The crisp slate of Chablis, chardonnay with attitude; Auxerre’s cathedral and Vézelay’s basilica, linked by the Nivernais canal’s tow path; Epoisse’s cheese, whose perfume you recognize in the pastures of wild flowers... Two nights in Dijon, once capital of its own country, still among France's prettiest cities (Grey and Poupon, it turns out, were two guys who ran mustard shops on opposite corners). And a day in between to explore the vineyards of Nuits Saint-Georges and Beaume.
Day 1: If you have subscribed to our “Access Package,” or are on a through trip, meet in the morning at our Paris office for the trip to Burgundy. Saddle the bikes, head for the station, and train through the Seine valley to the railway junction of Laroche. Otherwise, the trip assembles in Laroche, from whence a late-morning ride on country lanes brings us to the cathedral city of Auxerre. Those unable to catch the morning train from Paris will have the option of a midday service, catching up to the trip in Auxerre.
Auxerre is a destination later in the trip, and you won’t have much time for it today (which is fine, because it will be closed). But lunch down by the river port is still an attractive option. We now join the tow paths of the Nivernais canal, and pedal along the canal towards Vermenton. The locks are covered with flowers; the houseboats with overweight tourists. Our destination, and home for the next three nights, is at the confluence of the Cure and the Yonne rivers. (40 km)
Day 2: Riverside riding in the Yonne valley. Our nominal destination is Clamecy, an old logging center for the Morvan plateau. The town is a well-preserved haven for centuries-old buildings, and has a bizarre 500-year history as the home-away-from-home for the bishops of Bethleham (yes, the one in the Holy Land). But the real interest is in the beautiful ride. Mailly-le-Château offers views of the valley from the ramparts of the ruined chateau. Châtel-Censoir is a picturesque village on the banks of the river. Coulanges has a mini-golf course to give you a bit of upper body work. And the whole ride takes place on country lanes which line the river, under the branches of willows and chestnut trees. Return via the plateau, on lanes which see so few vehicles that you wonder why they could possibly have been built. (35-70 km)
Day 3: Today we strike out for one of the world’s greatest wine towns, Chablis. The wine produced here is not the chablis of Ernest and Julio fame, an insult to lovers of wine (or of fair business practice). Rather, it is one of the world’s greatest chardonnays, a flinty elixir which marvelously accompanies any good fish, the locally produced epoisses cheese, or a hot day on the bike. Wine tasting, vineyard visits, maybe a good lunch and a dip in the town’s swimming hole... Return via Auxerre, now open for business. Or perhaps via Irancy, home to an undiscovered red Burgundy wine, one of the best values in the appellation. One more tasting? Hic! (45-65 km)
Day 4: A beautiful riding day, along water courses and on country lanes lined with hedgerows. First stop is the Grottes d'Arcy. Underground lakes, vast halls filled with limestone formations, and also dozens of paleolithic cave paintings that are awe-inspiring testimonies to our ancestors. In the afternoon, leave the river, and head to the Basilica in Vézelay, one of France’s best-preserved Romanesque structures, and a real treasure. Then on to the old walled town of Avallon, past the charming water mills of the Cousin Valley. Walk around the 16th century ramparts, and pour boiling oil on your fellow riders struggling up the hill behind you. You'll all have a good laugh over it over dinner, before they poison your soup. Or don't. (55 km)
Day 5: Into the Parc Régional du Morvan, one of France’s most wild and beautiful corners. The isolated Morvan plateau was a center of the French Résistance, the memory of which is honored by a moving museum in the center of the park. Lakes and valleys and rural lanes and views to forever. Ride as much (or as little) as you please, swim in the lakes and ponds, and return to civilization when you’re good and ready. (Variable k)
Day 6: Start the morning with a stroll around the fortified town. Old houses, pretty gardens... Then it’s off across the Morvan. Geographically, you are not far from the scenes of your first riding days. But what a difference! Tiny stone villages huddled in hollows, expansive vistas over fields of wheat and sunflowers, copses of trees... and not much else. You can visit a cheese dairy in the town of Epoisses, and buy the eponimous curd to go with your picnic chablis. If you reach Montbard in time, consider tacking on a visit to Fontenay Abbey, on the edge of town. With buildings dating from the 1100`s to present, it provides a capsule of Burgundian architectural styles, and offers a history of their progression. (50 km)
Day 7: Head out along a bucolic canal, and then pick up your heart rate by riding up either or both of two (optional) mountains. Mont Auxois was the site of Vercingétorix’s last stand: Caesar besieged and captured the famous Gaul here, thus sealing for centuries the Roman domination of what became France. The second has a seminary and a candy factory on top of it. So there is something for everyone. We next follow a pastoral valley though a sequence of sleepy villages. Far from the Burgundy known to tourists, this is a place where cows are hearded home in the evenings, where old stone villages quietly crumble, and where foreigners on bicycles are gawked at, if you can find anyone to gawk.
Finally, up a monster hill, and over one of France’s continental divides. Saturday night is spent in Dijon by passengers travelling on with us, and also as part of the the trip “Access Package.” In either case a final Burgundian feast, and an ongoing train to one place or another, is also included. (50 km)
- Bike rental is included!
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