Our September trip to France with Chris is becoming a regular event. This year we decided to spend our week in Burgundy, south-east of Paris. This area was new to us all. We had to choose between the western part near Semur-en-Auxois and Montbard and the Côte d’Or wine region that runs from Dijon south to Santenay. We chose the latter because Beaune, in the center of this wine area, looked like a great town to explore.
We looked for vacation rentals in Beaune but the ones we found were expensive. We looked at places in nearby villages and decided to rent a farmhouse a 10 minute drive from Beaune, near Meursault. By this time our friend Shannon had joined our group, so we found a well-priced three-bedroom house.
Chris flew from California into Lyon, met Shannon who had been traveling in Europe, picked up a rental car and drove the two hours to the house. They picked up groceries at the Carrefour on the northern edge of Beaune. Steve and I flew from Heathrow into Lyon, arriving in the early evening and driving the last part in the dark. As we were driving out of Lyon airport in the last bit of daylight, I was wondering why I had booked us on such a late flight, but it must have been the ticket price. We arrived late but Shannon had a lovely dinner waiting for us!
We stayed in a farmhouse in a village near Meursault
The house was beautiful – a renovated stone barn with spacious rooms, high ceilings, beautiful bathrooms, good privacy for everyone and lots of space. It had lovely outdoor areas and no swimming pool (which was what we wanted, because you pay a lot more for a house with a pool). I had some complaints about the house (kitchen equipment was not great), but overall it was a good vacation rental. The location was good – on a quiet lane, in a small village, five minute drive to Meursault, ten minutes to Beaune.
Beautiful villages in the Côte de Beaune
The Côte d’Or is divided into two areas: the Côte de Beaune includes Beaune and the towns to the south, and the Côte de Nuits, which includes the towns north of Beaune towards Dijon. On our first day, Sunday, we explored our area – the Côte de Beaune.
First we went to Meursault, a nice village with two bakeries, a couple of cafes and a couple of restaurants. On several mornings we got our bread and croissants here. Next we went into Beaune and had lunch in a café – our first French meal of the trip! We sat outside on the edge of a pretty square. It was sunny and warm, the omelet was perfect and the area crowded with people out for Sunday lunch.
We walked around the town, leaving the main sights to be seen another day, then drove south to see the vineyards and the wine towns. We stopped in Pommard for wine tasting and then drove on to St Romain, where we walked around the remains of a Roman village. We drove a few more of the pretty roads of the area and then headed back “home”.
Let me mention at this point that our group divided into two wine enthusiasts (Chris and Shannon) and two walking enthusiasts (me and Steve). When one group did wine tasting, the other went for a walk. You may wonder why non-wine enthusiasts chose to visit Burgundy. Well, I knew it was a wine region, but I did not realize it was such a significant wine region. In hindsight it seems silly for us to visit such a famous wine area when we hardly drink, and don’t like red wine, but the villages and countryside are beautiful as a result of the prosperous wine trade, so we benefited from it being a wine region. And you don’t have to like wine to appreciate the beauty of the vineyards.
Autun, a Gallo-Roman town
On Monday we drove to Nolay because the guidebooks and tourist brochures talk about the wonderful Monday market and the beautiful medieval town. The market was two stalls and the medieval town was cute but not as nice as our nearby Meursault. We pushed on south-east to Autun.
Autun, population around 15,000, was founded in the 1st century by the Roman emperor Augustus. We spent most of the day there, visiting the church, having lunch, walking around the town, finding the remains of the Roman town.
The cathedral, St Lazare’s, is Romanesque, built in the early twelfth century. Outside is an impressive stone carved Tympanum of The Last Judgment. Inside are stone carved capitals showing Biblical scenes (these were fascinating). The Roman remains are an outdoor theater, still in use today, two large gates and the remains of the Temple of Janus outside the town.
I really liked Autun. It is a good size, with interesting restaurants, cafes and shops and is on the edge of what looks like a good hiking area. We will probably return to this area.
Beautiful villages in the Côte de Nuits
On Tuesday we split up in to two groups. Chris and Shannon did a driving tour of the Côte de Nuits. They said this wine area north of Beaune was different from the area we had explored together on Sunday because the wineries and towns do not offer as much casual wine tasting. The more famous, and expensive, wineries are in this area – the “Grand Crus”.
Chris writes: “We had lunch in Gevrey-Chambertin at a great place called Chez Guy. Since we had wine with lunch, we didn’t do any other tasting that day – we were driving. We stopped and paid our respects to the chateau at Clos de Vougeot, although without being on a tour we couldn’t get past the gift shop.”
Steve and I spent the afternoon in Beaune. One of the “things to do” in Beaune is to walk the town ramparts – like Lucca in Italy! Well, not exactly. The walls around Lucca are spectacular. The walls around Beaune are pretty in a couple of spots, boring in other spots and it only takes 30 minutes to walk around. But the town itself is very interesting so we walked there after our too short walk on the ramparts. The historic center is large and beautiful. There is a large main shopping area and several beautiful squares. The town is busy with tourists but does not feel overrun.
The weather so far had been sunny and warm, even hot, but on Tuesday it was overcast and in the evening there was a big rain storm.
Mustard in Dijon
Wednesday was our day in Dijon. It was a quick drive and parking was easy to find. We had checked the map and made note of the names of the parking lots closest to the center and then followed the signs when driving in. There is some construction going on in the center of Dijon and some of the main roads were torn up.
Dijon is a lovely city and deserves more than the day trip we gave it. We saw only a few things there and I have it on my list to return to for a city visit.
We went to Notre Dame, a church built in the 13th century, with an Italianate facade that has 51 pseudo-gargoyles from the 19th century (the originals were destroyed in the 13th century).
We had lunch at La Causerie des Mondes (16 rue Vauban near the Palais de Justice, closed Sunday, Monday), a vegetarian-friendly restaurant that I found on www.visitdijon.com. It was a small restaurant with a simple menu but great food, located in a beautiful historic building, in the center of town.
Next was the Museum of Beaux Arts. Great collection of art (we did not get to see everything) in a beautiful, historic building.
There are two famous tombs in this museum, both from the 15th century – Philip the Bold and John the Fearless. Neither were on display because the room they are in is being restored. The tombs both have “mourners” – small stone statues of monks on all sides of the tomb. The mourners for John the Fearless are traveling in the US and Europe, but the 41 mourners for Philip the Bold are on display. Each mourner is about a foot high and very detailed (all are different). They were lined up in glass cases so you could look at each one in detail. They were incredible! Both tombs, with the mourners back in place, will be back on display in Summer 2013.
After the museum we walked the streets, looked at the beautiful medieval buildings, went to the Maille shop (can’t go to Dijon without getting mustard), and bought tea towels (I love French tea towels). By late afternoon it was starting to rain so we raced to the car and drove home.
Most days we had lunch out and dinner back at the house. All of us are cooking enthusiasts (especially Chris and Shannon), so we had some good meals. The house was comfortable for hanging around in the evening – except that the DVD player did not work and I had brought some movies for us to watch. We were forced into conversation, reading guidebooks to prepare for the next day and going for evening strolls. Not so bad.
A day in Beaune
Shannon had to work in the morning so Chris, Steve and I went to nearby Meursault for coffee and a walk. The village is surrounded by vineyards. Lanes go up into the vineyards, so you can walk or drive for miles through them.
We all spent the afternoon in Beaune. Beaune is a nice sized small town with a population around 20,000. There are several parking lots near the center of town. Lots of restaurants, cafes and shops – plus wine tasting (this is the center of the Côte d’Or region). We went into the Hotel Dieu, the historic building with a multi-colored tile roof that you see on all the tourist information for the area. It was a hospital built in the 15th century and remained a working hospital until 1971. The best part is the exterior where you see the tile roof but you cannot see this from the street. You have to pay to enter the courtyard (well worth it) and then tour through the buildings.
We were all in love with the large Carefour grocery store and visited several times. It is fun to look at everything – very different from our grocery shops in England and the US.
The Burgundy Canal and Fontenay Abbey
On Friday Chris and Shannon went for a drive south from Beaune, ending up in Chalon sur Saone. Steve and I drove to the Burgundy canal and walked along the towpath for an hour and a half The canal comes down from Montbard to Pont d’Ouche, then makes a sharp turn north for Dijon. We joined it just past this point at Veuvey-sur-Ouche, where it is in a quiet part of the countryside. The walk was delightful.
The village we walked to did not have a restaurant and the one restaurant at Veuvey did not look interesting, so we drove north hoping to find something. It was getting late (near the 2pm deadline for lunch in France) so we stopped near the autoroute at a French restaurant chain, Courtepaille. This is a “grill” restaurant but they had a good vegetarian plate. Steve had grilled fish.
After lunch we continued north to Fontenay Abbey. We drove by Semur-en-Auxois, where we had considered staying when we were planning the trip, but did not have time to stop. From the road it looked beautiful – medieval walls surrounding stone buildings – like a Tuscan hill town. We had to choose between Semur and Fontenay and I thought we really did not have enough time for Semur, so we drove on.
Fontenay Abbey was well worth the drive. It is a former Cistercian monastery, founded in 1118 and built in the Romanesque style. The grounds are large and beautiful. The setting in a valley north of Montbard is peaceful. In England we live near the ruins of a Cistercian abbey (Hailes Abbey in Winchcombe). We love Hailes Abbey but it is nothing compared to Fontenay. Hailes Abbey is a ruin. Fontenay looks like it did when the monks lived there.
The drive back home took an hour and a half but was on uncrowded autoroute and went quickly. We had a good last night dinner with our group. This day was a lovely end to our week in Burgundy.
End of our week
On Saturday we all hit the road. Chris and Shannon drove to Lyon to return the car and take the train to Nice. Shannon spent a night in Nice, then flew to Venice to start one of her GrapeHops tours. Chris stayed in Nice for another week and a half.
We drove north and spent a week in Normandy. After that we returned the car at Charles De Gaulle Airport, took a taxi into Paris and spent three nights in the Bastille area visiting friends who were spending a few weeks in Paris (Doron and Josette, SlowTrav friends). Then we flew back to Heathrow from Paris.
I would like to return to Burgundy. For our next trip I would stay in Semur-en-Auxois and spend a couple of days exploring the town. Another day trip to Dijon (or maybe a few nights there at the start of the trip). Another day trip to Autun and a day hiking in the Morvan Regional National Park west of Autun. A long walk along the Burgundy Canal near Montbard. Another trip to Fontenay Abbey. Sounds like a plan!
- Michelin Green Guide – Burgundy Jura: A good guidebook for this area (Amazon.com).
I posted photos on Slow Europe, but you can see a summary of our trip in the photo gallery below.
- Slow Europe Day Trip – France, Burgundy, Autun
- Slow Europe Travel Photos – Dijon
- Slow Europe Day Trip – France, Burgundy, Fontenay Abbey