Le Petit Weekend: Burgundy at a Glance
As much as all Parisians love Paris, they also adore a petit weekend—a getaway, either a day trip from Paris or an entire weekend. Recently, during autumn, I hightailed it out of the city for a wine-tasting trip to Burgundy. My friend Kelly and I headed for Beaune, which is perfectly situated to explore both côtes, Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune. One can reach Beaune via train or car. The TGV train takes just over two hours to arrive there, and via car the trip is about three hours plus, depending on traffic. If you wish to take the train, you can rent bikes right in Beaune if the weather is fine. But there are some hills, so if you want to tour the entire region, you’ll need to either rent a car in Beaune or be in good biking shape.
We arrived at about eight o’clock on a Friday night and checked into one of the only hotels with any rooms available, the Belle Epoque, a perfectly fine, clean and friendly three-star hotel that is steps away from the centre ville. Other hotel choices are Le Cep, within the village walls, which oozes charm with classic if somewhat dated decor; or the four-star Hôtel de la Poste, which is slightly better decorated and just outside the city walls, with similar pricing. Right in the middle of town is L’Hôtel de Beaune, which has a lovely restaurant run by a Swedish chef. One can also opt to stay out of town (a 10-minute drive) at the Michelin-starred Hostellerie de Levernois, a member of Relais and Châteaux.
The restaurant attached to the Hostellerie de Levernois accepted us on our first night. The food was divine, and the service fabulous if a bit too attentive. The decor is slightly off, with a bizarre amount of red accents, but the landscape and setting make up for any errors, and the quality of the food and service are top notch and deserving of the Michelin star. After our three-plus-hour drive, we were thrilled to enjoy our cocktails of Crémant de Bourgogne with pêche liqueur. We continued with a massive meal even though we chose the Menu Gourmet, which, at 65 euros, was one of the more inexpensive options. The cheese course was what took our breath away. It took two entire tables to hold the massive silver platters, filled with French cheese, one devoted entirely to chèvre. I enjoyed as many choices as I was comfortable asking for.
The next day we attacked both Beaune and the vineyards. Starting at the very large and boisterous market that takes place on Saturday mornings in the darling medieval town of Beaune proved to be a good way to integrate ourselves into village life. The fresh truffles stood out to me, as did the oysters.
Beaune is the quintessential French village that has both perfect examples of medieval architecture as well as plenty of working businesses and a good choice of restaurants, rather than a Disneyesque-type tourist town. Beyond tourism, the wine business has supplied the village with life for hundreds of years.
Now it was time to head out to the vines. It was too cold for our planned biking, but luckily Florent at Bourgogne Randonnées (a bike rental store) helped us with an itinerary. First we stopped at Domaine Lahaye in Pommard and enjoyed tasting and chatting with the owner, the wife of the winemaker Michel Lahaye. Since his death, she and her son have been running the place. She was probably the nicest winemaker we met on the trip, describing the challenges that confront women winemakers. I quite enjoyed her Pommard (this appellation proved to be my favorite red) and her Meursault. It was interesting to learn that so many of the Burgundy winemakers have tiny little plots in a variety of the appellations, from Chassagne Montrachet to Pommard to Corton and beyond, so many of them will make a large variety of different wines even though they may have only four or six hectares.
Next we headed to St.-Romain, a postcard-picture hilltop village. We felt as if we were imposing as we knocked on the door of Domaine Alain Gras. This vineyard has passed through four generation’s hands and currently is run by the Gras grandson and his wife. Its 2009 Meursault was good enough for me to buy a bottle.
Our stomachs were rumbling, so after hiking a bit through St.-Romain, we were lucky enough to run into an escargot tent by the side of the road in Auxey Duresses. Only in France can you pull off the road in a tiny village and buy homegrown escargot and aligot (a delicious combo of mashed potatoes and cheese) and sample some local wine.
Stomachs full, we headed to La Rochepot and kind of by accident ran into a 15th-century château that needed exploring. Built by the Lords Régnier and Philippe Pot, it was rebuilt with love and care in the 19th century after being destroyed during the French Revolution. Every half hour from April through October, one can take a guided tour of the château, which includes a guardroom, the captain of the guards’s bedroom, the chapel, an unusual and dramatic Chinese room and a spectacular kitchen and dining room. The roof, like the roof at the Hospices de Beaune, built in the same era, is decorated with a glazed-tile roof in four colors (red, brown, yellow and green), with interlaced designs.
Our last wine-tasting stop for the day was at Olivier Leflaive’s place in Puligny Montrachet. We were a bit relieved by the structure: there’s a charge of 10 euros for a tasting (unlike the others), but we didn’t feel as if we had to buy a bottle afterward. Still, I opted to buy a bottle of the Chassagne Montrachet and the 2008 Pommard. There’s also a restaurant with, you guessed it, wine tasting, and a small yet decent hotel with simple, elegant rooms.
After a quick cleanup at our hotel, we headed to Le Comptoir des Tontons for dinner in Beaune. For such a small village, it was amazing to find a biologique resto (organic restaurant) that is dabbling in some pretty sophisticated fare. My entrée of fresh chèvre with herbs and fennel was better than my plat (main) of chicken, which is often the case, but all in all the evening was pretty yummy.
The next morning, the fact that France was in the Rugby World Cup necessitated a trip to the local sports pub and an early beer. France lost by one point but held its own against the ever-powerful Kiwi team. After the loss, we consoled ourselves by visiting the Hospices de Beaune, built in 1452 as a palace for the poor that served as a hospital. This was certainly the most gorgeous hospital I’ve ever visited. Gigantic group rooms, with cushy looking beds that had red curtains for privacy, a private chapel for the sick and a pharmacy and kitchen were of note. I was ready to check in for a rest. The building itself is the most famous and important in Beaune, impressive in a village filled with beautiful medieval buildings.
Then we headed for the second côte, Côte de Nuits. As it was Sunday, much was closed, but we did get a look at Nuits-St.-Georges as well as the charming hilltop village of Vosne Romanée. It was amazing to me as a Burgundy neophyte that this tiny village produces some of the world’s best wine, often priced at more than 3,000 euros a bottle.
We ended our day in Aloxe Corton, another village that is well known and highly prized for its Burgundy wine. I was happy to find a Corton Renardes from 2009 that was an affordable 40 euros, apparently a bargain for this appellation, which technically is in the Côte de Beaune.
Our meal on Sunday night was at Le Bistro de l’Hôtel, run by a Swedish chef. This was the second restaurant selection I found on lefooding.com, one of the most reliable food sites in France. Le Bistro we found to be a bit overpriced, but the atmosphere was the best of the three places we dined at during the weekend. The Bresse chicken carved at the table looked delish, my risotto with truffles was creamy and hearty and the Chassagne Montrachet reminded me how much I had learned about the Burgundy region over a short weekend trip from Paris. I had always felt a bit lost when trying to order a Burgundian wine, and after these 50-plus hours in the area, I felt I had a good sense of what’s what and where, and came away knowing a few appellations that really did it for me. And I had gotten away from the noise and busyness of Paris for the weekend, to roam the hills of Burgundy in autumn.
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Hôtel Belle Epoque (90–160 euros per night)
Le Cep (174–500 euros per night)
Hôtel de la Poste (85–350 euros per night)
L’Hôtel de Beaune (270–370 euros per night and a charming restaurant)
Hostellerie de Levernois (Michelin-starred resto and a member of Relais and Châteaux)
Bourgogne Randonnées (ask for Florent)
Michel Lahaye (our favorite female vintner)
Domaine Alain Gras (wine made in the village of St.-Romain)
Château de la Rochepot (a fabulous château to explore)
Hospices de Beaune
Olivier Leflaive (wine tasting, as well as lunch and hotel rooms from 160 to 220 euros)
Le Comptoir des Tontons (hip bio resto in Beaune)
Beaune tourism office
Côte de Beaune map
Côte de Nuits map