As I begin this post we are having some quiet time in our Dijon hotel; this is wise after spending a sinful amount of money on food and wine since we arrived in Burgundy!
This part of our adventure began with a 95-minute TGV trip from Gare du Lyon to Dijon, a thrilling new experience. Unfortunately, by the time we collected our hire car – Maggie at the wheel, me in charge of navigation – showery weather had set in; not ideal for our first attempt to drive ourselves somewhere in Europe.
The degree of difficulty only got worse: I struggled with the scale of the maps we had; the GPS didn’t work in English; I let our enthusiasm put us on the narrow Grand Cru tourist road, which writhed like a snake in each village we came to; the route was lightly and ambiguously signposted; and Maggie was so anxious that she kept mounting curbs and doing the opposite of every direction I gave her. It was a harrowing hour but, somehow, we made it safely to our hotel with our marriage intact!
So, we had made it to Beaune and we were in Cote d’Or, the revered part of the Burgundy wine region. Our hotel, La Belle Époque, was located very conveniently for both exploring the region and for easy access to the old town centre. Over the following 72 hours, we had a varied and, with only one exception, thoroughly satisfying time.
The exception was dinner on our first night; an overpriced, underwhelming meal at Restaurant Le Fleury. It was a Monday evening and, knowing that most restaurants would be closed, we were pleased that an employee of our hotel knew of somewhere that would be both open and able to serve us quality food. We should have done some exploration by foot instead of taking the easy option. I will spare you the details but they will be recorded on Trip Advisor.
By Tuesday morning, the showers had disappeared and we set off to explore the southern end of Cote d’Or, including the Montrachet appellation, famous for its wines made from Chardonnay. We then drove to Meursault, the largest of the region’s small towns. It is very attractive, evidently prosperous and the town’s administrative and commercial heart was undergoing a substantial makeover. Here we discovered an unassuming gem of a restaurant – Hotel du Centre – where we had a remarkable lunch.
After lunch, we returned to Beaune and went shopping for mustard at Moutarderie Fallot, just a few doors along from our hotel. We bought three jars, including one with some horseradish, one of Maggie’s favourite ingredients!
After a comfort stop at the hotel, we strolled around some of the delightful streets in the heart of Beaune; it all confirmed the favourable impression we had taken home from a morning visit during a coach tour in 2009. Then we went looking for a restaurant that served Coq au vin – a long-standing favourite of mine – and our quest led us to La Grilladine, where the food, wine and value was so good that we returned the next evening.
On Wednesday morning, we drove through the lush Burgundian countryside to the large town of Autun, renowned for its fresh food and also home to some relics of its Roman origins. The latter were a bit ho-hum, leaving us puzzled as to how they rated a mention in our guide book. However, we did have a lovely visit to a ‘Salon du the’, including freshly made crepes. On our way back to Beaune, I navigated a route up a sidetrack to the small village of Epinac, where we stumbled upon a simple but enjoyable lunch.
In the afternoon, we visited the justly famous Hotel Dieu, assisted by an excellent and free audio guide. The wonderful story of how this hospice for the poor was created in the 15th century is easily found on the internet. It has been thoroughly restored to something close to its original state; lots to wow about!
Thursday was the first day of May; May Day, when locals take to the streets in the morning to sell fresh bunches of lily of the valley for as little as 2 euros; International Labour Day, when thousands of left-leaning people all over Europe take to the streets to protest and advocate; and a public holiday, meaning lots of festivities and lots of closed restaurants!
We took one last stroll to the centre of Beaune, bought a bunch of the dainty flowers and found a cafe that was open and serving a good French breakfast. Then it was time to check out of La Belle Epoque and wend our way back to Dijon. We returned to the Grand Cru route – amazing how much easier it was to follow it on a fine day and with a little local knowledge under our belt. We stopped at one small town where the main festivity was an annual half-marathon race; the runners were receiving encouragement from a brightly-dressed band of drummers. And we enjoyed a refreshing cuppa at the local Salon du the.
As we continued in the direction of Dijon, we had all but given up on finding somewhere for lunch but, a combination of luck and instinct, took us to Chez Jeannette in Fixin, where we sat down to a wonderful 3-course meal.