One of the great things about Basel is that it’s located in the heart of Europe. A ten minute drive and you’re across the border in France or Germany. A few hours by train and you’re in Paris, Munich or Milan. A quick flight and you’re in London, Rome, Barcelona, or Berlin. Last Friday, Julian and I decided to take advantage of our location and do a road trip from Basel to Paris, exploring the beautiful wine region of Burgundy (or Bourgogne in French) on our way.
Like many of our trips, this road trip was a spontaneous adventure. After learning it was supposed to rain all weekend in Basel, we decided to get out of town and head somewhere sunnier. I had always wanted to visit the French countryside and I’d heard that if you’re looking for a taste of quintessential France, you’ll find it in Burgundy. Luckily for us, Burgundy is located right across the Swiss border, so it was the perfect place to escape for a long weekend.
Before leaving, we mapped out our journey (see route below). We knew we wanted to focus on the Cote d’Or department of Burgundy. This part of Burgundy is known as one of the best wine regions in the world and is home to countless historic towns and breathtaking landscapes. We planned to visit Beaune, Dijon and Vézelay, as well as the vineyards surrounding them, and figured one town per day seemed like a reasonable undertaking. After renting a car, we were on our way to our first destination–Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy.
Day 1: Beaune
Chateau de Melin
We spent Friday night at a 16th century chateau 20 minutes south of Beaune on the wine route. Built in 1551, the Chateau de Melin overlooks the hamlet of Melin and its productive vineyards. Saturday morning, we rose to a delicious spread of fresh out of the oven bread, jam, croissants, and fruit prepared by the mistress of the chateau. After exploring the grounds, we headed to Beaune for the famous Saturday market.
Beaune’s Saturday Market
The second we arrived at Beaune’s bustling market, I fell in love with this picture-perfect town. Beaune looks just like Belle’s hometown in Beauty and the Beast and as I passed by the vendors selling their wares, I couldn’t help but hum “There goes the baker with his tray like always…” 😄. The market is filled with goodies and we purchased some local meat and cheese, nougat (a special request from my mother), homemade soap, and tablecloths. If you’re planning on visiting Burgundy, do not miss Beaune’s Saturday market. You’ll inevitably leave with a basketful of treasures and a real taste of French life in Burgundy.
The Hospices de Beaune
Around noon the market was winding down so we moved on to the town’s main attraction–the Hospices. Founded in 1443 as a hospital for the poor, it continued serving patients until 1971! Though the original building is now a museum, the foundation and wine estate set up by its founder still finance Beaune’s hospital today. With its flamboyant Gothic architecture, colorful tiled roof, and centuries of history, the Hospices de Beaune is one of Burgundy’s gems and should not be missed. Tip: Go during lunchtime to avoid the crowds.
Beaune and its Vineyards
After lunch at a brasserie on the center square, we spent the afternoon wandering around the town and visiting Beaune’s other attractions. I was especially struck by the town’s massive 12th century basilica, its medieval city gate, and vibrant wisteria.
As the sun began to set, we hopped in the car and drove to the surrounding vineyards. We got there just in time to snap a few photos and revel in the beauty of Beaune’s vineyards at dusk.
Dinner at Loiseau des Vignes
For dinner, we ate at Loiseau des Vignes, a Michelin starred restaurant adjacent to our hotel. I started my meal with Crémant de Bourgogne, the region’s delicious sparkling wine. I then ordered the tasting menu to try a few of the chef’s specialities. Venturing far outside of my comfort zone, I dined on quenelle, a creamed fish dish, pigeon prepared with raspberries, and époisses, a strong soft cheese characteristic of the region. On the recommendation of the sommelier, I enjoyed a Pinot Noir from a nearby vineyard and it paired perfectly with my meal. Needless to say, it was a night filled with new culinary experiences and was definitely a dinner to remember!
Hotel le Cep
After dinner, we retired to our room at the Hotel le Cep. Throughout our trip, we used the Château Hôtels Collection of boutique hotels to help us find accommodations and it never once disappointed. We felt right at home at the Hotel le Cep and enjoyed its French garden, 16th century courtyards, and centric location.
Day 2: Beaune, Dijon, and Avallon
On Day 2 of our road trip, we had a quick breakfast of crepes and cappuccinos at a nearby boulangerie and then hit the road. Our first stop was the Chateau de Meursault winery to sample some of Beaune’s finest wines. Burgundy is one of France’s great wine regions and the best vineyards are concentrated in Cote d’Or, the valley that links Beaune to Dijon. Cote d’Or is famous for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. These grapes are native to Burgundy and have been carefully cultivated by Catholic monks since the Middle Ages. Today, the finest Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays come from Burgundy and after our weekend there I would have to agree!
Tip: There are over 100 vineyards in Burgundy. So before you go, I would suggest first narrowing down which area you’d like to visit. Then research when the wineries are open and if they offer tours and tastings.
Dijon: Capital of Burgundy
After a wine tasting and stroll around the grounds, we said goodbye to Chateau de Meursault and headed for Dijon. Dijon is the capital of Burgundy and the birthplace of Dijon mustard. It is a magnificent city with elegant medieval and Renaissance buildings and massive cathedrals on every corner. Old meets new at every turn in this city and shops and fast food restaurants appear alongside, or inside, buildings from the Middle Ages. Dijon is a great city to simply walk around in and explore as there’s no shortage of things to see. Don’t miss the Palace of the Dukes and its numerous important churches. After exploring, relax at one of the many cafes on the Place de la Libération, the city’s beautiful square.
Burgundy’s Mustard Fields
Though we could’ve stayed longer in Dijon, we were anxious to get on the road before nightfall. We wanted to see the mustard fields on our way to our hotel in Avallon. Luckily, we left at the perfect time. Around 7 pm the light was absolutely stunning over the hills and valleys and we pulled over several times to take photos of the gorgeous green and gold countryside.
Avallon for the Night
About an hour and a half later, we had made it to the town of Avallon. The halfway point between France’s two major cities, Avallon was once an important stop for travelers. In Avallon, we stayed at Hostellerie de la Poste, a hotel frequented by the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte, Eisenhower and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as they journeyed between Lyon and Paris. For us, it was the perfect stopover between Dijon and Vezelay and we loved being surrounded by history at this cozy hotel.
Stay tuned for Day 3 and 4 of our road trip, the journey from Vezelay to Paris, in the next post!