I took my first bike trip last fall, biking through the vineyards of Burgundy region of France. I didn’t know what to expect, or even if I would like my time being managed and told where to go (literally).
I signed up to bike with Butterfield and Robinson, which had great reviews of their accommodations and service.
The biking was listed as 15-25 miles per day, with van (SAG) support if needed. I really did want to bike and see the scenery, so I trained all summer, riding about 15 miles a day most days. What I couldn’t train for, however, was the inevitable glass (or two) of wine at lunch, a full meal and then re-mounting my bike for another 10 miles or so.
We met in Dijon, of mustard fame, and started our bike tour on a Sunday. There were about 13 of us, from all over the United States and a Brazilian couple, too. Immediately, we entered the vineyards and we were transformed to France, circa 1200, where monks made wine for fun and profit. The vineyards were in what is called a “Clos”, like “Clos Des Avaux”, which were walled areas with individual “appellations”, which is the French naming system for all vineyards, protected by French law.
The trip reads like a Burgundy wine-label tour: Cote de Nuits, Chambolle-Musigny, Chassagne-Montrachet, Vougeot, Pommard, Volnay and the $2,000 per bottle Romanee Conti (we did not taste that one), and my favorite, Gevrey-Chambertin.
Our first lunch was a beautiful meal of local cheese, cold cuts and pate and a side salad, paired with a delicious local white burgundy wine. After a few glasses of that, and some conversation with our new friends, we were off for 10 more miles to the hotel.
Hotel is not the best word for these beautiful spots. More like a private mansion. After a day of biking and some wine consumption, we arrived and found our luggage in our room, took a shower and went right back out to enjoy the locale. No spas were to be found, which was all the better, as the local scenery wanted to be seen.
At 6 o’clock we met our other bikers, and have an aperitif in preparation for a great French meal. The guides, Nathalie and Eric, would explain wine pairing of Bourgogne wines with our meals. They kept the wine glasses filled all night, which gave us a great night sleep for the next day’s riding.
We biked into Beaune, which is the wine capital of the Burgundy region. This is where we experienced our first “Cave”. Caves (wine cellars, but Cave really helps visualize it better), are mold blackened underground cellars to store and age wine. In Beaune, there are more miles of caves underground than streets above! The estimate of wine bottles stored underground is in the millions of bottles.
The guides had us meet with a local vineyard manager, who let us sample wines directly from the barrel, after she sucked it up into a big pipette. We proceeded to have a dinner, cooked by a local chief, right in the cave, and it was fantastic.
Where is the heavy biking in all of this? Well, I was thrilled that I trained all summer, so I was in good enough shape to really enjoy the scenery and never worry about the hills or the miles, even after a few glasses of wine. I was not looking for a bike “race”, just a vacation where I could enjoy the scenery at a leisurely 12 MPH.
The trip included the “Hospices de Beaune”, a beautiful mosaic roofed building built in 1442, a visit to a vineyard that was just processing harvested grapes, a castle on a hilltop and numerous stops for espresso.
The final stop for the last night was a converted 12th century abbey, where we stayed in the eves of the church. After some Kir Royale, we had phenomenal food and local cheese in the restaurant, and many, many bottles of burgundy wine.
Since this trip, we did a similar trip to the Napa Valley wine region. There are still many places to visit, like the Loire valley, Bordeaux, Chile, Italy… all with great wines and great biking.