As lifestyles go, flouncing about rural France in a classic car in pursuit of world-famous wine has got to be hard to beat. Which is why here at Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, November is one of our favourite months.
As the nights draw in over Folkestone, each year without fail we welcome a procession of wacky road racers onto our shuttles. These madcap motorists make up the contestants of the annual Beaujolais Run ®, a car race from England to France and back again, all in honour of the humble grape.
Whether you're hoping to compete in the race or simply following in its tyre tracks, a road trip through the region during the local Beaujolais Nouveau day festivities is an unforgettable way to experience the true meaning of France's love affair with wine.
What's it all about?
The object of the racers affections is Beaujolais Nouveau. This pink-red wine celebrated its 60th birthday in 2011, having been born of a 1951 decree allowing for newly harvested wines, or primeurs, to be sold a month earlier than standard bottles. It is made from hand-picked Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc grapes that ferment for only a few weeks in the autumn.
By the third Thursday of November, it is time to get your corkscrews at the ready and let festivities begin. The race to be the first to uncork the year's new vintage started off as a local phenomenon between rival bars and restaurants, but soon spread across La Manche thanks to two boozy Brits and the small matter of a bet.
The Beaujolais Run ® mayhem dates back to 1970, when rival wine critics Joseph Berkmann and Clement Freud were sharing a meal of Coq au Vin at the Hotel Maritonnes just south of Mâcon during the Beaujolais Nouveau season.
Somewhere along the line, restaurateur and wine distributor Berkmann found himself racing fellow foody Freud, MP and chairman of the London Playboy Club, back to London each with their respective bootloads of Beaujolais Nouveau. Berkmann won, twice. After hearing about it through the grapevine, Sunday Times columnist Alan Hall threw down the gauntlet to the public in 1973 and a new rally was born.
Since then, everything from parachutes to elephants has been used in the annual race to deliver the first bottle. The Ritz Hotel in London even waived its famously strict dress code for the first time ever, to allow the treasured bottle of Beaujolais to be delivered in haste. But while speed was initially the name of the game, this soon had to be ditched when a few over-enthusiastic RAF pilots spoiled all the fun by joining the race in a Harrier jet.
A good cause
With all the records broken, the famous Beaujolais Run ® then matured into its current form - a navigational charity event pitting map reader against map reader and fundraiser against fundraiser. The winner of the race is the team that raises the most money for charity, with the runner up being the team that travels the shortest distance from start to finish.
Dubbed 'Europe's biggest rolling house party', the Beaujolais Run ® is as much about driving enthusiasts soaking up the delights of France's D Roads as it is about the Dionysian drink-a-thon. But you don't have to be Nigel Mansell to enter, although he has – along with fellow celebrity contestants Damon Hill, Eddie Jordan and even Des Lynum.
Out of the pits
Meeting at a different location in England each year, the convoy of classic cars, super cars, kit cars and even plain old bangers fire up their engines for a warm up run down to Folkestone.
Past sites for the starting pistol have included Brands Hatch racetrack in Swanley, Kent and the Brooklands circuit in Weybridge, Surrey. The organisers of the 'Run also won permission to become the first event ever to set off from BBC Top Gear's world famous test track.
Magical mystery tour
Luckily, the Channel crossing stage of the race is no longer at the mercy of the wild and wintery weather. Instead, teams enjoy a quick 35-minute ride on the Eurotunnel le Shuttle en route to Calais, before setting off on their magical mystery tour to Mâcon and beyond.
The route of the race is always changing – and always top secret – but you can be sure to pass through some of the best vineyard vistas in the world.
Beaujolais is a historical name given to the region just north of Lyon, which stretches from the north of the Rhône-Alpes region to the south of the Saône-et-Loire area of Burgundy. The traditional capital of the region is Beaujea, with the main town now Villefranche-sur-Saône. The area is renowned for itshistoric towns, long rural roads and riverside walks.
After a day spent dashing through some of the most stunning scenery in France, the finish line:a streetparty with the locals to celebrate the first uncorking of the Beaujolais Nouveau. Once the morning after the night before has been spent recovering, the conga line of cars pick their way back home. The more leisurely pace allows for a proper exploration of the region's beauty spots – be sure not to miss the ancient towns of Fleurie, Beaune and Cluny.
Where to stay
The Hotel Maritonnes in Romanèche-Thorins is the place where it all began. It is a well-established four star retreat set in wooded grounds, with 21 bedrooms, two suites a pool and a Jacuzzi. The restaurant is renowned for its traditional top class gastronomy, specialising in regional dishes.
Click here to visit the Hotel Maritonnes
Hotel Belle Epoque is a three star establishment in the centre of historic Beaune. As former wine merchant's house, the house boasts some beautiful architectural flourishes and offers a terrace from which to take in the town. It also has a handy lock-up car park for visitors.
Click here to visit the Hotel Belle Epoque
Click here to search for other hotels in the Beaune area
How to get there
If you fancy taking part in this year's Beaujolais Run ®, visit www.beaujolaisrun.com