Being in Burgundy

What it's like and what to do when you get there



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.

Arrive
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.

Sleep
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.



Sip
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.

Eat
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

See
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.

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Comments

  • Snooth User: Zaffiro
    929872 5

    3 questions:
    1. What are your options, if you don't speak French?
    2. What are your obligations (moral or otherwise) to buy some wine, if someone has come in from the fields and opened their kitchen just for you to pour you a glass or two of wine? It doesn't sound like you can just walk away empty handed as in a big winery's tasting room.
    3. If you do buy, can you bring it home through customs (and are the duties worth it)?

    Oct 08, 2012 at 1:32 PM


  • Snooth User: snoman
    229582 202

    Another gateway that's convenient is Geneva, Switzerland. Pick up a car on the French side of the airport (straddles the border), and it's an easy and pretty drive to Beaune, about 2 hours.

    Oct 08, 2012 at 3:17 PM


  • Thanks, Christy. Makes me want to get on a plane right now I'm saving this for when that happy day comes :-)

    Oct 08, 2012 at 5:30 PM


  • We are California pinot producers and have visited our barrelmakers in the Cote d'Or for many years. I disagree that it is a 'tedious' drive from CDG--once you get out of the urban area, the autoroute (A6) is lovely and uncrowded. Also, what we have taken to doing is stopping in Chablis for the night at the above mentioned Hostellerie des Clos after only an hour and a half drive from CDG--it's a great place to unwind after the plane ride, with a wonderful restaurant. Chablis is a charming town, and you can walk your jet lag off the next day, and then leisurely drive down to the Cote d'Or. You can also get off at the Dijon exit, and meander down to the Cote d'Or along the wonderful little villages that are alongside the famous canal. Get a Michelin map because there are all sorts of back roads that are just wonderful and nearly empty. Another restaurant recommendation: Le Chassagne--beautiful light food, perfectly paired to the famous white Burgundies, located in the village of the same name. Best time of year to go since Burgundy has a notoriously unpredictable climate: late spring (May-early June) when everything is in bloom, particularly the beautiful irises.

    Oct 08, 2012 at 5:35 PM


  • Snooth User: klarose
    1016952 1

    Nice piece. But I think you meant the people were discreet rather than discrete.

    Oct 08, 2012 at 6:08 PM


  • Another possibility to get around is the Voie Verte bike path - http://www.americansinfrance.net/At...

    Oct 09, 2012 at 1:56 AM


  • Snooth User: Christy Canterbury MW
    Hand of Snooth
    1060100 60,719

    Zaffiro,

    1. It's always best to make an appointment in advance. If no one speaks French, you'll know in advance and can decide accordingly whether or not you want to go.
    2. There is no obligation to buy, but if you've made an appointment and spent 30-60 minutes with a producer, hopefully you'll be wanting to buy! I would buy at least one bottle.
    3. You can legally bring back 2 bottles without customs taxes. Only importers can bring in large quantities of wine to the US. If you ship, it is at your own risk. A lot of producers won't package up wines for shipping for you.

    Oct 09, 2012 at 11:49 AM


  • Snooth User: Christy Canterbury MW
    Hand of Snooth
    1060100 60,719

    Snoman,

    Yes, from Geneva it is a BEAUTIFUL drive!

    Thanks.

    Oct 09, 2012 at 11:50 AM


  • Snooth User: amour
    Hand of Snooth
    218530 1,748

    Thanks, Christy! Very generous of you to share these wonderful useful tips with us all!
    In particular, I love the wines of Morey Saint Denis, (Clos Saint Denis, within modern times) and of course, so many of DRC's, notably La Tache and not to forget Madame LeRoy's offerings, oh so distinctive!

    Oct 09, 2012 at 12:24 PM


  • Snooth User: ChefJune
    359212 33

    Surprised you didn't mention the wonderful (and Michelin starred) Ma Cuisine in Beaune. IMHO some of the best food in Burgundy (and there's a lot of that)!

    Oct 09, 2012 at 12:59 PM


  • Snooth User: zinfandel1
    Hand of Snooth
    154660 995

    What is the ideal season to visit Burgundy?

    Oct 11, 2012 at 6:40 AM


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