Even though I’ve been to Europe three times now, each time I go, I discover new gems. That’s the amazing thing about traveling–there will always be something that you didn’t see before. This is what motivates me to revisit things from time to time. As I change and grow, I can appreciate and see things anew.
In September, Isaac and I took a month long trip from the Netherlands to Italy, stopping along the way in between all the places that help you slow down and forget the mundane. As we made our way through France, we found Beaune. In the heart of Burgundy, Beaune is a small and slow haven for foodies and wine lovers alike. With many fine Michelin-rated restaurants and some of the oldest vineyards in France, Beaune is gustatory living at its best.
We decided to explore the pastoral countryside and vineyards by bicycle. When we walked in to the bicycle shop, the shopkeeper was friendly and excitable. We told him we needed them for the day after next. Come back tomorrow, my friend will tell you where to go, depending on the weather. When we returned to pick up our bicycles the next day, another man, one who had a calming and steady demeanor greeted us. What are your recommendations for a route? We love food and wine and would love to stop anywhere that you think would be an awesome experience. He pulled out a map, looked us up and down, and inquired how many miles we could ride. 20-40 miles a day. Really? He said. He looked surprised. We confidently nodded yes. He gave us a slightly skeptical look, and then said, OK. He spent the next 30 minutes detailing every small hook and turn in the road where we should stop to appreciate the beauty of his region. And when he spoke of which restaurants to go to, his opinions emphatic and proud gave us no room to disagree about where we’d dine.
On the first day, we proceeded north early in the morning. He warned us that it would mostly be uphill, and that we’d pass primarily through pasture land. Although the hills weren’t steep, they were sustained. Pedaling uphill on a hardtail mountain bike exhausted me. We pulled off on a side road to check out an old abbey at the top of the steepest hill that we had encountered. I had to stop and walk up the hill. After we visited the closed abbey, we found a place to take a late morning nap to kill time until the restaurant opened. Falling asleep wasn’t difficult, warm sun on our faces, naught but one person working in a pasture nearby. We woke a little later, recharged and ready to eat.
We headed to the restaurant he recommended called Hostellerie du Vieux Moulin in Boulland. Early for the lunch hour, we were the only guests there. The servers served us graciously with great kindness. And the fantastic flavors blew me away, especially the chilled escargot with cucumber gelatin.
We continued on our journey, stopping in Pernand-Vergelesses to go to this overlook of the vineyards surrounding Beaune. If I had dreamt about Burgundy before we arrived, I would’ve pictured that exact view. Near the end of our loop we stopped at Chateau Corton Andre and walked around the property and their impressive cellars.
On the second day, we did a shorter ride south of Beaune. We literally cut through vineyards on a path like the Burke Gilman trail. On our way, we witnessed workers harvesting grapes for next year’s wines. For lunch, we ate at Le Montrachet in the small town of Puligny. We both always chose the affordable and easy to order 3-5 course meals offered at restaurants. The best part of these meals appeared as a few small tastes of something else between the regular courses. This is where I had my favorite small taste–yogurt with vanilla-infused olive oil and pepper drizzled over the top. It was unique, delicate, and so well balanced. And the dessert, a strawberry tart (which is my favorite) made my eyes water–as the finale to our bicycle tour, a surge of gratitude for such an amazing experience overwhelmed me. I sat savoring each bite of tart, holding back tears while laughing heartily at myself. After lunch, we laid in the grass across from Le Montrachet and took an afternoon nap. We soon rode back towards Beaune, stopping roadside for goat cheese in Meursault and tasting wine at Lahaye et Fils in Pommard.
In total, we rode about 40 miles over two days. Bellies full, exhausted, and exceptionally grateful for the beauty, bounty, and the calm kindness of the locals we encountered, we fell in love in total awe of Beaune’s countryside.