Exploring the Cellars of Chartreuse
Friend of IT Anastasia Kolobrodova is back to regale us with her journey to the caves of Chartreuse in Voiron, France.
Last week, when my friend was visiting me in Lyon, France, we scheduled all of the usual touristy things – sojourning to Paris, visiting every pâtisserie in town, eating crêpes at least three times daily. But the highlight by far is when we hopped on a train for a day trip to Voiron, a small town near Grenoble, to tour the cellars of Chartreuse. Every liquor has a tale, but Chartreuse’s background is particularly intriguing. Based on a 1605 recipe for the Elixir of Life, the combination of 130 herbs that create Chartreuse’s uniquely medicinal flavor has been handed down for generations. At any given time only two people in the world know the recipe, and, both being silent monks of the Order of Chartreuse, they’re surely not going to tell.
On the free guided tour of the cellars and distillery, we winded through the impressively long hallways of the largest liqueur cellar in the world, as our guide divulged historic tidbits about the liquor. Due to persecution, our guide explained, the monks here were forced to flee twice from the area and set up alternate distilleries in Tarragona, Spain and Marseille, France in order to continue making Chartreuse.
After gazing longingly at the giant barrels of aging Chartreuse, visitors sit down to a short film about the history of the monks, which is pretty hilarious in its wanton use of 3D technology.
The tour culminates with a free tasting of any one of the nine products made in the distillery. I made the mistake of ordering, at my friend’s behest, the Gentiane, a liquor intriguingly described as being made from the roots of Alpine flowers. Though the tour guide warned me it would be bitter, I thought that I would enjoy it, considering my love for hopsy beer and dark chocolate. The Gentiane went above and beyond my expectations and I could only manage meager swallows of the bitter concoction while my friend happily sipped on her healthy pour of tasty green Chartreuse. While enjoying our drinks, we had fun looking at the assortment of old bottles displayed in the tasting room, including a full shelf of Chartreuse impostors and counterfeits through the ages.
If after the tasting you still haven’t had your fill of the delicious herbal liquor, you can buy any variety of it in the Chartreuse gift shop. We opted for the authentic and purchased the Elixir Végétal in its original form: a small, yet powerful bottle of 71% alcohol, sold in a wooden case and promising eternal life. If you’re not that hardcore, you can also sample Chartreuse for as little as three euros per serving, even in its fanciest varieties, at any of the bars in Voiron.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
There are also plenty of other things to do in Voiron before and after the tour. We visited the beautiful church of Saint-Bruno, sampled food from the large local market, and bought mouthwatering treats from Bonnat Chocolatier, one of the few chocolatiers in France that roasts cocoa beans in-house. All in all, Voiron provides a delicious day trip from Lyon.
Caves de la Chartreuse, 10 boulevard Edgar-Kofler, 38500 Voiron http://www.chartreuse.fr/pa_visit_uk.htm
Read More: Check out La Guillotine, the bar that’s a former prison in Paris.
Photo: Vintage bottles of Chartreuse by Anastasia Kolobrodova