Champagne & BurgundyPosted on November 13, 2013
Bubbles and Burgundy! My recent whistle-stop tour to France
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit the champagne region of France followed by a quick cycle around Burgundy further south. Of course it was not all about the wine and the vineyards since there were so many other places to discover, like the city of Reims, the towns of Epernay, Dijon and Beaune and lots of charming landscapes. By the way, I didn’t tell you, but my sister also lives in Reims!
Eurostar whisked me to Paris followed by a TGV high-speed train to Reims. We celebrated my arrival with a glass of champagne and this pretty much set the tone for the whole trip! Top tip: make sure you stamp your rail ticket before you board the train. There are lots of yellow machines at the station and if in doubt just look at what the others do or simply just ask someone. Once off the train, it was good to walk around and explore the city. You really must visit the magnificent cathedral of Notre Dame de Reims and make sure you see Chagall’s stained glass windows at the very back of the cathedral as they are quite impressive. The hotel we use is right in the centre so it was great to be able to walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner. The next few days were spent cycling through champagne country. I was lucky as I’d arrived just as the grapes were being harvested. This is backbreaking stuff and I have to say I have total admiration for those teams of people who worked all day, everyday, picking the grapes. It is also a time to celebrate as it signifies the end of the season and a culmination of a year’s hard labour.
One of the highlights was our cycle trip to Epernay, the champagne capital and home to some of its most famous champagne houses including Moët & Chandon. We took a tour of the cellars and enjoyed a flute of champagne afterwards. You really do learn so much about the production of champagne on these tours and so I highly recommend this! Top tip: The cellars are very cool so take a jacket/fleece with you! Next stop was the small hillside village of Hautvillers. If you manage to cycle up the rather steep hill (I confess I pushed my bike for part of the way), then you will be delighted you made the effort for Hautvillers is the cradle of champagne and offers wonderful panoramic views of the area as well as being home to Dom Perignon. After cycling all day we always managed to reward ourselves with some wonderful French cuisine and of course a few glasses of champagne to toast our cycling
achievements! With the first part of the trip over we drove to Burgundy and the town of Dijon to start our next cycling adventure. Here the landscape changes and is certainly less hilly, with vineyards as far as the eye can see and easy cycle paths and quiet country roads. There is definitely a relaxed and fun atmosphere in Dijon, which attracts many tourists and I loved it. There are many sites to explore, great shopping opportunities, heaps of restaurants of all descriptions and quite a few cafes and pubs to choose from. The city itself is great to walk around. Top tip: If you wish to see some of the key points of interest then look out for the ‘owl trail’ where 22 images of the owl are found on a pre-planned route which you can follow. We got on our bikes again and cycled out into the countryside and the crisp fresh air. You gradually notice that around every turn there is a vineyard where the red win
es made from the Pinot Noir grapes to the white wines made from Chardonnay grapes are grown. Top tip: Take your time. This is an easy cycle route and all about the wine, so enjoy it. Perhaps stop for some wine tasting in some of the many villages you pass through, as the locals are happy to share their love and knowledge of wine with you. We arrived late afternoon into Beaune, which again had a really lively vibe and felt really welcoming. Top tip: If you like mustard as I do, I thoroughly recommend a visit to La Moutarderie run by the Fallot family, and make sure you sample some of the amazing flavours they produce! The next few days were spent meandering through age-old villages and towns where the cultivation of grapes has shaped their lives for many generations. What is endearing to me is that many of the villages have retained their sense of tradition and culture and the old ways for them are still the best ways!
Summary: This was a great trip on every level. I expected to cycle through wonderful vineyards and scenic countryside and that I did. However I also came back with a wealth of knowledge about champagne and wine, a respect for those who grow the grapes to produce the wine and the tough challenges they are faced with including the weather! I visited some fantastic towns and villages and would certainly consider returning again. I ate and drank incredibly well, as I knew I would, and the cycling was fun and memorable too.