Hiking and Yoga in the Vineyards of Burgundy: My Favorite Trails in Vosne Romanee

(Autumn 2016) Probably one of the best things about living in the tiny village of Vosne Romanee in Burgundy was the opportunity to hike through the famous vineyards. Instead of going to the gym, as I would have in California, I took time each day to do some yoga in my small rental house (gite) and hike through the vineyards just outside my door. Sometimes, I also did yoga poses in the vineyards, and took the time to meditate in such beautiful surroundings.

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Roading Leading to Romanee Conti Vineyard and Hillside Trails

Leaving my house, I would turn left and in less than 5 minutes, I was at the intersection of eight of the most famous grand cru vineyards in the world: 1) Romanee Conti – home of the most expensive pinot noir in the world, marked by the famous stone cross; 2) La Tache – my namesake vineyard, 3) Romanee St. Vivant, 4) Richebourg, 5) La Grand Rue; 6) La Romanee – smallest grand cru in Burgundy; 7) Echezeaux and 8) Grands Echezeaux. In addition, there are many famous Premier Cru vineyards, such as Les Chaumes and Les Suchots, as well as delectable Vosne Romanee village vineyards, such as Les Colombiere. I love how the Burgundians name each vineyard, no matter how small.

Hiking Map

Map of Vineyards Near Vosne-Romanee

Multiple Trails through the Vineyards

Over the course of three months, I hiked multiple paths through the vineyards, because there are small roads connecting all of them and climbing to the top of the hill (see map). Also, many of the vineyards are surrounded by small stone walls and marked with stone monuments or crosses. Most have stone name plates as well.

You will not be alone, as the vineyards attract many tourists to take photos in front of the stone cross of Romanee Conti. If you go there, you will probably be handed a smart phone and asked to take a photo of the tourists. This happened many times to me. In addition to tourists, there are many locals who bike, jog, or walk through the vineyards for exercise – just as I did. Following are three of my favorite vineyard hikes.

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Hiking in the Vineyards with View of Vosne-Romanee

  1. Aux Raignots Panoramic View Trail (or the Picnic Table Trail)

If I was craving some good exercise and a great view, I would leave my gite and turn left to walk up the street towards the corner of Le Grand Rue and Romanee St. Vivant vineyards. Then I would continue up the road past Romanee Conti and La Romanee on my left. The road branches to the left as you continue up hill. Halfway up you will come to a stone bench, which is a great place to pause and look at the view, with La Tache spread out below you. Often I observed couples there sharing a glass of wine and/or kissing.

Continue up the hill and make a sharp turn to the right, passing Aux Champs Pedrix Premier Cru vineyard, until eventually the paved road ends and you see a small dirt road at the top of the hill on your right. Follow this to a group of trees with two picnic tables. Then turn to look at a view that will take your breath away. All of Burgundy is spread out below you, and you can easily see Clos de Vougeot museum in the distance. After taking some photos, consider doing some yoga poses and then sit on the picnic table to meditate, as I often did. It is a wonderful place for peace and contemplation.

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Hiking Up to Picnic Tables

  1. The La Tache Trail

If I was in the mood for a shorter hike, I would leave my gite, heading towards the vineyards, but turn left at Rue de La Tache.  I always took the time to stop and enjoy the beauty of the two different sections of La Tache, as well as the pink stucco house with gardens that has a perfect view of this vineyard. One time I saw a horse with plow tilling the soil in La Tache. Then I would continue south past Aux Malconsorts (what a name for a vineyard) and continue walking in the direction of Nuits St. George. After hiking for a mile or so, I would turn around and return to the village in a circular route, turning right at Les Chaumes.

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La Tache Vineyard Name Carved into Stone Wall

    3. Clos de Vougeot Trail

It is about a four mile round-trip hike from Vosne Romanee to the ancient cloister of Clos de Vougeot. For this, I would first walk to the church square in Vosne Romanee, and then turn left, taking the road through the middle of Romanee St. Vivant. When I arrived at the famous cross of Romanee Conti, I would turn right, walking past Les Richebourgs. Then take a right at the next road for a short distance before turning left to cut across the vineyards of Les Suchots and through multiple sections of Echezeaux and Grands Echezeaux. You will see Clos de Vougeot in front of you, rising up through the vines like some ancient ship floating on top of a vineyard sea. One day I hiked this trail in the rain with my friend Barbara, who was visiting from Germany.  We decided to take this fun photo of dancing in the rain on the stone walls of Clos de Vougeot.

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Clos de Vougeot Sailing Across the Vineyards

Other Trails to Hike in Burgundy

In addition to the trails near the village of Vosne Romanee, there are many other hiking trails through the other famous Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy, including further north near Gevrey Chambertin and south near Puligny-Montrachet. A list of these hiking trails is available at the Beaune-Tourism website.

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My Friend Barbara Dancing in the Rain Near Clos de Vougeot

Burgundy Vineyards Part of Unesco World Heritage

In 2015, UNESCO recognized the vineyards of Burgundy as a Cultural World Heritage site. Also referred to as “climats”, because each vineyard is unique, they are considered to be a “living cultural landscape.” Many were laid out by the monks as long ago as 11th century. Today on the Road of the Grand Crus, there are 1247 “climats”, with many opportunities to hike, bike, or walk through the vineyards.

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With Friend Barbara at Chevaliers-Montrachet

Visiting the Unique Cellars of Philippe LeClerc in Gevrey-Chambertin

(Sept. 2016) Hidden off a narrow road in the tiny wine village of Gevrey-Chambertin is the entrance to a Burgundian winery called Domaine Philippe LeClerc. Located in a 13th century building with yellow limestone walls covered with flowing baskets of colorful flowers, the domain is not only the home to some very excellent pinot noir wines, but also houses a cellar crammed with antique winemaking equipment and a bizarre collection of taxidermy animals.

Entrance to Philippe LeClerc Winery

Entrance to Philippe LeClerc Winery in Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy

I visited here twice with relatives during my three months in Burgundy, and both times we were welcomed by a friendly employee who encouraged us to visit the museum in the cellar first (free of charge), and then come back upstairs to taste some wines (€10 euro charge, refundable with wine purchase.)

About Philippe LeClerc

The owner, Philippe LeClerc, was born in Gevrey-Chambertin and raised in a winemaking family that sold their wine to negotiatants. When he took over from his father in the 1970’s, he decided to take the business in a new direction and bought an old building to establish a winery where he could sell directly to consumers. Around the same time, he started collecting old winemaking equipment and taxidermy animals – both items that people were glad to part with, because neither was in vogue.

Over the years, Philippe was able to purchase some of the surrounding buildings, which had old cellars – a common architectural feature in Burgundy. He connected several of the caves so he would have room to store his wine, and then began to display his collection.

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Inside the Wine Musuem of Philippe LeClerc

One of the Few Tasting Rooms in Burgundy Open on Sundays

Today visitors are welcomed to stop by seven days a week between 9:30am and 7pm to tour the cellar and museum for free, and then to enjoy a wine tasting. These long opening hours are rare in France, especially when most businesses close for two hours during lunch and are rarely open on Sundays.

With such welcoming hours, it would be expected that the wines may not be up to par, but this is not the case. Philippe owns vines in some of the top premier cru vineyards in Gevrey-Chambertin, including the famous Les Cazetiers and Les Champeux vineyards. Sustainable practices are used, and many of his pinot noir wines are aged for 22 months in French oak barrels. The wines have won awards and wine critics have rated many in the 90’s.

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Wine Tasting at Domaine Philippe LeClerc

Unique Cellars with Stuffed Animals and Antique Wine Equipment

Upon arrival visitors are encouraged to take a self-guided tour of the cellars, which generally takes about an hour. Descending a steep stone staircase, long arched hallways stretch out in multiple directions, and dusty bottles can be seen sleeping in side caverns. Turning a corner, a large baronial dining room comes into view with tall antique red velvet chairs and wooden tables rescued from monasteries. All along the wall are stuffed animals, including badgers, fox, deer, small boar and a mountain cat.

Then, descending into another cellar, a huge lighted tunnel comes into view. Collections of antique winemaking equipment line the walls, as well as a suit of arms, and hundreds of other bizarre antiques that Philip has collected over the years from estates all over France.  At the end of the first tunnel, three other tunnels branch off and loop around, filled with even more bizarre items, such as life-size models of cows and horses, as well as stuffed pigs. The site of a large stuffed dog is a little off-putting, but is most likely testimony to someone’s favorite pet from decades gone by.

Cellars of Philippe LeClerc Winery

Stuffed Animals in Unique Cellars of Philippe LeClerc

Tasting the Wines of Philippe LeClerc

Though it is possible to tour the cellars and museum without tasting the wines, it would be folly to miss the inspiring pinot noirs that reflect the different vineyards and vintages of Gevrey-Chambertin.  After all, Chambertin is reputed to be one of the favorite wines of Napoleon Bonaparte, who supposedly said, “Nothing makes the future look so rosy as to contemplate it through a glass of Chambertin.”

During my first visit, we tasted the following seven wines:

  • 2013 Village Chambolle Musigny – soft, floral and elegant €30
  • 2011 GC Village En Champs – earthy, tannic, interesting €36
  • 2012 GC 1st Cru Champeaux – ripe cherry nose, vanilla, velvety tannins, long finish €42
  • 2012 GC 1st Cru Les Cazetiers – mineral on nose; black cherry and vanilla on palate, velvety tannins, more concentrated the Champeaux – €46
  • 2013 GC 1st Cru La Combe Aux Moines – strange nose of tar and charred oak, black anise on palate. Perhaps just in a dumb stage. €50
  • 2011 GC 1st Cru Les Champonnets – Earthy, big tannins, no fruit. Not approachable yet €56
  • 2006 GC 1st Cru La Combe Aux Moines – older vintage so showing secondary notes of truffle and spice. Very complex, with new notes on each taste. Long finish. €68
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Dusty Wine Bottles in Cellar of Philippe LeClerc

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Vineyard Maps for Wine Tasting at Philippe LeClerc

Three Months in Burgundy

(Autumn 2016) The opportunity to live in France for three months was a dream come true – part of a bucket list item I’ve had for years as something I would do “someday”. However someday came much sooner than expected after a doctor told me I only had one year left to live. Five days later another doctor told me it was a misdiagnosis, but during those five days – which were some of the longest of my life – my husband and I had deep talks about how we would spend that last year together.

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Beautiful Vineyards of Burgundy at Sunset

The one item that kept coming to the top of my list was living in France for a while. So when the trauma was over and I learned I had a sabbatical coming up at work, my husband and I agree that I would go to France for a semester to teach and do research. It was decided that since he works internationally in the oil industry, he could easily stop by to visit me several times coming and going from his job.

Burgundy, Bordeaux or Alsace?

So then came the tough decision of where to go in France. Fortunately for all of us in wine education, there are always opportunities to work at universities in France part-time. Therefore, I reached out to my fellow professors in France and was offered the chance to teach in either Burgundy, Bordeaux, or Alsace. I chose Burgundy because my research matched the region better, and because I have always dreamed of living amongst those famous pinot noir vineyards.

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Finally Living in France — Beaune Farmer’s Market

A Gite in Vosne Romanee

Therefore in the autumn of 2016, I found myself in France for three and a half months. I spent the first two weeks at a French immersion program in Bordeaux (see post here), before flying to Paris to rent a car and drive the 3 hours south to Burgundy. On the way, I stopped off to visit my relatives who live near Fontainebleau for a few days, and then arrived in Burgundy at the beginning of September for a three month stay.

During my sabbatical, payment for teaching part-time at the Burgundy School of Wine & Spirits in Dijon came in the form of a rental house. I was offered an apartment in Dijon or a 3 bedroom house in the village of Chambolle-Musigny, of which I promptly chose the latter. However, one month before departing California, I received an email informing me that they were changing the location and I would be staying at a 2 bedroom gite in Vosne Romanee. A gite is a rental apartment or house that is located in an older dwelling, and has been subsidized by the French government to assist in renovating  historic structures.

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Private Garden of Gite with Striking Blue Door

At first I was disappointed, because expecting many visitors, I was hoping for a 3 bedroom house; however, when I saw the gite, I was delighted with how spacious and charming it was – including a private walled yard with striking blue door at the entrance. It even had a name – the Consulate. Still more thrilling was the fact that the gite was only a five minute walk from some of the most famous vineyards in the world, including my namesake, La Tache, as well as Romanee Conti, La Romanee, Richebourg and Romanee-St. Vivant.

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Living Room of Gite – Photo Credit: Le Consulate website

However the biggest surprise was to learn that the gite was owned by the Chateau Liger-Belair, and my landlords were the count and countess, who lived across the street in the large chateau that dominates the center of the small village of Vosne-Romanee. They turned out to be delightful and friendly hosts, and the last evening I was invited to a cozy dinner complete with amazing wines. Of course the other very famous winery in Vosne-Romanee is DRC – Domaine Romanee-Conti, which was also one block away from my gite. I was fortunate enough to have visited here in the past (see post), but was honored to be allowed to visit three more times during my stay.

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Looking Through the Gates of Chateau Liger-Belair

Living in Vosne-Romanee – a Village without a Bakery

Several people thought it was strange that I wanted to live in a small French village without a grocery store or bakery, rather than live in the bustling center of Dijon or Beaune.  But I am a country girl at heart, and living near the vineyards is important to me. So though Vosne-Romanee has less than 500 people, and only boasts a small, friendly post-office, a church, and two excellent restaurants, it was perfect for me.

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Downtown Vosne Romanee

Each morning I was able to take a long walk in the vineyards, which are trespassed by many hiking and biking trails that run along the Cote d’Or. The grocery store and bakery were only 2 kilometers down the highway in Nuits St. George, and the distance to both Dijon and Beaune was only 18 kilometers each way. So I settled into my little gite, and melted into my dream of living in France. Some days were challenging, many were miraculous, but none were lonely – because as soon as my friends and family knew I had a gite in France, I had visitors almost every weekend.

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The Famous Stone Cross of Romanee-Conti Vineyard