Last Updated on May 27, 2022 by Editor G
Each of us has some notion of what a typical day in France looks like. Naturally, upon waking up, your nostrils are immediately greeted by the strong aroma of cheese, which you sample as a healthy and nutritious breakfast. Afterwards, you might ride your early 20th-century bicycle down the street or smoke cigarettes with the toddler next door.
Of course, the highlight of your day has to be the wine. Fermented by only the cleanest and most supple feet in France, the sheer variety of wines available is enough to make your mind spin before you even have a chance to drink them. Fortunately, wine goes with everything here – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – giving you a chance to sample it all. In a word, it is – Magnifique.
We have just described what may sound like an overly stereotypical idea of how French people live their lives. Indeed, you might even call it a caricature. But what if we told you that there was – in fact – a place in France where all of your stereotypical notions of French culture rang true? What if there was a place where you too could live the life of a rural Frenchman, if only for a day or two?
Intrigued? Then step right this way, mon amis.
The region of Burgundy – (Bourgogne, in French) – is the quintessential slice of rural life in France. From green fields to canals to vineyards overflowing with pleasant aromas, this idyllic region of eastern France has it all. You will find here – among many other things – sensational wine and food, gorgeous little hilltop villages, and awe-inspiring historic chateaux.
While exploring this incredible French locale steeped in history is a pleasure, you may require some guidance in getting around and knowing where to visit. Fortunately, there are plenty of gorgeous places to visit and fun activities to participate in. We invite you to take our hand as we lead you through some of the best areas and activities Burgundy offers.
Visit Historic Dijon
With its classic medieval architecture and Renaissance period stylings, the historical city of Dijon – Burgundy’s regional capital – could have easily been designed as a tourist destination from the outset. It is the most beautiful and lively town in Burgundy, and it is also one of the most popular places in France as a whole.
The compact street design and layout make getting around on foot exceptionally easy. The streets themselves are always bustling with activity, and you will find more than one attraction at every turn. Tourists should soak the gorgeous architecture in during their visit. The polychrome tile roofs – glazed in black ceramic – are evocative of Dijon’s rich history, when – during the 14th and 15th centuries – it was the capital of the Duchy of Burgundy, more powerful than the entire kingdom of France.
Of course, if you fancy a more detailed account of the city’s roots and history, you can visit any of the municipal museums for free. The Musée des Beaux Arts, located in the easternmost wing of the Palais des Ducs et des États de Bourgogne, is of particular note, and offers a self-guided Owl Trail tour.
One way to view the surrounding town is by boat, cruising down Le Canal de Bourgogne. Boats can be hired at Saint-Jean-de-Losne from Le Boat, but book well in advance of your trip.
Visit Beautiful Beaune
Dijon is not the only historic town in Burgundy. As you will soon find out, the region is home to several towns rich with history and rife with beauty. Beaune, the unofficial capital of the Cote d’Or region, is one such town.
Much like Dijon, simply walking around Beaune is an experience unto itself. Several architectural marvels are on display, from the Gothic-style charity hospital to the labyrinth of corridors and wine cellars beneath the streets.
However, while Beaune’s beauty is nothing to scoff at, the best reason to visit it is for the wine. Tasting and sampling opportunities run abundant in the streets where you can enjoy guided vineyard tours either by car or – yes – even by bicycle. If you find that your appetite for fine wine has not yet been satisfied, you can even go on a tour below-ground.
Finally, if you happen to be in Beaune on the weekend, you simply cannot miss out on the sprawling, lively farmer’s market every Saturday morning, located on the very cobblestones of Place de la Halle.
Indulge in Delectable French Cuisine
If you fancy yourself as something of a connoisseur in fine dining, Burgundy is full of incredible restaurants and eateries to visit to satiate your exquisite palate.
In addition to the incredible flavors and appealing aromas, there is a significant amount of history behind French food. For example, gingerbread (or pain d’épices, as the French call it) first arrived in Burgundy courtesy of Crusaders returning from the Holy Land. Similarly, some of the first vines in the region were planted by the Romans.
At this point, you have probably already sampled some of the fine wine Burgundy has to offer. However, it would be best if you also tried out Charolais rib-eye beef and true, homegrown Dijon mustard. The mustard comes in many exquisite flavors, including (but not limited to): honey, white wine, blackcurrant, and black truffle, along with many more. You can find these at Moutarderie Maille in Dijon, and at Moutarderie Fallot in Beaune.
Try Out Some of the Best Snails in France
The French’s penchant for snails and other strange food choices is already a stereotype at this point. However, for the sake of your journey to Burgundy, we recommend giving it a go, at the very least.
The best snails in France can be found in Burgundy. The Escargots de Bourgogne, in particular, are worthy of note for being fed on juicy grape leaves and served in their beautiful, distinctive shells stuffed with tangy garlic and butter.
The thought may make you shiver now, but once you find yourself seated in one of Burgundy’s many fine restaurants, the snails become much more difficult to resist. Trust us when we say that soaking up the rest of the garlic-flavored oil on your plate with some freshly-baked bread is a sublime experience.
If you would like to blend in with the locals as much as possible, we recommend trying your hand at mastering the art of using snail prongs and a snail fork. It is not nearly as easy as it looks. You can give it a go at any local restaurant specializing in this unique cuisine. Additionally, if you are rather taken with the snail-craze, you can visit the Fête des Escargots, held each year in Chevigny-St-Sauveur and Digoin.
Embark on a Modern-Day Pilgrimage
Burgundy is steeped in rich lore and history, as we have already established. However, whereas the passage of time tends to erode some of the cultural touchstones in other parts of the world, Burgundy’s marvelous architecture has been remarkably well-preserved.
This is particularly evident in the trio of abbeys found throughout the region. Visiting these ancient temples will take you on a journey through lush fields, wooded valleys, along old cobbled pathways, and beside tranquil, glimmering streams.
The first stop on your pilgrimage should be the small yet no less beautiful Abbaye de Vézelay, which rests – tranquil and isolated – on a hilltop at the very head of the historic Voie de Vézelay pilgrimage route. The famed 11th/12th-century basilica is on the Unesco list of World Heritage sites, along with Abbaye de Fontenay, which should be your next stop. This abbey was founded in 1118 and is perhaps the closest one could ever get to medieval monastery life.
Finally, your pilgrimage will come to an end at the Abbaye de Cîteaux, nestled in a perpetual aroma of orange-skinned cheese – Époisses – which you can buy at the gift shop on your way out.
Enjoy the Views of Maconnais
The west bank of the Saone is home to a couple of small villages, chief among them being Macon, a little winemaking hamlet in southern Burgundy. Its idyllic location makes it a popular tourist destination, but the true beauty lies in the surrounding Maconnais countryside, home to several other villages.
While you are free to explore the verdant fields and towns at your leisure, we highly recommend getting a bird’s eye view of the entire area. About ten kilometers west of Macon, you will find the rocky outcrop of Roche de Solutré, which commands a full view of the region. You can also enjoy lunch at La Courtille de Solutré.
Burgundy has a lot to offer its visitors. It is not often that an historic region such as this gets to be remarkably well-preserved while still offering modern amenities for people to enjoy. There is a lot of history here, hidden behind every corner, nestled within every nook and cranny. You do not even have to look – it will find you.
Gareth Evans is a travel writer and entrepreneur living life as a digital nomad. Gareth is currently living and working in Thailand.