‘Eat more!’ is my European mother’s mantra. So travelling to Burgundy to discover the best of its culinary delights seemed a natural fit for me.
Award winning vineyards around Dijon
‘Eat more!’ is my European mother’s mantra. So travelling to Burgundy to discover the best of its culinary delights seemed a natural fit for me. Burgundy has given birth to some of France’s greatest delicacies. Coupled with whispering canals and beckoning bike paths, this region is known as one of the most enticing food and wine trails in the world.
BURGUNDY’S CHAMPS ELYSÉES
The ‘Grands Crus’ tourist route, The Côte de Nuits, is known as Burgundy’s Champs Elysées. In 2015, this famous 20 kilometre stretch of vineyards was awarded world heritage status by UNESCO, officially protecting the vine that have graced these hills since the Middle Ages when the Cistercian monks planted them. I chose to enjoy my first drop at the start of this route, in Burgundy’s captivating capital, Dijon.
The streets of the town are a mix of old and new; beautifully restored historic facades that embrace contemporary design inside. As I wander past the halftimbered houses down Dijon’s main street, Rue de la Liberte, I look up at the famous glazed roof tiles; each building dazzles with a symphony of colours against the sun’s rays. The sounds of church bells interweave with the smell of freshly baked baguettes that float from the covered market, Dijon les Halles, a gourmet’s cornucopia. Seafood that still moves, cheeses that weep, fruit that embrace their colours so vividly that they seem almost unreal, decadently flow from table to table. I fear it’s possible to gain weight just from the smell.
The streets around the market also offer no weight reducing relief. The culinary genius of Monsieur Maille lies nearby. His original store, dating back to 1747, still trades in the same place at 32 Rue de la Liberté. This famous Dijon mustard once adorned the tables of the Dukes of Burgundy. The only difference now is that I get to try Maille mustards in enticing gourmet flavours including Cognac & White Wine, Dijon Blackcurrant Liqueur & White Wine, or Blue Cheese & White Wine. For the eco-friendly mustard aficionado, you can also buy the best-selling Black Truffle and Chablis mustard by the pump!
Back outside, I am vividly drawn into childhood memories as the aroma of gingerbread drifts along the cobblestone streets, for it is here, in the 14th century, that this much-loved delicacy was born. Then in 1796, the famous gingerbread manufacturers, Mulot & Petitjean, began, using a recipe dating from the Crusades. After a trip to its store at 13 Place Bossuet and tasting the delicacy Pain d’Epice, I exit slightly rounder, yet happier for the experience. There is something about gingerbread that just makes you smile.
My sweet tooth is delighted, but I generously award it one more famous Burgundy treat: Anis de Flavigny.
These anise-flavoured candies are still made in the same monastery used in 1592, in one of France’s most beautiful villages, Flavigny, the backdrop for the film, Chocolat. But for ease, I head up to the fourth floor of Galleries Lafayette in Dijon (the same famous department store admired in Paris), to pick up a selection to take home.
THE WINE CAVES
I delve underground to what I hope will be some salvation from all this temptation, but to no avail. In the cavernous stone tunnels of the Cave, or cellars, wine tastings are offered in abundance. I unashamedly tasted to my heart’s content, encouraged by enthusiastic sommeliers. As I discovered, wine tastings are not only offered in Dijon but also in Beaune, the capital of Burgundy’s wine region.
Caves Patriarche Père & Fils, in Beaune, is one of the oldest cellars in the region; its owner, Pierre Castel, one of the richest men in France. Underneath his extraordinary collection lies five kilometres of tunnels, connecting all his 35 cellars. To taste Premier and Grand Crus wines by candlelight, in the darkness of this stone cavern, was an experience I am glad not to have missed!
Beune is also home to Burgundy’s no. 1 tourist destination, the medieval hospital, Hotel Dieu, which glitters in the sun and shines equally inside, laden with antiquities. It hosts Europe’s largest wine auction each November, raising €6 million each year to support the hospice.
PICNIC BY THE CANAL
Back along the Canal du Centre, my local friend, Véronique, and I picnic. A family cycle past on the dedicated bicycle path that winds around the edges of the canal. The waters along the edge lap gently as a barge slowly moves past, reflecting the meandering pace of life found in Burgundy. A group of tourists lounge on its deck and raise their glasses to us as they pass. With my own glass of Pinot Noir in hand, I offer them the best of local custom; I smile back, raise my glass and salute them.
© This article was first published in June-July 2017 edition of World Travel Magazine.