Friday, July 22, 2011

Cote de Beaune....Oui Oui!

My first foray into France was at age nine...just a wee pup traveling to Europe for my first time. On that trip, we went directly to Monaco for a week and then drove north through the Loire Valley, Dijon, and ultimately Paris where we flew home to Minnesota. Let me do, TWENTY-THREE years ago (that's gross - how did I get so old I'm speaking in multiple decades?!), I was in Dijon for the first time. Yesterday was the second time. I drove us in our fabulous Peugeot from Switzerland into France (Bienvenue a France!) for a lunch at Dijon and further travels to Beaune. Dijon could have stayed as a checked box in my first adventure there - a repeat visit unnecessary - but Beaune and the surrounding Burgundy area was phenomenal!

Cloisters of Beaune
After a quick hiatus in Dijon, we traveled south to our hotel in Beaune, staying at Hotel Le Cep ("The wine stick") in the historic area of Beaune. Our route to Beaune was along the Cote de Nuits road from Dijon, a route surrounded by beautiful scenery where every inch of landscape is utilized for vineyards, charming towns, sunflower patches, and bike trails. Picturesque doesn't do it justice. There are the canals as well where you can charter boats to take you through the valleys and vineyards, jumping off to bike part of the way or enjoy exquisite culinary experiences, or visit historical sites. It is a plethora of eye candy, worthwhile for any traveler appreciative of nature at its finest. 

Escargot en Beaune
In contrast to my visit in Berlin, I was on a much more relaxed itinerary for the Bourgogne area of France. This entailed discovering Beaune, a surprisingly delightful medieval town surrounded by a protective wall and moat. The pinnacle of our visit was touring the Hospices of Beaune, which was fantastically preserved and fascinating to see in person. The tiled roof can be spotted from afar in town and is characteristic of many roofs in the region. The museum tour has a magnitude of history and artifacts that are invaluable and so interesting from the architecture and painted beams of the "Room of the Poors" to the quite articulate polyptych of The Last Judgement by Rogier van der Weyden. 

Vineyards at Clos de Vougeot
From Beaune, we retraced our steps north and stopped for lunch in what seemed to be the local's diner (which obviously deemed it reputable in my book) just east of Nuits-Saints-Georges, called Au Bois de Charmois. While I wouldn't recommend attempting a glass of wine here (seems that is something relatively nouveau to order wine by the glass here and bottles are either 'house' or exorbitant - not much middle ground), I would suggest a Kir (classical in this region) or a beer, I would absolutely underscore the relevance and fabulousness of their Moulles e Frites. I would have scraped the barrel if that wasn't so uncouth. Fantastique, I say!

Lunch segued to a traipse up to the Clos de Vougeot, which according to a NY Times article was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson in his travails through France. Jefferson was a huge fan of this area and is renowned to have sent many a case of Gran Cru back to the United States for his personal collection. We toured the Clos de Vougeot, which is an incredible museum inundated by fields and fields of vineyards. Original structures, wine presses, impressive wine collections, amazing infrastructure, all avail a visit to this impressive site.
Dinner on the patio
We continued our traipse up and down the Cotes de Nuits stopping in many of the charming medieval towns and exploring the degustacion (tasting) shops to enjoy the products of the region. Returning to Beaune, we decided the preferred plan was a picnic on our patio outside our room with some recently purchased Burgundy wines, sandwiches, and nougat...and our travel books to plan our upcoming trip towards Lyon. The plan proved to be fantastique and scrumptious and our day this morning included an unexpected surprised in the town of Cluny, which has the remnants of the predecessor of St. Peter's Basilica in size and import in this tiny French town. It was a magnificent surprise and definitely worth the trip (it's only about 45km from Lyon) for those in the region. The exhibition is quite high-tech in nature with impressive recreations and visual aides to re-create the mostly destroyed edifice.
A small town outside Cluny

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