Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bon Temps in Beaune!

Over the Easter holiday, we trekked down to the Burgundy region of France to enjoy delicious wine, French cuisine, cycling through the vineyards and charming, small-town French culture. We used Beaune, the Burgundian wine capital, as our base for exploring the region. I had traveled to Beaune seven years earlier with Laurel as an overnight stop through France and have such fond memories of this adorable town. I was thrilled to have Jon experience all that this wine village has to offer.

We left on Thursday to get a jump start for the weekend and stayed overnight in Luxembourg City. This was my first time to Luxemburg, and despite my doubts, I must say I was very impressed by this small city/country. The old town is perched above a deep ravine with a river at the bottom that snakes around the city. We enjoyed an evening of bar-hopping and dinner in the old town and a gorgeous, and extremely hilly, run down the gorge, up the gorge and through the city the next morning. I was surprised at how much art, culture and nightlife Luxembourg had to offer for being such a small place sandwiched between France and Germany, and we look forward to many more overnights here in the future on our journeys South.

When we arrived in Beaune on Friday afternoon, we immediately hit the ground running with the main attraction in town.... wine-tasting. The town has several wine cellars, or caves as they call them, where you can taste several different Burgundian wines and of course have a chance to buy them at the end of the tour. Most of the Burgundian grapes are Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, however these grapes would never be listed on the bottle as the classification is buy the terrain/soil and specifically the village/plot where the vineyards are located. Needless to say, after two straight days of wine-tasking we learned a lot, although we barely skimmed the tip of the iceberg. Although we have a great interest in learning more about wine and expanding our wine collection while in Europe, it seems the knowledge is endless. We bought several bottles over the weekend and although the keeping time for most of them is 8-10 years, I guess it's nice to know that we have something to look forward to!

On Saturday, we had planned to bike through the vineyards, but it rained all day, so we enjoyed the bustling market that morning and did more wine-tasting in the afternoon. This was no ordinary farmer's market that I was used to in Germany and the Netherlands, there was the usual, flowers, cheese, meats, bread, but also several hand-crafted items, mustards (Beaune is only 20 minutes from Dijon - home of Mustard), and the most beautiful gourmet food stands I've ever seen! We were being offered duck wrapped in pate, escargot, chicken feet, etc. It was truly extraordinary to see the food that was available here and despite the rain, the place was packed with locals doing their Easter dinner shopping.

After the market, we visited the one historical sight in Beaune - the Hotel Dieu. It is the former hospital of Beaune (15th century) that served as a hospice facility and is an incredible example of Burgundian architecture with the colored tiles.

After the tour, we spent the rest of the day sheltered from the rain in three more wine caves.

Later that night, we attended a candlelight service at the Notre Dame church across from our hotel. We had stumbled upon the Good Friday processional to the church the night before and were invited back on Saturday to see this moving ceremony. Although the service was Catholic and in French, it was incredible to be in this beautiful church, surrounded by other believers who are thankful to have the "light" alive again.

By Sunday morning, the weather had cleared up, so we trekked to the same bike rental place Laurel and I had frequented seven years before, with the same shop owner still there. He provided us a great 14 mile route with plenty of sights and wine-tastings along the way. As it was early spring, the vines were still pretty dead-looking, but the scenery and villages we passed through were still quite beautiful.

Because it was Easter Sunday, we thought we would be the only people who were frequenting the various wine cellars along our route, but apparently many French people had the same idea. Most of the places were absolutely packed, but we still managed to taste/buy some wine.

On our way back, we found a great place for a picnic in the midst of a vineyard, under a cherry tree against an old rock wall. We enjoyed our delicious lunch we picked up the day before at the market of brie cheese, dried pepper sausage, baguette and of course, Burgundy wine. The perfect Easter feast! I was feeling very French.....

While Jon was feeling very patriotic.

Jon's favorite bike trick. So graceful.
On Monday, it was time to head back home, but we managed to make one last stop at a beautiful Chateau just south of Beaune. It also had the unique and colorful Burgundian tiles and a gorgeous courtyard in the center. The weekend was quite a success and Beaune was just as charming and delightful as I remembered. We will be able to relive this past weekend's memories for a long time as we have the wine, which we can't drink for 8-10 years, as a keepsake. Merci beaucoup, Beaune!