GRAPE EXPECTATIONS IN BEAUNE
The region of Bourgogne (Burgundy) is famous for its good food and good wine. Wanting to enjoy both these things today, we started out with a morning visit to the Dijon markets, and then took a hike around the vineyards of the nearby Côte-d’Or. All round it was a magnificent way to spend the day in this wine lovers, foodies, and hikers paradise.
During our sightseeing tour around Dijon yesterday we stopped by the town’s central market, Les Halles, for a look. The metal and glass market hall (designed by Gustave Eiffel who also designed that little tower in Paris) was impressive, despite how empty it was.
This morning, however, Les Halles was bustling with people, sights, and smells! As it does every Tuesday and Friday, the market came alive today. Vendors from all over the region come to sell their wares at the 300 year old covered market.
We were caught up in the colours of all the fresh produce, no doubt picked fresh today; the sounds of hundreds of shoppers and stall holders chatting; and the smells of freshly baked bread, seafood, dozens of different types of charcuterie (i.e. hams and deli meats), yoghurt, milk, and of course, mountains of stinky cheese (some of it green or red from the pesto or beetroot mixed in).
Not confined just to the covered area within Les Halles, the market stalls spilled into the surrounding streets. Here flowers sat next to fresh produce, clothing, and collectibles.
We happily spent the first couple of hours of our day exploring the markets, marvelling at the diversity of fruit and vegetable varieties on offer*. From striped green and yellow tomatoes, to flat plate-like peaches, and giant forest mushrooms the likes of which we’ve never seen. It was awesome! Not to mention all the types of soft cheeses, hams, and fresh meats on offer. The freshly butchered rabbits with their eyes staring out at us were a bit much at that early hour of the day, but there was no doubting their freshness!
*For those who are that way inclined, this is where you can have a rant about the evil work of Monsanto (and other such large multi-national agricultural and food supply companies) who control the world’s seed supply and limit the range of fruit and vegetable species/sub-species we can get easy access to.
Markets are great – they can tell you so much about the town/country you’re in; about how food is viewed and people’s relationship with food. Compared to how sterile most supermarkets are in Aus, the markets today were wonderful; so much more alive and interesting. And everyone there, vendors and customers alike, seemed to be enjoying themselves so much too! Seems like a much nicer way to do your “hunting and gathering” than strolling hurriedly through a neon-lit supermarket where everything is wrapped in plastic and where most of the things on the shelf bear almost no resemblance to real food at all. Not that we could buy much really, with no fridge and just a couple of back-packs to our name, there’d be nowhere to put it! Still, it was great fun to see the market in full swing and made for a colourful start to the day.
Buoyed by our early morning market explorations we then hopped on a train bound for Beaune. This small town, some 50km South of Dijon, sits on the heart of the Côte d’Or (i.e. The Golden Slopes) winery region* and is the unofficial capital of the area. Surrounded by valleys of vineyards this thriving town’s raison d’être is wine: making it, tasting it, and selling it. It was these vineyards that we went to hike through and explore.
*Burgundy is one of France’s main wine producing areas, perhaps best known for the red wines it produces (which are, unsurprisingly, a deep red/purple colour). The Côte d’Or is one of the main places these grapes are grown.
The 60km long Route des Grands Crus runs through the Côte d’Or from Dijon to Santenay. This long distance hiking route goes through valleys of vineyards and some of the prettiest villages in France. We did a small part of this long hike today, going from Beaune down to the village of Pommard. The scenery along the way was spectacular, with rows of beautifully tended grape vines stretching out for miles around us.
The Côte d’Or has been a wine producing region since at least 500BC; the limestone-rich soil and ample sunshine make this part of France one of the best wine producing areas in the world. At the moment the vines are full of grapes, ripening in the hot summer sun and waiting to be picked, come autumn.
We spent the better part of our day hiking through the vineyards, stopping for breaks when the views got too good to pass up. The grapes looked so delicious that I was sorely tempted to eat a whole lot, but as Shane pointed out, it would be rude to eat someone else’s grapes uninvited. And wine grapes don’t generally make good eating anyway. Still, they just looked so good!
We ended our hike back in Beaune where, after a suitably rich and delectable late lunch, we took a stroll through the town to admire the sights.
Beaune was once a prosperous town; it even succeeded Dijon as capital of the Duchy of Burgundy in the 17th century. Today, Dijon is again the capital of Burgundy and Beaune is reserved for wine lovers and visitors like us. It’s narrow cobbled lanes, pedestrianised shopping streets, and lovely old buildings are the epitome of what you would expect a French village to look like.
Built during its glory days as the regions capital, Beaune also has a huge cathedral and a number of magnificent old buildings. It was once a walled city; today about half of the battlements and ramparts survive.
Having explored Beaune to our satisfaction we returned to Dijon by train late this afternoon tired but satisfied with our day’s adventuring. Beautiful scenery, great food, and glorious wine – this truly is the good life in Burgundy.