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Burgundy, France: Where to stay, eat, drink
Eat and drink your way through history in this charming corner of France
We enjoyed the past few days in Burgundy, a wonderfully charming corner of France, and have some recommendations that might usefully guide you, should you be fortunate enough to find yourself there!
Some background on Burgundy
Burgundy is known today for its wines, yet it has an incredibly rich and dynamic history. Its wines today—primary pinot noir grapes for reds and chardonnay grapes for whites—are linked inextricably to its history, as the wines were originally cultivated by monks in the Middle Ages. The region is renown for its limestone soil, which gives its wines its light, characteristic notes. There are four types of Burgundy wines, and each type reformers to the region of Burgundy in which the grapes were grown.
Grand Crus are the best, most expensive Burgundy wines, and can costs tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Premier Crus are the second bless category of wine.
Note that, whatever you choose to drink, you will not find bad wine in Burgundy. We tried some very expensive Grand Crus as well as some Regional and Village wines, and
Burgundy was also a powerful and discreet region of France for hundreds of years, and all of France was almost united under Burgundian control.
To many visitors and people from France alike, Burgundy is a “pass through” region—the equivalent of a “flyer state” in America. Many see it as merely a means of getting to the Alps, Italy, or the south of France. But we loved our time there and would recommend visiting for its own sake.
Where to stay
First of all, I’d recommend staying in Beaune, the hub of Burgundy’s wine region, and a good base from which to explore other areas. We stayed at the lovely Hostellerie Cèdre & Spa Beaune, which was right downtown and mere steps from anywhere we wanted to be in the Beaune area.
Beyond the beautiful accommodations, Hostellerie Cèdre was also incredibly child friendly! When we arrived, they had some adorable, monographed teddy bears and a crib all set up for our son, which was very thoughtful.
The hotel is also within a short walk of the most significant sites in Beaune. For example, Hospices de Beaune or Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune, is must-see in the region, and Hostellerie Cèdre is just a ten-minute walk there. Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune, literally the “Hotel of God of Beaune,” was created in the Middle Ages as a hospital for those in need—which, in a feudal, pre-industrial-revolution society, was most people.
In addition to being a lovely, early example of philanthropy, it’s also a stunning structure. It is perhaps the finest example of medieval Burgundian architecture and has become a symbol iconic for Beaune and for the entire Burgundy region.
(NOTE: If you plan to visit and taste wine just in Beaune, without going to the surrounding villages or vineyards, you won’t need a car. Beaune itself is remarkably accessible and compact.)
Where to eat
Staying at the right place can take care of much of guess work about where to eat! Hostellerie Cèdre had the most incredibly French breakfast that we thoroughly enjoyed each morning. Imagine a dozen types of gorgeous French cheeses, meats, multiple types of baguettes and fresh pastries, assorted fruits and berries, fresh pressed orange and grapefruit juice, and even a full honeycomb with which to garnish your bread or greek yogurt. We just adored enjoying breakfast on their exquisitely French terrace each morning.
Another place we enjoyed dining at was Ma Cuisine, in the heart of Beaune. There, we enjoyed some beautiful Burgundy wines, as well as the best Beef Bourguignon of my life! I suppose that is to be expected—it is their local cuisine! Beef Bourguignon is a dish I enjoy making at home regularly, and Ma Cuisine’s interpretation definitely set the bar very high.
We discovered an amazing cheese shop in Beaune called Alain Hess. I’ll let this video explain what words cannot.
If you happen to be in Beaune on a Saturday, the weekly market is not to be missed! The market clearly is mostly for locals, and it was absolutely gorgeous. I loved savoring the colors of summer there! We picked up some fresh baguette, cheese, olives, cured meats, and truffle—yes, there was a truffle stand selling fresh truffles—and had a lovely picnic by Hostellerie Cèdre. It was the perfect way to end our time in Burgundy before we headed to Switzerland.
A highlight of our time in Burgundy was visiting the Edouard Fallot mustard factory. Everyone has heard of Dijon mustard—named for a city about an hour north of Beaune—but you may not know what makes Dijon mustard Dijon mustard. It turns out that this name refers to mustard made in Burgundy that is smooth—with the husks of the mustard grains removed. At the factory, we learned how mustard is made—the seeds are harvested from beautiful yellow flowers, and then ground by mill and mixed with water, salt, and vinegar—by making our own mustard firsthand. I’m a big fan of grain mustard, so I absolutely loved this!
Where to drink
We enjoyed tasting Burgundy wines at a number of lovely wineries in the region—such as Domaine Chanson, which is a very old Burgundy house that is now owned by Champagne Bollinger, which we had just visited in Champagne. Domaine Chanson is a special winery. Its wines are made in the traditional style, which among other things means the winery continues to employ whole-bunch fermentation (where stems are fermented along with the grapes)—this technique adds pleasing and subtle tannins to the wine, but it can be perilous for the winery, since the stems, which must be ripe for the process to work, ripen later than the grapes (which means the harvest must occur later in the year, which in turn increases the risk the harvest will be lost to an early frost). Domaine Chanson in many ways exemplifies Burgundy’s distinct approach to winemaking: The winery’s various red wines are made in the same manner—same fermentation process, same time in the barrel, same ratio of new to old oak; each wine differs from the others just with respect to the specific plot of land on which its grapes were grown. This approach is meant to highlight the terroir—the soil, air, climate—of each plot’s special piece of Burgundy.
Our favorite winery, though, was Maison Champy, the oldest house in Burgundy—and one with an incredible history that touches many of the most significant facets of Burgundy’s past.
For example, both Pierre Eiffel—the engineer behind the Eiffel Tower in Paris—and Louis Pasteur—the mastermind behind the process of pasteurization—are both from the Burgundy region, and the lives of both gentleman overlap with the story of Maison Champy in important ways.
Consider Pierre Eiffel, who built his famous Tower for the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris to commemorate the centennial of the storming of the Bastille and the French Revolution. The Tower was meant to be a symbol of national pride, but there was a problem: everyone hated it. People thought it was a monstrosity. One critic even decided to eat lunch under it every day; that way he didn’t have to look at it.
The folks at Maison Champy, however, saw the Tower for the work of beauty and genius that it is: Recognizing Mr. Eiffel’s talent when few others did, they hired him to design Champy’s building in Beaune. And that beautiful, Eiffel-designed structure is still part of Maison Champy’s building today.
Next, Louis Pasteur. The nineteenth century saw a period of peace and open trade between France and England, which presented French winemakers with a terrific opportunity to sell their wares to the English market. There was a problem, though: France’s wine kept arriving to England as over-fermented vinegar—not wine!
The founders of Maison Champy hired Louis Pasteur—who worked from their building and others for over a decade—to find a solution. He finally forged the method of pasteurization, which stopped the fermentation process in wine and stabilized it so it could be transported, and not arrive at its destination as vinegar. For many years pasteurization continued to be used to stabilize wine, but in more recent decades sulfites have been used to solve this problem.
I love the way that history, culture, and wine all interweave in Maison Champy’s story—which is why it was our favorite visit. And, I should add, their wine was exceptional!
I hope you find these recommendations useful. If you end up visiting Burgundy and enjoy any of this activities, let me know! Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.