Anywhere but Here.

THE RED and THE WHITE: A food and wine tour of Burgundy

One of France’s most famous wine regions, Burgundy features a picture-postcard landscape of vineyards, forests, fields, canals, medieval towns, and Romanesque monasteries; charming country inns; and of course, delicious food and wine. Easily accessible from Paris—and considerably less expensive than the French capital—Burgundy is ideal for a relaxing holiday or a romantic getaway.

The Red and The White

The Red: Beaune and the Côte d’Or

For many, Burgundy is synonymous with red wine. Red burgundies are made from pinot noir, but they will not be labeled with the grape variety, and only the least expensive will be labeled Burgundy. Most will carry the appellation of a specific, often tiny, area, such as Fixin, Mersault or Rully–the villages of the Côte d’Or, or golden hillsides—each with its own distinctive character. Many of the wineries—and there are many—offer tastings; unless you are a serious oenophile, it can be a bit hard to know where to begin. One of the best ways to experience different wines is with food—and the restaurants accommodate with a huge selection of the local product. Not surprisingly, the region’s delicious specialties are a perfect accompaniment to burgundy wines. Classic Burgundian dishes include escargot (snails in butter and garlic), jambon persillé (a terrine of ham and jellied parsley), the braised dishes of coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon, and meats (especially the famed Charolais beef) grilled over a wood fire. Beaune, the beautiful medieval town that is the spiritual center of Burgundy, boasts a selection of fine restaurants. Le Jardin des Remparts (10 Rue de l’Hôtel Dieu; +03/8024-7941; $18-25) may have Beaune’s best food, and the tables set within the walled garden of a manor house make an unbeatably romantic location. The smaller Le Bénaton (25 Faubourg Bretonnière; +03/8022-0026; $18-22) offers equally fine, creative food, if a less impressive location. Though it looks touristy, La Grilladine (19 Rue Maufoux; +03/8022-2236) around the corner from the Hotel Dieu, has good regional dishes, a great wine list, and pleasant tables along the sidewalk. There are also many country inns thoughout the region where you can eat—and drink—extraordinarily well for very little money by sticking to the menu du terrior, the regional specialties. A delicious example is the Auberge du Coteau in the tiny village of Villars-Fontaine (03/8061-1050; $8-10) near Nuits-Saint-Georges, where the meats are roasted in the dining room fireplace. And do have a Kir, the local aperitif, properly made with Bourgonge Aligote and locally produced créme de cassis.

Glass

The White: Chablis and the Yonne

Chablis, unlike Beaune, is just a village–one of many tiny, picturesque towns scattered about the quieter, less touristy, white wine region of the Yonne. Though the name Chablis has been appropriated (unfairly) by cheap wine producers around the world, the real thing is a distinctive, sophisticated dry chardonnay whose character none-the-less varies greatly with the style of the many individual producers. Start your tour of the wineries with a visit to Les Chablisienne (8 Boulevard Pasteur; +03/8642-8989) in Chablis, a wine cooperative with 280 members. In nearby Bailly you’ll also find the best of the sparkling, champange-like, Cremant du Bourgonge (the Yonne is adjacent Champagne). Try a glass while nibbling a Gougères, a little cheese puff that is a local favorite. Other regional specialties include Andouillettes (tripe sausages); Jambon Morvan ( a raw cured ham served in thick slices); soft cows-milk cheeses–famously Époisses, a smelly, runny cheese; and Chaources, a milder creamy cheese; Pain d’ Epices (gingerbread); and in springtime, fresh cherries and asparagus. Chef Michel Vignaud’s Hostellerie des Clos (Rue Jules-Rathier; +03/8642-1063; fax +03/8642-1711; $20-40), in Chablis, is the region’s best restaurant—it was created as a showcase for the local wines, and gourmet menus are excellently crafted to show them at their best. Everything is top quality, and set menus provide excellent value. A good choice for a less formal meal is the Auberge des Tilleuls (+03/8642-2214; $12-16) in Vincelottes, with al fresco dining at tables set along the picturesque river Yonne. Not to be missed is the tiny Le St. Bris (13 Rue d l’ Eglise; +03/8653-8456 $10-15) in the village of St. Bris le Vineux, where chef-owner Jean Francois Pouillot will prepare you a memorable meal of regional specialties. In addition, restaurants belonging to the Terrior de L’Yonne association are highly recommended.

Beyond Food and Wine

Of course you can’t eat and drink the whole day; but fortunately there is plenty to do between (or instead of) lunch and dinner. The gently rolling hills are popular with cyclists, and you can rent bikes for a few hours or a few days, with maps and itineraries provided: in Beaune at Bourgonge Randonnés (7, Avenue du 8 Septembre +03/8022-0603); and at the Chablis Tourist Office (1 Quai Biez; +03/8642-8080). Beaune itself has much of interest. Most famous of its historic sites is the Hôtel-Dieu, a beautifully restored medieval hospital complex. Also worth a seeing are the Romanesque church, Collégiale Notre-Dame, and the town ramparts and moat. The region was a center of the medieval monastic tradition—the powerful Cluniac and Cistercian orders were both founded here—and a wealth of surviving monasteries provides a fascinating glimpse into French history and architecture. Many of the still extant monastic sights are well worth visiting, and represent Burgundy’s main cultural attractions. The ruins of the Ancienne Abbaye de Cluny—once the largest church in christendom—give a glimpse of the power of this monastic order at its height, but the perfectly preserved church at Paray-le-Monial reveals the architectural style at its apex. Situated in an isolated valley halfway between Beaune and Chablis, the self-contained monastery of the Abbaye de Fontenay (nearest town: Marmagne) is remarkable for its completeness and tranquility. The pilgrimage church of Ste-Madeleine offers amazing views of the surrounding countryside from its location atop the picturesque, if touristy, hill town of Vézelay—as well as housing the reputed relics of Mary Magdalene. A personal favorite is the little visited Cistercian Abbaye of Pontigny, north of Chablis, for it’s tranquility and fine architecture.

Pontigny

Sleeping Around

The entire region is well provided with rooms in all price categories. For luxury accommodations, look to hotels belonging to to the association Châteaux & Hôtels de France(www.chateauxhotels.com). For simpler, and very reasonably priced, hotels, as well as restaurants with reliably good regional food, look to the inns belonging to the Logis de France(www.logis-de-france.fr). In Beaune, Le Cep (27 Rue Maufoux; +03/8022-3548) offers the towns most luxurious lodgings; the Hotel Du Poste (5, Boulevard Clémenceau; +03/8022-08 11; fax +03/8024-1971; www.hoteldelapostebeaune.com) and the Blue Marine (10-12 Boulevard Maréchal-Foch; +03/8024-0101) are also excellent full-service hotels. For a less expensive alternative, the Hotel Belle Epoque (15 Rue du Faubourg Bretonnière; +03/8024-6615; fax +03/8024-1749) offers very pleasant rooms in the town center, while the Hôtel Grillon (21 Route de Seurre, east; +03/8022-4425; fax +03/8024-9489) offers comfortable, bargiany rooms, a good restaurant and a rural ambiance, a few kilometers from the city center. In Chablis, theHostellerie des Clos (see above) offers pleasant and inexpensive rooms in the former convent that houses their luxury restaurant. Nearby, in the picturesque and tiny village of Cravant,L’Hostellerie Saint-Pierre (5 Rue de l’Église; +03/8642-3167; www.hotels-tradition.com/saintpierre/)—owned and run by a gay couple—offers tasteful, comfortable rooms and a friendly welcome to gay visitors. Some hotels close during the winter months, and all will be at their busiest in August, and during the wine festivals in November.

Getting there, getting around

You’ll definitely need a car to explore the region. You can easily drive from Paris, or take the TGV (frequent connections from the Gare d’ Lyon) to Dijon and pick up a car at the station. All the major companies are represented; expect to pay about $200 for one week. The area is well served by major French autoroutes, but it is most enjoyable to travel the smaller, scenic, departmental roads. All roads are in perfect repair and well sign-posted, though a Michelin road map is indispensable. Be aware that you can never drive fast enough for the locals—let them pass!

The (limited) gay scene

You may want to schedule a few days in Paris if it’s nightlife you crave; if you can’t wait, the best option is the Sunday night only gay disco at L’An-fer (8 rue Marceau; +03/8070-0369) in Dijon. Dijon, a university town, also has two gay bars: Caveau de l’univers (47 Rue Berbisey; +03/8030-9829) and Le Phaune (4 bis, Rue de Serrigny; +03/8050-0169) as well as a gay sauna, Le Relax (97 Rue Berbisey; +03/8030-1440). Auxerre, a mid-size, lively town 20 minutes from Chablis, also features a gay sauna, Le KLS (21 Avenue de la Tournelle, 03/8642-7687).

Resources

More information is available on the internet at from the Burgundy Tourist Office(www.burgundy-tourism.com), the Chablis Tourist Office (www.chablis.net) and theAssociation of Alsace, Burgundy and Champagne (www.abcoffrance.net). Gay listings are available online from the France Queer Resources Directory (www.france.qrd.org) and the gay magazine Têtu, available throughout France, has excellent regional agendas. The Burgundyvolume of the Touring in Wine Country series offers the most comprehensive English guide to the region’s wineries and restaurants.

Article and Photos by Clay Doyle {Published in Out & About, October, 2002}


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