When I recently went to Burgundy (the famous French wine region), I was overwhelmed by the beauty and charm of this place. Not only do they produce some of France’s best wine and food products; it’s also crammed with cultural and historical highlights that will bring any traveler to his knees.
“I would happily die with a bottle of Burgundy in my mouth” – Julia Child
THE BIG WINES
You either hate them or love them; wines from Burgundy. Some can be quite intense yet others very refined on the palette. A wine connoisseur would know a thing or two about this, however, the rest of us don’t. So let’s cut straight to the core and make a bold statement that most insiders agree on; some of the world’s best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are from Burgundy. And this is obviously also one of the reasons why you should visit the region. Big and renowned wine producers such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine Leflaive deserves a mention, but so does lesser known (and more affordable) producers such as the family-owned Domaine des Tilleuls and Domaine Jerome Galeyrand. Look out for your options at the local restaurants, who will most likely have a good selection of smaller producers as well.
THE DELICACIES (mustard, macaroons and cheese!)
Burgundy is a foodie’s paradise. End of story. This is home of the mustard – or moutarde, as they say – but don’t let yourself be fooled by big, famous producers such as Dijon. Today, last-mentioned is produced in Eastern Europe (forget about the French mustard dream!) and shipped all over the world, however, it all began in Dijon, which is the main city of Burgundy. I’d go for a smaller, local mustard producer any day, and I actually did during my visit! As I embarked on a guided tour of the Fallot Mustard company is the town of Beaune, I slowly realized how little I knew of mustard – and how big a difference there is on mass-produced mustard and mustard of genuine quality. Fallot is an old family-owned company, who still take pride in their production. In fact, Fallot is the last independent family-owned mustard company in Burgundy, and so I can highly recommend a visit. I was surprised as to how many variants there are; mustard with cassis, tarragon, nuts, basil, you name it. During a tour, you get to taste a wide range of them, and you can even make your own mustard to bring home.
The macaroon is another delight often found in Burgundy. While this little treat doesn’t actually come from here (it was first sold in the French city of Nancy in the 16th Century), macaroons are cherished and loved in all bakeries here, and you shouldn’t miss out on them. Patisseries like Pierre Hubert in Dijon and Bouche in Beaune even offers untraditional flavors like basil, coconut and olive oil. I still prefer mine with raspberry, lemon or pistachio, though.
True gourmands just love a plate of French snails, or so I’ve heard! Escargots are still a big thing here, prepared in a slightly different way, though. The Burgundy-version broils the snails in their shells after which they’re put in the finest local butter and parsley. Locals order half a dozen – or a dozen if they’re hungry – and flush it down with a glass of chilled Chablis. Do you dare to do the same?
Last, but not least, I need to mention the cheeses as well. “Isn’t French cheese just all the same?!” you might think, but no is the simplest answer. First of all, the goat cheeses are to die for. Especially in Spring, when they’re good and fresh and all irresistible. Still, other cheeses such as the raw milk Ami du Chambertin and the famous Epoisses deserves a mention, too. Epoisses is one of those slow-aged versions that can literally kill a dead man, so be careful! Leaving a dinner table without just a small plate of cheese to finish off could be regarded as a disgrace, but then again… why would you?!
THE IDYLLIC TOWNS
With just above 150.000 inhabitants, Dijon doesn’t really fit the description ‘town’, but it’s very pretty and it also happens to be the main city of Burgundy. So what can you do here? Apart from the obvious (like eating local delicacies such as sausage, mustard and oat meal cookies), you should simply get lost in the old historical settings. There are plenty of parks, fountains and cute museums to check out, but don’t leave without having strolled through the small, winding streets that takes you straight back to 15th Century France. Back then, Burgundy – and Dijon – was home to the famous Dukes of Burgundy and it was thereby an incredibly powerful city! Dijon is very well-preserved and one can easily feel the presence of history when exploring the city center. The main shopping street is called Rue de la Libertée – make sure to pass by that as well, and don’t forget the obligatory café au lait in a small, local coffee shop either. They say Les Temps des Ducs offers one of the best!
Beaune is another destination you must add to your bucket list. This historical town is said to be the wine capital of Burgundy – some even say of France! The annual wine auction in Beaune is the primary wine auction in France, so you do the math. Stroll through the old city center and you’ll immediately understand why I instantly fell in love with this place during my visit to Burgundy. On a sunny day, Beaune has got it all! The old market square, the cute little pavement cafés and restaurants, the incredibly beautiful 15th Century hospice and the impressive church of Notre Dame, will undoubtedly leave you enchanted or even better, Francophile! Whilst you’re there, you might notice the colorful rooftops everywhere. They’re made of the famous ‘Burgundian tiles’, which can also be found all over the Belgian region of Flanders – but that’s another (rather interesting) story.
I’d like to spread the word of one particular restaurant in Beaune; Loiseau des Vignes, where I did spend a perfect afternoon indulging in local delicacies. This one-star Michelin restaurant was opened by Chef Dominique Loiseau in 2007, and it was the first restaurant in Europe to offer an entire wine list by the glass. The food here is quite an adventure, even though it stays within the safe limits of Burgundian cuisine. It’s simple yet refined, and if you can, you should definitely book a table here during your stay in Beaune.
THE FAIRYTALE CASTLES
Even if you’re not into history and all that, the Medieval castles of Burgundy will take your breath away! There are many chateaux to be explored, but some of the most interesting ones (in my opinion) are Chateau de Pommard, Chateau de Cormatin, Chateau de Sully, (hold your tongue!) Chateauneuf-en-Auxois and Chateau de Commarin. I passed by Chateauneuf-en-Auxois, an impressive castle from the 14th Century nestled on top of the beautiful village of Chateauneuf, which, by the way, is said to be one of the loveliest villages in France! Chateau de Commarin also captured me, mainly because it’s so well-kept and in the possession of the same family for 26 generations! All chateau’s are open to visitors on a daily basis, but check their websites before you go.
I hope you’ve become inspired to travel to Burgundy yourself! While Autumn is beautiful in this part of France, I’d recommend visiting in Spring or Summer, where you can take advantage of the pleasant temperatures. For more information, see www.burgundy-tourism.com.
Have you ever been to Burgundy? Please share your thoughts below.