These same Dukes financed the building of Burgundy’s monastic legacy including Cluny Abbey, then the largest Christian building in the world, and Vézelay from where St Bernard preached the 2nd Crusade, and where Richard The Lionheart and the King of France set off on No. 3 in this ill-fated series of religious ‘activity holidays’. This same St Bernard started the Cistercian order, founding abbeys at Cîteaux and Fontenay, and building the Clos de Vougeot, centrepiece of the Burgundy wine business.
Burgundy boasts some of the most prestigious wines in the world, with names like Vosne-Romanée, Gevrey Chambertin and Puligny-Montrachet. The commercial centre of the wine trade is Beaune, where each November the annual wine auction at the Hôtel-Dieu forms the centrepiece of Les Trois Glorieuse, a festival that includes the Chapter of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin at Château Clos de Vougeot and the Paulée de Meursault.
Burgundy is the home of the famous Charolais beef, boeuf bourguignonne, coq-au-vin, as well as snails, jambon-perseillé and eggs poached in wine. Burgundy deserves its reputation as one of the finest gastronomic regions of France. This tour will show you why Burgundy is a fabulous and inspiring region, home to much more than a handful of famous, over-priced wines. We’ll explore the countryside, the abbeys and the beautiful canal, and naturally we’ll taste some memorable wines and eat fabulous food.
Day 1, Saturday: Our tour starts in Montbard, north of Dijon. The best way there is by train from Paris. We arrange transfers from Montbard station to our first hotel, the 3*** Hotel de L’Ecu.
Day 2, Sunday: Abbaye de Fontenay - Semur-en-Auxois (31 miles/ 52 km)
From Montbard we cycle to the Abbaye de Fontenay, the oldest surviving Cistercian abbey in the world. The Cistercian order was founded by St Bernard as a direct response to the luxurious lifestyle of the monks at Cluny. The setting is a beautiful river valley, and Michelin give Fontenay the maximum 3*** rating, “worth a journey in itself”. We follow the Canal du Bourgogne to Alise-Ste-Reine, where the Gauls finally surrendered to the Romans. Fleeing the Romans, Vercingétorix and the gauls made camp on top of Mont Auxois, but were surrounded by Caesar’s army. A far larger Gaul army was on its way from Clermont Ferrand, so Caesar built two sets of defences, the first to keep Vercingétorix in, and the second to keep out the Gaulish rabble. After six weeks Vercingétorix surrendered, and was publicly strangled in Rome. There is some dispute as to the site of Alésia, but the erection of a huge – we’re talking 50 foot tall! - bronze statue of the man himself has settled the issue as far as the local tourist board are concerned, and its worth seeing.
We follow the canal again before climbing to the beautiful walled town of Semur-en-Auxois, although “Semur” derives from the latin sine muros, without walls. The town is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs carved by the river Armancon, and is a truly beautiful little town. Tonight we stay in the heart of Semur at the Hotel Cymaises.
Day 3, Monday: Canal du Bourgogne (28 miles/ 45 km)
Downhill, back to the canal at Marigny le Cahouët. The Canal de Bourgogne has been described as the most beautiful route in France, but the quality of the towpath varies, so occasionally we’re forced onto the road. No great hardship, cycling through delightful villages like Braux and St Thibault. At Pouilly-en-Auxois the canal reaches its summit, disappearing into a tunnel. We cycle over the top of the hill, and down the other side to the Hostellerie du Château in the fairytale village of Châteauneuf. The food tonight is stunning.
Day 4, Tuesday: Dijon - Fenay (34 miles/ 54 km)
Our route follows our favorite canal and a cycle path through beautiful forests all the way into Dijon. We pass more than 50 locks, all downhill. Dijon is a fascinating place, the home of Burgundy ‘s aristocracy. Anxious to be within the protection offered by the city walls, they were forced to buy existing plots of land and buildings to build their town houses, leading to a fascinating juxtaposition of grand town houses shoe-horned into strangely shaped plots alongside the buildings of ordinary Dijonais. At the center is the Duke’s palace. We leave Dijon, alongside our favorite canal, and stay in Fenay below the famous slopes of the Côtes d’Or.
Day 5, Wednesday: Napolean's Favourite Wines (22 miles/ 35 km)
Wine country here we come! During today we follow tiny roads and tracks through vineyards, visiting vineyards in Marsannay and in Gevrey-Chambertin, as well as the Clos de Vougeot before we arrive at Nuits St Georges where we stay at the Hostellerie Saint Vincent. The Château at Clos de Vougeot is well worth a visit. Originally built by the monks of the Abbaye de Cîteaux, the Château is beautifully restored. One room dating back to the 12th century contains four original oak presses that are truly enormous, each one weighing over 20 tons. The main function room is the old wine cellar, now the home of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, a grand-sounding group of local folk and celebrities, but in reality a highly successful marketing exercise dreamt up in the 30s. We’ll learn all about the phoney brothers during our visit, it’s great fun.
Day 6, Thursday: Tasting in the Côtes D'Or (22 miles/ 35 km)
Still in the heart of wine country, but today has a different feel to it. Yesterday we cycled through world-famous vineyards. Today, as we explore the Côtes de Beaune, we tackle some more challenging cycling and visit the beautiful villages of Savigny-les-Beaune and Aloxe-Corton on our route to Beaune. Here, the wine makers can’t command the sky-high prices of their more illustrious neighbors, but at their best still produce high-quality wines. Today is a relatively short cycling day, so we should have time to taste in both Aloxe and Savigny before we make our way to Beaune. Beaune is dominated by the wine industry. The old town exists still behind its old wall, and the center is filled with négociantes as well as the wonderful Athanæum shop, a serious threat to the wallet of any wine-lover. The highlight, though, is the Hospice, without question a ‘must see’. Tonight we stay in the heart of this stunning town at the Hotel Belle Epoque.
Day 7, Friday: Beaune toward Macon and the Beaujolais region (30 miles/ 48 km)
There are a whole series of classic wine villages running south of Beaune toward Macon and the Beaujolais region. Once again we’re on tiny roads winding through the vineyards as we visit Pommard, Volnay and Meursault, home to white wines hailed as the finest in the world. The name derives from the local name for the valley that divides them from Beaune, the Rat’s Leap. From Meursault we cycle to the village of Puligny-Montrachet where we’ll taste with Olivier-Lefalive Freres before going onto Chassagne-Montrachet and Cagny, where we join a cycle path beside the Canal du Centre. We leave the Côtes d’Or behind as we head back to Beaune for one final Burgundy feast.
Day 8, Saturday: Reasonably civilized departure to catch the 10.04 from Dijon to Paris.
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