There are times when I plan my trips with a budget in mind, using compromise and self-restraint to organize my itineraries. But when I travel to France?
The ever present thought in my mind, the theme that drives me to arrange exclusive dinners, book exquisite wine tastings, buy designer shoes, and let the most luxurious fabrics touch my skin is pure hedonism. The simple pursuit of pleasure. And that is why I decided to go to Burgundy.
Azim and I left Amboise and drove for about an hour through the countryside to arrive in Beaune. Most people decide to stay in Dijon when they visit Burgundy – and next time I might as well – but I wanted to experience what it would be like to live in the well-preserved capital of the Côte d’Or. Beaune’s raison d’être and the source of its joie de vivre is wine: making it, tasting it, selling it, but most of all, drinking it. And that’s just fine with me.
We stayed in one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever seen – L’Abbaye des Mazières is a an old abbey from the 12th century which has been converted into a luxurious hotel. The reception to check in is actually underground, so after wheeling our suitcases past the short stained glass window/door a few times, we finally realized that it was indeed the entrance! We swung it open and ducked in…and I swear my jaw dropped. A candlelit cavern with music softly playing and a group of attentive staff met us warmly, and I felt like I was in a different world.
We took a spiral staircase up to the top floor (there is no elevator and these stairs are NOT for the faint of heart!), and I couldn’t wait to bounce into the huge bed and put on the fluffy bathrobe and slippers that were left out for us (I took the slippers home. I’m wearing them right now.) There was nothing more L’Abbaye could have done to make us feel more at home. If I needed anything I simply had to send an email or call, and my request was promptly taken care of. The highlight for me was our romantic candlelit breakfast. Candlelit because the dining room is located in the cavern, and the only light comes from small stained glass windows. It was such a cool experience (and the food was so delicious), I don’t think I’ll ever eat dinner by candlelight again…unless we return!
I wish we had stayed in Beaune longer just to spent time within L’Abbaye, but because our time was short we made the most of it and explored the city and vineyards surrounding us.
On our first day we decided to visit the Hôtel-Dieu, a 15th century hospice which actually cared for patients right up until 1980’s! It’s easy to recognize with the beautifully coloured tiled roof, but Azim and I didn’t take many pictures. We were too absorbed in our audioguides, if you can believe it 🙂 If you ever visit, you MUST get the audioguide. They’ve set it up so that two actors who play the voices of the original founders of the Hospice, speak with each other and guide you through all the different rooms to give you a true understanding of what it would have been like hundreds of years ago. I knew Azim enjoyed it because his lens cap stayed on for the entire tour.
There is an altarpiece in the Hôtel-Dieu, called The Judgment Day. It is a triptych which has been kept in remarkable condition, and is currently on display in a dimly lit, temperature-controlled room off the main courtyard. I think I stayed in the room to stare at it for almost half an hour. It’s so incredibly fascinating – the details just blew me away. We did not take any photos in the room, but I’ll include one below from Google, and I encourage you to search it for yourself! Look at the faces of the disciples, the expressions of the mortals below, and the awesome gaze of Jesus Christ. I’m not religious by any means, but if you ever see it in real life you will get goosebumps.
Beaune is small enough that we were able to explore it in just a day, and most of our activities there involved eating. Eating the most delicious Burgundian meals I think we’ll ever have. Coq au vin, escargots, and the best BEST wine. I even tried terrine, which I’m usually not a fan of (gelatin, ew), but I loved it. We also visited a tasting cellar, and drank tasted our way through several kilometers of bottles. The Burgundians have this special wine-tasting cup called a “tastevin”, which we were allowed to keep at the end (perhaps as a prize for making it all the way through, and still being able to stand upright?). We didn’t indulge as much as some of the other tourists – to my amusement there was a group of seniors who were more than a little giddy after their visit! I’m glad they had a good time! It was fun, but our guided tour was much more educational.
One of the highlights of our entire trip was our guided wine tour. We took the train up to Dijon, and visited the palace before meeting up with our small tour group and excellent guide from Authentica tours. We opted for a half-day tour, but I honestly could have gone all day! I didn’t think I’d be able to drink all the wine (I think we had at least 7 to taste), but I surprised myself 🙂 We explored some of the Côte de Nuits vineyards – also known as the Champs Elysées of vineyards – including Romanée-Conti. Romanée-Conti produces some of the MOST expensive bottles of wine in the world. We’re talking $12K euros per bottle with a decade long waitlist. The business of wine is a serious business.
We learned about French wine-making standards, about terroir, about how to taste wine properly, and about how wine in Burgundy is named. We did a blind tasting – our guide let us try all the wine first, going through the details of the notes and the year it was made, and afterward told us how much each bottle cost. Some members of our tour group were surprised to realized they liked the cheaper wines better, and I was disheartened to learn that I liked the expensive one best. My wallet would like to disagree!
I did bring home a bottle of pinot noir for my parents, so they could age it and save it for a special occasion. Only 1800 of them were ever made! Do I love them, or what? 🙂 And yes, the entire time our tour guide talked about pinot noir, I was singing Titus Andromedon’s song in my head.
When I go back to France I will definitely stay in Burgundy longer. I loved Dijon and would love the chance to explore it a little more! I also wish we had time to boat along the canals, and maybe visit an escargot farm. The Burgundians were so kind and lovely, and I learned a lot. Until next time, santé!