Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Burgundy: An Epicurean Journey on Two Wheels

To start reading about how this trip was conceptualized and how it all began, click here.

While most of the destinations on my extravagant itinerary were centered around food and a few like Champagne were planned with wine in mind, Burgundy was an exception. Known for its rich cuisine and widely regarded as one of the great wine regions of the world, a visit to this part of France was inevitable. I strategically chose Beaune--close to the Cote de Beaune wine region and home to some excellent restaurants-- as my base.

Usually, the first foods that come to mind at the thought of French cuisine are Burgundian-- think coq au vin, beef bourguignon, escargot or Dijon mustard. Though I did find the best places to sample these, the lesser known specialties of the area are what truly piqued my interest.

Being a completely inland region, the food of Burgundy is grounded in the earth. Meats especially beef, pork and game dominate most restaurant menus. Wild mushrooms and root vegetables are equally popular.

I found solace in the jambon persillĂ©, a ham hock terrine encased in parsley-flecked jelly; gougère, the original and supremely light cheese puff; oeufs en meurette, eggs poached in red wine with bacon, shallots and a touch of brandy ; and of course, epoisses, the pungent unpasteurized cow's milk cheese from the eponymous village in Burgundy.

From left to right, gougere, jambon persille and chicken wrapped in filo at Le Montrachet

Escargot and oeufs meurette

Boeuf bourguignon

However, the zenith of my Burgundian odyssey had more to do with wine rather than food.

When I found out that the wine tours to Cote de Beaune organized by the tourism office were all fully booked, I felt distraught at the thought of missing out on the experience. While I sat outside the office whining about my misfortune, a friendly passerby alluded me to a brilliant alternative-- biking. Why did I not think of that myself?!

I hurried to the nearest bike rental shop, hired a bicycle and set off on my own. As I made my way beyond the city walls and turned the corner to get to the dedicated biking route, I was greeted with an incredibly beautiful panorama of vineyards before me. It left me speechless, not that I had anyone to speak with in the first place. I'd found my happy place.

I rode for hours. I biked over 90 kilometers in those two precious days, visiting the picturesque towns of Pommard, Volnay, Mersault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet along the way. Cycling through those vineyards offered a unique perspective that those traveling by car could never experience.

Sarah, whose name you'd be familiar with if you've read my posts on Verona, Piedmont and Champagne, set me up with two phenomenal winemakers in Beaune (Jaffelin) and Puligny-Montrachet (Yves Boyer-Martenot). They treated me to exclusive tastings of some fantastic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. I also dined at the marvelous Le Montrachet along the way-- the first and probably only time I would ever be cycling to a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Riding through the wine region of Cote de Beaune although challenging and tiring was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.

Beaune had unusually pleasant weather except for the last few hours I was there. On my way back riding through the vineyards to the city of Beaune, it suddenly started pouring heavily. I had five kilometers of bike route to cover and couldn't stop for shelter because I had only an hour till my train departed. I got absolutely drenched from head to toe. Even that was amazing.


  1. I must confess, Thoma, that I am consumed with envy.What an amazingly beautiful place and what good fortune that places you right there at this time! I love your writing, so keep up with your travel diaries-at least we can enjoy your experiences vicariously!

  2. I second that... took a lovely holiday through your travelogue....