There’s More than Fine Wine and Fabulous Food in Burgundy: Think Sublime Scenery, Art and Architecture

Our private, custom tours of Burgundy often begin and end in Paris.

If you’ve spent enough time in the City of Light and are ready for La Bourgogne, we can meet you there or accompany you from elsewhere. Let us show you our favorite spots in this soothingly green, quiet, rural region famed for its wines and food.

The land of dreamy dreams, Burgundy begins just 90 minutes south of Paris. Burgundy is watered by three major rivers: the Saône, Yonne and Loire. There are more Romanesque churches, abbeys and monasteries raising their belltowers over the vineyards, pastures and forests here than in the rest of France combined. Dozens of postcard-perfect villages perch on limestone bluffs—les Côtes—their colorful roofs made of glazed tiles telling you that you’re in Burgundy and nowhere else.

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay lovers know this is the homeland: Burgundy’s rolling wine country stretches south nearly 150 miles from Chablis to Mâcon.

Our one-day Burgundy discovery trip from Paris starts in Chablis: handsome and historic, set in a valley where the Serein River flows, this is the “Golden Gate” of Burgundy, a natural entry point from the north. Prosperity oozes from the stone and half-timbered buildings, where restaurants, hotels, and outstanding gourmet food artisans beckon. If your visit coincides with Le Marché Bouguignon together we’ll explore one of the country’s most authentic outdoor markets. Chablis’s lively Marché des Vins de l’Yonne—with bottlings from every winegrowing village in the Yonne Département—is held the first Saturday in May.

Vezelay, The Eternal Hill
After a walk through scenic Grand Cru vineyards, a tour of town, and a luscious lunch, we’ll head southwest an hour or so to Vézelay, site of the UNESCO World Heritage Site basilica, repository of the relics of Mary Magdalene—or so some claim.

The Way of Saint James, Vezelay
Nicknamed “The Eternal Hill,” a reference to Eternal Rome, Vézelay is the perfect place to spend an afternoon—and not only for spiritual seekers. It happens to be among the most beautiful sites in France. On the cobbled main street are teetering old houses, boutiques and galleries galore. Outstanding wine shops, fine restaurants and comfortable hotels make Vézelay an ideal over-night destination. It’s also close enough for you to roll back to Paris in time for dinner.

South of Chablis and Vézelay, join us for one or more days in the rest of Burgundy. Highlights include Beaune, Clos de Vougeot, Chambolle-Musigny and Gevrey-Chambertin, the world-famous vineyards of the Côte d’Or, and Burgundy’s historic capital Dijon.

David & 500-year-old chestnut

For those who love things Romanesque, we can do the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Fontenay Abbey and Cluny, and set up a steeple-chase of the region’s loveliest Romanesque churches. Not old enough? Autun and Mont Beuvray are, respectively, where Augustus Caesar built his citadel, and Julius Caesar dictated The Conquest of Gaul. “Magical” is the single-word descriptor of both.

Topping our must-see list is handsome, prosperous Beaune, the region’s food and wine capital. It has ancient roots—the Roman name was Belenos. Scores of button-bright boutiques, luxury hotels, wine shops, wine bars, restaurants, museums and landmark townhouses rise within concentric rings of medieval streets, alleys and ramparts. We’ll show you the most remarkable things in Beaune, and take you for an unforgettable night-time walk, with some of the world’s best spotlighting.

Ever heard of Rector Eumenus’ speech to Emperor Constantine? You’ll soon understand why the ancient Romans extolled the vineyards of Belenos. Still the heartland for winegrowing, Beaune itself hosts many fine wineries. We’ll visit several, choosing from the dozens we list in our critically acclaimed book, FOOD WINE BURGUNDY.

Culture? Beaune’s Hôtel-Dieu, better known as Hôspices de Beaune, is where the annual November gala charity wine auction takes place. The art is magnificent. So is the architecture and the cobbled courtyard of this half-timbered Renaissance complex.

Walking on the edible side, we’ll troll Beaune’s twice-weekly morning street market and introduce you to the best honey-maker, organic greengrocer, and baker. No matter what day we’re there, we’ll lead you to our favorite stores—for wine, specialty foods, accessories, books, antiques. We’ll visit Beaune’s great coffee-roaster, and its famed cheese-maker. Tell us far enough in advance and we’ll get you into the town’s fabled, family-run mustard factory, the only one anywhere using Burgundian seed to produce piquant, peerless artisanal moutarde.

Few places offer as many fine restaurants, authentic gems where savvy locals sup and sip the best of Burgundy. If Michelin stars are your thing, Beaune has several. We also have smaller, even more sublime spots to recommend—from wine bars on up.
In Beaune’s backyard: daytrips include charming Pommard amid hills south of Beaune. Renowned for its reds, Thomas Jefferson bought his here. The winery he patronized is still around, run by the great, great, great grandchildren of the vintners he knew. We know them too, and so can you.

We swing south from here to Saint-Romain, an ancient hilltop village with gorgeous cliffs, sculpted vineyards, and stone-built houses. Want to learn the secrets of barrel-making? Lunch at the village’s rustic restaurant, and pick from a wine list that includes everyone in the appellation? Great idea! One of our favorite, award-wining winegrowers is in Saint-Romain. Another is in nearby Monthelie, where we can take you for a cellar-visit to one of the greatest makers of outstanding organic, bio-dynamic Burgundy.

What about world-famous Puligny-Montrachet? We often enjoy the wine-tasting lunch at La Table d’Olivier Leflaive. It features gougère cheese puffs, succulent jambon persillé ham, housemade terrines, range-raised chicken stewed in Leflaive’s own Chardonnay, regional cheeses, and liqueurs.

No visit to Burgundy would be complete without a tour of Clos de Vougeot, the Renaissance château and HQ of the Chevaliers du Tastevin—those gallant ladies and gentlemen who wear silly outfits and taste and rate the region’s wines. We’ll show you the chateau’s yawning 12th-century cellars, still equipped with impressive, antique wine presses.

Another highlight of any wine-lover’s list is handsome Gevrey-Chambertin. Its fabulous vintage bottlings come from Grand Cru and other remarkable vineyards. There are wonderful places to eat, where we’ll match the local specialties to extraordinary vins. Needless to add, the hiking and biking trails here and elsewhere in wine country offer a civilized way to work up an appetite—or burn off the calories.

Dijon, Burgundy’s capital, has more atmosphere, animation, culture, fine food and wine, than anyone could describe in under 10,000 words. A compact city with a gorgeous Ducal Palace, one of France’s great market places, and a spider’s web of Renaissance streets, Dijon is at its best when visited at a snail’s pace. We recommend at least half a day here to get started, or a full day and a night in one of the city’s fine hotels.

We could go on. And on. We’ve been exploring Burgundy for over 20 years, have reported on it for top magazines and websites, and have written and photographed it end to end in our book, Food Wine Burgundy…
See you soon! All the best, David and Alison

Timelessness Our Specialty

For info and rates: dddownie@gmail.com, www.davidddownie.com