Posted on June 22 2019
Encouraged by our first one-day cycling adventure in Czech earlier on this European trip, we had organised one week in Burgundy for our second cycling adventure. This had already been quite a momentous trip. It was our first return to Europe after we had felt comfortable that the brady bunch were all OK. Our plans were somewhat different to our earlier travel experiences and the party days of our twenties. This one promised to have a bit more structure, surprisingly a bit more adventure and a lot more content. Firstly, we had arrived in London to join the celebrations of Jen’s Aunt’s 100th birthday. The sister of Jen’s mother. Sprightly, witty and immaculate. She shared her 100th birthday with the youngest of our bunch back home, a 17th birthday. The next section of this trip was our first visit to the Czech Republic to continue the researching of Jen’s father’s life. One day of this has been recounted in a previous blog where we had our first experience of cycling in Europe. We spent days in Prague and in Ostrava searching records, addresses and cemeteries.
Stage three of this trip was an overnight train from Prague to Paris, a few days in Paris to enjoy this beautiful city, then we relocated to the beautiful walled town of Beaune in the heart of the Burgundy winemaking region of France for our planned cycling trip through the vineyards of Burgundy. Both of us were actively working in the wine industry in Margaret River in Western Australia at the time and the visit to a wine region was generally on the plans of any travelling that we did. Burgundy just seemed like a good choice as the predominant varieties were chardonnay and pinot noir which were among our favourite wines. It seemed like an obvious region for us to visit.
Our first 2 nights were based in Beaune, getting our bearings, finding the bike hire shop and arranging our hire bikes, visiting a recommended cellar and enjoying a bottle of white Crémant de Bourgogne with our picnic in the park after shopping in the local markets. The fruit and vegetables, cheeses, cured meats, breads are just impossible to resist and make daily shopping for food such a fun outing and one of the joys of travelling. The centre piece of the town is The Hospices de Beaune, an amazing historic monument being founded in 1443 as the Hôtel Dieu for the poor and disadvantaged. With a stunning courtyard, timber framing, the ribbed hull shaped roof arches in the poor room and the large kitchen and apothecary and well preserved history of the site made a fascinating visit. The polychrome varnished tile rooves flashed in the sunlight and were repeated throughout the region on many significant buildings with variations in geometric patterns and tile colours.
The Hospices de Beaune
|Off we go exploring Burgundy|
HINT: Pack a shopping bag, checkered tea towel (makes for a picnic spread), a pocket knife with corkscrew, camping spoon & fork set and a couple of plastic cups (not perfect for wine but better than drinking out of the bottle). Then you are always ready for the markets and a picnic in the countryside. Also pack some ziplock bags for preparing small snacks to take on your rides.
Day 1 Saturday 5/6/2010 was more of a logistical day and a settling day. We relocated our luggage by taxi to the small outlying village of Bligny-les-Beaune to a Gite hosted by Madame Devigne (Gite no. 21G445). To pick up our bikes we then walked back to Beaune (5.2km) - a bit over an hour of soaking up this countryside and pinching ourselves that we were about to spend a week cycling in this area. Our excitement level was very high. The owner of the cycle shop at Bourgogne Randonnées, 7 avenue du 8 Septembre, Beaune was really helpful, and our bikes were prepared for us with paniers to accommodate our daily needs of buying some wine and food. We were given photocopied maps with highlight pen marking some suggested routes to get us started.Following the outer ring road we stopped at “Pierre’s” cellar door. We promised to visit his wife at their home to taste more of their wine. Another Beaune picnic in the park, with a bottle of his wine, bread and cheese to celebrate the beginning of this new adventure. What a treat, and then to watch a young lad catch a trout (after much playing of the line) in the local stream dam, then put it gently back into the water. A lovely gesture, it was like 1-0 to the fisherman but I’ll give you a chance to win. We stocked up on supplies at the local Casino store and then followed the cycle track and vineyard roads through Pommard and back to our gite in Bligney-les-Beaune loaded up with our shopping and wine supplies. Only 8.9km of riding today for the beginning of our week of adventure in Burgundy. Our French Gitane mountain bikes were strong and sturdy. I particularly loved the meaning of Gitane “Gypsy Woman” and mine was fittingly purple.
|The first of many picnics on this cycling holiday.|
Day 2 (Sunday 6/6/2010) we began to explore. The sights, sounds, smells brought pure joy to our hearts as we slowly pedalled from Bligney-les-Beaune to Pommard then along the vineyard way to Volnay and Meursault (unfortunately missing the morning market). The majestic Town Hall dominates the town square with the central fountain. The multicoloured (green, gold and black) glazed tiled roof of the Meursault Town Hall being a wonder for our Australian eyes. Like the magnificent roof of The Hospices de Beaune we had already spent much time admiring. These tiled rooves with varying geometric patterns, are a feature and part of the traditional architecture of Burgundy we were to see many times in the next week.
Our senses were bombarded by our surroundings with cherry trees on the road verges, acres of vineyards, vineyard activities, stone walls and stone entrance gates, history and the architecture all within the rolling landscape. We stopped often examining the vines and the soil and comparing to what we were familiar with from home. The soil is quite rocky but we gather is also deep before it hits any clay. As it was early summer the vines were growing quickly with their fresh new leaves reaching up to the light and warmth. Row after row of low untrellised vines filling the flat valley floor and then extending up the hillsides. A mosaic of parcels of vines and enclosed plots of land. Cherry trees appeared quite frequently along the paths and with a little tree climbing we were able to enjoy a cherry snack whenever we came across one of these heavily laden trees.
We turned back to Beaune and cycled north to Chorey-les-Beaune to a recommended cellar at Chateau L’Ange Gardien (Guardian Angel). After a sunny start to the day the clouds were building ominously and a stop for wine tasting seemed like a very good decision. Madame Nicole patiently spent 2-3 hours with us tasting their entire range of wines and bringing little snacks for us to cleanse our palate between wines. 3 Chardonnays, 4 Pinot Noir, 2 Crémant de Bourgogne (sparkling), 1 Crème de cassis. Of course, we purchased a dozen bottles to be sent home to Australia. We had visited her husband Pierre the previous day in Beaune where they offered another cellar outlet.
As the skies had decided to open up and deliver a heavy downpour, we finally left this cellar door when the rain eased up. With the flavours of burgundy firmly in our mouths and happy hearts we cycled back to Beaune to enjoy a restaurant set menu dinner and cycled home to our gite. We felt we had made a great start with our first outing on the bikes totally immersing ourselves into the Burgundy countryside. We had only cycled 36.6km but felt we had been in and experienced our surroundings with all our senses and had enjoyed every minute of the day.
|The vineyard roads enabled us to get up close to the terroir of this region.|
Day 3 Monday 7/6/2010 was warm and sunny and we thought we should cycle a bit further afield and not get caught up with too much wine tasting. We cycled south to Pommard, Meursault, Puligny Montrachet and Santenay. The vineyard workers were busy, and the tractors they used were of specific sizing to reach over the rows of vines, straddling a row. Like busy ants they moved up and down the rows and then were driven to the villages and parked up for lunch time or errand runs.
Today the checked tea towel was brought out as we picnicked under a tree overlooking the vines. We ventured beyond the vineyards and further into the surrounding farmlands encountering cattle herds, fields of barley and roadsides of poppies (beautiful but I’m sure they are a weed for the crop growers).
We had cycled up into the higher country and as the hills were getting steeper, we laughed as we struggled up another hill and came across a Street named “Riotte de la Fanny…”.
We had a comical conversation of hand gestures and part sentences in broken French and English with a local farmer who was herding his cattle. He milks 160 cows and has a Gite in the nearby village. We admired his cattle and his land. From this vantage point we had views to Beaune and the surrounding hills.
When you go up you must come down again and with the reward of a descent we were back in the valley and following the Canal du Centre with locks and river boats (River La Dheune) back up to Santenay. Today we covered 52.3km with a bit of elevation.
So many of the houses were bright with spring flowers of red roses or geraniums and brightly painted shutters often red or blue. Our return home was now becoming a familiar route through Meursault. Our home cooked dinner of chicken flavoured with cassis mustard and pinot noir with a green salad was simple and delicious.
|Dodging the vineyard tractors|
Day 4 Tuesday 8/06/2010 was grey and threatening serious rain. We promptly changed our plans from a big day to the north and opted to stay closer to home with a visit to the Chateau de Pommard. Château de Pommard is an elegant 18th-century residence surrounded by its 22 hectares of enclosed vineyards. It is the largest monopoly vineyard in Burgundy belonging to the same owner. The Pommard appellation consists of 321 hectares with a collection of 28 premiers crus and an extraordinary wine list of Pinot Noir.
We were already wet after only 1km of cycling and became wet wine tasters and were happy to pay the 18€ entry to tour the Chateau museum of vineyard and wine tools, the cellar and caves. Also, a Picasso exhibition of ceramics & prints and an original bronze Salvador Dali sculpture in the courtyard. A rustic collection of old French chateau furniture and equipment and a farmhouse kitchen from days of old with a full spit and oversized stove. The underground cellars held a huge store of barrels & bottles with chalk mark notations and plenty of cellar dust. This network of caves was under the entire chateau courtyard. One part of the cellar had been bricked up to prevent the Germans taking all the wine during World War II. We believe this was a common practice in the wine regions of France in an attempt to protect their heritage. The Pommard wines are a symbol of Burgundy’s reds. Pommard is an exception in the Côte de Beaune (known for its great white wines) with wines made exclusively from Pinot Noir. Our tasting comprised of: 1 white (chardonnay bought in as not grown by them); 2007, 2006, 2004 Pinot Noir; Ratafia (drunk as an aperitif or desert is a fortified wine a mixture of marc brandy and unfermented grape juice); Marc 40% which is a distilled wine like Brandy made from the residue of winemaking.
As we left our haven from the rain, we toured their manicured and structured walled gardens with lily pond and roses in full bloom.
The weather hadn’t improved, and it was still raining. So, we opted for the short ride into Beaune for lunch of Boeuf de Bourgogne & coffee. Then we discovered the Hesse cheese shop – 4 cheeses to try and some mustards to take home. Cassis and Taragon mustards were a favourite. Today we only cycled 17.6km but it was another day full of tastes and fun and memories to take home. It had rained most of the day.
|Vineyards of Beaune, Burgundy|
Day 5 Wednesday 9/6/2010 was a much better day for cycling – cloudy with only a bit of rain in the afternoon. Once again, we rode out via Pommard, by now becoming a very familiar village. Then we cycled into the hills to Nantoux, Meloisy, St Romain (high village, low village) – chatted to a French Canadian artist who has moved into the village. Her unit, from the outside, appeared quite drab and dark like the general surrounds, but the inside was smartly renovated, light and bright, and again set our minds wondering as to what it would be like to spend an extended time in these surrounds, be an artiste or to write.
Some of these small outlying villages were rather grey and lacking vitality compared to the bright vibrancy we saw in the valley. We cycled past the cliffside village of Orches and stopped for a picnic lunch beside the vines at Evelle. Homeward bound via St Aubin and downhill to the valley once again. Through the villages of Gamay, Glagney and once again to Meursault where we were in time for wine and beer tasting in the local casino shop. With the long hours of daylight, we often weren’t home before 7pm. It was hard to stop riding while there was still plenty of daylight. Again only 37 km cycled but so many lovely places to stop and take in the surrounds.
Tonight, we were invited by our host Madame Devigne to share an aperitif in her home. We conversed once again with our very limited French as she had no English. We had taken a selection of photos of home and family for just such occasions so we could explain where we were from. This was a great conversation starter and she then referred to photos to show her family and history. There were lots of pregnant pauses looking at each other for solutions of translations, then nervous giggly laughter before giving up and moving to the next picture.
Day 6 Thursday 10/6/2010 we are now regulars at our local boulangerie – our first outing each morning to stock up on our daily baguette and usually a pain au chocolat. Our route today was to the west and the north. Once again, with our picnic packed, we cycled through Pommard, skirted around Beaune, and headed west to Savigny-les-Beaune. Here we ventured into the Henri de Villamont Cellar and had a lively discussion with Armandine Cordier – a young lady pouring the tastings. We ventured into regional issues on youth, their possible career paths, and their difficulties in marketing their wines. A universal issue it appears.
Some more spring rain had us sheltering in a workers’ shelter for our picnic lunch. The rain quickly cleared, and we cycled to Pernand Vergelesses and further into the hills to Echevronne, Chagney Fussey and Marey le Fussey. At the top of ridge, we were treated to a view of the expanse of cassis plantations, barley crops, vines with larger plots and broader spacings. Quite a magical spot to pause, sit on the park bench and slowly take it all in. Cycle on we must and through a cool & dark forest into Chaux and then a very steep downhill to the small romantically gorgeous town of Nuits St Georges. Such a pretty town with grape bunches for street lights, the usual town square with fountain and lots of cassis available for tasting.
Alas we could see a storm was brewing with huge black storm clouds bearing down on us. We would have liked to spend more time here but needed to move. As quickly as we could we cycled to Premeaux Prissey and Corgoloin and then the storm caught up with us. Thunder and lightning (very, very frightening!), rain, strong wind on open areas. We had to keep going there was nowhere to hide. We pedalled like mad to get home. Stinging rain, wild wind, splashing through puddles, soaked, laughing, scared we pedalled heads down, through the fields on farm roads, hardly slowing as we passed Ladois, Serrigny, Chorey les Beaune, Beaune, Pommard & finally home. Wet, cold and bedraggled, it was good to be home to get dry and warm and cook up a feast and indulge in a Pinot Noir. 58.2 km today and nearly half of it in a thunder storm. The storm continued all night long rattling windows and pelting down on the roof.
Day 7 Friday 11/6/2010 we were relieved to see sunshine after a very wild night. Sadly, this was our last day with our trusty Gitane bikes. We headed south to Montagny les Beaune, Poil, Cissey, Demighy and Chaudenay where we were in farmlands of wheat, barley, sunflowers and cattle. We turned at Chagny and cycled north through the vineyards again through Corpeau, Puligny, Montrachet where we stopped for our picnic lunch. Our now standard baguette, cheese, fruit and a bottle of wine. We stopped in Meursault to visit the Chateau Meursault with a tour of their art collection, rooms, caves, barrels, bottles (600,000) and see the architecture of the caves (huge area), followed by a wine tasting of 4 chardonnay and 4 Pinot Noir wines. The Meursault appellation consists of about 400 hectares, is mostly planted with chardonnay and is renowned for the finest white wines in Burgundy.
Reluctantly it was time to move on and cycle through Volnay and Pommard for the final time and into Beaune to return our bikes to the bike shop. We had quickly grown very fond of our Gitane bikes and felt lost without them. Our final day of riding was 37.8km. We celebrated tonight with an excellent dinner in Beaune with an aperitif of Kir royal (crème de cassis topped with champagne), snails, Charolais beef fillet, dessert and a bottle of Beaune Pinot Noir. A set menu for 26€ each. We now had to resort to a taxi to take us home to our final night in our Gite.
HINT: Be flexible with your plans. Be prepared to stop and enjoy an experience. Hide if the weather turns bad. Find a nice spot for a picnic. Talk to the locals for recommendations.
The next day, Saturday 12/6/2010, was farewell to Gite #445 with an early start and a misty sunrise and many kilometres to travel. Many trains later from Beaune to Paris, London, Potters Bar and up to Maidwell visiting a couple of friends along the way we were back in England and nearly bound for home in a couple of days.
We were now definitely hooked on touring by bike and had many more trips to dream of and plan. Step by step we would keep touring by bike.
Jen & Greg