At the heart of Burgundy's famous Cote d'Or wine region is the pretty and historic town of Beaune – the perfect base for a French food and wine break, and easily accessible from the UK by train
Burgundy: home to some of the most famous names in French wine – as well as some of the most expensive. But a food and wine trip to the area doesn't need to break the bank.
Renowned for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the Côte d'Or is a limestone ridge that stretches from Dijon in the north to beyond Beaune to the south. The combination of soil, climate and elevation make the east-facing slopes home to some of the best Grand Cru Burgundy wines. Located in the centre of the region, the town of Beaune is a great base for exploring the vineyards and home to a fantastic range of restaurants and food producers.
What to do
The whole town of Beaune is centred on the wine industry, so there's no shortage of places to taste and buy the stuff! With a cave (or wine cellar) on every corner, there's enough tasting opportunities to keep you going for weeks. In places like the Marché aux Vins (2 Rue Nicholas Rolin; 03 80 25 08 20; www.marcheauxvins.com) you can try a range wines from different producers in the area. For €10 you get to taste up to 18 wines in the atmospheric candlelit cellars of an old church.
As well as the caves, there are a few wineries accessible from the town, where you can meet the local producers and try their wines. Bouchard Aîné et Fils (4 Boulevard Maréchal Foch, Beaune; 03 80 24 24 00; www.bouchard-aine.fr), just outside the city walls, do a good cellar tour where you can earn about the history of wine-producing in Burgundy and get your head around the Grand Cru, Premier Cru etc classification system. You also get to tour the cellars and try some of their wines. It's a good place for wine beginners as they teach you a 'five senses' approach to wine tasting, with things to smell and touch to inspire your wine tasting vocabulary! Tours take around one hour and cost €9.50.
If you want to get out and explore the countryside and some of the area's vineyards, Safari Tours (03 80 24 79 12; http://burgundy-tourism-safaritours.com) offer trips to the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits wine areas. Our journey around the Côte de Beaune wound through some tiny tracks among the hillside vineyards (the driver had obviously had a bit of practice...), taking in the villages of Pommard and Mersualt. We ended up with a tasting at Château de Mersault and a tour of the château and its cellars. The tour takes around 2.5 hours and costs €36.
Many of the vineyards in the area form part of the Routes des Grands Crus (the 'road of the great wines', aka Route National 74), a 60km route along the Côte d'Or. It passes through some of the most famous wine-producing villages, including Nuits-St-Georges and Gevrey-Chambertin, as well as some stunning scenery. You can explore by car but there are also walks from Beaune or you can hire a bike from Bourgogne Randonnées in town (7 Avenue du 8 Septembre, Beaune; 03 80 22 06 03; www.detours-in-france.com) for €18 a day.
And if you get to the point where you can’t possibly manage another glass, then there are one or two non-wine-related attractions in town. The Hôtel Dieu des Hospices de Beaune (2 Rue de l'Hôtel-Dieu, Beaune; 03 80 24 45 00; www.hospices-de-beaune.com) was built in 1443 as a hospital for the poor and needy. Its amazing buildings, hidden away in a courtyard, are topped with turrets and roofs covered with intricate multicoloured tiles. It was still used as a hospital until the 1970s but is now a museum where you can see how the patients lived. It also hosts a famous charity wine auction each November, when Christie's auction house sell the wines produced on land donated to the hospital (you can never get away from wine for long in this town!).
What to eat
The local cuisine, unsurprisingly, features wine pretty heavily, with a variety of dishes cooked ‘a la Bourguignonne’ – in Burgundy wine. These include coq au vin and boeuf Bourguignon, with chicken or beef slow-cooked in a sauce made from red wine, onion, mushrooms and bacon. Or slightly more unusual is oeufs a la Bourguignonne, or eggs poached in red wine.
Popular local starters include jambon persille (a parsley flavoured ham) and escargots (snails), usually poached in a local Chablis stock before being smothered in a garlic and parsley butter. And with nearby Dijon being renowned for its mustard, you can often find dishes like chicken in a creamy mustard sauce.
A good way to start the evening is with an aperitif of kir or cremant (the Burgundy version of champagne) in one of the cafés in and around the main square, Place du Carnot. Then there are a huge range of restaurants to choose from. Places can get very busy over the weekends so it’s a good idea to book a table on Friday and Saturday nights, and also to check the opening days as most places are closed at least one night a week. Some good ones to try include:
Le Jardin des Remparts (10 Rue de l'Hôtel-Dieu, Beaune; 03 80 24 79 41; www.le-jardin-des-remparts.com), an art deco mansion and gardens next to the city walls, is the place to go to splash out on a special meal. Its Michelin-starred food uses local ingredients with inventive modern twists, like tartare of beef with minced oysters. They offer themed set menus, including a seven-course 'Découverte' tasting menu for €70. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Ma Cuisine (Passage Sainte-Hélène, Beaune; 03 80 22 30 22), hidden away down an alleyway, is a small family-run place with only 13 tables. Popular with local wine-makers, it's a great place to try some of the traditional Burgundian specialities, with main courses around €20. They also have a fantastic choice of wines with over 700 bottles on their wine list. Closed Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday.
Le Conty (5 Rue Ziem, Beaune; 03 80 22 63 94; www.leconty.fr) is another good choice to try some regional dishes. Choose between the main restaurant or the old wine cellars, and from a choice of good-value three-course menus, from €22-€35. Leave room for their excellent crème brulee or tarte tatin.
And if you want to self cater, then there is a food market on Saturdays in Place de la Halle, and a Casino supermarket (through an archway on Rue du Fouberg Madeleine). There’s also a great cheese shop (Fromagerie Hess, 23 Rue Carnot, Beaune; 03 80 24 73 51; www.fromageriehess.com) and patisserie/chocolate shop (Chocolat Bouche, 1 Place Monge, Beane; 03 80 22 10 35; www.chocolat-bouche.com) in town.
Where to stay
If you're looking for luxury then Hotel Via Mokis (1 Rue Eugène Spuller, Beaune) is a modern boutique-style hotel in converted Beaune townhouses. It has only five suites, as well as a relaxing spa area for guests, a wine bar and restaurant with Michelin-star-winning chef. Suites range from €165-€250 a night.
For a mid-range choice, the three-star Hotel des Remparts (48 Rue Thiers, Beaune) is a 17th-century building in the old town set around peaceful courtyards. It is traditional French style with characterful rooms furnished with antiques, and helpful and friendly owners. Rooms cost around €100 a night for a double.
And if you’re on a budget (or trying to save as much money as possible to spend in the cellars…), then try Hotel le Foch (24 Boulevard du Maréchal Foch, Beaune). Located just outside the city walls above a local café, the 10 bedrooms are compact but a bargain at €45 a night for a double room.
How to get there
Beaune is easily accessible from Paris by train in just over two hours. From the UK, you can take the Eurostar from London to Paris Gare du Nord and then the RER train across Paris to Gare du Lyon, where trains to Beaune leave from. There are a few direct services a day, otherwise you need to change in Dijon. Eurostar tickets start from £69 return and Paris-Beaune returns from £60 if you book early, and both can be booked through Rail Europe (www.raileurope.co.uk).