There is nothing like spending time in Burgundy. The villages and countryside are beautiful and timeless. The people are discreet but warm. Burgundy is like comfort food for wine lovers.
The TGV is the most convenient way to arrive from Paris. There are frequent, direct trains to Dijon and Le Creusot (about ten minutes east of Chalon-sur-Saône and 30 minutes south of Chassagne-Montrachet). There is also an occasional direct train to Beaune. If you’re going to Beaune and there’s no direct train, just transfer at Dijon for a regional train. The wait is usually no longer than 20 minutes. Beware: you will have to haul your luggage up and down stairs at both stations.
Dijon and Le Creusot host rental car companies at the train stations. Most of Beaune’s car rental options are not on-site but are only a quick taxi ride away. Driving from Paris is, of course, an option, but it’s a tedious, three-hour drive to Beaune on the A6.
If you’re touring France’s wine regions and are coming from Bordeaux, hop on an Eastern Airways flight to Dijon. It’s inexpensive and much faster than taking the train all the way north to Paris then south to Burgundy. No TGV routes cut across the plateau in the center of the country.
Burgundy is cozy, but it’s not small. Though the Côte d’Or is only 32 miles long, Chablis is 1.5 hours north of the northern tip of the “Gold Coast.” Mâcon, at the southern edge of Burgundy, is an hour from Santenay at the southern point of the Côte d’Or. (For this column, I am not including Beaujolais.) So, the location of your pillow is very important.
For most, Beaune is ideal. It is centrally located and full of stores, wine bars and restaurants. “Downtown” is small and pleasant to stroll. Charm oozes from mortar at the chambre d’hôte Jardins de Loïs, situated on the southern side of the loop that circles Beaune. Just across the way is the larger and more luxurious Hôtel le Cep, which cutely classifies its rooms from Bourgogne to Grand Cru to Nectar!
Dijon is the largest city and home to almost 50 percent of the Côte d’Or’s residents. However, it is a major city, so it doesn’t feel like wine country. I suggest visiting for a day and lodging closer to the vineyards.
Burgundy, France image via Shutterstock
If you’re romanced by the idea of staying in a sleepy village, try Maison d’Hôtes La Colombière run by winemaker Anne Gros. The rooms are intimate and tasteful. Besides, the maison is in the heart of Vosne-Romanée, just a stone’s throw from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
It is critically important to establish your tasting itinerary before you reach Burgundy. Many wineries are small family businesses. They must organize who is in the field tending to vines or bottling the Bourgogne Blanc, who is picking up Jean-Pierre from l’école for lunch and who is pouring wine for you. The French, especially the Burgundians, have not yet embraced the Internet. However, if you can’t find a producer, there’s a good chance the BIVB, the regional winegrowers’ association, will have their details. Again, this is not Napa Valley; you will often taste in the cellar or at the kitchen table. In fact, I even recommend making appointments for tastings and tours at négociant houses of Beaune.
Not only is Burgundy comfort food for wine lovers, it also serves comfort food. The food is often rustic and always heavy. After all, it takes a lot of energy to punch down all those cuvées or to stay warm pruning vines in icy wind! Of course, certain establishments serve highly refined food. Whatever the style, the food is very likely made using local and often organic ingredients. Even if you’re not cooking, the Saturday morning markets in Dijon and Beaune are great feasts for the eyes. Chagny hosts a Sunday market that is small, quaint and very bourguignon. Here are some of my favorite restaurants:
Chablis: Hostellerie des Clos
Gevrey-Chambertin: Chez Guy and Family
Nuits-Saint-Georges: La Cabotte
Beaune: Le Comptoir des Tontons, Bistrot de l’Hôtel and Bistrot du Bord de l’Eau
Montceau: Jérome Brochot
When you just want a glass or a pint, here are my top spots:
Beaune: Pickwick's Pub, Bar du Square and Route 66
Puligny-Montrachet: Le Montrachet
Chagny: La Cave à Bières
When you are not tasting, you should be touring. In Beaune, don’t miss the famous Hospices de Beaune and the wine-focused bookshop Athenaeum. You can also tour the Château du Clos de Vougeot.
Surprisingly, there is more to Burgundy than wine. You can’t look right or left without seeing a hiking or biking route. Climb the Parcours Batier from Gevrey-Chambertin to Chambolle-Musigny after lunch at Chez Guy and Family. Bike the Route des Grand Crus from Maranges to Puligny-Montrachet then quench your thirst at Le Montrachet’s wine bar.
In Dijon, learn about making mustard at the Boutique Maille. Remember: always make a reservation in Burgundy! In the Mâconnais, a visit to the restored Cluny Abbey is a must. In Beaune, antique shops abound. Kids love riding the merry-go-round on Place Carnot and boating at the Parc de la Bouzaise.
Burgundy offers many pleasures and many comforts for everyone. The landscape, the wines, the food, the people and the pace of life are all irresistable. Pardon me, I must go book my next flight on Air France.