3 Days in Burgundy

Originally published in the Huffington Post as A New Reason to Visit Burgundy.

After several days in Paris, when you begin to long for the beauty of the French countryside, head south to Burgundy. In addition to legendary wine and gourmet food, there is a new reason to visit – the recent UNESCO classification of the ancient vineyards laid out by the monks, called “climats”. This is unique because the climats and tiny wine villages that link them are considered to be a “living cultural landscape.” Visitors can experience this by walking through the vineyards, tasting the wines, and visiting the historical structures that played a role in establishing the Burgundian wine region, dating from the 11th century.

VINEYARDS OF BURGUNDY, FRANCE. PHOTO CREDIT: L. THACH, 2016

Only an hour and a half by train from Paris’s Gare de Lyon station, Burgundy is easy to travel to and explore. The distance between the capital in Dijon to the end of the Cote d’Or is only a mere 37 miles (60 kilometers). Pick up a rental car at the Dijon train station and you are ready to explore a whole new side of Burgundy. Following is a three day itinerary, from Friday to Sunday, with an overnight stay in Dijon and Beaune.

Day One: FRIDAY – DIJON

Abbey de Citeaux – Morning

After taking a morning train from Paris to Dijon, pick-up a rental car at the station and drive 15 miles south to the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Cîteaux, established by the Cistercian monks in 1098. This is where it all started, by the monks who would lay out many of the ancient vineyards and establish winemaking centers. Spend a couple of hours touring the beautiful grounds and ancient cloisters to see how the monks lived. Linger in the library where you can marvel at the beautiful old manuscripts, with colorful paintings and flowing script. Before departing don’t miss the gift shop that sells local honey, cheeses, and herbs.

ABBEY DE CITEAUX PHOTO CREDIT: L. THACH

Lunch with the Dukes of Burgundy

Back in Dijon, park your car in one of the many car parks and walk to Liberation Square in front of the Palaces of the Dukes of Burgundy (Palais des Ducs de Bourgogne). For lunch, select any of the charming side walk cafes spread in a fan shape around the square, and enjoy the water display and sparkling fountains in the center.

After lunch wander over to the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, which houses a free museum open until 6pm. Dating from the 14th century, this grand structure is part of the Unesco designation because many of the regulations for the ancient vineyards were established here. The palace is home to the Musee des Beaux Arts (Fine Arts), which describes the history of the Burgundian dukes who were reputed to have more power than the Kings of France. Make sure to see the elaborate tombs of the dukes inside.

PALACE OF THE DUKES OF BURGUNDY PHOTO CREDIT: L. THACH

Medieval Town Center & Mustard Tasting – Late Afternoon

After checking into a downtown hotel, take an early evening stroll through the pedestrian only shopping area, and enjoy the many quaint shops brimming with local and international items. Don’t forget to appreciate the ornately carved wood-beamed buildings that decorate the heart of Dijon’s city center –one of the few cities in France that still has an intact medieval city center – miraculously sparred from the ravages of two world wars.

Make sure to stop at La Moutarderie Edmond Fallot, hidden in a small shop behind the church. Open until 7pm, they provide free mustard samples, and are the only producer that still uses real Dijon mustard seeds. If times allows, peak into the 12th century Église Notre-Dame with its huge arches, gargoyles and famous Jacquemart clock. The Tourist Office is also near-by, and you can pick-up a copy of the Owl Trail Walking Tour, to visit other historic buildings.

MEDIEVAL ARCHITECTURE OF DIJON. PHOTO CREDIT: L. THACH

Gourmand Dinner and Night Life of Dijon

The French usually don’t dine until at least 8pm, so the earliest you can reserve a table is 7:30pm. And it is important to make reservations in advance, especially on a Friday night, when venues fill up fast. Consider La Maison des Cariatides, located in a building covered with statues (cariatides), and built in 1603. The chic restaurant with wooden table tops is run by a young chef who just received his first Michelin star for creative local dishes, and a reasonably priced wine list. For a friendly, family-run option tryChez Leon with its quaint décor and rustic regional dishes, such as Andouillette and beef bourguignon.

Since Dijon is a university town, there are plenty of bars and night clubs. For elegant wine tasting try Dr. Wine or L’Assommoir Tome. For music consider the Blue’s Café or Deep Inside Club Rock. For something slightly different, head out to Peniche Cancale, a night club on a barge in the river.

Day Two: SATURDAY – Dijon/Beaune

Farmer’s Market Hopping in Dijon and Beaune – Morning

After breakfast visit two of the most famous Saturday morning farmer’s markets, by wandering through Dijon’s Les Halles Market. One of the largest markets outside of Paris, this one has both and indoor and outdoor sections filled with local cheeses, pates, spices, and much more. Then drive 30 minutes south to Beaune to experience a smaller and more intimate Farmer’s Market (Marche). Located in the middle of the village, this market features regional cheeses, such as Epoisses and Comte, and local meats like jambon persillé (ham with parsley.), as well as many other items, including clothes and souvenirs.

FARMER’S MARKET IN BEAUNE. PHOTO CREDIT: L. THACH

Enjoy a Michelin Star Lunch for a Great Price

Burgundy is home to 30 Michelin star restaurants with some pretty steep prices, but the secret is to book a lunch reservation when the cost is more affordable. In Beaune, try Le Benaton (1 star) where for €34 you will receive a set 3 course menu with several amuse-bouches. Set in a casual toy-box of a restaurant, the chef will probably stop by your table to see how you are enjoying the delicious dishes that arrive like a work of art, such as the Burgundian egg with mushrooms (Oeufs en meurette). For an even more incredible experience, drive 20 minutes south toMaison de Lameloise in Chagny for a 3-star Michelin lunch (€78) you will never forget. White table clothes, flowers, and exquisite oil paintings decorate the room while you are fawned upon by a bevy of tuxedo clad servers who describe each delectable dish in poetic terms. Expect fois gras lollipops as your first amuse-bouche, and then select from dishes featuring Bresse chicken, Charolaise beef, or lamb with figs.

Tour the Hospices de Beaune – Late Afternoon

After your leisurely lunch, check into your Beaune hotel for a rest, but make sure to awake in time to visit the historical Hospices de Beaune. Dating from the 11th century, this Unesco structure is adorned with a multi-colored tile roof and provides a glimpse into the daily life of the sisters who nursed and cooked for thousands of poor and sick throughout the centuries. Open daily until 6:30pm, April thru mid-November.

TAKING PHOTOS AT HOSPICES DE BEAUNE

Brassiere Dinner in Beaune – Evening

After your decadent Michelen star lunch, enjoy a casual dinner at one of the many brassiere restaurants in Beaune where escargot is the specialty. Le Carnot offers beef Bourgogne and steak and frites and has a great wine by the glass selection. Les Popiettes is also a small, relaxed bistro that specializes in Italian-Burgundy fusion dishes. If you’re still in the mood for an upscale restaurant check out Ma Cuisine or 21 Boulevard.

Wine Bar Hopping in Beaune – Late Evening

Rub shoulders with the winemakers at one of Beaune’s many great bars. One of the most popular is Maison du Colombier with intimidate seating inside an old cellar, a changing selection of wines by the glass, and tapas if you’re still hungry. Route 66 is more casual, serving beer, wine and charcuterie platters. If you want something more elegant, the bar at Loiseau des Vignes has a wide selection of wines by the glass.

DAY Three: SUNDAY – Beaune/Dijon

Visit UNESCO Climates in Puligny-Montrachet – Morning

On Sunday morning worship in the vineyard, by making the short 8 mile drive (12 kilometers) to the village of Puligny-Montrachet. Visit the historic climats (vineyard plots) that make up the five Grand Crus of Montrachet. Stroll past the ancient walls that guard each “climate,” and make sure to stop at Chevaliers-Montrachet on the upper slopes for a great photo op and view of the magnificent vineyards that produce the most expensive chardonnay wine in the world.

Hike UNESCO Climates in Vosne-Romanee – Late Morning

Next head north towards Dijon and stop at the tiny village of Vosne-Romanee to hike amongst the world famous “climates” of La Tache, Richebourg, and Echezeaux. Park in the square in front of the church, and then walk the short distance to join the other tourists taking photos in front of the ancient stone cross that marks the Romanee Conti vineyard. This is the home of the most expensive wine in the world, but do not expect to visit Domaine Romanee Conti, because it is closed to visitors. However, if you have time, hike to the top of the hill for an amazing view.

THE FAMOUS CROSS OF ROMANEE CONTI VINEYARD. PHOTO CREDIT: L. THACH, 2016

Visit Clos de Vougeot – Where the Monks Tasted the Soil

Then drive or walk through the vineyards to the Unesco World Heritage site of the Clos de Vougeot, open 10am to 5pm on Sundays (rare in France!). Here you can visit the home of the 12th century abbey built by Cistercian monks who tasted the soil to help them determine the differences between the “climates.” Today it is also the home of the Brotherhood of the Knights of Tastevin, who celebrate Burgundy wine.

DANCING IN THE RAIN AT CLOS DE VOUGEOT. PHOTO CREDIT: L. THACH, 2016

Lunch with Napoleon’s Wines

Finding an open restaurant on Sundays can be challenging in France, but consider driving 5 miles up the road to the village of Gevrey Chambertin. Reputed to be the favorite wine of Napoleon, the pinot noir in around this village is rich and velvety. Opt for a casual lunch at Le Clos Lenoir 1623, a quaint restaurant in an old farm house, or Au Clos Napoleon further up the road in Fixin, with its own wine cave. If you want to stay in Vosne-Romanee, head to another winemaker favorite, La Auberge de Petite for traditional Burgundian cuisine such as escargot and rabbit.

Photo Op at Chambertin-Clos de Bèze– Afternoon

On the drive back to the Dijon train station, take the small scenic road, D122 that winds through vineyards between the villages of Chambolle-Musigny and Gevery-Chambertin. Part of the Route des Grand Crus, this section takes you past a smorgasbord of Grand Cru vineyards, including the nine that include the famous name of Chambertin. Make sure to stop at Chambertin Clos de Beze to take a photo, with the well-known stone hut in the background.

PHOTO OP AT CHAMBERTIN CLOS DE BEZE. PHOTO CREDIT: L. THACH, 2016

If You Go – Hotels

In Dijon, the Grand Hotel La Cloche is located in the down-town pedestrian area and an easy walk to all of the sites and restaurants. In downtown Beaune, consider Hotel de Luxe le Cep, with spacious rooms and gracious service. Or if you want to stay in the vineyards, Les Deux Chevres in Gevrey Chambertin features rooms decorated in French antiques, or stay in a 16th century castle at Chateau de Gilly near Vougeot.

Winetasting Options

Burgundy has over 3000 wineries (domaines), so if you have more time, consider a cellar tour. However, make sure to book in advance online or at your hotel, because many domains are not open to the public. Some good options that will take advance reservations include: Domaine Drouhin, Domaine d’Ardhuy, Domaine Bouchard Aine et Fils, Domaine Bouchard Pere et Fils, Chateau Meursault, Chateau Pommard, and Louis Jadot. No appointment necessary at Domaine Philippe LeClerc and Chateau Corton C., as well as some wine shops that offer tastings and a few small wineries that advertise with the sign, “dégustation,” which means “tasting.” For a more comprehensive list, check out the Beaune Tourism website tasting list.

CHATEAU CORTON C. PHOTO CREDIT: L. THACH, 2016

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