The insider advice on this page is from Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for France: Jack Dancy and Simon Aplin of Trufflepig.
Brits who live in Burgundy’s ancient wine capital of Beaune, Jack and Simon help high-brow, independent-minded travelers experience the best of what’s off the beaten track in France. Their fingers are on the pulse of what’s new and exciting yet still under the radar, as well as what’s old and magically atmospheric that most travelers miss. They design in-depth itineraries tailored to your particular tastes and interests, whether those include wine tasting in Burgundy, chateau-hopping in the Loire Valley, hiking in the Dordogne, stepping back in time at WWI and WWII sites, or road tripping through all of it—and then on into Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. They’ll ensure that you stick to the most scenic roads, sleep in the most charming and unusual accommodations, dine in the most authentic local eateries, and meet interesting people along the way. Use them for trips at least a week long, preferably two (because they charge an itinerary-planning fee that delivers more value on long trips than on short ones).
Where to Stay and Eat
Best bang-for-your-buck hotel
Burgundy hotels on the whole are not excessively priced. L’Hôtel de Beaune offers the best rooms in town for half the price of similar hotels in Paris or Provence. Trufflepig clients get free breakfasts, as well as the preferential service that comes from our having worked with the hotel since it opened.
Restaurant the locals love
Driving from Paris to Burgundy in the summer months, I often break the journey at the Auberge Les Tilleuls in the village of Vincelottes on the river Yonne, one of those old-fashioned countryside gastronomic restaurants that used to dot the national roads all over the country. Chef Alain takes your order himself, and serves timeless dishes, shamelessly giving the French classics their pride of place, and doing a particularly good line in lobster. Pop open a bottle of Chablis and listen to the Yonne as it whispers by the terrace.
In the vineyards north of Beaune, the Bistro des Coteaux in Villars la Fontaine looks like nothing special but the meat grilled on the fire is close to perfection.
In Beaune itself, the newly opened La Lune is proving popular, combining Japanese cuisine with French ingredients, with countertop seating, a tapas style menu, and late hours—all pretty much unheard of in France not so long ago.
Oeufs en meurette: eggs poached in a wine reduction, with garlic and lardons. Of all the Burgundian hearty classics, this is the one not to miss. Debate rages about where the best one is to be found, but to my mind the Auberge de la Miotte in Ladoix is hard to beat.
Meal worth the splurge
The tasting menu at Bernard Loiseau in Saulieu will put a dent in your kid’s college fund, but it’s as memorable and as elegantly produced and presented a meal as you can find in France.
What to See and Do
Tasting in a small winery. Whether you’re discovering Burgundy wines for the first time, or already have an extensive cellar, don’t look down your nose at the smaller village wineries that the critics pass by. A phone call in advance is often all it takes to open the doors to a complete tasting and presentation of a family domaine’s wines, with the owner and winemaker himself. It’s an experience that can be tremendously informative not to mention great fun. Such visits are free; and for the money you’d pay to visit a larger winery, you can buy a case and ship it home—or just pick up a few bottles for picnicking on trip. Some spoken French is generally required, and for this reason a guide or driver may be helpful, but not strictly speaking necessary.
By the same token, skip out on the large winery visits and tastings in Beaune where (with a few exceptions) you’ll pay money to taste relatively unremarkable wines, hosted by a sales person rather than a winemaker. It’s not terrible— it’s just not the same experience.
Walking in the vineyards. Pick up picnic supplies and head out into the vineyard trails for a walk—anything from a gentle stroll from one village to the next, to full-day hikes that take you above the vines to the hills beyond, and some quite wild, almost Mediterranean landscapes. The best views of the village rooftops, the strip of vines, and of the plain beyond are from high up on the Côte, and the petite randonnée trails that crisscross the vineyards are extremely well sign-posted. For those who don’t care to walk, a similarly inexpensive day out can be had biking along the tow-path of the Canal du Bourgogne.
How to spend a Sunday
Pick up rental bikes in Beaune and bike out through the vineyards, where the roads, never busy, are quietest on Sundays and thronged with local cyclists. Head south through the vineyards to Chagny’s Sunday morning market and pick up some picnic supplies, then continue to Chassagne Montrachet, where you can taste in the Caveau de Chassagne (open Sundays) before buying the bottle of your choice. Bike through the vineyards, up to the little village of Gamay, and picnic on the bench by the old chateau. Roll home via Meursault and stroll the streets of Beaune, popping into the Athenaeum to buy your souvenirs Rats de Cave (see “Perfect souvenir,” right).
October. The chaos of harvest is over and the grapes are in, which means there’s still lots of activity in the wineries since the wines are fermenting and the vinification is in full throe, but the winemakers themselves have a little more time to spend with visitors. It’s also the prettiest time: The leaves on the vines turn yellow and gold, and you realize why they call it the Côte d’Or, the golden slopes. And beyond the wines, it’s the most interesting time for seasonal produce: Mushrooms and squashes complement wild game in the menus of the local restaurants.
February. Simply because the weather’s pretty ghastly.
Mistaking Burgundy for the Côte d’Or. Burgundy stretches from just south of Paris almost all the way to Lyon, and the vineyards of the Côte d’Or, although they’re the most famous, make up just a part of it. It can be tricky for the casual tourist to get meaningful visits and tastings in the Côte d’Or—not true in Chablis, Irancy, the Maconnais or any other number of less well-known Burgundy wine-regions. What’s more, exploring more widely will also give you a more varied trip, from the perfect medieval villages of the Auxois, to sites such as Vézelay and Cluny, to days spent horseback riding or biking along the banks of the Canal de Bourgogne. A trip to the Côte d’Or in Burgundy will be a wine trip; a more wide-ranging trip in Burgundy plunges you into that richer mix of landscape, history, and culture that France is so blessed with.
A portable cold box, for high-class picnicking and breaking out that chilled bottle of Meursault up in the vineyards.
The emblematic rats de cave, candlesticks traditionally used by the winemakers doing their rounds in the cellars. They were hung on the barrels by their long curved handle, but they’re equally at home on the dining room table. They’re well designed, easy to take home, and make great gifts! You can find them, and much else besides, at the Atheneaum in Beaune.
The Côte d’Or is all about access and contacts. While it’s not difficult (and is very worthwhile) to call a smaller winery and get in for a one-on-one tasting with the winemaker, the higher up the ladder you go, the harder it is to get in. There’s simply no replacement for contacts, and from our headquarters in Beaune, we’ve got keen clients into the very hardest-to-visit domaines.