By Susan Manlin Katzman, Special to Tribune Newspapers
December 8, 2013
If a jug of wine and loaf of bread does it for you, stay put. On the other hand, if you crave life's full pleasures — the best of the best wines, the most luscious breads to accompany a wealth of assorted gourmet delights — head to Burgundy, or Bourgogne in French, where wine and food is a celebrated art form.
One of France's 21 mainland administrative regions, Burgundy sits in the central-eastern part of the country, beginning less than 100 miles southeast of Paris.
The region's 12,194 square miles incorporate a variety of tourist draws, including charming cities, lush countryside and a cornucopia of ancient churches, chateaux and canals for barging, but wine is Burgundy's raison d'etre and the major magnet for food and wine enthusiasts.
Understanding food is easy in Burgundy. Wine is a different matter.
Though there are only two major grapes dominating the vineyards, chardonnay for white wines and pinot noir for reds, wine tourism is complicated by a complex concept of "climats," a term referring to plots of land with precise limits defined not only by "terroir," or specifics of the land, but also history, customs, human interaction — the list goes on.
Suffice to say that Burgundy contains a mind-muddling mosaic of small vineyards, many with multiple owners producing a distinctly different wine from row to row.
More than 4,000 vintners produce wine in Burgundy, and visitors, faced with staggering options, often don't know where or how to start uncorking the magic.
But not to worry. The region's cup runneth over with touring advice. Maps and road signs detail walking, biking and automobile routes for vineyard visits. And tourist offices, individual and group tours, and a slew of organized classes and courses provide invaluable information on every aspect of wine growing, drinking and buying.
Though one can drink in delights throughout Burgundy, connoisseurs head directly to the Cote-d'Or, or Golden Slope. Divided into two sections, the northern Cote de Nuits and the southern Cote de Beaune, this 31-mile-long strip of blessed wine real estate produces the glory hallelujahs of the region's wine.
Dijon and Beaune sit within the Cote-d'Or, and both cities provide a nice base from which to explore.
Dijon, the capital of Burgundy, is a large cultural center merging cosmopolitan city features with the art and architecture of a splendid past. During the Middle Ages, Dijon served as home to the rich and powerful Dukes of Burgundy, and though visitors find much to enjoy in the city (the official walking tour lists 22 stops), the former Ducal Palace, housing the Musee des Beaux Arts, is a must.
Beaune, the unofficial capital of the wine industry, charms tourists with its earthy elegance. The quiet city, hugged by ancient walls, focuses on wine, and even the major tourist attraction, Les Hospices de Beaune, a medieval hospital founded in 1443, is famed not only for its architecture and art but also its vineyards and wine auction.
Both Dijon and Beaune host fabulous food markets.
Tuesdays and Fridays are said to be the busiest days at Dijon's Les Halles, where goods fill the glass and metal market hall built by Gustave Eiffel (of tower fame).
Saturday is the day vendors set up stalls in Beaune's center and showcase the best of Burgundy's bounty, which includes Charolais beef, plump Bresse chickens, chubby snails, jambon persille (chunky pieces of rosy ham wrapped in parsley aspic) and an array of French cheeses so fine and rare they could make a person weep.
Get to the markets early; both are morning glories, closing in the afternoon.
In addition to markets, each village seems to sport a patisserie, boulangerie and fromagerie selling a specialty pastry, bread and/or cheese, and every grocery stocks local products such as mustard and creme de cassis, a liqueur made of the black currants used in the favorite local aperitif, Kir.
Wine and food match and marry in Burgundy, producing specialties that symbolize French cooking to the rest of the world. Coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon and oeufs en meurette (eggs in wine sauce) are a few renowned native sons served with perfection in Burgundy's country inns, small restaurants and traditional cafes. Less traditional, creative cuisine remains in the realm of Burgundy's 24 Michelin-starred restaurants.
Though there are many modes of exploring Burgundy — barging, biking and hiking among them — driving takes one farther, faster and allows for the maximum number of visits to vineyards, restaurants, villages and other interesting places, such as La Cueillette at Chateau de Citeaux in Meursault (lacueillette.com), a new spa overlooking vineyards first planted by Cistercian monks in 1098.
Wine, food, history, art, architecture, countryside scenery and city delights — Burgundy is filled to the brim with pleasures guaranteeing both general tourists and discriminating bon vivants a well-balanced vacation accompanied by full-bodied joie de vivre.
For more information, visit visitdijon.com and beaune-tourism.com.
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