Bon Vivant on a Bike
By Amy Lively Jensen
Pedaling along the Burgundy Vineyard Routes is intoxicating, both literally and figuratively. Don’t you think that exercising and wine tasting is a great combo? In Beaune, France, we decided to give it a try. We rented bicycles and headed down the Route des Grands Crus. It became a treasured memory.
As you slowly cycle through some of the world’s most renowned vineyards, you will experience beautiful landscapes, charming villages, welcoming wineries, and spectacular wine.
Bicycling is a wonderful way to experience the calm and allure of the vineyards with the scent of fermenting grape juice, to discovering one lovely wine village after the other with stops for food and outstanding wine, and you will enjoy one of the greatest adventures a wine-lover can have.
Since wine tasting is an integral part of your trip, a lesson on local wines is a good idea. Côte de Beaune is better known for its whites, while vintners there actually grow both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is considered by most as producing the world’s finest of both varietals. Price tags usually reflect this, and the best of the best are those designated “grand cru.”
One town along the vineyard way is Pommard, which produces a deep red, dry wine. Pommard is unique with its first-class Pinot Noirs in an area at that is best known for white wines. Farther along the trail is Meursault, which offers mostly white wines from Chardonnay grapes. Meursault wines are often described as having hints of a nutty, buttery and vanilla spice taste. Nearby Puligny Montrachet is famous for its Montrachet white wine, which is sweet, fruity, and aromatic. Another town not to be missed is Santenay, where you’ll find plenty of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Armed with your local wine knowledge, the first decision to make is which route to choose. Burgundy has over 500 miles of cycling trails that take you through some of the most ravishingly picturesque winegrowing areas in France. We chose the Route des Grands Crus (Road of the Great Wines) starting from Burgundy’s capital city of Beaune. Along the 12-mile trek, you can ride through the tiny towns of Pommard, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and end in Santenay. It is a relatively easy ride, averaging five to six hours, depending on the number of stops you choose. You certainly can turn around sooner, or go farther, based on your available time and energy. Another option is to catch a train back to Beaune instead of the return cycling trip. Other route options will take you along the canals, or a railway line and are of varying lengths and levels of difficulty.
Another choice for your biking trip is what style of bike to use. There are several bike rental companies available, and you should reserve bikes at least a day in advance. Through the Beaune Tourism Center (https://www.beaune-tourism.com/discover/burgundy-wines/visit-wineries-and-vineyards-of-burgundy-near-beaune/the-route-des-grands-crus) there are several dependable bike rentals in Beaune. Active Tours by Bourgogne Evasion (www.bourgogne-evasion.fr/#) gives options with their online booking. There are adult bikes, electric bikes (a big idea!), and road bikes. You can also choose a child bike, trailer, or others for your family. A new addition is electric scooter rentals to zip around town. They will deliver the bikes to your accommodations, or you can pick them up at their businesses located in Beaune or Dijon. Bike rental includes a repair kit and lock. They can advise you on routes and provide maps. They also offer bike tours.
You can begin your cycling adventure on your own or choose to have a guided tour. There is a plethora of companies, and a good resource for recommendations is the Beaune Tourism Bureau.
Being adventurous, or dumb depending on your point of view, we chose the solo route. Thinking we were relatively physically fit, we chose bikes which were the standard bikes we have always ridden. In hindsight and for our next trip, we will probably rent electric bikes, which make the hills a breeze. Actually, the bikeway isn’t steep, just slightly hilly coming in and out of villages, but the undulations do add up. You can go farther and faster with the motorized bikes.
Provisions for the trip should include sunscreen, hats, plenty of water, fully charged cell phones, puncture kit and a map of the trail. Do make reservations for the wineries and restaurants you want to visit as this is often required. An easy way to do this is using the online ticket office to contact the wineries at www.beaune-tourism.com/tasting/wineries.
There were no other cyclists when we began our trip. My only speed is leisurely, so there was ample opportunity to see the neat rows of grapevine fields. The trail is mostly paved, with green cyclist logo signs along the route. We knew that paying attention to those markers after wine tasting was an important task. No cars are permitted on the path, only farm vehicles and bikes.
When you cycle south from Beaune for about a half hour through the vineyards, you’ll first arrive at the town of Pommard. The earliest mentions of Pommard date from around 1005. The village square holds a few restaurants and a wine shop and vintners’ houses. There you can enter the gorgeous property of lovingly restored 18th century buildings at Château de Pommard.
On tours, knowledgeable and humorous wine experts speak passionately about the winery. For parents taking the tour, there is an amazing benefit.; they offer the Jeunesse Experience for children ages 5-12. It is the only children’s tour in the region. A team member shows the young visitors the life that blooms in the vineyard and how grapes turn into wine. Afterwards, they enjoy a treasure hunt in the vineyards for organic candies and guess the different fruit flavors. When the children come back, they try delicious local fruit syrups.
According to Daphne Delarue, Hospitality and Deputy Marketing Manager at Château de Pommard, they survey customers before the tours to gauge their interests and familiarity with wine. “The world of wine can be snobby and sometimes scary for the less experienced visitors. We have happy wine advisors who want them to feel empowered, not to shame anyone for less knowledge,” she said. In the vineyards, you’ll find more than just grapes. “You can see horses, rabbits and wild animals that come to our organic, biodynamic vineyards and we are happy to have them.” Château de Pommard plans to open a restaurant and hotel with 5 -star hospitality in mid-2023. Education is an emphasis for Château de Pommard for visitors, children and also professionals. Daphne told me about their Ecole V School attended by students from around the world for one to five days, with extensive personal preparation prior to the professional sessions. They graduate with a respected diploma.
Climbing back onto your bikes, you can ride between stone walls for about 30 minutes and come upon the medieval village of Meursault. Wandering along the quiet streets with stone-built houses, you’ll see the iconic Town Hall, dating back to 1337, castles, churches, and food markets. You’ll be impressed by the unique Château de Meursault (www.chateau-meursault.com) with its 12th century castle and the magnificent cellars that lie beneath it. They store more than 800,000 bottles and 2000 barrels. You can stroll in their park with streams and a pond. During tours here, you taste exceptional wines, including premier cru and grand cru; they are considered as some of the most prestigious white wines in the world. You can also check out the wine shop at Château de Meursault for gifts. They sell crus dating back to 1973, so you could bring a friend a bottle from their birth year, and it would be a stellar present.
When you’re ready to get on the road again, your visit can be to Puligny-Montrachet. Here Domaine Olivier Leflaive will delight you, so be sure to make reservations to tour and eat at the historical Olivier’s Bistro. (https://www.hotel.olivier-leflaive.com) During the wine-tasting lunches and dinners, sommeliers discuss six to nine wines, which are expertly paired with three amazing food courses. They will also be opening a new restaurant, Klima. You might also consider staying at the Hotel Olivier Leflaive. It features 17 spacious and well-appointed rooms in a charming 17th century family home overlooking the tiny village square.
They offer several winery tours, including a bike and homemade picnic tour in the vineyards, which is served with a bottle of Burgundy. Owner Olivier Leflaive, who is called the pioneer of wine tourism in Burgundy, often leads personal tours of his cellars.
One guest shared her thoughts on the tour: “In a hugely entertaining way, he showed us all aspects of the winery explaining each step of the wine-making process along the way. It was very in-depth and his personality and interjection of humor throughout held the attention of the wine geek and novice sipper alike. The whole tour was an experience of a lifetime.”
You will have a fantastic visit at Domaine Olivier Leflaive, and you will feel less guilty about devouring the exquisite French food because you are continuing to exercise as you start back along your way.
Hidden in a valley behind Puligny-Montrachet is Château De Saint-Aubin. (https://chateau-st-aubin.com) They offer a Vineyard Bike Trail Experience of all the vineyards that make up their estate. On an e-bike, a guide will show you important points, including a gourmet picnic stop with panoramic views. You will have tastings enroute and in the Château cellars.
Santenay can be the final destination of your cycling trip, or for hardier souls, keep going on to other picturesque wine villages. In Santenay, a windmill gracing the valley vineyards, chateau visits and the casino await you. If you are needing a meal before your journey home, there are five restaurants to choose from. L’Ouillette (https://www.ouillette.fr) offers both traditional and modern French food in a relaxed setting. With great food and wine, you can watch the fountains as the sun sets. You get good value for your money with superb food at Le Terroir (https://restauranteleterroir.com). Guests rave about their cheese course. Catering as much to locals as tourists, L’Escale (https://www.lescalerestaurant.com) is a little gem right on the canal. With reasonable prices and excellent specialties, this charming bistro will make you want to make a reservation again the next day.
If by now you are getting tired, turning around isn’t such a bad idea. You would not be considered a wimp if you chose to take the train back to Beaune. Trains have two hooks per car to hang bikes on.
After your bicycling adventure, like me, you may admit to having a sore bottom. Without a doubt, it is worth it!