Getting Lost in the Côte d'Or
My adventure in the heart of Bourgogne.
Ah, Burgundy, you heartbreaker.
After 10 years of traveling around France and five years in the wine industry, I finally made it to a region that is perhaps the most widely reputed in the entire world. And it truly was as magnificent as I imagined.
Like most French wine regions, it's hard not to become distracted by the beauty of Bourgogne. Every time I visit a French wine region, I get lost on purpose. I just breathe. I think. I turn off my phone. I try to capture as much of it as I can with my camera (though I'm still a very novice photographer). And I try my best not to stress about any of it. French wine country was of course, the reason this blog and my Instagram page were born, but I haven't lost myself here for two years. This trip was all about what I did to get back to the root of it all. Here's how I did it.
Here's my biased advice: if you haven't done Burgundy by bike in some fashion, I don't think you've done Burgundy. There is truly nothing like it. It is hard, unforgiving, and euphoric. I only biked from Beaune to just south of Meursault (visiting Pommard and Volnay along the way) but I would've definitely gone north if time (and my previous sports injuries) would've allowed. Next time!
Now, the logistics. I rented my bike from a lovely little shop called Bourgogne Randonnées. It's right by the Beaune train station and has all kinds of bikes - from electric to mountain and everything in between. You get a helmet, a lock system, and a detachable (sizeable!) pouch with each bike rental. The whole thing was only 35€ for two days! The best part about it is that the shop owner is literally the best: he'll ask you where you're going, give you a detailed bike route map and directions, and answer allllllll of your questions. This last part is particularly important because Google maps does not think bike paths are roads and so they do not show up on the maps when you're lost. Instead, Google will redirect you to the main highways. Cars in Burgundy are pretty accustomed to bikes but if you're like me and terrified of riding on major roads, listen to Mr. Bourgogne Randonnées instead! (I learned this the hard way and actually returned to the shop to have him explain it to me again the next day.)
You can go as far south as Santenay (oh man, but if you do, bon courage !) and as far north as Dijon. But no matter how much time you have, keep in mind that Burgundy is HILLY. As wine lovers, we know this, right? "Oh the golden slope..." "Oh the Corton hill." And it all makes for amazing wines and incredible views. It will also make your ass sore for a week!
I mean I'm half kidding, but the hill between Pommard and Volnay is no joke. I had to stop a few times to catch my breath, so just make sure you're not rushing to tastings at first (I tried to do this and I was miserably late for the first one). I also recommend you bring a water bottle and a couple of snacks in your backpack for the ride. Pommard and Volnay don't really have many food options - at least not outside more upscale restaurants. Meursault is a bit bigger in size, but it took me a while to get there so I was glad I had my little baguette and my water bottle to tie me over.
But I mean... for a 35€ bike rental and a couple days of good exercise, nothing beats this view! You can definitely do La Route des Grands Crus via car, but there is no other feeling than being totally surrounded by nature and history on your little bike.
I'll be honest. It was harder to reserve tastings in Burgundy than it was for me in any other region (and this is coming from someone who is fluent in French and works in the industry). My advice to you would be to both call and email and to follow up. I also found that talking about my passion and qualifications in wine helped. That being said, even if you cannot get to a domaine or producer yourself, there are so many dégustations in Beaune (particularly from Joseph Drouhin, Bouchard Père et Fils, etc.) from both producers and individual wine shops alike.
I booked three tastings - two in Meursault and one in Pommard (but disclaimer: I work for Château de Pommard so that one was automatic!). All three were very different from one another, which was great because there was a lot of diversity in both wine and hospitality style. I'll be posting an in-depth post about my tastings there very soon, but here's some practical info!
This domaine is located right in the town of Meursault, which made it easy to get to. The property is stunning and situated right on one of their vineyards. It's quiet, calm, and quite easy to get there. I was even 45 minutes late to my tasting (I blame my bike, the Volnay hill, and Google Maps...), but they were happy to greet me anyway. A trip to the cold cellar was exactly what I needed after a long bike ride!
In full disclosure, I booked this tasting through an industry contact, so unfortunately these tastings are not open to the public. I'm still including them here because these wines are absolutely stunning! The team told me that there are a lot of caves and wine shops in the Beaune/Meursault area that do tastings of their wines, so if you are going to Burgundy, it's definitely worth reaching out to ask them. You can do so via their website here.
All right, I'm biased, but honestly the easiest tasting you'll ever book in Burgundy is at Château de Pommard. Our website puts all tastings under the Experiences tab, so you can pick between four options (our new Organic 2019 tasting, La Route des Grands Crus, a vintage tasting, and the Exceptional tasting of our top wines). Pricing varies but overall it's pretty affordable and the property is stunning. The property is in the middle of a renovation so a full tour won't be possible but the staff (aka, my coworkers) are really lovely and make sure everyone has a wonderful time. The best part? Château de Pommard is an importer/distributor in the U.S., so you can order wines right on site and have them sent to your home. It's a win-win!
WHERE I STAYED
Since the first half of my stay was with my coworkers, I stayed in two different locations: a hotel in the center of Beaune and then an old stone apartment Airbnb on a quiet street near the basilica on the other side of town. Beaune is wonderfully charming and multilingual. I'll definitely be coming back to see more of Burgundy!
Part One: Le Central
This hotel is, as its name might suggest, truly in the center of the town. The staff is really sweet (the receptionist and I lifted my huge bag up three flights of stairs together, which I appreciated), the breakfast is included, and the views are nice. It's a cute, very local, affordable little hotel, so if you're looking for a hotel experience in Beaune, I recommend it!
Part Two: Old Stone Apartment
I have one word for this apartment and that is: WOW. The views from it are incredible - they've got to be among the best in Beaune. It's in this tiny 16th century building with a one-of-a-kind stone winding staircase, original wood beams, incredible sunlight, and comfortable furnishings. I would leave the windows open every morning and just listen to the church bells and the birds singing. (I can't believe I just wrote that sentence?!) It was truly a breath of fresh air. My only regret is that I didn't stay longer!
The catch is again - the stairwell. As beautiful as it is, I was struggling to get my big 2-week suitcase up those steps. Worth it for the view, of course, but not for the faint-hearted!
EAT & DRINK
This section has been left empty - on purpose! I stopped by a variety of wine bars and restaurants when I was in Beaune and wasn't disappointed anywhere. This is your opportunity to flâner (wander and explore) and like most French restaurants, the ones in Beaune have their menus posted outside of the terraces, so it's pretty easy to pick something to your taste and budget.
ART, CULTURE, HISTORY, AND MUSIC
If you removed wine tastings and vineyard visits completely from the equation (crazy idea, right?!), you'd still have an amazing experience in Beaune. The town has a wide variety of museums, art exhibits, and concerts, which is especially helpful if you end up with some rainy days like I did and want to make the most of your visit.
This place was easily my favorite museum experience of the trip! It's a charming museum tucked away in the heart of the city and features that traditional Burgundian 15/16th century architecture we all love so much. The museum isn't just about Burgundy wines - it traces the history of French wine in general (so you can imagine how pumped I was). It also includes cultural artifacts, Burgundy wine history, and has at least a dozen maps of the region (including a HUGE interactive one that goes through every single appellation... I could've stayed in front of that one forever). There's an exhibit on winemaking, amphorae from the 6th century, and a whole room devoted to barrel-making. And the best part? It costs only 5€ to get in!
No trip to Beaune is complete without a visit to the Hôtel-Dieu and Hospices de Beaune Museum, and it's easy to see why. A 15th century architectural marvel, it's the center and the heart of Beaune and is full of all kinds of fascinating history. It was first founded as a free hospital for the poor (insert joke about the cost of American hospitals here) and remained that way as a working hospital until the 20th century, when it was converted to a museum. Entry is 10€ - but make sure you avoid the lunch hour (12:30 - 2 p.m.) so you aren't kicked out early!
I'll be the first to admit I got pretty lucky with the timing of this event! My friend Maia (who I met through Instagram - follow her Burgundy adventures at @dansleverredemaia!) heard about this music concert series and invited me along. It was the first concert I've been to since COVID restrictions were put into place and it was absolutely wonderful. You can check out upcoming events in advance online on the Beaune Tourist Office website, or you can pay them a visit (which I highly recommend! Tourist offices in France are great resources and highly underrated. Almost every town has one!). It really made my stay in Beaune even more special.
TL;DR: Burgundy is magical. If you're planning a trip there, I have no doubt that with a little bit of planning, you'll have an amazing time. I've got a feeling it's the kind of place I'll be returning to pretty often and I know you will too. Bon voyage !