Europe

Burgundy

written by | Posted on February 1st, 2010

Indeed, in Dijon dining delights abound, including two Michelin-starred restaurants: Le Pre aux Clercs, situated on the Place de la Liberation facing the Palais des Ducs—beet creme brulee with a fromage blanc sauce is the newest taste treat here; and the Hostellerie du Chapeau Rouge, housed in a Best Western hotel (Best Westerns in France differ dramatically from U.S.-based Best Westerns). The chef here offers many fusion delights, including a tempura-style soft shell crab with a ginger Bernaise sauce.

The Les Jardins de la Cloche—serving up a fine beef tartare—is the gourmet restaurant at the deluxe Sofitel La Cloche hotel, rated tops on the Dijon accommodations chart. It’s wonderfully located and an easy walk to the parks, the old city, the shopping promenades, even the rail station. The four suites here (two are duplexes and each very different), are the superstar room picks, and the service staff is polished and attentive. Double room rates start at $350.

vineyards bound During our visit, a day was spent along the Route des Grands Crus, the fabled wine road that winds south from Dijon and eventually to Beaune through a landscape engulfed in vineyards as far as the eye can see. This enchanting region snakes over gentle hills along narrow roads to tiny villages—with rooftops of patterned colored tiles—with famous wine-producing names like Gevrey-Chambertin, and perhaps the best winery in the world, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti (our guide dared us to guess what a bottle of this grandest of crus might cost; the closest pick was $5,000, and that was low for the finest vintage years).

Vineyard hoppers can go wine tasting at Clos de Vougeot, whose hillsides were first planted by Cistercian monks in the 14th century and which is still defined by a stone wall built to protect the vineyards during the One Hundred Years’ war. In 1044, a worldwide organization called Chevaliers du Tastevin, chose the 16th century Chateau de Vougeot as its home base from which to promote Burgundy wines. Part of the tour includes the grand courtyard, the grand pillared hall where banquets take place, the impressive cellars, 12th century wine presses, and, of course, the piece de resistence: a special tasting.

It is important to know that for wine touring, Burgundy is not Napa, but rather a more secretive and reserved place, very authentic, and offering a special level of quality. After all, the vineyards south of Dijon to Beaune produce wines of great complexity including 33 grands crus among 102 appellations. It helps to have a local guide such as Wine and Voyages to open doors to hidden treasures and a more rewarding experience.

a medieval meander Dijon is actually a small city engulfed by both vineyards stretching for miles and rolling green pastures going north. It was, in fact, once the Washington D.C. of its day: a power base of nobility that rivaled the King of France and a cluster of monasteries that threatened the supremacy of the Pope. One of those monasteries was the Fontenay Abbey, a mammoth stone complex founded by the Cistercian order almost 1,000 years ago. Located just outside Montbard, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, perfectly preserved with clipped gardens and quiet cloisters. However, in the days of yore, the Cistercians dedicated themselves to piety through manual labors such as farming, mining, forging and tile making. They were also making themselves powerful and rich—doing the slow work of dragging Europe out of the Dark Ages.

Another must-visit in the Burgundy region is the hill town of Vezelay, but en-route to this destination tell clients to make a detour to Montreal, a village of 181 occupants. Commanding a high ridge, Montreal was founded in the ninth century as Mont Royal. You enter the village through a 13th century stone gate in the surrounding fortified wall, and you begin to walk up the cobbled streets hemmed in by stone houses (dated from the 14th to 18th centuries). The hilltop church was built in the 12th century. This is a near-perfect preservation of a medieval village, as is nearby Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, which gained some modern-day notoriety with the filming of “Chocolat,” starring Juliette Binoche.