Guide to the Loire regions

Côtes du Forez



 Ce sont les ‘Cochons’ de Boën
            Contre les ‘Renards’ de Trelins
                Ou le ‘Bouteillons’ de la Bouteresse
                 Les ‘Nez Longs’ de Pralong
                 Ou les ‘Rossignols’ de Sail-sous-Couzan
                  Ou les ‘Chèvres’ de Bussy-Albieu…

- Proverbe Forézien

At the northern end of the Côtes du Forez sits this hilltop town with its feudal château, dating back to 12th Century. Although the town is included within the décret for both the appellation and Vin de Pays, there is little current evidence of vines here.

La Réserve de Biterne

Based around a series of natural lakes sits this 38 hectare reserve which acts as a stop-off point for many migrant birds.
T: + 33 4 77 24 02 65

Château de Couzan

More recently made famous as the birthplace of Aimé Jacquet, coach of the French World Cup winning team of 1998. It’s worth a visit to see the ruined 11th Century Château de Couzan, the oldest stronghold of the Dukes of Forez, once the region’s most powerful feudal rulers. It remains one of the most important examples of medieval fortresses in France and enjoys commanding views over the Lignon valley below. It’s not easy to find; driving out of the village towards Saint-Georges, it is located up a small track, vaguely signposted ‘château’. Guided visits take place at 15h00, 16h00 and 17h00, otherwise the gates are locked and access is denied for fear of falling masonry.

Known as Bodenno or Boenco, when the 11th Century cartulaire at Abbey of Souvigny was written, the rather dull town of Boën (pronounced ‘Bowen’) has long been considered the viticultural centre of the Forez. It is also the capital of the Pays de l’Astrée and apart from viticulture, it was also once seen as a centre for light industry and metalwork.  

At the turn of the 19th Century, Boën was a true wine capital, hosting over 100 bistrots and buvettes, drinking houses and a Forez institution. Today, apart from its excellent wine museum, there is no evidence of a wine culture within the town and suffers from a dearth of hotels or restaurants.

You will find some of the 3,100 Boënnaises shopping at its Thursday morning market, otherwise a trip to the wine museum is the only real attraction.

Le Musée de la Vigne
This dedicated wine museum and ornamental park opened in 2002 and is located in the Château Chabert, a restored 18th Century Italianesque edifice, declared a national monument in 1942. Years of misuse and neglect had left it all but abandoned, but in 1977 the municipality created an association, Le Château de Boën, to aide with its restoration. It is now operated in partnership with the Cave Cooperative. The museum is situated on the main road in the centre of the town and is open Tuesday to Sunday between 14h00 and 18h00, but closes on Monday and for December, January and February. There is a modest entrance fee (€ 4.00 in 2009). It would be advisable to check opening times before planning a visit.

Le Musée de la Vigne
Danielle Moullier
Place de la République
Boën sur Lignon
T : + 33 4 77 24 08 12
T : + 33 4 77 97 72 40
F : + 33 4 77 24 15 52

Just to the east of Boën, the Bastide d’Urfé is an early 16th Century residence in the Italian style on the banks of the river Lignon. It was the ancestral home of the author Honoré d’Urfé, famous for his novel L’Astrée. It was written towards the end of the Wars of Religion and is recognised as one of the landmarks of French literature. The château is open to the public. 

La Bastide d’Urfé
T: + 33 4 77 97 54 68

Just to the south of Saint-Étienne-Le-Molard is the rather undistinguished village of Montverdun. Its main attraction, however, is the 12th Century church and priory, which is mounted on top of an isolated volcanic pic that dominates the plain around it. Within its grounds lies a communal gîte, used by latter day pilgrims, as the priory lies on the route of Saint Jacques de Compostelle. More recently, on the south facing slope, vineyards have been re-established (actually planted to Pinot-Gris) by Domaine Verdier-Logel. It’s certainly worth spending an hour exploring the grounds and the enjoying the view. The priory is open for visits for a modest (€2,50 in 2009) charge, although times vary according to the season.

Association des Amis du Pic
Le Prieuré
T/F: +33 4 77 97 53 33

Marcoux is a pretty village sitting on the slopes above the Forez plain. Its main attraction is the 16th Century Château de Goutelas, a modest fortified house, complete with a dry moat that was rescued from abandonment in the early 1960s. Probably its most famous visitor was Duke Ellington, who played a concert here in February 1966 and subsequently named one of his compositions The Goutelas Suite. It is open to the public.

Founded on a 20 million year old volcano and situated at the very heart of the Côtes du Forez vineyards, is the pretty hillside village of Marcilly-le-Châtel. On the summit of the pic is a sprawling 12th Century Château which enjoys several mentions in Honoré d’Urfé’s L’Astrée. Although reconstructed in the 14th Century it is now in ruin.

The origins of this fortified village date back to the first millennium, although its name has changed and evolved many times over the centuries: CANDICUS the original Roman name), CANDIACO (11th Century), CHANDIACO (13TH Century), CHANDIEU (at the end of the 16th Century) and was known as CHAMP-DIEU until 1800. The walls were erected during the Hundred Years War to protect the priory and the inhabitants of the village. Champdieu is probably the principle village attraction in the Forez, with its Benedictine priory and church, which were fortified much earlier - during the 11th and 12th Centuries – the monks who established it arriving from the Abbaye de Manglieu in the Auvergne. Later, it too found itself on the route of Saint Jacques de Compostelle. Open for visits, but best check opening times in advance through the local mairie:
T: + 33 4 77 97 17 29
T: + 33 4 77 97 02 68
F: + 33 4 77 97 02 22

With a population of around 15,000, Montbrison has been the provincial capital of the Forez since 1441. It was originally established as a village on top of a volcanic mound (it was first mentioned in documents that date from 870) and was fortified after the invasion of the English during the Hundred Years’ War. It was François I who attached the town to the French Crown in 1531, but like many other provincial centres, it has seen much conflict, being attacked during of the Wars of Religion by Protestants.  

Today, Montbrison is a sleepy, uneventful town on the banks of the Vizézy, a stream that runs through the very centre of its medieval heart. But it comes to life every Saturday morning when market stalls appear on its streets, a tradition that has been in place for the past 700 years.

Points of architectural interest include La Collégiale Notre-Dame d’Espérance, a Gothic church dating between 1226 and 1466. It was constructed by Guy IV, Comte de Forez. Apparently, the founding stone was laid by his son, the future Guy V de Forez.

Another building worth seeking out is La Diana, also built by one of the Comtes de Forez, this time Jean I in the 13th Century. Its salle des Anciens États du Forez has an impressive vaulted wooden ceiling. An archeological museum within was created in 1881 and contains vestiges originating from the principal sites of the Forez. It also contains a library of 20,000 works. Open to the public on Wednesday and Saturday.

La Diana
7 rue Florimond Robertet
T: + 33 4 77 96 01 10
F: + 33 4 77 58 89 90

Situated about ten minutes drive south of Montbrison, a trip to the ancient priory is a must see for any visitor to the Forez. It’s not a huge edifice, yet rather an elegant little Romanesque church on top of a volcanic mound. Its slopes are home to some of the best sited vineyards in the whole region (even if they are not within the Côtes du Forez itself).

It is a stiff climb up from the village, yet well worth the effort although you will need to check in advance that you are able to access the interior of the priory to see 10th to 15th Century frescos.

On the climb up, it is difficult not to be impressed by the new plantings that have arisen here (the original vineyards were lost during the Great War of 1914-1918). In 1998, Daniel Mondon’s and Stéphane Réal, the two local vignerons, were invited by the maire to re-establish vines on the slopes. Apart from the physical task of clearing the land after years of neglect, managing the bureaucracy that comes with such fractional ownership of the slope should be considered a feat in itself. Photographs taken circa 1910 (and displayed in the cellar at Domaine Réal) show that the vineyard once extended right up to the wall of the priory, proving the importance of this historic site. Apart from the religious significance, it also happens to be the most aesthetically pleasing vineyard in the whole of the Forez.

The village itself is a fairly unremarkable place, with its main contribution to the wine industry today being the Saint-Gobain glass manufacturer, who has a bottle making facility in the town.

Prieuré de Saint-Romain-de-Puy
T: + 33 4 77 76 92 10

Monts du Forez
This mountain chain was created during the Tertiary Period at the same time that the Alps were formed. The topography we see today is mostly the result of volcanic activity during the Miocene Epoch and the glacial erosion formed during the Quaternaire Period (the last Ice Age). The Monts du Forez is a natural extension of the Monts de la Madeleine to the north and mark the eastern-most point of the Massif Central . At 1,634 metres, the Pierre-sur-Haute marks the highest point of the chain. To the east they are flanked by the Forez plain and the river Loire, whilst to the west lies the Limagne, a fertile valley that channels the river Allier . At their peaks the climate is distinctly continental: winters are cold, windy and heavy snowfalls are normal. To the east, towards the Forez plain the weather is less severe with the mountains acting as a rain shadow ensuring the vineyard slopes are relatively dry. For the mountain communities who brave the often harsh conditions, the main forms of industry are forestry (notably pine) and cattle which are raised for dairy production, supplying their milk for the famous blue cheeses of the region. 

Parc Naturel Régional Livradois-Forez
Within the context of wine, this 300,000 hectare wooded and mountainous area divides the Côtes du Forez from the Côtes d’Auvergne. Created in 1986, the park encompasses the three départements of Loire , Haute-Loire and Puy-de-Dôme, covering the arrondissement of Ambert and Thiers. It was established to help regenerate and maintain local tradition and industry (such as lace-making and cheese-making) and to protect the region’s heritage. Its commitment to the environment made it one of the early pioneers of ‘green’ tourism.

Maison du Parc
T: + 33 4 73 95 57 57
F: + 33 4 73 95 57 84


Tourist Information Offices:

T: + 33 4 77 24 02 65
Cloître de Cordeliers
T: + 33 4 77 96 08 69
F: + 33 4 77 96 20 88

T: + 33 4 77 26 05 27

11 Rue Charles de Gaulle
T : + 33 4 77 55 37 03

T: + 33 4 77 52 05 14



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