Visiting a French Vineyard

While France is well known for Paris and fashion, its food and wine are also well known worldwide. Wine producing regions like Bordeaux, Champagne and Burgundy have produced world famous wines enjoyed by all. Continuing on our visit to France, this blog post is about Burgundy. Dijon is the capital of this region and is also famous for its Dijon mustard. You can read about Paris and Mont St. Michel which we also visited. Dijon is easily accessible and is only 90 minutes by TGV train from Paris. The train leaves from Gare Lyon station in Paris and connects to Dijon Ville station. TGV tickets vouchers can be bought online in advance from Rail Europe and collected in Singapore through their agent.

After the hustle and bustle of the crowds in Paris, Dijon was like a breath of fresh air with the slower pace of life and smaller crowds. There were many Chinese tourists here. I suppose they could be here to buy some vineyards, and then maybe not. Our stay in Dijon was only for a night and we decided to stay at the Sofitel Hotel as it was within walking distance to the train station.

The new tram service in Dijon. It was not in operation yet while we were there.
The new tram service in Dijon. It was not in operation yet while we were there. With the tramway in operation, getting around Dijon is made much easier.
The view of Dijon town center from our hotel room. There was a lot of construction going on at that time.

We arrived in Dijon before 12pm and checked into our hotel. Taking a short rest, we waited near a bus stop beside our hotel for our tour guide. We had booked a tour with Authentica Tours which organizes food and wine tours. I found them through recommendations on TripAdvisor and decided to try them out. A few other tourists were also waiting there for our guide, Mr Ivan who soon showed up with a mini-van. Off we went with Ivan explaining about the history of Burgundy, Dijon, and it’s famous wines.

Dijon dates back to the Neolithic era and later became a Roman settlement along the route from Paris to Lyon. Dijon was also home to the Dukes of Burgundy from the 11-15th century. These days, Dijon and Burgundy are more well known for their fine foods and wines. Dijon holds an international Gastronomic Fair every autumn with over 500 exhibitors, and it’s city center has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2015.

Our first stop was a church near the vineyards. Ivan said that this church has been part of his childhood and has been here for centuries. It certainly does look ancient.

The wine producing regions of Burgundy are south of Dijon,  along the western escarpment (named Côte d’Or) of the valley that runs parallel to the Saône River. So what makes this region so special for growing wines? It’s the soil which consists mainly of limestone which gives the wines here it’s characteristic taste. Ivan was soon rattling off terms like Côte de Nuits, Terroir, Grand Cru, Pinot Noir in quick succession. And if you are like me who doesn’t really know much about wine, here is a good website to get you up to speed on Burgundy wines. Looking at the amount of history and information available, I think you could probably write a whole thesis just on Burgundian wines alone.

One of many vineyards in the Côte d'Or region.
One of many vineyards in the Côte d’Or region. Each vineyard has it’s own specialty wine, and small plots of land each producing it’s own small quantity of boutique wines are quite common.

We stopped at a family run vineyard to look at their operations and have a little wine appreciation session.

The grapes are not ripe yet, as harvest season is still a couple of months away.
The grapes are not ripe yet, as harvest season is still a couple of months away. It would be nice to come during harvest time and join in the harvesting.
A home made tractor which is used to harvest grapes. You can see that it is specially made to run in between the rows of grape vines.
Our visit to a wine cellar. The wines are put in the barrels to age.
We got to see the wine cellar which was really huge with tunnels and rooms spreading under the vineyard. The wines are put into the barrels to age.
After aging, they are bottled and stored.
After aging, they are bottled and stored before being sold.
1998 must be a good year.
1998 must be a good year.

After our short wine appreciation session, we were off to see the various vineyards in the Côte d’Or.

How nice to own a chateau with a vineyard.
How nice to own a chateau with a vineyard.
Behind the cross is the vineyard for the most expensive wine in Burgundy - Domaine de la Romanée-Conti at more than €3,000 per bottle and a 12 year waiting list.
Behind the cross is the vineyard for the most expensive wine in Burgundy – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti at more than €3,000 per bottle and a 12 year waiting list.

The final stop for our half day tour was the medieval village of Châteauneuf and it’s castle built on a hilltop 475m above the countryside. If you like fairytale castles then this is one place you should visit.

The very small and narrow roads in Châteauneuf. Stone walls complete the medieval vibe.
The village is built on a steep hill overlooking the countryside.
We stopped at a lookout point overlooking the Burgundian countryside.
Summer was in full swing.
I guess this is one of the very few lodgings available if you want to stay here, and it’s totally in character with the medieval village look.
The only church in the village.
Although small, the main hall was rather cozy with it’s medieval architecture.
Châteauneuf En Auxois dates back to the 12th century.
The castle of Châteauneuf En Auxois dates back to the 12th century. Paid entry into the keep is required but we decided not to enter, although visitors can wander around the bailey for free.
The whole village really brings you back in time hundreds of years.
Wild flowers growing on the ancient walls.
We had a coffee break here before heading back to Dijon.
We had a coffee break here before heading back to Dijon.

We chose the short half day tour and by evening we were back in Dijon and our hotel. Authentica Tours offers different types of tours depending on your preferences and tastes, so you could end up with a longer tour. Our guide Ivan had grown up in Burgundy and he certainly was informative on all aspects of the region and it’s wines.

A dinner of Burgundy wine and escargot.
Dinner accompanied by red Burgundy wine and escargots before we set out on an evening stroll through Dijon.
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The Porte Guillaume which is just next to the city center and our hotel. Being summer, the days are long and the setting Sun provided an extended golden hour.
Followed by a walk around the town. This is the Notre Dame of Dijon. We were just in time to watch the last rays of sunlight from the setting sun fall on the façade of the cathedral.
Walking around Dijon, we passed by the Notre Dame of Dijon. We were just in time to watch the last rays of sunlight from the setting sun fall on the façade of the cathedral. It was closed for the night, so we had to come again the next day.
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The Dijon Notre Dame is famous for it’s façade which has numerous gargoyles on it (51 to be exact).
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The main market center of Dijon. It was quiet as it was evening and the shops were all closed. It will get busy again tomorrow.
We came back to our hotel. We booked this hotel as it was only 5 minutes walk to the train station.
After our evening stroll it was back to our hotel. Dijon is quite small and most of the city’s main attractions are within walking distance.

The next day, we had the whole morning to see Dijon town as our train was leaving only in the afternoon.

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The main street of Dijon with the Porte Guillaume in the background. It looks almost like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
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Besides wine, Dijon is also famous for mustard which is sold in various flavors.
Mustard on tap. You can buy all flavours of mustard here.
You can also buy mustard on tap. They will fill a jar with the flavor of your choice.
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Try to plan your visit to Dijon during the second Sunday of every month as there is a weekend flea market and maybe you can pick up some treasures here.
Some old books for sale at a flea market.
Some old books for sale at the flea market. I couldn’t read French but they make for an interesting picture.

 

The Dijon Market or Les Halles is one of the best markets in France. It’s a foodie’s dream market as farm fresh produce from France is sold here along with artisanal bakeries and restaurants. The market is opened on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. If the design of the metal structure that houses the market looks familiar, that’s because the designer was Gustav Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame.
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The Dijon Cathedral dedicated to St. Benignus. This cathedral was first built in 535AD and buildings have been added to it over the years in different styles. You can see Gothic and Romanesque influences, as well as, the typical Burgundian polychrome tiles on the roof.
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The main hall inside the Dijon Cathedral.
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The extremely ornate and massive pipe organ at the back of the hall.
The inside of the Dijon Cathedral. This is the main church of Dijon but is very simplistic in its design and décor.
The morning sunlight that shone through one of the windows. We noticed that the entire interior is rather Spartan looking compared to many other churches that we’ve visited in Europe.
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Underneath the cathedral is the crypt of St. Benignus which dates back more than 1,000 years old. Although visiting the cathedral is free, we paid a small fee to enter the crypt.
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The crypt which actually looks kind of eerie with many tunnels gated off. I wonder what else lies underneath the cathedral. The dad in the photo was scaring his daughter by making scary moaning noises which echoed eerily from the crypt walls.
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The very Roman looking pillars supporting the crypt’s ceiling.

After visiting Dijon Cathedral, we went back to the Dijon Notre Dame since we couldn’t enter it the previous night.

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A nice view of the flea market and Dijon Notre Dame with it’s façade and clock tower.
One last look at the Notre Dame with its numerous gargoyles, 51 to be exact.
The Dijon Notre Dame and it’s very Gothic looking façade.
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Surprisingly, the façade is just a screen and doesn’t form part of the main church building.
A close up of the gargoyles.
A close up of the gargoyles. Each one of them is unique.
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Inside the Dijon Notre Dame. Much smaller than the Dijon Cathedral, but more well appointed in terms of decoration.
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The stained glass windows are really beautiful.
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This one almost reminds me of a similar window at the Notre Dame in Paris.
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The morning sunlight creating patches of light on the walls.
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Lit candles line niches along the walls where pilgrims can pray.

Before long we had to make our way to the railway station to catch our train back to Paris. Our stay of 1 night was too short and I do think that a longer stay of at least 2-3 nights will be better to enjoy all that the city has to offer. We didn’t have enough time to see the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy and the Museum of Fine Arts inside it as they were closed on Sundays, as well as, many of the historical buildings which are scattered throughout the city. There is also the Owl Trail, a self guided walking tour where you can follow the guide map and owl signs to learn more about the city and it’s history, which we were also not able to do due lack of time.

10 thoughts on “Visiting a French Vineyard

    1. Based on our guide’s information harvest is around October onwards. I guess it would be a good time to visit as you can take part in the harvest activities.

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