A Printable, Downloadable, PDF version of this itinerary is available for purchase. Includes Places to Stay in proximity.
ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:
Burgundy, which lies to the southeast of Paris, is a name used to designate a geographic region of France as well as a reference synonymous with some of the world’s finest wines. Vineyards dress the landscape and stretch from one enchanting, steepled village to the next. In terms of wine, Burgundy is distinguished by five different areas, each with its own special characteristics. The backbone of this itinerary follows the Côte d’Or from Chablis in the north to the Côte de Nuits, which travels from Dijon to beyond Nuits Saint Georges, and on to the Côte de Beaune whose vineyards spider web the countryside around the magical wine town of Beaune. It then continues south from Chagny into the region of the Côte de Chalonnaise and concludes in the wine district of Mâconnais with Mâcon as its southern boundary.
In addition to a focus on wine, this itinerary weaves a path through some enchanting and historic towns and monuments. In the vicinity of Chablis is the memorable Abbaye de Fontenay that was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1981, the seemingly undiscovered ruins of Alise Sainte Reine, and the enchanting village of Flavigny sur Ozerain whose recent claim to fame is the movie Chocolat. Before heading south to the capital wine town of Beaune, the trail sweeps west to include Vézelay, an idyllic medieval village sitting high atop a hill and the scenic Vallée du Cousin and then journeys along the Route des Grands Crus. Exploring the area is like traveling through a wine list, for the region covers half the famous names in French wine.
Recommended Pacing: Spend at least two nights in northern Burgundy staying in the vicinity of the magnificent town of Vézelay; two nights in the neighborhood of Beaune so that you have time to spontaneously explore the narrow roads that spoke off the main roads and weave through the vineyards, and a night in southern Burgundy with a possible conclusion in the grand city of Lyon or the hilltown village of Pérouges. (Recommendations for places to stay can also be found in our France hotel guide.)
Before you embark on this itinerary-since wine is the underlying attraction-it seems best to provide you with some basic information to enhance your understanding and appreciation of the region’s bounty that you will sample. From Chablis in the north to Mâcon in the south, 25,000 hectares of vineyards represent Burgundy’s five wine districts which boast an incredible diversity, evidenced by the amazing 98 distinct appellations. Grouped into four categories, the appellations, Regional, Communal, Premiers Crus and Grands Crus, define the quality and origin of the grape. The general rule is the higher the quality, the more precisely identified the origin of the grape.
Four key factors influence the quality of great wines: The soil, the grape, the climate and the talent of the vintner. Because Burgundy is a tapestry of different soil types that distinguish the wines, vineyards are often sectioned off by stone walls from one soil variation to the next and are referred to as terroirs. Understandably the variety of grape or cépage selected is based on which best compliments the soil. In spite of the diversity of soil, with a few minor exceptions, the wines of Burgundy are from two supreme varietals: Chardonnay for the white wines and Pinot Noir for the red grape. So conveniently close to Paris, it is puzzling that Burgundy is not considered a year-round destination until one experiences the cold, dry winters that influence the wine.
Leave Paris to the southeast and take the A6 autoroute for the 1½-hour drive to the Auxerre Sud exit where you take the D965 for the 12-kilometer drive into Chablis, a busy little town synonymous with the elegant, dry white wine of Burgundy. (Note: You might also want to consider taking the TGV to Dijon and beginning your journey at the heart of the region.) Chablis wine roads travel into the surrounding hills, with the finest vineyards being found just northeast of the town. Cross the River Serein and turn left on the D91, a small road that leads you to the region’s seven grand crus, which lie side by side: Bougros, Les Preuses, Vaudésir, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Valmur, and Blanchot. Vineyards cover over 1,300 hectares with the principal grape being the Chardonnay.
Returning to Chablis, take the D45 and follow the Serein upstream to Noyers, a charming little walled town of timbered houses. From Noyers take the D956 east 21 km to the junction of D905 and then south 10 km to Montbard. From Montbard it is just a few kilometers further to one of France’s most wonderful monuments and attractions, L’Abbaye de Fontenay. Set against a backdrop of forest, this beautiful abbaye, its fountains and gardens will prove a highlight of your trip. (Tel: 03.80.92.15.00, www.abbayedefontenay.com.) Founded in 1118 by St Bernard this is a perfect example of a Cistercian abbey. It has endured dramatic changes with each century. It became the Royal Abbey in 1269, was pillaged by Edward III in 1359, during the French Revolution saw the last eight monks leave in 1790, and then was sold by the revolutionaries to an industrialist who installed a paper mill. It was then purchased by the Montgolfier family whose descendent in 1906 decided to dismantle the industrial buildings and bring the abbey back to its original medieval glory. You can tour-on your own or with a guide- and visit everything from the bakery to the dormitory and the Cloister, which remains one of the most wonderful examples of Romanesque architecture. (Open all year, tel: 03.80.92.15.00.)
Returning to Montbard, it is just a short journey south on the D905 to Venarey les Laumes. From here a circle detour on the D103 will take you to Alise Sainte Reine, a quiet hilltown with Roman ties. This fortified town is the scene of the last stand of the Gauls against Caesar. Follow signs to Mont Auxois which is located above the village and was the site of Caesar’s final victory over the heroic Gaulic chieftain Vercingetorix in 52 B.C. after a six-week siege. The first excavations were undertaken in the mid 19th century, and they uncovered the remains of a thriving Gallo-Roman town, Alise, complete with a theater, forum, and a well-laid street plan. The Musée Alise has a collection of artifacts, jewelry, and bronze figures from the site.
From Alise continue the journey on to the picturesque village of Flavigny sur Ozerain, whose most recent fame is due to the fact it was used as the stage set for the film Chocolat. With its ancient narrow streets, fortified gates and religious and architectural heritage this is a wonderful old city to explore on foot. It is also famous for the production of anise balls and sweets made by the Abbaye since 1591. They accept visitors each day from 8:30 to 10:30 am. You might also want to plan a meal at La Grange les Quatre Heures where local farmers offer an à la carte menu featuring their own produce. (Open July through August every day except Mondays, 12:30 to 5:00, tel: 03 80 96 20 62.)
From Flavigny traveling the D954 west it is a pretty drive to the medieval town of Semur-en-Auxois. Nestled on the loop of the river Armançon, this is a very picturesque walled village with its massive stone towers, numerous bridges, church or Notre Dame and maze of houses all straddling the river on either side of the rocky spur.
Continuing east from Semur it is a beautiful drive through farmland past the Château d’Epoisses and then on to connect with the N6 where you will turn north in the direction of Avallon. With its narrow cobbled streets Avallon is a larger town with cozy old houses at its center. Journey down through the old city, following signs to Pontaubert and then continue on to the magical pilgrimage site of Vézelay. Sitting high on its hilltop above the surrounding countryside and for many people the highlight of a visit to Burgundy, this little town of Vézelay is full of narrow streets lined with old houses with sculptured doorways and mullioned windows leading up to the 12th-century Basilica Sainte Madeleine, the enormous building that sits above the village. This extraordinarily long church is beautiful in its simplicity with its soaring columns and paved floor and when religious pilgrimages were the fashion, it was an important stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Take note of the brass coquille saint Jacques, the pilgrimage sign of welcome and hospitality that are still embedded in the cobbled streets. From Vézelay retrace your path to Pontaubert where you will cross the river, and turn immediately right, signposted Vallee du Cousin. This is a very scenic drive on a country road that follows the picturesque, narrow, wooded valley of the rushing River Cousin and will deliver you back to Avallon. From Avallon follow signposts for the autoroute A6, which you take to the A38 towards Dijon.
Note: If time allows or if you use Vézelay as a base, be sure to travel the 10 km south on the D958 to a wonderful privately owned 12th century château, it is gorgeous in its furnishings and regal setting. The medieval stronghold of Chateau Bazoches-du-Morvan enjoys a bucolic setting on the site of a former Roman base and makes for a delightful and interesting excursion. (Open all year, Nov 6 to Mar 24 by reservation only, tel: 03.86.22.10.22.)
If you like bustling cities, follow the A38 all the way to Dijon where sprawling suburbs hide a historic core. Rue des Forges is the most outstanding of the old streets. Even if you are not a museum lover, you will enjoy the Musée des Beaux Arts in the palace of Charles de Valois. It is one of France’s most popular museums, with some wonderful old woodcarvings and paintings. (Open all year except Tuesdays, tel: 03.80.74.52.70.) The aperitif Kir (cassis and white wine) was named after Canon Kir, the city’s mayor and wartime resistance leader. Food note: There are plenty of opportunities to purchase Dijon mustard and, if you visit in November, you can attend the superb gastronomic fair.
From Dijon begins the wine region of the prestigious Côte de Nuits. The wine estates date back to 10th-century abbeys whose monks first planted vineyards predominately with the Pinot Noir grapes. Much of the 3,000 hectares are enclosed behind stone walls and the vineyards are referred to as Clos. Chambertin, Clos de Vougeot, and Romanée Conti represent Burgundy’s Grands Crus and are located here. Further up the slopes, 550 hectares producing fine Burgundies are referred to as Hautes-Côtes de Nuits.
Outside Dijon, for a greater dose of the countryside, leave the autoroute after Sombernon at the village of Pont de Pany, pass the large hotel on your right, cross the canal, and turn right on the D35, signposted Urcy and Nuits Saint Georges. This scenic little country road winds steeply up a rocky limestone escarpment past the Château Montclust and through rolling farmland to Urcy, a tight cluster of cottages set around a church. After passing through Quemigny Poisot, turn left for Chamboef and left again in the village for Gevrey Chambertin. Down the limestone escarpment you go through a rocky tunnel around a couple of precipitous bends and you’re in the vineyards.
Turn right and follow the D122 into Gevrey Chambertin where you join the great wine and tourist route, Routes des Grands Crus, winding you through the villages that produce the premier Burgundian wines. As you drive around, look for the Flemish-style colored tiles arranged in patterns that decorate the roofs of the region-a reminder of the time when the Dukes of Burgundy’s duchy stretched into the Low Countries. There are very few large estates in this region, most of the land belonging to small farmers who live and make wine in the villages and go out to work in their vineyards. Fields are called climats and every climat has a name. Some climats produce better wines, which are identified by their own name; others are identified by the name of the village. This is fine for the larger centers such as Beaune and Pommard, but the little villages-searching for an identity-have incorporated the name of their best-known vineyard into the village name. Thus Gevrey became Gevrey Chambertin, Saint Georges became Nuits Saint Georges, and Vougeot became Clos de Vougeot. Gevrey Chambertin is one of the region’s most delightful villages, with narrow streets lined with gray-stone houses and numerous vintners’ signs inviting you in to sample their wares.
Arriving at Morey-Saint-Denis, park in the large car park before the village and walk along its narrow streets.
The vineyards of Chambolle-Musigny produce some spectacular wines and you can learn about them at the wine museum housed in the Wine Celler at Château-Hôtel André Ziltener (also a hotel and recommended in our France hotel guide). This informative tour includes a tasting of the four grades of wine produced in the area. Madame Ballois, who is in charge, is a charming hostess, extremely knowledgeable and proud of the fact that the six red wines they offer for tasting are all, impressively, première and grands crus. The price of the tour is quite reasonable, or free to guests of the hotel.
The hillsides of Clos de Vougeot were first planted by Cistercian monks in the 14th century and a stone wall was built to encircle the vineyards and protect them from raiders in the One Hundred Years’ War. An organization called Chevaliers du Tastevin, now recognized worldwide, chose the 16th-century Château de Vougeot in 1944 as a base from which to publicize Burgundy wines. You can see the courtyard, the great pillared hall where banquets take place, and the impressive cellars and 12th-century wine presses.
Nuits Saint Georges is somewhat larger than the other towns along the route. A great deal of wine is blended here under the town’s name. After Nuits Saint Georges the Route des Grands Crus continues along the N74 to end at Corgoloin. The Côte de Beaune begins virtually where the Côte de Nuits ends.
After the Route des Grands Crus the first great commune is Aloxe Corton whose vineyards were once owned by Charlemagne. Legend states that Aloxe Corton is known for both its red and white wines because, during the time that Charlemagne owned the vineyards, his wife claimed that red wine stained his white beard and so he ordered the production of white wine too. He is commemorated by the white wine Corton-Charlemagne.
Arriving in Beaune, do not follow signs for Centre Ville but stay on the ring road that circles the city’s walls in a counterclockwise direction. Park in one of the car parks adjacent to the ring road and walk into the narrow old streets of the wine capital of Burgundy. Today the most important landowner in the region is the Hospices de Beaune, a charitable organization founded in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, chancellor of the Duke of Burgundy. Every year they hold a wine auction at the Hôtel Dieu-it is one of the wine trade’s most important events. Built as a hospital, the Hôtel Dieu is so elegantly decorated that it seems more like a palace. You will want to take a guided tour of this lovely building which is an exceptional example of medieval architecture whose rooms house an incredible collection of furnishings, art, tapestries, and the incredible exhibit, the Last Judgement by Rogier van der Weyden. (Open all year, tel: 03.80.24.45.00, www.hospices-de-beaune.tm.fr.)
You can also visit the Musée du Vin de Bourgogne in the Hôtel des Ducs de Bourgogne. (Closed Tues, Dec to Apr, tel: 03.80.22.08.19.) There are delightful shops, restaurants, and cafés aplenty. Wine lovers may want to visit one of the négotiant-éleveurs who buy wines of the same appellation from growers and blend and nurture them to produce an “elevated” superior wine. At the heart of the wine region, Beaune serves as a wonderful base from which to explore the region. The wine capital, it reigns over 5,000 hectares of the Côte de Beaune whose wines are as diverse in character as they are high in quality. Full bodied reds as well as rich and complex whites are produced by vineyards known the world over: Pommard, Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet. When following the Route des Vins don’t overlook the 650 hectares of the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune which wind up the slopes and are recognized for their red and white Burgundies.
Leave Beaune on the A74 in the direction of Chagny. After a short distance take the D973 to Pommard where tasting is offered at the château on the outskirts, as well as at other enticing vintners in the crowded confines of the village. (Tel: 03.80.22.12.59, www.chateaudepommard.com.) From Pommard continue into Meursault, a larger village that offers tasting at small vintners and at the larger Domaine du Château de Meursault. (Tel: 03.80.26.22.75.)
From Meursault, the D973 brings you into Auxley Duresses. At the far end of the village turn right following the brown signs indicating Haute Côte de Beaune. This wine route takes you on a narrow country lane up through the steeply sloping village of Saint Romain, high above the vineyards and back down to vineyards in Orches, a village clinging to the limestone cliffs, through Baubigny and into the wine center of La Rochepot. On the approach to the charming village of La Rochepot, visible on the horizon is its intricate, fairy-tale castle with its multi-tiled roof in vibrant colors of yellow, olive, red, black, and ochres, which has stood on its rocky peak since the 13th century. You can also see the ruins of the original castle that occupied the site, built in the 11th century by Alexander of Burgundy.
During the 15th century, the Château de la Rochepot became the home of the Lords Régnier and Philippe Pot, both Knights of the Golden Fleece and counselors to the Dukes of Burgundy. At the end of the 19th century Colonel Sadi Carnot carefully restored the castle, which had been destroyed during the French Revolution. Today a visit to the château (complete with drawbridge) gives you a glimpse of what life was like for the several hundred lords, ladies, guards, servants, and soldiers who called La Rochepot home. A tour of the castle shows you the dining room, kitchen, guards’ chambers, and watch wall. (Open Apr to Nov, closed Tuesday, tel: 03.80.21.71.37.)
A short drive from Rochepot brings you to the intersection of the N6, which when followed south will take you past the vineyards of Puligny-Montrachet and then deliver you to the very scenic and historical wine region of the Chalonnais and the Mâconnais. The Côte Chalonnais is a geographic extension of the Côte de Beaune with its four thousand hectares of grapes planted from Chagny in the north to just north of Tournus. Leading vineyards of the Chalonnaise are Rully, Mercurey, Givry, and Montagny.
With its narrow streets winding down to the banks of the Saône, Tournus was once a prominent fishing town and the curious horizontal stones that pierce many of the town roofs are testament to that history. Fishing nets were draped on poles that were suspended between the stones, left to dry in the sun. Today the Saint Philibert Abbey (oldest of the great Romanesque churches of Burgundy), the Perrin-de-Puycousin Museum with its collections of traditional costumes and Bresse furniture, and the art museum dedicated to the local painter Jean-Baptiste Greuze are worth a visit. Tournus is also the northern geographic marker for the region of the Mâconnais. This is the largest and southernmost of the Burgundy wine districts with over 6,500 planted hectares. Chardonnay and Gamay grapes yield great fruity whites and rich reds and are distributed under famous labels such as Mâcon, Mâcon-Villages, and Pouilly-Fuissé.
From Tournus, we suggest you make a loop east and then south for an adventure that will include both architectural history and wine. From Tournus traveling the D14, it is approximately a 12-kilometer scenic drive to the medieval-walled town of Brancion. With a history that goes back to the 10th century, it was once considered one of the most strategic strongholds in southern Burgundy. It is necessary to park outside town and then venture by foot to explore this village where time seems almost to have stood still. It is interesting to visit the church with its lovely frescoes and the ruins of the old castle.
Brancion is situated almost equally distant from Tournus and the lovely Château de Cormatin. Surrounded by gorgeous gardens and heralded as having some of the most magnificent Louis XIII apartments left in France with its wonderful furnishings and tapestries, it is also famous as the site for many international meetings hosting heads of state from all over the world. (Open Apr 1 to Jul 13, Aug 16 to Nov 11, Tel: 03 85 50 16 55.)
From Cormatin, follow the well-signed 13 kilometers south along the D981 to Cluny and its famous Benedictine abbey, Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul. Founded in 910, its abbots were considered as powerful and influencial as the kings or pope for the role they played in the ecclesiastical reform movement that reached to over 2000 monastaries throughout Western Europe. The present abbaye was built in 1089, and although much of it was destroyed during the French Revolution, its ruins embrace the narrow streets of town and stand proud on the horizon.
From Cluny travel 5 kilometers south on the D980 and then take the scenic D17 east (that parallels the N79), a road that wends its way through the charming hillside villages of Berzé le Châtel, La Croix Blanche and then Berzé le Ville. Built on a rocky outcrop just below the village of Berze le Ville is a lovely 12th-century chapel, Chapelle des Moines. Commissioned by the abbot of Cluny, its first structure was destroyed by a storm but then rebuilt by Italians. Intimate with a Byzantine-influence architecture, it is especially worth visiting for the gorgeous paintings that cover its vaulted walls. Their intensity of color is remarkable due to the fact that they were covered up by stucco and not discovered or exposed until the 19th century.
From Berzé la Ville cross over and pick up N79 traveling southeast until you see signs for small country towns are synonomous with the world’s finest wines-Pouilly, Fuissé and Saint-Véran. A maze of country roads cross back and forth and journey through the vineyards that embrace these charming wine villages of Mâconnais. There are numerous wineries where one can stop and sample the liquid gold of the region, but we especially liked our visit at the Château de Fuissé, located at the heart of the town of the same name. Operated by Jean-Jacques Vincent and family, a visit here includes a tour of the cellars, the vineyards, and sampling their vintages. They are also set up to ship wines worldwide. (www.chateau-fuisse.fr, tel: 03.85.35.61.44.)
After exploring the wine towns it is a short distance on to Mâcon travel. From here one can catch the TGV on to other destinations or pick up the autoroute south to Lyon-one of France’s most regal and gastronomique centers. A large city, you need to be armed with patience and a good map to negotiate to its historic center.
To the northwest of Lyon is the magical medieval village of Pérouges. Settled by the Romans and sentimentally named for the village they left, Perugia, this is an enchanting, walled, medieval village with cobbled streets, a few craft shops, restaurants (one must sample the local tarte) and a hotel. This medieval village was once home to farmers, craftsmen and weavers and although not rich in architecture, it remains much as it was in the middle ages. To visit is like stepping back in time. In fact we have the owners of the Ostellerie du Vieux Pérouges, to thank for its preservation. At a time when all but a handful of residents had abandoned the town for more modern conveniences and appreciation for what was historic was forgotten, the town was slated for destruction. But the Thibaut Family started a foundation to preserve and restore Pérouges.
Pérouges is recommended as either a perfect end to this wine country journey or a convenient stopover before continuing on to explore our French Alps itinerary.