“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.” ― Hans Christian Andersen
Three weeks spent in France last year was a food, wine, and travel journey that will forever hold a special place in my heart. On a previous blog post I have shared a few of my adventures in the Champagne Region, both in Reims and witnessing the Harvest in September. After leaving Reims we traveled to Dole and then began our five day road trip from Dijon to Lyon with a two night stay in Beaune. While using Beaune as a home base we spend two days exploring the 60km Burgundy Route des Grands Crus, a route that winds its way north to south through eastern France. We were fortunate to experience beautiful weather while we drove past stone-built villages, churches with magnificent steeple tops, miles of vineyards, and some of the most amazing vistas and vantage points in this region of France.
Photography Tip: When you see a scene that you wish to photograph usually you just raise the camera to your eye and take the photograph and typically you are standing when you do this. If you like the scenery around you then look around and see if there is an area close that could give you a different vantage point. Changing your viewpoint also changes your perspective and can enhance the composition of a photo. But, don’t just stand, get down to ground level and see how that changes the shot as well. This will make your photograph stand out from all of the other eye level views taken from the same spot or of the same subject.
Scattered all along the Route des Grands Crus is a plethora of world-class wineries tucked amongst France’s most gorgeous countryside, this provides the perfect recipe for an off the beaten path road trip.
Photo from the Beaune Tourism Website
The Route des Grands Crus which translate to road of great wines, is the regions most famous wine route. The route is easy to follow with the brown sign posts marking the route from the town of Dijon in the north all the way to Santenay in the south. Taking you through 37 villages with world-famous appellations such as Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits-Saint-Georges and Pommard, there is no better way to discover Burgundy, its vineyards, landscapes and wines than driving yourself through this historic region.
One of the first stops that we made was to the famous Château du Clos de Vougeot which is very visible from the Route des Grands Crus and offers self guided tours, guided tours and wine tastings.
Located 27 km North of Beaune, Clos de Vougeot (also known as Clos Vougeot) is considered one of the most famous wall-enclosed vineyard, or clos, in the world.
The land making up the vineyard was either purchased by or donated to the Cistercians monks of Cîteaux Abbey which was only a few kilometres away between the 12th century to the early 14th century. When you go back even further into the history of Clos De Vougeot you discover though that it was actually an Englishman who created it. Stephen Harding, a Saxon, who was the Abbot of Cîteaux for 25 years from 1109 until his death in 1134. This impressive history ties Citeaux Abbey for approximately the first hundred years of its existence with that of Clos de Vougeot.
Château du Clos de Vougeot’s castle includes wine cellars, original wine presses and a vat house. In 1551, a residential building in the renaissance style was added by Dom Jean Loisier, justifying the name of “chateau”. A Historic Monument, the Chateau du Clos de Vougeot since 1945 is now home to the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin. and seat of the “ Climats ” of Burgundy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Chateau du Clos de Vougeot also hosts famous receptions and it is renowned as one of the very best “table d’hôte” of France.
At Chateau du Clos de Vovgeot it’s not about a modern day wine experience it is about the unique architectural, the cultural and religious history as well as the winemaking culture and history in this part of Burgundy.
Walking the grounds and the buildings of Château du Clos de Vougeot is something that shouldn’t be rushed, around each corner and through each doorway there is something new to discover. I was completely enchanted, much like a child visiting Disneyland for the first time. There was such an interesting mix of classical and traditional architectural styles scattered around the property and one of my favorite exhibitions was the importance of wine to the soldiers during the First World War.
The international reputation of Clos de Vougeot can be found in literature and film as well, it was mentioned in the book and movie Babette’s Feast written by famous Danish author Karen Blixen.
‘– But Babette, what’s in this bottle? she asked, her voice trembling. This can’t be wine? – Wine, Madam? No! It’s Clos de Vougeot 1846! Martine had never heard of wines having a name. She was silent.’
Château du Clos de Vougeot is both a historical location and landmark where you can feel, see and hear how many centuries ago, the cultivation and famous path of Bourgogne wines was built up by talented ‘vignerons’ who wanted to grow and produce excellent high quality wines.
One of the most impressive sight were the four antique wine presses, the oldest dating from 1477. Seeing such rare winemaking equipment from the past and viewing the engineering involved was fascinating. The wine presses were all in a wonderfully time appropriate old building called the Vat House.
Although the Chateau du Clos de Vougeot does not produce wine anymore, it is a symbol of Burgundy’s amazing wine history. For a nominal fee tastings are still offered here and on the day that we were there they were offering a tasting from wines produced from local vineyards and labeled Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin. I have very little notes on these wines as the whole tasting was presented in French, so my understanding about anything other than the deliciousness of the wine is lost in translation.
A little background on The Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin who acquired the Château in 1945, and started to restore it, turning it into the seat of the Order. Since its creation in 1934, the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin has set itself to the important task of promoting Burgundy, notably its wines and cuisine, as well as preserving and reviving its traditional festivals, folklore and customs, and encouraging the development of tourism in the region. La Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin (Brotherhood of the Knights of a Wine-Tasting Cup) is in a way a kind of a secret society of Burgundy fans.
The organization builds itself on lots of ceremony to the organization and member wear colorful, scholarly red and yellow robes while they sing Burgundy drinking songs over fancy dinners; there are also contests, events and of course wine tastings. In its quest for excellence, the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin rewards the exemplary skill and knowledge of Bourgogne’s winegrowers and wine-merchants, and their outstanding quality of wines the right to bear the TASTVINAGE seal of approval.
What wasn’t lost in translation was the memories of this exceptional wine tasting in a historic and iconic location.
“It is our duty to give meaning to the life of future generations by sharing our knowledge and experience; by teaching an appreciation of work well done and a respect for nature, the source of all life; by encouraging the young to venture off the beaten path and avoid complacency by challenging their emotions.”
-Paul Bocuse, French Chef
If there is ever a perfect time to visit any wine region it is during harvest. Nothing gives you a greater appreciation for the hard work that goes into producing the wines of Burgundy than seeing first hand the grape pickers working in the vineyards and the hustle and bustle of the small villages with trucks moving quickly along the narrow roads to bring in the freshly picked bounty.
There really isn’t anything to write about experiencing harvest in Burgundy that hasn’t been written a thousand times. It is an awe inspiring vision to witness the combination of quick and methodical work as well as the celebration that is felt in each individual village as the grapes are delivered to the wineries. I hope that everyone whether closer to home or abroad gets to experience grape harvesting in the vineyards at least once.
So many things have been written about the Route des Grands Crus, it truly is a diverse and exciting area and it’s possible to explore it in many different ways. When you get the opportunity to visit, rent a car and search out those backroads and out of the way spots that can be found all along the Route. With each right turn we took the left turn first, just to see where it would take us and after that road came to an end we headed back to the Route. As we drove through the small villages that were so full of color and custom we constantly kept our eyes out for a hidden road or a path that would take us up to a higher point near the hilltop vineyards.
Just remember that even if you are there to enjoy the wine, the landscape of Burgundy is so much more than vineyards, it is a paradise for cross country bikers, hikers and nature lovers. The geography of the this part of France includes granite mountain ranges, wild landscapes filled with fauna and floral along with tree wooded hills and thick wooded forests. It is also a vast and varied landscape with wide fertile river beds and limestone valleys which help in making the terrior of the Burgundy vineyards so unique and along with the climate ideal for growing its most famous grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The Route des Grand Crus represents only a portion of the breathtaking Burgundy region. It’s an easy drive in one day but to get the most out of the region take a couple days and break the Route in two, you will see more, experience more and you’ll build a whole new collection of unforgettable memories. In Part two I will share more of our time on the Route and details about our home base stay in Beaune.
So, follow those signs posted in brown as the Routes des Grand Crus follows the tertiary roads west of the N74, but even if you have to turn around to peruse down the road that you just past, do it. You never know what will be around the next corner, like a 12th-century feudal castle of neo-Gothic-Burgundian style, rebuilt in the 15th century!
Château de La Rochepot located in the commune of La Rochepot in the Côte-d’Or department, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, France.
Images are ©Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.