How to spend a beautiful fall day in the heart of Burgundy with Kathy, my love of 30 years? Why, it’s off to the bike rental shop, of course! With a bottle of Aligote in my backpack and a baguette sticking out the top, we rounded the Beaune circular road, found the right exit, watched for signs, and voila! We suddenly found ourselves on a narrow paved path surrounded by Vitis vinifera in full berry-mode! We were on the Bougogne Veloroute, and set for the trip of a lifetime.
In the distance was our first town, Pommard, which presented from afar as all the Burgundy towns did: a steeple surrounded by slate roofs. To the West, paralleling the trail, the hills rose to a steady ridgeline: the Haut (or “High”) Cote d’Beaune.
Most grapes were right there for the touching. Some were enclosed in walled vineyards with ancient gates: the Clos des Perrieres, the Clos des Santenots of the Domain Jacques Prieur. “Clos” means walled vineyard.
More towns appeared: Volnay, Chassagne Montrachet–each clearly marked both as you enter and as you leave, the latter with a red diagonal through the town name. If you’re shopping for a fine burgundy, these are the very town names you will read on the labels.
Though we were a week early for the main harvest–called the “Vendange”–there were pickers in the vineyards with their large white plastic conical backpacks. We could see the workers stepping up on the scales with their cones empty (the “before”) and full (the “after”) to measure their production.
The workers seemed like normal townsfolk making some extra money. One group called to us as we rode by. I hopped off my bike, jumped down off the wall surrounding the vineyard, and ran over to the rows where they were working, ready to go to work. Alas, not one spoke any English. In hindsight, I should have used their scissors to make at least one snip!
On the main square in one town, perhaps Volnay, we passed a small market. Starting to feel dehydrated, we agreed to stop in the next town for energy drinks or whatever was available. That was a mistake: the towns got smaller, and there were no shops, only signs for various wine-related businesses. Stopping at them would no doubt have produced serendipitous discoveries, but we pressed on.
Finally near the end of the Veloroute in Santanay, we stopped at a picnic table in a grove of trees and enjoyed our Aligote, baguette and cheese in the shade along with genuine nougat, which is widely sold in French shops. I never really knew what it was before, though every Three Musketeers bar, I now realize, has it in its center!
We headed back along the same trail toward Chateau Meursault for a wine tasting and cellar tour. Finding it, even from within the town of Meursault, proved to be difficult. There were few other cyclists along the path, and no signage toward what we thought would be a common destination. In short, the Burgundy Veloroute is still an undiscovered travel gem!
But once we had asked enough directions in our patchwork French, we finally walked where Thomas Jefferson is known to have toured and to have bought wine to be sent back to Monticello. We were the only visitors when we arrived. But the caves began to fill up as we circled through the vast cellars filled with hundreds of thousands of dusty, unlabeled bottles. Upon exiting, we found that the empty parking lot had filled with Rolls Royces! A British motoring club had chosen Meursault as their destination on the same day as this lowly pair of bike-touring Americans.
Total mileage for the day: about 25. Value of the experience: priceless.