A short drive takes in some of the region’s famous vineyards and finest churches, writes Giles Milton.
THE DIJON CIRCLE
This 129-kilometre drive will take you through some of the world’s greatest vineyards. It also passes two spectacular chateaux and a succession of Burgundian villages.
You could do the entire circuit in a day, but it’s far more enjoyable to spread the journey over two days. This will allow you to stop at some of the vineyards and try their latest vintages. It will also give you time to do justice to Commarin, one of Burgundy’s greatest chateaux.
Head out of Dijon on the D122 (and not the parallel D974). This will set you en route for visiting the region’s most famous vineyards: Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Chambolle-Musigny and Aloxe-Corton. Most of the wine producers sell from their wineries . Simply knock on the door (most are closed between noon and 2.30pm) and you’ll be invited in for a degustation or tasting.
This will involve a lot of sniffing, swilling and – if you’re not the one behind the wheel – drinking. Drivers can spit the wine into a spittoon. It’s great to listen to the enthusiasm with which the vignerons talk about their wines. Note that it’s polite to buy at least a couple of bottles at the end.
If you’re daunted by the degustation experience, then head to Le Caveau des Vignerons in Morey-Saint-Denis. You’ll find more than 170 different appellations on sale at the same price as the winemakers charge in their wineries.
Alternatively, you could head to Beaune, the next stop on the route, where you’ll find an array of restaurants. You’ll certainly want to allow an hour or more to visit the magnificent Hospice de Beaune, the town’s best-known attraction.
From Beaune, head out on the D974 towards Pommard and Meursault. The latter village is world-famous for its rich and buttery white wine. It’s also a good place to park the car and take a wander through the vines. From Meursault, you need to double back onto the D973 toward La Rochepot, with its mediaeval Burgundian castle that looks as if it’s been fashioned by Disneyland.
Then head north on the D906, and then the D17, towards Bligny, continuing to the village of Chateauneuf-en-Auxois, perched on a bluff of limestone. You’ll certainly want to visit the mediaeval castle and may want to have lunch at the L’Auberge du Marronnier.
From here it’s just a short drive toward Commarin, one of the most beautiful chateaux in the region, where very little has changed since the 18th century. After Commarin, you can take the small, cross-country routes back to Dijon.
THE PILGRIM’S TRAIL
Some of the greatest religious monuments in Burgundy are found on this 201-kilometre route. Start at the basilica of St Mary Magdalene in Vezelay, one of the most magnificent Romanesque edifices ever constructed.
Built to house the relics of the saint after whom it is named, the basilica’s pure lines and simple stonework belie the dazzlingly complex architecture of the building.
Head out of town on the D957 and after a few kilometres you’ll reach Saint-Pere, with its ravishing Gothic church, overlooked by many who come to Vezelay. If you’ve got €200 ($283) to spare, you could pop into the Michelin-starred L’Esperance for lunch. It’s one of France’s finest restaurants.
From Saint-Pere, head south on the D958 towards Pierre Pertuis, pausing at Les Fontaines Salees. Here you’ll find the remains of a Gallic-Roman thermal bath with water said to cure rheumatism.
Pierre Pertuis – with its huge pierced rock and nearby river – makes a fine place for a picnic.
The road heads south towards Chateau de Bazoches and the Morvan national park.
From this point you’ll need a map to negotiate the country roads across the Morvan towards Quarre-les-Tombes. Don’t miss Abbaye Sainte-Marie de la Pierre-qui-Vire; it’s still a functioning monastery and famous for its creamy cheese.
From the abbey, head east and then north, passing through the market towns of Saulieu, with its bustling weekly market, and Semur-en-Auxois with its ramparts, towers and old houses.
Head north on the D980 toward Montbard and then the D32 to Fontenay Abbey, one of Burgundy’s most spectacular sites. The church, cloisters, dormitory and dovecotes have been preserved. This allows visitors to get a glimpse of what life was like in a mediaeval Cistercian abbey.
You’ll want to spend an hour or more here – but it’s best to visit early while the coach tourists are still munching on their croissants.
Next, head south-west from Fontenay along the D957, passing through Avallon, with its spectacular mediaeval ramparts. Return to Vezelay for the evening and don’t forget to visit the basilica. At that time, you might have the majestic building all to yourself.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.