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Posts Tagged ‘cycling in Burgundy’

 

charcuterie at sunset in Puligny-Montrachet

 

Although Jon and I were in Burgundy for a week, our dining options were constrained by the fact that (1) someone else chose our hotels for us; and (2) we were traveling by bicycle.  Dinner options were therefore confined to restaurants within the town where our hotel was located, and lunch options couldn’t be too far off our daily route or else we wouldn’t reach our hotel by sunset.

As was the case in the Loire Valley last summer, the Via Michelin website was pretty handy for planning out restaurants based on a driving or cycling itinerary, and my favorite two meals of the trip were of the bib gourmand variety.  Although I agree with the many who argue that the Michelin guide is skewed in favor of French techniques and flavors, that particular flaw is no bad thing when you’re, you know, in France, looking for French food.

At all restaurants we tried in Burgundy, regardless of whether the food was good or bad, the wine lists were huge and markups not too bad.  So even if the kitchen was a bummer, the wines generally saved the meal.

 

outstanding steak tartare at Chez Guy in Gevrey-Chambertin

 

 

cheese course at Chez Guy

Lunch at Chez Guy in Gevrey-Chambertin was my favorite meal of the trip.  The day was sunny and warm, and the restaurant terrace is large and comfortable.  The menu offerings were classic, simple and well-prepared.  My steak tartare, a tender, chopped-up onglet steak, was a thing of beauty despite the humble cut of meat used.  The tangy-sweet seasoning was exactly what I craved and so I forgave the wimpy, limp fries.  Even the cheese course, too often an after-thought at casual places, was attractively presented.  And while epoisses is offered everywhere in Burgundy, at Chez Guy, everything was of good provenance (from fromagerie Gaugry, bien sur).

Chez Guy, 3, Place Mairie , 21220 Gevrey Chambertin, +33 (0)3 80 58 51 51;  open every day; 29.50 euros for starter and main or 26 euros for main and cheese or dessert.

terrine at La Ciboulette in Beaune

 

 

pot au feu at La Ciboulette in Beaune

Second favorite restaurant of our trip:  La Ciboulette in Beaune.  So good we ate here twice:  once at the start of our trip, and once more at the end.  Again, this was a bib gourmand restaurant doing a great job of transforming humble cuts of meat with careful cooking and seasoning.  The duck leg pot au feu was fall-off-the-bone tender, and the broth was both rich-tasting and clear-feeling.  Generally, mains and starters were very good, and desserts less so.  So when faced with the choice of cheese or dessert, go with the cheese.

The restaurant offers 19.50, 26.50 and 32-euro menus, which varied only in the type of main courses offered, and the 32 euro-menu includes both cheese *and* dessert.  Great wine list and efficient, welcoming service.

La Ciboulette, 69, rue de Lorraine, Beaune 21200 (close to Beaune’s triumphal arch); +33 (0)3 80 24 70 72; closed Monday and Tuesday (which means it’s open on Sunday – excellent).

 

Burgundian bar snacks at Le Montrachet in Puligny-Montrachet

 

 

pork loin at Le Montrachet in Puligny-Montrachet

 

Le Montrachet is ambitious.  A former one-Michelin-star place gunning to get that star back.  The food was fine, but for the price (55 euros prix fixe), I expected more deliciousness and originality.  The pleasant surprise of the evening:  an excellent pork loin course.  Otherwise, foie gras foam this; hot-and-cold that.  Fun bar snack renditions of regional classics like jambon persille and gougeres.    I’d recommend going there to try a wide variety of pricey wines by the glass.  17.50 euros for a glass of wine sounds like a lot, but short of hanging with some really generous friends, when else are you going to be able to try a 2004 Domaine des Comtes Lafon Meursault 1er Cru Charmes without having to pay for the whole bottle?  (Sampler, are you reading this?)

 

oeufs en meurette at Restaurant Le Millesime in Chambolle-Musigny

 

 

Oeufs en meurette at Castel de Tres Girard in Morey-Saint-Denis

 

Second restaurant falling in the “pretty good/not bad” category is Restaurant Le Millesime in Chambolle-Musigny.  We’d hoped to eat at bib-rated Restaurant Le Chambolle, also in town, but Le Chambolle is closed on Wednesday and Thursday, which of course were the two nights we were in nearby Morey-Saint-Denis.

In any case, the service at Le Millesime was friendly, and the cooking relatively ambitious, with foie gras plated as if it were a contemporary painting.  Burgundy classic oeufs en meurette (think beef bourgignon, but using poached eggs instead of beef) were standout-silky-smooth and elegant, bathed in a rich wine sauce infused with the sweetness of onions.  (Contrast Le Millesime’s version with that of Castel de Tres Girard (pictured above), which was ham-handed to say the least.  The poaching wine used by Castel de Tres Girard was so far past its prime as to be vinegar).

Restaurant Le Millesime, 1 rue Traversiere, 21220 Chambolle Musigny; +33 (0)3 80 62 80 37;  27 euros for three courses.

 

escargots at Castel de Tres Girard

 

 

boeuf bourgignonne at Castel de Tres Girard

 

Caste de Tres Girard, I’m still traumatized by you.  We asked for water three times and ended up resorting to the @sshole tactic of refusing to order any food or wine until the water finally arrived.  Breads were still frozen in the middle.  A travesty in a nation of excellent boulangeries!  The least expensive menu was 37 euros for a romp through Burgundy classics.  Escargots were lukewarm and I’ll admit that I’m not capable of eating those suckers unless the garlic-parsley butter is hot.  Boeuf bourgignonne was buttery enough to pass as flavorsome, but the braised beef was stringy and tough.  I make a much better one at home.  Skip this place and get yourself over to nearby Chambolle-Musigny instead.

Caste de Tres Girard, 7 rue de Tres Girard, 21220 Morey-Saint-Denis, +33 (0)3 80 34 33 09. 

 

cabillaud at Bistrot des Halles in Dijon

 

The last meal of our trip, at Bistrot des Halles in Dijon, was also a disappointment.  I didn’t do any research at all because Dijon was a last-minute addition to our itinerary, and I figured anything near the covered food market would be alright.  Wrong.  Exhibit A:  what’s with the cones of stale chorizo rudely shoved into the fillet of over-the-hill-starchy-tasting cod fillet?  Don’t get me started on the straight-from-a-jar tomato sauce dumped on top.  At least we sat outdoors and the mains were generally under 15 euros.

Surprisingly, the snack of croque Monsieur with salad we’d had earlier in the day at Agora Cafe for 6.50 euros was much better value.  I say “surprisingly” because Agora Cafe’s outdoor seating is on Dijon’s Place de la Liberation (i.e., tourist central).  So if in search of something basic and good, check out Agora Cafe.

Bistrot des Halles, 10, rue Bannelier, Dijon 21000; +33 (0)3 80 49 94 15

Agora Cafe, 10 Place de la Liberation, Dijon 21000

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Gevrey-Chambertin

After three days of cycling in the Cote Chalonnaise and Cote de Beaune, Jon and I headed north from Beaune to sip the (mostly) reds of the Cote de Nuits for another three days.

First, the low point of the trip:  we stayed two nights at the Castel de Tres Girard in Morey-Saint-Denis, which is best described as style over substance.  It looks lovely enough from the outside, but inside, our room windows opened on to the industrial-sized exhaust vents from the kitchen or boiler room (maybe both).  Why would the hotel even have a room like this?  Oddly, there was also no place to put our clothing – no dresser drawers.  Just a closet already stuffed with extra bed linens.  And forget about free internet, unlike the other hotels of our trip.

  • Service at the hotel was also pretty unhelpful, especially in the hotel restaurant, which has the distinction of serving us the worst  meal of our entire trip (to be summarized in a separate post about Burgundy restaurants we tried).  I’m sorry I didn’t take a photo of the burnt, wrinkly, fresh-from-the-freezer croissants that were a centerpiece of the hotel’s breakfasts.  It’s not like we were in a country full of good boulangeries or anything.

On the plus side, we fell in love with the Caveau des Vignerons in Morey-Saint-Denis.  If you go, ask for Catherine, who started out a bit wary of us in our cycling clothes, but in response to our questions, quickly grew warm and chatty, as well as generous with the tastings.  She’s passionate and knowledgeable about all the local wines and winemakers (e.g., who’s just had a baby, who’s been sick).  It was a dose of small-town charm in a region of big-money wine.

At the end of our first visit, we asked Catherine if she’d open (for tasting) a bottle by Alain Jenniard, a local vintner whose wines sounded appealing from the tasting notes (in French) located throughout the shop.  Sure enough, when we dropped by the next day, Catherine was waiting to open one of Jenniard’s bottles for us to try.   (On any given day, “only” five or six bottles are open for tasting).

We also happily tasted and purchased several wines by Domaine Virgile Lignier, and I would love to return to taste more.  The shop stocks a full range of local wines, with plenty of bottles in the 25-35 euro range (a modest sum in Burgundy), along with offerings by big-ticket local vineyards like Clos de Tart.

The furthest north we reached in the Cote de Nuits was  Gevrey-Chambertin, where we ate a simple but very delicious and relaxing lunch at Chez Guy.  More to come on this place in a separate post.

who wouldn’t want to be a member of the Chevaliers du Tastevin?

Not far from where we were staying in Morey-Saint-Denis was Clos de Vougeot, which was a lot more fun than I expected.  For starters, after the 18-euro travesty at Chateau de Pommard, I was delighted that Clos de Vougeot’s ticket price is a humble 3.90 euros.  Even better, the displays and exhibits inside are actually well-written and interesting.

  • Clos de Vougeot’s ancient wine presses were especially impressive for their size, age, and the fact that I suspect it could still be used if needed.  It was easy to picture medieval monks putting their back into it to squeeze out every last drop of precious juice.
getting close to the fields of Romanee Conti

The stretches of Cote de Nuits vineyards that Jon and I cycled through felt less divided-up than in the Cote de Beaune, and we were amused to find carloads of tourists clumped around certain patches of vines.   This is what celebrity looks like in the Cote de Nuits:

Romanee Conti:  surrounded by groupies every time we passed by

At the Romanee Conti field, you’ll find several prominent signs saying, in short:  “don’t even think about coming near these vines,” in French and English.   Personally, I wouldn’t have even considered climbing over the wall into the field but for the sign.

view from the panorama point at Pernand-Vergelesses

Cycling south back to Beaune, we couldn’t resist making a small detour to climb up to a recommended panoramic viewpoint in Pernand-Vergelesses.  Let me tell you – that was one steep motherf*cker.  It wasn’t just steep for cycling.  It was steep for walking.  I’m including in this post the photo I took because I need the world to see that I made it to the top, except I’m sad that it doesn’t look that high up in the photo.  Like most “must-see views,” it was nice, but probably not worth the effort.  It was a good place to break for a picnic lunch, though.

Chateau de Corton Andre in Aloxe-Corton

We knew we were close to Beaune when we passed by Chateau de Corton Andre with its colorful glazed tile roof, typical of Beaune and its surrounds.

Back in Beaune, the highlights were the personal tour of the Hospice led by Sarah, one of the owners of Detours in France, as well as the Saturday town market, which is much livelier than the Wednesday version.  Jon and I couldn’t resist picking up an old champagne bucket from one of the antiques stalls.  For 25 euros, it seemed a steal until we realized that it’s not easy carrying around a champagne bucket back to London.

rue Verrerie in Dijon as viewed from our hotel balcony

We spent our last night in Burgundy seeing the sights in Dijon.  The old town is quite charming, and I learned that in addition to mustard, Dijon prides itself on its gingerbread.  Mulot et Petitjean is the fountainhead of all pain d’epices, apparently.  I can’t tell you firsthand because the portions sold were too enormous for one or two people to share.  The shop had that cluttered “grandma would love this” look.

  • If you’re in town for just one night, I’d recommend staying at the Hotel Le Jacquemart.  The place is bring-your-own-toiletries no-frills (Jon esp. loved dragging our suitcases up four flights of stairs), but it’s clean, shabby-genteel-looking, and incredibly well-located near the old Cathedral.   For 60 euros a night, we couldn’t have asked for more.  Skip the hotel brekkie and walk half a block left down the street to a superb boulangerie.  Also nearby is the old covered market, Les Halles.

And that’s it on everything-but-the-food from our trip in Burgundy.  Next and last post about Burgundy will be on the restos.  A bientot!

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Hotel-Dieu in Beaune

Remembering the success of our cycling trip in the Loire Valley last July, Jon and I spent a week cycling in Burgundy in late August this year.  Because we were too busy this summer to do our own planning (read: Jon spent too much time training to swim the English Channel and I was left holding down the fort at home), we worked with Beaune-based Detours in France, who provide self-guided cycle tours of the region.

In practical terms, a “self guided cycle tour” meant that Detours in France booked our hotels, provided the cycles, moved our luggage from hotel to hotel, and mapped out our daily itinerary.  The only thing Jon and I had to do was show up in Beaune to pick up our bicycles and get ourselves from Point A to Point B every day (i.e., we weren’t with a group following a leader, and we were free to change the day’s itinerary as we liked).

cycling from Chassagne-Montrachet to Santenay

Pluses of working with Detours in France:

  1. Jon and I never got lost, and consequently, never argued.  (The provided maps and turn-by-turn directions are pretty much foolproof).
  2. Our daily routes were optimized for beautiful views, low traffic, and flatness (save for a 4km climb around Gevrey-Chambertin, and another one around Pernand-Vergelesses, thankfully towards the end of the trip, when our fitness had improved).
  3. Sarah and Jerome, the owners of Detours in France, are passionate about what they do and about Burgundy, so we had the sense that if we really needed help, they’d be there for us.
  4. Overall – everything was really easy.  We were supremely lucky to have had sunny, mild weather the entire week, so from the point of view of getting to know the region and the terroir, our trip was an unqualified success.

Minuses of giving up the absolute control we usually exercise via independent travel:

  1. It was difficult to eat at the restaurants we wanted to try.  (Where there’s wine, there’s good food, and Burgundy is studded with Michelin-starred restaurants).  Although dinner wasn’t included in the price we paid to Detours in France, letting someone else choose our hotels meant that in the evening, it was tricky for us to get to specific restaurants (cycling on un-lit local roads being rather difficult, especially if you’re planning a boozy, lengthy, gourmet meal).Most of the towns in Burgundy wine country are small, so effectively, either you’re eating at your hotel restaurant or you’re at the one or two other places in town (assuming they’re open, of course).  In contrast, last year, when we controlled every aspect of our trip in the Loire Valley, we either booked hotels in larger towns (offering numerous dining options) or else we stayed at a hotel specifically so we could eat at a nearby restaurant.
  2. Adding up hotel fees, cycle rentals and luggage transfers, the cost of our week in Burgundy was twice that of our week in the Loire Valley.  On both trips, we stayed at hotels rated 3 stars by whatever agency in France rates such things.  While Burgundy is, in general, a pricier region to visit than the Loire Valley, I attribute most of the cost difference to the effort and expertise of Detours in France.

Santenay's town square

Our six days of cycling took us from the southern stretches of the Cote Chalonnaise, through the golden fields of chardonnay in the Cote de Beaune, and up north through the prized red wine vineyards of the Cote de Nuits.  (To visualize the region, click here for a map).

In general, we cycled 35-40 km a day, with a few days where we hit 50 km because we strayed from the day’s itinerary and got a little lost. This blog post covers the “southern” stretch of our trip, the Cote Chalonnaise and the Cote de Beaune areas.  This coming Friday, I’ll post about the Cote de Nuits, and next week I’ll wrap up with a post on all our restaurant adventures in the region.

Because we knew so little about Burgundy wines before our visit, we relied heavily on the almost too-comprehensive advice of this “Food Wine Burgundy” guide by David Downie, as well as tips from Detours in France and from friendly cavistes (wine shop owners) we met along the way.  Most vineyards either required advance booking or were closed during prime cycling hours (12-3 pm), so Jon and I stopped mostly at wine shops to do our tastings and make our purchases.

In Santenay, our “Food Wine Burgundy” guide highly recommended the Cave Vielles Vignes, which is right on the town square.  The shop offered an impressive inventory of wines, but sadly, the sales woman there was reluctant to offer us a tasting of wines and was generally unhelpful, so we bought two local (Santenay) wines at random there and called it a day.

Much friendlier was the Domaine de la Chappelle up the hill from the town square, which we visited at the recommendation of our Puligny-Montrachet B&B owner.  Its primary appeal:  you can drop in for a tasting without an advance booking.  Unfortunately, neither the 2008 reds nor the whites appealed, and we bought a bottle just to be polite.

Canal du Centre

From Santenay, we cycled south along the gorgeous Canal du Centre to reach the Cote Chalonnaise, where we heard there were bargain Burgundy wines to be found.

Takeaways:

(1) don’t bother stopping at Chateau de Rully, which offers neither tastings nor a tour of the chateau, contrary to the claims of Food Wine Burgundy.  (That’s two strikes against our chosen guidebook, and our edition was published in 2010!);

(2) Of the local wines we tried, we loved the 2007 Chateau de Chamirey Mercurey (about 20 euros), which was strong evidence that there are great deals to be found in the Cote Chalonnaise.  [Note that “local” in Burgundy means either the vineyard is located within the borders of the town you’re tasting in, or at most one or two towns away.]

cycling from Puligny-Montrachet to Meursault (pictured in the distance)

Our favorite of the hotels chosen by Detours in France was La Chouette, a B&B in Puligny-Montrachet.   The rooms were large, comfortable and stylish; the breakfasts were excellent; and Suzanne, the owner, is a wealth of local information.  (Suzanne and her husband also own Le Montrachet, a largeish luxury hotel across the street from La Chouette, and where we had dinner).  The published rack rate was 150 euros a night.

Puligny-Montrachet, where we stayed for two nights, is a one-horse town, and that horse is wine, so don’t expect to find a supermarket or even a fromagerie in town.  Instead, you’ll find lots of wine shops.

We enjoyed the wine tasting and wine chat we had with Julien Wallerand, the owner of Caveau de Puligny-Montrachet.  For 8 euros a person, we tasted four wines from Puligny-Montrachet, and one of my few regrets from the trip was not buying the 2008 villages by Domaine Bzikot (25 euros) we tried.  (For a brief description of how Burgundy wines are classified from Grand Cru and Premier Cru “down to” Villages and Regional, click here).

We skipped the wine pairing extravaganzas for which local giant, Olivier Leflaive, is famous, mostly because the man we spoke with at the hotel was unbearably patronising when we tried to clarify the different pricing options offered at dinner vs lunch.

Chateau de Pommard, not worth the 18 euros (per person!) admission

The town of Pommard, next door to Meursault, was a bummer because we stopped by the Chateau de Pommard.  The price of admission was 18 euros a person, and in case you think that the price includes a tour of the chateau, think again.

What your 18 euros buys  you:

(1) access to a “Picasso exhibit,” which is comprised of limited-edition Picasso prints (copies, really) and a few original ceramics, all for sale;

(2) a tour of the wine cellar, which, sadly, looks much like most other wine cellars.  In fact, if you’re dying to see a Cote de Beaune wine cellar, visit the one at Couvent des Cordeliers in Beaune for free; and

(3) a tasting of three of the Chateau’s wines, all of which contained too many sour notes for me to see their future potential (which our guide kept exhorting us to do).  That the wines were priced upwards of 50 euros a bottle was insult to injury.

From Pommard, it was a quick trip back up to Beaune, and then north through the Cote de Nuit, whose highlights will be in my next blog post.

Looking back, as much as we enjoyed staying at La Chouette, if I could re-do the trip, I’d stay in Santenay and Meursault, which were larger towns than Puligny-Montrachet, and consequently seemed to have more shops and restaurants to choose from.  Or maybe we’d stay next door to Puligny-Montrachet in Chassagne-Montrachet, home to Michelin-starred Restaurant Le Chassagne.

Or maybe next time, I’ll travel by car, and everyone will be spared my bellyaching about not being able to reach gourmet restaurants on bicycle.

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