I love visiting France, and although I travel there regularly to visit family in the Alsace or to ski in the Alps, I have to admit I’ve seen very little of the country. However this year I’ve managed to visit two new areas; Provence in August, and Burgundy in September. I knew of the famous Burgundy wines, but really knew nothing else of the region as a holiday destination, so was excited to explore this lesser known area of France.
How To Get To Burgundy
Burgundy is situated slightly east of the centre of France. The closest airport is Dole-Jura, which is 50 km south-east of Dijon, Burgundy’s capital. I took the Eurostar from London St Pancras, changing in Paris to the high speed TGV train, which takes an hour and 40 minutes to reach Dijon. There is also the option to change trains in Lille.
It’s worth hiring a car to get around, as many of the small villages have limited public transport. There are 5 car hire companies at Dijon station, making it convenient to pick up a car as soon as you arrive. The train between Dijon and Beaune takes 20 minutes and costs €8, so it’s easy to get between the two without transport.
Where To Stay
Burgundy is made up of four ‘departments’: Côte-d’Or, Saône-et-Loire, Yonne and Nièvre, with the Morvan Regional Park in the centre. Staying in Côte-d’Or for at least part of the trip is a good idea, as this department contains both Dijon and Beaune. Depending on how much you like changing accommodation, you can base yourself in one location and take day trips to the other towns and villages, or you can travel around the region staying in different areas (or do a bit of both!)
I’d definitely recommend a night in Dijon, it’s a bustling city with some great restaurants. I stayed at the Hotel des Ducs for two nights, which is in a great location, right in the heart of the city. Beune is a smaller town, but has some lovely hotels including the 4 star Hotel Le Cep.
If you fancy staying in the countryside or in one of the villages, then there are some great options. I spent a night in the stunning Morvan Regional Park, which is definitely worth a visit. In fact the accommodation alone was worth going for! Domaine de la Pierre Ronde is located on a gorgeous lake in the Morvan and has Teepees, Yurts and Hobbit houses. I stayed in the latter, and I absolutely loved it.
The detail that has gone into the houses is amazing and they are incredibly furnished. I stayed in the two person house, which has one large room consisting of a double bed, roll top bath and lounge area. The toilets and showers are separate, as is the breakfast yurt! This is a great base to explore the 173,000 hectare park.
If you’re looking for luxury, Abbaye de la Bussière is a 12th century abbey which has been converted into a upmarket hotel. Surrounded by stunning gardens and filled with impressive sculptures, the hotel also has a Michelin star restaurant.
What To Drink
Burgundy is renowned for its wine, and the region produces some of the most expensive wines in the world. But there are plenty of affordable wines too. Burgundy has two grape varieties: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The wines made from these two grapes are then categorised into four classifications:
The majority of the wines are called ‘Regional’ wines and are labelled ‘Bourgogne’. These are made from vineyards across the region.
The next level up are ‘Village’ wines or ‘Communal’. These are usually named after the town or village where the grapes are grown.
Premier Cru wines are grown in special plots known as ‘climats’, which have recently been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status.
Grand Cru are regarded as the highest classification, and these wines are of course the most expensive. There are 33 Grand Cru vineyards and these produce only 1% of Burgundy’s wines.
Finally, there are five wine growing regions within Burgundy: Chablis, Côte du Nuits, Côte du Beaune, Côte Chalonaise and Maconnaise. If that all sounds a little confusing, you can take a wine tasting course to brush up on your wine knowledge (and to enjoy sampling all the different wines!). Sensation Vin in Beaune offer a variety of classes or you can head straight to the vineyards, who will happily teach you about the wines of Burgundy.
The 60km ‘Route des Grands Crus’ (Road of Great Wines), runs from Dijon to Santenay, passing through the Cote du Nuits and Cote du Beaune regions. You can drive the route, stopping off at vineyards along the way, or if you don’t fancy driving (and want to enjoy a little more of the wine!) then you can also hire bikes and cycle the “véloroute” – 22km of bike trails through the vines.
What To Eat
The French are renowned for their cuisine, and there is certainly no shortage of restaurants in Burgundy with 29 Michelin star restaurants in the region. One of France’s most famous chefs, the late Bernard Loiseau ran a hugely successful 2 star restaurant Relais Bernard Loiseau in Saulieu before he died, which has now been taken over by his wife Dominique. She has since opened two other restaurants under his name in Burgundy, in Beaune and Dijon, and if you’re a foodie a visit to one of these is definitely recommended!
When it comes to local produce, Burgundy also has a great deal to offer. The region produces excellent meats, including Charollais beef, which is often used in the regions famous dish – Beef Bourguignon. This is a stew made with red wine, mushrooms, bacon and onions. Similarly, another popular dish of the region is Oeufs en Meurette, which is poached eggs served in a bourguignon sauce.
One of Burgundy’s most famous exports is Dijon Mustard, which takes its name from the city of Dijon. The Fallot Mustard factory in Beaune is open to visitors and shows you the process used to make the mustard, as well as giving you the opportunity to make some yourself and try the many varieties they produce.
For the more adventurous, snails (escargot) are regularly found on the menu across the region, and there are freshwater fish, pates, wild mushrooms and delicious cheeses in abundance!
What To Do
If you’re into history, then Burgundy is a great area to visit. It was once wealthier than the whole of France, and Dijon was home to the Dukes of Burgundy, who built beautiful palaces and castles across the city and region. In fact there are more chateaus in Burgundy than any other region in France!
The impressive Chateau de Chateauneuf is located up on a hill in the fortified village of Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, with spectacular views of the countryside below. The village is incredibly picturesque and is listed as one of ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages De France’ – the most beautiful villages in France. A visit to the castle costs €5 and includes the opportunity to see the bedrooms, bathrooms, and lounges as well as learn about the history of the chateau.
Another ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages De France’ is Flavigny-sur-Ozerain. In fact it’s so beautiful, it was chosen as the filming location for the 2000 film ‘Chocolate’ starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche. The tiny village is home to an old abbey, which has been used for centuries to make aniseed candy. Now a successful factory, you can take a tour of the abbey ruins and watch the candy being made.
The pretty town of Beaune is one of Burgundy’s most popular towns. It’s main attraction (other than the quaint cobbled streets), is the Hotel Dieu, a hospital built in 1443 to treat the poor of Burgundy. It’s an incredibly beautiful gothic style building, and was treating patients until 1970. It’s now a museum, telling the story of over 5 centuries of care for Burgundian residents.
Beaune is also home to a Wine Museum, which offers an in depth history to the regions wine making, including the old machinery used to produce wine.
No trip to the region would be complete without a visit to Dijon. The city centre is full of gorgeous buildings, many of which are open to visit including the Cathedral, the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Fine Art Museum) and The Church of Notre-Dame. The Market des Halles building was designed by Eiffel Tower creator Gustave Eiffel, and is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, selling produce from across the region.
In the middle of the city is the Place de la Libération, a gorgeous semi circular plaza with fountains in the centre and restaurants surrounding it. A good spot for lunch or an evening meal.
A short walk from here is the Tour Phillipe du Bon, a tower with impressive views over the city.
I visited Burgundy with very few expectations and I really fell in love with the region. Considering the amazing food and wine, stunning castles and beautiful scenery, I can’t believe more people aren’t heading to this part of France. But in a way, that’s another thing that makes it so lovely as there are few tourists and it feels like a very authentic region of France.
Thanks to Tourism Burgundy for hosting A Lovely Planet in Burgundy.
If you are a French wine lover you should check out my guide to Châteauneuf-du-Pape