If you've done Provence, and of course Paris, now it's time to venture out a bit--how about a a trip to Burgundy? We've done many Burgundy travel posts over the years, but not an overview. So here is a native's take on what to see on your first trip. OK not a native really but a resident (12 years now!) and a fairly well traveled one. Photo above: in Cluny, a natural amphitheater in the park.
There is much to do, so we shall hit the highlights with a 10-day tour. Of course there are MANY Burgundy tours possible: the wine tour, the rural bike tour, the city tour, the culinary tour, the château/abbey tour, the Romanesque church tour, the canal trip, the "Most Beautiful Villages" tour. Since we are assuming it's a first look, we'll try to include a bit of everything, and I've added some useful links. You'll need a car to do Burgundy justice, though you could also take the train between major towns--or a canal tour.
Burgundy is a lush green country of rolling, pastoral hills in shocking shades of green, pretty villages, and stone houses in gray or gold topped with red clay roofs. It's a big region, starting in the northeast just below and east of Paris, and dropping down past the center of France, nearly to Lyon. It is a major gastronomic region and of course, is known for its fine wines. There are four departments: the Yonne (to the north), the Côte d'Or (Dijon, Beaune and its wine villages), the Nièvre (very rural, and to the west) and the Saône-et-Loire (our area in the south, where the good white wines are). Photo above: fields of colza, in May.
Since you'll probably fly into Paris, start in the north with the medieval pilgrimage town of Vézelay, for its historical significance and its sheer beauty. For this two or three day stay, I would make it a home base but also hit Semur-en-Auxois (the most beautiful town in Burgundy, in my mind). If you like small villages of great charm, nearby Flavigny-sur-Ozerain is a pretty one; part of the movie Chocolat was filmed here, so watching it before your trip is a good way to get into the Burgundy spirit. Photo: Semur-en-Auxois.
For hotels, L'Espérance at the foot of the Vézeley is a good high end choice. If you really want to live the dream, stay in the nearby Château de Vault de Lugny, a quiet retreat with exotic birds (white peacocks, for example) wandering around the grounds.
Next it's down to Beaune, my favorite town in Burgundy. If you're driving from the north, make a stop at the imposing village of Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, a fairy tale of a town perched on a hill. Beaune itself is good for a couple of days or three, especially if you sign up for a wine tour of surrounding villages at the tourisme. At the very least check out the impressive underground caves, that pass under a large part of the gorgeous medieval walled city. You really must try to catch Beaune's spectacular market on Saturday, and there is small Saturday brocante, too. Architecture and history buffs will want to add a day or two to tour nearby Dijon. Photo: One of Beaune's churches, and a pub.
In Beaune, the upscale lodging choice is the Hôtel de Beaune. Eat at Le Gourmandin, for sure, on the terrace. During the week, Ma Cuisine is the standard, but it's closed on week-ends. Get more info on Beaune here.
Now drive south, and stop for lunch at the town of Chalon-sur-Saône. If the weather's fine and you want a salad, try Sur la Place in Place Saint Vincent. For something fancier, there is a great restaurant street (pedestrian) on the island of St. Laurent, just over the bridge from the square. Photo: Ready for lunch at Place St. Vincent, Chalon-sur-Saône.
Now down to Cluny, near us. Cluny is not on the tourist map for most Americans, but for the history-loving Europeans, it's a must see, with the remains of its influential medieval abbey. The town is small; there's a nice Abbey tour, and be sure to climb the Tower of Cheese for good views. Nearby Bourgvilain has the best restaurant: Auberge La Rochette, with a good outdoor terrace. There is a very lively Saturday market in Cluny as well. The Potin Gourmand is a charming place to stay and has a nice restaurant, or try a more reasonable chambere d'hôtes, like this one.
There's plenty of wine tasting to be done in this area. The towns of Poulilly and Fuissé are the most fun: pretty villages, great wines, a few charming restaurants and friendly vignerons. You could stay in this area, at the gorgeoous Chateau du Besseuil in Clessé (hotel and good restaurant), and zip into nearby Cluny for the day.
Head south again, with a stop for lunch in Mâcon, or rather just over the bridge, at Le Saint Laurent, (photo right), uber-chef Georges Blanc's brasserie. Eat on the outdoor terrace, overlooking the river and the city.
Our tour of Burgundy ends in the fun city of Lyon, which is just outside the Burgundy border. France's second city is beautiful and walkable. The city center is on a peninsula, with the oldest part just over the bridge on the Saône side. Stay in the Cours de Loge if you've got a deluxe budget; the Best Western, in the heart of town, is the good value alternative. The restaurant choices are overwhelming. We like to wander down the bouchon street of Rue Mercière and pick something interesting. But our favorite is Brasserie Georges, an enormous, bustling bistro in the art deco mode, with sumptuous Lyon cuisine.
Now let's talk châteaux. If, like me, you are a château lover, you're in luck, as Burgundy has more of them than any other region. There are two designated routes, should you want to hit all the main public ones: La Route des Châteaux en Bourgogne du nord, and du sud. Any tourisme in the area can give you the brochures and you can pick and choose the ones that speak to your château fantasies. Some favorites: Abbey de Fontenay in the north, Couches and La Rochepot near Beaune, Berzé le Chatel and Cormatin near Cluny. Check schedules carefully; some open only in summer, some have only tours of the gardens.
We have only scratched the surface, but this is, after all, a first tour. Now you only need a GPS, a hearty appetite and a big thirst, and you're ready to go!
And we'd like to know: where would YOU go (or where have you been) in Burgundy?
Below, a boat cruises down the Canal de Bourgogne, near Beaune
A Burgundy wine tasting, in the cave of a small producer
The basilica in Vézeley
In the COMMENTS: Loved hearing your Gourmet memories! And from Jane, a restaurant recommendation. Suzanne, I didn't have a flameproof dish either, so I heated it in something else and then put it in a dish. Though a black skillet would work here.