Our time in Paris was over and we were ready for a new adventure in the French countryside. Terry was in charge of planes, trains, and automobiles and after extensive research felt that leasing versus renting a car was made sense since we planned to have it for five weeks. We picked up our SUV at the Orley airport and headed for the country. With GPS guiding us, we thought we would never get out of Paris as the female inside the GPS box seemed to keep looping us back in a circle. After dumping her and getting the British guy on board, we were at least heading in the right direction. This would not be our last mishap on the road as we saw several of the same roundabouts more than once. All part of the adventure, right? 😉
With limited time we decided upon the rolling hills of Burgundy, as we were making our way to the Dolomites, and this region was in the same general direction. We’d read that Burgundy’s claim to fame is their superior wines, cuisine, spicy mustard and sleepy little villages swathed in alluring landscapes, crisscrossed with canals and dotted with vineyards. Along with Bordeaux, Burgundy is why France is renowned for its wine…great fruity reds and dry whites. We planned to sample many along the way. Our goal was to stay in Beaune, Burgundy’s wine capital, but not before a stop at France’s best preserved medieval abbey, Fontenay.
” It is said that you can see a lot in a big city but in a small town you can feel a lot.” ~ Anonymous
Fontenay Abbey, in the small village of Montbard, was founded in 1118 by St. Bernard, one of the oldest Cistercian abbeys in the world. The Cistercians wanted to reform monastic life, immersing themselves in the rule of 5th century St. Benedict, to “live a life of poverty, self-sufficiency, and solitude”. It is now a Unesco World Heritage Site, complete with lovely grounds.
Continuing on into Beaune, our first goal was to secure a place to rest our heads for the next few days. We settled on the quirky Hotel Rousseau, once the Rousseau family home and still run by 88-year old delightful Madam Rousseau and family. Kitties roam the hallways and colorful pet birds welcome you as you climb the stairs to your room. Dinner our first evening was at Le Belena, where we dined on some of the region’s specialities, beginning with escargots de Bourgogne…sightseeing for our taste buds! And of course we sampled a couple of Burgundy’s luscious wines.
Over breakfast the next morning we met Roland, a friendly gent from Germany, who was solo trekking his way across France on foot, taking one of the Camino de Santiago routes in sections. This pilgrimage has been a dream of mine for many years so I was all ears.
Once nourished we headed out on foot to explore Beaune, keeping our ramblings to the town center, within the ring road surrounding the town. Our first stop was Hotel Dieu. Now a museum, it was once a charity hospital built for the poor, more commonly called a “palace for the poor”.
Nicolas Rolin, chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy, and his wife Guigone de Salins put their hearts and souls into this project, using only the finest materials to ensure its existence for centuries. It was classified as a historic monument in 1862 and has never veered from its principles of charity and care of the poor. The self-guided audio-tour is fascinating.
Another day of sightseeing took us to the Collegiale Notre-Dame Cathedral and out into the vineyards to sample the grapes.
Our final day in Beaune was reserved for taking the southern Grand Vineyards Tour, where we traveled through quaint villages of red-tiled roofs, surrounded by rolling hills of vines, many of which we stopped to explore. Along this route lie the Château de la Rochepot, one of France’s smallest castles, now a museum, which we toured as well.
We found the Burgundy Region to be enchanting, the cuisine divine, and the wine luscious. I had read that the French food is so good because it is “made with love”. Love was in the air at every meal.