This may not be the season to travel the world, but we can still dream about our future adventures. And doesn't a leisurely bike trip through vineyards in Burgundy sound like a lovely way to take in the French countryside and its bounty? Kasia Dietz hops a train from Paris and makes Beaune her home base.
BURGUNDY, France — The best way to discover Burgundy, the vineyard-rich region just east of Paris that produces some of France's most notable wines, is by bike. I realized this the first time my husband and I ventured to the medieval town of Beaune, but it wasn't until our second visit that we took to the winding paths in search of vast stretches of flourishing vistas.
Our sojourn in Bourgogne, to use its local name, began at historic Hôtel Le Cep in the heart of Beaune, just steps away from the famed Hospices de Beaune, the medieval "wine-maker's hospital" that's one of the country's most treasured monuments. The restored 16th-century family-run hotel immediately transported me to another (very regal) era and proved the perfect setting in which to experience a taste of history — and wine. The five-star hotel, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, has 62 rooms spread over two mansions linked by a charming courtyard. Loiseau des Vignes is the Michelin-starred restaurant on site managed by the Bernard Loiseau Group. Spa Marie de Bourgogne is the award-winning spa whose decor and ingredients are inspired by the surrounding vineyards. Saint Félix is Hôtel Le Cep's new wine-tasting cellar, where we whet our appetite for the savoring to follow.
Prepared to lose ourselves among the vines, we mounted the hi-speed electric bikes offered as rentals by the hotel and headed for the hills. Within minutes, we were weaving our way along the clearly marked bike paths of the Route des Grands Crus to Pommard. Since the Middle Ages, this village, some two miles away from Beaune and home to Château de Pommard, has been called "the flower of the wines of Beaune." In the Côte de Beaune region, which is known for its white wines, Pommard is an exception, producing first-class pinot noir.
Quick local wine lesson: red Burgundy (Bourgogne rouge) is primarily pinot noir; white Burgundy (Bourgogne blanc) is primarily chardonnay — and it's common knowledge that this area produces the world's finest of both varietals. Price tags usually reflect this, and the best of the best are those designated "grand cru." About 200 million years ago, a sea ran through this part of the world, and the ensuing fossils help make the limestone soil particularly excellent and fertile terroir.
We continued another mile along the pastoral path through Pommard, with nary a soul in sight until we reached the village of Volnay. While tempted to stop and taste a succulent red or two — Volnay's renowned wines since the 6th century — we continued along the path, setting our sights on a more distant destination.
My husband's knack for finding the most alluring apéritif spot (such a good talent in a spouse...) found us cozied up at the last available table of a charming café terrace in the village of Meursault, another two miles south. Finally, it was time to taste what are considered the finest white wines in Burgundy.
The vineyards of Meursault, aptly called "La Côte des Blancs," are a celebration of chardonnay. Santé! If you're here and in the mood for souvenirs, the wine shop at Château de Meursault sells crus dating back to 1973. Bring a friend a bottle of their birth year, and you'll be in their good graces forever.
Following a hearty breakfast at Le Cep and stroll around the bustling town, our second day of biking along Burgundy's vineyards found us nearly four miles north of Beaune in the picturesque village Savigny lès Beaune. While its wines are not as highly acclaimed as those of its neighbors, we paired lunch with an appellation that hit all the right notes. Before our journey through green pastures continued, we admired Château de Savigny lès Beaune from afar. The château museum's treasures include a rare collection of antique aircraft, racing cars, and motorcycles. (They'll add bicycles one day, I'm sure.)
Our last awe-inspiring view before cycling back to Beaune to board a train back home to Paris was the hill of Corton. This majestic limestone bluff set among several wine-producing villages of Burgundy, marks the northern end of the Côte de Beaune, and the end of our wine-infused expedition. Until we come back for the next one.