A delicious week in Burgundy
While many are booking winter getaways to the Caribbean this time of year, smart savvy travelers are looking ahead to the summer while airfares to Europe are still in the $600-$800 range and hotels aren't all booked up.
France is often perceived as prohibitively expensive especially with the euro exchange rate, but in 2016 we were able to eat and drink our way through Burgundy at a value price point while still having an unforgettable experience. Here are a few tips for traveling one of the best wine regions in Europe.
We went the first week of July to take advantage of the Independence Day holiday and to seize beautiful weather in France. Arriving on a direct overnight flight from Chicago, we landed in Paris where we stayed one night before taking the TGV the next morning to Dijon. Five nights in Gevrey-Chambertain, followed by a TGV trip back to Paris, another overnight, and flew home the next day.
In the spring we monitored fares on Kayak and pulled the trigger in May, 45 days prior to departure, when the economy non-stop from Chicago to Paris came down to $1,200 per person. Since we no longer had status on American, we paid another $149 per person to snag exit row seats in Main Cabin Extra. This got us nearly as much legroom as business class for less than half the cost.
Staying in Paris
We stayed at Hotel Residence Henri IV, tucked away at 50 Rue des Bernardins in the Latin Quarter with balconies overlooking the city's mansard rooftops. It's a ten minute walk to the Notre Dame cathedral and an outdoor market that was open the Friday we arrived. Nights in Paris book ending our trip let us avoid rushing between the TGV and transatlantic travel on the same day.
The hotel is not the Four Seasons and don't expect room service. It's French and charming and friendly with clean and comfortable rooms. It occupies a building with a winding staircase and a retrofitted elevator. With rooms often available for less than $200, it's an incredible value in a very expensive city.
Staying in Burgundy
We wanted vineyards in our backyard, small villages with access to larger cities, and lots of wine tastings and great Burgundian cuisine. Burgundy's a large area to cover in only a few days and there are so many options. We wanted to find a great location with a great property that would be home base.
Cote de Nuits
The Cote de Nuits offers exactly what we were looking for, with a place to stay, Ma Maison a Gevrey-Chambertin, that seemed to good to be true. The Cote de Nuits runs between Dijon to the north and Beaune to the south, with several small villages sprinkled every few miles, since this is the Old World and they sprung up where walkers would be suitably famished and in need of a glass of wine. It's red wine country -- pinot noir -- with a smattering of Chardonnay.
The region and its principal vineyards run along an east-facing slope that offers just the right magical conditions to produce world-class wines. Romans discovered the pinot noir grape growing wild here and introduced viticulture 1,800 years ago. Monks took up the charge 900 years later. At the Chateau Clos de Vougeot, you can see the original equipment used to make thousands of gallons of it.
Perhaps the best - and most surprising -- thing about the Cote de Nuits was that, despite peak season, it was completely devoid of tourists. We'd roll up to one charming town after another and be greeted by nothing more than locals and their spilling flower displays.
Dijon makes it easy to connect to the region. Its train station, where the TGV stops, hosts several car rental companies so it's possible to hop off the train and get onto the road without trouble.
Ma Maison à Gevrey-Chambertin
Graeme Hardy, an Australian expat, spent four years rehabbing an old vacant house 30 minutes south of Dijon in the small village of Gevrey-Chambertin and turned it into a stunning B&B with a garden that juts out into a neighboring vineyard.
He greeted us warmly upon our arrival and throughout our stay went above and beyond to make sure everything was just so. Graeme's clearly a big advocate of Burgundy and takes great pains to make sure every guest has the best experience possible. He'll recommend wineries and book tastings for you. He has a stack of menus from local restaurants. He'll lend you bicycles -- and adjust the seats -- so you can explore the neighboring vineyards and villages.
One evening we brought back cheeses and baguettes and ham/cheese savory pastries from the local supermarket (all for €22!) and dined outside surrounded by the vineyard. Graeme brought out a tablecloth and dishes and silverware. Noticing one of our cheeses, he insisted we try a bottle of rosé that would pair well, so we accepted and he popped it open. Sublime.
Our Napoleon room, an expansive suite, featured hardwood floors, chandeliers and a huge marble bath with views of the vineyard. At €139 per night, it was the deal of the century.
Food and Drink
Eating well in Burgundy is like shooting fish in a barrel if you enjoy rich continental cuisine.
Restaurant Le Monségur in La Rochepot
If you're checking out the Château de la Rochepot stop for a memorable three-course prix fixe at Restaurant Le Monségur. At €22, it's a steal and one of the best meals of the trip. The restaurant employs refugees, many from war-torn areas, and it's humbling and inspiring to hear their stories as you sip a bottle of wine and enjoy the sunshine.
- Transatlantic airfare - Chicago/Paris nonstop - $2,700
- Paris hotel - $530
- Gevrey-Chambertin hotel - $800
- Car rental - $400
- TGV Dijon/Paris - $250
- Everything else - meals, tours, tastings, incidentals - $1,000