With the damp spring in the Valais, Epic Europe made a break for the hot and dry climate of the Burgundy region of France. Just 4 hours away by the car, Southern Burgundy feels worlds away - the pace of life, the different French styles and cuisine. This is what we love about living in the Alps; in an afternoon’s drive in any direction, you can be in the heart of Piedmont, Italy, wandering the canals of Annecy, basking in the sun lakeside in Ticino’s Mediterranean climate... you get the point.
Our home base for the trip was the medieval city of Cluny, France, the centre of a major monastic movement during the middle ages. Its church was the largest building Christendom until St. Peter’s Basilica was rebuilt in Rome; the monastery was once the greatest religious seat of power in Europe. The national horse-breeding center on one side of the transept was founded by Napoleon in 1806, and remains to this day an elegant and prestigious riding academy and show ground. Today, only a fraction of the Monastery remains, but it still dominates the small and beautiful city.
The best options for accomodation are the small “chambre d’hôtes” (b&b’s) with in the city’s walls. We stayed at the magical “Clos du l’Abbaye”, an old manor house built in the shadow of the abbaye, with a private enclosed clos (garden). Recently renovated, the rooms are bright and welcoming, with incredible views through the garden towards the Abbaye. The hostess, Clair, is very helpful in suggesting local restaurants and wineries to fill your days. We opted for a relaxing day of cruising the soft courty roads on bicycles with a picnic lunch and a tasting at a small bio (organic) winery.
Cluny is part of the massive pedestrian path system throughout all of Burgundy called the Voie Vert. We sepnt the day between the pedestrain-only paths and the local farm roads that seemed to have about the same amount of car traffic (except for the occasional tractor or deux cheveux cruising along at about 30km/hr). Our final destination was the small organic winery, Domaine de Thalie, run by local Burgundian Peter Gierszewski. The tasting area was simple, but a testament to the fact that Peter’s is a 1-man operation, the reputation of his wine and the growing demand for organic has lead to rapid growth for his 4 year-old business. The pinot noir 2010 had already sold out, and he was in the process of bottling the 2011 vintage this week. We sampled his gamay and chardonnay, traditional Burgundy varietals, and perfect for a hot late spring afternoon.
After a long day of riding, we headed back to Cluny for an apero and dinner. The bistro staples of Beouf bourguignon and steak frites dominate, and are of especially good quality, thanks to the Charolais cattle that dot the countryside. Outdoor tables and restaurants fill the cobblestone streets, and are a dreamy spot to spend a summer evening kicking back with a class of local wine (from €1.30 a glass!) and enjoying the relaxed French atmosphere. When you are finished, don’t forget to stop by the Patisserie Florentin for a petit degustation (small tasting) of their incredible Macarons (pictured here; coffee, caramel, vanilla, coconut and apricot-violet), the proprietor will likely offer you free samples of other delicious treats, bite-size meriques and thuiles dotted with dark chocolate or pralaine. Back to the Clos de l’Abbaye, we fell asleep with the windows open, curtains blowing in the winds, and the soft sound of church bells in the distance.