One of the most exhilarating places in France to enjoy delicious food and sample some fruity wines is the famous region of Burgundy. Dijon, the gateway to Burgundy, is just a two-hour train ride Southeast of Paris.
Biking is the best way to offset all that tempting wine and food you can’t pass up on a French holiday. While a few hours of cycling a day through France is a good test of stamina, it’s also a great way to work off a few extra kilos.
Getting away from mainstream tourist destinations and onto back lanes is one of the great things about biking through Burgundy. There’s a real sense of achievement at day’s end when you arrive at your hotel, powered by your own physical exertion.
Various cycling packages enable you to choose the degree of cycling difficulty or whether you want to cycle solo or in a group. You can be your own guide on a ‘do-it-yourself’ tour, or you can cycle with a group.
Am I fit enough?
Okay, I can hear you saying, “I’m not fit enough to go on a cycling holiday.” Well, that’s what I thought too, and yet, I lived to tell the tale despite having a sore butt at the end of it all. You don’t have to be an Olympic cyclist to participate, as anyone can enjoy a cycling holiday as long as they have some basic degree of fitness and a sense of adventure. Failing that, get on down to the gym and whip yourself into shape.
So, you’re fit and adventurous enough; now what? Cycling in the Northern Hemisphere during autumn is the best time as the days are still long, the holiday hordes have returned to work, and the trees display beautiful yellow and orange hues.
Burgundy biking 101
There are three ways to cycle around Burgundy; cycling with an organised group is the most expensive, but everything is done for you and there’s a sense of camaraderie when cycling with others. The logistics are all taken care of and all you have to do is enjoy the ride.
Self-guided cycle tours enable some freedom with the security of accommodation being booked in advance and luggage being transferred daily from hotel to hotel. Independent cyclists are provided with well-researched route maps and notes.
The third option is to cycle independently and research the whole trip yourself. While you’re free to do whatever you like, go wherever you dare, and cycle with anyone you choose, you must do all the planning and research before you hit the 800 kilometres of dedicated voie de vignes or cycle paths across Burgundy.
The Côte d’Or & Dijon city
According to those who know their wines, the wines of Burgundy are some of the world’s finest. Hundreds of wine estates (called domains) exist in the Dijon countryside. Touring these estates by any means is a great way to appreciate the wines, the food, and the local hospitality. Exploring them by bike isn’t only invigorating but also the best way to appreciate the ever-changing landscape.
Burgundy’s best-known wine trail is along the Côte d’Or, a 50-kilometre-long stretch that extends from Dijon in the north to Chagny in the south.
Boutiques, food shops, and antique stores line the inner streets of Dijon. The Place de la Libération is a vast semi-circular ‘square’ with cooling water fountains. Designed in 1685, it’s one of France’s most beautiful squares and home to several cafés and restaurants which extend outdoors in the warmer months.
Another attractive and historic city square in Dijon is Place François Rude, near Les Halles. Visitors could mistake the square for one in an old English town, as it’s lined with Tudor-styled buildings. The cafés around the square are usually packed, especially outside in the sunshine during the warmer months. Coffee and cakes are served, but so are several traditional dishes of the region, such as boeuf bourguignon.
Power pedals: A vineyard & epicurean exploration
Dijon is flat, which is good for doing a little warm-up cycling before the real deal around the vineyards. Bicycles can be hired for half a day to any duration you like.
For serious cycling through the vineyards, contact companies such as Bourgogne Evasion and Bourgogne Randonnées via their respective websites. Both offer various options, from cycling trips lasting a few hours to several days.
Bourgogne Evasion can also design tours for those who want to cycle independently and advise on cycling trips using one hotel as your base or a tour that changes hotels daily. Daily cycles vary in length from 15 to 100 kilometres depending on the mix of cycling and sightseeing you require.
Bourgogne Evasion can arrange visits to the region’s most prestigious wine estates located in the famous villages of Volnay Santenay, Puligny-Montrachet, Beaune, Meursault, Volnay, and Corton-Charlemagne.
Beaune is the region’s wine capital and is a popular tourist destination because of its ancient walls and the old buildings that the walls once protected. Many fine structures, such as the Hospices de Beaune or Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune, and most buildings feature distinctive multi-coloured tiled roofs.
In other parts of Burgundy, canals crisscross the landscape, and cycle paths are located along both sides. Some visitors to Burgundy choose to boat down these canals either independently in self-charter boats or on an organised barge tour.
Some local dishes to enjoy along the way include le treuffle (mashed potatoes with cheese and fried as potato pancakes), oeufs en meurette (poached eggs in red wine), rigodon (baked ham and egg custard), and jambon persille (ham, veal, wine, onions, cloves, and herbs served in cold jelly).
Appreciating Bourgogne wines
Cycling requires drinking in moderation, but at day’s end, the fruits of the vines are yours for the asking, and knowing a little about these wines helps in their appreciation. The simplest wines of Burgundy are labelled Bourgogne Blanc or Bourgogne Rouge, meaning a white or red wine sourced from anywhere in the region.
The better (and more expensive) wines to seek out are labelled village (from a specific village in the region), then premier crus (first growths), and grand crus (great growths).
Travel tips: Getting in & around Burgundy
Air France offers the best connection and in-flight service to France. Flights to Paris depart late in the evening from Singapore, and the food served onboard is a great introduction to the many great dishes of Burgundy.
The TGV is France’s superb intercity train with excellent seating, a refreshment car, and regular services that take just two hours to cover the journey from Paris to Dijon.
*All images courtesy of David Bowden.