ROUTE DE GRAND CRUS, FRANCE
Dijon – Santenay (2 days, 60km)
The easy Route de Grand Crus (“Road of the Great Wines”) route explores over 60kms of rolling hills, wooded paths, and of course, the most prestigious part of Burgundy’s vineyards and 38 picturesque wine villages. Stretching out as a narrow strip of land from Dijon to Santenay, cycling the route is a great way to discover the “climats” of the Côte d’Or wine region.
While the entire route can be explored on foot (via the 21km-long Grands Crus Long-Distance Footpath) or by car, cycling is the best way to combine slow travel and drinking en route. The “véloroute” from Beaune to Santenay consists of 22km of perfectly-tended bike trails surrounded by vineyards and picturesque villages.
Throughout the gentle hills, vineyards run in tight rows between the towns – you’ll find typical vineyard architecture of gorgeous limestone houses with tiled roofs, organised between courtyards and gardens. The centrepiece is often the winegrowers’ old cellars. Occasionally the landscape is dotted with traditional villages – some opulent with 18th century wine merchant houses – which are arranged around a Gothic church and fountains. A honey-hued glow descends on the villages just before dusk, creating that emblematic Burgundian scenery.
The route runs through two regions of vineyards – the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune. The Côte de Nuits – from Dijon through Nuits-St-Georges to the village of Corgoloin – is known for some of the most famous and expensive red wines, including 24 of Burgundy’s 33 grand crus like Gevrey-Chambertin and Vosne-Romanée (which produces the world’s most expensive wine). At Gevrey-Chambertin, you can tour the medieval castle and schedule a wine tasting in the old cellar.
The Côte de Beaune, from Corgoloin and Beaune to Santenay, is Chardonnay country, producing great dry white wines. While it’s a smaller area, it has more picturesque villages like Aloxe-Corton, Pernand Vergelesses, Beaune, Meursault, and Puligny-Montrachet. With a population of under 200, the quiet village of Aloxe-Corton is dominated by its photogenic château that’s topped by a patterned tiled roof, while Pernand-Vergelesses is among the most picturesque villages thanks to its traditional houses, steep little streets and surrounding vineyards.
Hundreds of wineries are open to the public along the route, where wine and cheese tasting can be had at any of the caveaux (bookings advisable). Beaune – the capital of wine in Burgundy – is a delightful medieval town with a beautiful 15th century almshouse capped by a patterned roof.
Multiple high-speed trains connect from Paris, Lyon, Lille and Marseille to Dijon downtown, where bikes can be rented. There are plenty of charming B&Bs housed in traditional châteaus within villages.