as “La Mere Blanc” and voted the best cook in the world by the famous French food critic Curnonsky and was the first in the family to achieve a Michelin star. His mother Paulette was also a great chef who held two Michelin stars. Through a generation of talented cooks, Maison Blanc has been Michelin starred since 1929. Georges Blanc is also a Meilleur Ouvrier de France, an award that recognises the outstanding and extraordinary skills of craftsmen and women. He’s won multiple awards and has held 3 stars since 1981.

Chef Georges Blanc

Chef Georges Blanc

When I stopped off in Vonnas, you can’t take a gastronomic odyssey of the Vallée de la Gastronomie and not visit this famous foodie town, he invited me into his office for a chat.

“When I was young, I wanted to be a pilot more than anything” he said. I looked around his office, the shelves packed with books, awards, certificates line the walls, his own books are in a pile – he’s written many – recipe books, memories, the sayings he admires collected into a volume of “thoughts”, and more.

“As you can see, it didn’t work out that way – I went into the kitchen instead. J’adore mon metier, I love my job. When people come here I want them to love it,” he said. “Visitors come from all walks of life, but share a common love – good food.”

I asked him what makes a great dish and without hesitation he replied “sauce. Without a good sauce the dish is nothing. Sauces are my signature. Oil, tomatoes, olives, a mix of Mediterranean flavours are essentials. A sauce depends on the time you have, the circumstances you’re cooking in, whether you want something sophisticated or authentic.”

I left his office to wander the village and build up an appetite for lunch. You can’t go to Vonnas and not eat. It would be a sin!

The art of gastronomy

Cakes at Patisserie Blanc, Village Blanc

The village hosts a traditional holiday residence and a 42-bed 5 star hotel. Aside from the boulangerie/patisserie, wine store and tableware shop, there’s also a chocolaterie, a butchers shop, cinema and park with, of course, outdoor eating area. Chef Blanc bought his first building here in 1990 and then kept going, with some 30 properties now included as his dream to create a gourmet village kept growing. This place is astonishing. A real tribute to his ancestors, to great gastronomy, to the products of Burgundy. “I’m not done yet” he says “I’ve got a 20-year project (at least) that I want to fulfil!”

L’Esprit Blanc, the Michelin starred restaurant is very refined and sophisticated with a glass cellar that is simply breathtaking. The restaurant holds around 140,000 bottles of wine, the oldest dates to 1845. It’s one of the greatest restaurant cellars in the world, “of course the most popular wine is from Burgundy” I’m told.

L’Ancienne Auberge is quite different. This was the family restaurant and it’s oh so French with red and white check table cloths and vintage furnishings. It has an olde worlde air of authenticity, like stepping back to the days of Chef Blanc’s great grandmother. Until you see the kitchen which is big and open, clearly visible to diners, revealing chefs beavering away at state of the art preparation stations creating traditional and classic dishes.

L’Ancienne auberge of Vonnas

He may be 80 years old, but Chef Blanc shows no signs of slowing down and is as passionate as ever about food and about his gastronomic village. I sat at a table in the auberge, and watched as he arrived, a flurry of excitement ran through the restaurant as guests craned their necks to watch the legendary chef make his way to the kitchen. He beckoned me over and I trotted behind him to the sacred area where the theatre of cooking was in full flow. The whole kitchen was a flurry of activity, heavenly smells and fast working chefs.

“You must have the Bresse chicken, it’s the signature dish here,” Chef Blanc said as I watched wide-eyed as he inspected each station and watched as chefs chopped, grated, sliced, fried, squeezed pipes filled with cream, dripped oils and created plates for the large, full restaurant. “Maybe you would like some frogs legs and escargots too” he said with a smile, before wandering around the restaurant to say hello to guests and pose for photos. People flock from all around the world to spend a night in Village Blanc and experience the gourmet wonders, the ambiance of the hotel and the residence. This pretty little gastro-village is THE place to go for true foodies.

And the sauce served with the Bresse chicken? Divine. You can eat yourself to a standstill here.

Find out more at: georgesblanc.com/en

Discover the hundreds of scrumptious experiences offered along the Vallee de la Gastronomie: valleedelagastronomie.com/en

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